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Time running out for British driving licence holders in Ireland

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British motorists living in Ireland are being reminded that they have less than 80 days to exchange their driving licences.

It's estimated there are 70,000 UK driving licence holders living here and 53,000 of those have already exchanged theirs for an Irish one.

Noelle O'Connell of the European Movement in Ireland says as things stand, UK licences will no longer be valid here from January 1st 2021.

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Russia

Life of the company suspected of supplying equipment to Crimea

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A few months ago, Europe was shaken by yet another scandal involving probable supplies of dual-use goods to Crimea. The defendant in the affair was a Cypriot holding, whose Lithuanian subsidiary “Run Engineering” was suspected of supplying water purification equipment. A few months later, holding owner Marina Karmysheva has not received any proper explanation from the Russian counterparty company “Voronezh-Aqua” yet and decided to provide an exclusive update on the situation.

Marina Karmysheva is one of many Russian economists who left the country in the early 2000s. At that time, when store shelves were empty and the financial market was much less civilized than now, a professional with expertise in finance and law had a small chance of successful career.

“At the time of my departure from Russia, I had accumulated considerable knowledge of investment strategies, and I was sure that I could build a successful career in a European country or with foreign partners. The crisis of 1998 finalized my decision. Not long before the crisis, I had got to know some European partners in the fields of shipbuilding, cargo transportation, and construction, and saved funds for relocating,” says Marina. “I also began to think about starting my own business.” Sale of her property was Marina’s final break from Russia.

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A life-changing opportunity came in 2008, when one of the large and long-established investment companies in Cyprus basically stopped all its activity. “The audit report, which I had reviewed before the deal, showed that all financial indicators had decreased by dozens of times. The company had neither turnover nor assets, but at the same time it had all the infrastructure: active accounts, recognized name and experience of work at the international level.”

Marina used the investment capital accumulated during the previous years of her work in Cyprus and the funds from the sale of her property in Russia to execute the deal at face value and to restart the company's activity. The sale of securities by Cyprus tax residents is tax exempt, which helps financial and investment companies of the country to quickly restore their turnover. Marina's company was one of them. “Historically, the group’s main activity has been investment in securities representing international business without a specific country orientation. While, for example, construction business is totally local in nature and is run exclusively in Cyprus,” says Marina. “Some time ago, in addition to securities trading, we started commodity trading (trading in natural resources) as well."

At the same time, work experience had shown the need to diversify the business. It shaped the foundations of the company's new strategy: investing a considerable part of profits from its operations in financial markets into projects in those areas of economy that have future fundamental value or innovative and social nature.

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“Housing, water, electricity - these markets are subject to fluctuations like any others but tend to recover faster. I was looking for projects that would have stable demand. Besides, when the RLA group started engaging in construction projects, we were looking for ways both to ensure a stable supply of high-quality fresh water to our own facilities and to try this experience in the development of the water-supply infrastructure in general."

This is how the idea of ​​investing in Run Engineering originated. At that time, the country was going through the harsh experience of the drought of 2008, when cities had no running water for days. Drinking water was delivered by tankers from Greece, it often got spoiled during shipment, and there was not enough equipment for high-quality purification treatment.

“This sad experience underscored the enormous value of clean drinking water and perspectives for this area of work all over the world. So, we decided to develop this business with emphasis on innovation,” says Marina.

The company's new focus has brought good results. Companies that pay over 30 million a year in taxes are considered significant everywhere.

However, Russian journalists’ suspicions have called into question 20 years of business.

“After the publications, we contacted the office of the company “Voronezh-Aqua” for clarifications but have not received any. It became evident that this company is defective not only in executing timely payments, but also in maintaining the European business tone. We are deeply disappointed with Voronezh-Aqua’s behavior and absence of reaction. The publications allege that the equipment has probably ended up in Crimea. And we hoped that Voronezh-Aqua would address these allegations.”

