Mortgages: better protection for European consumers (31 March 2011)
The European Commission today moved to tighten protection for borrowers and says it is "determined that irresponsible lending and borrowing practices are not repeated in the future."
The Commission has tabled a proposal which should see borrowers getting a higher level of protection by making new rules on advertising, pre-contractual information, advice, credit worthiness assessment, and early repayment. The proposal focuses in particular on mortgages for house purchase or renovation.
As well as the new rules, borrowers would have the right to personalised information through a European Standardised Information Sheet. This will allow consumers to compare mortgage conditions from different providers.
The proposed Directive now passes to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers for consideration.
Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier said: "During the boom years, we saw examples of borrowers and lenders acting on the assumption that the good times could not end. Lenders and intermediaries alike engaged in irresponsible practices, and consumers were not warned of the consequences of their decisions. The draft set of rules presented today is designed to ensure a high standard of pre-contractual information and improved lending practices across Europe, while promoting a dynamic, competitive and more integrated Single Market for mortgage credit."
Outline of the initiative
The proposed Directive will:
- introduce certain requirements for the advertising of mortgage credit, for example wording that may create false expectations for a consumer regarding the availability or the cost of a credit will be prohibited;
- ensure that all institutions involved in the origination and distribution of mortgage credit to consumers are adequately regulated and supervised;
- establish principles for the authorisation and registration of credit intermediaries (companies who provide information and assistance to consumers looking for a mortgage credit and sometimes conclude mortgage agreements on behalf of the lender) and for the establishment of a passport regime for those intermediaries. This means that once authorised in one Member State, the intermediary would be allowed to provide its services throughout the Internal Market.
- ensure that lenders benefit from provisions enabling them to access information in credit databases on a non-discriminatory basis.
Lenders and credit intermediaries will be required to:
- make general information available at all times on the range of credit products they offer;
- provide personalised information to the consumer through a European Standardised Information Sheet or so called "ESIS". This will allow consumers to compare mortgage conditions from different providers;
- give explanations and meet certain standards for the provision of advice;
- assess the consumer's ability to repay, based on information provided by the borrower;
- finally, credit intermediaries will be required to disclose certain information concerning for example, their identity, status and relationship with the creditor, to render transparent any potential conflicts of interest.
- benefit from extra information at all stages in the process of taking out a mortgage allowing them to make the right decisions for them;
- benefit from a harmonised annual percentage rate of charge in line with that set out in the Consumer Credit Directive which will facilitate the comparability of advertising and the pre-contractual information;
- have an obligation to provide the necessary information to enable an assessment of their ability to repay;
- have an entitlement to repay their credit before the expiry of the credit agreement, subject to certain conditions to be determined by Member States.
In parallel the Commission also presents today a working paper on national measures and practices to avoid foreclosure procedures. It also provides examples for national public authorities and creditors on how rising default rates have been addressed across the EU, with a view to avoiding foreclosure procedures where possible and reasonable. These include reconciliation procedures, mediation, modification of loan terms, to minimum length of time before starting foreclosure procedures, public rescue schemes and provision of independent debt and legal advice, as well as the collection of data and internal reporting.
Despite the considerable size of the EU mortgage market (equivalent to 50% of European GDP) as well as the importance of a mortgage to consumers, there is no EU legislative framework in place concerning mortgage lending and the market remains highly fragmented.
While many factors drive the decision to grant a particular mortgage credit, it appears that irresponsible behaviour by certain market actors have in recent years contributed to excessive mortgage lending. Consequently, EU citizens are having difficulties in meeting their debts. In 2008, 16 % of people reported difficulties in paying bills and 10 % of all households reported arrears. In line with these difficulties, defaults and foreclosures have risen.
More information on EU activities retail financial services – Credit
MEMO/11/205: Creating a fair single market for mortgage credit – FAQ
EC, ECB and IMF Welcome the Irish Authorities’ Banking System Announcements (31 March 2011)
The European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) today issued the following statement on the Financial Measures Programme in Ireland.
“Today’s comprehensive announcements by the Irish authorities are a major step toward restoring the Irish banking system to health which is crucial for sustained revival of growth and employment.
“Consistent with the program supported by the EU and IMF, the Central Bank, together with leading international consulting firms, has identified the banks’ capital needs based on thorough and transparent valuations of bank assets and stringent stress tests conducted with an appropriately high minimum capital ratio, which will ensure a sound capital basis of the banks. The process was conducted in close consultation with the staffs of the EC, ECB and IMF, who have reviewed the methodology utilized.
“The EC, ECB and IMF staff welcome the rigorous capital needs assessment and strongly support the authorities’ plans to ensure that these capital needs are met in a timely manner. The capital needs can be funded comfortably under the program supported by the EU and IMF.
“The related plans to deleverage bank balance sheets, including through phased sales of non-core assets over time, will reinforce the benefits of higher capital and help banks regain access to the market sources of financing needed to enable renewed lending.
“The Irish government also made important announcements on the future structure of banking system, and the staff of the EC, ECB and IMF endorse this strategy to focus on the development of two strong pillar banks with sound business models able to serve the Irish economy’s needs. The detailed restructuring plans for the banks are to be notified to the EC for approval under state aid rules; the EC will assess the plans based on established criteria, taking into account market structures and the need to keep markets open.
“The staff of the EC, ECB and IMF look forward to discussing progress with implementing the measures announced today, together with a broader range of economic issues, during the program review mission starting next week.”
Ireland to get € 1.5 million from EU electric transport development fund (30 March 2011)
Dublin and Cork, along with 42 other European partners, are about to share in a € 24.2 million EU fund to develop electric transport, the European Commission announced today. Ireland's share will be € 1.5 million which will be shared between Cork City Council, Dublin's CODEMA, ESB and Trinity College.
The funding is part of a European Commission initiative to co-fund a cross-European electromobility initiative, Green eMotion, worth €41.8 million, which will develop know-how and experience in selected regions within Europe.
Some 2,000 electric vehicles and approximately 3,500 charging stations are part of a nation-wide rollout in Ireland in a partnership between industry, manufacturers, local authorities and universities.
In Dublin, the project managers, Codema plan to bring together the four Dublin local authorities and the ESB. They want to integrate electric vehicles within an overall sustainable energy plan for a green and energy smart city – with possible ‘smart energy zones’.
In Cork, the city council is planning an electric vehicle project covering smarter travel, Electric Vehicles, GoCar Sharing Club.
[EU funding: Cork City: €174200; Dublin City Energy management agency: € 71454; ESB: € 925010; TCD: €333153; Total IRL: €1 503 817]
Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said: "Transport is current 96% dependent on oil for its energy needs. This is totally unsustainable. The Transport 2050 Roadmap aims to break transport's current oil dependency and allow mobility to grow. We can and we must do both. It can be win-win. But there are major challenges. Transport 2050 calls for a reduction of CO² from transport of at least 60% by 2050. At the heart of this strategy is a major shift in cities to the electric vehicles away from cars with conventionally fuelled engines. The level of EU financial support for this e-motion project shows just how serious we are at EU level about achieving these goals. This is a project tackles some of the practical problems and real bottlenecks for cities and companies who want to bring electric vehicles to the market. It is exactly the kind of initiative where European co-operation adds huge value. This is a very promising initiative for the future."
Transport 2050 aims to half the number of conventionally fuelled cars in cities by 2030 and phase them out by 2050.
The four year long project 'Green e motion' is part of the European Green Cars Initiative, and will be funded under the Seventh Research and Development Framework Programme (FP7) in order to:
- compare the twelve ongoing regional and national electromobility initiatives in eight different EU Member States,
- compare the different technology approaches,
- contribute to the identification of the best solutions for the European market.
The project will cover different types of electric vehicles, the development of Smart Grids, innovative Information and Communication Technologies solutions, and urban mobility concepts.
An interoperable platform will be created to enable the different actors to interact and to allow for new high-value transportation services and innovative billing systems. It will contribute to the improvement and development of new and existing standards for electromobility. Green eMotion will demonstrate this interoperable electromobility framework in all participating regions and will thus provide the basis for its replication across Europe.
The partners in the Green eMotion initiative are the industrial companies Alstom, Better Palce, Bosch, IBM, SAP and Siemens, the utilities, Dansk Energi, EDF, Endesa, Enel, ESB, Eurelectric, Iberdrola, RWE and PPC, the automobile manufacturers BMW, Daimler, Micro-Vett, Renault and Nissan, the municipalities Dublin, Cork, Copenhagen, Bornholm, Malmö, Malaga, Rome, Barcelona and Berlin, the universities and research institutions Cartif Cidaut, DTU, ECN, ERSE, Imperial, IREC, LABEIN, and TCD and the technology institutions DTI, FKA and TÜV Nord.
Report of the European Expert Group on Future Transport Fuels
European Green Cars Initiative
Ireland to get € 0.5 million EU funds for school fruit scheme (30 March 2011)
Ireland is to be allocated half a million euros as part of the European Commission School Fruit scheme for 2011/2012. This must be matched by national or private funding in order to be drawn down.
Ireland's allocation is part of the Commission's EU aid to Member States under a School Fruit Scheme for the 2011/2012 school year.
This will be the third year of the Scheme's application since its launch in 2009 and 24 Member States have decided to participate in the programme with only Sweden, Finland and United Kingdom opting out.
Out of €90 million of EU funds available for the financing of the Scheme, the main beneficiaries in 2011/2012 will be Italy (€18 million), Germany (€11 million), France (€10 million), Poland (€9 million) and Romania (€8 million).
The EU funds are co-financing the Scheme and must be matched by national or private contributions. The Scheme is an important EU-wide initiative in efforts to encourage healthier eating habits amongst school children as they are more likely to become lifelong habits if developed at an early age.
Improved nutrition plays an important role in combating health problems related to poor nutrition, such as child obesity. In 2009/2010 school year, 4.7 million children in participating Member States benefited from the Scheme by receiving portions of fruit and vegetables in the school.
For further information about the scheme, go to: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/markets/fruitveg/sfs/index_en.htm
Irish third most likely to use cars as main mode of transport (29 March 2011)
Most Europeans are willing to compromise on the price and the features of their car in order to reduce harmful emissions, a new survey has revealed.
A Eurobarometer survey conducted in all 27 European Union Member States showed that, for instance, about two-thirds of EU car users said it was likely they would compromise on a car's speed in order to reduce emissions. In addition, the majority of motorists (53%) agreed with existing car charges being replaced by new charging schemes based on the actual use of their vehicle. While most users choose to drive a car because of its convenience, nearly three quarters of EU citizens (71%) said they would consider using public transport more frequently if it would be possible to buy a single ticket covering all transport modes.
See below for the main findings:
Main mode of transport
Motorised individual transport: 68% of Irish respondents used motorised individual transport (cars and/or motorbikes). This is the third highest in Europe after Cyprus (91%) and Slovenia (69%) and well above the EU average of 55%. Romanians (31%), Hungarians and Latvians (both 29%) were least likely. Across the EU men were more likely to say that they used a car to get around on a daily basis (59% vs. 47% of women).
Public transport: 14% of Irish respondents used public transport, sixth lowest in Europe and well below the EU average of 22% and considerably below the levels in Hungary (35%), Latvia (36%) and the Czech Republic (37%). Cyprus had the lowest level of public transport users at 5%.
Non motorised individual transport: 15% of Irish respondents used non motorised individual transport, i.e. walking and/or cycling, the fifth lowest in Europe and well below the levels of 34% in the Netherlands and Romania. The EU average was 20% with Cyprus (3%), Malta (6%) and Luxembourg (7%).
Compromises to be made in order to make driving greener
Car speed: 74% of Irish respondents said that it was likely that they would compromise on a car’s speed in order to reduce emissions. This is above the EU average of 68% but below countries like Cyprus (87%), Luxembourg (84%) and Greece (82%). Only Latvia and Romania (48%) were lower than 50%. 21% of Irish respondents said that it was not likely they would compromise on speed to reduce emissions.
