The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, Danish support for the Thor offshore wind farm project, which will be located in the Danish part of the North Sea. The measure will help Denmark increase its share of electricity produced from renewable energy sources and reduce CO₂ emissions, in line with the European Green Deal, without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market.
Executive Vice President, Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This Danish measure is a very good example of how member states can provide incentives to companies to take part and invest in green energy projects, in line with EU state aid rules. The Thor offshore wind farm project will contribute to achieving the EU's ambitious energy and climate targets set out in the Green Deal, without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market.”
Denmark notified to the Commission an aid measure, with a total maximum budget of DKK 6.5 billion (approximately €870 million), to support the design, construction and operation of the new Thor offshore wind farm project. The project, which will have offshore wind capacity of minimum 800 Megawatt (MW) to maximum 1000 MW, will include the wind farm itself, the offshore substation and the grid connection from the offshore substation to the point of connection in the first onshore substation.
The aid will be awarded through a competitive tender and will take the form of a two-way contract-for-difference premium of the duration of 20 years. The premium will be paid on top of the market price for the electricity produced.
The Commission assessed the measure under EU state aid rules, in particular the 2014 Guidelines on state aid for environmental protection and energy.
The Commission found that the aid is necessary and has an incentive effect, as the Thor offshore wind project would not take place in the absence of the public support. Furthermore, the aid is proportionate and limited to the minimum necessary, as the level of aid will be set through a competitive auction. Finally, the Commission found that the positive effects of the measure, in particular the positive environmental effects, outweigh any possible negative effects in terms of distortions to competition, in particular, since the selection of the beneficiary and the award of the aid will be carried out through a competitive bidding process.
On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure is in line with EU State aid rules, as it will foster the development of renewable energy production from offshore wind technologies in Denmark and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the European Green Deal, and without unduly distorting competition.
The Commission's 2014 Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection and Energy allow member states to support projects like the Thor Offshore Wind Farm. These rules aim at helping member states meet the EU's ambitious energy and climate targets at the least possible cost for taxpayers and without undue distortions of competition in the Single Market.
The Renewable Energy Directive established an EU-wide binding renewable energy target of 32% by 2030. The project contributes to reaching this target.
The recent EU Offshore Strategy identifies the importance of offshore wind as part of the Green Deal.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case numbers SA.57858 in the state aid register on the Commission's Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.
EU approves €1.74 billion compensation scheme for Danish mink farmers
The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, an approximately €1.74 billion (DKK 13bn) Danish scheme to compensate mink farmers and mink-related businesses for measures taken in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. This follows the receipt of a complete notification from Denmark on 30 March 2021.
Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The Danish government took far reaching measures to prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants and new outbreaks among mink, which presented a serious threat to the health of citizens in Denmark and beyond. The DKK 13n scheme approved today (8 April) will enable Denmark to compensate mink farmers and related businesses for damages incurred in this context. We continue to work in close cooperation with member states to ensure that national support measures can be put in place as quickly and effectively as possible, in line with EU rules.”
The Danish support measures
Following the detection and rapid expansion of several mutated variants of the coronavirus among mink in Denmark, at the beginning of November 2020, the Danish authorities announced their intention of culling all mink in Denmark. In order to avoid a similar situation developing in 2021, the Government also issued a ban on the keeping of minks until beginning 2022.
On 30 March 2021, Denmark sent a complete notification to the Commission on a Danish scheme to compensate mink farmers and mink-related businesses in this context, given the significant economic impact and loss of employment caused by these extraordinary measures. The scheme consists of two measures:
- The first measure, with a budget of approximately €1.2bn (DKK 9bn), will compensate mink farmers for the temporary ban on mink farming.
- The second measure, with a budget of approximately €538 million (DKK 4bn), will support mink farmers and mink-related businesses who are willing to give up their production capacity to the state.
Support under both measures will take the form of direct grants.
Compensation to mink farmers for temporary ban
The direct grants to compensate for the ban on mink farming will cover all fixed costs for those mink farmers that will temporarily close production until the ban on mink farming is lifted on 1 January 2022. This period may be extended by one year.
The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European (TFEU), which enables the Commission to approve State aid measures granted by Member States to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damage directly caused by exceptional occurrences.
