The EU has today started the process that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia’s preferential access to the EU market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme. EBA preferences can be removed if beneficiary countries fail to respect core human rights and labour rights.
Launching the temporary withdrawal procedure does not entail an immediate removal of tariff preferences, which would be the option of last resort. Instead, it kicks off a period of intensive monitoring and engagement. The aim of the Commission’s action remains to improve the situation for the people on the ground.
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini said: “Over the last eighteen months, we have seen the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia. In February 2018, the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers made clear how seriously the EU views these developments. In recent months, the Cambodian authorities have taken a number of positive steps, including the release of political figures, civil society activists and journalists and addressing some of the restrictions on civil society and trade union activities.However, without more conclusive action from the government, the situation on the ground calls Cambodia’s participation in the EBA scheme into question. As the European Union, we are committed to a partnership with Cambodia that delivers for the Cambodian people. Our support for democracy and human rights in the country is at the heart of this partnership.”
EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “It should be clear that today’s move is neither a final decision nor the end of the process. But the clock is now officially ticking and we need to see real action soon. We now go into a monitoring and evaluation process in which we are ready to engage fully with the Cambodian authorities and work with them to find a way forward. When we say that the EU’s trade policy is based on values, these are not just empty words. We are proud to be one of the world’s most open markets for least developed countries and the evidence shows that exporting to the EU Single Market can give a huge boost to their economies. Nevertheless, in return we ask that these countries respect certain core principles. Our engagement with the situation in Cambodia has led us to conclude that there are severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights in Cambodia that the government needs to tackle if it wants to keep its country’s privileged access to our market.”
Following a period of enhanced engagement, including a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in July 2018 and subsequent bilateral meetings at the highest level, the Commission has concluded that there is evidence of serious and systematic violations of core human rights and labour rights in Cambodia, in particular of the rights to political participation as well as of the freedoms of assembly, expression and association. These findings add to the longstanding EU concerns about the lack of workers’ rights and disputes linked to economic land concessions in the country.
Today’s decision will be published in the EU Official Journal on 12 February, kicking off a process that aims to arrive at a situation in which Cambodia is in line with its obligations under the core UN and ILO Conventions:
– a six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian authorities;
– followed by another three-month period for the EU to produce a report based on the findings;
– after a total of twelve months, the Commission will conclude the procedure with a final decision on whether or not to withdraw tariff preferences; it is also at this stage that the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal. Any withdrawal would come into effect after a further six-month period.
High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini and Commissioner Malmström launched the internal process to initiate this procedure on 4 October 2018. Member States gave their approval to the Commission proposal to launch the withdrawal procedure at the end of January 2019.
The Everything But Arms arrangement is one arm of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), which allows vulnerable developing countries to pay fewer or no duties on exports to the EU, giving them vital access to the EU market and contributing to their growth. The EBA scheme unilaterally grants duty-free and quota-free access to the European Union for all products (except arms and ammunition) for the world’s Least Developed Countries, as defined by the United Nations. The GSP Regulation provides that trade preferences may be suspended in case of “serious and systematic violation of principles” laid down in the human rights and labour rights Conventions listed in Annex VIII of the Regulation.
Exports of textiles and footwear, prepared foodstuffs and vegetable products (rice) and bicycles represented 97% of Cambodia’s overall exports to the EU in 2018. Out of the total exports of € 4.9bn, 99% (€ 4.8bn) were eligible to EBA preferential duties.
For More Information
MEMO: EU triggers procedure to temporarily suspend trade preferences for Cambodia
State aid: Commission approves over €22 million of public support to promote rail transport operability in the Netherlands
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.
Antitrust: Commission opens investigation into possible collusion by two French retailers in a purchasing alliance
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.
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
Mille grazie Signor Presidente,
Mr President of the European Council,
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.
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