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Remarks by President Donald Tusk after his meeting with Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev | EU Council Press

Good morning. First of all, thank you very much Prime Minister, dear Zoran, for receiving me in Skopje today. It is great to be back again.

Your country’s efforts over the past years have been remarkable. Together we have withstood one of the biggest migration crises that Europe has faced since the Second World War. It was for all of us a very difficult and demanding test of responsibility and effectiveness of action. Your country passed this test better than many EU Member States. You have also found a solution to the dramatic political crisis in your country. A solution based on democratic principles, decency and common sense. And through your Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria and the Prespa Agreement with Greece, you have become champions of political rationalism and political maturity in your region. These achievements are truly impressive, internationally recognised and should not be wasted by the EU.

When the EU leaders met in June, three months ago, they committed to deliver a “clear and substantive” decision – in October – on whether to open accession talks with you and your neighbour, Albania.

I expressed my personal views clearly back in June: your country, within the last two years, has done everything that was expected of you for the EU to be able to launch the negotiations in line with the European Commission’s recommendation. That continues to be my strong conviction. Your country has done everything.

That is also why I came to North Macedonia today. I wish to make it crystal clear: there is no doubt in Brussels about your political commitment to the rule of law and to fighting corruption. Of course, anybody can at anytime and anywhere do more, especially when it comes to implementation. But we know very well that your government is determined and consistent in this, also as regards the continuation of the work of the Special Prosecutor’s Office.

Finally, allow me one metaphor. The EU accession process resembles a marathon more than a 100 metres sprint. And as a dedicated runner, I know what I am talking about. To reach the finish line, continued strength, endurance and focus is needed. And sometimes, I should also say, patience. I have no doubt that North Macedonia possesses more than enough of all these qualities. And everyone should appreciate it.

Skopje is the best possible place where I would like to appeal to the leaders of the European Union: Now you do your share. Because North Macedonia has already done its share. Thank you.

For a torture-free world: Council reinforces EU policy towards third countries on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment | EU Council Press

The Council today adopted the following conclusions on the revised Guidelines on EU policy towards third countries on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment:

“1. The Council welcomes the Guidelines on EU Policy Towards Third Countries on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and approves the revised guidelines. The Council remains seriously concerned by the widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment around the world.

2. The Council recalls that the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is absolute in international law. The fight against torture and other ill-treatment is enshrined within the EU legal and political framework and the EU will continue to oppose any attempt to limit this absolute prohibition. In this respect, the EU and its Member States reaffirm their full commitment to combatting torture and other ill-treatment worldwide, in line with relevant international and regional treaties and standards on human rights, including on the administration of justice and the conduct of armed conflict.

3. The EU will continue to strongly oppose and condemn the use of torture and other ill-treatment by state and non-state actors, wherever it takes place and whatever its form, using all tools at its disposal. The Council recognises the relevance of a comprehensive approach to eradicating torture encompassing all essential elements: prohibition, prevention, accountability and redress for victims.

In this context, the Council underlines the importance of procedural safeguards, in particular in the first hours of detention, to prevent torture and other ill-treatment.

4. The EU calls on all States to fully comply with their human rights obligations under international law including in counter-terrorism, migration, trafficking in human beings and other crisis management settings, with particular attention to those in the most vulnerable situations. The EU also stresses the importance of mainstreaming safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment in all actions and policies.

5. Engaging with all key stakeholders and taking joint actions is critical to the eradication of torture. The Council underlines the importance of further strengthening cooperation with UN mechanisms and regional bodies, as well as with other relevant actors such as the International Criminal Court. The Council equally acknowledges the key role of National Human Rights Institutions and independent National Preventive Mechanisms as well as of civil society organisations and human rights defenders in the fight against torture and other ill-treatment.

6. The Council notes with appreciation the progress made by the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade, a cross-regional effort gathering more than 60 countries committed to ending trade in goods used for torture and capital punishment globally. The Council welcomes the UN General Assembly resolution on Torture-Free Trade and strongly supports efforts to establish common international standards in this field. It also welcomes the ongoing work on the revision of the Istanbul Protocol on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

7. The revised guidelines provide practical guidance to EU institutions and Member States, including on the wide range of tools that can be used in their engagement with third countries and in multilateral human rights fora to support ongoing efforts to eradicate torture and other ill-treatment worldwide. The Council Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) will follow up on their implementation in close cooperation, when appropriate, with other Council working groups.” 

