European Union. Here are some of the events in the EU
that got the most attention during the year.
Asbestos in all forms will be banned throughout
the EU as of January 1, 2005. The last permitted asbestos
species, chrysotile asbestos, was banned by the EU
Commission in 1999. In nine of the EU's fifteen member
states, including Sweden, the use of the carcinogenic
chrysotile asbestos already banned.
Asylum policy. In 2004, the EU will have a
common asylum and refugee policy. Over the next five years,
the Union will prepare legislation for a common asylum
procedure and a uniform status for those granted asylum. A
country's decision to grant refugee asylum should apply
throughout the EU. Refugee policy must be based on the
Geneva Convention for the Protection of Refugees and Asylum
Seekers. The decision on a common asylum policy is a direct
consequence of the so-called Schengen agreement, which means
that all people in the EU can move freely between the member
states. According to
AbbreviationFinder, EUB means European Union Bank.
Budget. In the summer of 1999, the EU's fifteen
heads of government agreed on a joint budget for the years
2000–06. The settlement, the so-called Agenda 2000, means
that the EU's total budget will reach an average of SEK 795
billion. per year. This is slightly more than Sweden wished
for, but at the same time less than what the European
Commission had proposed. The new budget package means that
Sweden's membership fee to the EU amounts to around SEK 22
billion. per year up to 2006. In addition to the membership
fee, there are costs incurred for the current fifteen EU
countries when new member states join the Union sometime
In 2000, almost half of the budget, just over SEK 353
billion, goes to agriculture. The regional policy, including
the structural funds, has been allocated 277 billion.
Research and other Community policies receive SEK 51
billion, and SEK 39 billion. goes to external measures such
as assistance. The EU administration costs over SEK 39
billion in 2000, and the cost of enlargement with new
members from Eastern and Central Europe is budgeted at just
under SEK 30 billion. The new budget package also represents
a number of changes in EU agricultural policy.
Chocolate. After 25 years of discussion, EU
countries have agreed on the content of chocolate. The candy
may contain no more than 5% fat that is not cocoa fat in
order to be sold as chocolate. Discussions began when
Britain and Ireland became members. The proportion of cocoa
fat in British and Irish chocolate is very limited and was
not allowed to be sold as chocolate in the rest of the EU.
This also applies to Swedish chocolate where most of the fat
consists of cheaper vegetable fat. The compromise means that
Swedish chocolate with a maximum of 5% other fat can now be
sold as chocolate throughout the EU.
Economical crime. EU police cooperation,
Europol, will be given increased powers to investigate
suspicions of money laundering and other financial crime in
the Union. Investigators should, after a decision in court,
be able to request confidential information from banks about
financial transactions as well as information about
ownership in companies. Investigators should also be able to
request that auditors' privacy be revoked. The Union will
also strengthen the fight against serious organized crime. A
network between national prosecutors will be established,
Eurojust. The network will coordinate the national
Electronic Commerce. The EU has agreed on a
legislative package for electronic commerce on the Internet.
The package includes, among other things, that digital
signatures should apply when purchasing over the Internet.
Previously, only handwritten signatures were approved. Rules
have also been agreed on how electronic contracts should be
concluded and conditions for how electronic advertising
should be handled. Private consumers who shop via the
Internet should also have the right to complain about the
product in their own country and not in the country of sale.
The rules provide a first legal framework for the growing
e-commerce in the EU.
The electricity market in the EU was opened to
free competition in February. For ten years, the member
states had negotiated a common market for energy as well.
However, deregulation does not mean that competition will be
completely free. The liberalization of the market will take
place gradually. The first step means that at least 26% of
the electricity market will be exposed to competition. Large
industries that consume more than 40,000 megawatt hours of
electricity per year can now choose their own electricity
supplier. In 2003, 30% of the market will be open to free
Several EU countries, including Sweden, Finland and the
UK, had already liberalized their power markets when the new
EU directive came into force. In practice, therefore, almost
60% of EU electricity markets are exposed to competition.
Electricity prices have fallen sharply since the market
liberalization began in the early 1990s. Both households and
industries have received cheaper electricity. Most of the
price of households has fallen in Greece, while Dutch
households have had unchanged prices.
Phthalates. The EU has banned phthalates in
plastic and bit toys for children under the age of three.
Phthalates can cause kidney and liver damage and can be
released when children suck on soft plastic toys. Toys that
are not intended for chewing should be labeled with a
warning text if they contain the harmful substance.
Dyes. The European Commission has decided that
Sweden does not have the right to retain the law restricting
the use of azo dyes and sweeteners cyclamate in food. The
law includes to protect allergy sufferers, but the
Commission believes that they are too far-reaching to
achieve its purpose.
Negotiations on new members. The EU has decided
to start membership negotiations with six new countries
Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Malta.
Negotiations are already underway with Estonia, Poland, the
Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Cyprus. Turkey has
also been approved as a candidate country. However, before
negotiations on membership can begin with Turkey, the
country must meet demands for better respect for democracy
and human rights. In addition, the disputes with Greece in
the Aegean must be resolved. If the conflicts are unresolved
in 2004, the EU considers that they should proceed to the
International Court of Justice in The Hague.
BSE (mad cow disease). The export ban on British
beef was lifted on 1 August. The ban was introduced three
years ago following suspicions of a link between the mad cow
disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. However, France and
Germany refused to lift the import ban, causing a bitter
dispute between the British, French and German governments.
Hormone War. On June 15, the European Commission
stopped all imports of American meat. The reason for the
import ban was that a sample check found residues of growth
hormones in guaranteed hormone-free meat. In the EU, since
1988 there has been a ban on hormone treatment of animals to
promote growth. The growth hormone 17-beta-estradiol, found
in the American meat, is suspected to have tumor-inducing
and tumor-stimulating effects. The United States claims that
there is no scientific evidence that hormone therapy poses a
threat to public health. The US considers that the EU is in
breach of the rules on free trade and has notified the Union
to the WTO. The organization gave the US the right and
allowed the US to impose penalties on imported goods from
the EU. The UN World Health Organization WHO has approved
Transparency in EU institutions is gradually
improving. The Council of Ministers has established a
register of its actions on the Internet. However, the
documents cannot be read on the Internet but must be
ordered. The register is also not complete but only contains
documents from 1999.
Agricultural Reform. When EU leaders approved
the new budget package for the period 2000-06, they also
agreed to reform agricultural policy. The reform is the most
far-reaching since the CAP was established in 1960. The aim
is to gradually reduce agriculture's share of the EU budget.
The idea is also to lower consumer prices for different
foods. The reform means that the guarantee prices to the
farmers are lowered and that the direct income support to
farmers is changed. For dairy products, guarantee prices are
reduced by 15%. The reduction will be in three steps from
2006. For cereals, guarantee prices will also be reduced by
15%, but in two steps in 2000 and 2001. Guarantee prices for
beef will be reduced by 20% in three steps.
Farmers' income will be supported through a series of
direct payments. For every tonne of milk that a farmer
produces, about SEK 155 is paid. For oilseeds and grain,
direct income support amounts to SEK 594. per ton. For
grandmothers, the support amounts to SEK 1800. per animal,
for bulls SEK 1,890. and for studs 2,700 SEK. The slaughter
premium for suckler and dairy cows, heifers, bulls and
cattle has been set at SEK 720 / animal.
Trucks must comply with stricter exhaust
emission regulations from 2000. Emission requirements will
be tightened by 30% for all new trucks. The sharpening
basically covers all emissions, especially carbon monoxide,
unburned hydrocarbons and nitric oxide. From 2005, the
requirements for additional emissions of solid particles
have been further tightened. All new trucks must then be
fitted with particle traps and should lead to a reduction of
particle emissions by 85-90% compared to today's levels. In
2008, all new trucks must be equipped with exhaust gas
cleaning corresponding to the catalysts of passenger cars.
