Trade: EU-China Relations
European Union Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandelson and Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner met on 4 November 2005 with Chinese Trade Minister, Mr. Bo Xilai. Discussions focused on improving access for EU companies to the Chinese market, and the protection of intellectual property rights in China to give extra confidence to EU investors. Furthermore, the EU and China discussed the EU’s recent offer on agricultural market access in the framework of the Doha Development round of trade talks. Mr. Mandelson also addressed, as requested by EU exporters, the issue of high Chinese tariffs on Europe automobile parts. During a subsequent formal sitting of the EC-China Economic and Trade Joint Committee, the Commission and Chinese representatives discussed EU enlargement and initialled a bilateral agreement on a package of measures to compensate China on products where EU enlargement has resulted in losses to Chinese exporters.
Environment: Implementation of Key Industrial Pollution Law
The European Commission has issued a report on the implementation of the Directive concerning integrated pollution prevention and control. In order to control pollution the Directive obliges new installations such as factories, energy generation plants and farms to obtain operating permits from national authorities. Existing installations must comply with the Directive by October 2007. Member States have been slow to implement the Directive and infringement procedures are currently ongoing against eight of them. Therefore the Commission is launching an implementation action plan to ensure full adherence to the Directive involving compliance checks of installations and a review of the Directive. The review will be completed in 2007. An Advisory Group will be set up to ensure consultation with the Member States and other stakeholders.
State Aid: Commission Inquiry into Proposed Subsidy to Ford Genk, Belgium
The European Commission has launched a detailed investigation into the proposed grant of EUR 12.28 million to Ford-Werke GmbH (Ford Genk) by the Flemish regional government. The grant is intended to support a training programme costing EUR 33.84 million. However the Commission is concerned that the subsidy may fall foul of EU State aid rules to the extent that it covers mere operating expenses. To the extent that the aid covers training properly so-called, however, the Exemption Regulation on training aid allows such aid up to a given threshold. The threshold is higher if the aid is for “general” training because it furnishes the employee with transferable skills whereas the “specific” training merely educates the individual in skills specific to the particular company.
State Aid: Subsidies for Digital Terrestrial TV in Berlin-Brandenburg Illegal
The European Commission has decided that the EUR 4 million in subsidies granted by the media authority of Berlin-Brandenburg to commercial broadcasters for use of the digital terrestrial TV (“DVB-T”) network violate EU State aid rules. The subsidies, which had not been notified to the Commission, must be recovered from the broadcasters. However, the Commission recognises that public intervention can benefit digital switchover. In its decision, the Commission indicated that it would, under certain conditions, view favourably the following forms of public support for the digital switchover: (i) funding for the roll-out of a transmission network in areas where there would otherwise be insufficient TV coverage; (ii) financial compensation to public service broadcasters for the cost of broadcasting in order to reach the entire population; (iii) subsidies to consumers for the purchase of digital decoders; and (iv) financial compensation to broadcasters who are required to discontinue analogue transmission before the expiry of their licences.
State Aid: Commission Approves French Scheme to Support Innovative Audiovisual Works
The European Commission has approved a new French scheme with an annual budget of EUR 4 million to support production of innovative audiovisual works. The purpose of this scheme is to support the writing and development of innovative works before they reach the audiovisual production stage. Aid will be granted to authors to write scripts and synopses, and to production companies to adapt projects. The Commission has concluded that the scheme constitutes State aid which is compatible with the common market as it falls under the derogation for culture provided for in Article 87(3)(d) of the EC Treaty. The Commission has verified the compliance of the scheme with the principles of its February 2002 Communication on the cinema, which determines how the State aid rules apply to cinematographic and audiovisual works.
Mergers: Commission Clears Acquisition of BPB by Saint-Gobain
The European Commission has cleared the proposed acquisition of BPB plc. (“BPB”) in a hostile bid made by Compagnie de Saint-Gobain of France (“Saint-Gobain”). BPB is a UK producer of plasterboard and other plaster-based products, whilst Saint-Gobain is a French global manufacturer of high-technology materials. The main horizontal overlaps, including that of insulation materials, were found not to significantly impede competition especially as strong effective competitors with significant market shares exist in all the markets concerned. The Commission also concluded that, although distributors owned by Saint-Gobain purchase and re-sell plaster-based and insulation materials manufactured by BPB, there was no risk of foreclosure as a significant alternative and competing sources of supply would continue to be available. Under UK takeover rules Saint Gobain has until 2 December 2005 to secure control over BPB.
Enlargement: Commission Supports EU Membership Application of Macedonia
The European Commission has decided to recommend that Macedonia become an official candidate country of the European Union. At the moment, only four countries enjoy this status, namely Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Croatia. While providing no date for the beginning of negotiations, the Commission considers, in an opinion adopted on 9 November 2005, that membership talks should be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic once it has reached a sufficient degree of compliance with certain membership requirements, also called the Copenhagen criteria. In particular, the country will have to achieve reforms in the judiciary and the police. Improving the electoral process and the effectiveness of the fight against corruption are further necessary steps before opening negotiations. The final decision on whether to grant Macedonia the formal status of candidate country could be taken at a Council meeting in mid-December.
Enlargement: European Strategy for the Western Balkans
The European Commission has proposed a ‘road map’ for countries in the Western Balkans that are seeking EU membership. These countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro including Kosovo. The first prerequisite for a closer relation with the EU is the conclusion of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). The second stage is the granting of a candidate status by the Commission for which the country needs to reach a sufficient degree of general compliance with membership criteria (see previous article). Particularly important are the political criteria, including full cooperation with the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Only after these conditions are met can the country request the commencement of negotiations for EU membership. The Commission’s programme aims at stimulating political and economic changes in the Western Balkans, while refraining from making promises of future membership.
NEXT WEEK’S EVENTS
Monday 14 November – Friday 18 November 2005
Education, Youth & Culture Council (14 - 15 November 2005)
COURT OF JUSTICE
Community own resources
C-392/02 Commission v Denmark
Environment and consumers
C-63/05 Commission v Greece
C-131/05 Commission v United Kingdom
C-90/03 Spain v Council
Freedom of movement for persons
C-476/04 Commission v Greece
C-378/04 Commission v Austria
C-22/05 Commission v Belgium
C-73/05 Commission v France
C-320/03 Commission v Austria
C-74/04 P Commission v Volkswagen
C-419/04 Conseil général de la Vienne
Free movement of goods
Social security for migrant workers
COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE
T-154/03 Biofarma v OHMI - Bausch & Lomb Pharmaceuticals (ALREX)