EU institution news

Invitation letter by President Charles Michel to the members of the European Council ahead of their meeting on 20 February 2020 | EU Council Press

Following the meetings held at Sherpa level, I have decided to call a special meeting of the European Council that will begin on 20 February 2020.

The time has come to reach an agreement at our level on the Multiannual Financial Framework.

Any postponement would create serious practical and political problems and jeopardise the continuation of current programs and policies as well as the launch of new ones.

I am fully aware that these negotiations are among the most difficult ones we have to face. But I am also convinced that with common sense and determination we can strike a deal that will benefit all Europeans.

To achieve this, all sides will need to demonstrate a spirit of compromise. I count on your support in this respect.

In the coming days I will consult with you before tabling an overall proposal in view of the February meeting, which will be prepared in the usual fashion.

Data Protection Day: Joint Statement by Vice-President Jourová and Commissioner Reynders | EU Commission Press

To mark the 2020 Data Protection Day taking place on 28 January, Vice-President Jourová and Commissioner Reynders issued the following joint statement: Data are becoming increasingly important for our economy and for our daily lives. With the roll-out of 5G and uptake of the Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things technologies, personal data will be in abundance and with potential uses we probably can’t imagine. While this offers amazing opportunities, some cases show that robust rules are needed to address clear risks for individuals and for our democracies. In Europe we know that strong data protection rules are not a luxury, but a necessity. […] 20 months after the entry into application of the landmark General Data Protection Regulation, we see that the GDPR has acted as a catalyst to put data protection at the centre of many of the on-going policy debates. It is a cornerstone of the European approach underpinning several political priorities of the new Commission promoting a human centric approach to Artificial Intelligence and other digital technologies. […] However, our priority and that of everyone involved should be to foster a harmonised and consistent implementation of data protection rules throughout the EU. […] The demand for privacy is not limited to Europe. The GDPR has inspired a growing number of laws around the world and is becoming a global standard. The full statement is available online.

Stakeholder conference on the first European Climate Law | EU Commission Press

Tomorrow, the Commission will hold a High-Level Public Conference on the European Climate Law to provide an opportunity for an open debate with stakeholders before the adoption of the Commission’s proposals next month. The Commission committed in President von der Leyen‘s Political Guidelines to adopt a European Climate Law within 100 days of taking office. The Climate Law will put into legislation the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality commitment, and set the direction of travel for the EU’s climate action, thereby giving predictability for investors, and anchoring the irreversibility of the transformation. The conference will include speeches by Executive Vice-Presidents Frans Timmermans and Valdis Dombrovskis, as well as Ministers, MEPs and civil society. The conference will bring together a broad range of stakeholders, including from business, research and civil society. More information including the full agenda of the conference is available here.

Trade: EU and 16 WTO members agree to work together on an interim appeal arbitration arrangement | EU Commission Press

Today, in Davos Switzerland, the EU and Ministers from 16 Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have agreed to develop a multi-party interim appeal arrangement that will allow the participating WTO members to preserve a functioning and two-step dispute settlement system at the WTO in disputes among them. This initiative was launched in mid-December 2019 by the EU and a number of other WTO members following the effective paralysis of the WTO Appellate Body, due to the blockage of any new appointments since 2017.

Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan said: “This statement testifies to the high importance that the EU and the participating WTO members attach to retaining a two-step dispute settlement process in WTO trade matters. The multiparty appeal arbitration arrangement will guarantee that the participating WTO members continue to have access to a binding, impartial and high-quality dispute settlement system among them. Let me underline again that this remains a contingency measure needed because of the paralysis of the WTO Appellate Body. We will continue our efforts to seek a lasting solution to the Appellate Body impasse, including through necessary reforms and improvements.”

The multi-party interim arrangement will be based on Article 25 of the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). It will secure the participating WTO members (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Singapore, Switzerland, and Uruguay) an effective and binding dispute settlement process for potential trade disputes among them.

The arrangement is a contingency measure and it will only apply until the WTO Appellate Body becomes operational again. The EU believes that an independent and impartial appeal stage, giving the necessary guarantees of rulings of the highest quality, must continue to be one of the essential features of the WTO dispute settlement system.

