Internal market: “.eu”: Europe’s New Internet Address Opens for Business
The new “.eu” top-level domain, which enables a pan-European internet name for websites and e-mail addresses, opened on 7 December 2005. A “sunrise” period of four months will allow holders of prior rights to apply for the registration of “.eu” domain names provided that they are established in the European Union (EU). From 7 December 2005 to 6 February 2006, applications for registration will be reserved to trademark holders and public bodies. From 7 February to 6 April 2006, registration will then be open for holders of other “prior rights”, such as company names or business identifiers. Finally, from 7 April 2006, anyone established in the European Union will have the opportunity to apply for registration. The “first come first served” principle will apply for any application. The “.eu” top level domain is managed by a private, non-profit making registry, EURid. EURid will register applications for the registration of domain names through a large network of accredited registrars, a list of which can be found on the following website: http://list.eurid.eu/registrars/
Environment: EU Shows ‘Demonstrable Progress’ under Kyoto Agreement
A report presented by the European Commission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will show that, if current progress is sustained, greenhouse gases produced by the EU-15 will be 9.3 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010. The drop is significant as the target set by the Kyoto Protocol was 8 per cent below 1990 levels for 2008 – 2012. Furthermore, the report demonstrates that 17 Member States are on track to fulfil their emission targets. Numerous emission reducing measures have been implemented under the Commission’s European Climate Change Programme established in 2000. Among the most innovative is the EU’s emissions trading regime. Such schemes will enable the EU to show that, as required by the Kyoto Agreement, it has made ‘demonstrable progress’ towards its target by the end of this year.
Employment: On Call Duty is “Working Time”
In 1993 the Working Time Directive was adopted, setting a 48 hour maximum working week and laying down requirements for rest and leave periods. The Directive distinguishes between ‘working time’ and ‘rest periods’, the former not depending on the intensity of the work done. Case law has established that on-call duty by doctors, nursing staff of emergency services, emergency workers and fire-fighters must be regarded as working time when they are required to be physically present at the work place, regardless of the work actually done. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) reconfirmed this in a recent case referred by the French State Council (“Conseil d’Etat”). In this case a special needs teacher in residential establishments for handicapped young persons challenged a French decree which established a weighting mechanism for calculating overtime pay. The mechanism was intended to take into account the periods of inactivity which occur during on-call duty. The ECJ found that the Directive does not apply to remuneration. However, the hours during which the teacher was present at the workplace must be counted in their entirety as working time and thus as part of the 48 hour maximum permitted weekly working time.
Taxation: Council Fails to Agree on VAT Deal
EU Ministers of Finance have failed to agree on the extension of the deadlines on reduced VAT rates in some services. As a general rule, European legislation does not allow VAT rates below 15 per cent. However, under the current system, which expires at the end of the year, Member States can apply VAT rates as low as 5 per cent on certain services that are considered to be “labour intensive” such as housing renovation. The extension of this regime, requires the unanimity of all Member States. The EU Council could not reach agreement, mainly due to the persistence of Germany, who fears that if firms in other Member States are allowed to apply a low VAT rate, German firms might also push for such reductions. However, the German Minister of Finance has indicated that a decision during the European Council summit in mid-December is still possible.
State Aid: Commission begins detailed examination of Aid Granted by SNCB to Inter Ferry Boats
The European Commission has decided to initiate formal investigation proceedings in respect of aid granted by the Belgian State, through SNCB (“Société nationale des chemins de fer belges”) to finance the restructuring of its subsidiary Inter Ferry Boats (IFB) in order to check whether this aid meets the conditions laid down by Community law for restructuring aid. IFB, a Belgian company held up to 89.3 per cent by SNCB, is mainly engaged in the rail transport sector and support activities for that sector. As IFB recorded significant losses in its 2001 and 2002 financial years, a long-term structural reorganisation of the undertaking was decided. To this end, IFB and SNCB concluded a framework agreement in 2003 which provided for a number of measures such as the granting of (i) an extension for payment of debts of EUR 63 million, (ii) a recoverable advance of EUR 5 million, (iii) a credit facility of EUR 15 million and (iv) a loan of EUR 15 million. The Commission has doubts that Belgium has done all it can to limit the adverse effects of such aid on competition and that IFB has contributed to its own restructuring.