To protect its reputation, Run Engineering hired an independent law company that audited its documentation and confirmed that there had been no violations from its side. These clarifications were necessary for European partners and banks to continue cooperation.

“Russian journalists stated “probably,” “presumably.” However, we deemed it necessary to provide clarifications, audit results, and documents to all our partners,” says Marina.

Marina's partner companies say that the essence of the events has got distorted as they were being reposted by the Russian press. This made the Cypriot holding break its silence. “First, we turned to international and national experts. Now we are considering the possibility of a lawsuit against Voronezh-Aqua,” says Marina. Her company plans to pursue legal action for deliberate distortion of information.

If such a process takes place, it could become a precedent in relations between Russia and Europe. “And it will make Russian partners take on more responsibility in their relations with European companies,” comments Marina.

One of the questionable issues was the use of photographs of the company's industrial facilities on Voronezh-Aqua’s website. Specifically, it stated that an industrial facility located in Lithuania was the property of the Russian company.

Run Engineering found out about Voronezh-aqua’s claims that it runs an assembly shop within the European holding’s facilities from media publications. “I guess the company wanted to raise its status in the eyes of other clients, as I know that there are a lot of large Russian manufactures among them. And European equipment in this field is highly valued. Voronezh-aqua’s representatives participated in the technical workshops and project details discussions: ordinary part of work of engineers in the framework of such contacts; but no one would have allowed to present our facilities at another site as its own, it is simply unacceptable for us,” says Marina.

The European company was also unpleasantly surprised to find out that Voronezh-Aqua was not quite open about its plans for the further use of the equipment. “As a matter of fact, we still don't know where this equipment is and how fair the accusations are,” says Marina.

The incident with the equipment for water-purification systems resembles the situation with the supply of turbines several years ago, when the supplier company didn’t manage to obtain from the Russian legal system any clarifications and satisfaction on the intended purpose of the equipment and legality of its use in the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea.

The details of both cases are similar. Companies manufacture universal equipment that can be used both in factories and at municipal facilities, that is, wherever water is needed.

“The sale terms are standard: it is a detailed technical description of our equipment and methods of installation. At the same time, there are no mechanisms to control trade relations between the countries that would allow us to trace its use and whereabouts up to the destination,” says Marina.

Experience of Run Engineering has shown that in the context of sanctions against the illegal annexation of Crimea, international and intergovernmental regulations are essential. The ongoing conflict between Run Engineering and Voronezh-aqua is confirming it. “Following the prominent international events of 2014, we hired a team of lawyers with world renowned expertise in international relations. It is common in the business practice of companies that are even bigger than ours. At the same time, international expertise seems to be insufficient if articles with the words “probably” and “presumably” are getting published,” says Marina.

Such regulations, which Russia will have to abide by out of respect for international law and the foundations of international trade, should prevent not only the use of equipment for unintended purposes but also errors in documentation.

We are talking about the administrative violation case committed by an employee of a customs brokerage company facilitating customs clearance of the export documentation. When he was registering one of the Run Engineering shipments, the broker made a mistake: he did not note that the cargo included dual-use goods, and customs officials were not provided with a license for exporting these goods.

The company did have that license, as it was later recorded in the court documents. The court ordered the brokerage company to pay a fine. “International regulation would bring clarification regarding such errors as well,” says Marina.

“We have hired a group of international lawyers who are considering the possibility of pursuing legal action against Voronezh-Aqua for distorting information about our cooperation. We hope that this will become a high-profile case in the Russian court. If Russian companies intend to build fair relationships with European partners, such as our holding, they should comply with the generally accepted code of ethics,” says Marina. An important aspect in our work with international lawyers is the fact that there is still no clarity regarding the location of the equipment.

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Energy

Kazakhstan joins race to produce 'green' hydrogen

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German investors intend to establish the production of “green” hydrogen in Mangystau region. The road map for the implementation of the project was signed at the meeting with the President of SVEVIND Wolfgang Kropp, organized during the visit of the Kazakh delegation headed by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Almas Aidarov to Sweden. 

