Fair Taxation: Commission proposes new tools to combat VAT fraud
The European Commission has today unveiled new tools to make the EU’s Value Added Tax (VAT) system more fraud-proof and close loopholes which can lead to large-scale VAT fraud. The new rules aim to build trust between Member States so that they can exchange more information and boost cooperation between national tax authorities and law enforcement authorities. The most cautious estimates show that VAT fraud can lead to lost revenues of over €50 billion a year for EU Member States – money that should be going towards public investment in hospitals, schools and roads. Revelations in the ‘Paradise Papers’ have again shown how tax avoidance schemes can be used to help wealthy individuals and companies to circumvent the EU’s VAT rules to avoid paying their fair share of tax. Recent reports also suggest that VAT fraud schemes can be used to finance criminal organisations, including terrorists. Today’s proposals would enable Member States to exchange more relevant information and to cooperate more closely in the fight against these activities. Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue, said: “Cross-border VAT fraud is a major cause of revenue loss for Member States and EU budgets. Today’s proposal will help to strengthen the cooperation between institutions working nationally and at EU level in order to effectively tackle this problem and improve tax collection.“Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, said: “The Paradise Papers have again shown how some are taking advantage of lax application of EU VAT rules to get away with paying less VAT than others. And we know that VAT fraud can be a source of financing for criminal acts, including terrorism. Combating this requires far more effective information-sharing than currently exists between the competent national authorities – and today’s proposals will make that happen.” A full press release and MEMO can be found online.
Commission’s top scientific advisers publish opinion on Food from the Oceans
Today, the High Level Group of the Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism has published a new scientific opinion on ‘Food from the Oceans’. The advisers were asked to look at how more food and biomass can be obtained from the oceans in a way that does not deprive future generations of their benefits. The High Level Group formulates policy recommendations to help meet the demands of a global population approaching 10 billion by 2050. Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: “The growing global population can’t be fed by agriculture alone. Luckily, there is vast potential in the ocean. This report will help in two ways. It points to how we can get more food from the ocean. And it indicates how to do that sustainably.” Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, added: “This substantive opinion and comprehensive evidence review shows that the Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism is going from strength to strength. I am confident that the value of this opinion will be recognised not just by European policy makers, but also by national governments and all those who care about the future of our oceans.” Spotlight on the recommendations: take into account producer and consumer needs for a balanced food production framework – expand consumption of species lower in the food chain (i.e. algae and shellfish) – consider fish farming in sustainable fisheries partnership agreements between the EU and southern partner countries. As announced by President Juncker on 13 May 2015, the Commission set up the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) to contribute to the quality of EU legislation with scientific expertise. It has already presented valuable opinions in areas such as CO2 emissions from cars, cybersecurity and biotech. A news item and the scientific opinion are available online.
State aid: Commission approves Irish support scheme for SMEs in difficulty
The European Commission has found a €10 million Irish aid scheme to facilitate the restructuring of small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in Ireland, to be in line with EU State aid rules.Under the scheme, which will run until 2020, Enterprise Ireland, an Irish Government Agency responsible for supporting businesses, will be entitled to offer restructuring support to SMEs in financial difficulty. In particular, the scheme will provide support if a company’s failure is likely to trigger job losses. It aims to avoid situations where value-creating and viable SMEs, with the potential to restore their competitiveness, are prevented from accessing finance from credit markets. The support will take the form of equity investments and will be available to SMEs active in all sectors of the economy, with the exception of the steel, coal and financial sectors. The scheme requires potential beneficiaries of the restructuring aid to: i) present a sound restructuring plan to ensure their long-term viability; ii) contribute at market terms to the restructuring costs – up to 40% of these costs in the case of medium-sized enterprises (up to 250 employees) or up to 25% of these costs in the case of small enterprises (up to 50 employees). Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said: “Small and medium sized companies are the backbone of our economy and it is good that we have been able to endorse this Irish scheme to support SMEs that get into difficulties. These smaller companies employ a lot of people and this scheme should help them preserve jobs without unduly distorting competition.” The full press release is available here
Commissioner Jourová launches the New Deal for Consumers
Commissioner Jourová has today launched a discussion on the New Deal for Consumers by bringing together all stakeholders working on improving consumer rights in the EU. The Commission will present next spring changes to the existing consumer law to modernise them and ensure that they are properly enforced. Commissioner Jourová said on this occasion: “With the New Deal for Consumers, I want to reshape EU consumer rules to make them fit for the 21st century still during my mandate. I want to make them fit for the digital age: consumers should have the same rights online, as they do offline. I want to find ways for groups of consumers to defend their interests. Their claims will be strong together, especially when they face large companies. Finally, consumer authorities should have the power to better enforce consumer rules; they need to be equipped with penalties that are deterrent to ensure that companies respect them. We have no time to waste; that’s why we need all hands on deck to jump through the legislative hurdles.” Members of the European Parliament, the Estonian, Austrian and Bulgarian trio Presidency of the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of Regions, as well as the main European consumer and business organisations were present to launch the New Deal for Consumers.
