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Hearing of Commissioner-designate Thierry Breton | EU Parliament Press

The Internal Market and the Industry committees questioned Thierry Breton, candidate for the Internal Market portfolio.

The presidents and political groups’ coordinators from both committees will meet at 17.00 to assess the performance of the Commissioner-designate.

Digital, environmental and social challenges

In his introductory speech, Mr Breton spoke of the digital, environmental and social challenges the EU is facing and how he plans to address them during his mandate. The digital transformation and climate change will be high on his agenda, in line with President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s priorities.

Mr Breton said that 5G, blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity, cloud and quantum technologies would enable the EU to be a “key industrial player”. He defended “ambitious industrial policies”, which should also be socially responsible, in order “not to leave anyone behind”.

Industrial and technological sovereignty

The Commissioner-designate stressed the need to regulate tech and cyber space, as well as to ensure that single market rules are properly implemented and that the EU collectively addresses the challenges arising from outside competition. “We have to work on our technological sovereignty”, he told MEPs. Measures to simplify SMEs’ and start-ups’ access to finance and to regulate digital platforms with a new Digital Services Act will also be among his tasks, he added.

MEPs questioned the French candidate on competition, technological sovereignty, the services sector and the challenges posed by new technologies. They also inquired how he will deal with such a broad portfolio and on possible conflicts of interests, especially how he intends to defend the general, instead of private, interests.

“I sold all my shares”, the former CEO of Atos tech company assured MEPs during his speech, committing to respect the Commission Code of Conduct and to recuse himself on issues that could entail a possible conflict of interest.

Members also put forward questions on ways to defend the European industry and defence sectors, and to ensure healthy and fair competition in Europe between SMEs and larger groups.

You can watch the video recording of the full hearing here.

Press point

At the end of the hearing, the Chair of the Internal Market Committee, Petra De Sutter (Greens/EFA, BE), and the acting Chair of the Industry Committee, Zdzisław Krasnodębski (ECR, PL), held a press point outside the meeting room: watch it here.

Next steps

Based on the committees’ recommendations, the Conference of Presidents will decide on 21 November if Parliament has received sufficient information to declare the hearing process closed. If so, the plenary will vote on whether or not to elect the Commission as a whole on 27 November, in Strasbourg.

Hearing of Adina-Ioana Vălean, Commissioner-designate for Transport | EU Parliament Press

Transport and Tourism Committee MEPs quizzed Adina-Ioana Vălean, candidate for the transport portfolio.

The committee Chair and political groups’ coordinators will meet at 16:30 to assess the performance of the Commissioner-designate.

The right to move freely is highly valued by EU citizens and transport makes this possible, Ms Vălean said during her introductory speech. On the European Green Deal, Vălean said that it cannot be completed without transport at its core, but greening mobility must serve the citizens’ interests. While additional efforts are needed to reach carbon neutrality targets, this has to be economically feasible to be accepted by the people, she added. Digitalisation and automation entail huge changes for the sector, but this cannot come at a human cost, so greater focus on training and retraining is needed.

Green Deal, working conditions and connecting Europe

The Commissioner-designate said she would work on improving road safety and would push for the completion of the Single European Sky to reduce airspace congestion and emissions. She would make efforts to boost the uptake of clean vehicles and the deployment of publicly available refuelling and recharging points. Whereas the EU has a solid passenger rights framework, this also needs to be taken further, she said. On infrastructure investment, she said she would defend the Connecting Europe Facility budget for the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

MEPs of several groups questioned Ms Vălean on specific measures and initiatives she intends to bring forward in the context of the Green Deal, on measures to support workers in the sector and on how to improve transport connections in remote regions. Whereas some MEPs stressed the importance of completing the Single European Sky to cut emissions, others also asked whether she intends to support other measures such as the kerosene tax for the aviation sector and whether she intends to support climate-proofing projects financed by the EU.

Some MEPs also voiced concern that the Green Deal could lead to European businesses becoming less competitive and wanted to know how the Commission will support SMEs in this context.

