June 24, 2024

Google Makes New Offer in European Antitrust Case

The latest offer by Google was acknowledged in Italy on Sunday by Joaquín Almunia, the European Union’s competition commissioner. Mr. Almunia has been seeking a settlement with the company since the early stages of the case, which formally began in 2010.

The case revolves around claims that Google has abused its dominance in the Internet search and advertising field by, among other things, favoring its own products and services in search results. Google powers 90 percent of searches in many European markets; its share in the United States is closer to 70 percent.

“Once we have completed our analysis, once we will check that these new proposals are able to eliminate our concerns, we will tell Google what to do,” Mr. Almunia, referring to the offer, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Mr. Almunia is under mounting pressure from Google’s rivals seeking to prolong its legal entanglements in Europe and toughen the terms of any deal.

In July, he was forced to reject a preliminary settlement struck with Google after industry groups complained that aspects of the deal could strengthen, rather than loosen, Google’s hold in Europe.

That proposal, the result of Google’s first offer of a settlement, would not have required the company to change the algorithm, or formula, that produces its search results. But it would have been the first time Google had agreed to legally binding changes to its search results, and it went much further than the minor concessions it made to settle a case before the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The latest proposal by Google addressed Mr. Almunia’s “areas of concern,” Al Verney, a spokesman for the company in Europe, said Monday. “We continue to work with the commission to settle this case,” said Mr. Verney, who declined to describe the contents of the offer.

Mr. Almunia said over the weekend that he would prefer a swiftly negotiated settlement with Google because that would be a better way of regulating the fast-moving technology sector. But he said he could still issue formal charges against the company if a deal failed to materialize.

With the case still open, Google faces a serious challenge in Europe, where it risks far-reaching orders demanding it change its business practices and potentially a fine of up to $5 billion.

Leaders of industry groups said that the latest offer by Google should be carefully tested in the marketplace to assure the remedies address complaints that the company favored its own products in search results.

“We must hope after so much prevarication that this time Google’s proposals represent a genuine attempt to address the concerns identified,” said David Wood, the legal counsel for Icomp, an industry group backed by Microsoft and a number of other companies. The previous proposals were, he said, “manifestly defective.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/10/technology/google-makes-new-offer-in-european-antitrust-case.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Raw Data: Effort to End E.U. Roaming Fees Gains Momentum

When she announced in May her desire to ban the unpopular fees, which travelers pay in the 28-nation European Union outside their home countries, Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner responsible for telecommunications, was greeted with skepticism. And with less than 11 months left before the European Parliament’s legislative session ends June 30, some observers in Brussels thought Mrs. Kroes had run out of time.

But while most of official Brussels is on vacation, Mrs. Kroes and her staff appear to be edging closer to a deal that could abolish the fees, which make up an estimated 5 percent of operators’ sales — but a bigger chunk of profits.

According to a copy of the draft regulation Mrs. Kroes has circulated among members of the European Commission and which has been obtained by the International Herald Tribune, operators would get an incentive to lower roaming rates to the level of domestic calling fees.

The incentive would be a big one: an exemption from a law passed last year, also initiated by Mrs. Kroes, that will give E.U. consumers the option of buying roaming service from any operator on the Continent, not just their own, meaning the local operator could lose a customer who is out of the country altogether if it does not lower the rates.

The draft regulation would remove this right for consumers whose operators joined an alliance of carriers offering pan-European mobile phone roaming service at the same prices that consumers would pay if they did not leave home.

Some operators have objected, arguing that they should not be coerced to lower the fees, which are currently capped by retail price controls that expire at the end of June 2017. The current caps limit roaming charges to €0.24, or $0.32, per minute for a voice call, €0.07 per minute to receive a call, €0.08 to send a text message, and €0.45 for every downloaded megabyte of data.

One person with knowledge of the industry’s lobbying position on the issue, who did not want to be identified because negotiations were at a delicate stage, said some operators were concerned that E.U. consumers would be free to buy low-cost roaming service, a form of “arbitrage” that could lead to the elimination of the fees altogether.

But that is precisely the goal of Mrs. Kroes and a growing number of lawmakers in the European Parliament, who view the fees as a hurdle to broad adoption of mobile broadband.

A new study to be released this month by Nielsen on behalf of Syniverse, a seller of roaming software and services to 900 mobile operators, including Telefónica and Vodafone in Europe, confirmed that the fees were still an obstacle — despite price caps and text messages warning consumers that they were racking up charges.

In a survey of 13,000 consumers in 13 European countries obtained by the International Herald Tribune, the study found that on average 56 percent of cellphone users either limited the use of mobile Internet or turned off the roaming function on their devices entirely while traveling within the European Union.

Danielle Jacobs, chairwoman of the International Telecommunications Users Group, an association in Driebergen, the Netherlands, that represents telecommunications user groups in Europe, South America and Asia, said Europe’s system of roaming fees was slowing the adoption of cloud-based mobile services, especially those used by business travelers. “Intug would be very happy with the abolishment of roaming fees in Europe,” Mrs. Jacobs, who is also the chairwoman of the Belgian users’ group, Beltug, said in an interview. “The uncertainty about mobile data roaming prices and the possible bill shocks are putting the brakes on using more mobile applications.”

Mrs. Kroes’s push to eliminate the fees faces hurdles. The European Parliament must support her plan, as must the Council of Ministers, which comprises representatives of each member state and is where telecommunications companies exert greater influence because they are large employers.

Pressure for change is building in Brussels. On July 9, members of the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee voted unanimously to end roaming fees by July 2015. The full Parliament is scheduled to take up the issue in September, when Mrs. Kroes is also expected to present details of her plan to lawmakers.

One lawmaker, Paul Rübig, who was a sponsor of the original roaming price controls that took effect in 2007, said that the momentum to end roaming fees had reached a critical intensity in Brussels.

With elections for the European Parliament scheduled for May, Mr. Rübig, a representative from Wels, Austria, said lawmakers were well aware of the possible political gain from banning the unpopular fees. According to Mr. Rübig, a survey this year of voter attitudes before the E.U. election showed that the top issue for Austrian voters — more important than basic freedoms and other civil rights — was the abolition of roaming fees in the European Union.

The survey conducted by the Austrian government found a level of support for ending fees that Mr. Rübig said was common across the bloc.

“The pressure to end roaming fees in the upcoming session will be enormous,” Mr. Rübig said in an interview. “The days of roaming fees are definitely numbered.”

Mary Clark, a vice president at Syniverse, based in Tampa, Florida, has followed the issue closely in Europe because it is central to her company’s business.

She said that whether lawmakers voted to ban roaming fees outright next year or forced operators to eliminate the fees to retain their customers, change was coming.

“The end result is, we are going to get to an environment where the home pricing is the same as roaming pricing from a retail point of view,” Ms. Clark said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/technology/effort-to-end-eu-roaming-fees-gains-momentum.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Trade Fight Over Solar Benefits a Bystander

The long-running trade conflicts over solar panels between China and the United States and Europe have sown dissatisfaction all around, leaving many manufacturers of solar materials complaining that the market is still unfair.

But one country not involved in the disputes has already benefited from them and, with Saturday’s agreement between China and the European Union, stands to benefit again: Taiwan.

Last October, after finding that Chinese companies were receiving unfair government subsidies and selling their merchandise below the cost of production, the United States imposed tariffs of roughly 24 to 36 percent on imported Chinese panels. But the ruling included a major loophole; it applied only to panels made from Chinese solar cells, the final major components that are assembled into finished modules.

Many manufacturers were able to skirt the taxes by buying their cells elsewhere, mainly from Taiwan.

This month, for instance, the Neo Solar Power Corporation, a leading cell manufacturer based in Taiwan, announced its sixth consecutive month of growth, with a 74 percent increase in revenue in June over the month before, in part because of increased production capacity since its merger with another manufacturer, DelSolar.

Taiwanese producers, which have been able to command a 4- to 5-cent per watt premium over Chinese-made cells, have been operating at fuller capacity and have sold out inventory faster than the Chinese, said Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM Research, which tracks clean-tech industries. And Hareon, a solar cell and module manufacturer in China, recently announced plans to build a large cell production plant in Taiwan with Mascotte Holdings, which makes solar-grade silicon in Taiwan.

“Taiwan has benefited from the fact that the U.S. has left the Taiwanese loophole available for Chinese companies to essentially sneak into the U.S. market without paying the tariff,” said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James.

“Those extra few pennies that it costs the Chinese module companies, that’s cheaper than paying the tariff,” which would roughly cost an extra 20 cents per watt, he added.

It is not just the trade loophole that has helped Taiwanese businesses, analysts said, but also strong demand for solar over all from China, the United States and Japan, despite the dire predictions that the trade conflict would lead to a rise in prices and stymie growth. “We’re not seeing a lot of evidence of the market slowing down,” said Adam Krop, vice president of equity research at Ardour Capital, an investment bank focused on energy technologies.

The European trade settlement could help increase production as well.