Car size: 65% of Irish respondents said that they would be likely to compromise on a car's size in order to reduce emissions and 28% said they would not. This compares to EU averages of 62% and 24% respectively. Greek (80%) and Cypriot (79%) respondents were most likely to say they would compromise on a car's size and Dutch (46%) and Romanian (43%) least likely. Respondents in the Czech Republic were the most likely to answer that they would be unlikely to accept such a compromise (39%).
Car range: The majority of car users (56%) surveyed across the EU said they would be likely to compromise on the car’s range – i.e. the distance that one could drive before needing to refuel or recharge the vehicle. This figure ranged from 75% in Cyprus and 71% in Luxembourg to 38% in Latvia and Romanian. Ireland was slightly about the EU average at 59%. However, Irish drivers were also more likely at 30% to say that they would not be likely to compromise on car range compared to an EU average of 26%.
Cost: Sixty-one% (61%) of Irish respondents said they would be likely to compromise on the cost of purchasing a car in order to reduce emissions and 29% said they would not. This is below the rate in Cyprus (74%) and Luxembourg 68%) but above the EU average of 53% and well above Latvia (41%), the Czech Republic (42%) and Romania (43%). For the EU as a whole, 29% said they would not be likely to compromise on cost.
Reasons why car users don’t use public transport
Convenience of public transport: 78% of Irish respondents felt that public transport was not as convenient as a car compared to an EU average of 71%. Respondents in Latvia (88%) and Malta (88%) were most likely to feel this way and respondents in Portugal (48%) and Sweden (49%) least likely.
Lack of connections: 71% of Irish car users said that a lack of connections stopped them from using public transport (56% of “very important responses”). This compares to an EU average of 72% (49% of whom cited “very important responses”) with Cypriot users topping the poll at 89% and Latvia (42%) and Lithuania (41%) least likely to give lack of connections as a reason.
Low frequency of service: 67% of Irish car users cited the low frequency of services as a reason for not using public transport and 51% of these said it was a very important reason. Across the EU as a whole 64% gave this reason for not using public transport with 40% citing it as a very important reason. Cypriot car users were the most likely to say that low frequency was an important reason for not using public transport (89%). Respondents in the Netherlands (48%) and Denmark (44%) were least likely to agree.
Lack of reliability: 62% of Irish car users said that lack of reliability was a reason for not using public transport. This is above the EU average of 54% but below Poland (74%) and the UK (70%). Respondents in Lithuania (32%) and France were least likely to give this reason.
Too expensive: 50% of car users across the EU thought that public transport was too expensive. This ranged from 65% in Bulgaria and 64% in the UK to 27% in Luxembourg and 30% in France. 52% of Irish car users gave cost as a reason for not using public transport.
Security reasons: 41% of Irish car users cited security concerns as an important reason not to use public transport. This is very slightly above the EU average of 40% but well below Bulgaria (70%). By contrast, only 19% of car users in Sweden gave this as a reason.
Ideas for making public transport easier to use
- 74% of Irish respondents would consider using public transport more frequently if it were possible to buy a single ticket covering all transport modes compared to an EU average of 71%. 70% of Irish car users surveyed said they would consider using public transport more frequently if it were possible to buy a single ticket covering all transport modes and 25% said they would not.
- 78% of Irish car users said they would be encouraged to combine different modes of transport if it were possible to transfer easily from one method of transport to another.
- 57% of Irish car users said they would be encouraged to combine different modes of transport if terminals were more attractive;
- 69% of Irish car users agreed that better (online) information on schedules would encourage then to combine different modes of transport.
- 54% of Irish car users said that that the possibility to buy tickets online would encourage them to consider using other means of transport than their car.
Support for charging schemes based on actual car use
Half of EU citizens said they would agree with existing car charges being replaced by new charging schemes that took into account a car’s actual use. These schemes were even more popular among car drivers as 53% agreed with existing car charges being replaced. The figures for Ireland were respectively 47% and 50% for car users.
The survey was conducted among 25,570 people in all 27 Member States at the request of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport. Approximately 1,000 people were interviewed in Ireland between 15 and 19 October 2010
For the full survey go to: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_312_en.pdf
Statement by President Barroso at the press conference following the European Council (25 March 2011)
Please see below the statement made by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso following the European Council meeting on 24 and 25 March.
This morning our discussion focused on Japan and more generally, nuclear safety.
We express our solidarity with the Japanese people who are dealing with this crisis with great courage and dignity.
The European Union is doing all it can to help. In the last days we have responded to Japan's call specific in-kind assistance to bring relief to the Japanese people.
It is important to say that radiation levels in Europe have not changed, but of course we are following these issues with great care.
The terrible events in Japan remind us that while we have very different views and situations in the EU regarding nuclear energy, we must be united on the issue of nuclear safety. We need to ensure that the highest nuclear safety standards are respected. The Commission has called for a comprehensive safety and risk assessment to be done at all nuclear power plants in Europe and neighbouring countries. These must be done on the basis of clear, common and transparent criteria. This has been fully endorsed today.
The Commission will work with the European Nuclear Safety Regulatory Group and all other relevant bodies and authorities in developing the modalities of these safety assessments. I believe the role of the Commission is essential to ensure the credibility of this exercise working of course hand in hand with the independent national regulators. The European Council will assess initial findings by the end of 2011 on the basis of a report by the Commission. We are also calling on Member States to implement the new Directive on nuclear safety in full, and to adopt rapidly the Commission proposal on nuclear waste.
We also need to strengthen international standards and we will make concrete proposals in the upcoming review of the global convention on nuclear safety. We have also decided to put this very high in our priorities when dealing with third countries, namely our neighbours.
I would like to highlight the very important, I would say historic, conclusions of this European Council regarding economic policy and economic governance.
Today we have endorsed very important conclusions on economic governance and I believe this can be a major change. We have reinforced our monetary union with an economic union.
I think we can say that the economic and monetary union will finally stand on both legs.
In concrete terms, we have agreed a course of action with clear priorities for economic policy, where Member States take clear commitments to strengthen fiscal discipline, financial stability, competitiveness, employment and growth, which are agreed by all. And this will be topped-up with a Pact for the Euro or a Euro plus pact for the seventeen members of the euro area, but also the member states that are going to join in the first phase - Poland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia.
On the basis of the Commission's Annual Growth Survey, the European semester of ex-ante coordination of budgetary and economic policy is well underway. The ball is now firmly in the court of the Member States. It is now up to them to present ambitious national reform programmes implementing the Europe 2020 goals by the end of April. This requires real ownership and drive from within each Member State. I want to underline this point, because as you know this point was very often discussed regarding the post-Lisbon strategy. The need of the real ownership by our Member States in terms of national reform programs and what they can do to achieve goals that have been commonly agreed. This point was also highlighted in the conclusions. We will be vey objective but at the same time firm in the analysis of Member States' commitments and we will of course work carefully on the recommendations we will make.
And we also have agreed an effective backstop mechanism (ESM) to guarantee the stability of the euro area. The "operational features" of the permanent Stability Mechanism were confirmed; in particular it will have the capacity to provide assistance of up to 500 billion euro. In the unlikely event we need it, we have the real firepower in place. I am confident this will not be the case because of the new governance system we are now putting in place.
The reinforced surveillance system is based on our six-pack of proposals made on 29 September. The European Parliament will set its position in April. Then negotiations can focus on reaching a final deal in June. The end-result can only be stronger and I think now we are really very close to finalise all this architecture of stronger economic governance, not only for the euro area, but indeed for the European Union.
This is a very good result for Europe, a result that reinforces the community approach. I was also pleased during today's discussion to see the strong support for our efforts to stimulate growth with deepening of the single market. We will present in April the Single Market Act with a key set of 12 priority proposals. There was today a clear commitment of all Member States to reinforce the actions through the deepening of the single market so that we can boost growth and jobs in the European Union.
So, all in all very successful European Council
On-line gambling in Europe: time to talk (24 March 2011)
The European Commission says today that it wants to look at the growing business of on-line gambling. This follows calls from governments and the European Parliament for a review at EU level on how this market works across the Member States.
The Commission is doing this by launching a Green Paper public consultation which it says it is doing 'with an open mind'. The Green Paper looks at questions such as licensing, payments, consumer protection, fraud and money laundering, and support for public charities out of on-line gambling revenue.
For the full text of the Green Paper and to give your views click here: http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/services/gambling_en.htm
Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier said: "With this Green Paper, we have launched an ambitious consultation with no pre-determined views on its possible follow-up. The on-line gambling market in the EU is growing rapidly and generates large sums that are sometimes channelled into good causes. Its expansion must go hand-in-hand with protection of the public, especially minors, and services within the EU which are sound and well-regulated. We are responding here to calls from the European Parliament and the Member States for us to address these questions jointly. This consultation is not about liberalisation of the market, it is about ensuring that the market for on-line gambling services within the EU is well-regulated for all."
On-line gambling is a fast developing business in Europe, with almost 15,000 websites already identified and total annual revenues exceeding € 6 billion in 2008 and expected to double in size by 2013.
National legal frameworks vary enormously across the EU, with different rules applying to licensing, related on-line services, payments, public interest objectives, and the fight against fraud.
In order to ensure legal certainty and effective protection of EU citizens in this fast-growing cross-border service activity, it is important to evaluate how possibly differing models can co-exist within the Internal Market.
The primary aim of the Green Paper consultation, launched today, is therefore to obtain a facts-based picture of the existing situation in the EU on-line gambling market and of the different national regulatory models.
The Commission seeks the views of stakeholders and wishes to collect detailed information and data on key policy issues such as organisation of on-line gambling services and enforcement of applicable laws; consumer protection and other relevant public policy challenges as well as commercial communications and payment services.
Contributions to the consultation, which can be submitted until 31 July 2011, will determine the need for and form of any EU follow-up action in this field. Expert workshops on specific themes will be organised to complement this consultation.
What is the public consultation about?
Societal and public order challenges arise from the on-line offer of gambling services in the EU, as well as regulatory and technical challenges. The key policy issues of the consultation are:
1. Definition and organisation of on-line gambling services: the Green Paper is consulting on the main advantages and/or difficulties associated with the co-existence in the EU of different national systems and practices for the licensing of on-line gambling services.
2. Related services performed and/or used by on-line gambling services providers: the Green Paper is consulting on rules and practices relating to on-line commercial communication, customer identification and regulations for payment systems for on-line gambling services and player accounts.
3. Public interest objectives: This section of the consultation focuses on three objectives which to various degrees may be valid for Member States in terms of their national on-line gambling policies:
- Consumer protection: the consultation aims to collect information on problem gambling and addiction and the measures pursued to protect players and prevent or limit such problems. Another key issue is how to ensure the protection of minors and other vulnerable groups. Questions raised relate to the promotion and marketing of on-line gambling and systems in place for customer identification, both for opening an account and for processing payments.
- Public order: the Green Paper is consulting on best practices to detect and prevent fraud, money laundering and other crimes.
- Financing of benevolent and public interest activities and events: The consultation looks at differing systems of revenue channelling for public interest activities and mechanisms for redistributing revenues from public and private on-line gambling services to the benefit of society such as the arts, education or sport.
4. Enforcement: There is a considerable illegal market for on-line gambling services in the EU. It is estimated that for each licensed on-line gambling website worldwide, there are more than five websites offering on-line poker or sports betting without having a licence. An illegal cross-border market is currently accessible to consumers, due either to de facto tolerance or because of a lack of effective enforcement. That is why the consultation seeks to evaluate current enforcement systems and cross-border cooperation between Member States and gather factual information on the efficiency of the existing blocking systems (such as payment blocking or domain name filtering).