Food labeling. Foods containing 1% genetically
modified ingredients should now be labeled. The decision was
made by the EU in the fall and was immediately criticized by
consumer and environmental organizations who argued for a
zero limit. Eighteen genetically modified products are
currently being used in the EU, while another thirteen are
awaiting approval by the member states. The EU has not
approved any new genetically modified products since April
1998 due to consumer concerns about the new foods. The
European Commission hopes that labeling will stop the
Military cooperation. At the EU summit in the
summer of 1999, EU leaders agreed to initiate military
cooperation. Thus, for the first time in EU history, the
Common Foreign and Security Policy has a defense component.
The decision means that the EU will have the capacity to
independently intervene militarily, to prevent conflicts and
deal with crises. The corresponding functions that currently
exist within the Western European Union (WEU) are
transferred to the EU at the same time as the WEU defense
alliance is wound up. Decisions on defense matters must be
taken by unanimity.
VAT. EU finance ministers have agreed that
member states can lower VAT on certain labor-intensive
services. The reduction is a three-year experiment to
increase employment for the low-skilled, but also to
counteract black jobs in certain sectors. The agreement
means that those countries that wish to reduce VAT for a
maximum of two of five different service professions. The
services that are relevant for a VAT reduction are cleaning
assistance, domestic help, small repairs of eg. shoes and
bicycles, renovation of private homes and hairdressers.
Today, the VAT on these services must be at least 15% in the
Olaf. In April, the EU was given a new
authority, Olaf, to investigate fraud with EU funds and
corruption within the EU institutions. Unlike the old Uclaf,
the new authority is independent and cannot take orders from
the Commission or the Member States. OLAF has far greater
powers than the old fraud unit and has the right to conduct
investigations in all EU institutions. The findings are
valid in the national court. One of Olaf's tasks in 1999 was
to investigate whether the European Commission's office in
Stockholm had paid black salaries.
State aid. The rules for state aid to companies
in crisis have been tightened. On the one hand, stricter
rules are introduced on how often a company can receive
restructuring aid and on the other, which companies can
qualify for support. New companies with difficulties can,
for example, not get government support. The rules come into
force on July 1, 2000.
Structural funds.The distribution of EU
structural funds for the period 2000–06 was completed in
1999. In total, member states may share SEK 1 840 billion
for structural policy measures. Of this, Sweden receives
around SEK 16 billion. This is just over two billion more
than in the 1994-99 period. 30% of the money goes to
Norrland and parts of northern central Sweden to promote
structural adjustment in areas with low standards of living.
Parts of central Sweden and southeastern Sweden receive
almost SEK 3 billion for restructuring aid in areas that
have been seriously affected by industrial decline. 30% of
regional aid will be used to combat long-term unemployment.
Regions that are no longer eligible for support according to
the criteria for the new Structural Fund program may be
comforted with a transition grant of just over SEK 400
During the period 1994-99, 25% of the residents in the
support areas were one and two of the EU's structural funds.
But from the next period, the European Commission has
changed the rules; the proportion of residents who are now
eligible for regional aid has been reduced to 19%.
South Africa. After almost four years of
negotiations, the EU and South Africa signed a trade and
cooperation agreement. The agreement means that the EU and
South Africa establish a free trade zone, while the EU
continues to provide development support to the country at
approximately the same level as today, ie. just over a
billion kronor per year. From 2000, the tariffs will be
gradually abolished. By 2002, the EU will have phased out
customs duties for 95% of South Africa's exports to the
Union, and by 2012, South Africa will phase out customs
duties for 86% of EU imports. 40% of South Africa's exports
go to the EU and 33% of its imports come from the Union.
Employment Pact. At the Cologne summit, EU
leaders agreed to draw up an employment pact to increase
employment in the Union. The pact consists of three parts;
guidelines for an active labor market policy, guidelines for
liberalization of different markets and a dialogue between
the social partners, the European Central Bank, the European
Commission and the EU labor and finance ministers. In
addition, the European Commission will propose measurable
targets for labor market measures. In the spring of 2000, an
extra summit will be organized to review the effects of the
Pact on employment.
Duty free. Sales of tax-free goods on aircraft,
airports and ships within the EU ceased on July 1, 1999,
despite strong protests from shipping companies and
airlines. However, many airlines and shipping companies
continued to sell spirits and cigarettes at the same low
prices as before the ban.