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Commission carries out unannounced inspections in the wood pulp sector

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On 12 October, the European Commission conducted unannounced inspections in locations in several member states at the premises of companies active in the wood pulp sector.

The Commission has concerns that the inspected companies may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.

Wood pulp is a dry fibrous material made from wood, which is used to manufacture different paper products (tissue, writing paper, paperboard, etc.).

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Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step in an investigation into suspected anticompetitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

The Commission fully respects the rights of defence in its antitrust proceedings, in particular the right of companies to be heard.

The inspections have been conducted in compliance with all coronavirus health and safety protocols to ensure the security of those involved.

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There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the scope of the exercise of the rights of defence.

China

Climate Action: EU-China joint press communiqué on the fight against climate change ahead of COP26

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Following their second high-level environment and climate dialogue on 27 September 2021, Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans and Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China Han Zheng reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement and a successful outcome of the COP26 in Glasgow. In a joint press release, they stressed the urgency to act immediately, notably in the light of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They also confirmed that that the high-level environment and climate dialogue will continue to be a key platform between the EU and China to enhance actions and bilateral cooperation on environment and in the fight against climate change. During their last meeting, they discussed various aspects of the global climate and biodiversity crises, with a focus on the forthcoming UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow and on COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming. More details on the discussion are available here

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Environment

Zero pollution: Commission report shows more needs to be done against water pollution from nitrates

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The latest Commission Report on the implementation of the Nitrates Directive (based on data for 2016-2019) warns that nitrates are still causing harmful pollution to water in the EU. Excessive nitrates in water are harmful to both human health and ecosystems, causing oxygen depletion and eutrophication. Where national authorities and farmers have cleaned up waters, it has had a positive impact on drinking water supply and biodiversity, and on the sectors such as fisheries and tourism that depend on them. Nevertheless, excessive fertilisation remains a problem in many parts of the EU.

Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: "The implementation of the Nitrates Directive over the last 30 years has undoubtedly increased water quality overall in the EU. We also see that real efforts to switch to sustainable methods are paying off. However, the pace of change is not enough to prevent damage to human health and preserve fragile ecosystems. In line with the European Green Deal, more urgent action is now needed to achieve a sustainable agriculture and protect our precious water supply.” 

Nitrate concentrations have fallen in both surface and groundwater in the EU compared to the situation prior to the adoption of the Nitrates Directive in 1991. However, the new report reveals that little progress has been made over the last decade and nutrient pollution from agriculture is still a serious concern for many member states. The Commission will act to improve compliance with the Nitrates Directive, which is a prerequisite for reaching the European Green Deal objective of reducing nutrient losses by at least 50% by 2030. More information is in the press release and this Q&A.

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Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Commission announces €1 billion Afghan support package

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During the G20 meeting on Afghanistan, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will announce a support package worth around €1 billion for the Afghan people and neighbouring countries, addressing the urgent needs in the country and the region. The socio-economic situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, putting hundreds of thousands of Afghans at risk as winter approaches. Humanitarian assistance alone will not be enough to avert famine and a major humanitarian crisis.

Overall EU development aid to Afghanistan remains frozen. The five benchmarks agreed by EU Foreign Ministers remain valid. They must be met before regular development co-operation can resume.

The announcement follows the discussion of the EU Ministers for development to have a calibrated approach to give direct support to the Afghan population in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe without legitimising the Taliban interim government.

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President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We must do all we can to avert a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse in Afghanistan. We need to do it fast. We have been clear about our conditions for any engagement with the Afghan authorities, including on the respect of human rights. So far, the reports speak for themselves. But the Afghan people should not pay the price of the Taliban's actions. This is why the Afghan support package is for the Afghan people and the country´s neighbours who have been the first in providing them with help.”

Afghan support package

The Afghan support package combines EU humanitarian aid with the delivery of targeted support on basic needs in direct benefit of the Afghan people and neighbouring countries.

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Today's package includes the €300 million for humanitarian purposes already agreed. This humanitarian support is accompanied by additional, specialized support for vaccinations, sheltering, as well as the protection of civilians and human rights.

The European Commission is working to make it possible to use funds intended for Afghanistan to the order of at least €250m for "humanitarian plus" support to Afghan people in urgent needs, notably in the field of health, in full respect of NDICI programming procedures.

This funding will be in direct support of the local population and will be channelled to international organisations on the ground, while respecting the principles of engagement established by the Council Conclusions agreed by EU Foreign Ministers on 21 September.

Afghanistan's direct neighbours have been the first to provide safety to the Afghans who have fled the country. This is why additional funds will be allocated to support these countries in migration management, as well as in co-operation on terrorism prevention, fight against organised crime and migrant smuggling.

Taken together, the different strands of support for the Afghan people will amount to around €1bn.

As highlighted at the EU High-level Forum on providing protection to Afghans at risk, safe and legal pathways to protection in the EU include in the short-term the safe passage of Afghans affiliated to the EU and its member states and vulnerable groups such as human rights defenders, women, journalists, civil society activists, police and law enforcement officials, judges and professionals of the justice system, including their families.

In the mid and long-term, the Commission will support with a multiannual scheme Member States that decide to host Afghans at risk through EU funding for resettlements and humanitarian admission and other complementary pathways, as well as operational assistance by EU Justice and Home Affairs agencies.

Background

The Afghan support package was announced by the president of the European Commission in her speech on the State of the European Union on 15 September.

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