The Commission considers that the coronavirus outbreak qualifies as such an exceptional occurrence, as it is an extraordinary, unforeseeable event having a significant economic impact. As a result, exceptional interventions by member states to avoid the emergence of new coronavirus variants and prevent new outbreaks, such as the temporary ban on mink farming, and the compensation for the damages linked to these interventions are justified.
The Commission found that the Danish measure will compensate the damages suffered by mink farmers that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak, since the ban on the keeping of mink until beginning 2022 can be considered as a damage directly linked to the exceptional occurrence.
The Commission also found that the measure is proportionate, as an independent valuation commission, appointed by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and directly reporting to them, will make an assessment of necessary fixed costs and maintenance costs on the specific farms during the shutdown period, including by carrying out on-site inspections. This will make sure that the amount of compensation only covers the actual damage suffered by the farmers.
Support to mink farmers and related businesses who will give up their production capacity to the state
This scheme will compensate mink farmers who will give up their production capacity to the Danish State for the long-term, with a view to restructuring an industry prone to the appearance of new coronavirus variants that could threaten to prolong the current crisis and the disturbance to the Danish economy. It will be calculated based on two overall loss items of mink farmers: i) their loss of income for a ten year budget period; and ii) the residual value of the mink farmer's capital stock (buildings, machinery, etc.).
Mink-related businesses that significantly rely on mink production will also be eligible for support under this measure (specialised feed centers and providers, skinning factories, the auctioneer Kopenhagen Fur, etc). A valuation commission will assess that they fulfill a number of conditions, namely that at least 50% of the businesses' turnover in the period 2017-2019 is related to the Danish mink industry and that the business cannot directly convert the production into other activities. The aid will equal the value of the part of the business that cannot directly convert its production into other activities.
A precondition for receiving support under this measure is that the State takes over the assets (all production equipment, stables, machinery, etc.), which will no longer be available to the farmers or to related businesses, respectively.
The Commission assessed the measure under EU State aid rules, and in particular Article 107(3)(b) TFEU, which enables the Commission to approve State aid measures implemented by Member States to remedy a serious disturbance in their economy. The Commission found that the Danish scheme is in line the principles set out in the EU Treaty and is well targeted to remedy to a serious disturbance to the Danish economy.
The Commission found that the Danish measure will offer support that is directly linked to the need to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of Denmark and safeguard the European and global efforts towards the end of the pandemic also thanks to an effective vaccine, by restructuring an industry that is prone to the appearance of new coronavirus variants. It also found that the measure is proportionate, based on a clear method of calculation and safeguards to ensure that the aid does not exceed what is necessary. In particular, the calculations of the aid are tailored to the mink farming sector and related businesses, based on representative reference data, individual appraisals and acceptable valuation and depreciation methods.
The Commission therefore concluded that the measure will contribute to managing the economic impact of the coronavirus in Denmark. It is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the general principles set out in the Temporary Framework.
On this basis, the Commission concluded that the two Danish measures are in line with EU state aid rules.
These measures are complementary to those already taken by the Danish authorities under Article 26 of the Agricultural Block Exemption Regulation (ABER), by which direct grants will be awarded for the culling of minks on public health grounds, as well as an “additional” bonus for their rapid culling. See SA.61782 for more information.
Financial support from EU or national funds granted to health services or other public services to tackle the coronavirus situation falls outside the scope of State aid control. The same applies to any public financial support given directly to citizens. Similarly, public support measures that are available to all companies such as for example wage subsidies and suspension of payments of corporate and value added taxes or social contributions do not fall under State aid control and do not require the Commission's approval under EU State aid rules. In all these cases, Member States can act immediately. When State aid rules are applicable, Member States can design ample aid measures to support specific companies or sectors suffering from the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak in line with the existing EU State aid framework.
On 13 March 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication on a Coordinated economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak setting out these possibilities.
In this respect, for example:
- Member states can compensate specific companies or specific sectors (in the form of schemes) for the damage suffered due and directly caused by exceptional occurrences, such as those caused by the coronavirus outbreak. This is foreseen by Article 107(2)(b)TFEU.
- State aid rules based on Article 107(3)(c) TFEU enable member states to help companies cope with liquidity shortages and needing urgent rescue aid.
- This can be complemented by a variety of additional measures, such as under the de minimis Regulations and the Block Exemption Regulations, which can also be put in place by member states immediately, without involvement of the Commission.
