President’s New Year’s press conference

President Jean-Claude Juncker today underlined his determination to focus on the Commission’s number one priority – growth and jobs – even as the European Union manages a series of crises. He called on Member States to pursue the strategy set out by the Commission year ago: structural reform, fiscal responsibility and strategic investment. Announcing major progress from the Euros 315 Investment Plan, the President remarked: “People said the plan would not work, that governments would not like it, and the private sector did not believe in it. But in the first three months we have already mobilised Euros 50 billion across 22 Member States. 81,000 SMEs are already benefitting from the plan.” Reaffirming the Commission’s determination to do everything necessary to maintain the Schengen area of passport-free travel, the President highlighted the costs of non-Schengen: “Waiting at an internal border would cost every lorry 55 euros for every hour.” He also called on Member States to respect their commitments: “I cannot accept that the relocation of 160,000 refugees is not implemented.” On the situation in Poland, the President called for dialogue and saw a way forward: “I believe there is room for amendments in different pieces of legislation – that is now up to the European Union and Poland.” Watch the recorded version of the press conference on EbS. More information on the state of play of the Investment Plan for Europe here. (For more information:Margaritis Schinas – Tel.: +32 229 60524; Mina Andreeva – Tel.: +32 229 91382)

Investment Plan for Europe: another Euros 500 million for SMEs in Germany

The European Investment Fund (EIF) and the German promotional bankKfW Bankengruppe have signed an agreement to increase lending to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as small Mid-Caps, benefiting from the support of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the heart of the Investment Plan for Europe. The new agreement allows KfW via on-lending banks to provide innovative companies in Germany with access to a total of Euros 500m of financing over the next 2 years. Speaking at the signing event in Berlin, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, said: “Germany is one of the leading EU Member States for innovation and I am pleased that it is dedicating more resources to financing innovative companies. The InnovFin SME Guarantee deal signed today with KfW Bankengruppe will open up new ways of funding innovative companies to enable them to grow and create jobs.” (For more information see press release or contact Vanessa Mock – Tel.: +32 229 56194; Siobhan Millbright – Tel.: + 32 229 57361)

The Commission announces the continuation of the Northern Ireland Task Force

Yesterday the European Commission announced the continuation of the Northern Ireland Task Force. Its work will help the region participate more actively in the EU policy process and fully benefit from EU programmes and projects fostering growth and jobs. President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I welcome very much the useful contribution the Task Force has made to the promotion of socio-economic reconstruction and in that way to the consolidation of the ongoing peace process and securing reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The peace process in Northern Ireland requires continuing efforts and the Commission has a special role to play in this, as it also does in contributing to reinforce the region’s European engagement. I therefore believe that the Northern Ireland Task Force, with its valuable expertise, should continue to play an important role in the future.” Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Cre?u, responsible for the management of the work of the Northern Ireland Task Force, said: “With this renewed partnership, and in line with the priorities of the Commission, we will do everything we can to support growth and job creation in Northern Ireland, including on an all-island basis, as the region pursues the process of consolidating peace and reconciliation”.A press release is available online. (For more information: Anna-Kaisa Itkonen – Tel.: +32 229 56186, Sophie Dupin de Saint-Cyr – Tel.: +32 229 56169)

European Commission awards journalists with Lorenzo Natali Media Prize for outstanding reporting on development

Last night, the European Commission honoured nine journalists reporting on development issues with the Lorenzo Natali Media Prizes. Out of more than 1400 registered participants from across the world, the nine selected journalists stood out for the quality of their journalistic work. Their journalistic reports covered topics ranging from the e-waste economy in Ghana, to innovative farming methods in slums in Kenya, drug crime in Mexico, and child prostitution in Myanmar. This year’s Grand Prize has been awarded to Arison Tamfu from Cameroon for his story ‘Africa’s billions might be buried forever’, published in the Cameroon Daily Journal. The story shows how the use of renewable energies is improving lives in rural communities in Africa. Speaking about the winners, Commissioner Mimica said: “These talented journalists remind us why development and poverty eradication are so important for people’s lives around the world, as their powerful stories show. On behalf of the European Commission, I applaud and thank the winners and participants for their efforts and invaluable contributions.” More information in the press release here. (For more information: Alexandre Polack – Tel.: +32 2 299 06 77, Sharon Zarb – Tel. + 32 2 29 92256)