What are the next steps?
Responses to the Green Paper are welcome until 31 July 2011. The information and data received at the end of this process will be thoroughly assessed by the Commission in determining follow-up action.
Today on-line gambling services are widely offered and used in the EU and the economic significance of the sector is growing. In 2008, on-line gambling services accounted for annual revenues over € 6 billion, or 7.5% of the overall gambling market. It is the fastest growing segment of the gambling market and in 2008 was expected to double in size in five years.
At the same time, the regulatory situation for gambling differs between Member States. While some Member States restrict or even ban the offer of certain games of chance, others have more open regulated markets. A number of Member States have also recently reviewed their on-line gambling legislation or are embarking on such a process.
MEMO/11/186: Public Consultation on On-line gambling in the Internal Market - Frequently asked questions
A staff working document accompanying this Green paper is available on the Commission's website: http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/services/gambling_en.htm
Interested parties will find further instructions on how to respond to this consultation on the website mentioned above.
Speaking points of Commissioner Olli Rehn following Eurogroup+ meeting of 21 March 2011 (22 March 2011)
Please see below the speaking points of Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn at the press conference following the Eurogroup+ meeting of 21 March 2011.
• Today we have completed a massive and decisive effort to finalise a comprehensive response to the sovereign debt crisis. It has taken months of tough talks, but the determination to safeguard financial stability and a strong European commitment has prevailed: we now have a comprehensive strategy to strengthen the foundations of the euro area and to restore confidence in the euro area sovereign bond markets.
• Our economic strategy consists of the following four building blocks that will together lead to a fundamental strengthening of EMU:
• First, the EAMS are all pursuing fiscal consolidation and growth-enhancing structural reforms with full determination. This is particularly critical in countries under the spotlight, where full implementation of the announced measures is now of paramount importance to restore confidence.
• Second, Council and Parliament are delivering on their commitment to reinforce economic governance by this summer. Last week, the Council agreed on its general approach on the Commission's legislative package, which is the cornerstone of our comprehensive response.
• The Council's approach respects the spirit of our six legislative proposals and is a sound negotiation mandate to reach an agreement with the EP.
• We are about to reach a new level of economic governance in the euro area by increasing the focus on debt, by extending our surveillance to the macro-economic imbalances, by strengthening our enforcement tools, and by reinforcing our national budgetary frameworks. These steps, together with the new "Pact for the euro", will lead to a quantum leap in reinforcing EU's economic governance.
• Third, we agreed to reinforce our financial backstops, so that the so-called market forces can not have even the slightest doubt about our capacity to act even in the most stressed scenarios. Today, we took the decision to set up the permanent European Stability Mechanism from June 2013, with the effective lending capacity of 500 bn euros.
• Fourth, very important, the banking sector repair must be completed to safeguard the provision of credit to the real economy, to enterprises and to households. The next round of bank stress tests will be conducted in the next months. The results will guide the necessary restructuring and possible recapitalisation of the banking sector.
• Ahead of the publication of the results the Member States will need to release their strategies for possible restructuring and possible recapitalisation of their vulnerable institutions. Such plans should be ready as soon as possible and include a detailed timeline.
• All in all, with these decisions we are on track to turn the economic tide in 2011.
Eurobarometer shows continuing Irish support for monetary union (21 March 2011)
The latest Eurobarometer national report shows that there is the very extensive support for European monetary union and the euro and that Ireland's support for EU and IMF intervention is significantly more positive than that found among the EU 27 as a whole.
Field work for the poll was conducted last November. The full report and graphics can be found on the Eurobarometer website here: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb74/eb74_en.htm
Support for EU/IMF intervention is 55% in Ireland compared to an average of 38% across the EU Member States. "The results show that the Irish public is willing to pursue a multilateral rather than a unilateral approach to the issues in the current crisis," said Professor Richard Sinnott, one of the authors of the report.
Support for European Monetary Union and the euro amongst those questioned shows in Ireland, at around 80%, it remains much higher than the EU average of 58%. Since its introduction support has grown from about 60 to 80 %, tailing off slightly in this survey.
The poll was taken between 11 and 25 of November last, covering both the period before and after the arrival of the EU/IMF team. This makes it possible to compare attitudes before and after the intervention and shows a perceptible change at that point. When attitudes towards who was best equipped to deal with the crisis are measured, support for the EU as best-equipped remains more or less constant at 32 and 33%. However, the poll shows that support for the IMF goes up from 16% to 27% while perception of the Irish government as most effective drops from 19% to 10%.
On the wiser economic front, those polled were much more likely to say that the Irish national economic situation was 'very bad', at 84%, more negative than any other Europeans - even those also in difficulty such as in Greece (65%) and Portugal (49%). The slide in positive perception of the Irish economic situation from 2007 to 2010 in successive Eurobarometer polls has been precipitous, falling from 80% to 3%.
The field work for the next Eurobarometer will be conducted in May with consolidated results out in the following months.
The results of this poll are based on face-to-face interviews with a balanced population sample of 1000 people conducted by TNS. The report was written by Professor Richard Sinnott (UCD Geary Institute) and James McBride (Irish Social Science Data Archive).
Ireland records second largest trade surplus in the EU in 2010 (18 March 2011)
Latest figures from Eurostat show that Ireland recorded the second highest trade surplus in the EU after Germany for the period January to December 2010. During that period, Irish exports rose by 6% to € 88.4 bn while imports remained stable at €45 bn, giving a trade surplus of €43.4 bn. Furthermore this represents a rise of €5.2 bn over January to December 2009 when the total trade surplus was €38.2 bn.
Ireland had however the lowest export growth (6%) behind Greece (8%) and Denmark (9%). (Luxembourg is lower but distorted for various reasons). Imports grew in all Member States apart from Ireland where they remained stable and Greece where they dropped by 21%.
EU27 2010 detailed results
The EU27 deficit increased for energy (-297.1 bn euro in 2010 compared with -240.2 bn in 2009), while the surplus for manufactured goods rose (+177.9 bn compared with +163.0 bn).
EU27 trade with all its major partners grew in 2010 compared with 2009. The most notable increases were recorded for exports to Brazil (+45%), Turkey (+39%) and China (+37%), and for imports from China and Russia (both +32%) and India (+30%).
The EU27 trade surplus increased with the USA (+73.1 bn euro in 2010 compared with +46.4 bn in 2009), Switzerland (+21.3 bn compared with +14.7 bn) and Turkey (+19.2 bn compared with +8.0 bn). The EU27 trade deficit increased with China (-168.9 bn compared with -131.7 bn), Russia (-68.4 bn compared with -51.6 bn) and Norway (-37.3 bn compared with -31.4 bn). The deficit remained nearly stable with Japan (-21.1 bn compared with -20.7 bn) and stable with South Korea (-10.6 bn).
Concerning the total trade of Member States, the largest surplus was observed in Germany (+152.4 bn euro in 2010), followed by Ireland (+43.4 bn), the Netherlands (+42.3 bn) and Belgium (+16.4 bn). The United Kingdom (-115.5 bn) registered the largest deficit, followed by France (-64.1 bn), Spain (-51.8 bn), Italy (-27.3 bn), Greece (-22.4 bn), Portugal (-20.0 bn) and Poland (-13.5 bn).
January 2011: Euro area external trade deficit 14.8 bn euro
29.8 bn euro deficit for EU27
The first estimate for the euro area (EA17) trade balance with the rest of the world in January 2011 gave a 14.8 bn euro deficit, compared with -9.7 bn in January 2010. The December 2010 balance was -0.5 bn, compared with +3.2 bn in December 2009. In January 2011 compared with December 2010, seasonally adjusted exports rose by 3.6% and imports by 5.3%.
The first estimate for the January 2011 extra-EU27 trade balance was a 29.8 bn euro deficit, compared with -22.7 bn in January 2010. In December 2010 the balance was -10.9 bn, compared with -2.9 bn in December 2009. In January 2011 compared with December 2010, seasonally adjusted exports rose by 6.4% and imports by 4.8%.
These data are released by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.
See here for the full Eurostat press release, including tables.
Ireland records third highest drop in hourly labour costs in the EU (16 March 2011)
Year on year drops in hourly labour costs across the EU for the fourth quarter of 2010 saw Ireland with a -1.2% drop in hourly rates, coming in third after Greece (-6.5%) and Hungary (-2.3%). The highest annual increases in hourly labour costs were registered in Bulgaria (+7.6%) and Romania (+5.4%).
Hourly labour costs in the euro area rose by 1.6% in the year up to the fourth quarter of 2010, compared with 0.9% for the previous quarter. In the EU27, the annual rise was 2.0% up to the fourth quarter of 2010, compared with 1.2% for the previous quarter.
The two main components of labour costs are wages & salaries and non-wage costs. In the euro area, wages & salaries per hour worked grew by 1.4% in the year up to the fourth quarter of 2010, and the non-wage component by 1.9%, compared with 0.8% and 1.3% respectively for the third quarter of 2010. In the EU27, hourly wages & salaries rose by 2.1% and the non-wage component by 1.5% in the year up to the fourth quarter of 2010, compared with 1.2% for both components for the third quarter of 2010.
The breakdown by economic activity shows that in the euro area hourly labour costs rose by 1.7% in industry, 1.1% in construction and 1.6% in services in the year up to the fourth quarter of 2010. In the EU27, labour costs per hour grew by 1.9% in industry, 1.0% in construction and 2.2% in services.
Among the Member States for which data are available for the fourth quarter of 2010, the highest annual increases in hourly labour costs were registered in Bulgaria (+7.6%) and Romania (+5.4%). Annual decreases were observed in Greece (-6.5%), Hungary (-2.3%) and Ireland (-1.2%).
For further information, including tables, see the Eurostat press release.
Ireland has the lowest annual rate of inflation in the EU (16 March 2011)
In February 2011, the lowest annual inflation rates were observed in Ireland (0.9%), Sweden (1.2%) and France (1.8%), and the highest in Romania (7.6%), Estonia (5.5%) and Bulgaria (4.6%). Compared with January 2011, annual inflation rose in fifteen Member States, remained stable in three and fell in eight.
The lowest 12-month averages up to February 2011 were registered in Ireland (-1.1%), Latvia (0.0%) and the Netherlands (1.2%), and the highest in Romania (6.5%), Greece (5.0%) and Hungary (4.4%).
Euro area annual inflation was 2.4% in February 2011, up from 2.3% in January. A year earlier the rate was 0.8%. Monthly inflation was 0.4% in February 2011.
EU annual inflation was 2.8% in February 2011, unchanged compared with January. A year earlier the rate was 1.5%. Monthly inflation was 0.4% in February 2011.
The main components with the highest annual rates in February 2011 were transport (5.7%), housing (4.9%) and alcohol & tobacco (3.5%), while the lowest annual rates were observed for clothing (-2.6%), communications
(-0.4%) and recreation & culture (0.0%). Concerning the detailed sub-indices, fuels for transport (+0.62 percentage points), heating oil (+0.23), electricity (+0.11) and gas (+0.10) had the largest upward impacts on the headline rate, while garments (-0.25) and telecommunications (-0.09) had the biggest downward impacts.
The main components with the highest monthly rates were recreation & culture (0.9%), food, housing, transport and hotels & restaurants (all 0.5%), while the lowest were clothing (-0.5%), alcohol & tobacco (0.0%), health and education (both 0.1%). In particular, package holidays (+0.06 percentage points), accommodation services and heating oil (+0.03 each) had the largest upward impacts, while garments (-0.03), restaurants & cafés and footwear (-0.02 each) had the biggest downward impacts.
For further information including tables, see the Eurostat press release.
European corporate tax base: making business easier and cheaper (16 March 2011)
The European Commission has today (16 March) proposed a common system for calculating the tax base of businesses operating in the EU.
