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Competition: Commission Re-adopts Steel Beams Cartel Decision and Fines Arcelor EUR 10 Million
The European Commission has “re-adopted” a decision on a cartel in the steel beams sector and fined various companies in the Arcelor Group a total of EUR 10 million. Between 1988 and 1991, these and other companies fixed prices, allocated quotas and exchanged confidential information in the EU steel beams market. The “re-adoption” of the decision follows a European Court of Justice Judgment of 2 October 2003 annulling, inter alia, the original Commission decision insofar as it imposed a fine on Arcelor SA (formerly Arbed SA). The grounds of annulment were that the Statement of Objections (SO) was not addressed to Arbed SA. Following this annulment, the Commission corrected the procedural error by re-opening the procedure, issuing a new SO to Arbed SA and re-imposing the fine.
Environment: EU to Legislate on Car Emissions of CO2
The European Commission is considering new legislation that would force car manufacturers to reduce CO2 emissions. Up until now, the Commission has relied on a voluntary agreement with the car industry to bring emissions from new cars down to 140 milligrams per kilometre (mg/km) by 2008 and 120mg/km by 2012. However, a recent study by the European Federation for Transport and Environment revealed that most car makers would not meet this target. Some of the largest manufacturers have only improved fuel efficiency at less than half the rate necessary to honour the agreement. Although the Commission initiative is only at an early stage, it is expected that a proposal would be based largely on the terms of the existing voluntary agreement.
Internal Market: Court Action May Follow Working Time Deadlock
The European Commission is reportedly considering referring 23 Member States to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failing to adequately align their national legislation with the 1993 Working Time Directive (WTD), 93/104/EC. A key provision of the WTD caps working time at 48 hours per week, but it also provides for an opt-out, which permits a Member State to have a longer working week, provided other conditions are met. Furthermore, the ECJ has twice ruled, in 2000 and 2003, that the WTD includes time spent “on-call” as working hours. At present, however, most Member States have not transposed the WTD adequately into national law. The Member States and the Commission have worked to reach a compromise on its terms, particularly on the opt-out provision, but these negotiations have now deadlocked and the Commission is considering court action.
State Aid: Investigation of New Swedish CO2 Energy Tax Reductions
The European Commission has opened a State aid investigation into Swedish plans to grant a full or partial tax exemption on fuel consumption in installations covered by the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The Swedish scheme aims to eliminate the double burden on businesses arising from (i) payment of the tax and (ii) purchase of ETS allowances. The Energy Tax Directive, however, has set out EU-wide minimum tax rates. Under the Swedish plans, the energy tax would be less than these minimum rates, which in the Commission’s view may distort competition. Furthermore, the Swedish plans could be contrary to the EU “polluter-pays” principle. It should be noted that national tax exemptions may be affected by the Commission’s plans to integrate energy efficiency considerations and environmental aspects in an amendment to the Energy Tax Directive.
Energy: Commission Pushes Common Energy Policy
Recent power cuts in Germany, France, Italy and Spain have confirmed the need for a proper European energy policy. As energy security is better delivered through a common European approach, the European Commission is calling for wider powers over energy issues at EU level. The Commission is planning to propose a set of measures in January to reform EU energy policy. This would include formalising the current European grouping of Transmission System Operators and drafting standards for network use, including technical rules for using national grids and regulators. In the future, companies investing in energy interconnectors can expect clearer guidelines from the Commission identifying which projects are of clear European interest.
Trade: EU and Azerbaijan Sign Energy Accord
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev have signed a memorandum of understanding to establish an energy partnership amid EU efforts to reduce dependence on Russian energy. The new “Strategic Partnership” on energy calls for “gradual convergence with the EU’s internal energy market, aiming ultimately at its integration” as well as “increased transit of oil” and “possible transit of natural gas” from the Caspian Sea basin via Azerbaijan to the EU. Azerbaijan has some seven billion barrels of oil reserves and sits on a key route for potential EU imports of natural gas from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The EU’s current oil imports from Azerbaijan are relatively small. These figures are likely to rise significantly following the inauguration last July of an oil pipeline linking Azerbaijan with the Turkish pipeline system, bypassing Russia.
Telecoms: Luxembourg Opens Up Broadband Market
The European Commission has welcomed the regulatory measures proposed by the Luxembourg Telecom regulator, ILR, for the opening up of the Luxembourg broadband market. The aim of these measures is to allow new market entrants to have access to the incumbent operator’s infrastructure in order to offer broadband services directly to end customers. Under the measures adopted by ILR, the incumbent operator will also have to grant such access to future infrastructure for very high speed digital subscriber lines (VDSL). Under the EU regulatory framework, national regulators should adopt measures permitting new operators to offer their services initially via the infrastructure of the incumbent operator. The aim is to allow these new operators sufficient time to create their own infrastructure.
Enlargement: Renewed Enlargement Stategy
The European Commission’s report on a renewed strategy for enlargement policy concludes that the EU must be able to maintain and deepen its own development while pursuing its enlargement agenda. The report proposes improvements in the accession process including notably an assessment, at key stages, of the EU’s capacity to integrate specific countries. In reviewing current progress, the Commission concluded that Turkey had continued its political reforms, but that further efforts were needed to improve freedom of expression, the rights of non-Muslim minorities, women's rights, trade union rights and civilian control of the military. In Croatia, further efforts were needed in the areas of judicial and economic reform and the fight against corruption.
Monday 13 November – Friday 17 November 2006
General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) (13 November 2006)
Education, Youth and Culture Council (13 November 2006)
COURT OF JUSTICE
C-306/04 Compaq Computer International Corporation
C-357/05 Commission v Spain
Environment and consumers
C-68/06 Commission v Greece
Free movement of capital
C-513/04 Kerckhaert and Morres
C-3/06 P Groupe Danone v Commission
Freedom of establishment
C-523/04 Commission v Netherlands
COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE
T-138/02 Nanjing Metalink v Council
T-120/04 Peróxidos Orgánicos v Commission
T-333/03 Masdar (UK) v Commission
T-278/04 Jabones Pardo v OHMI - Quimi Romar (YUKI)
T-32/04 Lichtwer Pharma v OHMI - Laboratoire Lafon (Lyco-A)