For More Information

Joint Statement

Humanitarian aid: EU steps up support in Nigeria for conflict victims | EU Commission Press

As millions of people continue to be affected by the conflict in Nigeria’s Lake Chad region, European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič has announced a first emergency aid package of €26.5 million for 2020 whilst visiting north-east Nigeria today.

Speaking in north-east Nigeria, an area devastated by the violence of armed groups, Commissioner Lenarčič said: “I saw first-hand today the suffering that conflict has brought to people’s lives and how crucial humanitarian aid is to people’s survival. What matters most is that humanitarian organisations can reach all the people in need, without restrictions, including in areas under the influence of non-state armed groups. It is vital that all States and parties to armed conflicts respect their obligation to allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief. It is also key to implement in parallel a comprehensive strategy in the region, exploring political tracks while addressing the root causes of conflict.

The EU’s new aid package will provide food aid, access to clean water and sanitation facilities, shelter, basic primary healthcare and education for children caught up in this conflict. The EU is one of the leading donors of humanitarian and development aid in Nigeria with more than €830 million provided since 2014.

Commissioner Lenarčič is also meeting several high-level government authorities in Nigeria to present the strong commitment of the incoming European Commission toward Africa, to discuss joint Nigerian and EU priorities for the next years and the situation in the Northeast of the Country.

Background

The decade-long armed-group insurgency in the North-East of Nigeria continues to uproot civilians and deepen humanitarian needs. The conflict limits people’s access to food, basic services and livelihood opportunities. Close to 2 million people have fled their homes in search of safety. 7.7 million people need humanitarian assistance and close to 3 million people are suffering from food shortages. Furthermore, 1.2 million people in need remain cut off from humanitarian aid in hard-to-reach areas.

In Nigeria, the EU is bringing together humanitarian and development aid on some projects to build fragile communities’ long-term resilience and offer them social protection through a more long-term and holistic approach. The EU also aims at building long-term resilience through its development assistance addressing the underlying causes of violent conflict – and by supporting basic services and helping people to support themselves.

For more information

Factsheet: Nigeria

Photos and videos of Commissioner Lenarčič’s visit to Nigeria

Links: EU development cooperation with Nigeria

Photos: EU humanitarian aid in Nigeria

Investment Plan helps to finance eco-friendly buses in Hungary | EU Commission Press

  • €47m is the first tranche of €140m loan to Volán Buszpark Kft for safer and more eco-friendly buses on regional and city lines across Hungary;
  • Covered by the Investment Plan guarantee, the loan supports Hungary in its ongoing transition towards more energy-efficient and lower-emission public transport;
  • The loan will have a positive effect on the environment as EIB delivers on its role as the EU climate bank: Volán to modernize half of its bus fleet and reduce CO2 emissions by 38%.

Commuters in Hungary will enjoy new, faster, safer and more eco-friendly buses on regional and city lines across Hungary as a result of a €47m loan the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed today with Volán Buszpark Kft, the country’s biggest bus fleet management company. This is the first tranche of a €140m loan approved by the EIB to modernize nearly half of Volán’s bus fleet, together with commercial banks finance. The loan is provided under the Investment Plan’s European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) as it addresses the EFSI objective of smart and sustainable urban mobility in the European Union.

With the EIB’s support, Volán plans to add 3,200 new buses over the next four years and improve the energy efficiency, safety and quality of public transport in Hungary, where two-thirds of settlements are reachable only by bus. In 2018, Volán transported 700 million commuters across Hungary.

Financing from the EIB, the EU’s climate bank, will make a positive impact on climate and the environment. More than 450 buses, purchased under the loan for inner city routes, should run on alternative fuels, reducing pollution in Hungarian cities. The rest of the bus fleet will run on the latest EURO VI technology engines. With its new buses, Volán will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 38% over the next four years.

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, said: ”This financing under the Investment Plan is a great example of how the EU is helping Member States in their transition to low-emission mobility. Our support will not only reduce CO2 emissions in Hungary’s transport sector, but also make travelling safer and more comfortable for commuters on new eco-friendly buses.”

Vice-President of the EIB, Lilyana Pavlova, said: “The loan we signed today will make traveling around Hungary more enjoyable, safer and faster. I am particularly happy to see the positive impact this project will have on the environment and pollution in Hungary and Europe alike. I would like to thank Volán for the opportunity to make everyday life better for Hungarians and, as the EU’s climate bank, for the opportunity to do something tangible for our environment.”