The aim of this proposal is to significantly reduce the administrative burden, compliance costs and legal uncertainties that businesses in the EU currently face in having to comply with up to 27 different national systems for determining their taxable profits.
The proposed Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), would mean that companies would benefit from a "one-stop-shop" system for filing their tax returns and would be able to consolidate all the profits and losses they incur across the EU. Member States would maintain their full sovereign right to set their own corporate tax rate. The Commission estimates that, every year, the CCCTB will save businesses across the EU €700 million in reduced compliance costs, and €1.3 billion through consolidation. In addition, businesses looking to expand cross-border will benefit from up to €1 billion in savings. The CCCTB will also make the EU a much more attractive market for foreign investors.
Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Anti-Fraud and Audit said: "The CCCTB will make it easier, cheaper and more convenient to do business in the EU. It will also open doors for SMEs looking to grow beyond their domestic market. Today's proposal is good for business and good for the EU's global competitiveness."
When it comes to corporate taxation, there are still serious obstacles to the Single Market which are holding businesses back. Cross-border companies have to deal with up to 27 different rulebooks for calculating their tax base and must work with up to 27 different tax administrations. In addition, they are faced with an extremely complex system for determining how intra-group transactions should be taxed (transfer pricing), and cannot offset their losses in one Member State against profits in another. The result is that larger businesses are faced with huge costs and complexities, while smaller businesses are often completely deterred from expanding within the EU.
The CCCTB aims to overcome these problems by offering companies one single set of corporate tax base rules to follow and the possibility of filing a single, consolidated tax return with one administration for their entire activity within the EU. On the basis of this single tax return, the company's tax base would then be shared out amongst the Member States in which it is active, according to a specific formula. This formula will take into account three factors: assets, labour and sales. After the tax base has been apportioned, Member States will be allowed to tax their share of it at their own corporate tax rate. Under the CCCTB, Member States will continue to set their corporate tax rate at the level they see fit, as is their national prerogative.
The CCCTB would be optional for companies. This means that those that felt that they would benefit from a harmonised EU system could opt-in, while other companies could continue to work within their national systems.
The CCCTB has been identified as an important initiative of the Barroso II Commission in the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy. It has also been mentioned in a series of major policy documents that aim to remove obstacles to the Single Market and stimulate growth and job creation within the EU (Single Market Act, Annual Growth Survey and the "Pact for the Euro").
For more information:
Common Consolidated Corporation Tax Base: Questions and Answers
Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base: Questions and Answers (16 March 2011)
What is the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB)?
The Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base is a single set of rules that companies operating within the EU could use to calculate their taxable profits. In other words, a company or group of companies would have to comply with just one EU system for computing its taxable income, rather than different rules in each Member State in which they operate. In addition, under the CCCTB, companies active in more than one EU Member State would only have to file a single tax return for the whole of their activity in the EU.
How would CCCTB work in practice?
The CCCTB would make it possible for companies or groups of companies to consolidate all profits and losses across the EU, thereby recognising their cross-border activity. The single consolidated tax return would be used to establish the tax base of the company, after which all Member States in which the company is active would be entitled to tax a certain portion of that base, according to a specific formula based on three equally-weighted factors (assets, labour and sales). This would all be done through the tax authorities of the company's principal Member State (i.e. through a one-stop-shop system).
Under the proposed Directive, clear procedural rules are set out on how companies should opt-in to the CCCTB system, how they should submit their tax returns, how the relevant forms should be harmonised and how audits should be coordinated. For each company or group, the tax return for the whole of their activities within the EU would be filed through the tax authorities in their principle Member State, and this same Member State would be responsible for coordinating the appropriate checks and follow up on the return.
What does each element of CCCTB mean?
To explain each of the individual elements of CCCTB:
Common – One single set of rules that could be applied across the EU.
Consolidated – Consolidation means adding up all the profits and losses of a company / group of companies from different Member States, to arrive at a net profit or loss for the whole of its activity in the EU. This would then be used to decide the final taxable base of the company or group.
|Example: A CCCTB group consists of companies A, B, C and D. Companies A and B have revenues equal to €10 million each; Company C has revenue equal to €5 million; Company D has a loss equal to €8 million.
The consolidated tax base for this group is A+B+C-D = €17 million.
Corporate – Relating to the taxation of companies
Tax Base – The amount of a company's profit that will be taxed. The tax base is calculated as: the company's revenues, minus the amount that can benefit from tax exemptions and deductions such as wages and depreciation. Each Member State has a different set of rules for calculating this tax base. For example, Member State A may allow assets to be depreciated over 10 years while Member State B might allow deprecation only over 5 years. Or Member State A might allow all entertaining expenses to be deducted from profits whereas Member State B might not. A single EU tax base would mean that companies only need to do their calculations in line with one set of rules.
Example: Company has revenues of €10m (e.g. sales of goods)
Less Expenses of €3m (e.g. wages and costs of the good purchased to sell)
Less Deductions of €2m (e.g. depreciation costs of the delivery vehicles
=Total tax base of €5m.
Why do we need the CCCTB in the EU?
The CCCTB would make things far cheaper and simpler for businesses by creating one set of rules for calculating the tax base of a company or group, and by setting up a one-stop-shop system for filing tax returns. Currently, companies have to deal with 27 different rulebooks for calculating their taxable profits, and must file returns with the tax authorities in each Member State in which they are active. This results in high compliance costs, administrative burdens and complex re-adjustments. The complicated transfer pricing system which is currently in place for intra-group transactions is particularly expensive and burdensome for businesses operating within the EU, and can lead to disputes between Member State administrations and result in double taxation of companies.
Furthermore, by allowing the consolidation of profits and losses at EU level, the CCCTB would enable the cross border activities of businesses to be fully taken into account and would avoid over taxation.
Is the CCCTB a first step towards harmonisation of tax rates?
No. The CCCTB is not about tax rates, and the Commission has no plans to harmonise Member States’ corporate tax rates. Member States will continue to decide their own corporate tax rates, as is their sovereign right. Where this does not lead to distortions, differences in tax rates allow a certain degree of tax competition to be maintained in the Internal Market. What the CCCTB will do, however, is create more transparency with regard to the effective corporate tax situation in Member States, thus creating fairer tax competition within the EU. The CCCTB will also be far more effective in boosting EU competitiveness globally than any measure related to uniform corporate tax rates.
Are there figures to show the benefits that the CCCTB could bring?
For businesses operating cross border in the EU, the CCCTB unequivocally translates into savings in compliance time and costs. It is estimated that the current compliance costs could be reduced by 7%, which is equivalent to a saving of €0.7 billion across the EU.
The new system will also bring tangible benefits for companies that wish to expand into other Member States. Currently, it costs a large enterprise over €140,000 in tax related expenditure alone to open a new subsidiary in another Member State. The CCCTB will reduce these costs by €87,000 or 62%. Medium sized enterprises stand to gain even more, with their average tax-related costs of expanding within the EU dropping from €127,000 to €42,000 (a decrease of 67%). If even just 5% of SMEs were to decide to expand on this basis, overall savings would be of the order of €1 billion.
In addition, by allowing businesses to offset losses in one Member State against profits elsewhere in the EU for tax purposes (i.e. consolidation), the proposal could result in additional savings of €1.3 billion for companies across the EU.
In summary, the CCCTB would save businesses €0.7 billion in reduced compliance, €1 billion in reduced costs to expand cross-border and €1.3 billion through consolidation.
Why has the Commission proposed that the CCCTB should be optional for companies?
The CCCTB would be optional, allowing companies that felt that they would truly benefit from this harmonised system to opt-in, while other companies could continue to work within their national systems. This is a common sense approach, as it means that companies that have no intention of expanding beyond their national borders, and therefore will only ever work within one system, do not have to shift needlessly to a new tax system. The Commission also believes that a compulsory CCCTB would be out of line with the principle of subsidiarity, as it would mean that EU measures were being introduced to cover purely domestic, as well as EU-level, activity.
Why is consolidation an important part of this system?
Consolidation is a crucial aspect of the CCCTB because it means that a company's cross-border activity within the EU will be fully recognised.
For example, today a group can add the profits of one subsidiary in Member State A to the losses of another subsidiary in the same Member State A to arrive at a net profit or loss. However, the same group cannot take into account losses it may accrue in another Member State B. This means that, even if the group’s losses in one Member State were bigger than its profits elsewhere in the EU (i.e. there was a net loss), it would still have to pay tax in the Member States where any profits were made. There is no cross-border loss relief. Under the CCCTB, the group would be allowed to add its profits and losses from all subsidiaries throughout the EU together, to reach a net figure. Tax would then be paid on the group’s net profit for the whole of the EU. This reflects the true spirit of a Single Market.
In addition, consolidation would eliminate the need for the complex transfer pricing system that is currently in place for cross-border intra-group sales. Given that transfer pricing is one of the most burdensome and most expensive aspects of corporate taxation for enterprises, its elimination will lead to significant benefits for companies and groups within the EU.
How did the Commission arrive at the apportionment formula?
Under the CCCTB, once the company’s tax base is determined, it will then be shared out (apportioned) to all Member States in which the company is active on the basis of a fixed apportionment formula. This formula will be based on three factors, equally weighted:
- Assets: All fixed tangible assets, including buildings, airplanes and machinery will be covered. The costs incurred for R&D, marketing and advertising in the 6 years prior to a company entering the CCCTB will also be included as a proxy for intangible assets for 5 years.
- Labour: Two factors will be taken into account under the heading of labour: 50% payroll costs and 50% the number of employees.
- Sales: This will be calculated on the basis of where the goods are dispatched to / destined for. For services, this will be where the service is physically carried out.
Companies A, B and C form a CCCTB Group. The consolidated tax base is 900.
Company A has capital of 100, wages of 100, 1000 employees and sales in MS A of 10000.
Company B has capital of 200, wages of 200, 2000 employees, and sales in MS B of 20000.
Company C has capital of 300, wages of 300, 3000 employees, and sales in MS C of 30000.
The calculation is as follows:
One third of 900 on capital: 100/600 to A, 200/600 to B and 300/600 to C
½ of one third of 900 on wages: 100/600 to A, 200/600 to B and 300/600 to C
½ of one third of 900 on employees: 1000/6000 to A, 2000/6000 to B and 3000/6000 to C
One third of 900 on sales: 10,000/60,000 to A, 20,000/60,000 to B and 30,000/60,000 to D.
A's Tax Base = 50 + 25 + 25 + 50 = 150 – taxed in MS at A's rate
B's Tax Base = 100 + 50 + 50 + 100 = 300 – taxed in MS B at B's rate
C's Tax Base = 150 + 75 = 75 + 150 = 450 – taxed in MS C at C's rate
Companies' profits are derived from sales, labour and assets, which is why these three criteria make up the apportionment formula. These three factors mean that the formula draws on data which is readily available, will be difficult to manipulate and will be representative of where profit is really created in a business.
How does depreciation come into play in calculating the tax base? Will this be harmonised under the CCCTB and how?
Depreciation is the declining value of an asset over time, which is taken into account as a deduction for tax purposes. For example, if you buy a machine for 100.000€ and you sell it five years later for 20.000€, the machine 'depreciated' by 80.000€. This did not happen in year five - it depreciated a little each year. When a company buys an asset, e.g. a building or car, its taxable base each year is income minus expenses, minus an allowance for the depreciation of this asset. The estimated depreciation of the asset is spread over the expected period that it will be used by the company, and on this basis, a deduction from the tax base is given each year.
There are different depreciation rules in each Member State. Some may choose to spread out the deduction over a longer period (e.g. 5% over 20 years), while others might condense the deductions into a shorter space of time (e.g. 20% over 5 years). The aim is to spread the costs of assets over the appropriate number of years and not distort the profits, e.g. by allowing all the costs to be deducted in the first year.
There will be one set of depreciation rules laid down within the CCCTB (25% over 4 years), for companies that opt-in. For those that stay outside the CCCTB, national rules will continue to apply.
How will the CCCTB benefit SMEs?
The CCCTB opens up the possibility of expansion within the EU for SMEs that may, up to now, have thought it too costly and complicated to do so. As SMEs do not tend to have the same resources (tax lawyers and experts; consultants and advisors) as larger enterprises, the obstacle of having to deal with divergent rules for calculating the tax base in other Member States is often insurmountable. The CCCTB would allow SMEs to continue to work with just one system and one tax administration, as they do now, even if they choose to expand into other Member States. It is estimated that the tax-related costs of a medium sized enterprise expanding within the EU will be reduced by 67% with the CCCTB. The Commission has worked to ensure that the proposed new rules are accessible enough for SMEs, as well as large companies, to understand and use.
Will the CCCTB help to encourage R&D and innovative companies?
The treatment of R&D expenses within the CCCTB is earmarked by generous and innovation friendly rules: for example researcher's wages and salaries are fully deductible the year which they are incurred (irrespective of the time when the result of the research will be available) and an immediate 100% deduction for expenditure on research buildings is allowed. In addition, the general depreciation rule is assuming a very fast technical progress and generates deductible cost of nearly 60% in the first three years. This method is better reflecting the fast drop of economical or technical value of fixed assets. Overall, CCCTB offers better environment for research and innovation than foreseen in the current corporate tax systems of most Member States.
Are there conditions linked to opting in and out of CCCTB?
Yes. Companies would have to opt-in to the CCCTB for a minimum of five years (to avoid them opting in and out for tax planning purposes). In addition, an annex to the proposal lists various criteria that a company must meet to be eligible for the CCCTB system (e.g. type of corporate tax rules that it must be currently covered by; type of company …).
Would CCCTB be available to non-EU companies based in Europe?
Yes. Non-EU companies with branches or subsidiaries in a Member State would be able to opt in to the CCCTB in relation to their EU activities, so long as they met the same qualifying criteria as is required from EU companies (see above).
Will the CCCTB help to attract foreign direct investment?
The CCCTB can make the EU a much more attractive market for foreign investors. For example, at the moment, companies operating in third countries such as the USA or China only have to deal with one national tax system. This is compared to a European system of 27 different sets of rules, which creates far more complexity and costs. A single set of rules for the corporate tax base, and a one-stop-shop system for filing tax returns, would make the EU a much easier place for foreign firms to invest in. Many third countries have already indicated to the Commission that the CCCTB would help to make the EU a more interesting market for foreign investment.
Will there be a different tax rate for CCCTB than for the national system?
Member States will continue to decide on their own corporate tax rates, including the rate for companies working within the CCCTB (as the CCCTB deals only with the tax base, not the tax rate). A Member State could choose to apply a different tax rate for the CCCTB if its own national base was extremely different and it wanted to maintain the same effective tax rate (i.e. the real level of tax paid once the rate, base and various deductibles are taken into account). For example, if the CCCTB base were broader than the national base, the Member State may choose to set a lower rate for the CCCTB to maintain the same effective tax rate. Another possibility is that Member States will align their national bases close enough to the CCCTB in order to avoid having different rates for the two. It will be for each Member State to decide the approach it considers best for its own national needs.
Will there be a safeguard to protect Member States against companies shifting assets to gain most from the formula?
The CCCTB proposal contains strong anti-avoidance rules to ensure that groups cannot artificially shift their profits from one Member State to another. Companies will still be able to exercise their freedom of movement and establishment for genuine commercial reasons however (e.g. building a new factory in another Member State), as they do today.
What anti-abuse measures are included in the proposal?
The proposal contains a general anti-abuse clause which is in line with what is already in place in many Member States. In addition, it contains specific anti-abuse measures such as a restriction of interest deductibility in some cases and an exception to the exemption of foreign income in other cases.
Could CCCTB contribute to greater tax competition?
In creating a uniform base, the CCCTB will provide greater transparency and should therefore ensure that competition takes place on the effective tax rate, rather than on potentially hidden elements in different bases. This should result in more open and fairer tax competition. Member States would continue to set the corporate tax rates for their territories. It will be for each Member State to decide the approach that best fits its own national budgetary needs and tax policy mix.
Would the CCCTB lead to the broadening of the tax base in most Member States?
For most Member States, the CCCTB base would be broader than the existing national tax base. On average, the common tax base is broader by 7,9%. This broader tax base means that Member States should not have to worry about the sustainability of their tax systems in the context of budget consolidation (i.e. the broader tax base reduces the risk of fiscal losses).
Could the CCCTB lead to companies actually being taxed more if profits fall into higher tax markets?
The CCCTB will be optional. If companies do not believe that they will benefit from it, they do not have to opt in. However, the vast majority of businesses (80%) have come out in support of the CCCTB, seeing the benefits it offers in terms of reduced administrative burden, lower compliance costs and the avoidance of transfer pricing disputes (KPMG study of 2007, "Harmonised corporate tax base – are European business for or against it? Pan-EU survey results investigating reactions to proposed Common Consolidated Corporate Tax base", Jeff Wagland).
Is this proposal in line with the principle of subsidiarity?
Yes. The CCCTB is about removing obstacles to the Internal Market, so that it is cheaper and easier for businesses to operate cross-border. It can only be successfully implemented at EU-level. An EU approach is needed to establish common rules and a “one-stop-shop” system for cross-border businesses; while some of the main elements of the proposal (e.g. cross-border loss relief, allocation of the tax base through a common formula) would not be attainable at purely national level.
What are the next steps?
The proposal now needs to be discussed and agreed by Member States in Council, following the opinion of the European Parliament.
EU jobs for Europe's top students and graduates (15 March 2011)
Wednesday, 16 March, is the start of the annual EU Careers 'Administrator' recruitment drive. Jobs for the best of the best across Europe in Law, Economics and Policy Development are available. This year, in line with the aim of attracting the very best talent to work at the EU Institutions, the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) will, for the first time, accept applications from students in their final year of undergraduate study.
Another change for 2011 is a split between applications for recent graduates and for those with professional experience, allowing those who have at least six years experience in their field to enter at a higher level.
Overall, the 2011 selection procedure aims to select a panel of 300 successful candidates to become new EU officials.
For further information on salary and conditions see here: http://europa.eu/epso/discover/careers/grades_system/index_en.htm
The 2011 graduate 'Administrator' selection procedure will open on 16 March and the deadline for registration is 14 April 2011.
This year we will be selecting at two grades:
• AD 5 (aimed at graduates and final year students)
• AD 7 (aimed at those with at least 6 years professional experience)
For both grades recruitment will be across the following six fields:
• European Public Administration
As with all EU Careers selection procedures, there are no national quotas and the selection procedure is open to citizens from every EU member state.
Selection procedures comprise two stages:
1) A 'pre-selection' test stage (computer-based tests in specialised test centres throughout Europe)
2) The Assessment Centre (held in Brussels).
Until 2010, verbal and numerical reasoning were the main cognitive testing tools. EPSO has enlarged the range of tests to include abstract reasoning as this is another important element of cognitive ability. This test - which is free of linguistic elements - offers a range of advantages for conducting fair and impartial assessments of candidates from 27 different EU Member States. The reasoning tests are done in a candidate's main language.
Behavioural tests have proven to be good indicators for future job performance and are widely used. The new situational judgement tests (SJT) evaluate workplace-related behaviour and are based on core competencies of the Competency Framework for working within the EU institutions. This test is carried out in the candidate's second language of English, French or German.
The EU knowledge test has been removed as memorising facts is not considered to be a valid way of predicting in-job performance. EU knowledge is instead to be assessed in a different way at a later stage of the process, in close relation with professional skills testing.
Following a comprehensive job analysis for all entry grades of EU officials across the institutions, a competency framework has been developed. The competency framework is now used to identify the blend of skills and professional/field competencies essential for effective performance within the main recruitment profiles. The seven core competencies identified are:
• Analysis and problem solving
• Delivering quality and results
• Learning and development
• Prioritising and organising
• Working with others
A further competency specific to the Administrator ('AD') level is:
Under the new selection procedure procedures, EPSO uses a standard assessment centre model, based on the core competencies. This model has been chosen so as to be able to identify the most suitable and competent candidates for the profile required. The use of assessment centres has proven to be the most accurate predictor of performance on the job. Assessment centres enable all key competencies to be properly tested in a reliable manner. On the basis of the enhanced competency framework, a number of relevant exercises are now being designed to assess the desired competencies. Each competency is to be assessed through at least two methods to ensure validity and reliability. Depending on the selection procedure, assessment centre exercises may include the following:
• Case study in the field in question
• Oral presentation
• Structured interview
• Group exercise
• Exercises relating to professional skills
• Practical language tests
• For 2011, we will be seeking 225 successful candidates at AD5 level and 90 at AD7.
• This can be broken down as follows:
Number of successful candidates per competition and field
European Public Administration:
• Computer Based 'Pre-Selection' Tests will be available in 72 European and International test centres.
• There were 51,639 applicants for the 2010 graduate 'Administrator' selection procedure.
• 37,329 sat the first stage computer-based reasoning tests in centres around Europe and across the world.
• 992 candidates were invited to the second stage- an Assessment Centre in Brussels where, through exercises such as group negotiations and structured interviews, expert Selection Boards were able to assess their abilities in a range of competencies.
• The list of successful candidates comprises 308 people across 5 different fields- European Public Administration, Law, Economics, Audit and ICT.
ECC Ireland celebrates Silver Surfers on EU Consumer Day (15 March 2011)
The top complaint of people attending the European Consumer Centre conference in Dublin today was the doubling of travel insurance premiums after the age of 65, followed closely by the tiny size of small print for financial service agreements, the single supplement charged by travel companies and lack of off-line consumer information.
Today's conference, held to mark European Consumer Day (15 March) focused on the rights of older consumers (aged 50 plus).
Opening the conference, former Minister for Consumer Affairs Mary O’Rourke said, “Let's talk about people's wisdom and experience, not their age. Rights gained for consumers from the EU are vast and being older should help us be all the wiser!"
According to Ann Neville Manager of ECC Ireland, “The over 50’s are growing in numbers and confidence. This consumer day ECC Ireland wants to ensure that, through our conference and microsite, older consumers are armed with the knowledge to safely travel and shop, both in person and online.”
According to recent research* Ireland’s1.2 million people over 50 are far more likely to spend on holidays, new cars, restaurants and home improvements than any other section of the population. The common stereotype that older people are not confident with ICT use is less and less accurate, as 40% of this age group are active online, with flights among the most popular online purchases.
Topics today included finances, travel and internet security, with speakers from the Financial Services Ombudsman, the Commission for Aviation Regulation and the Garda National Bureau of Crime Investigation talking about the potential risks of computer use. Guest of honour was Mabel Gargan who is a regular computer user at the age of 88 and who spoke about her experiences using IT.
To celebrate and assist this growing group of consumers ECC Ireland has launched a new microsite www.silverconsumer.eu which provides information and news of interest to older consumers.
Find out more about what the European Commission is doing for Consumers here: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/index_en.htm
What's on the the table at EU Council this week (14 March 2011)
The Eurogroup meeting will start on Monday 14 March at 11am. This meeting will follow-up on the important decisions taken at last Friday's eurozone summit. It will be attended by Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn. A press conference is expected to take place after the meeting, on Monday evening
ECOFIN 15 March
The Council of Economic and Finance Ministers will start at 10am. It will be attended by Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, and Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, Michel Barnier. A press conference is expected to take place after the meeting.
