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European Commission Press Releases

State aid: Commission approves over €22 million of public support to promote rail transport operability in the Netherlands

Vlad Poptamas

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The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, €22.2 million of public support to upgradetraffic management equipment on freight locomotives in the Netherlands. The scheme will contribute to making railway systems more interoperable in the EU without unduly distorting competition.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said: “The Dutch scheme will contribute to the deployment of the European Rail Traffic Management System and to the creation of a Single European Railway Area. It will improve the competitiveness of European railways and foster the shift of freight traffic from road to rail, in line with the EU’s environmental and transport objectives, without unduly distorting competition.

In October 2019, the Netherlands notified the Commission of their plans to support the upgrade of 99 cross-border freight locomotives with the newest European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) on-board equipment. ERTMS is a safety system that ensures the compliance by trains with speed restrictions and signalling status. This system is expected to enable the creation of a seamless European railway system, and increase the safety and competitiveness of the European rail sector.

The EU Implementing Regulation on the ERTMS European deployment plan requires that about 30% – 40% of the so-called European Core Network Corridors should be equipped with ERTMS by 2023. To meet these requirements, the Netherlands plans to deploy the latest version of ERTMS on a large share of its core national railway network, which is part of the European Core Network Corridors. Consequently, the owners of the locomotives, who invested in the retrofitting of their freight locomotives with former versions of the ERTMS on-board equipment in the past, will now need to upgrade the existing equipment to ensure interoperability with the latest version of the ERTMS and will have to face significant costs.

The public support will take the form of direct grants to the owners of the locomotives, to be used for the prototyping and serial upgrades of the equipment. The public support by the Dutch state will be complemented by grants for a total of €23.8 million financed through the Connecting Europe Facility.

The Commission’s assessment

The Commission assessed the scheme under EU State aid rules, in particular the 2008 Commission Guidelines on State aid for railway undertakings and found that:

  • The Dutch scheme is beneficial for the environment and for mobility as it supports rail transport, which is less polluting than road transport, while also decreasing road congestion.
  • The measure is proportionate and necessary to achieve the intended objectives, i.e. the promotion of interoperability of railway systems in the EU and supports the shift of freight transport from road to rail.
  • The Dutch public funding has an “incentive effect”, as railway vehicle owners would not perform the necessary upgrade of the ERTMS equipment of their freight locomotives absent the public support.

On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure is in line with EU State aid rules.

 

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European Commission Press Releases

Antitrust: Commission opens investigation into possible collusion by two French retailers in a purchasing alliance

Vlad Poptamas

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The European Commission has opened a formal antitrust investigation to assess whether two French groups of retailers, Casino Guichard-Perrachon (known as ‘Casino’) and Les Mousquetaires (known as ‘Intermarché’), have coordinated their conduct in the market, in breach of EU competition rules.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said “Buying alliances between retailers have become a key component of grocery supply chains. They can bring lower prices to consumers for food and personal care brands that they purchase on a daily basis. Such benefits can however disappear quickly if retailers use these alliances to collude on their sales activities. The Commission will therefore investigate if Casino and Intermarché have coordinated their activities in an anticompetitive way.

Casino and Intermarché are two of the largest chains of groceries retail shops active in France. In November 2014, they set up a joint venture for the joint procurement alliance of their branded products, INCA.

The Commission is concerned that Casino and Intermarché went beyond the purpose of their alliance and engaged in an anticompetitive conduct. In particular, the Commission will investigate whether Casino and Intermarché coordinated their activities on the development of their shop networks and their pricing policy towards consumers.

If proven, this coordination may breach EU competition rules on anticompetitive agreements between companies (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

The Commission will now carry out its in-depth investigation as a matter of priority. The opening of a formal investigation does not prejudge its outcome.

 

 

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European Commission Press Releases

Speech by President Juncker in the Plenary of the European Parliament at the debate on the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 17 and 18 October 2019

Vlad Poptamas

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Photo source: politico.eu
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Mille grazie Signor Presidente,

Mr President of the European Council,

Dear colleagues,

It was an emotional moment for me last week when I attended my last European Council together with my good friend Donald. We are today debating the 147th European Council of my political career. And it is today the 105th time that I speak to you in this Plenary, the beating heart of European democracy.

