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European Commission Spokesman's Briefing for 97-10-15

Midday Express: News from the EU Commission Spokesman's Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: EUROPA, the European Commission Server at <http://europa.eu.int>

MIDDAY EXPRESS

News from the Spokesman's midday briefing

Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi du Porte-Paroleb

15/10/97


CONTENTS / CONTENU

[I] Résultats de la Commission de ce jour - Outcome of today's Commission meeting

  • [01] Commission clears the merger between Guinness Plc and Grand Metropolitan Plc subject to several firm divestment commitments
  • [02] More combined heat and power generation to save energy and reduce emissions
  • [03] Preparing for mobile multi-media telephones: strategy and policy orientations for the development of third generation mobile telecommunications
  • [04] Bringing down the cost of market entry to Europe's liberalised telecommunications market
  • [05] Commission creates new structure to improve community aid to third countries
  • [06] La Commission met fin à une procédure d'infraction concernant l'aéroport d'Athènes
  • [07] Blanchiment de capitaux: la Commission décide de saisir la Cour de justice à l'encontre de l'Autriche
  • [08] Commission decides legal action against Portugal for non-respect of environmental legislation
  • [II] Other news - Autres nouvelles

  • [09] Assurance automobile: la Commission propose une directive pour résoudre les problèmes des victimes d'accidents à l'étranger
  • [10] Assurances: la Commission lance une large consultation sur la liberté de prestation de services et l'intérêt général
  • [11] Commission decides to improve means of financial control of the Structural Funds
  • [12] European Union secures opening up of freight-forwarding and normalisation of Denmark's relations with China
  • [13] Franz Fischler: "EU's attitude towards biotechnology treathens employment"

  • [I] Résultats de la Commission de ce jour - Outcome of today's Commission meeting

    [01] Commission clears the merger between Guinness Plc and Grand Metropolitan Plc subject to several firm divestment commitments

    After a detailed investigation, the European Commission has cleared, subject to conditions, the merger - notified on May 16th 1997 - between the UK-based groups Guinness plc ("Guinness") and Grand Metropolitan plc ("GrandMet") to form GMG Brands. The Commission's investigation found competition concerns arising from the merger in the markets for certain spirit types in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Belgium/Luxembourg. However, following negotiations with the Commission, the parties have given firm commitments to address these concerns. These include the divestment of two Scotch whisky brands, Dewar's and Ainslie's, on a Europe-wide basis. Dewar's is a major international brand whose divestment will address the concerns about the parties' strength in whiskey markets in Greece and Spain. It will also allow the new owner to develop the brand in the other European markets. Ainslie's is an important brand in Belgium/Luxembourg, and its divestment will address similar concerns there. The parties have also undertaken to place with a third party their distributorship of Gilbey's gin in Belgium/Luxembourg and to end their distribution agreements with third parties in respect of Wyborowa vodka in that territory. These commitments are considered sufficient to resolve concerns about the parties' strengths in the markets for gin and vodka in Belgium/Luxembourg. The parties have also undertaken to end their distribution agreement for Bacardi in Greece, which is considered to resolve concerns about their 'portfolio power' there, given their strong pre-existing positions in a number of spirit categories. As regards Ireland, the parties have agreed to dispose of certain interests which will ensure continued competition in the distribution of spirits, which otherwise would have effectively reduced from the present four to two the number of distributors in Ireland. The remedies, i.e. the different steps of the divestiture process, will be closely monitored by the Commission. They will ultimately reduce the parties' market shares and strength in the national and product markets of concern sufficiently to render the operation compatible with the common market and with the functioning of the EEA agreement.

    [02] More combined heat and power generation to save energy and reduce emissions

    The European Commission adopted a Communication on the promotion of combined heat and power generation (CHP). The Communication proposes a strategy, in the context of the European Union energy policy, which will facilitate the development of CHP and remove barriers to its penetration in the European market as an energy saving and environmentally friendly system of heat and power production. The strategy aims to set out the main actions and policies required at European Union (EU) level to ensure that CHP benefits are exploited by promoting a significant penetration in the total gross electricity generation of the EU by the year 2010. CHP is an efficient way of exploiting all the useful energy content of fuels (oil, gas, coal). If fuels are burnt to produce only electricity in a conventional way, only 30-40% of the energy content is converted to useful energy. The rest, the heat, gets wasted. A CHP plant can convert up to 85- 90% of the energy content of the fuel. It produces electricity and at the same time uses the heat generated to provide hot water for industry use, or for heating homes, buildings, shops. A successful example is the city of Copenhagen.

