Archive pour la catégorie ‘Economy - Finances’

European Parliament in favour of Eurozone financial transaction tax

Mercredi 11 janvier 2012

A broad agreement has emerged Monday between different parties in Parliament about this tax.

Various MEPs said that in recent months they had shifted their position in favour of a financial transaction tax. Wolf Klinz (ALDE, DE) explained that this was “because the financial sector has not learnt the lessons from the crisis”.

The shift suggests that more MEPs may favour the proposal than was the case some months ago. Only the ECR spokesperson, Czech MEP Ivo Strejček, stood by his group’s fundamental opposition to the tax.

Parliament an early mover in calls to tax financial transactions

By narrow margins, Parliament had already pronounced itself in favour of a financial transaction tax towards the end of 2010 and more specifically in March 2011. The Commission tabled its legislative proposal late in 2011.

Commission proposal a good start but fine tuning needed

Opening the discussions, Socialist rapporteur Anni Podimata (EL) broadly welcomed the Commission proposal, noting that its broad scope should capture a large majority of transactions and reduce the temptation for financial service providers to relocate outside the EU.

She added however that transactions on EU financial products between non-EU parties would not be covered by the proposal and that the proposed rate of tax on the end of trading day transaction volume would be too low.

A necessary tax

Sirpa Pietikainen (EPP, FI), voiced the large majority view that the tax would need to be implemented by, at the very least, all the Eurozone countries.

Pascal Canfin (Greens, FR), rejected the argument that “ordinary consumers” would see the cost of the tax shifted to them, noting that the main “consumers” on financial markets are in fact high-frequency traders and banks trading for their own profit.

Jürgen Klute (GUE/NGL, DE), argued that the tax would not constitute “revenge” on the financial sector but rather make it share some of the burden of the crisis, along with all other sectors.

A damaging tax

The ECR group struck a lone chord with all its representatives warning of the dangers of the tax. “Relocation [of financial players] will take place within weeks at most”, Mr Strejcek said, adding that banks should not be penalised since it was states, not banks, which were most responsible for the crisis.

Marta Andreasen (EFD, UK) also said that she found it “incredible that we are discussing a financial transaction tax for 2014 when the Euro is burning”.

Next steps

The draft report is scheduled to be presented on 28 February, put to a committee vote in early April and a plenary one in June. Parliament has a legal right to present an opinion on the Commission proposal.

The European Commission guarantees gender equality for insurance premiums

Jeudi 22 décembre 2011

In its decision of 1 March 2011 in the case of test-purchases, the Court of Justice gave insurers until 21 December 2012 to provide equal treatment between men and women in regard to premiums and benefits of insurance.

Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, met with leading EU insurers in September 2011 to discuss how the industry should adapt to the Court’s ruling (MEMO/11/624).

Following consultations with national governments, insurers and consumers, the new Commission guidelines respond to the need for practical guidance on the implications of the ruling. They aim to benefit both consumers and insurance companies.

The guidelines adopted today cover a series of issues which emerged from in-depth consultations with Member States and stakeholders. For example, they clarify that the ruling applies only to new contracts, in particular to contracts concluded as from 21 December 2012. They also give specific examples of what is considered a “new contract” to ensure a comprehensive application of the unisex rule at EU level from the same date.

In addition, the guidelines provide examples of gender-related insurance practices which are compatible with the principle of unisex premiums and benefits, and therefore will not change because of the Test-Achats ruling. These practices are very diverse, ranging from the calculation of technical provisions to reinsurance pricing, medical underwriting or targeted marketing.

Background
The implications of the judgment were discussed on 20 June with Member States and stakeholders at the Forum on Gender and Insurance set up by the Commission in 2009. European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding also met leaders of European insurance companies on 21 September.

The Test-Achats ruling does not mean that women will always pay the same car insurance premiums as men.

At the moment, a careful young male driver pays more for auto insurance just because he is a man. Under the ruling, insurers can no longer use gender as a determining risk factor to justify differences in individuals’ premiums. But the premiums paid by careful drivers – male and female – will continue to decrease based on their individual driving behaviour. The ruling does not affect the use of other legitimate risk-rating factors and price will continue to reflect risk.

Gender is a determining risk-rating factor for at least three main product categories: motor insurance, life insurance/annuities and private health insurance. In all three categories, it is likely that a transition towards unisex pricing will have consequences on premiums and/or benefits at the individual level for men and women. Depending on the product concerned, premiums might increase or decrease for certain categories of consumers.

The insurance industry is competitive and innovative. It should be in a position to make these adjustments and offer attractive unisex products to consumers without unjustified impact on the overall price level. Price reductions resulting from unisex pricing should be passed on to consumers with the same level of fairness as price increases.

