Editorial of April 2017

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

What future do we want for ourselves, for our children and for our Union? (as for the 60 years landmark of the Treaty of Rome: please open the fridge!)

Two weeks ago I went to Rome at the European’s Commission invitation for the celebrations of the 60 years of the constitutive treaties of the current European Union. The Commission had decided to gather a group of Jean Monnet chairs from 34 nationalities for a seminar with the title “The future of Europe: a commitment for You(th)” and for a meeting with the EC Vice President, Federica Mogherini, and the (rotating) President of the Council of the EU, Joseph Muscat (Prime-Minister of Malta). It is my duty to share on this blog what I have heard there.

The EC is moving forward with a series of proposals about the management of globalisation and the future of the European finances, but also tending to develop the European social dimension. And, mostly, proposals tending to conclude the Economic and Monetary Union – that takes monetary and exchange sovereignty from the Member States whilst keeps their financial and fiscal sovereignty, what provokes clear imbalances between the more and the less robust economies of the euro zone. Moreover, the Commission presented on 1 March 2017 a White Paper on the future of Europe[i]  – which prospects the changes we will be subject to over the course of the next 10 years and presents 5 scenarios to face the challenges.

After a large debate – that will take place at the European level in the next months and in which the European Parliament, national parliaments, local and regional authorities and the society in general will participate – President Jean-Claude Juncker will address his considerations on the occasion of the speech of the State of the Union, in September 2017, hence contributing with the European Council for reaching its first conclusions by the end of the year and deciding about the actions to take over the period that precedes the European Parliament’s elections, in June 2019.

Naturally, the outcome will also depend on the electoral results in France and Germany – it couldn’t be any different. Not exactly for the narrative of the “French-German axis”, but because 40% of everything that is built with European funds is money from the French or the German tax payer. Is it not of the most elementary coherence that who pays the most should have a word? Anyhow, the European citizens from the other Member States may not be unrelated to the definition of their future – that’s why they need to know the proposals and pressure political decision-makers towards better choices. The European Union is not made by aliens – it’s our representatives who are there: in the Parliament, in the Council, in the Commission.

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Editorial of March 2017

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

The future (in White Paper) of Europe, according to Juncker

The European Commission has presented the White Paper on the Future of Europe precisely now in the year of the milestone celebration of 60 years of integration[i] and when it is taking place the technical and diplomatic operation of materialising Brexit.

It is always good and never inopportune to launch a debate on the future of integration, especially when the Union faces a political, economic and social turbulence and, at the external level, the geopolitical indetermination which makes this debate an existential issue. Incidentally, by promoting this debate, it is indispensible that it is rapidly consequent.

The White Paper was then presented at the European Parliament, on 1st March, by the President of the Commission who intended to propose options to strengthen the Union in the post-Brexit. Juncker wanted to highlight, by all means and with certainty before the context and the dark and hesitant note with which the integration and the EU have been marked, a sign/memory of hope: “Our darkest days are still far brighter than any spent by our forefathers imprisoned in Ventotene” [the Italian prison where Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi were kept during the II World War].

The intention of the Commission and its President is understandable (in fact, he has already announced he won’t be running for a second term). Indeed, this motivating intention of the newly presented White Paper was explicitly affirmed: as we face a Europe post-Brexit, the integration of 28-1 and with risks of not being able to stem possible propensities for new withdrawals, we must quickly define a new path. A definition that will mean necessarily a commitment of deepening the integration, among all. The question is precisely knowing/defining how to advance to this deepening. Furthermore: what does it mean, realistically and consequently today, such deepening? That is, which path to define to the future (nearly) immediate of the Union?

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The concept of (economic) sovereignty: the Apple/Ireland case

by Ana Filipa Afonseca, student of the Master´s degree in EU Law of UMinho

If we know the economic policy behind the article 107.º and 108.º of TFEU we will know better ourselves as European Union. Here, the sovereinty have a modern aproach because it deals with a new reallity, witch is the heart of EU: the idea of a single, free and fair market throught the Member States. That necessarilly increases a deep discussion about the institutional and Member State’s power to take attractive measures to grow up their own economy throught tax benefits, such as the case in analysis.

But, in fact, the Member States are now new states because they are regulated by common politics emerged by a supra national organ, which did not exist: the EU itself. When we say “new States” we are not calling for a conceptual reform in the international law as the elements of the 1st article of Montevideo’s Convention remain. It must be noted that the requirement of an effective Government does not take into account the way/fashion in which state policy is implemented but, symbolically, it is important to point out that there is a new set of rules that inevitably transform the path of State economic policy in the Member States of the EU.

In this way, if every competition rule in the TFEU as well as the economic freedoms ones are important to the new economic formula, the prohibition of State aid under Article 107 and 108 has an added symbolic force: it is addressed directly to the Member States, imposing a stand still position before their peers.

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Between the competition law and a competition culture: the case of Apple/Ireland

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, student of the Master´s degree in EU Law of UMinho

The importance of Apple’s case emerged when the journalist of the Irish Times asked the European Commission representative, Margrethe Vestager, in the press conference about the illegality of the aid provided by Ireland to Apple Sales International, if the Union wouldn’t be afraid of losing the investment of external companies with such sanctions. The answer given, without lyricism, made clear that the lesson wasn’t well-examined, after all, she simply answered “this is not a penalty, this is unpaid taxes”. The state aid prohibition read in the 107º TFEU conforms one of the most important competition laws, given that this mechanism contradicts the previous protectionist rules, inherent to the state individualism, in which the national independence was established through favouring State domestic economy to the detriment of other economies. Therefore, this response was surgical: urges the time for the Member States to finally consider the internal market as a single market, defined by the fair competition and this will be the main catch for future investment. Above all, the competition law demands an important shift of thought by the Member States – today we are not one.

The case Apple/Ireland raises several questions. Primarily, it takes into account the mould of the State aid, due to the fact that this is not a direct measure of tax exemption, fiscal guarantee, preferential  tax interest , favourable deals in the land acquisition, special rates, as in most cases, the Irish measure translates in a broad sense, in a advantage (expression used in the Case Italy versus European Commission 2nd of July of 1974, Process 173/73) that benefits the economic operator. The illegal aid converts into splitting of profit between Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe which the result implies that the Irish branch office would be subjected to the normal taxation of Irish companies, however, the head office where most of the profit was allocated, was not subjected to any kind of taxation and this was possible under the Irish tax law, which until 2013 allowed for so called ‘Stateless Companies’.

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Google vs. EU antitrust proceedings

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, student of the Master´s degree in EU Law of UMinho

In Portugal (and not only in Portugal), the prefix “Dr.” is usually attached to the name and confers a kind of inherent credibility to someone, as form of courtesy, sometimes for the sake of politeness even if it’s used wrongly. All over Europe, Google is referred as the most powerful search engine on the internet. Some may even address it as “Dr.”. Is it possible that we’re the main contributors for its overvaluation in the market? The fact is that Google acquired a dominant position in the market. But is this a mere case of success?

The European Commission believes that this is not the case and has accused Google of abusiving its dominant position for imposing to the device manufacturers and mobile service providers the installation of Google’s search engine by default on all the devices, through payments and exclusivity contracts.

In fact, competition between other search engine providers on the market and Google is practically nil, in accordance with the definition of a free market as one in which companies, independent of one another, operate in the same business sector and compete with each other to attract consumers. In other words, in free market each company is subject to the competitive pressure of one another. Not dispelling that the market power will always be regarded as a sort of cat and mouse game, and naturally, someone has to be the cat, that is the natural order of the market.

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