Trade: WTO Amends Intellectual Property Rights on Generic Medicines
World Trade Organisation (WTO) members have approved changes to the intellectual property agreement (TRIPS Agreement) making permanent the waiver on patents and public health that was adopted in 2003. The amendment enables poorer countries to continue to obtain cheaper generic versions of patented medicines by setting aside provisions of the TRIPS Agreement that hinder exports of pharmaceuticals produced under compulsory licences to countries with no manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector. WTO members will have until 1 December 2007 to ratify the amendment in accordance with their national laws. The latest decision comes a week after WTO members agreed to extend the transition period for least-developed countries, allowing them until 1 July 2013 to provide protection for trademark, patents and other intellectual property under the TRIPS Agreement.
Public Procurement: New Commission Initiatives on Defence Procurement
The European Commission has outlined its proposals for future initiatives regarding the improvement of cross-border competition in defence procurement. According to the EC Treaty, Member States may derogate from the general rules on public procurement where defence procurement is concerned. This has negatively affected competition in the European military equipment market and increased the cost of production in this sector. In order to improve transparency and competitiveness the Commission intends to adopt an Interpretative Communication in 2006 clarifying when Member States may derogate from the general rules of public procurement. The Interpretative Communication may be followed by a Directive on the specific features of defence procurement.
Transport: Common Position on Third Railway Package
EU Transport Ministers have adopted a common position on the third railway package proposed by the Commission in March 2004 despite protest from railway worker unions. As from 1 January 2010, railway undertakings which hold a licence and the required safety certificates should be able to operate international services in the Community. Operators will be permitted to pick up and set down passengers at any station on an international route, including stations located in the same Member State. The new railway package also establishes a framework to protect the rights of passengers using international rail services, similar to those introduced in the aviation sector. The Commission hopes that the package will encourage development of rail services which are facing increasing pressure from low-cost airlines.
NEXT WEEK’S EVENTS
Monday 12 December – Friday 16 December 2005
General Affairs and External Relations Council (12 December 2005)
European Council (15-16 December 2005)
COURT OF JUSTICE
Approximation of laws
C-86/03 Greece v Commission
C-96/05 Commission v Greece
Environment and consumers
C-26/04 Commission v Spain
C-344/03 Commission v Finland
Freedom of establishment
C-411/03 SEVIC Systems
Freedom of movement for persons
Joined Cases C-151/04, C-152/04 Nadin and Nadin-Lux
Joined Cases C-232/04, C-233/04 Güney-Görres
C-78/03 P Commission v Aktionsgemeinschaft Recht und Eigentum
C-66/02 Italy v Commission
C-148/04 Unicredito Italiano
C-446/03 Marks & Spencer
C-63/04 Centralan Property
C-167/04 P JCB Service v Commission
Freedom of establishment
C-386/04 Centro di Musicologia Walter Stauffer
Freedom of movement for persons
C-10/05 Mattern and Cikotic
Freedom to provide services
C-168/04 Commission v Austria
C-416/04 P Sunrider v OHMI - Espadafor Caba (VITAFRUIT)
Joined Cases C-443/04, C-444/04 Solleveld
COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE
T-135/02 Greencore Group v Commission
T-209/01 Honeywell v Commission
T-210/01 General Electric v Commission
T-69/00 FIAMM and FIAMM Technologies v Council and Commission
T-151/00 Laboratoire du Bain v Council and Commission
T-301/00 Groupe Fremaux and Palais Royal v Council and Commission
T-320/00 CD Cartondruck v Council and Commission
T-383/00 Beamglow v Parliament and Others
T-135/01 Fedon & Figli and Others v Council and Commission
Freedom of movement for persons
T-33/01 Infront WM v Commission