On 7 April, the Commission has published its guidance on the avoidance and management of conflicts and perceived conflicts of interest under the Financial Regulation. The aim of this exercise is to raise awareness and promote a uniform interpretation and application of the rules among staff of the EU institutions and member states' authorities as well as any person involved in the implementation of EU funds. It encompasses practical examples, suggestions and recommendations to support EU institutions and member states' authorities in this field. The guidance is part of the Commission's efforts to further strengthen existing measures protecting the EU's financial interests. Further information is available here.
Commission approves acquisition of certain Suez waste management companies by the Schwarz Group, subject to conditions
The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of certain Suez waste management companies in Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland, by the Schwarz Group. The approval is conditional on the divestiture of Suez's lightweight packaging (LWP) sorting business in the Netherlands.
Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Competitive markets at every level of the recycling chain are a crucial contribution to a more circular economy and essential to achieve the objectives of the Green Deal. With the divestment of Suez' sorting plant in the Netherlands, the acquisition can go ahead while preserving effective competition in the sorting of plastic waste market in the Netherlands.”
Both the Schwarz Group and the Suez waste management companies concerned are active across the waste management chain in several countries. In particular, the two companies are leaders in the sorting of lightweight packaging originating in the Netherlands.
The Commission's investigation
The Commission had concerns that the proposed acquisition, as originally notified, would have significantly reduced the level of competition in the market for the sorting of LWP in the Netherlands.
In particular, the Commission's investigation found that the merged entity would become by far the largest market player, owning more than half of the capacity for LWP sorting in the Netherlands, and an unavoidable trading partner to Dutch customers.
The Commission found that competitors located outside of the Netherlands exert a weaker competitive constraint, as customers prefer for waste to be sorted as close to the collection point as possible in order to minimise the financial cost and CO2 emissions associated with road transport.
The proposed remedies
To address the Commission's competition concerns, the Schwarz Group offered to divest the entirety of Suez's LWP sorting business in the Netherlands, including Suez's LWP sorting plant in Rotterdam and all assets necessary for its operation.
These commitments fully remove the overlap between the Schwarz Group and the Suez waste management companies concerned for the sorting of LWP in the Netherlands.
The Commission therefore concluded that the proposed transaction, as modified by the commitments, would no longer raise competition concerns. The decision is conditional upon full compliance with the commitments.
Companies and products
The Schwarz Group, based in Germany, is active in food retailing in over 30 countries through its retail chains Lidl and Kaufland. It also operates as an integrated service provider in the field of waste management through its PreZero business division.
The Suez waste management companies concerned, subsidiaries of the French Suez group, are active in the collection, sorting, treatment, recycling and disposal of household and commercial waste in Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland.
Merger control rules and procedures
The transaction was notified to the Commission on 19 February 2021.
The Commission has the duty to assess mergers and acquisitions involving companies with a turnover above certain thresholds (see Article 1 of the Merger Regulation) and to prevent concentrations that would significantly impede effective competition in the EEA or any substantial part of it.
The vast majority of notified mergers do not pose competition problems and are cleared after a routine review. From the moment a transaction is notified, the Commission generally has a total of 25 working days to decide whether to grant approval (Phase I) or to start an in-depth investigation (Phase II). This deadline is extended to 35 working days in cases where remedies are submitted by the parties, such as in this case.
Fight against organized crime: New five-year strategy for boosting co-operation across the EU and for better use of digital tools for investigations
The Commission has presented a new EU Strategy to tackle Organized Crime, focusing on boosting law enforcement and judicial cooperation, tackling organised crime structures and high priority crimes, removing criminal profits and ensuring a modern response to technological developments. Organized crime groups continue to develop and evolve, as shown by their rapid adaptation to the coronavirus pandemic, for example through the increase in counterfeit medical products and online crime. Organised crime groups active in Europe are involved in a variety of criminal activities, with drugs trafficking, organised property crime, fraud, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings being prevalent. In 2019, criminal revenues in the main criminal markets amounted to 1% of the EU's GDP, i.e. €139 billion, Related media.
The Strategy sets out the tools and measures to be taken over the next five years to disrupt the business models and structures of criminal organisations across borders, both online and offline.
Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “Criminal syndicates increasingly use new technologies and seize any opportunity to expand their illegal activities, online or offline. The recent emblematic cases like EncroChat have exposed how sophisticated these organised crime networks are. This shows how important our efforts to tackle organised crime across borders are. Today's Strategy will help hit these criminals where it hurts the most, by undermining their business model which thrives on a lack of coordination between states.”
Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: “We clearly need to step up to fight organized crime groups. They are among the biggest threats to our security. They are highly professional and transnational: 70% of criminal groups are active in more than three member states. They quickly adapted to the pandemic, moving online and selling fake or non-existent cures. We have already detected attempted scam sales of over 1 billion vaccine doses. Our strategy is a 5-year programme to strengthen European law enforcement in the physical and the digital world. With the measures we're proposing today, we'll be moving from occasional police cooperation to permanent police partnerships, and we'll follow the money to catch criminals in financial investigations.”
The Strategy aims to:
- Boost law enforcement and judicial cooperation: With 65% of the criminal groups active in the EU composed of multiple nationalities, effective exchange of information among law enforcement and judicial authorities across the EU is key to effectively tackle organised crime. The Commission will expand, modernise and reinforce funding for the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats (EMPACT), the structure that since 2010 brings together all relevant European and national authorities to identify priority crime threats and address them collectively. The Commission will propose to upgrade the ‘Prüm' framework for exchanging information on DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration. To make sure that law enforcement across the EU can work together better under a modern rulebook, the Commission will propose an EU Police Cooperation Code which will streamline the current patchwork of various EU tools and multi-lateral cooperation agreements. Achieving the 2023 objective to make information systems for security, border and migration management interoperable will help law enforcement better detect and combat identity fraud often used by criminals. Finally, to better tackle criminal networks operating internationally, the Commission is also proposing to start negotiating a cooperation agreement with Interpol.
- Support more effective investigations to disrupt organized crime structures and focusing on high and specific priority crimes: There is a need to step up cooperation at EU level to dismantle organised crime structures. To ensure an effective response to specific forms of crime, the Commission will propose to revise the EU rules against environmental crime and will establish an EU toolbox against counterfeiting, notably of medical products. It will present measures to address the illicit trade in cultural goods. The Commission is also presenting today a Strategy dedicated to combatting trafficking in human beings.
- Make sure crime does not pay: Over 60% of criminal networks active in the EU engage in corruption and more than 80% use legitimate businesses as a front for their activities, while only 1% of criminal assets is confiscated. Tackling criminal finances is key to uncover, punish and deter crime. The Commission will propose to revise the EU rules on confiscating criminal profits, develop the EU anti-money laundering rules, promote the early launch of financial investigations and assess the existing EU anti-corruption rules. This will also help prevent infiltration into the legal economy.
- Make law enforcement and the judiciary fit for the digital age: Criminals communicate and commit crimes online and leave digital traces online. With 80% of crimes having a digital component, law enforcement and the judiciary need swift access to digital leads and evidence. They also need to use modern technology and be equipped with tools and skills to keep up with modern crime modi operandi. The Commission will analyse and outline possible approaches to data retention as well as propose a way forward to address a lawful and targeted access to encrypted information in the context of criminal investigations and prosecutions that would also protect security and the confidentiality of communications. The Commission will also work with relevant EU Agencies to provide national authorities with the tools, knowledge and operational expertise needed to conduct digital investigations.
Today's Strategy is part of the EU's work towards fostering security for all those living in Europe, as outlined in the EU Security Union Strategy.
The Strategy to tackle Organised Crime builds on Europol's latest four-yearly assessment of serious and organised crime threats released on 12 April 2021.
