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European Commission Spokesman's Briefing for 00-01-19

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-Parole 19/01/2000b


CONTENTS / CONTENU

[I] Résultats de la Commission du 18 janvier 2000 - Outcome of Commission meeting of 18 January

  • [01] Commission publishes draft reform strategy
  • [02] La Commission approuve, sous conditions, l'acquisition d'une série d'activités de BOC par Air Liquide
  • [03] Strategy for a real research policy in Europe
  • [04] La Commission évalue le programme de convergence actualisé de la Grèce
  • [05] Commission assesses updated stability programme of Finland
  • [06] Commission assesses Irish stability programme
  • [07] Commission assesses first update of Netherlands stability programme
  • [08] Commission assesses updated Swedish convergence programme
  • [09] La Commission approuve la liste des zones en reconversion économique et sociale éligibles aux Fonds structurels (objectif 2) en France pour la période 2000-2006
  • [10] Commission approves the list of areas in Austria undergoing economic and social conversion which are eligible for the Structural Funds (Objective 2) over the period 2000-2006
  • [11] Commission approves the list of areas in Sweden undergoing economic and social conversion which are eligible for the Structural Funds (Objective 2) over the period 2000-2006
  • [12] La Commission approuve la liste des zones en reconversion économique et sociale éligibles aux Fonds structurels (objectif 2) au Luxembourg pour la période 2000-2006
  • [13] Commission gives green light to EU-Mexico FTA
  • [14] La Commission approuve un régime d'aides fiscales aux îles Canaries (Espagne)
  • [15] Commission partially rejects state aid to Linde AG (Germany)
  • [16] Commission launches formal investigation procedure so it can examine Holzmann aid in detail
  • [17] Commission takes three decisions on development aid for shipbuilding
  • [18] La Commission autorise un régime d'aide à la construction navale en Espagne
  • [19] Commission approves aid to the Bau Union Ost Group (Germany)
  • [20] Mesures en faveur des producteurs affectés par la crise de la dioxine en Belgique
  • [21] Soutien financier aux armateurs et équipages espagnols affectés par le non-renouvellement de l'accord de pêche avec le Maroc
  • [22] Commission decides to send a letter of formal notice to the German government requesting information concerning the purchase of Saarbergwerke AG by Rag Aktiengesellschaft
  • [II] Other news - Autres nouvelles

  • [23] Romano Prodi and Günter Verheugen to visit Slovakia on Thursday
  • [24] Commission clears insurance acquisition
  • [25] Anna Diamantopoulou represents Commission in UN 'Beijing Platform' for women's rights
  • [26] Chechnya : Commission approves additional humanitarian aid worth euro 5 million
  • [27] Accord de Margot Wallström et Michel Barnier sur l'articulation entre la Directive Habitats et la programmation des Fonds structurels

  • [I] Résultats de la Commission du 18 janvier 2000 - Outcome of Commission meeting of 18 January

    [01] Commission publishes draft reform strategy

    The European Commission has published a final consultative document on its strategy for reform and modernisation. These proposals are based on clear objectives of accountability, efficiency and transparency in the public service, and they make provision for setting standards and judging achievement in meeting targets. The consultative document sets out three specific areas for action in modernising the Commission : implementing new systems for identifying priorities and negative priorities and for activity based management, getting the best out of the Commission's staff, and radically reforming financial management. The details of this strategy are contained in a published 84-point Action Plan, with clears deadlines for operation. These far-reaching proposals respond directly to the mandate given to the Commission by the Member State governments, and to the concerns of the European Parliament and public.

    [02] La Commission approuve, sous conditions, l'acquisition d'une série d'activités de BOC par Air Liquide

    La Commission européenne, après avoir mené une enquête approfondie et sous réserve du respect de certaines conditions, a autorisé l'acquisition d'une série d'activités de l'entreprise britannique BOC Group plc par la société française Air Liquide S.A., dans le secteur des gaz industriels. En juillet 1999, Air Liquide et l'entreprise américaine Air Products ont annoncé le lancement d'une OPA conjointe sur BOC. Après l'achèvement de la procédure de rachat, Air Liquide et Air Products ont l'intention de se partager les activités et les actifs de BOC, répartis dans le monde entier. L'appréciation de la Commission s'est principalement concentrée sur les actifs et les activités de BOC devant être recueillis par Air Liquide dans l'Espace économique européen.

