(Adobe Acrobat Reader required, available for free download here)
Mergers: Commission Clears Universal-BMG Deal, Subject to Conditions
The European Commission has cleared the acquisition of the music publishing business of BMG by the US-based company Universal following the latter company’s commitment to divest itself of some publishing catalogues. The music publishing business consists of the exploitation of authors’ copyrights, such as mechanical, performance, online and synchronisation rights. The Commission found that the proposed acquisition would restrict competition in the field of online rights, where Universal would be able to exert significant control over a large percentage of titles, thus becoming a “must have” product for all online and mobile music services. Following the Commission’s objections, Universal undertook to divest itself of a number of important catalogues containing many best selling titles and authors.
Internal Market: Agreement Caps Mobile Phone Roaming Charges
On 23 May 2007 the European Parliament voted in favour of the proposed EU Roaming Regulation. From this summer, mobile phone customers will benefit from substantially reduced charges when using their mobile phones in different Member States. Despite repeated invitations from the Commission to mobile operators to reduce their charges, roaming charges have remained on average four times more expensive than charges for domestic calls, with wide variations between Member States. The price caps, or “Eurotariffs”, will start at EUR 0.49 to make a call and EUR 0.24 to receive a call, decreasing further to EUR 0.43 and EUR 0.19 by summer 2009. The Council of EU Telecom Ministers is expected to endorse the proposed regulation on 7 June 2007. (See Brussels Brief of 31 March 2006 and 14 July 2006)
External Relations: Russia Excludes Co-operation Agreement with EU Before WTO Entry
At a meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Kazan, Russia’s Economy Minister German Gref declared that Russia will not negotiate a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with the European Union until Russia secures entry to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This declaration follows warnings by the European Commission that trade disputes and recent crises between Russia and its neighbours were threatening European support for Moscow’s WTO bid. Until now Russia and the EU have failed to renew talks on a new EU-Russia agreement to replace the existing one. EU support of Russia’s WTO entry is one of several thorny issues that include energy exports and Russia’s ban on Polish meat (see next article). These issues were addressed during the Russia-EU summit held in Samara on 17 and 18 May 2007.
Trade: EU Stands With Poland on Meat Dispute
During the EU-Russia summit, EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose-Manuel Barroso, expressed their concern over the long-standing Russian embargo on Polish meat imports. Russia imposed the import ban at the end of 2005, alleging breaches of food certification rules in Poland. The EU and Polish food authorities do not agree with Russia’s allegations and regard them as purely political rather than based on any solid grounds. EU leaders have informed Russian President Putin that negotiations on the new EU-Russia partnership agreement will be suspended until Russia lifts its ban. This decision amounts to a strong display of solidarity among the EU Member States and counters Russia’s policy of only holding negotiations with the largest economies in Europe, disregarding the concerns of the smaller EU Member States.
State Aid: Report on the Application of State Aid Rules to the EU Coal Industry
The coal industry has been subject to special EU State aid rules since the expiry of the European Coal and Steel Treaty in 2002. In order to allow for the continued restructuring of the coal industry, Regulation 1407/2002/EC provides for an exception to the general prohibition of State aid. This Regulation will expire at the end of 2010. The Commission has adopted a report analysing State aid granted under the Regulation between 2002 and 2006, and also whether there is a need to amend the Regulation. The report, which was adopted following consultations with Member States and stakeholders, concludes that there is no need to propose any amendments to the Regulation.
State Aid: Future Reforms in Framework of State Aid Action Plan
At the European State Aid Law Institute Conference on 21 May 2007, the Commissioner for Competition, Neelie Kroes, presented the results of the last two years of work in State aid reforms and announced future initiatives in this field. The Commissioner’s primary concerns are the adoption of the General Block Exemption Regulation and the new guidelines on environmental protection, both scheduled for the end of 2007. At the same time, the Commission’s Guidance Notices on guarantees and reference rates will be updated and a new Guidance Notice on the recovery of unlawful aid will be published. The Commissioner also reported that an internal proposal on best practice guidelines has been finalised and already discussed by the Member States. The Commission is also considering the possibility of checking information provided by Member States concerning new aid by addressing questions directly to competitors or contacting potential beneficiaries.
Internal Market: Commission to Modernise Road Transport Rules
The European Commission has adopted three proposals which will be examined later by the European Parliament and the Council. The first proposal concerns the conditions to be complied with in order to be a road transport operator. The second deals with access to the market for coach and bus services, and the final proposal regulates access to the international road haulage market. According to the Commission, the proposals would strengthen competition, social legislation and road safety rules. In addition, the Commission has already predicted that the new rules would reduce administrative costs by EUR 190 million per year.
NEXT WEEK’S EVENTS
Monday 28 May – Friday 1 June 2007
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (30 – 31 May 2007)
COURT OF JUSTICE
There will be no sitting of the Court of Justice during the week from 28 May 2007 and 3 June 2007 inclusive.
COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE
There will be no sitting of the Court of First Instance during the week from 28 May 2007 and 3 June 2007 inclusive.