Live replays

You can watch the video recording of the full hearing here.

Press point

At the end of the hearing, Transport and Tourism Committee Chair Karima Delli held a press point outside the meeting room: watch it here.

Next steps

Based on the committees’ recommendations, the Conference of Presidents will decide on 21 November if Parliament has received sufficient information to declare the hearing process closed. If so, the plenary will vote on whether or not to elect the Commission as a whole on 27 November, in Strasbourg.

European Union launches WTO trade dispute against Colombia’s unfair duties on frozen fries | EU Commission Press

The EU has today brought a dispute to the World Trade Organization (WTO) against unlawful anti-dumping measures imposed by Colombia on frozen fries from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “Despite numerous interventions with Colombia to lift the unjustified measures, we have not received a satisfactory response. This is why we are now taking the next step by launching a case at the WTO. The EU will continue to use the multilateral trading system to enforce the rules when others violate them, especially when this puts EU jobs and industry at risk. We hope to resolve the issue as soon as possible, preferably already in the upcoming WTO consultations, the first phase of the dispute proceedings.”

The anti-dumping duties imposed by Colombia a year ago are incompatible with WTO law, both on substance and in terms of the procedure applied to put them in place. The duties applied to European imports over a period of two years range from around 3% to 8%. These unwarranted duties restrict access to the Colombian market, affecting almost 85% of EU exports of frozen fries to this market, worth over €19 million a year.

The first step of the dispute settlement consists of a 60-day long consultation. WTO consultations will give the EU and Colombia the opportunity to find a negotiated solution. If the consultations requested today with Colombia do not result in a satisfactory solution, the EU can request that the WTO set up a panel to rule on the issues raised.

The EU has been regularly intervening in case of abusive use of trade defence measures by our trade partners and will continue to take all necessary steps to protect the interests of the European industry in line with the WTO rules.

For More Information

EU request for WTO consultations with Colombia

WTO Dispute Settlement system

State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into tax exemptions for Italian ports; welcomes Spain’s commitment to subject ports to corporate tax as from 2020 | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether tax exemptions granted under Italian law to ports are in line with EU State aid rules. The Commission also welcomes the commitment made by Spain to abolish the tax exemption benefitting Spanish ports as from 2020, allowing the Commission to close the procedure concerning Spain.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Ports are key infrastructure for economic growth and regional development. Our competition rules reflect that and allow Member States to invest in ports, creating jobs and preserving competition. At the same time, if port operators generate profits from economic activities these should be taxed in the same way of other companies under the normal national tax laws to avoid distortions of competition.”

Cross-border competition plays an important role in the ports sector and the Commission is committed to ensuring a level playing field in this important economic sector.

Port authorities carry out both non-economic and economic activities:

  • Non-economic activities, such as maritime traffic control and safety or anti-pollution surveillance, typically fall within the competence of public authorities. Such public remit activities fall outside the scope of EU State aid control.
  • The commercial operation of port infrastructure, such as providing paid access to the port, on the other hand constitutes an economic activity. EU State aid rules apply to these activities.

A corporate tax exemption for ports that earn profits from economic activities provides them with a competitive advantage when they operate on the internal market and therefore involves State aid, which may not be compatible with EU rules.

In Italy, port authorities are fully exempt from corporate income tax.

In Spain, port authorities are currently exempt from corporate income tax on their main sources of revenue, such as port fees or income from rental or concession contracts. In the Basque Country, port authorities are currently fully exempt from corporate income tax.

In January 2019, the Commission invited Italy and Spain to adapt their legislation in order to ensure that ports, as from 1 January 2020, would pay corporate tax in the same way as other companies in Italy and Spain, respectively, in line with EU State aid rules.

Spain

Following the Commission decision in January 2019, Spain has agreed to amend its corporate income tax legislation to bring it in line with EU State aid rules. Notably, the Spanish authorities have committed to subject Spanish ports, including those located in the Basque Country, to the normal corporate income tax rules as from 2020. The Commission welcomes this commitment and has now formally accepted them in a decision adopted today.