In that case, under the threat of 47.6 percent tariffs, China agreed that manufacturers would not sell panels below 56 euro cents per watt. But that price is even lower than panels were selling for when European manufacturers complained of dumping to the European Commission, and a group of them said over the weekend that they were preparing to file a lawsuit to overturn it. In China, 50 of 140 manufacturers rejected the settlement, which means that their merchandise will face the 47.6 percent tariff.

Among that group — smaller businesses that account for as little as 10 percent of Chinese exports to Europe, according to some estimates — it would be economical to try to sell to Europe only for bankrupt or nearly bankrupt companies that were trying to get rid of inventories without warranty for as little as 30 euro cents a watt.

For them, it would still be cheaper to ship to the United States, with tariffs as high as about 36 percent.

The settlement could help the Chinese government reach its goal of consolidating the industry, which relied on heavy government subsidies and loans from state-owned banks to rapidly scale up production. The resultant global glut of low-price panels drove many European and American companies out of business.

For Taiwan, the agreement opens the door for producers to make panels there and sell into the European market at an even lower price, analysts said.

“You might still want to source outside China so that you can undercut the Chinese manufacturers in the European market,” Mr. Kann said, adding that some Chinese manufacturers had been looking at establishing low-cost production in India and Eastern Europe in addition to Taiwan in anticipation of the European settlement.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/business/global/solar-trade-dispute-leaves-taiwan-the-clear-winner.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

In European Antitrust Fight, Google Needs to Appease Competitors

The European Commission on Wednesday formally said for the first time that Google’s proposal for addressing antitrust concerns did not go far enough, and demanded that it come up with more far-reaching remedies or potentially face a fine of up to $5 billion.

It was a significant setback for Google, which in April struck a deal with the commission to settle its three-year antitrust investigation by making certain changes in the way it displays answers to search inquiries. But the deal was contingent on feedback from Google’s rivals. The commission determined that the proposal was inadequate, and said the company needed to do more to address rivals’ concerns.

The about-face followed an outcry from Google competitors during the market testing phase of the inquiry, in which the commission asked for feedback on the proposal.

“What they discovered in the market test was that overwhelmingly, everyone said the settlement was inadequate and doesn’t solve the problem,” said a person with knowledge about the feedback competitors gave the commission, but who spoke anonymously because the filings were not public.

Joaquín Almunia, the European Union competition commissioner, said at a news conference, “I concluded that the proposals that Google sent to us months ago are not enough to overcome our concerns.” He said he had written to Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, “asking Google to present better proposals.”

A Google spokesman, Al Verney, said on Wednesday that it would “continue to work” with the commission to settle the case. He added that Google was confident that its earlier proposal “clearly addresses” the commission’s concerns.

Mr. Almunia did not give Google a deadline for presenting a new set of concessions, according to a person with direct knowledge of Mr. Almunia’s letter who spoke anonymously. So the case, which both sides had hoped to close this year, could continue for several months or more.

The main issue is the way Google, which, according to comScore, handles 86 percent of Web searches in Europe, orders its search results. Regulators have been investigating whether Google favors its own services — like travel, local business, mapping and shopping — over those of competitors. Regulators have also examined whether it disadvantaged competitors by including material from other Web sites in search results and whether its advertising business complied with European antitrust law.

Google managed to avoid antitrust charges in the United States, where it has two-thirds market share, after a two-year investigation of similar issues. Google has faced a more hard-line approach in Europe, where critics have accused the antitrust authorities of relying too much on outside complaints from competitors rather than on evidence of consumer harm. That is somewhat of a sore point for European officials, who insist they share the same goals as the Americans when it comes to consumers.

In April, Google proposed to change its search results to clearly label results from some of its own properties, like Google Plus Local, and in some cases to show links from rival search engines. It also proposed giving competitors more control over how it used information from their sites in its vertical search results and making it easier for small businesses to transport their ad campaigns to other search engines.

The proposal was the first time Google had agreed to legally binding changes to its search results, and went much further than the minor concessions it made to the Federal Trade Commission in its inquiry.

Still, the proposal would not have required Google to change the algorithm that produces its search results. Also, if it had been accepted, Google would have escaped a possible fine of about 10 percent of its annual global revenue of about $50 billion and a formal finding of wrongdoing that could limit its ability to expand in Europe.

James Kanter reported from Brussels, and Claire Cain Miller from San Francisco.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/18/technology/europe-wants-more-concessions-from-google.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Europe Still Wrangling Over Online Privacy Rules

But because of intense lobbying by Silicon Valley companies and other powerful groups in Brussels, several proposals have been softened, no agreement is in sight and governments are openly sparring with one another over how far to go in protecting privacy.