SVEVIND activities are aimed at long-term investment of the company’s own and attracted funds, as part of the further development of low-carbon energy in the Republic of Kazakhstan through large-scale production of “green” hydrogen for further export to the EU countries and other foreign markets.

The investor plans to build wind and solar power plants with a capacity of 30 GW, and use these resources to produce up to 2 million tons of hydrogen per year.

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 “SVEVIND aims to combine the outstanding natural resources in Kazakhstan with SVEVIND’s long-time experience and passion in project development to supply Kazakhstan and Eurasia with green, sustainable energy and products, “powered by nature”. The green hydrogen facilities will lift Kazakhstan among the global leaders of renewable energy and green hydrogen. We are very excited to take the next step in the project development, and we are thankful for the outstanding support of the Kazakh government”, - said Wolfgang Kropp, President of SVEVIND. 

 “Hydrogen energy is one of the most promising fields that may displace all traditional methods of energy extraction in the future. Currently, we have the availability of all the required resources such as wind, solar, water, land and the know-how of SVEVIND. We are looking forward to interesting, large-scale and challenging projects moving forward”, - added the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Almas Aidarov during the meeting with the Head of SVEVIND.

During the visit, the Kazakh delegation got acquainted with the progress of the company's current project in Sweden and the largest wind farm in Europe “Markbygden 1101”.

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In June this year, SVEVIND signed a Memorandum of Understanding with KAZAKH INVEST. Within the framework of the agreement, the national company and relevant government agencies will provide to the investors full support and comprehensive assistance in the implementation of the project at all stages - from obtaining permits to commissioning. 

SVEVIND is a German company with many years of experience in large-scale renewable energy projects. The company implemented Europe's largest project of an onshore wind generating complex - the Markbygden 1101 cluster of wind farms in Sweden with a capacity of more than 4 GW. The company is represented in the markets of Sweden, Finland and Germany.

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coronavirus

Commission approves €31.9 billion Italian scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €31.9 billion Italian scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Many companies in Italy have seen their revenues significantly decline because of the coronavirus outbreak and of the measures necessary to limit its spread. This €31.9bn scheme will enable Italy to support these companies by helping them meet their liquidity needs and cover the fixed costs that are not covered by their revenues. 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 support measures

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Italy notified to the Commission under the Temporary Framework a €31.9bn aid scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus and the restrictive measures that the Italian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus.

The scheme consists of two measures: (i) limited amounts of aid; and (ii) support for uncovered fixed costs incurred during the period between March 2020 and December 2021 or parts of that period.

The scheme will be open to all companies, irrespective of their size and of the sector where they operate (with the exception of the financial sector).

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Under the scheme, limited amounts of aid will take the form of (i) tax exemptions and reductions; (ii) tax credits; and (iii) direct grants.

Given that most of the aid will be automatically granted and the aid ceilings will apply not only to the direct beneficiary but also to its affiliates, eligible beneficiaries will have to indicate in an ex ante self-declaration the amount of limited amounts of aid and support for uncovered fixed costs applied for. This should also allow the Italian authorities to better monitor compliance with the Temporary Framework, particularly for companies of the same group.

The Commission found that the Italian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular:

  • When it comes to limited amounts of aid, the aid (i) will not exceed €225,000 per company active in the primary production sector of agricultural products, €270,000 per company active in the fisheries and aquaculture sector and €1.8 million per company active in all the other sectors; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021.
  • When it comes to support for uncovered fixed costs, the aid (i) will not exceed the overall amount of €10m per company; (ii) will cover uncovered fixed costs incurred during a period comprised between March 2020 and December 2021; (ii) will be granted only to companies that were not considered to be in difficulty already on 31 December 2019, with the exception of micro and small companies that are eligible even if already in difficulty; and (iii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021.