    [03] Strategy for a real research policy in Europe

    The European Commission has adopted a document paving the way towards a European research area. This means the creation of a frontier-free area for research where scientific resources are used more to create jobs and increase Europe's competitiveness. Special attention will be given to the networking of centres of excellence, and developing a European approach to large research infrastructures. This will be combined with measures to promote spin-offs from research such as action on patents and easier access to risk capital. The problems of fragmentation and lack of collaboration between public and industrial research in Europe are to be addressed through better coordination and by encouraging the mobility of researchers.

    [04] La Commission évalue le programme de convergence actualisé de la Grèce

    La Commission européenne a adressé une recommandation au Conseil des ministres concernant le programme de convergence actualisé de la Grèce. Cette recommandation est effectuée en application des procédures prévues par le pacte de stabilité et de croissance pour la surveillance des politiques économiques et budgétaires des pays de l'Union européenne. Le programme actualisé de la Grèce couvre la période 1999-2002 ; il garde comme objectif principal le respect des critères de convergence, qui permettra à la Grèce de participer à l'union monétaire à compter du 1er janvier 2001. Le programme prévoit une nouvelle amélioration du déficit des administrations publiques, qui devrait laisser place à un excédent de 0,2% du PIB en 2002, tandis que le ratio de la dette devrait tomber en dessous de 100% du PIB à partir de 2001. La Commission conclut que les objectifs budgétaires à moyen terme fixés à partir de 2000 sont conformes aux exigences du pacte de stabilité et de croissance. Elle considère en outre que les mesures de politique budgétaire et structurelle annoncées dans le programme sont adaptées et conformes aux grandes orientations de politique économique. Sur la base de la recommandation de la Commission, le Conseil devrait adopter un avis officiel sur ce programme de convergence actualisé le 31 janvier 2000.

    [05] Commission assesses updated stability programme of Finland

    The European Commission has made a recommendation to the Council of Ministers on the updated stability programme of Finland, which covers the period 1999-2003. This is in accordance with the Council Regulation on the strengthening of the surveillance of budgetary positions and the surveillance and co-ordination of economic policies. The Commission concludes that the economic and budgetary policies presented in the updated stability programme of Finland are in line with the requirements of the stability and growth pact and the broad economic policy guidelines. Finland's stability programme update points to a general government surplus of 3.1% of GDP in 1999 and aims at surpluses above 4% of GDP, through the period until 2003. This would be clearly sufficient to provide a safety margin against breaching the 3% of GDP deficit threshold in normal cyclical situation. Continued fiscal consolidation embodied in the updated programme is also justified in view of future effects of population ageing in the social security sector. On the basis of the Commission's recommendation, the Council is expected to adopt a formal opinion on the Finnish stability programme update on 31 January 2000.

    [06] Commission assesses Irish stability programme

    The European Commission has made a recommendation to the Council of Ministers on the updated Irish stability programme. The Commission conclusion is that the budgetary objectives in the updated programme are in line with the requirements of the stability and growth pact and the broad economic policy guidelines. The updated programme presents the macroeconomic and budgetary perspectives for the period 2000 to 2002. Economic growth is forecast to decelerate from the rapid rates of recent years, but will nevertheless remain well above the EU average. In addition, the budget is expected to remain in surplus throughout the programme period. The debt to GDP ratio is expected to fall to 36% in 2002. On the basis of the Commission recommendation, the Council is expected to adopt a formal opinion on the updated Irish stability programme on 31 January 2000.

    [07] Commission assesses first update of Netherlands stability programme

    The European Commission has made a recommendation to the Council on the updated of stability programme of the Netherlands, which was presented on 26 November 1999. The Commission's conclusion is that the implementation of the initial stability programme is in line with the requirements of the stability and growth pact and the broad economic policy guidelines. The programme was based on the Coalition Agreement reached by the parties of the current majority in August 1998 ; it extended to the period from 1999 to 2002 the double-handed economic policy followed during the period 1994- 1998, where the fiscal consolidation effort had to be implemented in conjunction with substantial reduction in the tax burden.

