State aid: Commission finds Irish National Asset Management Agency did not breach EU rules
Following a complaint, the European Commission has assessed whether the Irish National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) has benefited from illegal State aid and whether it granted undue advantages to certain property developers. The Commission has concluded that NAMA did not breach EU State aid rules. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “We have carefully looked at allegations that NAMA’s activities would distort competition in the Irish property development market. Our assessment shows that NAMA’s activities did not breach EU rules – it has acted as a private operator would have done, and in line with its objective to obtain the best possible financial return for the State and Irish taxpayers.” NAMA was created by the Irish government in 2009 in the context of the financial crisis to restore stability to the Irish banking system. For this purpose, NAMA acquired large portfolios of non-performing commercial loans secured by land and development property from five Irish credit institutions. Following the assessment of allegations in a complaint from five property developers, the Commission has today concluded that NAMA extends new loans to property developers where it is commercially viable to do so. The State support to NAMA had already been approved under the Commission’s decision of February 2010. Finally, the Commission found that extending financing to certain property development projects where it is commercially viable to do so is in line with NAMA’s objective to obtain the best possible financial return for the State. Ireland is also expected to wind down NAMA within the timetable originally foreseen, i.e. in 2020/2021. On this basis, the Commission concluded that NAMA did not breach EU State aid rules. A full press release is available online in here
1st European Education Summit kicks off in Brussels
Today, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics opened thefirst ever European Education Summit, which brings together 18 EU Education Ministers as well as over 450 education professionals and representatives from all over Europe. Under the broad theme ‘Laying the foundations of a European Education Area: for an innovative, inclusive and values-based education’, the Summit programme includes over twenty sessions, master classes and high-level panel discussions, with more than 40 speakers. They cover a vast range of issues, including how to engage disadvantaged pupils to ensure no one is left behind, how to best equip teachers, how to boost learning through sport, as well as the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in education and the role children play in helping to transform societies. This morning, Commissioner Tibor Navracsics intervened in a panel entitled Countdown to 2025 – A vision for the European Education Area. The Summit follows the Gothenburg Summit in November 2017 where the Commission set out its vision to create a European Education Area by 2025, and the December European Council where Member States expressed a willingness to do more in the area of education. The organisation of the Summit should be seen as another stepping stone on the way towards a European Education Area. This afternoon, the discussions will focus on the promotion of key competences, digital and entrepreneurship skills and European values on which the Commission has made last week a series of proposals and recommendations. The Summit is web streamed and video material including on a press point with Commissioner Navracsics at 12:30 will be available on EbS in the afternoon. This European Education Summit is the start of a series, with the second one to follow in autumn 2019. The Commissioner’s opening remarks and a full press release are available online.
Investing in Africa: the EU and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation commit a further €100 million
The EU and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have agreed to step up their efforts, together, to support the health sector in Africa through the EU’s External Investment Plan. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a contribution to the EU’s External Investment Plan of $50 million (€40.9 million) in financing, as well as an additional $12.5 million (€10.2 million) in technical assistance. This will be matched by the European Commission with another €50 million. This pooling of resources is designed to encourage additional private investment towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and will allow successful projects to be scaled up more rapidly. President Juncker said: “The EU accounts for a third of foreign direct investment into Africa – this is now helping create jobs and growth on both of our continents. But we must do more to improve the business environment and provide a platform for African innovators to grow. This requires the full involvement of the private and philanthropic sectors, and I am grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their much needed engagement. This is an investment in our shared future”. More information is available in the joint press release here.
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of Liquigas by SHV Holding
The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of Liquigas of Italy by SHV Holding of the Netherlands. Liquigas is active in the gas sector, mainly in the supply of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). SHV Holding, currently jointly controlling Liquigas with Brixia, is active globally, mainly in the energy sector with a particular focus on distribution of lower-carbon gaseous fuels such as LPG. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would raise no competition concerns because SHV already controls Liquigas. The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.8730.
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of ESSO Germany Business by EG Group
The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the proposed acquisition of sole control over ESSO Germany Business of Germany by EG Group of the UK. ESSO Germany is active in the retail sales of motor fuels via a nationwide network of fuel stations located in Germany. EG Group is a holding company operating under the “EG” brand. It is active in the operation of fuel stations with ancillary backcourt convenience retail, car wash, fast food, restaurant and hotel offerings in the UK, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The Commission concluded that the proposed transaction would raise no competition concerns because the two companies do not compete in the same geographic markets. The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.8746.
Commissioner Thyssen in Bilbao, Spain
Today and Friday, 25 and 26 January, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, will travel to Bilbao, Spain, to visit the European Agency for Occupational Safety and Health (EU-OSHA). She will deliver a keynote speech at the conference on Occupational Safety and Health in micro and small enterprises. On Friday, Commissioner Thyssen will visit the Novia Salcedo Foundation, an independent institution that helps young people integrate into the labour market. Following the visit, Commissioner Thyssen will meet with Ms Beatriz Artolazabal, regional Minister of the Basque government for Employment and Social Affairs. The meeting will be followed by a press point. The Commissioner will conclude her two-day visit by a Citizens’ Dialogue, to have a discussion on social Europe with students from the Basque Universities as well as representatives from the business and academic world, which can be watched here.