Since the corporate tax exemption for ports already existed before the accession of Spain to the EU, these measures are considered as “existing aid” and the Commission cannot ask Spain to recover the aid already granted.

Italy

Italy has not agreed to change its corporate tax legislation as the Commission proposed in its January 2019 decision. For this reason, the Commission has now opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether or not its initial concerns as regards the compatibility of the tax exemptions for Italian ports with EU State aid rules are confirmed. If they are, the corporate tax exemption for ports in Italy would also amount to “existing aid”, since they already existed before the accession of Italy to the EU and the Commission would not be able to ask Italy to recover any aid already granted.

The opening of an in-depth investigation gives an opportunity for Italy and interested third parties – such as beneficiaries or competitors – to comment on the State aid assessment of the tax exemptions, in particular as to the assessment of the economic nature of ports’ activities and the effect on competition and trade.

Background

“Existing aid”, and its assessment, is subject to a specific cooperation procedure between Member States and the Commission. When existing aid appears to be in breach of EU State aid rules, the Commission, as a first step, informs the Member State concerned about its concerns. With respect to the present cases, in April 2018, following its investigation into the functioning and taxation of ports in all EU Member States, the Commission informed Italy and Spain of its concerns regarding their regimes for the taxation of ports. The Commission took the preliminary view that, in both Italy and Spain, the existing tax regimes provide the ports with a selective advantage that may breach EU State aid rules.

In light of the discussions that follow, and as a second step, the Commission may then propose appropriate measures to the Member State to bring the measures in line with EU State aid rules. In January 2019, the Commission proposed, in two separate decisions, that Italy and Spain modify their corporate income tax legislation applicable to ports to align it with EU State aid rules.

If the Member State accepts to implement the Commission’s proposal, as it is the case for Spain, the Commission adopts a decision formally acknowledging that commitment. This puts an end to the cooperation procedure. Today’s decision concerning Spain falls within this category.

If the Member State does not accept the proposal, the Commission may decide, as a third step, to open an in-depth investigation to verify the compatibility of the existing aid. Today’s decision concerning Italy falls into this third category.

Removing tax advantages does not mean that ports can no longer receive State support. Member States have many possibilities to support ports in line with EU State aid rules, for example to achieve EU transport objectives or to put in place necessary infrastructure investments which would not have been possible without public aid. In this regard, in May 2017, the Commission simplified the rules for public investment in ports. In particular, the Commission has extended the scope of its General Block Exemption Regulationto non-problematic investment in ports. As a result, Member States can now invest up to €150 million in sea ports and up to €50 million in inland ports with full legal certainty and without prior verification by the Commission. The Regulation allows public authorities to, for example, cover the costs of dredging in ports and access waterways. Furthermore, EU rules enable Member States to compensate ports for the cost of undertaking public service tasks (so services of general economic interest).

In January 2016, the Commission required the Netherlands to put an end to the corporate income tax exemption granted to the Dutch public seaports In July 2017, the Commission required France and Belgium to put an end to the corporate income tax exemption granted to the French and Belgian ports. These decisions were upheld by the General Court in cases T-160/16 (Netherlands), T-673/17, T-674/17 and T-696/17 (Belgium) and T-754/17T-747/17 (France).

The non-confidential version of the decisions will be made available under case numbers SA.38397 (Spain) and SA.38399 (Italy) in the State Aid Register on the competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.

State aid: Commission approves €2.6 billion public support for the Irish National Broadband Plan | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, €2.6 billion of public support for the Irish National Broadband Plan. The scheme will bring high-speed broadband services to consumers and businesses in areas with insufficient connectivity in Ireland.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said: “The National Broadband Plan in Ireland is expected to address the significant digital divide between urban and rural areas in Ireland, enabling Irish consumers and businesses to benefit from the full potential of digital growth. This will help households and businesses in areas of Ireland where private investment is insufficient.