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Control of arms export: Council adopts conclusions, new decision updating the EU’s common rules and a revised user’s guide | EU Council Press

The Council today adopted a decision amending the Council Common Position of 8 December 2008 on the control of arms exports, as well as a revised user’s guide. It also adopted conclusions on the review of the Common Position.

The Council decision takes account of a number of developments at both European Union and international level that have resulted in new obligations and commitments for member states since the adoption of the Common Position of 2008. These developments include in particular the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on 24 December 2014, which regulates the international trade in conventional arms. All member states are States Parties to the ATT. The ATT aims to establish the highest possible common international standards for regulating or improving the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms and to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion.

In its conclusions, the Council recalls its commitment to strengthening the control of the export of military technology and equipment and to reinforce cooperation and promote convergence in the field of export of military technology and equipment within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. It does this through the setting, upholding and implementation of high common standards for the management of transfers of military technology and equipment by all member states.

The Council reaffirms that military equipment and technology should be traded in a responsible and accountable way. It renews its commitment to promote cooperation and convergence in member states’ policies to prevent the export of military technology and equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or contribute to regional instability.

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EU invests in reliable electricity system in Czechia | EU Commission Press

The EU is investing more than €46 million from the European Regional Development Fund to modernise and extend the electricity substation of Kočín, southern Bohemia, one of the most important node in the Czech transmission system. When completed in November 2023, the project will increase the country’s energy security, ensuring reliable operations even in extreme conditions. Vice-President in charge of the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič said: “This EU investment will boost energy security of Czechia as well as the region by reducing the risk of blackouts and by facilitating the import of clean energy from neighbouring countries. It is yet another example of the Energy Union delivering on the ground.” In addition to improving the quality, reliability and sustainability of electricity supplies to customers, this project will indeed increase the country’s capacity to access renewable energy from neighbouring countries. The extension of the Kočín substation will enable the implementation of two other Projects of Common Interest: the connection of a second circuit on the existing Kočín-Preštice power line and the new 120 km-long Kočín-Mírovka overhead line. These two projects will reinforce the Priority Corridor for north-south Electricity Interconnections in central-eastern and south-eastern Europe, increasing Czechia’s access to renewable energy – mainly wind energy from Germany and solar power from Italy – and helping cut greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

WiFi4EU: new call for municipalities to apply for free Wi-Fi network in public spaces | EU Commission Press

On 19 September at 13:00 CEST the Commission will launch a new call for applications for WiFi4EU vouchers to set up free Wi-Fi networks in public spaces, including town halls, public libraries, museums, public parks or squares. The call is open to municipalities or groups of municipalities in the EU until 20 September 2019 at 17:00 CEST. Municipalities will be able to apply for 1780 vouchers, valued €15,000 each. Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, said: “It is with great pleasure that I can announce the opening of the call for the third round of WiFi4EU vouchers. With nearly 6000 grant agreements already signed, it is exciting to see the immediate benefits that this initiative is bringing to the lives of our citizens.” The WiFi4EU scheme is administered through a series of calls, and covers all 28 EU Member States, as well as Norway and Iceland. Once municipalities have registered on the dedicated WiFi4EU Portal they will be able to apply for a voucher with just one click. The Commission is selecting beneficiaries on a first-come, first-served basis, while ensuring geographical balance. The first two WiFi4EU calls for applications have taken place to great effect, with over 23,000 municipalities registered in the Portal and 6,200 vouchers awarded so far. The present call marks the third of four calls foreseen before the end of 2020. More information is available online, in the Questions and Answers and a factsheet, while a map illustrates the number of municipalities throughout Europe who have so far benefited from the scheme.

European Commission adopted 2019 Action Programme for the Turkish Cypriot community | EU Commission Press

The European Commission adopted today an Annual Action Programme for a total amount of €35.4 million identifying new projects to facilitate the reunification of Cyprus. The objective of the programme is to encourage the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community with particular emphasis on the economic integration of the island, on improving contacts between the two communities and with the EU, and on preparation for the acquis communautaire.

Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, responsible for the Euro and Social Dialogue, also in charge of Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, said: “Our aid programme remains as relevant as ever. This new set of projects seeks to improve infrastructure, support economic development, foster reconciliation, and bring Turkish Cypriots closer to the EU. I am confident it will contribute to the settlement effort which is the ultimate goal of our assistance.”