EU invests €1 billion in transport network development
The European Commission is today proposing to invest €1 billion in 39 transport projects, with a view to upgrade Europe’s rail network, further develop alternative fuels infrastructure and pave the way for zero emission water transport. In doing so, the Commission is firmly delivering on its clean mobility package from 8 November. Selected projects includethe upgrade of the Divača-Koper rail line in Slovenia, the construction of 340 charging stations for electric cars in 13 EU countries and the enhancement of the Albert Canal, Belgium’s main inland waterway. See here for the full list. This investment is made under the Connecting Europe Facility, the EU’s financial mechanism supporting infrastructure networks, and combines – for the first time – EU grants with other European, national or private funds (“blending”). Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc said, “Our investment plan for Europe is working: today we are proposing to invest €1 billion in 39 transport projects of clear EU added value for citizens and businesses. This investment will allow us to further accelerate our transition to low-emission mobility across Europe, and firmly delivers on the EU’s jobs agenda for jobs and growth. We expect it to unlock a total of €4.5 billion of public and private co-financing.” Investments are expected to generate € 4.5 billion of cumulated GDP, which corresponds to around 13 million jobs per year, and a reduction of about 7 million tons of CO2 emissions between 2015 and 2030. More information is available here.
eGovernment: Member States reach agreement on Single Digital Gateway
Today, Ministers’ meeting in Competitiveness Council agreed on a general approach regarding the Commission’s proposal to establish a Single Digital Gateway through which people and companies can access high quality information, online administrative procedures and assistance services. Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: “I welcome the agreement reached by Member States. The Single Digital Gateway is a big step to make the EU Single Market more easily accessible for everybody – it will open up new professional and personal opportunities for people and companies across the EU. It is also a strong incentive to modernise public administrations by developing ambitious and user-focused eGovernment strategies. I now count on the European Parliament’s support to follow on so the Single Digital Gateway becomes a reality soon.” With this general approach, Member States start delivering on commitments made in the Tallinn declaration on eGovernment.The Competitiveness Council meeting today is also discussing various other Single Market and Industry priorities with the participation of CommissionerBieńkowska. Vice-President Andrus Ansip for the Digital Single Market will participate this afternoon to give an overview on progress made on a number of Digital Single Market topics, including the political agreement against unjustified geoblocking. More information on the Commission proposal for a Single Digital Gateway is available here. Further information on geoblocking can be found in the press release and Digital Single Market factsheets.
Commission brings together Western Mediterranean countries to strengthen co-operation to promote the maritime economy in the region
For the first time, under the initiative of the European Commission, Western Mediterranean countries from both shores of the basin have gathered and agreed on developing a sustainable blue economy in the region. The Ministers of the Western Mediterranean met in Naples, Italy, to endorse and launch the Initiative for the sustainable development of the blue economy in the Western Mediterranean. This will contribute to underpinning political stability and economic certainty. The informal meeting culminated with the adoption of a declaration signed by the ten participating countries: Algeria, France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia. Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said, “The Ministerial declaration adopted today bears witness to the countries’ political will to foster sustainable growth in the WestMed region. If we want a safe and clean Mediterranean sea, we need to join efforts. If we want to generate jobs and have a sound and sustainable blue economy, we must all work in the same direction. It is great to see that both the EU and our Southern partner countries and neighbours are buying into the initiative with equal conviction.” In parallel to the WestMed Ministerial Meeting, 400 participants from 30 Mediterranean countries representing national, regional and local authorities, the private sector, international organisations, academia and civil society organisations gathered for the Union for the Mediterranean Stakeholder Conference on the Blue Economy. Stakeholders discussed opportunities and challenges for blue economy sectors in the Mediterranean, and ways to stimulate the economy and create jobs. At the end of the conference, the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM-FAO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on sustainable fisheries.