    [03] Preparing for mobile multi-media telephones: strategy and policy orientations for the development of third generation mobile telecommunications

    The European Commission adopted a Communication that sets out the strategy and policy orientations aimed at creating a favourable environment for the further development of mobile communications in Europe or the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) which will allow mobile users wireless access to the Internet and other multi-media services. In particular, clarification on the licensing regime that will be used and certainty that radio frequency spectrum will become available in good time are areas that require urgent action by authorities. At the same time, the Commission feels that basic customer interests need to be preserved such as Europe-wide roaming for future mobile multi-media services in order that the European citizen can benefit from a "wireless Information Society" without frontiers as he can do today with voice telephony using GSM.

    [04] Bringing down the cost of market entry to Europe's liberalised telecommunications market

    The European Commission agreed a Recommendation on the prices that telecommunications operators charge each other for the delivery of calls, to apply after the opening of the liberalised European Union (EU) telecommunications market on 1 January 1998. 'Interconnection charges' constitute one of the biggest cost items faced by new market entrants in the telecommunications sector, some of whom find that up to 40% of their costs go in interconnection payments to established operators. The Recommendation sets out 'best current practice' prices based on the three Member States with the lowest interconnection prices. These 'best current practice' prices are typically 2 or 3 times lower than some operators had originally proposed. The biggest impact will be to reduce the cost of market entry for new operators, but the Recommendation also points the way to reductions in the cost of calls from mobile phones to fixed networks, and in the cost of long distance calls between Member States in the EU.

    [05] Commission creates new structure to improve community aid to third countries

    The European Commission decided to reorganise its external services with a view to improving the implementation of European Union (EU) aid to third countries. By delegating technical tasks such as the preparations of calls for tender, management of contracts and maintaining consultant databases to a "Joint Service", staff in the external DG's will be able to better concentrate on the primary tasks related to aid implementation, such as strategy development, programming of priorities and the political decisions related to engaging credits. The Joint Service will be common to the Directorates General responsible for implementing EU aid to non-member countries, namely I, IA, IB, VIII and ECHO. (ECHO's involvement would be limited to the administrative and financial aspects of managing outside project support staff.) The decision aims to simplify and rationalise the implementation of the various programmes, increase coherence and transparency (especially for the economic operators that assist in project implementation) and make effective use of economies of scale. The new structure is needed to enable the Commission to effectively implement an ever increasing aid budget amounting to almost ECU 7,000 million in 1997. The proposal reconciles the need to improve co-ordination and coherence between the wide range of programmes, while maintaining their flexibility to respond to individual countries' needs or specific situations (such as urgent humanitarian aid).

    [06] La Commission met fin à une procédure d'infraction concernant l'aéroport d'Athènes

    La Commission européenne a décidé de mettre fin à une procédure d'infraction ouverte en 1994 concernant la Grèce après avoir obtenu une amélioration sensible de la fourniture de services d'assistance en escale à l'aéroport d'Athènes. Des compagnies aériennes s'étaient plaintes auprès de la Commission que les services d'assistance en escale (enregistrement, acheminement des bagages, nettoyage, catering...) prestés en monopole par Olympic Airways (OA) à l'aéroport d'Athènes étaient de mauvaise qualité et basés sur un tarif peu transparent. La Commission a considéré que cette situation résultait d'un abus de position dominante et a ouvert une procédure d'infraction. A la suite de cette décision, les autorités grecques ont mis fin à la situation de monopole, ont entrepris des travaux d'amélioration de l'aéroport d'Athènes et ont modifié une loi qui empêchait OA de recruter aisément du personnel saisonnier pour faire face aux pics de trafic. En outre, OA a élaboré une nouvelle structure de tarification transparente et plus proche du coût effectif de la prestation.

    [07] Blanchiment de capitaux: la Commission décide de saisir la Cour de justice à l'encontre de l'Autriche

    La Commission européenne a décidé de saisir la Cour de justice à l'encontre de l'Autriche où existent encore, en violation de la directive 91/308 sur le blanchiment de capitaux, des livrets d'épargne et des comptes-titres anonymes. La décision a été prise parce que l'Autriche ne s'est pas conformée à l'avis motivé, l'étape de la procédure d'infraction précédant la saisine de la Cour en vertu de l'Article 169 du Traité CE.

    [08] Commission decides legal action against Portugal for non-respect of environmental legislation

    The European Commission has decided to notify three Reasoned Opinions to Portugal for non-respect of three different pieces of European Union environmental legislation. Regarding the Directive on Freedom of Access to Environmental Information, the Commission has found that the Portuguese implementing legislation does not go as far as it should do according to the Directive. The same counts for the Industrial Plants Directive, where the Portuguese implementation only partly fulfills the requirements laid down. On the Directive on Incineration of Hazardous Waste, Portugal has not communicated any national legislation to implement the Directive to the Commission.