In case of particularly severe economic situations, such as the one currently faced by all Member States due the coronavirus outbreak, EU state aid rules allow member states to grant support to remedy a serious disturbance to their economy. This is foreseen by Article 107(3)(b) TFEU of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
On 19 March 2020, the Commission adopted a state aid Temporary Framework based on Article 107(3)(b) TFEU to enable member states to use the full flexibility foreseen under State aid rules to support the economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The Temporary Framework, as amended on 3 April, 8 May, 29 June, 13 October 2020 and 28 January 2021, provides for the following types of aid, which can be granted by member states: (i) Direct grants, equity injections, selective tax advantages and advance payments; (ii) State guarantees for loans taken by companies; (iii) Subsidized public loans to companies, including subordinated loans; (iv) Safeguards for banks that channel State aid to the real economy; (v) Public short-term export credit insurance;(vi) Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D); (vii) Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities; (viii) Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak; (ix) Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions; (x) Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees; (xi) Targeted support in the form of equity and/or hybrid capital instruments; (xii) Support for uncovered fixed costs for companies facing a decline in turnover in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Temporary Framework will be in place until the end of December 2021. With a view to ensuring legal certainty, the Commission will assess before this date if it needs to be extended.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.61945 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.
More information on the Temporary Framework and other action the Commission has taken to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.
Germany, Italy, France suspend AstraZeneca shots amid safety fears, disrupting EU vaccinations
Germany, France and Italy said on Monday (15 March) they would suspend AstraZeneca COVID-19 shots after several countries reported possible serious side-effects, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was no proven link and people should not panic, write Thomas Escritt, Stephanie Nebehay, Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK, Andreas Rinke, Paul Carrel and Douglas Busvine in BERLIN, Angelo Amante in ROME, Christian Lowe in PARIS, Toby Sterling in AMSTERDAM, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in COPENHAGEN, Kate Kelland in LONDON, Emilio Parodi in MILAN, Nathan Allen in MADRID, Emma Farge in GENEVA and Stanley Widianto in JAKARTA.
Still, the decision by the European Union’s three biggest countries to put inoculations with the AstraZeneca shot on hold threw the already struggling vaccination campaign in the 27-nation EU into disarray.
Denmark and Norway stopped giving the shot last week after reporting isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and a low platelet count. Iceland and Bulgaria followed suit and Ireland and the Netherlands announced suspensions on Sunday.
Spain will stop using the vaccine for at least 15 days, Cadena Ser radio reported, citing unnamed sources.
The top WHO scientist reiterated on Monday that there have been no documented deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccines.
“We do not want people to panic,” Soumya Swaminathan said on a virtual media briefing, adding there has been no association, so far, pinpointed between so-called “thromboembolic events” reported in some countries and COVID-19 shots.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said an advisory committee meeting on AstraZeneca would be held on Tuesday. EU medicines regulator EMA will also convene this week to assess the information gathered into whether the AstraZeneca shot contributed to thromboembolic events in those inoculated.
The moves by some of Europe’s largest and most populous countries will deepen concerns about the slow rollout of vaccines in the region, which has been plagued by shortages due to problems producing vaccines, including AstraZeneca’s.
Germany warned last week it was facing a third wave of infections, Italy is intensifying lockdowns and hospitals in the Paris region are close to being overloaded.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that although the risk of blood clots was low, it could not be ruled out.
“This is a professional decision, not a political one,” Spahn said, adding he was following a recommendation of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, Germany’s vaccine regulator.
France said it was suspending the vaccine’s use pending an assessment by EMA.
“The decision taken, in conformity also with our European policy, is to suspend, out of precaution, vaccination with the AZ shot, hoping that we can resume quickly if the EMA’s guidance allows,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Italy said its halt was a “precautionary and temporary measure” pending EMA’s ruling.
“The EMA will meet soon to clarify any doubts so that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be resumed safely in the vaccination campaign as soon as possible,” said Gianni Rezza, Director General of Prevention at Italy’s Ministry of Health.
Austria and Spain have stopped using particular batches and prosecutors in the northern Italian region of Piedmont earlier seized 393,600 doses following the death of a man hours after he was vaccinated. It was the second region to do so after Sicily, where two people had died shortly after having their shots.
The WHO appealed to countries not to suspend vaccinations against a disease that has caused more than 2.7 million deaths worldwide. WHO Director-General Tedros said systems were in place to protect public health.
