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Europe’s railways: On track to the future



train_and_people1Siim Kallas, speaking at InnoTrans 2014 - Berlin, 23 September 2014

"This is my third time to speak at Innotrans - an event that has fast become known as the largest rail industry event in the world. Thank You very much for inviting me back to Berlin. In my first speech four years ago I outlined my concept of creating a Single European Railway Area. This concept is based on my belief in two things: First, Europe has always jumped ahead when it has taken down barriers. Think about the Single Market, free movement of goods, services, people and capital. Think about free travel, think about enlargement. Second, I believe in pan-European efficiency. I believe that creating a smoothly functioning cross-border transport infrastructure and supporting pan-European transport services can genuinely benefit people and business. What has happened to the idea of a Single European Railway Area during these four years between Innotrans 2010 and today?

"First – we have the biggest infrastructure investment project in the history of the European Union. The Trans-European Transport Network project, which was finally adopted at the end of 2013, took three years of heavy negotiations, sometimes like a battle, sometimes even crazy. Europe’s transport infrastructure policy has undergone a fundamental change in thinking and approach. There is a stronger focus on innovation and new technologies. We are now thinking less of individual projects, and more of a core network of strategic corridors.

"We have managed to secure dedicated infrastructure financing to make sure it becomes a reality. The Connecting Europe Facility has three times more money, 26 bn Euro, available for transport infrastructure projects during the MFF 2014-2020 compared to the period 2006-2013. With this new approach, we aim to join East and West and all corners of a vast geographical area. Railways are a key part of the network that we plan to build. In fact, we couldn’t think about a functioning Trans-European Transport Network without rail, particularly in the nine corridors that will form the backbone of the new TEN-T.

"The big challenge ahead is now the implementation of these infrastructure projects. This requires commitment, dedication, strong will from all stakeholders. We can’t build them without proper rail services in place. And efficiencies gained in rail will also have a positive effect on the rest of the transport network. Still, there is a long way to go. We don’t yet have a proper cross-continental European rail network, let alone a single European rail market – more than 20 years after the first EU rail initiative.

"When I was last at InnoTrans, two years ago almost to the day, I outlined my plans for further reform in the Fourth Railway Package. It is designed to address the main problem areas, so that rail can play its full part in the integrated European transport network of the future. Without repeating all the details, I’m sure you know that our proposals set out to remove the administrative, technical and regulatory obstacles that are holding back the rail sector in terms of market opening and interoperability. Since then, as you know, EU member states reached a political agreement on the technical pillar. This is a serious step forward. Exploratory discussions can begin with the European Parliament towards a second reading agreement.

"Negotiations are continuing on the other proposals. It would be naïve to expect them to be easy; I think a good degree of contradictory views can be expected in the debates on market opening and network governance, for example. The package goes hand in hand with our work to revitalise Europe’s railways by making more use of research and innovation. We are now in a position to move closer to those goals, with the new public-private partnership Shift2Rail that was recently endorsed by EU Member States. The development of the Single European Railway Area depends on the development of transport policy in the European Union.

"One question is: – where should the transport policy be placed? Is that a low profile challenge for Europe? Or should it be equal with other economic policy areas like energy, digital market, as an important part of single market? Considering how much our every-day life depends on the accessibility, the quality of connections and of freight and passenger transport services - increasingly cross-border - it is my view that European Union transport policy is relevant and important for all our citizens. This can be one proof that the European Union has added value for everybody. Another big dilemma is: – solutions based on the market or measures against the market? Market opening is an element in all pan-European initiatives. It is not a very radical element; it is an element among others.

"But quite often especially market opening proposals raise fierce resistance and also quite often it is these elements which are watered down in parliamentary proceedings and also in the Council. I have been often accused of being "too liberal" in my proposals. I consider these accusations completely unfounded. The current barriers to the functioning of market mechanisms are meant to protect isolated entities, obsolete industries, privileged companies, isolated segments of transport industry. They are detrimental to a functioning European transport economy as a whole.

"Market opening can bring clear benefits for the European economy, including the transport industry. Two concrete areas of benefits: Firstly, it brings more private money into transport investments. There are numerous examples for this. More investments bring more global competitiveness, bring more profits, bring innovation, and, importantly, bring more jobs. Secondly, it improves the quality of services; it offers better prices for customers, for passengers and for cargo handlers.