European Commission consults on non-binding guidelines on disclosure of non-financial information by certain large companies

The Commission Services have launched a public consultation today to feed into its upcoming non-binding guidelines that will set out how large public-interest entities, such as listed companies and banks, could disclose social and environmental information. These guidelines can assist companies in the reporting process, providing them with a methodology that will facilitate the disclosure of relevant, useful and comparable non-financial information. The guidelines will be drawn up in line with the requirements and scope set out in the Directive on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large companies and groups, which applies to large public-interest entities with more than 500 employees. The consultation is open until 15 April 2016 and is available on the consultation page. (For more information:Vanessa Mock – Tel.: +32 229-56194; Letizia Lupini – Tel.: +32 229-51958)

State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into alleged aid to two container terminal operators in Port of Antwerp, Belgium

The European Commission has opened an in-depth inquiry into whether reductions in compensation payments granted by the Port of Antwerp to two container terminal operators gave them an undue advantage over competitors, in breach of EU state aid rules.Between 2009 and 2012, the two operators PSA Antwerp NV and Antwerp Gateway NV did not reach minimum tonnage requirements specified in their concession agreements. As a result, they were obliged to pay compensation to the Antwerp Port Authority. However, instead of collecting the compensation due from the two companies, the Authority retroactively revised the minimum tonnage requirements downwards. The Commission will now examine further whether a private investor would have accepted to reduce its compensation in a similar manner. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested third parties the opportunity to submit comments on the measures under assessment. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. The full press release is available online in EN, FR, DE and NL. (For more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Yizhou Ren – Tel.: +32 229 94889)

Mergers: Commission approves Ball’s acquisition of Rexam, subject to conditions

Following an in-depth review, the Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of beverage can manufacturer Rexam by rival Ball . The Commission’s investigation showed that the transaction, as notified, would have reduced competition in the already concentrated markets for beverage cans and risked increasing prices for customers. The Commission’s approval is therefore conditional upon Ball divesting ten plants making can bodies and two plants making can ends to a suitable purchaser, so as to address the Commission’s concerns. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, commented: “Soft drinks or beer in cans are widely consumed by European citizens. The substantial remedies offered will ensure that effective competition is maintained in the already concentrated drink can industry so consumers do not end up paying higher prices for their favourite refreshments”.The full press release is available online in EN, FR and DE. More information on this case is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7567. (For more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of Euro Garages by TDR Capital

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of Euro Garages by TDR Capital, both of the UK. Euro Garages operates a portfolio of more than 300 filling stations. TDR Capital is a private equity firm investing in various areas, including motor fuel retail and car-wash. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would raise no competition concerns, because a significant number of competitors will remain active on the market for car wash services in the UK, the only market where the companies compete with each other. The transaction was examined under the normal merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7862. (For more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

Eurostat: The tax-to-GDP ratio in 2014 varied by almost 1 to 2 across the EU Member States