On Thursday, justice ministers from the European Union’s 27 member states agreed to a business-friendly proposal that what companies do with personal data would be scrutinized by regulators only if there were “risks” to individuals, including identity theft or discrimination.

The ministers debated a proposal that would no longer require companies to obtain “explicit” consent from users whose personal data they collect and process, instead of “unambiguous” consent, which is considered to be a lower legal threshold. And they discussed a proposal on balancing an individual’s right to data protection with other rights, including the freedom to do business.

The ministers deferred discussion of the other most fractious provision, the so-called right to be forgotten. But in recent weeks, public comments by lawmakers and draft language suggested a softening of approach.

“The right to be forgotten has been softened, made more palatable,” said Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of Internet governance at the University of Oxford. “But it is by no means dead.”

Although a final version of the legislation is not expected to be completed for many months, and maybe not until next year, the developments on Thursday are an early signal that the technology industry’s lobbying efforts are gaining some traction.

The lobbying has been “exceptional” and legislators in Europe need “to guard against undue pressure from industry and third countries to lower the level of data protection that currently exists,” said Peter Hustinx, the European data protection supervisor, referring to countries outside of the European Union.

“The benefits for industry should not and do not need to be at the expense of our fundamental rights to privacy and data protection,” Mr. Hustinx warned in e-mailed comments.

In the last year, American technology companies have dispatched representatives to Brussels and issued white papers through industry associations arguing that stringent privacy regulations would hamstring businesses, already suffering from the recession in Europe.

United States government officials have also made trips across the Atlantic to press policy makers like Viviane Reding, the union’s justice commissioner, who drafted the original, strict measures, to press for a less restrictive approach to data privacy.

The industry’s arguments have found a ready audience among some European governments. They include Ireland and Britain, where there are acute worries that the European Union is failing to take advantage of growth opportunities from Internet businesses that might help revive the economy. Apple, Facebook and Google all have European headquarters in Dublin.

“Europe is not sleepwalking into unworkable regulations,” said Richard Allan, Facebook’s director of policy for Europe, echoing a cautious optimism among industry officials about the data privacy law. “What’s positive is that over the last year, the debate has broadened out. There are other voices in the debate, who are saying: ‘Hang on a minute. What about the economic crisis?’ ”

The proposed law would affect most companies that deal in personal information — including pictures posted on social networks or information on what people buy on retail sites or look for using a search engine.

Whatever is enacted would serve as the privacy law in every country in the European Union and potentially have a bearing on other countries drafting data protection laws of their own.

The ministers took up their version of the law on Thursday; another version is under discussion by the European Parliament.

James Kanter reported from Brussels and Somini Sengupta from San Francisco.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/technology/europe-still-wrangling-over-online-privacy-rules.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Off the Charts: A Faster Recovery in Germany Than Elsewhere

But not in Germany.

In Germany, alone among the 27 members of the European Union, unemployment rates for both older and younger workers are now lower than they were when the United States slipped into a recession at the end of 2007.

In the rest of the euro zone, the unemployment rate for workers ages 25 to 74 has more than doubled over that period, to 12.8 percent. The rate for younger workers is more than 30 percent, on average — and above 50 percent in Spain and Greece. In Germany, it is less than 8 percent.

The accompanying charts show how unemployment rates for both groups of workers have changed in each of the 17 countries in the euro zone, as well as for Britain and the United States.

In terms of adult unemployment rates, the most recent figures for the United States (6.1 percent) and Britain (5.7 percent) are not that far from Germany’s figure of 5.1 percent. The major difference is in youth unemployment, which is above 16 percent in the United States and above 20 percent in Britain.

What accounts for that difference? Some of the credit goes to Germany’s unusual education and employment system for young workers, as well as to German policies that encourage employers facing downturns to reduce working hours rather than fire workers. In Germany, students are separated into different career tracks, with many put into a system that leads to apprenticeships rather than to college degrees.

But that is not the entire story. The euro zone’s troubles have helped Germany’s export-oriented economy. The weak euro has made Germany’s exports more competitive against those of countries with which it competes, most notably the United States and Japan. Since the end of 2007, the euro is down about 10 percent against the dollar and about 20 percent against the yen.

Were the euro zone to break up, there is little question that the value of a new German mark would rise sharply, while the currencies of many other members of the zone would fall relative both to the mark and other international currencies. That would depress German exports.

The charts reflecting Germany’s unemployment rates, if they were the only evidence available on world economic trends, would seem to indicate there was a mild downturn in 2009 that soon ended, with the economy recovering the next year. The United States charts would indicate a more severe downturn, followed by a recovery that began in 2010 and may now be gathering strength. In Britain, there has been much less progress since unemployment peaked in 2011.

