Banks which relied heavily on State aid can be allowed to stay on the market where parts of their activities have a realistic prospect to return to viability, provided that they considerably reduce their size and substantially change their business model to focus only on the viable activities. That approach is well illustrated by the approval of the restructuring of the German bank, Hypo Real Estate 9 . The bank will shrink to 15% of its pre-crisis balance sheet and phase out a number of business fields. Similarly, the Commission approved restructuring aid to another German bank HSH Nordbank 10 in light of a commitment to reduce its balance sheet size by 61% compared to pre-crisis levels by exiting certain business lines. The Commission also applied that approach in the context of smaller banks. For instance Eik bank 11 in Denmark was split into a bad bank put in liquidation, while the good part of the bank was subject to a sale via a bidding process. A similar line was taken for Austrian Kommunalkredit 12 which had to be nationalised in a rescue operation. The bank's business was split into non-strategic activities (to be wound down) and strategic activities (corresponding to approximately 40% of the balance sheet) which will be re-privatized.
During the Schengen evaluation of Greece in 2010-2011, several serious shortcomings were detected, especially as regards control of the external land- and sea borders. Given the extensive scope of the recommendations, Greece has drawn up a national action plan on how to remedy these shortcomings. This includes i.a. enhanced coordination of border management issues, increased deployment of personnel and equipment, improvement of infrastructure, a new programme for training as well as a review of the relevant legislation. In order to assess the progress so far and to identify topics where Member States could offer assistance, a review mission is scheduled for 28 May to 2 June 2012. This mission will go to the Athens International Airport 'Eleftherios Venizelos', the Port of Piraeus and the Evros region. While reiterating its commitment to support the Greek efforts to manage its external borders, the Commission invites Greece to continue the implementation of its Schengen
At national level, many Member States (BE, CZ, DK, DE, EE, ES, FR, IT, LV, LT, LU, NL, AT, SI, SK, SE, UK) reported on new steps taken to increase the attractiveness of the EU for highly qualified workers. For example, in ES, the new Aliens Act Implementing Regulation includes a preferential and privileged procedure for Blue Card holders and their family members. Following the introduction of the “Red-White-Red Card” in AT, no quota system applies to highly qualified workers. In addition, certain highly qualified third-country nationals are now entitled to obtain a “visa for the purpose of a job search” and stay for six months in the territory (to look for employment) without already having been guaranteed work. The Government in DK has undertaken general measures to attract highly qualified workers, and specific measures to facilitate access of such workers to the ‘cleantech’ sector. There is also a Job Card Scheme, informed by DK’s bi-annual labour market analysis, which allows easier and faster access to a residence permit for priority professions. In DE, the Federal government adopted a draft law to lower the annual salary threshold from €66 000 to €48 000 and to immediately obtain a permanent right of residence in DE for highly qualified workers. Furthermore, scientists with special expertise, teaching personnel and scientific staff in leading positions continue to be exempted from this salary threshold. In LU, new tax provisions for highly qualified people, approved in December 2010, became applicable in 2011, resulting in a tax relief regarding certain expenses paid for by the employer within the context of recruitment or expatriation, subject to not exceeding a reasonable amount. NL prepared the launch of a pilot project, due in 2012, which would facilitate stays of shorter than three months for highly qualified workers. This new system would no longer require the verification of labour supply in the market for those wishing to work for fewer than three months. UK launched an “Exceptional Talent” route (Tier 1 of its Points Based System (PBS)) for third-country nationals recognised, or having the potential to be recognised, as leaders in the fields of science, engineering, humanities and arts. Changes were also introduced relating to the settlement rights of migrants. Fast track settlement rights for investors and entrepreneurs were introduced, with those in Tier 1, investing €6 million, gaining settlement after three years, for example. Though the UK introduced these incentives for specific types of highly qualified workers, it required those wishing to obtain highly skilled employment to apply through Tier 2 of the PBS, where they need to have an offer of a graduate level job from a licensed employer prior to arrival. With regard to intra-corporate transferees, the UK excluded these workers from the annual limit but introduced a new salary threshold linked to the length of their stay.
the subsidiarity control mechanism. In 2012, six policy areas (five in 2011) accounted for more than half of the opinions received in the context of the political dialogue (334): internal market and services, justice, home affairs, mobility and transport, employment and health. In view of the focus of opinions in previous years, internal market and services, justice, and home affairs seem to present perennial and key areas of interest for national Parliaments. 2012 saw a continuation of the trend, which started after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, whereby national Parliaments are focusing their political dialogue with the Commission more and more on legislative, rather than non-legislative, documents. In fact, only a negligible proportion of the documents on which national Parliaments’ opinions focused were non-legislative. Among the 23 proposals eliciting the most opinions (i.e. five or more) from national Parliaments, only one, the Commission’s Communication on the Energy Roadmap 2050, was non-legislative. Bucking this trend, however the Swedish Riksdag’s 13 political opinions concerned exclusively non-legislative documents, while the 20 opinions issued on legislative documents were all reasoned opinions.
Following a long period of dynamic growth, real GDP contracted by more than 5% in 2009, as foreign capital flows dried up and export markets were hit by the effects of the financial crisis. Exports rebounded in 2010 and 2011, but domestic demand remained very sluggish. Output was overall broadly stable in 2010 and increased by around 2% in 2011. The correction of large pre- crisis imbalances started somewhat later in Bulgaria than in other countries of the region. Available indicators for the first quarter of 2012 suggest that domestic demand remains weak. According to the Commission services' Spring 2012 Forecast, Bulgaria's GDP will increase by 0.5% in 2012 and by 1.9% in 2013. The Bulgarian economy is estimated to have operated well below its potential since 2009 and a sizeable negative output gap is projected to remain even in 2013. The fiscal stance, as measured by changes in the structural balance, has been restrictive since 2010, allowing for a frontloaded correction of the structural deficit that emerged in 2009. The correction of the headline deficit was achieved mainly by structural measures, in particular in 2010, and fiscal consolidation was concentrated on the expenditure side. In view of the good starting budgetary position and the ambitious tackling of the fiscal slippage in 2009, the drag on the economy from fiscal consolidation is expected to be rather moderate, with the fiscal stance projected to be slightly restrictive in 2012 and broadly neutral in 2013.
The Romanian leu is not participating in ERM II. Romania operates a floating exchange rate regime. The nominal exchange rate of the leu against the euro fluctuated in a wide range in the pre-crisis years. The leu faced significant weakening pressures in autumn 2008 amid the intensification of the global financial crisis and against a background of large domestic macroeconomic imbalances. Short-term interest rate differentials vis-à-vis the euro area started to widen as the ensuing lack of liquidity drove up Romanian short-term interest rates. Following an agreement in early 2009 to provide Romania with a coordinated package of international financial assistance, financial market pressures eased and the leu broadly stabilised against the euro at levels that then prevailed for most of the period from 2009 to 2011. The leu's exchange rate against the euro depreciated during temporary bouts of global risk aversion, including in the second half of 2011. In early 2012, it remained at a moderately weaker level than the 2009-2011 average. During the two years before this assessment, the leu depreciated against the euro by 6.4%.
The EU has a long-standing tradition of providing protection to those who need it and shall continue to do so, in accordance also with its international obligations. A key priority, also of many Member States, remains the achievement of a Common European Asylum System in 2012 and some progress towards this goal was made. Following extensive and often difficult negotiations with the co-legislators, political agreement was reached on the extension of the Long-Term Residents Directive to include beneficiaries of international protection 89 and the recast Qualification Directive. 90 Progress has also been made with the Asylum Procedures and the Reception Conditions Directives following amended proposals in June 2011. Less positive were negotiations on the recast Dublin Regulation and the EURODAC Regulation, which were stalled for most of 2011. In order to move forward, the Commission calls on the European Parliament and the Council to adopt a constructive approach to negotiations in order that a fair and balanced compromise, acceptable for all parties concerned and increasing harmonisation, is reached. In this respect, the Commission has expressed its will to move forward with a proposal, including law enforcement access to EURODAC, if real progress in the negotiations on the whole package can then be made.
The competitive importance of generic products and innovative medicines The main issues of concern under competition law are practices which, for instance, unduly delay or block generic entry or the development and launch of innovative medicines. The existence of such practices was analysed in general terms in the sector inquiry and highlighted in the finalreport in 2009 116 . They include the potential misuse of patent rights and patent settlement agreements. The Commission particularly addressed these issues via antitrust enforcement action. These enforcement actions complement the Commission's recent work on the possible revision of Council Directive 89/10/EEC (also known as the Transparency Directive) 117 , which was also triggered by the results of the sector inquiry, when additional reasons for market entry delay of medicines were identified within the regulatory framework. The organisation of the health care sector is primarily the responsibility of Member States under Article 168 TFEU. However, to the extent that the activities in question involve offering goods or services on the market 118 , the provision of health care goods or services is subject to EU competition rules, as emphasised by the 2010 Commission antitrust decision sanctioning the French Association of Pharmacists (ONP) 119 .
