The ‘Annual Report on EU Competition Policy’ presented by the rapporteur German MEP Langen was voted at the European Parliament in Strasbourg with 500 votes in favour, 137 against and 73 abstentions. It included various amendments relevant to Malta put forward by Maltese MEP Alfred Sant and incorporated in the final text. Dr Sant was ‘Shadow Rapporteur’ for the Report on behalf of the group of Socialists and Democrats.
Dr Sant’s amendments approved in the final draft of the Competition Report included calls for more socioeconomic convergence & cohesion in the EU with reference to insular regions; further margins of allowance for state aid covering transport for insular regions; preferential treatment for state aid to peripheral islands; state aid to safeguard services of general economic interest in the EU; further attention to consumer rights through the implementation of EU competitionpolicy; the global aspect of competition rules – the Commission must take account of the impact its policy is having on EU actors vis-à-vis their international counterparts.
The draft report had state aid as a main priority but lacked the social element. Therefore, Dr. Sant’s priority favoured cohesion and convergence at both territorial and social levels. The report now has a strong social element dealing with remote regions, the services such regions need, and the special Competition policy approach it should have addressed towards it.
Dr Sant’s amendments emphasised that State intervention is often the most effective policy tool for guaranteeing the provision of services that are vital to safeguarding economic and social conditions in isolated, remote or outlying regions and islands in the Union. Companies located in regions experiencing temporary or permanent disadvantages should be supported and increased flexibility should be granted.
With regard to taxation, Dr. Sant proposed that member states must respond to different policy imperatives on the basis of their geographical location, their size, their physical and other endowments and their state of economic and social development.
STATE AID FOR TRANSPORT IN INSULAR REGIONS
Amendments to the report also featured on state aid for transport for insular regions. This is of utmost importance for both Malta as an insular region, and Gozo as an island suffering the dual insularity 'handicap'. Such a reference is to be used on different levels including the transport of residents (as through Air Malta and the Gozo Channel), transport of tourists, normally forming the backbone of the economy for such regions, transport of manufactured goods & business connection worldwide.
Dr Sant’s amendments included also the inclusion in the exemption to the application of EU state aid rules for social aid for the transport of residents of remote regions. The problem of connectivity is now recognised. It stresses that the connectivity of peripheral island regions is also essential for sustaining and developing acceptable levels of economic and social initiative by maintaining vital business connections.
PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT FOR STATE AID
Another amendment by Dr. Sant in the Competition Report takes the view that remote or outlying regions and islands should be given greater leeway than at present when it comes to applying rules on State aid.
SAFEGUARDING SERVICES OF GENERAL ECONOMIC INTERESTS
Dr. Sant made sure that all mention of Services of General Economic Interests (SGEIs) has a reference to the particular situation of insular/remote regions. These services in general are to receive a special treatment for State Aid policy in order to guarantee the service wherever there is a market failure. Another amendment by Dr. Sant states that in strategic and vital sectors such as energy, transport and healthcare, states need to ensure the total security, the continuity of supply and the provision of services for all their citizens.
Other amendments to the final report strengthened the view that Competition policy should protect the consumer not the competitors; the purpose of which is to increase the prosperity of consumers and the living standards of all EU citizens. Another amendment encouraged the Commission to increase its efforts with regards to investigations of instances of abuse of dominant market positions to the detriment of EU consumers
THE GLOBAL ASPECT OF COMPETITION
The global aspect of competition policy has been very well included in line with Dr. Sant’s amendments. Dr. Sant called on the Commission not to implement internal EU competition policy in such a way as to restrict firms’ market strategies, so that they can compete on world markets with actors from outside the EU. Other amendments included in the final document refer to social dumping, the digital sector, consumer rights as regarding banking, state aid to banks, and taxation.