European Union. Here are some of the events in the EU that got the most attention during the year.
ABB was sentenced by the European Commission to pay SEK 660 million. kr. in fines for participating in a price cartel. According to the EU, ABB’s Danish subsidiary IC Möller, together with nine other European manufacturers of district heating pipes, have determined prices in Europe. The other nine were fined EUR 190 million together. kr. ABB appealed to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg because the company considers that the fines are too high in relation to previous practice, since fines amounted to a maximum of 10% of the company’s last year’s turnover. ABB believes that the fine should be reduced to SEK 70 million kr. According to Abbreviationfinder, EUC stands for European Union Commission.
Antibiotics. The EU banned four antibiotic preparations in animal feed additives, but four other antibiotic preparations are still allowed in the EU. At the turn of the year, Sweden therefore triggered the safeguard clause in the agreement with the EU that makes it possible to maintain the Swedish ban on antibiotics.
Belgian blue. The European Court of Justice rejected the Swedish ban on breeding cattle of the Belgian blue breed. Sweden banned breeding with regard to animal health. The strong musculature, which gives the animals 20% more meat, makes it difficult for the animals to walk. According to the Court, this consideration has already been tried in the EU.
Assistance Fraud. 15.6 million kr. disappeared from the EU aid budget. The money was earmarked for aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda. Two officials have been suspended from their positions in the European Commission and the investigation has been handed over to the Luxembourg police. The European Commission received harsh criticism for failing to detect and stop the fraud in the EU aid organization ECHO, which has issued a number of contracts with doubtful consultancy firms in Luxembourg. During the fall, UCLAF (the EU fraud scam) investigated 950 cases of suspected cheating with aid money.
British beef is allowed by the EU again exported. Exports were halted in March 1996 after researchers warned of a possible association between BSE (mad cow disease) in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that can affect people. Only boneless meat is allowed to be exported outside the British Isles. The slaughtered animals must be between six and thirty months old and born after August 1, 1996. In addition, each animal must be traceable, either via computer or through individual ID tags. Meat exports from the UK are expected to resume in the spring of 1999.
The EU moped with a maximum speed of 45 kilometers per hour became legal in Sweden from October 1. Driving the faster moped requires that the driver is 16 years old and has a driving license. During the first half of 1999, the rules are changed. Then the EU moped can be run by 15-year-old who have received driving training at school.
The National Insurance Fund in each EU country is obliged to reimburse the costs of care in other EU countries. According to an EC ruling in the spring, the free movement of services also applies to healthcare. The background to the verdict is two Luxembourg men. One man bought a pair of glasses in neighboring Belgium, but was refused compensation from the insurance fund. The other man did not get the insurance fund’s permission to take his daughter to a dentist in Germany. However, the European Court of Justice gave the men the right.
Parental allowance can be withdrawn if parents move to another EU country, according to a decision in the European Court of Justice. The decision applies to a Finnish woman who worked in Sweden for eleven months. She then became unemployed and received unemployment benefits until she gave birth to children. After the birth, the woman moved back to Finland. The Social Insurance Office then withdrew the parental allowance. According to the European Court of Justice, the Social Insurance Agency has the right to stop the payment of parental benefit if a person who is no longer working is moving to another EU country. However, working people are entitled to parental allowance.
carbon dioxide emissions from passenger cars will be reduced according to an agreement concluded between the European Commission and ACEA, the organization of the European car industry. Cars account for 26% of carbon dioxide emissions in the EU, and emissions from transport are increasing. Since carbon dioxide, which contributes to the greenhouse effect, cannot be cleaned with the help of catalysts, the fuel consumption in vehicles must be stopped. Under the agreement, European car manufacturers commit to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 25% from the 1995 level by 2008 at the latest. During the year, the EU also decided to reduce all health hazardous emissions from motor vehicles from 2000. All leaded petrol is banned and stricter controls on motor vehicles are banned. In 2000, the EU will have the world’s toughest exhaust regulations. According to the European Commission’s estimates, hazardous emissions such as sulfur,
Withholding tax. The European Commission wants to put an end to the possibility of exempting from tax on capital by investing savings in an EU country with low or no tax on capital income. The Commission proposed two options. Either 20% can be deducted from the tax on capital income belonging to citizens living in another EU country or you can inform the tax authorities in the citizen’s home country. The proposal is intended to curb tax evasion to countries such as Luxembourg, Ireland and Austria, which today do not levy tax on capital income belonging to citizens residing in other Member States.