Economic governance: legislative package, euro-area issues
The Commission is fully convinced that the proposals it put forward provide a balanced approach between ambition and realism, between keeping what worked and making changes where necessary, between introducing automaticity where possible and keeping discretion where necessary. It is the delivery instrument for sustainable public finances and for stronger competitiveness in Europe. It is an effective framework for country surveillance and enforcement of the rules.
Ministers are expected to agree on a general approach, which will be the basis for negotiations with the Parliament.
Background: On 29 September 2010, the European Commission brought forward a legislative package which represents the most comprehensive reinforcement of economic governance in the EU and the euro area since the launch of the Economic and Monetary Union (IP/10/1199 and MEMO/10/454, MEMO/10/455 and MEMO/10/456). Broader and enhanced surveillance of fiscal policies, but also macroeconomic policies and structural reforms are proposed together with new enforcement mechanisms for Member States that deviate from their commitments.
The legislative package - currently on the table of the Council and the European Parliament - is made up of six pieces of legislation: four proposals deal with fiscal issues, including a wide-ranging reform of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), while two new regulations aim at detecting and addressing effectively emerging macroeconomic imbalances, competitiveness gaps, within the EU and the euro area. For Member States of the euro area, changes imply giving more teeth to the Pact through an effective enforcement mechanism. The proposed rules limit discretion in the application of sanctions: the SGP will become more "rules based" and sanctions will be the normal consequence to expect for countries in breach of their commitments.
Finance Ministers will discuss and adopt council conclusions on international financial aspects of climate change, as a follow-up to the conference of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change in Cancún last December. Main issues for discussion are the implementation of EU fast-start climate finance between 2010 and 2012, potential sources of revenue for scaling up international climate financing in developing countries to US$ 100 billion per year by 2020, and the preparatory work required for establishing the Green Climate Fund.
Regulation on Short Selling and certain aspects of Credit Default Swaps
Background: on 15 September 2010 the Commission adopted a proposal for a regulation on short selling and certain aspects of Credit Default Swaps (CDS). Its main objectives are to create a harmonised framework for coordinated action at European level, increase transparency and reduce risks. The new framework will mean that regulators, both national and European, have clear powers to act when necessary, whilst preventing market fragmentation and ensuring the smooth functioning of the Internal Market (see IP/10/1126 & IP/10/1125).
The proposal is currently under discussion for adoption at the European Parliament and Council. Once adopted, the regulation would apply from 1 July 2012.
More information: http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/securities/short_selling_en.htm
a) Progress on financial reform
Commissioner Barnier will present the progress made on financial reform until now. On 2nd of June 2010 the Commission launched a programme of reforms (IP/10/656) which implements the decisions taken by the G20 and aims at tackling more structural issues in the financial sector, with four main objectives.
Firstly, better regulation of the financial sector, in order to strengthen and extend the financial services rulebook and ensure an appropriate functioning of markets and institutions.
Secondly, better supervision, creating a consistent and effective supervisory and control structure for financial operators and markets in Europe.
Thirdly, greater consumer and investor protection in order in particular to restore confidence in the financial sector. Fourthly, the setting of appropriate mechanisms for crisis management to ensure that failing banks can be wound-up in an orderly way without costs for taxpayers nor disruptions for the financial system and the economy as a whole.
All the remaining texts of the reform will be adopted by the Commission during 2011; other proposals are under negotiation in the Council and Parliament.
The overall objective of the financial reform is to put the conditions in place to restore the financial sector to its primary social function of supporting long-term job creation and the real economy in the EU.
b) G20 meeting of Finance Ministers & Governors (Paris, 18-19/2/2011)
The French Presidency to the G20, the EU Presidency and Commissioner Rehn will debrief ministers on main results of the G20 Finance Ministers and Governors meeting in Paris, and the next steps.
Irish Monthly Industrial Production Down 1% in January (14 March 2011)
Industrial production in Ireland fell by 1% in January 2011 compared with December 2010, while industrial production grew by 0.3% in the euro area and by 0.6% in the EU27. Among the Member States for which data are available, industrial production rose in fourteen and fell in six. The five countries which fared worse than Ireland were Italy (-1.5%), Latvia (-2.4%), Norway (-2.7%), Finland (-2.8%) and Portugal (-4.2%). The highest increases were registered in Malta (+6.0%), Estonia (+4.2%) and the Czech Republic (+3.5%).
In January 2011 compared with December 2010, production of intermediate goods grew by 2.5% in the euro area and by 2.7% in the EU27. Durable consumer goods rose by 2.5% and 2.0% respectively. Capital goods fell by 0.3% in the euro area, but increased by 0.6% in the EU27. Non-durable consumer goods dropped by 0.4% and 0.2% respectively. Production of energy declined by 3.1% in the euro area and by 2.4% in the EU27.
Looking at it from an annual perspective, industrial production in Ireland in January 2011 was 1.4% higher than in January 2010. This represents the second lowest increase of all EU Member States, with Ireland coming just ahead of Italy (+0.6%). Portugal was the only Member State to see a decrease in industrial production during this time (-1.4%). The highest increases were registered in Estonia (+28.8%), Slovakia (+17.1%) and Lithuania (+16.0%). Industrial production in the euro area grew by 6.6% in this period, and by 6.8% in the EU27.
In January 2011 compared with January 2010, production of capital goods grew by 12.3% in the euro area and by 13.2% in the EU27. Intermediate goods increased by 10.1% and 10.6% respectively. Durable consumer goods rose by 3.8% in the euro area and by 3.4% in the EU27. Non-durable consumer goods gained 0.3% and 1.3% respectively. Production of energy fell by 1.9% in the euro area and by 2.1% in the EU27.
Full figures available here: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/4-14032011-AP/EN/4-14032011-AP-EN.PDF
As EU leaders met, 29 Irish schools played politics at Model EU Council (11 March 2011)
As EU leaders met in Brussels on Friday, 11 March, Enda Kenny TD took his place as Taoiseach with the other leaders for the first time.
At the same time, secondary school students from across Ireland were role-playing European politicians in the fifth annual Model Council of the European Union in Dublin Castle.
The winners were Loreto Kilkenny who get a free trip to Strasbourg in September to take part in an EU-wide schools Model European Parliament. The runners up were Rockwell College, Cashel, Co Tipperary, and Waterpark College, Waterford.
"Role-playing is a brilliant way for students to understand how the EU system works," says Barbara Nolan, Head of the Commission Representation in Ireland. "Now, more than ever, it's critical that our young people understand what goes on in Brussels and how decisions are made."
The Transition and Fifth year students from 29 schools (full list of schools at end) are debating a mock EU Directive to extend minimum paid maternity leave from 14 weeks to 21 weeks. (Final result known at 4.30pm).
While there may only be 15% representation for women in the Dáil, girls outnumbered boys at today's event. The level of confidence, quality of research and articulacy was exceptionally high. The winners (known at 4.30pm) will get a free trip to Strasbourg in September to take part in an EU-wide schools Model European Parliament.
The Council was formally opened by Eileen Dunne, RTE broadcaster and International President of the Association of European Journalists, and chaired by former European Commissioner, David Byrne SC. Ambassadors from the EU Member States in Ireland are also in attendance.
A total of 27 schools are representing the 27 Ministers for Employment from each of the Member States, while last year's winners, St Flannan's College from Ennis, Co. Clare, are the European Commission and Presentation Secondary School Waterford are the Brussels-based lobby group, Business Europe.
Mary McCaughey from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and Harry O'Connor from the European Parliament Office in Ireland will act as judges. They will select one winning team and one runner-up team. The winning team, along with their classmates and three teachers, will be invited to participate in the European Parliament's Euroscola event in Strasbourg in September. Euroscola allows students from the EU's 27 Member States to work together for a day as MEPs would in the European Parliament. The runner-up team will also receive a small prize.
The Council of the European Union is the main decision-making body of the EU and is made up of government ministers from each Member State. On most issues, EU legislation is proposed by the Commission and adopted jointly by the European Parliament and Ministers in the Council using a procedure known as co-decision.
European Commission Representation in Ireland: www.euireland.ie
Council of the European Union: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/showPage.aspx?id=&lang=en
Holy Child Secondary School, Killiney, Co. Dublin
Jesus and Mary College, Our Lady's Grove, Dublin 14
Loreto College, Mullingar, Co Westmeath
CBS Thurles, Co Tipperary
Rockbrook Park School, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Scoil Muire agus Padraig, Swinford, Co Mayo
St Joseph's CBS Secondary School, Drogheda, Co Louth
Mercy Secondary School, Tralee, Co Kerry
St Brendan's Community School, Birr, Co Offaly
Abbey CBS, Tipperary Town
Waterpark College, Waterford City
Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine, Kenmare, Co Kerry
Glenstal Abbey School, Glenstal Abbey, Co Limerick
Rockwell College, Cashel, Co Tipperary
Dominican College, Drumcondra, Dublin 9
Sandford Park School, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Coláiste Cholm Cille, Indreabhán, Co na Gaillimhe
St Joseph of Cluny, Killiney, Co Dublin
Kilkee Community College, Co Clare
Holy Family Secondary School, Newbridge, Co Kildare
CBC Monkstown, Co Dublin
King's Hospital School, Palmerstown, Dublin 20
St Augustine's College, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Ursuline Secondary School, Blackrock, Cork
Tullamore College, Tullamore, Co Offaly
Loreto Secondary School, Kilkenny
St Aloysius School, Cork
St. Flannan's College, Ennis, Co Clare
Presentation Secondary School, Waterford
Taoiseach Enda Kenny meets Commission President José Manuel Barroso (11 March 2011)
The meeting took place in a very positive and frank atmosphere, reflecting also that President Barroso and the Taoiseach have known each other for many years.
President Barroso referred to the Taoiseach's acceptance speech on Wednesday where he said that in this current crisis, "honesty is not just our best policy it is our only policy", pointing out that it is also in that spirit that "we will try to help solve the difficulties that Ireland faces".
President Barroso and the Taoiseach discussed what will be the Taoiseach's first European Council and first Euro zone meeting today(Friday) and the outcomes they would like to work together to achieve.
The Commission President acknowledged that the interest rate of the EU-IMF assistance loans was a major issue in the electoral campaign and that it is certain to be one of the points for the talks over the coming weeks on the European Stability Mechanism.
Recalling that this is not in his gift, President Barroso reiterated that the Commission supports Ireland's wish to have some easing of the interest rate which applies to the loans negotiated under the programme. The President expressed hope that room for manoeuvre in the European Council can be found which achieves the Commission's and Ireland's common aim of making it easier for Ireland to get back on its feet.
The President and the Taoiseach also discussed the importance of keeping the programme implementation on track and the importance of the due diligence that is being undertaken to get to the bottom of the difficulties the Irish banking sector faces.
President Barroso again congratulated the Taoiseach on his election and said he looks forward to working with him in the years to come.
Developments in Libya: an overview of the EU's response (10 March 2011)
As fighting goes on in Libya, the European Union has imposed sanctions against the Libyan leadership and will extend them this week.
In a spirit of solidarity, the member states are coordinating repatriation of their nationals and are running a joint border-control operation in Italy. Humanitarian aid is being sent to the region.
On 11 March, EU leaders meet to discuss the Union's response to events in Libya and in the wider region.
Libya at the top of the agenda
The EU strongly condemns the violence and use of force against civilians and deplores the repressive measures taken against peaceful demonstrators, which have resulted in the deaths of large numbers of civilians. Chaired by the Hungarian Presidency of the Council, The EU Interior, Energy and Defence ministers have already met to assess the situation.
The President of the European Council has convened an extraordinary meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on 11 March to discuss the strategic lines of the Union's reaction to developments in Libya and in Northern Africa.
The discussion will build on a policy paper proposing a new partnership for democracy and shared prosperity with the southern Mediterranean presented by the European External Action Service and the Commission on 8 March.
The EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels today, 10 March, to exchange views ahead of the European Council meeting.