"The big challenge for the European transport policy is to find harmony between environmental expectations and the hopes of people and economic reality. The European Union is about dismantling barriers between European nations. There are still a lot of national, economic, nationalistic, industrial, emotional and historic, and bureaucratic barriers in pan-European transport. All of them still hamper our quality of life and our competitiveness.

"Since this will be my last appearance at this major gathering of the European rail industry, I would like to thank you for all your support over the years – and I would like to thank for the good and open debate in those cases where some of you felt you did not want to support my views. I very much applaud the efforts that the industry has made to raise its own efficiency and put passengers and freight users at the heart of its development strategy. I encourage you to persist in these efforts."


Commission approves €800 million Italian scheme to compensate airports and ground-handling operators for the damage suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak



The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, an €800 million Italian scheme to compensate airports and ground-handling operators for the damage suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak and the travel restrictions that Italy and other countries had to implement to limit the spread of the virus.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager in charge of competition policy said: "Airports are among the companies that have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus outbreak. This €800 million scheme will enable Italy to compensate them for the damage suffered as a direct result of the travel restrictions that Italy and other countries had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. We continue working in close cooperation with member states to find workable solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU rules.”

The Italian scheme

Italy notified to the Commission an aid measure to compensate airports and ground-handling operators for the damage suffered during the period between 1 March and 14 July 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak and the travel restrictions in place.

Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure will be open to all airports and ground-handling operators with a valid operating certificate delivered by the Italian civil aviation authority.

A claw-back mechanism will ensure that any public support received by the beneficiaries in excess to the actual damage suffered will have to be paid back to the Italian State.  

The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which enables the Commission to approve State aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damages directly caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission considers that the coronavirus outbreak qualifies as an exceptional occurrence, as it is an extraordinary, unforeseeable event having a significant economic impact. As a result, exceptional interventions by the member states to compensate for the damages linked to the outbreak are justified. 

The Commission found that the Italian measure will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak, and that it is proportionate, as the compensation will not exceed what is necessary to make good the damage, in line with Article 107(2)(b) TFEU.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules.


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 co-ordinated 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 Regulation and the General Block Exemption Regulation, 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) Subsidised 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.63074 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.

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Copyright legislation

Commission calls on member states to comply with EU rules on copyright in the Digital Single Market



The Commission has requested Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia and Slovakiato communicate information about how the rules included in the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (Directive 2019/790/EU) are being enacted into their national law. The European Commission has also requested Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakiato communicate information about how Directive 2019/789/EU on online television and radio programmes is enacted into their national law.

As the member states above have not communicated national transposition measures or have done it only partially, the Commission decided today to open infringement procedures by sending letters of formal notice. The two Directives aim to modernise EU copyright rules and to enable consumers and creators to make the most of the digital world. They reinforce the position of creative industries, allow for more digital uses in core areas of society, and facilitate the distribution of radio and television programmes across the EU. The deadline for transposing these Directives into national legislation was 7 June 2021. These member states now have two months to respond to the letters and take the necessary measures. In the absence of a satisfactory response, the Commission may decide to issue reasoned opinions.

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Winners of Europe’s largest youth entrepreneurship festival unveiled



370,000 young entrepreneurs from 40 countries competed to become Europe’s Company and Start Up of the Year on United Nations World Skills Day 2021. and Scribo have been named the winners of the JA Europe Enterprise Challenge and Company of the Year Competition, after battling it out withEurope’s best young entrepreneurs today in Gen-E 2021, the largest entrepreneurship festival across Europe.

Organised by JA Europe and hosted this year by JA Lithuania, the Gen-E festival combines two annual awards, the Company of the Year Competition (CoYC) and the European Enterprise Challenge (EEC).

Following presentations from 180 companies led by some of the brightest young entrepreneurial minds in Europe, the winners were announced at a virtual ceremony.