    [08] Commission assesses updated Swedish convergence programme

    The European Commission has made a recommendation to the Council of Ministers on the updated Swedish convergence programme. The Commission conclusion is that the updated convergence programme of Sweden is in line with the requirements of the stability and growth pact and the broad economic policy guidelines agreed at the Cologne European Council. The programme is based on the 1999 autumn Budget Bill, which extends the macroeconomic and budgetary perspectives over the period from 1999 to 2002. Growth is forecast to accelerate to 3.6% in 1999 but to slow subsequently to 3.0% in 2001 and remain around trend at 2% per year thereafter. The general government budget balance is expected to continue to show a surplus of about 2% of GDP over the period covered by the updated programme. At the same time the debt to GDP ratio is expected to fall to below 60% in 2000 and to reach 52% in 2002. On the basis of the Commission recommendation, the Council is expected to adopt a formal opinion on the updated Swedish Convergence Programme on 31 January 2000.

    [09] La Commission approuve la liste des zones en reconversion économique et sociale éligibles aux Fonds structurels (objectif 2) en France pour la période 2000-2006

    Plus de 6 milliards d'euros seront alloués à la France au titre des zones éligibles à l'objectif 2 des Fonds structurels entre 2000 et 2006. Les zones éligibles couvrent près de 19 millions d'habitants et concernent 21 des régions métropolitaines françaises. En particulier, près de 70% des populations touchées par la tempête de décembre sont éligibles à l'objectif 2 et pourront bénéficier d'aides structurelles européennes. La France est le premier bénéficiaire de l'Objectif 2 avec 27% des crédits disponibles au niveau de l'Union européenne. Pour l'ensemble des actions structurelles, y compris l'objectif 2, la France devrait ainsi bénéficier d'un soutien communautaire de près de 15 milliards d'euros sur sept ans.

    [10] Commission approves the list of areas in Austria undergoing economic and social conversion which are eligible for the Structural Funds (Objective 2) over the period 2000-2006

    Around euro 600 million will be allocated to Austria for areas eligible for Objective 2 of the Structural Funds between 2000 and 2006. The areas concerned have a combined population of almost 2 million and represent all the Austrian Länder with the exception of Burgenland, which qualifies for Objective 1. EU structural assistance to Austria, including Objective 2, should thus amount to almost euro 1.5 billion over the seven-year period.

    [11] Commission approves the list of areas in Sweden undergoing economic and social conversion which are eligible for the Structural Funds (Objective 2) over the period 2000-2006

    Around euro 354 million will be allocated to Sweden for areas eligible for Objective 2 of the Structural Funds between 2000 and 2006. The areas concerned have a combined population of over 1.2 million and represent 17 Swedish regions. EU structural assistance to Sweden, including Objective 2, should thus amount to almost euro 2 billion over the seven-year period.

    [12] La Commission approuve la liste des zones en reconversion économique et sociale éligibles aux Fonds structurels (objectif 2) au Luxembourg pour la période 2000-2006

    Environ 40 millions d'euros seront alloués au Grand-Duché du Luxembourg au titre des zones éligibles à l'objectif 2 des Fonds structurels entre 2000 et 2006. Ces zones couvrent plus de 117.000 habitants. Pour l'ensemble des actions structurelles, y compris l'objectif 2, le Luxembourg devrait ainsi bénéficier d'un soutien communautaire de près de 78 millions d'euros sur sept ans.

    [13] Commission gives green light to EU-Mexico FTA

    The European Commission has formally approved the results of the Free Trade negotiations between Europe and Mexico concluded by Trade Commissioner Paul Lamy and Mexican Trade Minister Herminio Blanco in November. Welcoming this decision, Mr Lamy described the deal as "a win-win agreement: good for both the European Union and for Mexico because it will allow us both to compete effectively in each others markets and substantially improve our bilateral trading relationship across the board".

    [14] La Commission approuve un régime d'aides fiscales aux îles Canaries (Espagne)

    La Commission européenne a approuvé un régime d'aides fiscales aux îles Canaries, valable jusqu'au 31 décembre 2006, en vue de l'instauration d'une zone économique spéciale (ZEC) susceptible de promouvoir le développement économique et social de l'archipel et la diversification de sa structure de production. Ce régime, dont le coût sera de 102 millions d'euros, s'insère dans le cadre des objectifs du régime économique et fiscal des îles Canaries approuvé par la Commission en 1996.

    [15] Commission partially rejects state aid to Linde AG (Germany)

    The European Commission has closed its formal investigation into unnotified aid awarded to Linde AG by the German authorities, by adopting a partially negative decision. The aid in question was awarded in the form of a grant for the construction of a carbon monoxide production facility in Leuna (Saxony-Anhalt). The Commission decided that the portion of aid in excess of the 35% ceiling laid down for regional State aid in Saxony-Anhalt must be recovered as it does not meet the necessary conditions for the application of any of the derogations provided for by the Treaty.