The Test-Achats case (C-236/09), which was referred by the Belgian Constitutional Court, concerned gender discrimination in insurance pricing. On 1 March 2011, the Court of Justice of the European Union declared invalid as from 21 December 2012 an exemption in EU equal treatment legislation which allows Member States to maintain differentiation between men and women in individuals’ premiums and benefits.

Council Directive 2004/113/EC on equal treatment between men and women in regards to the access to and supply of goods and services (adopted unanimously by the EU Council of Ministers) prohibits direct and indirect gender 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.”

Before the ruling, Article 5(2) of the Directive gave Member States a right to derogate from the unisex rule 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 made use of this derogation for some or all insurance contracts. Belgian law includes a derogation for life insurance in its national legislation. A dispute about the legality of Belgium’s derogation led to the Court of Justice’s Test-Achats ruling.

The Court found the exemption to the unisex rule in Article 5(2) incompatible with the purpose of the Directive as laid down in Article 5(1) and, therefore, with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Court ruled:

“Article 5(2) of 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 is invalid with effect from 21 December 2012.”

The Euro-bonds to stabilize the Euro

Mercredi 21 décembre 2011

A resolution passed Tuesday by members of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs proposes the establishment of Euro-bonds in addition to measures more urgent.

At the same time the committee also approved a question to be put to the Commission at Parliament’s next plenary session on the progress of play of its green paper on Eurobonds and asking for an analysis of the reactions received so far.

Questions still open on green paper

The resolution welcomes the Commission’s consultative document on the introduction of “stability bonds” but also notes that further work is required on some issues. These would include specific ways of addressing potential moral hazard, making the system attractive for AAA countries as well as heavily indebted ones, increasing competitiveness, and introducing enforceable debt reduction systems, among others.

Eurobonds for Eurozone longevity

The resolution does not claim that Eurobonds are a quick fix for the current difficulties. It does however argue that they should be considered an important component of medium-term solutions. The resolution also acknowledges that a “necessary precondition” for the common issuance of bonds is stronger fiscal coordination aimed both at better economic governance and growth.

To tackle immediate difficulties, the resolution calls on the Commission rapidly to table proposals “to decisively address the current crisis, such as the European redemption pact proposed by the German Council of Economic Experts (…), the finalisation and ratification of a European Stability Mechanism treaty (…), eurobills as well as joint management of sovereign debt issuance”.

Next steps

This resolution and question to the Commission are expected to feature on the next plenary session agenda. With a view to this, the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee is also preparing an own-initiative resolution, under the stewardship of Sylvie Goulard (ALDE, FR), providing a more detailed reaction to the Commission’s green paper.

The European Commission announces the resources allocated to Eurostat for the next 5 years.

Mercredi 21 décembre 2011

Good statistical studies are essential for European democracy.

In order to ensure reliable, comparable and cost-effective statistics in the years ahead, the Commission today adopted a proposal for the European Statistical Programme 2013-17. With a budget of €299.4 million, the programme will run for 5 years from 1 January 2013. European Statistical System (Eurostat and national statistical institutes) will be responsible for implementing the multiannual programme, in accordance with the European Statistics Code of Practice and respecting the principles of independence, integrity and accountability. A large proportion of the budget will be allocated to the Member States in order to support the implementation of the Programme at national level.

The European Statistical Programme sets out 3 overriding objectives for 2013-17, namely:

- To provide high quality statistics to better design, monitor and evaluate EU policies.

- To implement more efficient methods of producing European statistics-

- To strengthen the leading role of the European Statistical System in official statistics worldwide

The Programme breaks these general objectives down into more specific headings, with details on how they will be implemented. An annual work programme will be drawn up each year with concrete actions to meet these objectives. The need for information must be weighed against the resources available and the burden placed on businesses and citizens in responding to the necessary questionnaires and surveys to compile statistics. Therefore, the European Statistical Programme highlights certain areas which will be given priority focus. These follow the EU’s broader priorities, such as Europe 2020, strengthened economic governance, climate change, growth and social cohesion, people’s Europe and globalisation.

While EU policy-making will largely influence the work of the European Statistical System in the coming years, any statistics produced under the new Programme will also be available to other decision-makers, researchers, businesses and European citizens on an equal basis.

Background
The European Statistical System (ESS) has been faced with a number of challenges in recent years. The demand for high-quality, timely, and ever more complex statistics is increasing, while the resources available to produce and disseminate these statistics have become more limited. Increased efficiency and flexibility are required of the ESS, to respond to these challenges and contribute to the successful development and implementation of EU policies. These challenges were addressed in the Commission Communication on the production method of EU statistics and the ESS strategy for its implementation. Implementation of the Communication and strategy are the core of the European Statistical Programme.