African Union – European Union Summit: Investing in Youth for a Sustainable Future
The 5th African Union – European Union Summit took place on 29-30 November in Abidjan, under the overarching theme of Youth. The Summit brought together leaders from 55 African Union and 28 European Union Member States. On the occasion, President Juncker said: “We spoke a lot about young people during this summit. Already today, the majority of African citizens are under 25 years old, and by the middle of this century, one in four people on earth will be African. But this demographic dividend cannot deliver without smart investments. This is precisely why we are going to put our investments in education, in infrastructure, in peace and security, as well as in good governance – all of which will in turn inspire good business environments and create much needed jobs and growth.” Read the President’s full remarks here. In their political declaration the European and African leaders set out their joint commitment to invest in youth for a sustainable future. Concretely, they committed to focussing their work on four strategic priorities: 1. Mobilising investments for African structural and sustainable transformation; 2. Investing in people through education, science, technology and skills development; 3. Strengthening Resilience, Peace, security and governance; 4. Managing mobility and migration. The EU was represented by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and the President of the Council of the EU Donald Tusk, joined by the HR/VP Federica Mogherini, Vice President responsible for the EU’s Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip and Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica. The African Union was represented by the President of the African Union Alpha Condé and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat. The full press release, the Joint statement of the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union. The Political Declaration and the Joint Statement on the Migration Situation in Libya will be available soon. Photo coverage of the Summit and remarks by President Juncker at the final press conference are also available.
Erasmus+ in 2016: another record year
As the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of Erasmus come to an end today, the European Commission has published a report on the achievements of the Erasmus+ programme during 2016. The 2016 Erasmus+ report confirms the key role played by the programme in building a more resilient Europe united around common European values. Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, said: “Erasmus+ has now reached the halfway point of its seven-year journey. I am proud to see how the programme has acted as a driver for unity in Europe, contributing to strengthening the resilience of individuals and our society. Erasmus+ mobility develops skills and competences and reinforces a European identity that complements and enriches national and regional identities. This is why we encouraged EU leaders meeting in Gothenburg on 17 November to work towards a European Education Area and to make mobility a reality for all by 2025, doubling the number of Erasmus+ participants and reaching out to people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.“ With a 7.5% increase in the Erasmus+ budget in 2016 compared to the previous year, the EU invested a record €2.27 billion to support 725,000 Europeans with mobility grants to study, train, teach, work or volunteer abroad. This brings the total to more than €2 million since 2014. The programme of the Erasmus 30th anniversary closing event is available here. A press release, Q&A and several factsheets (Erasmus+, 30th anniversary of Erasmus, country-specific sheets) are available here. Commissioner Navracsics’ press point can be watched here
Provisional application of new agreement between the European Union and Afghanistan signals new phase in cooperation
From 1 December 2017, the Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development (CAPD) between the European Union and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will provisionally apply. High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini said: “We are entering into a new phase of our cooperation. Our new agreement will allow the European Union to better support Afghanistan and the Afghan people, through working even more closely together. The agreement complements the new strategy on Afghanistan that our Union has just adopted, where we look at peace, security and development of the country as our shared priorities. It is a partnership agreement by name and by nature; it shows that the European Union will continue to stand by Afghanistan and the Afghan people.”Commissionerfor International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica added: “At the October 2016 Brussels Conference, the European Union as a whole made the largest pledge of €5 billion to support Afghanistan’s development agenda up to 2020. Today we confirm our engagement to be a strong partner of Afghanistan in its reform efforts. Our new agreement will give further impetus to our cooperation in a range of key areas such as development, gender equality, trade and investment and regional cooperation. The European Union will continue its support for a peaceful and prospering Afghanistan and to the benefit of the Afghan people.” This agreement, which was signed by the High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini and the Afghani Minister of Finance Hakimi on 18 February, represents the first ever legally-binding framework for relations between the EU and Afghanistan, covering cooperation on inter alia human rights, gender equality, development cooperation, trade and investment matters, migration and regional cooperation. See here the full press release and here a factsheet on EU – Afghanistan relations.