    [16] Commission launches formal investigation procedure so it can examine Holzmann aid in detail

    The European Commission has decided to initiate a formal investigation procedure to examine in detail the restructuring aid promised by the German Government to Philipp Holzmann AG.

    [17] Commission takes three decisions on development aid for shipbuilding

    The European Commission has approved an aid to be granted by the German government to a development project in relation to the sale of two passenger ferries to Indonesia. The passenger ferries will be constructed at the Meyer-shipyard in Papenburg and will have a carrying capacity each of 2170 passengers and a total contract value of DM 299.6 million (euro 153.2 million). The development aid covers the contract value and consists of a subsidised loan and two credits. At the same time the Commission has decided to launch a formal investigation procedure into development aid that the Netherlands plans to grant for two general cargo vessels and two pulp and paper carriers for Indonesia. The aid, with a combined contract value of NLG 240 million (euro 108.9 million) in the form of a grant of 25%, would be granted to the Indonesian buyers, which are small privately-owned companies, for the purchase of ships from Pattje Shipyards bv. Although the latter projects appear to meet OECD criteria for development aid, the Commission has doubts whether they comply with EU rules on state aids to shipbuilding. It has therefore decided to open an investigation in these two cases.

    [18] La Commission autorise un régime d'aide à la construction navale en Espagne

    La Commission européenne a décidé de ne pas soulever d'objections en ce qui concerne la prorogation en 2000 d'un régime d'aide consistant en l'octroi aux armateurs de facilités de financement des navires. Ce régime, qui prévoit des prêts bonifiés, est inchangé par rapport à celui que la Commission a approuvé en 1999 comme étant compatible avec le règlement concernant les aides à la construction navale.

    [19] Commission approves aid to the Bau Union Ost Group (Germany)

    The European Commission has decided not to raise objections to restructuring aid of an amount of euro 30 million (DM 59 million) to the Bau Union Ost Group, a group of construction companies based in Mecklenburg- Vorpommern, Germany. The aid is intended to finance the restructuring of the group so that it becomes profitable in the long term. It complies with the EU guidelines for the rescue and restructuring of firms in difficulty.

    [20] Mesures en faveur des producteurs affectés par la crise de la dioxine en Belgique

    La Commission européenne a autorisé deux nouvelles aides d'Etat en Belgique suite à la crise de la dioxine. La première mesure concerne l'octroi d'une indemnité visant à compenser les dommages de nature économique subis par les producteurs agricoles touchés par la crise de la dioxine, c'est-à-dire pour les pertes des chiffres d'affaires. Ceci exclut la valeur des animaux et des produits détruits, déjà couverts par d'autres dispositions nationales notifiées et déjà autorisées par la Commission par le passé. L'aide couvre l'ensemble des productions animales. Le nombre de bénéficiaires est estimé à 20.000 et le budget prévu se monte à 5.300 millions de francs belges (environ 131 millions d'euros). La deuxième mesure autorisée concerne l'institution d'un règlement d'indemnisation pour certaines denrées alimentaires d'origine animale destinées à la consommation humaine exportées et qui ont dû être détruites ou réexpédiées en Belgique .

    [21] Soutien financier aux armateurs et équipages espagnols affectés par le non-renouvellement de l'accord de pêche avec le Maroc

    La Commission européenne a autorisé une aide nationale espagnole pour compenser les armateurs et les équipages obligés d'arrêter de pêcher dans les eaux marocaines après l'expiration de l'accord de pêche entre l'Union européenne et le Maroc, le 30 novembre dernier. Cette compensation sera allouée pour une période de six mois maximum à moins que de nouveaux arrangements soient conclus. Le montant de l'aide totale (contribution espagnole et de l'UE) approuvée s'élève à 29.750.000 euros pour les armateurs et 31.190.000 euros pour les équipages.