In many of these 105 debates, I had to discuss the UK’s departure from the European Union with you. In truth, it has pained me to spend so much of this mandate dealing with Brexit, when I have thought of nothing less than how this Union could do better for its citizens – a waste of time and a waste of energy.

The Commission has worked tirelessly to negotiate and renegotiate an agreement with the United Kingdom, to respect the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. We now have a new agreement, which – again – creates the legal certainty for an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

It took a huge amount of work to arrive at this point. I listened to Prime Minister Johnson in the same way as I listened to Prime Minister May. Our negotiators – mainly Michel Barnier – have once again worked around the clock. And once again, they have shown creativity and determination.

The agreement we reached with the United Kingdom’s government addresses this Parliament’s demands – all Parliaments’ demands.

I will always regret the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the Union. But at least we can look ourselves in the eye and say that we have done all in our power to make sure that this departure is orderly.

In this same spirit, we have done everything in our power to prepare the European Union for all eventualities, irrespective of what is happening on the other side of the Channel.

We need now to watch events in Westminster very closely. But it is not possible, not imaginable that this Parliament would ratify the agreement before Westminster will have ratified the agreement – first London, then Brussels and Strasbourg.

Wir haben uns, Herr Präsident, auch ausführlich mit dem Finanziellen Rahmen für die nächste 7-Jahres-Periode anlässlich des Europäischen Rates beschäftigt. Ich möchte hier noch einmal zu Protokoll geben, dass ich der Auffassung bin, dass die Zeit abläuft, die gebraucht werden wird, um zu einer Einigung im Rat und später anderswo zu kommen. Wenn wir weiter Zeit verlieren, werden wir in finanzielle Engpässe in den ersten zwei Jahren des Finanziellen Rahmens kommen.

Wichtig ist aber, dass Mitgliedstaaten und andere Akteure wissen, welcher Finanzrahmen für die nächste 7-Jahres-Periode gilt. Das brauchen junge Erasmus-Studenten, das brauchen Forscher, das brauchen viele andere und wir haben eigentlich nicht das Recht, diese wichtigen Partner für das Gelingen des Europäischen Projektes vor den Kopf zu stoßen – nur, weil wir unfähig sind, uns zu einigen.

Aber ich möchte ganz klar sagen: Das von der Kommission vorgeschlagene Haushaltsvolumen ist ein Minimum – ein Minimum! Und die Vorschläge, die jetzt auf dem Tisch liegen, auch die jüngsten Vorschläge des finnischen Ratsvorsitzes, sind nicht akzeptabel. Man kann Europa und seine Zukunft nicht mit 1% des Bruttosozialproduktes gestalten, dies wird nicht möglich sein.

Et puis, Monsieur le Président, nous avons parlé de l’élargissement. Je suis très déçu de la décision ou de la non-décision du Conseil européen. La Macédoine du Nord et l’Albanie étaient en droit d’attendre qu’on ouvre les négociations avec ces pays-là, qui ont fait de grands efforts. C’est une lourde erreur de ne pas avoir ouvert les négociations avec ces deux pays.

C’est une lourde erreur parce qu’elle frappe deux pays. Au cœur, c’est une lourde erreur parce que si l’Union européenne donne l’impression de faire des promesses et de ne pas les respecter, personne ne nous respectera à travers le monde.

Merci.

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European Commission Press Releases

Juncker Plan has made major impact on EU jobs and growth

Vlad Poptamas

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Photo source: politico.eu
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

The Investment Plan for Europe, the Juncker Plan, has played a key role in boosting jobs and growth in the EU. Investments by the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group backed by the Juncker Plan’s European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) have increased EU gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.9% and added 1.1 million jobs compared to the baseline scenario. By 2022, the Juncker Plan will have increased EU GDP by 1.8% and added 1.7 million jobs. These are the latest calculations by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Economics Department of the EIB Group, based on financing agreements approved until the end of June 2019.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said: “We have achieved what we set out to do: return Europe to solid growth and boost job creation. By 2022, the Juncker Plan will have added 1.7 million jobs to the EU labour market and increased EU GDP by 1.8%. I always said that the Plan was not a cure-all. But with more than one million small-sized companies receiving financing that wasn’t available to them before, we can be proud.”