The overall tax-to-GDP ratio, meaning the sum of taxes and net social contributions as a percentage of GDP, stood at 40.0% in the European Union (EU) in 2014, compared with 39.9% in 2013. In the euro area, tax revenue accounted in 2014 for 41.5% of GDP, up from 41.2% in 2013. Over recent years, the tax-to-GDP ratio in both zones has increased continuously since its low point in 2010. The tax-to-GDP ratio varies significantly between Member States, with the highest share of taxes and social contributions in percentage of GDP in 2014 being recorded in Denmark (50.8%), followed by Belgium and France (both 47.9%), Finland (44.0%), Austria (43.8%), Italy and Sweden (both 43.7%). At the opposite end of the scale, Romania (27.7%), Bulgaria (27.8%), Lithuania (28.0%) and Latvia (29.2%) registered the lowest ratios. This information comes from a report issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. Tax indicators are compiled in a harmonised framework based on the European System of Accounts (ESA 2010), enabling an accurate comparison of the tax systems and tax policies between EU Member States. A Eurostat press release can be found here. (For more information:Vanessa Mock – Tel.: +32 229 56194; Patrick Mc Cullough – Tel.: +32 229 87183)

Eurostat: Euro area international trade in goods surplus Euros 23.6 billion

The first estimate for euro area (EA19) exports of goods to the rest of the world in November 2015 was Euros 173.5 billion, an increase of 6% compared with November 2014 (Euros 163.6 billion). Imports from the rest of the world stood at Euros 149.9 billion, a rise of 5% compared with November 2014 (Euros 143.5 billion). As a result, the euro area recorded a Euros 23.6 billion surplus in trade in goods with the rest of the world in November 2015, compared with +Euros 20.1 billion in November 2014. Intra-euro area trade rose to Euros 145.7 billion in November 2015, up by 5% compared with November 2014. These data are released by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. A Eurostat press release can be found here. (For more information:Enrico Brivio – Tel.: +32 229 56172; Joseph Waldstein – Tel.: +32 229 56184)


Commissioner Arias CaAete attends the International Renewable Energy Agency meeting in Abu Dhabi

EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias CaAete will travel to Abu Dhabi on 16-17 January to participate at the 6th General Assembly of the International Renewable Agency (IRENA). IRENA is the intergovernmental organisation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, and serves as the principal platform for international cooperation on renewable energy. The meeting will serve to ascertain the concrete implementation of the Paris COP21 climate agreement and to set strong guidance as regards IRENA’s role for the promotion of renewable energy. One of the political priorities of the Juncker Commission is making the EU the world number one in renewable energy and leading the fight against global warming. Commissioner Arias CaAete will deliver a keynote speech on the need for concerted action to deploy renewable energy and will hold bilateral meetings with representatives from the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and other countries of the Gulf region. In addition, he will host a dinner with CEOs of international renewables companies, ministers, environmental organisations and other personalities from the renewables industry. To conclude his first international travel of 2016, Commissioner Arias CaAete will participate in a ministerial roundtable on financing renewables on Sunday morning, and at the Financial Times IRENA Question Time Debate in the evening, where he will be joined by Mr Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Ms Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Mr Yvo de Boer, Director General of the Global Green Growth Institute amongst others. (For more information: Anna-Kaisa Itkonen – Tel.: +32 229 56186)

Commissioner Hogan in Berlin for the International Green Week and the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture

Mr Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, attends the 81st International Green Week (IGW) opening today in Berlin. He will visit the Commission stand, which is built around the theme “From Farm to Fork” offering information on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Animal health and welfare, Health and Food as well as Maritime and Fisheries policies. Organised by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMEL), the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) is being held during the IGW and Commissioner Hogan will participate today in its High Level Panel on development on sustainable cities “Feeding the Cities”. This event will be followed by a press briefing. On Saturday 16 January, Commissioner Hogan will deliver a keynote speech at the Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Summit 2016. On this occasion, he will also hold a series of bilateral meetings with Ministers present from around the globe. He also participates in the International Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) Panel which will be livestreamed. On Sunday 17 January, Commissioner Hogan participates in a roundtable on the Western Balkans’ agriculture and rural development. You can follow the events on social media with the following hashtags: #EUatGreenWeek #IGW2016 #GruneWoche2016 #GFFA. (For more information: Enrico Brivio – Tel: +32 229 56 172; Clemence Robin – Tel: +32 229 52 509)