The National Broadband Plan has an indicative budget of €2.6 billion. The scheme aims to address connectivity deficits across Ireland and to achieve 100% high-speed coverage.

The new network will be capable of supporting download speeds of at least 150 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 30 Megabits per second (Mbps). It will also provide access to improved broadband services, which will stimulate the development of a modern digital economy.

The scheme targets areas where no broadband infrastructure offering download speeds of at least 30 Mbps is currently in place, and where no private investor has demonstrated a concrete plan to invest commercially in the near future.The Irish authorities have developed a comprehensive mapping of available infrastructure and carried out numerous public consultations in order to determine the target areas.

The subsidised network will offer wholesale access to all operators on an open, transparent and non-discriminatory basis, and will therefore incentivise private investments in the provision of high-speed internet services to households and businesses in the target areas.

The Commission assessed the measure under EU State aid rules, in particular its 2013 Broadband Guidelines. The Commission concluded that the scheme’s positive effects on competition in the Irish broadband market outweigh potential negative effects brought about by the public intervention. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU State aid rules.

The scheme will contribute to the EU strategic objectives set out in the Digital Agenda for Europe and in the Communication “Towards a European Gigabit Society“.

Background

Broadband connectivity is of strategic importance for European growth and innovation in all sectors of the economy, as well as for social and territorial cohesion. The Digital Agenda for Europeacknowledges the socio-economic benefits of broadband and sets targets for broadband development in Europe, including that 50% or more of European households should subscribe to internet connections above 100 Mbps.

The Digital Agenda for Europe was complemented in 2016 by the Gigabit Communication, which defines connectivity objectives to be achieved by 2025, where the development of very high capacity networks able to provide download speeds of at least 100 Mbps, upgradeable to 1 Gbps, should enable the widespread use of products, services and applications in the Digital Single Market.

The 2013 Broadband Guidelines allow for public interventions where private initiatives are not sufficient, while protecting private investment and competition as a key driver for investment, better prices and quality of services for consumers and businesses.

The non-confidential version of the current decision will be made available under the case number SA.54472 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News

Commissioners Avramopoulos and Jourová in Skopje next week for EU-Western Balkans ministerial forum on Justice and Home Affairs | EU Commission Press

On 18 and 19 November, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos and Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová will participate in the EU-Western Balkans ministerial forum on Justice and Home Affairs in Skopje, North Macedonia. On Monday, Commissioner Jourová will attend the meeting to discuss the rule of law and judicial reforms, prison conditions and use of alternative sanctions as well as cooperation with EU agencies, entities and programmes, and the importance of implementing the recommendations of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The discussions will be followed by a press conference at 17:00 CET, in presence of the Finnish Minister of Justice, Ms Anna-Maja Henriksson and her counterpart of North Macedonia, Ms Renata Deskoska. The press conference can be followed on EbS. Finally, Commissioner Jourová will hold a debate with students from the Faculty of Law at the University of Skopje. On Tuesday morning, Commissioner Avramopoulos will join Home Affairs Ministers to discuss cooperation on migration and border management, including between the European Border and Coast Guard and Western Balkan partners. Participants will also discuss the fight against terrorism as well as the prevention and countering of violent extremism, including the implementation of the EU-Western Balkans Joint Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism. Participants will then turn to the issue of organised crime, addressing notably the fight against human trafficking, migrant smuggling and the smuggling of drugs and weapons. In the margins of the meeting, Commissioner Avramopoulos will sign two arrangements implementing the EU-Western Balkans Joint Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. A press conference with Commissioner Avramopoulos, the Finnish Minister of the Interior, Ms Maria Ohisalo and Minister of Interior of North Macedonia, Mr Oliver Spasovski will take place at 13:00 CET and can be followed on EbS. During their stay in Skopje and in the margins of the Ministerial meeting, Commissioners Avramopoulos and Jourová will also have bilateral meetings with Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Mr Zoran Zaev and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Nikola Dimitrov. Commissioner Jourová will also meet the Minister of Justice, Ms Renata Deskoska while Commissioner Avramopoulos the Minister of Interior, Mr Oliver Spasovski.