CEO of Volánbusz Zrt. and Volán Buszpark Kft., Ilona Dávid said: “The main objective of Volán Buszpark Kft. is to support VOLÁNBUSZ Zrt., the company providing interurban public passenger transport services, with a fleet of vehicles meeting the requirements of the modern age, and thus to continuously improve the quality of community road transport. In addition to increasing the comfort of passengers, the main consideration is to improve the working conditions, so when selecting buses, we also make certain that the buses support bus drivers as efficiently as possible in order for them to drive safely and comfortably. We also consider it our duty for our fleet of vehicles to be as low-emission as possible which can only be achieved by purchasing new vehicles.”

Towards a more eco-friendly Hungary!

The EIB loan supports the Government of Hungary in the ongoing transition towards a more energy-efficient and lower-emission public transport in the country and complements current efforts to create an efficient public transport network through an integrated bus and railroad networks. The loan also contributes to national strategies on transport and environment and helps Hungary meet the requirements set in the Paris Climate Agreement. Hungary was the first EU member state to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016.

About EIB

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union owned by its Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals.

EIB in Hungary

EIB lending commitments in Hungary since the start of the Bank’s activity in the country are currently close to EUR 21.6 bn. Between 2008-2018 alone the EIB signed for support worth €13.2 bn. EIB operations cover important sectors of Hungarian economy, including transport, the environment, energy infrastructure, manufacturing and services. Another key component of the Bank’s activity in Hungary is the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by increasing SME access to long-term financing through local financial institutions. Since 2001, the EU bank supported 5172 Hungarian SMEs sustaining 263,767 jobs in the process.

About Volan

Volánbusz Zrt. is a passenger bus company with a history of more than 90 years, which now provides its services with nearly 6,500 vehicles. In terms of the number of employees, it has grown into the third largest state-owned company in Hungary. The core business activity of the company is to provide regular public bus transport services on a national basis. VOLÁN Buszpark Kft. is a state-owned for-profit company operating as the main fleet management company of VOLÁNBUSZ Zrt. The company aims to renew its fleet of vehicles in the framework of a coordinated bus purchasing strategy and to manage the financing of vehicle purchases, thereby contributing to the improvement of service levels.

About Hungarian National Strategies Supported by:

The need for bus replacement enabled by the law is set out in Hungary’s National Transport Strategy (NTS) towards sustainable public transport growth and it is one of the main policy measures of the Transport Energy Efficiency Improvement Action Plan (TEEIAP) as well as of the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) for 2020. Hungary was the first EU member state to approve Paris Agreement, early in 2016 and following that, the State has already adopted (in May 2017) the new National Climate Change Strategy (NCCS-2)

About the Investment Plan for Europe

The Investment Plan for Europe, or Juncker Plan, is one of the European Commission’s top priorities. It focuses on boosting investments to create jobs and growth by making smarter use of new and existing financial resources, removing obstacles to investment and providing visibility and technical assistance to investment projects. The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is the central pillar of the Juncker Plan. It provides a first loss guarantee, allowing the EIB Group to invest in more, often riskier, projects. The projects and agreements approved for financing under the EFSI so far are expected to mobilise €450.6 billion in investments, including €4.4 billion in Hungary, and support more than one million start-ups and SMEs across all 28 Member States.

State aid: Estonia to recover incompatible aid from agricultural company AS Tartu Agro | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has found that agricultural company AS Tartu Agro received incompatible aid from Estonia through the rent of agricultural land at a rate below market price. Estonia must now recover this illegal aid from AS Tartu Agro.

AS Tartu Agro is an Estonian private company, which produces milk, meat and cereals.

In 2017, following a complaint by a competitor, the Commission opened an in-depth investigation to establish whether a land lease contract between the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs and AS Tartu Agro was in line with EU State aid rules. The lease contract had been signed in 2000 between the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs and AS Tartu Agro for a duration of 25 years and is therefore still valid.

The Commission’s investigation revealed that the lease of land involved State aid, as the lease fee paid by AS Tartu Agro was, and still is, below the market price. On this basis, the Commission found that the lease contract gives an undue and selective advantage to AS Tartu Agro over its competitors.

The Commission therefore concluded that the contract amounts to incompatible aid under EU State aid rules, and that AS Tartu Agro now has to return the illegal advantage received. The amount is estimated to be around EUR 1.2 million.

