Main news from Brussels this week
Why the European Commission blocked the O2/Hutchison merger
On 11 May, the European Commission blocked the proposed acquisition of O2 by Hutchison UK that would have created a new mobile network with 40% market share. The Commission's main concern was that the merger would lead to higher prices for consumers across all mobile providers and would significantly reduce competition.
Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager's statement
Commission's new anti-subsidy investigation on Chinese steel products
The European Commission has launched today (13 May) an anti-subsidy investigation on imports of Chinese hot-rolled flat steel, on which an anti-dumping investigation is already ongoing since February. The new procedure is part of the Commission's commitment to make full use of the available trade defence instruments to restore fair trading conditions for the European steel sector, affected by the global production overcapacity. The Commission now has up to nine months to establish whether conditions to impose provisional countervailing duties are met. With today's decision there are now 10 ongoing trade defence investigations on steel products, in addition to the 37 anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures already in place. Seven of these investigations and 15 of these measures concern steel products originating from China.
All this week's key European Commission announcements can be found here
EU and the UK
Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete in London
Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete was in London yesterday (12 May) to meet UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the Rt Hon Amber Rudd. They discussed emissions targets for the sectors not included in the Emissions Trading System (ETS) in view of the upcoming revision of the effort-sharing decision, which is the next step in delivering on the EU's target to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030 agreed in October 2014. They also talked about steps for ratification and further implementation of the recently signed Paris Agreement on climate change.
The EU referendum: Lessons from Scotland
On 10 May, the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, hosted Douglas Alexander, former Europe Minister and Shadow Foreign Secretary, who set out lessons that in his view can be drawn from the referendum on Scottish independence and applied to the forthcoming referendum on EU membership.
He believes those who will vote to remain in the EU will make their minds up in the last weeks. He also warned against trusting polls and said that referenda are not only a fight over a specific argument but a need to win over the electorate more generally.
He spoke about the importance of planning in advance for the reactions which will follow the referendum and the importance of focusing on people's feelings. In his opinion, the current UK referendum is being affected by three recurring negative feelings: deep economic anger, deep cultural anxiety (terrorism) and disillusion with the political establishment.
He concluded the Remain campaign should “converse with the country and not in the Eurostar”.
Audio recording of the event
The UK economy and the EU: What options after the referendum?
Politeia, a think tank, is organising a series of events focusing on the UK referendum. In the first event which took place on 10 May, Roger Bootle, Capital Economics, gave the view that the EU's economy should be considered a failure. He said the big turning points in EU integration had been what he characterised as the mishandling of free movement after the 2004 enlargement and the creation of the euro, which he suggested was a political project without widespread public support. He added that the UK leaving the EU could cause some problems for other Member States, but that this might be the quickest way to resolve the fundamental problems which he felt the EU needed to tackle.
Gerard Lyons, former Chief Economic Adviser to Boris Johnson, agreed with Roger Bootle. He added that trade deals at EU level did not serve UK interests as much as they should because they did not give sufficient priority to services.
Kwasi Kwarteng, MP, said that the EU was not a static proposition and that there would need to be more integration in the euro area – an issue that could dominate EU politics for some time to come.
Britain: leading, not leaving – Gordon Brown makes the case for remaining in the EU
On 11 May, the LSE European Institute hosted former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, for a speech on the EU referendum. He argued that the referendum is about more than just the economy as it will shape the way the UK interacts with the world. He stressed that the UK should continue to be outward looking rather than protectionist and should be a leader in the EU rather than just a member. For him, a multi-currency union is important and he added that he has always been against “federalism”. On energy & taxation, he highlighted that the UK has full control aside from some small things, but that it needs cooperation in both areas in order to control resources and to shut down tax havens. Mr Brown said that the European Arrest Warrant is helping deal with terrorism and that illegal immigration can only be tackled through cross-border operations. He pointed out that the US, Canada, Australia and the head of the Commonwealth want the UK to stay in the EU. He credited the EU with helping ensure this is the first generation where Europeans haven't been fighting each other. He saw the EU not only as a trading bloc but as a social market where the EU has prevented a race to the bottom on workers’ rights.
EU funding is supporting – not stopping – regeneration of Nottingham’s Sneinton market
Articles in the Daily Mail, The Sun and Nottingham Post this week are inaccurate in suggesting that the refurbished Sneinton Market in Nottingham, which benefitted from EU funds, only has three traders out of 46 because of “EU rules restricting the stalls from having tills”. The rules for the current use of the units were not imposed by the EU. There are no EU rules which prevent the use of tills on market stalls, either in general or in projects receiving EU funding. The 46 units in question in Nottingham are not retail market stalls and were not even before the refurbishment. In fact, they are former wholesale units that will now provide workspace and studios for creative SMEs.
For upcoming events, please have a look at our newsletter
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:
EU immigration hasn’t hurt jobs or wages. Here’s why, by Jonathan Wadsworth, Swati Dhingra, Gianmarco Ottaviano and John Van Reenen in the Spectator
EU fact of the week
EU-funded British movies at the Cannes festival
EU-funded UK movie I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach is part of this year's official selection for the 69th Cannes Film Festival. In total, 19 EU-funded movies are screening across the programme's different strands. The finance comes under the EU's Creative Europe MEDIA programme, the EU's dedicated funding for the film and audiovisual industries. MEDIA invested £55.3 million in the United Kingdom between 2007 and 2015 helping British films attract audiences in other European countries. In 2014, 62 UK films had their cinema releases supported across Europe with €7.8 million (£6.1m), including nearly €1 million (£778,380) for Pride and €600,000 (£467,028) for Two Faces of January. In 2015, 67 UK films received €4.7 million (£3.7m) for the same, including €600,000 (£467,028) for recently released comedy drama Florence Fosters Jenkins and €400,000 (£311,352) for Paddington.
Tweet of the week
Quote of the week
"Until we are able to build peace and prospects for war-ravaged and persecuted communities in our neighbourhood and beyond, people will continue to look to the EU for refuge. We need to make sure that people who need protection actually receive it. This is our moral duty as well as our legal responsibility," Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans