Commissioner Vella at Seafood Expo Global to discuss with stakeholders the future and the social dimension of fisheries, 25 April
Commissioner Karmenu Vella will attend the annual Seafood Exhibition Global in Brussels to meet with businesses and visit Member States’ stands promoting the local and regional fisheries industry. The Seafood Global exhibition is the world’s largest seafood trade fair and brings together as many as 1.600 exhibitors from over 70 countries. The Commissioner will participate in two panels: on the future of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture at a EU and global scale, and on the social dimension on fisheries. Representatives from the industry, international organisations and non-governmental organisations including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Labour Organization and Europêche will exchange views on the future of fisheries, the working conditions, security and training for the fishing industry. During the event, the special report “Food from the Oceans” will be presented and seafood companies will be called to join the global movement of the Our Ocean conference, hosted last year by the European Union. More on the event here.
Consumer financial services: Commission study identifies remaining hurdles
The European Commission has today published a study on consumer financial services identifying obstacles that consumers continue to face in the EU when buying investment funds, investment-driven life insurance or private pension. By pointing to the remaining impediments, the study illustrates the role of EU legislation, such as MIFID II, PRIIPS and the Insurance Distribution Directive, which have recently entered into application as of this year or will soon apply. Specifically, the study finds that while consumers have access to a large and diverse range of products, they face challenges in collecting and comparing information across the board. It also notes that costs for similar products continue to be very different across Member States. The wide-ranging study also shows that seeking advice from non-independent advisors, such as banks and insurers, remains the norm for the average European investor. Lastly, the study underlined that the potential for new distribution models based on FinTech is promising but must be monitored carefully. In this context – and as part of its FinTech Action Plan – the Commission will examine the current landscape of digital interfaces that help individuals find suitable and cost-effective retail investment products across the EU’s capital markets. The Commission will organise a public hearing on 29 June 2018 to exchange views on how to further improve the situation. This study follows previous Commission initiatives, such as its 2015 Green Paper as well as its 2017 Action Plan on Consumer Financial Services. It is part of the Commission’s wider commitment to make markets work better for consumers as outlined in the Capital Markets Union (CMU) Action Plan.
EUROSTAT: Government debt fell to 86.7% of GDP in euro area Down to 81.6% of GDP in EU28
At the end of the fourth quarter of 2017, the government debt to GDP ratio in the euro area (EA19) stood at 86.7%, compared with 88.1% at the end of the third quarter of 2017. In the EU28, the ratio also decreased from 82.4% to 81.6%. Compared with the fourth quarter of 2016, the government debt to GDP ratio fell in both the euro area (from 89.0% to 86.7%) and the EU28 (from 83.3% to 81.6%). More information here and here
State aid: Commission clears Ireland’s sugar sweetened drinks tax
The European Commission has concluded that Ireland’s sugar sweetened drinks tax does not involve State aid. The Irish tax will apply to soft drinks, i.e. water- and juice-based beverages containing added sugar with a sugar content of 5 grams or more. Ireland notified to the Commission its plans to introduce a sugar sweetened drinks tax in February 2018, with the aim of obtaining legal certainty that the measure did not involve any State aid within the meaning of EU rules. The Commission in its assessment found that soft drinks can be treated differently to other sugary products in view of health objectives. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the scope of the Irish sugar sweetened drinks tax and its overall design are consistent with the health objectives pursued, namely tackling obesity and other sugar related diseases, and does not unduly distort competition. A full press release is available online here.
€50 million for micro-enterprises in Italy as UniCredit launches new Social Impact Banking Initiative
The European Investment Fund (EIF) and UniCredit have signed a microfinance guarantee agreement in Italy under the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI). This new EU guarantee agreement allows UniCredit to provide a total of €50 million to 2,500 micro entrepreneurs in Italy. The EaSI guarantee will support the launch of UniCredit’s nation-wide Social Impact Banking Initiative (SIBI), a new inclusive finance initiative to improve their microcredit and finance for social enterprises banking model, giving them access to new clients. The deal was made possible by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the central element of the Juncker Plan. Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, said: “Thanks to EU support, Unicredit will launch a new inclusive finance initiative worth €50 million to support about 2,500 micro-enterprises in Italy. Many of these micro-entrepreneurs face difficulties in accessing credit from traditional banking sources. This new guarantee agreement will make loans easier accessible to them. This shows again that the European Commission, through its Programme for Employment and Social Innovation, is fully committed to boosting employment in Europe and getting more people into jobs, with particular efforts directed towards the most vulnerable people on the labour market.” The EaSI Guarantee scheme was launched in June 2015 and is funded by the European Commission and managed by the European Investment Fund. Micro-enterprises wishing to apply for a loan under EaSI, can contact UniCredit branches in Italy. A press release with more information will be published here.