The European Statistical Programme starts already in 2013 because it will follow up the current programme which will finish in 2012. Under the current rules, the European statistical programme can not exceed a period of five years and will therefore end in 2018.

Next Steps
The draft Regulation will now be discussed by the Council and the European Parliament, with a view to adoption by the end of 2012, so that the new programme can start on 1 January 2013. Negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework for the whole EU budget will continue in parallel.

The European Commission presents its new anti-fraud programmes.

Lundi 19 décembre 2011

The European Commission today adopted two proposals for programs Hercules III and Pericles 2020. With a budget of € 117.7 million, these programs will take place over the next programming phase.

Hercule III
The Hercule III programme is dedicated to fighting fraud, corruption and any other illegal activities affecting the financial interests of the EU. It focuses in particular on cooperation between the Commission, via the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF), competent authorities in the Member States, and other European institutions and bodies.

The programme aims at ensuring equivalent protection in the Member States and in all EU institutions, bodies and agencies. Actions provided under the Hercule III programme include: technical and operational support for law enforcement authorities in the Member States in their fight against illegal cross-border activities, and professional training activities.

The previous Hercule programme produced important results such as 70 technical assistance projects that financed the purchase of sophisticated technical equipment for law enforcement agencies combating fraud, as well as anti-fraud training for over 5 300 law enforcement staff.

Pericles 2020
The Pericles 2020 programme is an exchange, assistance and training programme to strengthen the protection of euro banknotes and coins in Europe and worldwide.

Projects financed under the Pericles programme include, among others, a seminar on the “Community Strategy for the protection of the euro in the Mediterranean area”, a training course on money counterfeiting in Latin America and a number of staff exchanges between authorities within and outside the EU.

Next steps
The draft Regulations will be discussed by the Council and the European Parliament, with a view to adoption by the end of 2012, so that the new programme can start on 1 January 2014.

The European Commission promotes public lighting with LED

Jeudi 15 décembre 2011

The European Commission adopted a Green Paper on the subject and opens a public consultation.

LED lighting is one of the most energy-efficient and versatile forms of lighting - saving up to 70% energy and money compared to other lighting technologies. Faster LED deployment will ensure the success of Europe’s lighting industry and help reduce energy use from lighting by 20% by 2020. But Europe also faces a number of challenges and more input is needed from citizens and businesses to refine the policy. To this end a consultation will run until 29 February 2012 to collect feedback on the Commission’s ideas.

LED lighting faces a number of challenges in the market: high purchase prices because it is a more sophisticated technology compared to the alternatives, lack of familiarity among potential users and a lack of common standards.

Key questions for the public consultation include:

Which actions would help to overcome existing barriers and accelerate LED deployment in Europe?
How to ensure good quality and safe LED products on the European market that meet consumer expectations
How to reinforce cooperation of the lighting sector with architects, lighting designers, electrical installers and the construction and buildings sectors
How can the EU best support entrepreneurship and competitiveness in the lighting sector?
Boosting energy saving LED-based lighting is a key objective of the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200).

Background

With the phasing out of the sale of traditional light bulbs in the EU by September 2012, in the next few years about 8 billion incandescent lamps in European homes, offices and streets will need to be replaced by more energy efficient lighting solutions. These include LED and organic LED (or OLED) lighting technologies also known as Solid State Lighting (SSL).

SSL offers both high quality light and visual performance and increasingly good design options.

SSL can drive innovation in the lighting and construction sectors and offers tremendous opportunities for our businesses – many of them SMEs – leading to jobs and growth in Europe.

The European Commission examines the cross-border inheritance

Jeudi 15 décembre 2011

Currently, people who inherit a property abroad must pay a tax in several countries.

In fact, in extreme cases the total value of a cross-border inherited asset might even have to be paid in tax, because several Member States may claim taxing rights on the same inheritance or tax foreign inheritances more heavily than local inheritances. Citizens may be forced to sell inherited assets, just to cover the taxes, and small businesses may face transfer difficulties on the death of their owners. To tackle these problems, the Commission today adopted a comprehensive package on inheritance taxation. Through a Communication, Recommendation and Working Paper, the Commission analyses the problems and presents solutions related to cross-border inheritance tax in the EU.