“This does not necessarily mean these events are linked to COVID-19 vaccination, but it’s routine practice to investigate them, and it shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place,” he told the media briefing.
The United Kingdom said it had no concerns, while Poland said it thought the benefits outweighed any risks.
The EMA has said that as of March 10, a total of 30 cases of blood clotting had been reported among close to 5 million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot in the European Economic Area, which links 30 European countries.
Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said the decisions by France, Germany and others looked baffling.
“The data we have suggests that numbers of adverse events related to blood clots are the same (and possibly, in fact lower) in vaccinated groups compared to unvaccinated populations,” he said, adding that halting a vaccination programme had consequences.
“This results in delays in protecting people, and the potential for increased vaccine hesitancy, as a result of people who have seen the headlines and understandably become concerned. There are no signs yet of any data that really justify these decisions.”
A senior German infectious diseases physician, however, said the background incidence of 2-5 thromboses per million per year was significantly lower than the number of 7 out of 1.6 million vaccinated people cited by Germany’s health ministry.
“This should be the reason to suspend the vaccination in Germany until all cases, including suspected cases in Germany and Europe, have been completely cleared up,” said Clemens Wendtner, head of the special unit for highly contagious life threatening infections at the Schwabing Clinic in Munich.
AstraZeneca’s shot was among the first and cheapest to be developed and launched at volume since the coronavirus was first identified in central China at the end of 2019, and is set to be the mainstay of vaccination programmes in much of the developing world.
Thailand announced plans on Monday to go ahead with the Anglo-Swedish firm’s shot after suspending its use on Friday, but Indonesia said it would wait for the WHO to report.
The WHO said its advisory panel was reviewing reports related to the shot and would release its findings as soon as possible. But it said it was unlikely to change its recommendations, issued last month, for widespread use, including in countries where the South African variant of the virus may reduce its efficacy.
The EMA has also said there was no indication the events were caused by the vaccination and that the number of reported blood clots was no higher than seen in the general population.
But the handful of reported side-effects in Europe have upset vaccination programmes already stumbling over slow rollouts and vaccine scepticism in some countries.
The Netherlands said on Monday it had seen 10 cases of possible noteworthy adverse side-effects from the AstraZeneca shot, hours after putting its vaccination programme on hold following reports of potential side-effects in other countries.
Recent information indicates “a very special, rarely occurring form of thrombosis, of which some cases appear to have occurred shortly after vaccination. This is of course suspicious and should be investigated,” said Anke Huckriede, vaccinology professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
Denmark reported “highly unusual” symptoms in a 60-year-old citizen who died from a blood clot after receiving the vaccine, the same phrase used on Saturday by Norway about three people under the age of 50 it said were being treated in hospital.
One of the three health workers hospitalised in Norway after receiving the AstraZeneca shot had died, health authorities said on Monday, but there was no evidence the vaccine was the cause.
AstraZeneca said earlier it had conducted a review covering more than 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and the UK which had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.
Long-awaited results from AstraZeneca’s 30,000-person U.S. vaccine trial are now being reviewed by independent monitors to determine whether the shot is safe and effective, a top U.S. official said on Monday.
Denmark to open more schools as epidemic eases
Denmark will allow more schools across the country to reopen and ease some restrictions on large shops in response to an improving situation in the coronavirus epidemic, authorities said on Tuesday (9 March), writes Nikolaj Skydsgaard.
Secondary educations such as boarding schools will be allowed to reopen on Monday while large stores would be allowed to take in more customers, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
Earlier on Tuesday, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said the reproduction value for the coronavirus was at 1.0, meaning the epidemic is not growing.
“Thus, we have the basis for further controlled reopening,” he said on Twitter.
The contact number, also known as the R-value, indicates how many people one infected person will pass the virus on to.
Denmark has registered around 215,000 infections in total, with just under 2,400 corona-related deaths.
Heunicke also said the more contagious B.1.1.7. variant, first identified in Britain, was found in around 80% of all positive cases.
Denmark has eased some of its tough lockdown measures introduced in December, as schools in some parts of the country have reopened, as well as shops, and outdoor leisure activities have resumed.
Head of the State Serum Institute, Henrik Ullum, said on Monday (8 March) the partial reopening so far had not led the epidemic towards the worst-case scenario, where up to almost 900 hospitalization could happen in April.
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