One of the purposes of merger control in air transport is to ensure that airlines do not undo the pro-competitive effects of liberalisation by acquiring close competitors. On 10 February 2012, the International Airlines Group (IAG), the holding company of British Airways and Iberia, notified its intention to acquire British Midlands Limited (bmi), which had a strong presence in the UK as well. On 30 March 2012, the Commission decided 115 to approve the proposed transaction following IAG's commitment to release 14 daily slot pairs at London Heathrow to competitors and to carry connecting passengers feeding long-haul flights of competing airlines. On 24 July 2012, Ryanair notified 116 its third attempt to take over Aer Lingus, its main rival at Dublin airport. In November 2012, the Commission issued a statement of objections outlining its preliminary assessment of the impact of the proposed transaction. On 23 January 2012, the Commission re-opened its investigation 117 into the SkyTeam alliance. The new investigation is more limited in scope and focuses exclusively on the joint- venture agreement between Delta, Air France/KLM and Alitalia, which co-operate closely on prices, capacity and schedules for passenger air transport services on the transatlantic market. The investigation 118 of the Star Alliance transatlantic joint-venture was opened in 2009 and has reached a more advanced stage. On 21 December 2012, the Commission decided to test the commitments proposed by Lufthansa, Air Canada and United Airlines. The commitments included slot releases at the Frankfurt and New York airports, competitors' access to the parties' connecting traffic, and the ability of competitors to combine their fares with those of the parties. The Commission also continued monitoring the commitments offered by British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines in the oneworld investigation 119 , which was concluded in 2010. All three alliances are therefore currently under investigation or have been investigated by the Commission.
Regarding the ongoing geopolitical tensions affecting some Southern Mediterranean countries it can not be excluded that the Fund would be called to cover potential defaults on loans or loan guarantees benefitting from the EU guarantee in this geographical area (for more information on the countries covered by the EU guarantee see Tables A1 and A2 of the SWD).
Furthermore, in line with the conclusions of the Heads of State or Government of the euro area and EU institutions of 21 July 2011 regarding the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism lending, an extension of maturities - and a reduction in the interest rate margin has been decided 13 . The maximum average maturity has been increased from 7.5 to 12.5 years and the maturity of individual loan tranches may be extended to up to 30 years. In addition, the margin on the loans to the beneficiary country has been eliminated. As a result, a beneficiary country will only pay the total cost of funding of the EU. These Decisions will be applied retroactively to all disbursed loan tranches.
The roll-out of new infrastructure for broadband networks across the Single Market was another strategic focus of EU competitionpolicy in 2012. Here the main challenge was that while commercial operators are shouldering most of the investment, they have little incentive to extend the reach of their networks into remote, sparsely populated and rural areas where the market alone will not bear their costs. At the same time the Digital Agenda – one of the Europe 2020 Strategy Flagship Initiatives – aims to bring basic broadband to all Europeans by 2013 and seeks to ensure that, by 2020, (i) all Europeans have access to much higher internet speeds (above 30 Mbps) and (ii) 50% or more of European households subscribe to very fast internet connections (above 100) Mbps. It is clear that government subsidies are required in some instances to address the market failures; indeed, over the past two years the Commission approved aid of about EUR 4 billion, verifying inter alia that public funds do not crowd out private investment.
At the end of 2011, the Commission and the Dutch authorities were working on 98 open files in EU Pilot, which represents a slightly above average caseload. 43 new EU Pilot dossiers were opened during 2011. The Netherlands is among the 13 Member States whose average EU Pilot response time (67 days) is in line with the 10-week benchmark. The Dutch authorities took many necessary measures in 2011 to im- prove compliance with EU law and to have the relevant infringements terminated. In particular, they undertook to honour the EU’s external competences and the principle of loyal cooperation after voting for a proposed bluefin tuna ban (within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) that contravened the common position of the EU. They also enabled cross-border sponsoring between Dutch companies and EU-based institutions for occupational retirement provision (IORPs) as well as between EU-based companies and Dutch IORPs. They revoked discriminatory income tax rules that allowed the deduction of maintenance costs for monumental buildings only if they were located in the Netherlands.
Food crises in the Horn of Africa proved to be one of the largest emerging challenges in the region in 2011. The EU provided additional funds to Ethiopia (€13.75 million), Djibouti, (about €4.5 million), and Somalia (€25 million). A new strategic framework for the Horn of Africa was agreed in November 2011 including the appointment of the first-ever EU Representative for the Horn, his initial brief focussing on Somalia and the region’s rampant piracy. The EU also topped up its support to Côte d’Ivoire, granting the country €125 million to help the new authorities under President Alassane Ouattara restore political and economic stability. Progress was also made on implementing the second action plan of the Joint Africa- EU Strategy (JAES) and its eight thematic Partnerships. The Africa-EU Platform for dialogue on governance and human rights put forward proposals on natural resources governance in conflict and post-conflict situations, backing recent EU measures on more transparency of the activities of European extractive and forestry industries in Africa.