Background
Today’s Communication points out that there are two main problems when it comes to cross-border inheritance tax in the EU:

The first is double or multiple taxation, where more than one Member State claims the right to tax the same inheritance. Divergent national rules, a shortage of bilateral inheritance tax conventions, and inadequate national double tax relief measures can result in citizens being taxed twice or more on the same inheritance. Member States are free to apply national inheritance rules as they see fit once they are in line with EU rules on non-discrimination and free movement. The Commission is not proposing any harmonisation of Member States’ inheritance tax rules. Instead it is recommending a broader and more flexible application of national double taxation relief measures so as to provide a pragmatic, speedy and cost-effective solution to the significant tax burdens facing many citizens. The Recommendation in today’s Package suggests how Member States could improve existing national measures to ensure that there is adequate double tax relief. It sets out solutions for cases in which several Member States have taxing rights. The Commission invites Member States to introduce the appropriate solutions into national legislation or administrative practices.

The second inheritance tax problem that citizens can encounter is discrimination. Some Member States apply a higher tax rate if the assets, the deceased and/or the heir are located outside their territory. In such cases, EU law is clear: Member States are obliged to respect the basic principles of non-discrimination and free movement set out in the Treaties. The Working Paper published today sets out the principles on non-discriminatory inheritance and gift tax, using case-law to illustrate them. This will help Member States to bring their provisions into line with EU law, while also raising citizens’ awareness of the rules which Member States must respect.

Although cross-border inheritance tax problems may seriously affect individuals, revenues from domestic and cross-border inheritances taxes account for a very small share - less than 0.5% - of total tax revenues in Member States. Cross-border cases alone must account for far less than that figure.

Next steps
The Commission will launch discussions with Member States to ensure appropriate follow up to the Recommendation. In addition, it is ready to assist all Member States in bringing their inheritance laws into line with EU law. In 3 years time, the Commission will present an evaluation report showing how the situation has evolved, and decide on this basis whether further measures are necessary at national or EU level. Meanwhile, the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, is continuing to take the necessary steps to act against discriminatory features of Member States taxation rules.

The European Court of Auditors provides recommendations on fisheries

Mardi 13 décembre 2011

The Common Fisheries Policy aims to strike a balance between the needs of fishermen and renewal capacity of marine wildlife.

This European Court of Auditors’ (ECA) performance audit assessed whether EU measures effectively contributed to adapting the capacity of the fleets to available fishing opportunities . The Court examined two main questions: Is the framework for the reduction of fleet capacity clear; and are specific measures well defined and implemented? The audit was carried out at the Commission and in seven Member States (Denmark, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Portugal and the UK) selected on the basis of the size of their fishing fleets and the resources available for adapting their fishing fleets under the EFF.

The audit concluded that overcapacity of the fishing fleet continues to be one of the main reasons for the failure of the CFP in assuring a sustainable fishing activity. The ECA has previously issued 2 special reports (No 3/1993 and No 7/2007) stressing the problem of overcapacity. Although the reduction of fishing overcapacity has been a recurrent theme in previous reforms of the CFP, current measures have failed. The ECA found important weaknesses in the framework:

- the framework, design and implementation of measures to balance fishing capacity with available fishing opportunities is unsatisfactory;

- the existing definitions of fishing capacity no longer adequately reflect the ability of fishing vessels to catch fish;

- ceilings do not impose real restrictions on fishing capacity;

- although the alignment of fishing capacity to fishing opportunities is one of the cornerstones of the CFP and the EFF, fishing overcapacity has not been defined or quantified;

- Member States have not done their part under the CFP to put effective measures in place to match fishing capacity with opportunities;

- Four of the seven Member States examined had set inadequate targets for reducing fishing capacity.

The ECA makes a series of recommendations to address overcapacity and the sustainability of the fishing sector: the Commission should better define fishing capacity and overcapacity and consider more relevant robust measures to facilitate actions balancing fishing capacity with fishing opportunities; set effective limits for fishing fleet capacity; clarify whether fishing right transfer schemes have a role in reducing fishing overcapacity; and the Member States have to ensure that any measures to aid investments on board are strictly applied and do not increase fishing ability; and ensure that selection criteria for fishing vessel decommissioning schemes are designed to have a positive impact on the sustainability of the targeted fish stocks and avoid providing public aid for decommissioning inactive fishing vessels.

Cohesion policy more transparent

Lundi 12 décembre 2011

Member States have decided to strengthen the monitoring of financial instruments available under Cohesion Policy

This will mean that Member States will have to report once a year on progress made in financing and implementing these instruments. Such reporting will allow the Commission to better assess the overall performance of financial instruments across Member States. Together with additional information to be presented with each statement of expenditure, the Commission will be able to produce accurate and comprehensive accounts, which give a true image of the Union’s assets and of the actual budgetary implementation.