Estonia will now determine the amount to be recovered, in line with the methodology set out under the Commission decision.

Background

Under EU State aid rules, public interventions in favour of companies can be considered free of State aid when they are made on terms that a private operator would accept under market conditions (the market economy operator principle – MEOP). If this principle is not respected, public interventions involve State aid within the meaning of Article 107 of theTreaty on the Functioning of the European Union, as they confer an economic advantage to beneficiaries with respect to their competitors.

As a matter of principle, EU State aid rules require that incompatible State aid be recovered without delay in order to remove the distortion of competition created by the aid. There are no fines under EU State aid rules and recovery does not penalise the company in question. It simply restores equal treatment with other companies.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.39182 in the State Aid Register on the Commission’s competition website and will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union, once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.

High Representative/Vice-President Borrell in Berlin | EU Commission Press

On Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 January, High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell will be in Berlin, Germany. He will meet with the German Foreign Affairs Minister, Heiko Maas, followed by a joint press conference at 10:30 CET, which will be available live on EbS. Josep Borrell will then proceed to meet with President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, followed by meetings with the Parliament’s Committees on European Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Defence. In the evening, he will conclude the day by meeting the Minister of Defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. On Tuesday, 28 January, the High Representative/Vice-President will deliver an opening statement at the ‘Green Central Asia’ conference, organised by the Federal Foreign Office.

Commissioner Ferreira in Poland to discuss the transition towards a climate-neutral economy | EU Commission Press

On 27 and 28 January, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, will be in Poland. On Monday, the Commissioner will have a bilateral meeting with Polish Minister of Funds and Regional Policy, Malgorzata Jarosínska-Jedynak, to discuss the preparation of the 2021-2027 programming period, the ongoing negotiations on the next EU long-term budget, and the Just Transition Fund. Commissioner Ferreira will then give keynote speeches at the kick-off conference on the Just Transition Fund as well as in a session discussing the green economy. Both speeches will be made available on her website. In the afternoon, the Commissioner will participate in a panel discussion on coal regions in transition and the need for fairness in the green transition. In the margins of the Conference, Commissioner Ferreira will meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Mr Piotr Gliński. Finally, the Commissioner will also visit several projects during her stay in Poland: on Monday, she will visit the city of Bytom, which has been suffering from the consequences of coal mining activities, and on Tuesday a former coal mine which has been converted into the Silesian Museum of Katowice. During the latter project visit, the Commissioner will hold a bilateral meeting with Mr Jakub Chelstowski, Marshal of the Silesian region.

Summit with Western Balkans speakers on Tuesday | EU Parliament Press

Speakers from the Western Balkans parliaments will gather at the European Parliament, under President Sassoli’s patronage, to discuss European prospects for their region.

Parliamentary Speakers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia will gather on Tuesday to discuss European prospects for the Western Balkans. They will be joined by the president of Croatia’s Parliament, the country currently holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU.

The speakers will meet European Parliament President David Sassoli, the chairs of EP political groups as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Working Group on the Western Balkans.

President David Sassoli said: “I am looking forward to welcoming the speakers from the Western Balkans to the European Parliament. This house has always been firmly committed to the European perspective of the Western Balkans. It is well known that we were very disappointed by the failure of the European Council to start negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia last October. It is now time to move on together and keep pushing for progress. Parliaments are essential in this regard. I convened this Summit for us to develop a strategy for the role that Parliaments can play in driving the EU reform agenda and in delivering concrete measures to meet the European aspirations of the people of the Western Balkans. I am convinced that there is no better time and place to do so.”

Parliamentary cooperation, the future of Europe and the enlargement process, which has stalled following disagreement in Council on opening accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, are on the summit’s agenda. In its resolution adopted last October, Parliament expressed disappointment that Albania and North Macedonia were not able to start accession talks, stressing that the enlargement process has played a decisive role in stabilising the Western Balkans.

The meeting with the members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Working Group on the Western Balkans will be open to the public: you can watch it live.

The summit is organised under the patronage of President Sassoli, in cooperation with the Foreign Affairs Committee and the delegations for relations with the Western Balkans.

When: Tuesday, 28 January 18.00

Where: Brussels, SPAAK Building, room 3C50

Full programme