The High Representative Catherine Ashton has established a task force bringing together European External Action Service and Commission experts to adapt the EU's existing instruments for helping the countries of Northern Africa. The aim is to provide a comprehensive package of measures tailored to the specific needs of each country. A technical fact-finding mission has visited Libya to assess the situation on the ground.
Arms embargo and other sanctions
The EU is due to impose further sanctions on Libya, including key Libyan financial institutions, on 10 March.
An arms embargo was already imposed on 28 February in line with the UN Security Council resolution and prohibited trade with Libya in any equipment which might be used for internal repression. The decision in the Council was taken with unprecedented speed.
The EU also imposed a visa ban and an assets freeze on Muammar Gaddafi and other persons responsible for the violent clampdown on civilians. The sanctions adopted by the EU both implement the measures called for by the UN and go further.
Negotiations on an EU-Libya framework agreement and ongoing cooperation contracts with the country have been suspended as of 22 February.
Speeding up the repatriation of EU nationals
The EU has pooled its resources to evacuate its citizens from Libya. Diplomatic missions of EU member states in Tripoli have worked day and night on the repatriation of nationals in coordination with the Hungarian embassy representing the Union on the ground. Since 23 February, as part of the Civil Protection Mechanism, the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) has been helping to identify and make available assets for evacuation, including by sea.
Ongoing evacuations have been focusing on Tripoli, Benghazi and the Jalu / Nafura region. The Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) is preparing contingency plans for evacuation of EU nationals by sea from the wider Tripoli region in the event that evacuation by air becomes impossible.
The EU Military Staff's planning and movement cell is liaising with member states and the MIC to facilitate the coordination of military assets for evacuation or humanitarian purposes. The EU Situation Centre is monitoring the situation and assisting member states in their efforts. The EU's consular on-line system is contributing to the exchange of information between member states. The EU's Satellite Centre is providing imagery to support evacuation efforts.
In the central Mediterranean area, Italy and the EU border control agency Frontex are conducting a joint operation called Hermes 2011. Launched on 20 February following a formal request from the Italian government, the aim of the operation is to help Italy to cope with actual and potential migratory flows from Northern Africa. A large number of EU member states have provided technical assets (such as naval and aerial equipment) and specialised personnel.
In addition, Frontex and Europol have started risk analysis for the region to make it possible to respond better to developments on the ground.
The humanitarian situation in Libya is still largely unknown, as access is very limited and the presence of humanitarian organisations remains sparse. Experts from the European Commission have been deployed in the eastern part of Libya where they are working on a first assessment of humanitarian needs.
Hungarian Minister of State Enikő Győri and Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, visited Tunisia’s border with Libya on 2 and 3 March to gather first-hand information.
The Commission has allocated €30m to address humanitarian needs in Libya and neighbouring countries. Initially, medical and food aid, shelter and other necessities are being provided to refugees crossing into Tunisia and Egypt. As soon as the security situation in Libya allows, aid will also be provided inside the country.
Two weeks ago, two teams of ECHO (EU humanitarian aid and civil protection) experts were deployed on the borders of Libya with Tunisia and Egypt to analyse the humanitarian crisis.
Following the joint appeal by António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Organisation for Migration for a massive humanitarian evacuation programme for tens of thousands of Egyptians and other third country nationals on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders, the European Commission has already pledged a large portion of its funding to these two organisations.
Message of congratulations from President Barroso to Mr Enda Kenny T.D, newly elected Taoiseach of Ireland (9 March 2011)
The President of the European Commission, Mr José Manuel Barroso, has today sent the following message of congratulations to the newly elected Taoiseach of Ireland, Mr Enda Kenny:
"On behalf of the European Commission, I would like to offer you my warmest congratulations on your election as Taoiseach of Ireland.
I wish you and your Government every success in one of the most challenging times in recent Irish history. Ireland is not alone in facing economic and financial difficulties at this particular time. Other European governments are facing similar situations to a greater or lesser degree. The fiscal and reform efforts that are being made by the Irish people are very much appreciated.
One of the key strengths of the European Union is that we can work together to find solutions to our problems. I am very much looking forward to working with you in this spirit and in an open, friendly and constructive way to help your Government steer Ireland out of the current crisis and back on the path to recovery and sustainable growth. You can count on the European Commission for support.
I look forward to welcoming you to the Berlaymont in the coming days."
Well-known Irishwomen gather to mark Women's Day and listen to Moya Brennan of Clannad (8 March 2011)
As the 31st Dail prepares for its first sitting on Wednesday with just 25 female TDs (15.1%), a marginal increase on the 23 female TDs that sat in the 30th Dail, the European Commission Representation in Ireland marked the 100th annual International Women's Day.
An audience from around the country, many of them members of the ICA, came together to hear successful Irishwomen from different walks of life discuss their experiences and listen to the music of Moya Brennan of Clannad.
Also attending were new women TDs, Frances Fitzgerald, Mary Mitchell-O'Connor, Clare Daly, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Catherine Murphy.
The main speakers were:
- Danuta Gray, Chairperson of Telefónica 02 Ireland
- Christina Noble, Founder of the Christina Noble Children's Foundation
- Susan McKay, Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland
- Dorothy Gray, Chairperson of Women in Banking and Finance
- Niamh O'Carroll, Advisory Board Member of the Women's Fund for Ireland
- Marie O'Toole, PRO of the Irish Countrywomen's Association
- Barbara Nolan, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland.
EU ups its response to Libya’s humanitarian crisis as Commission and Hungarian presidency visit Tunisia-Libya border (3 March 2011)
The European Union continues its swift response to the growing humanitarian crisis, caused by the continuing violence in Libya. From the border between Libya and Tunisia, where the humanitarian situation is compounded by the massive flow of people fleeing Libya, Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva and Hungarian Minister of State for EU affairs Enikő Győri called on Member States to step up their efforts to provide urgent relief to the stranded refugees and to facilitate their passage home. During their visit, Kristalina Georgieva announced that the Commission will triple its aid: 30 million EUR will be provided to cater for the humanitarian needs, up from the 10 million EUR that was allocated earlier this week.
Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, and Enikő Győri, Hungary’s Minister of State for EU affairs, made the following joint statement: "The unleashing of violence in Libya has triggered a major humanitarian crisis at Europe’s doorstep. Europe’s values and interests command us to act decisively and this is what we are doing. Europe has mobilised itself not only to evacuate EU citizens in a coordinated and speedy manner, but also to address the dire needs of people suffering - whether refugees fleeing Libya or those trapped by conflict inside the country".
They added: “Today we call upon Member States to carry on this momentum by participating actively in the joint effort to bring home the thousands refugees stranded at the Tunisian border, and by providing immediate relief”.
Enikő Győri said also: “In our capacity as Presidency of the Council, we ensure that the European presence in Libya continues. The Hungarian ambassador to Libya is staying deployed to coordinate European action on the ground”.
During their visit to the border, Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva announced a new surge in the Commission’s support for the growing humanitarian needs in the region: up to 30 million EUR. This is the third allocation that the European Commission makes for the Libyan crisis in less than a week - last Friday, the Commission took an emergency decision for 3 million EUR, which was boosted to 10 million EUR on Wednesday.
In addition to supporting the evacuations, part of the European funding will be used to cater for the most urgent needs of people crossing the Libyan borders: tents and food, blankets and medical aid. Relief operations will be implemented and coordinated with the European Commission's humanitarian partners that are already working on the Libyan borders: the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC), the Tunisian Red Crescent, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and European non-governmental organizations. Other humanitarian needs that may arise, including inside Libya where the situation is still difficult to assess, will also be provided through this EU support.
Experts from the European Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department (ECHO) have just arrived in Libya and working on a first assessment of the humanitarian situation. For a week now, several other humanitarian and civil protection teams of the European Commission are working on the borders of Libya with Tunisia and Egypt. They are analysing the evolving humanitarian needs and coordinating with partner organisations.
On February 23, following a request from the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and the Hungarian Presidency, the European Commission activated the Civil Protection Mechanism, which is currently facilitating the evacuation of EU citizens and other foreigners from Libya.
For more information:
Activation of the Monitoring and Information Centre to support evacuations from Libya:
Commissioner Georgieva's website
The European Commission's humanitarian aid
Statement by President Barroso on the situation in North Africa (2 March 2011)
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
We just had a very useful and important debate on the situation in the Southern Mediterranean in the meeting of the Commission College.
The events unfolding in our southern neighbourhood are a rendezvous with history. Europe will rise to this challenge and support the current transformation processes. The Commission has a crucial set of political and economic tools that we are already deploying and that we will strengthen further in the run-up to next week's extraordinary European Council.
I would like to share four main points with you, after today's discussion:
First, on Libya itself:
The completely unacceptable actions of the Libyan regime over the last weeks have made it painfully clear that Colonel Khadhafi is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
It is time for him to go and give the country back to the people of Libya, allowing democratic forces to chart out a future course. The situation we are seeing in Libya is simply outrageous. We cannot accept this.
Secondly, on humanitarian aid:
The UN has just declared an emergency situation. We are currently facing at least 140.000 refugees. I support the appeal made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asking for a response of the international community to this humanitarian crisis. I hope the European Union Member States will respond. The Commission is ready to do it. In fact, this morning I spoke on the phone with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on this very tragic situation.
As you know we have swiftly allocated an initial sum of € 3 million, but in the light of the humanitarian needs we will increase this immediately to ten million. At this stage, we are providing medical and food aid, shelter and other necessities to refugees at the Egyptian and Tunisian borders.
I have asked Commissioner Georgieva to visit the region tonight to oversee the operation. I want to thank her for her dedication to this task and the very important work she is doing.
The EU's Civil Protection Mechanism (MIC) was also activated to help coordinate the evacuation of people fleeing Libya.
Thirdly, on refugees and migration:
The EU border control agency FRONTEX and Italy are already conducting a Joint Operation called Hermes 2011 in the central Mediterranean area.
This operation helps Italy to cope with the current and potential migratory flows from Northern Africa. It can also help other Member States that may need it. A large number of Member States provided technical assets and specialised personnel. This is a tangible case of "Europe in action". I would like to thank all those that are showing this strong willingness for solidarity.
To provide further help on this, the Commission is ready to mobilise extraordinary financial assistance from funds such as the External Borders Fund and European Refugee Fund (which amount to € 25 million in total). Commissioner Malmström is very much engaged on these actions and I also want to praise her work.
Finally, on political and economic reforms in the region:
Today we have listened to HR/VP Cathy Ashton, she briefed us on the situation. Commissioner Füle also added his input. It is quite clear that we have to reformulate the response to this area which is so close to Europe. This is precisely the South Mediterranean.
It is clear that we must not just deal with the fall-out of these crises - we must help address the roots of this process.
We need a new political paradigm in the relations with our Southern Neighbourhood. We need a “Pact for Democracy and Shared Prosperity”.
The ongoing events bring tremendous hopes and promises for the future of the peoples in the Arab world. I believe they have embarked on a bold, transformational journey towards freedom, democracy and a better life. I think it is our duty to say to the Arab peoples that we are on their side! From Brussels, I want to specifically say this to the young Arabs that are now fighting for freedom and democracy. We are on your side! We remember our own experiences in Europe, when we were fighting for democracy – in Southern Europe, in Central and Eastern Europe, where some were saying that the fight for democracy will not be successful. Now some are saying the same about the Arab world - that Arabs are not "fit" for democracy. I believe Arabs are "fit" for democracy, and we are on their side.
Of course, we all know the risks in these transition processes very well. But Europe would rather be accused of holding illusions of democracy than be guilty of cynicism or of missing this rendezvous with history.
In order to bolster these positive changes, the Commission will target its substantial aid along three pillars: i) democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights; ii) inclusive social development; and iii) a strengthened and thriving civil society.