Jyrki Katainen, Commission Vice-President, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, said: “We have come a long way since the first projects in 2015! Today the European economy is back on track and the Investment Plan will have a lasting impact. The projects financed so far benefit more than one million small businesses and help us transition to a low-carbon, circular and sustainable economy. I am proud to say that we delivered on our number one priority to mobilise private money for the public good.”

Werner Hoyer, European Investment Bank Group President, said: “When we first discussed this initiative five years ago, many people were skeptical. It is hard to believe that any financial instrument can create jobs in the millions or support one million companies. Yet, recent calculations show that we were right to pursue our ideas. The Juncker Plan has had a sizable impact on economies and lives across Europe: it has supported environment- and climate-friendly projects, innovation and a fairer society, and it will continue to do so even when Jean-Claude and I are long-retired.”

Long term effect

In addition to the direct impact the Juncker Plan has had on jobs and GDP growth, the Plan will also have a long term macroeconomic impact on the EU. Looking ahead to 2037, Juncker Plan operations will still have created 1 million jobs and have increased EU GDP by 1.2%. Improved connectivity and increased productivity resulting from Juncker Plan supported projects are helping to boost European competiveness and growth in the longer-term.

Boosting investment and supporting SMEs

As of October 2019, the Juncker Plan is set to mobilise €439.4 billion in additional investment across the EU. More than one million start-ups and small businesses are now expected to benefit from improved access to finance.

Some 70% of the expected mobilised investment comes from private resources, meaning that the Juncker Plan has also met its objective of mobilising private investment.

Who has received financing?

Thanks to the Juncker Plan, the EIB and its subsidiary for financing small businesses, the European Investment Fund (EIF), have approved financing for close to 1200 operations and are on track to provide risk financing for more than one million start-ups and SMEs across a wide range of sectors and in all 28 EU countries.

As of October 2019, the top countries ranked by EFSI-triggered investment relative to GDP are Greece, Estonia, Portugal, Bulgaria and Poland. Examples of Juncker Plan projects range from pan-European high-speed charging infrastructure for electric vehicles to a food waste management company in Romania to reintegrating former military personnel into the workplace in the Netherlands. Factsheets by country and by sector provide a more detailed overview and further project examples.

How has the Juncker Plan benefited citizens and businesses?

In addition to financing innovative projects and new technologies, the Juncker Plan has supported other EU objectives, such as climate, social and transport policy. Thanks to the Juncker Plan:

  •    More than 10 million households have access to renewable energy
  •    20 million Europeans are benefitting from improved healthcare services
  •    182 million passengers per year are enjoying better rail and urban infrastructure

For a complete overview of the benefits, see the European Investment Bank’s 2018 annual report on its operations inside the EU.

Impact on climate action

The Juncker Plan’s European Fund for Strategic Investments supports ground-breaking ideas to protect the planet. Projects financed by the EIB Group under the Juncker Plan are set to trigger €90.7 billion in investment for climate action. These include zero-energy buildings, wind farms, solar energy projects, water-saving showers, eco-friendly buses and LED lighting.

Tailor-made advisory services and online meeting place

Another important goal of the Juncker Plan is to help projects get off the ground. The European Investment Advisory Hub, provides technical assistance and advice for fledgling projects. Since its launch in 2015, the Hub has handled more than 1,400 requests from project promoters in all EU countries, of which more than 400 are benefitting from tailored advisory support. More than 50 of these have already fed into the EIB lending pipeline. One was the upgrade of the street lighting system of Vilnius to make it more energy efficient. The project, which also received a €21.6 million EFSI-backed loan, will help reduce electricity consumption and costs by an estimated 51%, saving around €1 million per year. The energy saving is equivalent to the average energy consumption of almost 3,100 households.

In addition, as of September 2019, 890 projects have been published on the European Investment Project Portal – an online meeting place for project promoters and investors. These cover all major sectors of the EU economy, with total investment proposed amounting to €65 billion. More than 60 projects have received financing since being published on the Portal. The Portal also offers additional services, such as the organisation of matchmaking events.

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