Member States are already utilising these financial instruments. Another alternative to traditional funding, which has proven successful in Member States, are the existing schemes of repayable assistance. But there was a need to provide a clear legal framework and a reassurance for their correct continued usage. With the introduction of these new correction mechanisms, the Commission follows recommendations of the European Court of Auditors.

The Member States have agreed on Monday as well with the possibility to increase the co-financing rate for all structural funds for so called programme countries, which receive special assistance, with a maximum of 10 percentage points. This would not lead to a higher allocation of funding from the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund, Cohesion Fund, Fisheries Fund or European Fund for Rural Development, but would make it easier for cash-strapped Member States to co-finance projects, to create growth and jobs. The European Parliament has approved this increase already. This new possibility will enter into force, together with the improved monitoring on financial instruments, on 19 December of this year.

Background
The Commission encourages the use of financial instruments under cohesion policy, moving away from traditional one-off grants and wants to focus more on them in the next financial perspective. In times of scarce public finances the use of guarantee schemes or repayable assistance is the best way to maximise the impact of EU investment on the ground, ensuring in the long term many more projects can be supported. In the current financial perspective from 2007 until 2013 some 10 billion Euro is available for financial instruments under cohesion policy.

The so-called “repayable assistance” can take the form of either reimbursable grants (partially or totally repayable without interest by project holders) or credit lines offered to beneficiaries through financial institutions, acting as intermediaries. For instance, in Portugal, almost all cohesion policy programmes use repayable forms of assistance to support competitiveness and innovation. As an example, the National Institute for the support of Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs ) can provide a reimbursable grant to a beneficiary with a view to a part of this grant being repaid once the project is complete. The investment returned to the national authority is reused for new projects.

The European Commission proposes to enhance public administrations’ computer data

Lundi 12 décembre 2011

The European Commission proposes a new digital strategy to support the economy of the Union

Europe’s public administrations are sitting on a goldmine of unrealised economic potential: the large volumes of information collected by numerous public authorities and services. Member States such as the United Kingdom and France are already demonstrating this value. The strategy to lift performance EU-wide is three-fold: firstly the Commission will lead by example, opening its vaults of information to the public for free through a new data portal. Secondly, a level playing field for open data across the EU will be established. Finally, these new measures are backed by the €100 million which will be granted in 2011-2013 to fund research into improved data-handling technologies.

These actions position the EU as the global leader in the re-use of public sector information. They will boost the thriving industry that turns raw data into the material that hundreds of millions of ICT users depend on, for example smart phone apps, such as maps, real-time traffic and weather information, price comparison tools and more. Other leading beneficiaries will include journalists and academics.

The Commission proposes to update the 2003 Directive on the re-use of public sector information by:

- Making it a general rule that all documents made accessible by public sector bodies can be re-used for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, unless protected by third party copyright;
- Establishing the principle that public bodies should not be allowed to charge more than costs triggered by the individual request for data (marginal costs); in practice this means most data will be offered for free or virtually for free, unless duly justified.
- Making it compulsory to provide data in commonly-used, machine-readable formats, to ensure data can be effectively re-used.
Introducing regulatory oversight to enforce these principles;
- Massively expanding the reach of the Directive to include libraries, museums and archives for the first time; the existing 2003 rules will apply to data from such institutions.

In addition, the Commission will make its own data public through a new “data portal”, for which the Commission has already agreed the contract. This portal is currently in ‘beta version’ (development and testing phase) with an expected launch in spring 2012. In time this will serve as a single-access point for re-usable data from all EU institutions, bodies and agencies and national authorities.

Background
Open Data is general information that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone - either free or at marginal cost.

The Commission’s proposal today would operate in full respect of rules on the treatment of personal data.

Studies conducted on behalf of the European Commission show that industry and citizens still face difficulties in finding and re-using public sector information. That is to say, open data is largely undeveloped in Europe.

In the important sector of geographical information, almost 80% of the respondents to Commission surveys say that they are prevented from making full use of information held by public bodies. Reasons include high fees, non-transparent rules and practices regarding re-use, a lack of transparency on what type of data is held and by whom, and exclusive licensing agreements which may have the effect of undermining competition.

In its ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’ the Commission identified the re-use of public sector information, alongside fast and ultra fast internet access, as key to delivering a Digital Single Market.

Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector information introduced a first set of measures to make it easier for businesses to obtain access and permission to re-use government-held information. It also brought about a process whereby governmental agencies lowered the fees charged for obtaining the information. Today’s proposal extends access and widens the coverage of the Directive.