The Commission adopted concrete steps to boost the closure process. A Cohesion Fund closure task force was set up within DG Regional Policy in February 2011 to monitor, guide and facilitate the closure. Furthermore, it took a number of initiatives to improve the situation, such as the drafting of a procedure for the cancellation of those projects unlikely to be completed because of their very low level of implementation; the rationalisation of correspondence with Member States for clarifications needed at closure, improving the common approach and equal treatment; and the development of a new monitoring instrument enabling follow-up on a daily basis of the progress achieved in the closure process.
Benefit for consumers: the results of the impact assessment show that consumers would benefit from purchasing under this instrument. Being able to trade across the EU using the same set of rules would encourage more cross-border trade and competition in the internal market and thus consumers would benefit from a wider product choice at lower prices. It would also ensure consumer confidence in their rights whilst affording them a high level of mandatory protection. For example, when a product is faulty the consumers would be able to choose between repair or replacement, price reduction, withholding performance, termination of the contract and damages. Where a consumer terminates a contract, he would not be required as a general rule to pay for the use of the goods. Furthermore, the business practice of refusal to sell to consumers from other Member States would be likely to decline to the extent it is generated by the complexity of the legal requirements of consumer protection in the Member States
Fish processing and marketing measures account for over 60% of the funds committed and for 34% of projects under Axis 2 of the EFF. Most projects focus on increasing production capacity, although improving production systems and hygiene and working conditions are also important. The Interim Evaluation of the EFF identified a positive impact of the EFF on job creation (+3%) but less of an impact on production volume or value. High administrative burden and access to credit are the main factors limiting the effectiveness and implementation of the EFF for processing. Furthermore, global competition, access to raw materials in the face of reduced EU production and low margins seem to be the main difficulties the sector is facing.
The Committee did not deliver an opinion on the draft Commission Directive amending Directive 1999/31/EC as regards specific criteria for the storage of metallic mercury considered as waste at its meeting on 5 April 2011. Under the RPS procedure, a Proposal for a Council Directive was submitted to the Council and forwarded to the European Parliament (COM(2011) 299). As a result, Council Directive 2011/97/EU was adopted on 5 December 2011 (OJ L 328, 10 December 2011).
The EU’s co-legislators adopted a Decision in July 2010 to provide EUR 500 million of MFA to Ukraine (Decision 388/2010/EU of 7 July 2010). Together with the EUR 110 million that remained available under the MFA Decision of 2002 (Council Decision 2002/639/EC of 12 July 2002), this would allow for a potential MFA operation of up to EUR 610 million. However, the negotiations on the policy conditions related to the disbursement of this assistance, which include measures in the areas of public finance management (PFM), tax and customs administration, energy sector reform and financial sector regulation have not yet been concluded. While there has been progress in converging towards a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will be acceptable to both parties, disagreement on some key issues, including the remit of the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine (the country's supreme audit institution), could not be overcome. In the absence of a signed Memorandum of Understanding and Loan Agreement, no disbursements were made in 2011.
National industrialisation plans have also been recently adopted in Brazil and Argentina. In Brazil, for instance, the "Plano Brasil Maior" was adopted in August 2011 as a general plan aimed at fostering industrial development of the country. Problems arise to the extent that the plan's specific measures foresee such instruments as indirect subsidization or fiscal exemptions benefitting specific manufacturing sectors (e.g. textile and footwear, mobile and software industry, among others). One element of the Plano Maior is extension of the 25% preference margin in government procurement to the ICT sector, which is likely to be extended to other sectors such as health, defence, communications and high-tech equipment. Argentina's trade policy has been characterised over the last years by moves towards "managed trade" and import substitution policies, including through measures affecting import and export – and NALs are certainly at the core of this policy - reflecting short-term solutions to underlying macroeconomic problems. Parts of the recently introduced "Industrial Strategic Plan 2020" reflect the attempt of Argentina to develop a longer term vision on such sectors as automotive, capital goods, footwear, agricultural machinery, construction materials, medicines, chemicals and textiles, but also confirm the import restricting elements described above. There is a therefore a danger that measures such as non- automatic import licensing remain in place in the future as part of a broader industrialisation policy based on import substitution.