Can 3D printing improve crisis response? Commission prize calls for creative tech solutions in humanitarian aid
Today the European Commission launched a new prize on ‘Affordable High-Tech for Humanitarian Aid’ worth €5 million. The prize will reward tech-based and cost-effective solutions to support humanitarian assistance, from water and energy supply to health and medical care. Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: “High-Tech can have an important inclusive role. Top technologies can help more people, especially the most vulnerable ones, to have affordable access to high quality, durable products, which will improve their quality of life.” The announcement was made today at the Commission’s humanitarian Partners’ Conference that Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides opened. He said: “The EU is not just the world’s biggest donor of humanitarian aid, we also have to ensure that we provide the best quality response to people in critical situations. Creative tech and innovative tools could make a huge difference in the future when it comes to crisis response, including aid delivery in remote areas.” Technologies that can be put to use in a crisis situation are for instance nanotechnologies, advanced materials or 3D printing. The EIC Horizon Prize launched today is part of the European Innovation Council (EIC)pilot and runs under Horizon 2020, the EU’s Research and Innovation Funding Programme. For more information please see: news item, infographic, video and EIC website.
Visa reciprocity: Canada to lift visa requirements for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens on 1 December
The Commission welcomes the forthcoming decision by Canada to lift visa requirements for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens as of 1 December. The decision comes after intensive diplomatic efforts and continued engagement at political and technical levels between the EU, Canada and the two Member States, Bulgaria and Romania. Commissioner for Migration, Citizenship and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Tomorrow is a great day for all Romanian and Bulgarian citizens, who will now be able to enjoy visa-free travel to Canada. This decision shows that our diplomatic efforts and patient work with our Canadian partners are bearing fruit. I would like to thank all the parties involved – Bulgaria, Romania and most importantly Canada – for their sustained effort and great commitment to making this happen. Achieving full visa reciprocity for all EU citizens is our priority and we will continue to work hard with our Member States and our external partners to deliver tangible results, as we did today.” Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Creţu said: “This is great news for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens; as of this Friday, they will be able to travel to Canada without the hassle of applying for a visa. Great teamwork between Romania, Bulgaria, Canada and the EU.” Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel said: “I am very happy with this decision. It is a strong signal for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens and the outside world that Europe is united and determined and that there are no second class Europeans.” Following cooperative discussions towards reciprocal and secure visa-free travel with Canada, visa requirements for some categories of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens were lifted on 1 May 2017. With tomorrow’s decision, a further positive result of the Commission’s efforts to achieve visa-free travel for all its citizens, the remaining visa requirements for short stays will be removed altogether. For more information on visa reciprocity please refer to the latest press release and Q&As online.
Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to AB InBev for preventing cheaper imports of beer into Belgium
The European Commission has informed AB InBev of its preliminary view that the company has abused its dominant position on the Belgian beer market, by hindering cheaper imports of its Jupiler and Leffe beers from the Netherlands and France into Belgium.Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said: “Belgian consumers may have had to pay more for their favourite beers. Our preliminary finding is that AB InBev may have deliberately prevented cheaper beer imports out of France and the Netherlands from reaching consumers in Belgium. Such practices would breach EU competition rules, because they deny consumers the benefits of the EU Single Market – choice and lower prices. AB InBev now has the opportunity to respond to our concerns.” Effective competition is important for European consumers to reap all the benefits of the internal market. The Commission’s preliminary view is that AB InBev has abused its dominant market position by pursuing a deliberate strategy to prevent supermarkets and wholesalers from buying Jupiler and Leffe at lower prices in the Netherlands and France, and from importing them into Belgium. This case is an example of the Commission’s effort to ensure effective competition along all levels of the value chain from farmers, producers, distributors to consumers. The sending of a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. The full press release is available here