Labels for tyres: deal for greener and safer road transport | EU Parliament Press

  • MEPs and EU governments struck a provisional deal on new labelling rules for tyres
  • Labels will show fuel efficiency, wet grip, external rolling noise, snow and ice grip
  • Estimated to save 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and create €9 billion turnover

The new labelling scheme for car and truck tyres aims to increase consumer awareness and fuel savings, improve safety and decrease noise pollution.

The legislation was informally agreed by MEPs from the Industry and Research Committee and the Finnish Presidency of the Council, on Wednesday evening.

Under the new rules, the labelling will have to indicate the tyre’s fuel efficiency, wet grip and external rolling noise. Information on snow and ice performance may also be included on the label with pictograms.

The label can be added to in the future, by means of so-called delegated acts, to include information on mileage, abrasion, retreated tyres and for snow and ice grip. Mileage and abrasion performance data would be added when a testing method becomes available.

Labels must be clearly visible to consumers, be on display in all situations where tyres are sold, including online, and should provide a QR code for easy scan.

The aim of the new bill, still to be formally adopted, is to increase consumer awareness and improve market surveillance across the EU, to reap the potential benefits for the environment, health and safety. The abrasion of tyres during use is a significant source of micro-plastics, which are harmful to the environment.

Heavy-duty vehicles

The new labelling scheme would also apply to heavy-duty vehicles (so-called C3 tyres), which are currently not covered by EU labelling requirements. Freight accounts for a large percentage of GHG emissions coming from transport. Since C3 tyres consume more fuel and cover more kilometres per year than C1 (passenger cars) and C2 (light commercial vehicles), they have greater potential in terms of reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

Quote

Rapporteur Henna Virkkunen (EPP, FI) said: “Everybody knows the energy label, it is a trade mark. In the same way, the new tyre label allows consumers to make informed choices. For example, information on a tyre’s fuel efficiency helps consumers to cut emissions and save money, as tyres contribute to as much as 20-30% of the vehicle’s fuel consumption. The problem of microplastics released from the tyres is another important concern. I am happy that all the institutions have agreed to include microplastics on the label as soon as possible, once reliable testing methods and standards become available.”

Next steps

The informal agreement will now have to be endorsed by the European Parliament’s Industry committee and the Council’s Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER). If then approved by both Parliament and Council, it would be applicable from 1 May 2021.

Background

The new labelling scheme could lead to a reduction of 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and to an increased turnover of €9 billion. The new regulation on the labelling of tyres will repeal and replace the 2009 Tyre Labelling Regulation once it enters into force.

MEPs condemn criminalisation of sex education in Poland | EU Parliament Press

  • EP calls on the Polish Parliament to reject the bill
  • Lack of adequate sex education puts young people at risk
  • MEPs ask for more funding for civil society providing sex education

In a resolution put to the vote on Thursday, MEPs express their deep concern over a Polish draft law that could put teachers who provide sex education in prison.

In the text adopted by 471 votes in favour, 128 against and 57 abstentions, MEPs criticise a draft law that seeks to make the provision of sex education to minors a crime in Poland. This initiative to amend a Polish law against paedophilia threatens teachers with up to three years in prison and increasing this penalty to five years has been proposed.

The European Parliament condemns the shift in Poland towards misinforming young people, and stigmatising and banning sexuality in education. It calls on the Polish Parliament to refrain from adopting the bill, which follows recent attempts to limit sexual and reproductive rights in Poland, including the right to abortion.

Protect young people from abuse through better education

The resolution encourages all EU countries to provide comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education in schools. MEPs stress that lack of information and education about sex and sexuality puts the safety and wellbeing of young people at risk and makes them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, abuse and violence, including online harassment.

Teaching young people about gender equality, consent and mutual respect can help to prevent and combat gender stereotypes, homophobia, transphobia and gender-based violence, say MEPs.