The priorities of the programme include continued support for the preparation and financing of key infrastructure projects and for environmental protection. Further measures are planned to improve health and food safety standards. Support for education will also be provided to improve teaching and learning standards and to reinforce a large-scale programme for science laboratories in schools.

With a view to building confidence between the two communities, the programme will continue to provide substantial financing for the Committee on Missing Persons and the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage. In addition, continuous support for civil society will help to enhance Cyprus-wide cooperation between NGOs and stimulate bi-communal activities, thereby contributing to the process of reunification.

Finally, the scholarship programme will allow young Turkish Cypriots to gain academic and professional experience in EU Member States.

Background

Assistance to the Turkish Cypriot community is provided through the EU Aid Programme. Between 2006 and 2019, €555 million has been allocated for projects under the Aid Programme. The programme aims to facilitate the reunification of Cyprus by encouraging the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community. It is managed by the Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service.

More information

The Annual Action Programme for the Turkish Cypriot Community

EU Aid Programme for Turkish Cypriot community

Structural Reform Support Service

More than 14,500 workers supported by the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund in past two years | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has published today a report on the activities and results of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) in the years 2017 and 2018. The publication confirms the relevance of the fund over the reporting period: The European Parliament and the Council adopted 15 decisions to mobilise the EGF funding for a total amount of €45.5 million to support more than 14,500 beneficiaries. Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen said: “Over the years, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund has really demonstrated European solidarity, helping thousands of redundant workers to re- and upskill. For the time after 2020, the Fund will be revised so that it can intervene more effectively to support workers who have lost their jobs.” Particularly concerned was the machinery/equipment sector, followed by retail trade and air transport. As regards the 23 EGF cases adopted between 2014 and 2016, the results showed that 60% of the workers who participated in the measures had found new jobs by the end of the implementation period. This is an increase by 13 pp compared to the previous reporting periods. The EGF was set up in 2007 to support workers who lose their jobs as a result of globalisation and changing trade patterns or a financial and economic crisis. It is an expression of European solidarity towards workers by helping them adapt their skills and finding new jobs. Since its launch, the EGF has received 161 applications. Some €635 million have been requested to offer help to more than 151,000 workers and 4,429 young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs). Most recently, the Commission adopted a proposal to specify that redundancies due to a no-deal Brexit are covered in the scope of the EGF. For the next long-term budget 2021-2027, the Commission proposed a number of revisions to the Fund, including an increased budget and lower eligibility threshold, so that it can intervene even more effectively to support workers who lost their jobs.

State aid: Commission approves Belgian scheme to support electro-intensive users | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules a Belgian aid scheme supporting electro-intensive companies in Flanders (Belgium). Under the scheme, electro-intensive users will benefit from a reduction in their contribution to a regional Energy Fund to support renewable energy and cogeneration. The contribution is capped at a certain percentage of the beneficiaries’ gross value added (GVA). The main aim of the measure is to avoid that electro-intensive companies, which bear significant costs for supporting the production of renewable energy and cogeneration, are put at a competitive disadvantage. The Commission assessed the measure under EU State aid rules, in particular under the Guidelines on State aid for environmental protection and energy 2014-2020. It found that the measure supports the production of electricity from renewable energy sources and high-efficiency cogeneration, in line with EU environmental objectives, without unduly distorting competition. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the Belgian scheme is in line with EU State aid rules. More information will be available on the Commission’s competition website in the public case register under the case number SA.52367.

State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigations into individual “excess profit” tax rulings granted by Belgium to 39 multinational companies | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has opened separate in-depth investigations to assess whether “excess profit” tax rulings granted by Belgium to 39 multinational companies gave those companies an unfair advantage over their competitors, in breach of EU State aid rules.

Today’s opening decisions follow the General Court’s February 2019 annulment of the Commission’s January 2016decision concluding that the same tax rulings formed part of a Belgian aid scheme that was illegal under EU State aid rules. The Court did not take a position on whether or not the “excess profit” tax exemptions gave rise to illegal State aid but found that the Commission had failed to establish the existence of a scheme. This means that, according to the General Court, the compatibility of the tax rulings with EU State aid rules needs to be assessed individually, which is why the Commission has now opened separate in-depth investigations into the individual tax rulings. At the same time, the Commission has appealed the judgment of the General Court to the European Court of Justice to seek further clarity on the existence of an aid scheme. These proceedings are ongoing.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in charge of competition policy said: “All companies must pay their fair share of tax. We are concerned that the Belgian “excess profit” tax system granted substantial tax reductions only to certain multinational companies that would not be available to companies in a comparable situation. Following the General Court’s guidance, we have decided to open separate State aid investigations to assess the tax rulings. We also await further clarity from the European Court of Justice on the existence of an aid scheme.”