Membership. Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria proposed that the EU introduce a ceiling for membership fees to the EU. The four countries are the EU’s largest net payers and want to reduce both Union spending and individual countries’ payment burden. The claim was criticized by the EU’s southern member states, who are worried that the support there will be reduced if the four countries receive their wishes. A fee ceiling will be discussed in the negotiations for the next long-term budget, which covers the years 2000–06. Negotiations began during the autumn and are expected to be completed before the summer of 1999.
VAT on services such as private cleaning, elderly care, laundry, repair work and other household services will be lowered if the European Commission gets through its will. Today, the VAT on such services must be at least 15%, but the Commission is convinced that lower VAT creates more jobs. In the fall of 1997, all EU countries supported the idea of lower VAT. However, when the Commission proposed a three-year experiment in 1998, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Portugal were negative about the proposal. They do not believe that reduced VAT creates more jobs.
Parallel imports of branded products from countries outside the EEA, i.e. Countries outside the EU as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein were banned during the year by the European Court of Justice. The prohibition applies to the import and sale of branded goods such as clothing from e.g. US and Asia without the manufacturer’s or general agent’s permission.
Patent on life. The EU got a law on European patent in biotechnology. The law regulates what can and cannot be protected by biotech patents. European patent can now be applied for genetically modified plants and parts of the human genome. Patents, on the other hand, are not granted on altered germ cells, cloned humans or on animals whose suffering is not matched by a medical benefit to man. For example, allowed to change a person’s genes to prevent a genetic disease, but not to change genes so that the change persists in the next generation.
Piracy. The European Commission presented a so-called Green Paper on how to combat the extensive piracy in the EU. In the Green Paper, the Commission discusses current legislation and methods in this area, while presenting a number of ideas on how the EU should put a stop to counterfeiters.
Travel allowances for Members of the European Parliament will be reviewed. Following criticism from the EU Court of Auditors, Parliament initiated a review of the remuneration of the MEPs when traveling to meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg. One suggestion is to reimburse the parliamentarians’ actual travel expenses only. Under current rules, they are replaced by a lump sum based on the distance between the place of residence and Brussels or Strasbourg. There are also proposals to introduce equal pay – SEK 52,000. – for all EU parliamentarians. Today, they have the same salary as their home country parliamentarians.
Rules. EU labor ministers agreed on common protection rules for chemical risks in the workplace. The new rules lay down basic requirements for handling chemicals, ranging from maximum exposure time for toxic substances to workplace ventilation and the use of protective clothing. A majority of labor ministers also advocate tougher laws against asbestos. They have called on the European Commission to propose stricter rules for the management of asbestos. Nearly 6,700 people died in 1995 in the EU in asbestos-related diseases.
Tax-free sales. The ban on duty-free sales may be delayed for five years. Originally, it was intended that tax-free sales of boats, aircraft and airports would cease on July 1, 1999, but France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland want to push the ban.
The telecommunications market was liberalized on 1 January. In most EU countries, there are now at least two telecom operators. The increased competition has resulted in calls prices falling over the past two years on average by 40% in all EU countries, according to Countryaah.com.
Enlargement. Negotiations to expand the EU further with eleven countries from Central and Eastern Europe and Cyprus began in the spring. The negotiations are expected to take several years as thousands of laws in the applicant countries will be harmonized with the EU. Moreover, the political structure must change in several of the countries that want to become members of the Union. Furthermore, the EU must change the current rules on regional and agricultural aid before new members are admitted. But in the not too distant future, the Union can cover up to 26 countries and nearly 500 million. people.
Openness. The Journalist newspaper won a case in the European Court of Justice on the right of access to the EU Council of Ministers. The Court annulled the Council of Ministers’ refusal to release documents on EU police cooperation Europol. The newspaper requested three years ago to issue 20 documents on Europol. The Council of Ministers refused to release 16 of the documents, citing that it would threaten public safety. Swedish authorities had previously released 18 of the 20 documents to the Journalist. This is the second time the European Court of Justice has rejected the Council of Ministers’ refusal to publish documents.