The Commission concluded that the measure 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 conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

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

Background

The Commission has adopted a Temporary Framework 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 of up to €225,000 to a company active in the primary agricultural sector, €270,000 to a company active in the fishery and aquaculture sector and €1.8 million to a company active in all other sectors to address its urgent liquidity needs. Member states can also give, up to the nominal value of €1.8m per company zero-interest loans or guarantees on loans covering 100% of the risk, except in the primary agriculture sector and in the fishery and aquaculture sector, where the limits of €225,000 and €270,000 per company respectively, apply.

(ii) State guarantees for loans taken by companies to ensure banks keep providing loans to the customers who need them. These state guarantees can cover up to 90% of risk on loans to help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs.

(iii) Subsidised public loans to companies (senior and subordinated debt) with favourable interest rates to companies. These loans can help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs.

(iv) Safeguards for banks that channel State aid to the real economy that such aid is considered as direct aid to the banks' customers, not to the banks themselves, and gives guidance on how to ensure minimal distortion of competition between banks.

(v) Public short-term export credit insurance for all countries, without the need for the member state in question to demonstrate that the respective country is temporarily “non-marketable”.

(vi) Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D) to address the current health crisis in the form of direct grants, repayable advances or tax advantages. A bonus may be granted for cross-border cooperation projects between member states.

(vii) Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities to develop and test products (including vaccines, ventilators and protective clothing) useful to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, up to first industrial deployment. This can take the form of direct grants, tax advantages, repayable advances and no-loss guarantees. Companies may benefit from a bonus when their investment is supported by more than one Member State and when the investment is concluded within two months after the granting of the aid.

(viii) Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the form of direct grants, tax advantages, repayable advances and no-loss guarantees. Companies may benefit from a bonus when their investment is supported by more than one member state and when the investment is concluded within two months after the granting of the aid.

(ix) Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions for those sectors, regions or for types of companies that are hit the hardest by the outbreak.

(x) Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees for those companies in sectors or regions that have suffered most from the coronavirus outbreak, and would otherwise have had to lay off personnel.

(xi) Targeted recapitalisation aid to non-financial companies, if no other appropriate solution is available. Safeguards are in place to avoid undue distortions of competition in the Single Market: conditions on the necessity, appropriateness and size of intervention; conditions on the State's entry in the capital of companies and remuneration; conditions regarding the exit of the State from the capital of the companies concerned; conditions regarding governance including dividend ban and remuneration caps for senior management; prohibition of cross-subsidisation and acquisition ban and additional measures to limit competition distortions; transparency and reporting requirements.

(xii) Support for uncovered fixed costs for companies facing a decline in turnover during the eligible period of at least 30% compared to the same period of 2019 in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The support will contribute to a part of the beneficiaries' fixed costs that are not covered by their revenues, up to a maximum amount of €10m per undertaking.

The Commission will also enable member states to convert until 31 December 2022 repayable instruments (e.g. guarantees, loans, repayable advances) granted under the Temporary Framework into other forms of aid, such as direct grants, provided the conditions of the Temporary Framework are met.

The Temporary Framework enables member states to combine all support measures with each other, except for loans and guarantees for the same loan and exceeding the thresholds foreseen by the Temporary Framework. It also enables Member States to combine all support measures granted under the Temporary Framework with existing possibilities to grant de minimis to a company of up to €25,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in the primary agricultural sector, €30,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in the fishery and aquaculture sector and €200,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in all other sectors. At the same time, member states have to commit to avoid undue cumulation of support measures for the same companies to limit support to meet their actual needs.

Furthermore, the Temporary Framework complements the many other possibilities already available to member states to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU State aid rules. On 13 March 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication on a Co-ordinated economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak setting out these possibilities. For example, member states can make generally applicable changes in favour of businesses (e.g. deferring taxes, or subsidising short-time work across all sectors), which fall outside state aid rules. They can also grant compensation to companies for damage suffered due to and directly caused by 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.62668 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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