The in-depth investigations concern individual “excess profit” tax rulings issued by Belgium between 2005 and 2014 in favour of 39 Belgian companies belonging to multinational groups (see details below). Most of these multinational groups are headquartered in Europe.

Belgian company tax rules require companies, as a starting point, to be taxed based on profit actually recorded from activities in Belgium. However, the Belgian “excess profit” tax rulings, relying on the Belgian income tax code (Article 185 §2, b of the ‘Code des Impôts sur les Revenus/Wetboek Inkomstenbelastingen’), allowed multinational entities in Belgium to reduce their corporate tax liability by so-called “excess profits” that allegedly result from the advantage of being part of a multinational group. These advantages included e.g. synergies, economies of scale, reputation, client and supplier networks, or access to new markets. In practice, the rulings usually resulted in more than 50% and in some cases up to 90% of those companies’ accounting profit being exempt from taxation.

The Commission’s preliminary view is that by discounting “excess profit” from the beneficiaries’ tax base, the tax rulings under investigation selectively misapplied the Belgian income tax code. In particular, the Commission has concerns that the rulings endorsed unilateral downward adjustments of the beneficiaries’ tax base, although the legal conditions were not fulfilled. Furthermore, the Commission has concerns that the Belgian practice of issuing “excess profit” rulings in favour of certain companies may have discriminated against certain other Belgian companies, which did not, or could not, receive such a ruling.

As a result, the tax rulings may have given a selective advantage to the 39 multinational companies, allowing them to pay substantially less tax.

The opening of the in-depth investigations gives Belgium and interested third parties an opportunity to submit comments. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

Companies concerned by the investigations

  1. Luciad NV                                                           SA.53964
  2. BASF Antwerpen NV                                             SA.53965
  3. EVAL Europe NV                                                   SA.53966
  4. BP Aromatics Limited NV                                        SA.53967
  5. The Heating Company BVBA                                   SA.53968
  6. British American TobaccoCoordination Center VOF     SA.53969
  7. Evonik Oxeno Antwerpen NV and “NewCo”                SA.53970
  8. Nomacorc SA                                                      SA.53971
  9. Delta Light NV                                                    SA.53972
  10. Henkel Electronic Materials (Belgium) NV                SA.53973
  11. Puratos NV                                                       SA.53974
  12. Omega Pharma International NV                           SA.53975
  13. LMS International NV                                          SA.53976
  14. Noble International Europe BVBA                          SA.53977
  15. Trane BVBA                                                       SA.53978
  16. VF Europe BVBA                                                SA.53979
  17. St. Jude Medical Coordination Center BVBA             SA.53980
  18. Soudal NV                                                        SA.53981
  19. Ontex BVBA                                                      SA.53982
  20. Atlas Copco Airpower NV                                     SA.53983
  21. Belgacom International Carrier Services NV             SA.53984
  22. Dow Corning Europe NV/SA                                  SA.53985
  23. Capsugel Belgium NV                                          SA.53986
  24. Kinepolis Group NV                                             SA.53987
  25. Pfizer Animal Health SA / Zoetis Belgium SA            SA.53988
  26. Anheuser-Busch Inbev NV / Ampar BVBA               SA.53989
  27. Flir Systems Trading Belgium BVBA                       SA.53990
  28. Wabco Europe BVBA                                           SA.53991
  29. Celio International NV/SA                                    SA.53992
  30. Magnetrol International NV                                   SA.53993
  31. Ansell Healthcare Europe NV                                 SA.53994
  32. Esko-Graphics BVBA                                           SA.53995
  33. Victaulic Europe BVBA                                         SA.53996
  34. Astra Sweets NV                                                SA.53997
  35. Mayekawa   Europe NV                                       SA.53998
  36. Tekelec International SPRL                                   SA.53999
  37. Bridgestone Europe NV                                        SA.54000
  38. Chep Equipment Pooling NV                                 SA.54001
  39. Knauf Insulation SPRL                                         SA.54002

Background on the Commission’s investigation into Belgian “excess profit” tax exemption

In January 2016, following an in-depth investigation, the Commission concluded that the “excess profit” exemptions granted by Belgium through tax rulings constituted an aid scheme and that such scheme was illegal under EU State aid rules. On this basis, the Commission ordered Belgium to recover the aid granted to the companies that had benefitted from that system.