    [22] Commission decides to send a letter of formal notice to the German government requesting information concerning the purchase of Saarbergwerke AG by Rag Aktiengesellschaft

    The European Commission has formally given the German government one month to provide a detailed and quantified economic evaluation of each of the subsidiary companies of Saarbergwerke AG at the time of the merger, the synergies available as a result of the merger and the risks involved for Rag AG in acquiring Saarbergwerke AG. The German government has also been asked to explain why the price of DM 1, paid by Rag AG for Saarbergwerke AG, was not notified as state aid to the coal sector if the Federal Republic of Germany considered this to be risk insurance for Rag AG. State aid for the coal industry has already been notified by the German government and authorised by the Commission for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999. Any non- notified aid which may have been involved in the purchase of Saarbergwerke AG by Rag AG would therefore be in addition to the sums already authorised.

    [II] Other news - Autres nouvelles

    [23] Romano Prodi and Günter Verheugen to visit Slovakia on Thursday

    European Commission President Romano Prodi and Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen will visit Slovakia on 20 January. This is part of a wider tour of the candidate countries which were invited for accession negotiations at the Helsinki European Council in December last year.

    [24] Commission clears insurance acquisition

    The European Commission has approved the acquisition by CGU of Hibernian Group plc. CGU provides all classes of insurance and life assurance, in the UK, Continental Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and other countries throughout the world. CGU provides also other related financial services. Hibernian provides the same products almost entirely in Ireland and, to a minor extent, in continental Europe. Although CGU's principal operations are in the UK and to a lesser extent in a range of other Member States, Hibernian is essentially only active in Ireland, having sold its UK general insurance business in 1998. The principal overlap lies in the non-life sector. The new entity will become number two in the insurance market in the Republic of Ireland. There are strong competitors present in all segments of the Irish general insurance business including Allianz, AXA, Royal & Sun and Eagle Star (Allied Zurich). There are also a number of strong companies, in particular brokers and financial institutions, active in the distribution channels on the Irish market. Thus, the Commission has decided to authorise the operation and to declare it compatible with the common market and with the European Economic Area agreement.

    [25] Anna Diamantopoulou represents Commission in UN 'Beijing Platform' for women's rights

    At the invitation of the Economic Commission for Europe, European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Anna Diamantopoulou will today represent the Commission in Geneva at a meeting of the Beijing Platform for Action on women's rights in order to review Europe's progress in preparation for the full UN meeting in New York in June. Anna Diamantopoulou will say : "Gender discrimination is a global problem, a waste of resources and talents, a cost to society as a whole. Five years have passed since the Beijing conference. Major inequalities still exist - in Europe too - between women and men in key areas such as the human rights of women, the economy and decision-making". Ministers will aim to reach agreed conclusions on further commitments to achieve the objectives set in Beijing. The conclusions will then form the basis for the European position for New York in June. Following this meeting, an EU coordination conference, organised by the Commission, will take place in Brussels on 3-4 February 2000 involving a broad spectrum of representatives including : the current and future Council presidencies, the European Parliament Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities, EU NGOs and the social partners. The EU candidate countries will be present.

    [26] Chechnya : Commission approves additional humanitarian aid worth euro 5 million

    The European Commission has approved additional humanitarian aid worth euro 5 million for civilian victims of the conflict in Chechnya as a response to the gravity of the crisis there. Given the security difficulties in the region, the aid will be delivered by local staff of the International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, managed by 'remote control'. The European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) will identify partners and projects. This funding brings the total made available for programmes in this crisis since August 1999 to euro 7.4 million.

    [27] Accord de Margot Wallström et Michel Barnier sur l'articulation entre la Directive Habitats et la programmation des Fonds structurels

    Suite à une réunion de travail, les Commissaires européens à l'Environnement et à la Politique régionale, Mme Margot Wallström et M. Michel Barnier, ont défini les modalités pratiques pour assurer l'application de la Directive Habitats dans les Fonds structurels. Chaque plan soumis par les Etats membres au titre de la programmation des Fonds structurels sera apprécié individuellement. Si les éléments contenus dans ces plans, en ce qui concerne le respect de Natura 2000, sont considérés comme insuffisants, les Etats membres concernés seront informés de ce que les programmes découlant de ces plans devront comporter des engagements clairs et irrévocables afin de garantir la cohérence de ces programmes avec la protection des sites prévue dans le cadre de Natura 2000. L'objectif de la Commission est d'engager avec les Etats membres un dialogue positif et constructif qui aboutit à une mise en oeuvre des Fonds respectueuse des objectifs nationaux et communautaires et qui prévienne l'apparition de problèmes dans les phases ultérieures de mise en oeuvre.

    MIDDAY EXPRESS


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


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