Hong Kong and Macao: 2017 annual reports
The European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy today adopted their annual reports to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on political and economic developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and in the Macao Special Administrative Region. The reports emphasise the EU’s adherence to its ‘one China’ policy and support to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and its implementation in both Hong Kong and in Macao. As regards Macao, “in 2017, the ‘one country, two systems principle continued to be implemented, to the benefit of the Macao SAR, China as a whole and the international community. The fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens were generally respected. Macao’s media were able to express a broad range of views despite increasing self-censorship.” The report for the Hong Kong SAR notes a number of events which contributed to “an eventful and politically challenging year […] for the functioning of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.” Despite the ‘one country, two systems’ principle having worked well in general, the report notes that “there are legitimate questions about its implementation, leading potentially to its gradual erosion, and Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy in the long term.” The reports also detail the state of EU-Hong Kong and EU-Macao trade and economic relations, as well as conclusions on the state of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms in the two SARs. Full press releases are available online (Macao SAR; Hong Kong SAR) as are the full reports (Macao SAR; Hong Kong SAR). For more information, visit the website of the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao.
Mergers: Commission fines Altice €125 million for breaching EU rules and controlling PT Portugal before obtaining merger approval
The European Commission has imposed a €124.5 million fine on Altice, the multinational cable and telecommunications company based in the Netherlands, for implementing its acquisition of the Portuguese telecommunications operator PT Portugal before notification or approval by the Commission.EU merger rules require that merging companies notify planned mergers of Union dimension for review by the Commission (“the notification requirement”) and do not implement them until cleared by the Commission (“the standstill obligation”). In this decision the Commission confirms its preliminary view that Altice breached the EU Merger Regulation. In particular, the Commission has concluded that: i) certain provisions of the purchase agreement resulted in Altice acquiring the legal right to exercise decisive influence over PT Portugal; ii) in certain cases, Altice actually exercised decisive influence over aspects of PT Portugal’s business. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Companies that jump the gun and implement mergers before notification or clearance undermine the effectiveness of our merger control system. This is the system that protects European consumers from any merger that would lead to higher prices or reduced choice. The fine imposed by the Commission on Altice today reflects the seriousness of the infringement and should deter other firms from breaking EU merger control rules”. A full press release is available here
Mergers: Commission opens in-depth investigation into Apple’s proposed acquisition of Shazam
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess the proposed acquisition of Shazam by Apple under the EU Merger Regulation. The Commission’s initial market investigation raised several issues relating to the combination of Shazam’s strong market position in the music recognition apps market and Apple’s market position in the music streaming services market. In particular, at this stage, the Commission is concerned that, following the takeover of Shazam, Apple would obtain access to commercially sensitive data about customers of its competitors for the provision of music streaming services in the European Economic Area. Access to such data could allow Apple to directly target its competitors’ customers and encourage them to switch to Apple Music. In addition, while at this stage the Commission does not consider Shazam as a key entry point for music streaming services, it will also further investigate whether Apple Music’s competitors would be harmed if Apple, after the transaction, were to discontinue referrals from the Shazam app to them. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The way people listen to music has changed significantly in recent years, with more and more Europeans using music streaming services. Our investigation aims to ensure that music fans will continue to enjoy attractive music streaming offers and won’t face less choice as a result of this proposed merger.” A full press release is available here
Statement by President Juncker following the attack in Toronto, Canada
Following the attack in Toronto, Canada, President Juncker said the following: “It is with shock and sorrow that I learnt of the tragic attack in Toronto on Monday afternoon. I send my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims, as well as to Prime Minister Trudeau and to all Canadians. We hold a special thought for the heroic first responders whose calm and courage resolved the stand off without a single shot being fired. Their actions undoubtedly saved many more lives and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. The European Union stands with the great city of Toronto and we will put any and all means at the disposal of the Canadian authorities should ever this be needed.” The statement is available here.
Vice-President Dombrovskis in London
Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue, also in charge of Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, visits London today. He will meet Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. They will discuss issues related to financial markets and sustainable finance, including Commission’s recent action plan. The Vice-President also gave a keynote speech this morning on EU financial markets at City Week, an international financial services forum, and will address a stakeholder roundtable on sustainable finance later in the afternoon.
Commissioner Crețu in The Hague to discuss the future cohesion policy
Today Commissioner for regional policy Corina Crețu is in The Hague, the Netherlands, where she will meet Kajsa Ollongren, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, and Mr Raymond Knops, State Secretary of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. Discussions will focus on cohesion policy beyond 2020. “Cohesion policy helped the Netherlands maintain its leadership in growth and innovation over the last decade,” said Commissioner Crețu, “Today in The Hague we will discuss how we can further simplify the policy, make it more flexible and better performing, build stronger links with structural reforms and focus on areas where EU spending has a clear added value.” The Commissioner and the ministers will also discuss the EU urban policy, as the Netherlands were a key player in bringing forward the Urban Agenda for the EU during the 2016 Dutch presidency of the Council.