In February 2019, the General Court annulled the Commission’s decision. The Court found that the Commission had failed to establish the existence of an aid scheme. The Commission has appealed this finding to the European Court of Justice. In its judgment, the General Court didnot conclude on whether the “excess profit” tax exemptions gave rise to illegal State aid. The Court explicitly confirmed that it is within the Commission’s competence under State aid rules to review whether tax measures reducing a corporate taxpayer’s income tax base give rise to a selective advantage. It further held that the “excess profit” tax exemptions granted by Belgium did not appear to pursue the objective of avoiding double taxation.

Background on the Commission’s State aid investigations on tax

Tax rulings as such are not a problem under EU State aid rules if they simply confirm that tax arrangements between companies within the same group comply with the relevant tax legislation. However, tax rulings that confer a selective advantage to specific companies can distort competition within the EU’s Single Market, in breach of EU State aid rules.

Since June 2013, the Commission has been investigating individual tax rulings or rulings granted under tax schemes of Member States under EU State aid rules. It extended this information inquiry to all Member States in December 2014.

The following investigations concerning tax rulings have already been concluded by the Commission:

  • In October 2015, the Commission concluded that Luxembourg and the Netherlands had granted selective tax advantages to Fiat and Starbucks, respectively. As a result of these decisions, Luxembourg recovered €23.1 million from Fiat and the Netherlands recovered €25.7 million from Starbucks.
  • In August 2016, the Commission concluded that Ireland granted undue tax benefits to Apple, which led to a recovery by Ireland of €14.3 billion.
  • In October 2017, the Commission concluded that Luxembourg granted undue tax benefits to Amazon, which led to a recovery by Luxembourg of €282.7 million.
  • In June 2018, the Commission concluded that Luxembourg granted undue tax benefits to Engie, which led to a recovery by Luxembourg of €123 million.
  • In September 2018, the Commission found that the non-taxation of certain McDonald’s profits in Luxembourg did not lead to illegal State aid, as it is in line with national tax laws and the Luxembourg-US Double Taxation Treaty.
  • In December 2018, the Commission concluded that Gibraltar granted undue tax benefits of around €100 million to several multinational companies, through a corporate tax exemption scheme and through five tax rulings. The recovery procedure is ongoing.
  • In April 2019, the Commission concluded that the United Kingdom granted undue tax benefits to several multinational companies by allowing certain artificially diverted group financing income to remain outside the scope of the United Kingdom’s anti-tax avoidance provisions. The recovery procedure is still ongoing.

The Commission also has two ongoing in-depth investigations concerning tax rulings issued by the Netherlands in favour of Inter IKEA and Nike and an investigation concerning tax rulings issued by Luxembourg in favour of Huhtamäki.

The non-confidential versions of each decision will be made available under the case number indicated in the list below in the State aid register on the Commission’s 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.

EU tax transparency tools prove effective in the fight against tax evasion and tax avoidance | EU Commission Press

EU tax transparency rules on the automatic exchange of information between Member States are delivering added value when it comes to countries’ ability to crack down on tax avoidance, according to an evaluation published today by the Commission. The report provides a first snapshot of the commonly agreed legislation underpinning the obligatory automatic exchange of tax information on non-financial income and assets of some 16 million taxpayers within Europe, of information exchanges on financial accounts, as well as on the tax rulings that Member States provide multinational companies. For example, in 2017 Member States exchanged information on almost 18,000 tax rulings given to multinationals. The evaluation shows that Member States now receive considerably more information that can help fight tax fraud, evasion and avoidance and are still in the process of finding the most efficient ways to use the data, to evaluate the added value and deterrent effects. The Commission continues to encourage all EU countries to make full use oftheir access to the wealth of useful tax information being made available through these new channels. While too recent to examine in this study, even more tax data has now started to be exchanged between Member States, such as on the corporate tax revenues paid by big companies in each country, since new rules entered into application on 1 January 2013. From next year, Member States will also start sharing intelligence on the tax planning advice being provided by intermediaries in each country.  The report itself and more information on the currentrules (Council Directive on Administrative Cooperation, 2011/16/EU) are available here.