Recognising the important role of civil society in providing sex education, MEPs call for these organisations to be adequately funded at EU level, be it through the 2021 – 2027 Rights and Values programme or other EU pilot projects. They also call on the Council to address the Polish draft law in the Article 7 (1) related hearings.

Parliament backs €1.6 million to help former workers of Carrefour Belgium | EU Parliament Press

  • Redundancies in Carrefour retail stores due to increasing competition from online sellers outside the EU
  • 67% of Belgian consumers shopped online in 2018 – up from 46% in 2012

Four hundred Wallonian workers dismissed by the Carrefour supermarket chain should receive EU aid worth €1,632,028 to help find new jobs, MEPs decided on Thursday.

The measure, co-financed by the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) would help the 400 workers find new jobs by providing them with career guidance, job training, entrepreneurship advice and contributions towards business start-up.

In addition, the measure will also provide support for up to 330 unemployed young people who are under the age of 25 and are not currently enrolled in education or training.

The total estimated funding amounts to €2.7 million, of which the EGF would provide 60% (€1.6 million).

The draft report by José Manuel Fernandes (EPP, PT), recommending that Parliament approve the aid, was passed by 558 votes to 63, and 43 abstentions.

Next steps

To take effect, the aid has yet to be approved by the Council, which is still discussing it, as not all member states have agreed on the measure up to now.

Background

The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) contributes to packages of tailor-made services to help redundant workers find new jobs. Its annual ceiling is €150 million.

According to the Belgian Federation for Commerce and Services, 67% of Belgian consumers shopped online in 2018 – up from 46% in 2012. Overall, 39% of consumers say they will shop more online in 2019 than in the previous year. More information in the Commission proposal.

Closing VAT loopholes for sales through online platforms | EU Parliament Press

MEPs on Thursday voted on measures specifying how large online platforms are to contribute to closing loopholes that hinder the collection of VAT.

The new rules, led through Parliament by Ondřej Kovařík (Renew, CZ), would help member states recover around €5 billion in tax revenues lost in the e-commerce sector every year – a figure expected to rise to €7 billion by 2020. In 2017, the unpaid VAT due from all economic sectors in the EU was calculated to stand at around €137 billion.

The directive put to the vote on Thursday supplements the general provisions laid down in the VAT e-commerce directive, approved in 2017 and due to enter into force in 2021. It details how online platforms such as the marketplaces of Amazon, E-Bay or Alibaba are to execute the responsibility they will have from 2021 to ensure that VAT is collected on sales to EU consumers.

Notably, the rules detail the records that platforms must keep on the sales made to help national authorities calculate how much VAT is due, even when sellers from outside the EU have not complied with paying the VAT. Currently, it is difficult for member states to obtain the VAT due on goods sold from outside the EU if the seller does not properly declare these sales.

MEPs have agreed on the changes to the Commission proposal put forward by member states to clarify which member state will be administratively competent for a specific sale, and when an online platform is to be considered as having a role in a sale, and therefore ultimately responsible for ensuring the VAT is collected. MEPs also agreed that the reporting requirements should be supplemented to obtain a breakdown of the VAT due per member state.

Mr Kovařík said, “We need a VAT Regime which is fit for the digital age. Modernising the e-commerce rules will simplify VAT procedures across the single market. This Directive will also contribute to closing existing loopholes that hinder VAT collection.

These new measures are a good example of rules that are fit for the digital age and which will benefit particularly smaller enterprises which aim to do business across the EU.”

Next steps

The council will now need to adopt the final position on this directive. The European Parliament has a consultative role.

Background

The internet has dramatically revolutionised shopping. As a result, the existing rules contained in the 2006 VAT directive are insufficient to know when, how much and where VAT should be collected and to ensure it is effectively collected.

The OECD has estimated that around 67% of e-commerce supplies of goods are made via digital platforms, and the vast majority of these only through the three biggest platforms.