The winners of the European Enterprise Challenge, for university age entrepreneurs were as follows:

  • 1st - (Greece) who created a smart wearable device that preserves the orientation of blind swimmers in the pool. The system consists of an eco-friendly swimming cap and goggles and is intended for use in training conditions.
  • 2nd - Mute (Portugal), a sound absorption module, able to eliminate echo/reverb and unwanted frequencies in a room by using fabric residues. Relies as a professional, sustainable and innovative solution, that promotes a circular economy.
  • 3rd - Hjárni (Norway), whose goal is to become the world's most preferred supplier of eco-friendly tanning agents for sustainable leather production. While Europe's leather generates an annual value chain turnover of 125 billion euros, 85% of this leather is made using chrome, which is dangerous for both our health and environment.

The winners of the Company of the Year Competition were as follows:

  • 1st – Scribo (Slovakia), a solution to dry-erase markers that are not being recycled and produce a waste of 35 billion plastic markers every year. They have developed zero-waste dry-erase whiteboard markers made of recycled wax.
  • 2nd – FlowOn (Greece), an innovative adapter which converts outdoor taps into “smart taps” regulating the flow of water, reducing water consumption by up to 80% and reducing exposure to viruses and germs by more than 98%.
  • 3rd – Lazy Bowl (Austria), are an all-female company specializing in freeze-dried fruit ‘smoothiebowls’ which are free from both colorings and preservatives.

For the first time ever, the Gen-E Festival saw the announcement of a “JA Europe Teacher of the Year Award. The award seeks to acknowledge role of teachers to inspire and motivate young people, to help them discover their potential and lead them to believe in their power of acting and changing the future.

Sedipeh Wägner, a teacher from Sweden, won the prize. Ms Wägner is an experienced JA teacher who teaches at the Introduction Program, dedicated to migrants and vulnerable students to prepare for the national programme, teach them Swedish and possibly complement their previous education to meet the Swedish high school levels and standards. 

JA Europe, which organized the festival, is Europe‘s largest non-profit in Europe dedicated to creating pathways for employability, job creation and financial success. Its network operates across 40 countries and last year, its programmes reached almost 4 million young people with the support of over 100,000 business volunteers and 140,000 teachers and educators.

JA Europe CEO Salvatore Nigro said: “We are delighted to announce this year’s winners of the JA Company of the Year Competition and Enterprise Challenge. Each year over 370,000 students across Europe battle it out by designing their own mini companies and start-ups to compete at Gen-E, Europe’s largest entrepreneurship festival.

"Our intention is always to help boost career ambitions and improve employability, entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. Young entrepreneurs have so much to offer our society, and every year we see a new wave of enthusiasm towards solving societal problems with their own entrepreneurship. It’s reflected in the winners again this year, that young entrepreneurs not only see business as a means to a financial end, but as a platform by which to improve society and help people around them.”

JA Europe is the largest non-profit in Europe dedicated to preparing young people for employment and entrepreneurship. JA Europe is a member of JA Worldwide® which for 100 years has delivered hands on, experiential learning in entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy.

JA creates pathways for employability, job creation and financial success. Last school year, the JA network in Europe reached almost 4 million young people across 40 countries with the support of nearly 100,000 business volunteers and over 140,000 teachers/educators.

What are the COYC and JA Company Programme? The JA Europe Company of the Year Competition is the annual European competition of the best JA Company Programme teams. The JA Company Programme empowers high school students (aged 15 to 19) to fill a need or solve a problem in their community and teaches them practical skills required to conceptualise, capitalise, and manage their own business venture. Throughout building their own company, students collaborate, make crucial business decisions, communicate with multiple stakeholders, and develop entrepreneurial knowledge and skills. Every year, more than 350,000 students across Europe take part in this programme, creating more 30,000 mini-companies.

What are the EEC and JA Start Up Programme? The European Enterprise Challenge is the annual European competition of the best JA Start Up Programme teams. The Start Up Programme allows post-secondary students (aged 19 to 30) to experience running their own company, showing them how to use their talents to set up their own business. Students also develop attitudes and skills necessary for personal success and employability and gain essential understanding in self-employment, business creation, risk-taking and coping with adversity, all with experienced business volunteers. Every year, more than 17,000 students from 20 countries across Europe are taking part in this programme, creating 2,500+ start-ups per year.

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