We have around € 4 billion up to 2013 for Neighbourhood assistance that we will use in an even more targeted way.
I already see a number of specific priority actions: i) democratic and constitutional reform, ii) judicial reform, iii) support to non-state actors such as NGOs, trade unions, women organizations and media.
We will apply stronger conditionality to reward those who live up to democratic values and the rule of law.
Furthermore, it is clear that the current uprisings were also due to the dire social situation in these countries with high levels of unemployment, an uneven distribution of wealth and a lack of opportunities. This is why I want a stronger focus on inclusive development. The wealth that exists in the region must make a contribution for the future. On our side, we will in particular use our assistance to boost trade and investment and foster the business climate.
We will also use the leverage of the funds of the European Investment Bank and prepare a stimulus package for the region, with a particular focus on SMEs to help create jobs.
I also believe the EBRD can do more, and be more active in the South. All this is the intention of the EBRD if the Member States that are members of this bank are ready to change the statutes. Yesterday I already spoke to the President of the EBRD who would support this change in the statutes of the EBRD so that thay can use their great expertise of transition and in financial matters to support the Southern Mediterranean.
Finally, we can only contribute to open societies if we further encourage mobility. We should be ready to offer mobility partnerships to countries that meet certain conditions, and also look into targeted visa facilitation for students, researchers and bona fide business people, so that mobility can be increased among those countries themselves and with Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The European Union itself is a community of democratic Member States which have overcome tremendous historical hurdles.
This European success story was possible when fear gave way to hope, when repression had to surrender to the tremendous forces of freedom.
We therefore totally understand where the nascent democracies in the Southern Mediterranean are coming from. Many people of these countries are showing that they don't want dictatorships. Now we need to support them in building real democracies. They will of course follow their own road and make their own choices. It is not up to us to tell them what to do. But I want to make one thing very clear here: The EU and the Commission are totally determined to support them on their journey to democracy and a better future.
EU interim forecast: Recovery gaining ground (1 March 2011)
The economic recovery in the EU continues to make headway. After a strong performance in the first half of 2010, real GDP growth for both the EU and the euro area slowed down in the second half. The deceleration was expected and in line with the soft patch in global growth and trade that reflected the withdrawal of stimulus measures.
Looking ahead, real GDP growth in 2011 is now forecast at 1.8% in the EU and 1.6% in the euro area, a slight upward revision compared to the autumn forecast. The improved outlook is supported by better prospects for the global economy and strong EU business sentiment. The recovery is expected to become more balanced towards domestic demand. Uncertainty remains high and developments across countries are uneven.
The Commission's inflation forecast for 2011 has been revised up as compared to the autumn due mainly to higher energy and commodity prices. It now stands at 2.5% in the EU and 2.2% in the euro area.
EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Olli Rehn said: "After a slowdown of growth in the second half of last year, the EU economic recovery is expected to gain further ground this year. While exports should continue supporting the recovery, a rebalancing of growth towards domestic demand is expected for 2011, resulting in more sustainable growth. However, the recovery remains uneven and many Member States are going through a difficult phase of adjustment. Moreover, despite the recent relative calm in the financial markets, the situation has not yet fully normalised. Ensuring a stronger recovery calls for an agreement on an ambitious agenda of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms, as outlined in Commission's Annual Growth Survey".
Growth forecast for the EU and euro area slightly revised up
Reflecting better prospects for the global economy and upbeat sentiment in the EU, real GDP is forecast to grow by 1.8% in the EU and 1.6% in the euro area in 2011. This represents an upward revision of 0.1 pp. in both regions compared to the autumn forecast of 29 November 2010. This aggregate picture is based on updated projections for France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, which together account for about 80% of EU GDP. At the disaggregate level, developments remain uneven across Member States. In the euro area, Germany is expected to lead the recovery, with GDP growth projected at 2.4%, followed by France (1.7%), while Spain's recovery remains muted (0.8%). Outside the euro area, growth in Poland and the UK is respectively projected at 4.1% and 2.0%.
After a buoyant recovery in the first half of last year, the global economy went through a soft patch in the third quarter, but activity rebounded in the last quarter of 2010. Leading indicators suggest a continuation of expansion of activity. Global GDP (excl. EU) is therefore projected to grow by some 4¾% in 2011, a ¼ pp. more than expected in the autumn forecast.
Brighter domestic demand prospects
The improved outlook for the external environment will provide a boost to EU exports. While exports should continue supporting the recovery going forward, rebalancing of growth towards domestic demand is expected for 2011.
Prospects for private investment, and more specifically for investment in equipment, are favourable. Private consumption, which remained subdued in 2010, is expected to gradually firm up this year. The ongoing stabilisation in the labour market, the recovery of lending to households as well as the continued decline of the household saving rate, all bode well for consumer spending in the near term while increased inflation will have some countervailing effect.
Whilst remaining fragile, the overall financial-market situation in the EU has improved compared to the autumn. Money market activity is more favourable and real financing conditions remain supportive.
An uptick in inflation
A surge in energy and commodity prices in the last few months has led to an uptick in headline HICP inflation. The inflation forecasts for 2011 are thus revised up, with HICP inflation now projected at 2.5% in the EU and 2.2% in the euro area. Nevertheless, the remaining economic slack, subdued wage growth and overall well-anchored inflation expectations should contribute to keep underlying inflationary pressures in check, with inflation expected to end the year at close to 2% in both regions. Core inflation is expected to rise slowly in line with the pick-up in activity and possibly due to higher imported inflation from emerging-market economies.
Amid continued high uncertainty, risks to the EU growth outlook for 2011 appear broadly balanced. On the upside, robust global growth, as well as the spill-over from the pick-up in activity in Germany to other Member States may materialise to a greater extent than currently envisaged. On the downside, further tensions in financial markets cannot be ruled out, while fiscal consolidation could in the short term weigh more on domestic demand in the countries concerned than anticipated. Risks to inflation are somewhat to the upside, related to the ongoing political changes in the Middle East and North Africa.
A more detailed report is available at:
European Court says sex discrimination in insurance contracts not legal (1 March 2011)
The European Court of Justice today decided that, from 21 December 2012, it will no longer be legal under EU law to charge women less for insurance than men.
The verdict means that different priced premiums for men and women drivers will now be considered to be in breach of the EU's anti-discrimination rules.
The anti-discrimination rules had a special exception for the insurance industry up to the end of 2012 (at the request of Member State governments).
The argument was that because women drivers make fewer claims, they are a lower risk and could be charged less. The same applied to life insurance premiums for men and women.
However, the Court disagreed.
The Commission will now sit down and look at the implications of the verdict on the EU's law on equal access to goods and services.
Vice-president Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner, said this morning:
"I will convene a meeting with business leaders from the insurance industry in the coming months to discuss the judgement’s implications.
Following today's judgement, it is now clear that an insurance company must not distinguish between women and men; all customers must be treated equally. This is a matter of respect for fundamental rights. It is now also becoming a matter of good business practice."
Watch or download Commissioner Reding's video message on the outcome of the ruling:
Statement by European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, on the European Court of Justice's ruling in the Test-Achats case
The Court of Justice of the European Union today delivered its ruling in the Test- Achats case (C-236/09) concerning sex discrimination in insurance premiums. Commenting on the judgement, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding (who is in charge of gender equality at the European Commission) said:
"Today is an important moment for gender equality in the European Union. 30 years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits different treatment of insured persons on the basis of their sex in connection with pension funds.
Watch or download Commissioner Reding's video message on the outcome of the ruling: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/videoplayer.cfm?sitelang=en&ref=I069020
Today, the EU’s Court of Justice ruled that different insurance premiums for women and men constitute sex discrimination and are not compatible with the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights. Member States are not allowed to derogate from this important principle in their national legislation. The relevant "opt out" clause in the Council's 2004 Directive on gender equality is thus illegal.
This is an important step towards clarifying the fundamental right of gender equality under EU law. Today's ruling also underlines the power and importance of our Charter of Fundamental Rights. It has the same legal value as our EU Treaties. No EU legislation can be adopted that conflicts with the rights and principles guaranteed by the Charter.
The European Commission issued a 'fundamental rights checklist' last October to make sure that all laws proposed comply with the EU Charter (see IP/10/1348). This checklist ensures that our rules are beyond any reproach. We have also called on the European Parliament and the Council to take a similar fundamental-rights-friendly approach when they add amendments in the EU law-making process.
Today's ruling confirms how essential this is. It’s important to note that the derogation for insurers was not part of the Commission's initial proposal for the 2004 Directive; it was only added later by the Council.
So what happens next? The European Commission will now carefully examine the implications of the Court's decision for the EU's law on equal access to goods and services for women and men, as well as for the insurance sector and consumers.
The insurance industry will certainly be affected by the ruling. For products such as life assurance and annuities, all 27 EU countries currently allow insurers to use sex as a risk-rating factor.
However, I also would like to underline that parts of the insurance industry have already started to move in the direction of gender equality. Insurers have already shown flexibility as Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Slovenia apply unisex premiums for car insurance.
In the light of today's judgement, I call on insurers across the EU to follow this good example regarding all insurance contracts.
I will convene a meeting with business leaders from the insurance industry in the coming months to discuss the judgement’s implications.
Following today's judgement, it is now clear that an insurance company must not distinguish between women and men; all customers must be treated equally. This is a matter of respect for fundamental rights. It is now also becoming a matter of good business practices."
The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled today on a preliminary reference by the Belgian Constitutional Court (Case C-236/09 ). The Belgian Constitutional Court had, in essence, asked the following question: Is it compatible with the fundamental rights of the EU to take the sex of the insured person into account as a risk factor on the formulation of private insurance contracts?
Council Directive 2004/113/EC of 13 December 2004 implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services (adopted unanimously by the EU Council of Ministers) prohibits direct and indirect sex discrimination outside of the labour market.
Article 5(1) of the Directive says that "Member States shall ensure that in all new contracts concluded after 21 December 2007 at the latest, the use of sex as a factor in the calculation of premiums and benefits for the purpose of insurance and related financial services shall not result in differences in individuals' premiums and benefits."
Article 5(2) of the Directive – which had not been present in the Commission's initial proposal for the Directive, but was later included by the Council during the legislative process – gives Member States a right to derogate ("opt out") from the principle of equal treatment with regard to insurance contracts: "Member States may decide before 21 December 2007 to permit proportionate differences in individuals' premium and benefits where the use of sex is a determining factor in the assessment of risk based on relevant and accurate actuarial and statistical data. The Member States concerned shall inform the Commission and ensure that accurate data relevant to the use of sex as a determining factor are compiled, published and regularly updated."
All Member States have made use of this derogation for some or all insurance contracts. Belgian included a derogation for life insurances in its national legislation. A dispute about the legality of Belgium’s derogation led to today’s Court ruling.
Excerpts from the ”Study on the use of age, disability, sex, religion or belief, racial or ethnic origin and sexual orientation in financial services, in particular in the insurance and banking sectors," commissioned by the European Commission and concluded in July 2010, available at:
Complaints about alleged discrimination in the insurance sector
Use of sex as factor in risk assessment of motor insurance
Use of sex in risk assessment of travel insurance
Use of sex in risk assessment of term life insurance
Comments by Commissioner Olli Rehn on Ireland of 28 February (1 March 2011)
European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn, speaking to journalists in Brussels on 28 February, said that the EU had a "common goal for Ireland to revive its growth dynamic and succeed in ensuring debt sustainability".
"Pricing policy - I am referring to the interest rates - is one key issue here, which will be discussed in the context of the comprehensive strategy of the European Union," he said. "I expect that this issue of pricing policy will be looked at from the overall European perspective of safeguarding financial stability in the euro area and ensuring debt sustainability of all its members," he added.
For information on financial assistance to euro-area member states go to: http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/focuson/crisis/q_and_a_en.htm