    [II] Other news - Autres nouvelles

    [09] Assurance automobile: la Commission propose une directive pour résoudre les problèmes des victimes d'accidents à l'étranger

    La Commission européenne a adopté une proposition de directive pour améliorer le système d'indemnisation des victimes d'un accident en dehors de leur pays de résidence. Cette proposition vise à renforcer la protection de victimes de ces accidents et à faciliter la procédure d'indemnisation. Elle prévoit l'obligation pour les compagnies d'assurance de désigner un représentant chargé du règlement du sinistre dans chaque Etat membre et la création de structures d'information chargées d'identifier l'assureur responsable. En outre, un droit d'action directe devrait être introduit dans toute l'Union européenne en faveur de cette catégorie de victimes. La proposition, prévue dans la Communication sur les services financiers et les consommateurs, répond aux demandes exprimés par les représentants des consommateurs, les assureurs et le Parlement européen.

    [10] Assurances: la Commission lance une large consultation sur la liberté de prestation de services et l'intérêt général

    La Commission européenne a adopté un projet de Communication présentant l'interprétation que la Commission se propose de donner aux notions de "libre prestation de services" et d'"intérêt général" appliquées au secteur des assurances. La Commission a constaté que des divergences subsistent quant à l'interprétation de ces notions entre les Etats membres, ce qui entrave le bon fonctionnement du marché intérieur de l'assurance. Sont notamment précisées les conditions dans lesquels un Etat membre peut avoir recours à lintérêt général pour justifier une réglementation nationale (imposant par exemple la notification préalable des conditions d'assurance, certains systèmes de tarification, ou des franchises obligatoires dans les contrats d'assurance) et les critères permettant de tracer la démarcation entre les activités exercées par une entreprise d'assurance en régime de libre prestation de services et celles exercées par le biais d'une succursale. Le projet de Communication servira de base à un large débat auquel seront associés les parties intéressées, le Parlement européen et les Etats membres. A la lumière des conclusions de ce débat, la Commission adoptera la version définitive de la Communication interprétative.

    [11] Commission decides to improve means of financial control of the Structural Funds

    Effective control of the Structural Funds is vital for ensuring that they provide value for money. To improve the financial control of the Funds, the European Commission today adopted a regulation laying down minimum control standards to be applied by the Member States. The purpose is to make sure that the Member States know their responsibilities when it comes to enforcing financial control of the Structural Funds. In addition the Commission approved internal guidelines on the application of financial corrections for irregularities which result from Member States failure to apply adequate financial controls. These measures form part of the Commission's SEM 2000 (Sound and Efficient Management) initiative.

    [12] European Union secures opening up of freight-forwarding and normalisation of Denmark's relations with China

    Continuing his visit to China, Sir Leon Brittan, Vice-President of the European Commission today announced that the European Union (EU) has won a commitment for China to open up an important area of its shipping business to European companies for the first time. The Chinese Vice-Minister of Communications, Mr Liu Songjin, promised Sir Leon that two licences would shortly be granted to EU firms to carry out freight-forwarding activities in the lucrative Chinese market. In another development, the EU has secured a guarantee from China for Denmark, whose relations with Beijing were reduced to the bare formalities as a result of disagreements over human rights. The Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, informed Sir Leon Brittan, Vice-President of the European Commission, that China's relations with Denmark could now be normalised.

    [13] Franz Fischler: "EU's attitude towards biotechnology treathens employment"

    Development and exploitation of scientific knowledge, in particular Biotechnology, have an important supporting effect on growth and competitiveness in Europe, besides being an effective instrument to combat unemployment. At a symposium organised by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) in Vienna on the future of biotechnology on October 14th, Franz Fischler, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural development, stressed that future technologies, such as biotechnology would play a central role in maintaining growth in Europe while securing employment. He stressed however that biotechnological research and development is more likely to take place in a friendly supportive environment and pointed out that recent research showed that there is a risk for the European Union (EU) of losing over 200,000 jobs in this area due to a hostile attitude towards these activities. The attitude of the consumer towards a certain method of production or technology can have an important bearing on their perception and hence their demand for that product. The EU's future review of biotech legislation ensures both ethical considerations and economic framework for safe and transparent bio-tech industry, which, said Mr Fischler, is crucial to allay public concerns regarding biotechnology.

    MIDDAY EXPRESS


    From EUROPA, the European Commission Server at http://europa.eu.int/
    © ECSC - EC - EAEC, Brussels-Luxembourg, 1995, 1996


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