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European Commission London Office weekly news round-up
Main news from Brussels this week
Cheaper calls to other EU countries as of 15 May
As of 15 May, a new maximum price applies for all international calls and text messages within the EU. As a result, consumers calling from their country to another EU country will pay a maximum amount of €0.19 (£0.17) cents per minute (+VAT) and €0.06 (£0.05) per text message (+VAT). Following the end of roaming charges in June 2017, these new price caps for international calls and text messages in the EU are part of the EU-wide overhaul of telecoms rules to strengthen coordination of electronic communications.
Additional €100 million for research and student mobility programmes in 2019
Following on the agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the EU's 2019 budget, on 15 May the European Commission added €100 million (£88 million) to the EU's flagship programmes Horizon 2020 and Erasmus +. This additional money will help strengthen the EU response to key challenges such as climate change and further adapting the education sector to the needs of the labour market. €80 million (£70 million) will go to climate-related research under Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme. The remaining €20 million (£18 million) will support the EU's programme for education, training, youth and sport in Europe, Erasmus+.
European Commission registers ‘Save the bees!' initiative'
On 15 May, the European Commission decided to register a European Citizens' Initiative entitled ‘Save the bees! Protection of biodiversity and improvement of habitats for insects in Europe'. The organisers call on the Commission to 'adopt legislation to maintain and improve habitats for insects as indicators of an undamaged environment'. The Citizens' Initiative focuses on the creation of mandatory targets: make the promotion of biodiversity an overall objective of the common agricultural policy; dramatically cut the use of pesticides, ban harmful pesticides without exception and reform eligibility criteria; promote structural diversity in agricultural landscapes; reduce nutrients (e.g. Natura 2000); establish conservation areas; intensify research and monitoring and improve education.
New tool to help EU countries crack down on VAT fraud and recoup billions
A new system launched on 15 May will allow member states to rapidly exchange and jointly process VAT data, leading to earlier detection of suspicious VAT fraud networks. The start of the Transaction Network Analysis (TNA) tool comes as recent media investigations once again laid bare the huge costs of VAT fraud to public finances. It is estimated that this criminal activity leads to a gap in EU public finances to the tune of €50 billion (£44 billion) a year with organised crime gangs profiting at the expense of honest taxpayers. This new instrument is part of the Commission's sustained effort to put in place a modern and fraud-proof VAT system across the EU.
All this week's key European Commission announcements can be found here
EU and the UK
European Commission fines Barclays, RBS, Citigroup, JPMorgan and MUFG €1.07 billion for participating in foreign exchange spot trading cartel
On 16 May in two settlement decisions, the European Commission fined five banks for taking part in two cartels in the Spot Foreign Exchange market for 11 currencies - Euro, British Pound, Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc, US, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian Dollars, and Danish, Swedish and Norwegian crowns. The first decision (so-called “Forex - Three Way Banana Split” cartel) imposes a total fine of €811 197 000 on Barclays, The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Citigroup and JPMorgan. The second decision (so-called “Forex- Essex Express” cartel) imposes a total fine of €257 682 000 on Barclays, RBS and MUFG Bank (formerly Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi). UBS is an addressee of both decisions, but was not fined as it revealed the existence of the cartels to the Commission.
Fourteen UK municipalities get EU funding for public Wi-Fi hotspots
Fourteen UK municipalities – Angus, Bexley, Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Braintree, Coventry, East Northamptonshire, East Riding of Yorkshire, Falkirk, Fife, Mid and East Antrim, Stirling, Suffolk Coastal, Wigan, are among the winners in the second call for proposals under the WiFi4EU initiative which aims to improve public access to high-speed wireless internet. Proposals were submitted on 4 to 5 April and the Commission announced the results on 15 May. 3,400 municipalities across the EU, Iceland and Norway, will receive vouchers each worth €15,000 (£13,000) to cover the cost of installing Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces, including town halls, public libraries, museums, public parks or squares.
Latest news on the Article 50 negotiations can be found here
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EU in the media this week
Every week, we pick out one of the week's most interesting stories or comment pieces….which does not mean we agree with everything it says:
'Better to leave the EU than make a hero of Farage' by Philip Collins in the Times
EU fact of the week
EU-funded UK movies at Cannes film festival
UK production Sorry we missed you by Ken Loach and co-production (Austria, UK, Germany) Little Joe by Jessica Hausner are among some 20 EU-funded films which will compete for the Cannes festival Palme d'Or this year. Other EU-funded movies in the main selection are Pain and Glory by Pedro Almodóvar (Spain), The Traitor by Marco Bellocchio (Italy), Le Jeune Ahmed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Belgium), and The Whistlers by Corneliu Porumboiu (Roumania, France, Germany). Fourteen other EU-funded movies will be presented in other parts of the festival. These films have been supported through the development, co-production and distribution schemes of the Creative Europe MEDIA programme, for a total amount of €1.5 million (£1.3 million).
Tweet of the week
We are celebrating 10 years of #EasternPartnership. Trade is a very important part of that relationship. Soon I will be in a panel discussion on this with PMs from Georgia and Moldova and FM of Armenia and Lithuania.
— Cecilia Malmström (@MalmstromEU) May 14, 2019
Quote of the week
“Education in emergencies is an absolute priority for the European Union. Since 2015, our support has increased from 1% of the European humanitarian budget in 2015 to 10% in 2019. The European Union is leading by example. It is a global champion of education in emergencies. We are making a concrete investment to peace by helping every child get access to school, anywhere and at all times. Education is the foundation for everything else. It is a protective shield against violence, sexual exploitation, or radicalisation, especially in humanitarian crises. It makes children feel safe and provides them with opportunities for a brighter future."
European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides announcing on 14 May unprecedented €164 million for Education in Emergencies projects in 2019. Thanks to EU funding, over 6.5 million girls, boys and teachers in 55 crisis-affected countries have benefitted between 2015-2018 from better access to quality education and training since the European Union increased support for children caught up in humanitarian crises.