Communication on an EU Strategy to tackle Organized Crime for 2021-2025
Commission Staff Working Document on EMPACT, the flagship EU instrument for cooperation to fight organized and serious international crime
Recommendation for a Council Decision authorizing the opening of negotiations for a co-operation agreement between the EU and Interpol
MEMO: EU Strategy to tackle Organized Crime & EU Strategy on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings
Factsheet: Tackling Organized Crime
Press release: Fighting trafficking in human beings: new strategy to prevent trafficking break criminal business models, protect and empower victims
Europol reports on the evolution of organised crime during the COVID-19 pandemic
Fighting trafficking in human beings: New strategy to prevent trafficking, break criminal business models, protect and empower victims
The Commission has presented a new Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025), focusing on preventing the crime, bringing traffickers to justice and protecting and empowering victims. Between 2017 and 2018, there were more than 14,000 registered victims within the European Union. Globally, traffickers make estimated profits of €29.4 billion in a single year. With demand for exploitation expected to continue, traffickers moving their acts online and the pandemic likely to create the conditions for increased exploitation, today's strategy sets out the measures that will allow the EU and its member states to continue strengthening their response.
Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: "Fighting trafficking in human beings is part of our work towards building a Europe that protects. Traffickers prey on people's vulnerabilities. With today's Strategy, we are taking a three-pronged approach, using legislation, policy and operational support and funding in tandem to reduce demand, break criminal business, and empower victims of this abominable crime."
Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: "Trafficking in human beings is a crime that should have no place in our societies. Yet, criminals continue to traffic victims, mainly women and children, and mostly for sexual exploitation. We owe the victims protection, and we need to bring to justice the perpetrators who treat human beings as a commodity. We will look at the rules in place to check if they are still fit for purpose and we will assess the possibility of criminalising the use of exploited services from trafficking victims.”
The strategy builds on the EU's comprehensive legal and policy framework in place to address trafficking in human beings, rooted in the Anti-trafficking Directive. The Commission will continue to support member states in the implementation of the Directive and, if necessary, will propose revisions to make sure it is fit for purpose. The EU anti-trafficking coordinator will continue to play a key role in the implementation of this strategy.
In addition, the Strategy focuses on:
- Reducing demand that fosters trafficking: The Commission will assess the possibility of establishing minimum EU rules criminalising the use of exploited services of trafficking victims and will organize - together with national authorities and civil society organiZations - a prevention campaign targeting high-risk sectors. The Commission will also consider strengthening Employers' Sanctions Directive and will propose legislation on corporate governance to clarify the responsibilities of companies and will provide guidance on due diligence to help prevent forced labour.
- Breaking the business model of traffickers, online and offline: The Commission will conduct a dialogue with internet and technology companies to reduce the use of online platforms for the recruitment and exploitation of victims. The Commission will encourage systematic training of law enforcement and judicial practitioners on detecting and addressing trafficking in human beings.
- Protecting, supporting and empowering the victims with a specific focus on women and children: The Strategy seeks to improve the early identification of victims and their referral for further assistance and protection, strengthen victim empowerment programmes and facilitate re-integration. The Commission will also fund gender-specific and child-sensitive training to help police, social workers, border guards or healthcare staff detect victims.
- Promoting international cooperation: With half of the victims identified in the EU being non-EU citizens, cooperation with international partners is key to address trafficking. The EU will use a range of foreign policy instruments and operational cooperation to help combat trafficking in countries of origin and transit including through dedicated human rights and security dialogues, enhanced cooperation with the Council of Europe and regular and targeted communication, action and exchange of information with EU delegations in partner countries. The upcoming Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling will also help disrupt traffickers' business in moving victims for exploitation to Europe.
Trafficking in human beings remains a serious threat in the EU despite progress achieved in the past years. Victims are mainly women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. The third report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings, published in October 2020, provides a factual overview on the progress made, presents patterns and challenges and key issues in addressing trafficking in human beings in the EU.
As trafficking in human beings is often perpetuated by organised crime groups, the Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings is closely linked to the EU Strategy to Tackle Organized Crime also presented. Protecting society from organised crime, including tackling trafficking in human beings, is a priority under the EU Security Union Strategy.
The new Pact on Migration and Asylum also highlighted the importance of the early identification of potential non-EU victims of trafficking in human beings.
Communication on the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings 2021-2025
MEMO: EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime & EU Strategy on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings
Factsheet: Fighting Trafficking in Human Beings
Press release: Fight against organized crime: New 5-year strategy for boosting cooperation across the EU and for better use of digital tools for investigations
Third report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings
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