In the 16 other euro zone countries as a group, the chart indicates a deep recession that leveled off in 2010 and 2011 but has since gotten much worse — particularly for young workers. “We will have to speed up in fighting youth unemployment,” the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said at a conference this week, “because otherwise we will lose the support, in a democratic way, in some populations of the European Union.”

If that is to happen, it may require a change of course for Europe, where it appears the rich will continue to get richer. The European Commission’s latest economic forecast, released last week, predicted declining unemployment in Germany this year and next, but said joblessness was likely to continue to climb in France, Italy and Spain.

Floyd Norris comments on finance and the economy at nytimes.com/economix.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/11/business/economy/a-faster-recovery-in-germany-than-elsewhere.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Euro Area Recession Is Expected to Deepen

BRUSSELS — The economic outlook for the European Union has deteriorated and the recession and unemployment blighting the euro area are expected to worsen, the European Commission warned on Friday.

The commission, the main E.U. policymaking arm, said gross domestic product across the 27-nation European Union would shrink by 0.1 percent this year compared with a forecast in February for a slight uptick in growth. The 17-member euro zone is now expected to contract by 0.4 percent this year, compared with earlier expectations for a decline of 0.3 percent.

The outlook for the jobless in Europe is equally grim. Unemployment is expected to reach 11.1 percent across the European Union and 12.2 percent in the euro zone. Joblessness is expected to remain at those levels for much of 2014, the commission said.

The figures were released as part of the commission’s periodic economic forecasts.

The growth forecasts for 2013 still signal a slowing in the pace of contraction compared with last year, when growth fell by 0.3 percent across the Union and by 0.6 percent in the euro area. But the unemployment picture is distinctly worse compared to 2013, when 10.5 percent were without jobs across the Union and 11.4 percent in the euro area.

Olli Rehn, the E.U. commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said in a statement Friday that leaders needed to “do whatever it takes to overcome the unemployment crisis in Europe.” That is a reflection of growing concerns among officials in Brussels that the levels of unemployment in some countries like Spain could lead to unrest and even become endemic.

Spain is expected to see employment reach 27 percent this year, compared with 25 percent last year, while the outlook for Portugal was 18.2 percent compared with 15.9 percent last year. Unemployment in Greece, which has been in economic intensive care for three years, is expected to reach 27 percent compared with 24.3 percent last year, the commission said.

Yet Mr. Rehn also warned of the need for complementary measures as nations roll back the kind of painful budgetary belt-tightening he has advocated.

“Fiscal consolidation is continuing, but its pace is slowing down,” he said. “In parallel, structural reforms must be intensified to unlock growth in Europe.”

Mr. Rehn has come under blistering attack from economists who say his austerity policies have crimped countries’ ability to restore growth.

Deficits among European Union and euro-area countries are expected to decline in 2013, the commission said. But the combination of a poor economic outlook and the slowing pace of austerity means that national debt, as a ratio of G.D.P., would rise.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/business/global/04iht-euro04.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

New Concerns From Germany Over European Banking Supervisor

DUBLIN — Germany has raised new concerns about a proposal to create a single banking supervisor for the European Union that could delay plans to help troubled lenders that finance ministers were to discuss here on Friday.

Last December, after weeks of bitter wrangling, euro zone finance ministers agreed to put about 150 large banks under the direct supervision of the European Central Bank and to give it powers to intervene to oversee smaller lenders.

The policy is meant to break the vicious circle between indebted sovereign governments and shaky banks. The creation of the single supervisor also is a precondition for nations to tap the Union’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, to recapitalize struggling lenders directly.

But in recent days, German diplomats made clear at E.U. headquarters in Brussels that they had some reservations about giving the central bank such powers, partly because of the fear that it might alter decisions on monetary policy to make supervision easier.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, was expected to present those concerns at the gathering Friday, according to officials from Ireland, which is hosting the meeting in its role as holder of the E.U.’s rotating presidency

Mr. Schäuble was expected to ask for more scope for national parliaments to hold the E.C.B. accountable, and to ask for an eventual change in the E.U. treaties to ensure that the central bank’s supervisory and monetary roles are clearly separated, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as is customary ahead of such meetings.

Ireland and Spain are among the nations lobbying strongly to speed the direct aid, because pumping bailout money to banks avoids putting the loans on national balance sheets and helps keep a lid on borrowing costs.

Irish officials said late Thursday that the German demands could probably be accommodated, and that governments could still reach a final agreement on the single supervisor in coming days.

But German concerns still could hold-up that approval if other governments regard the concerns as little more than a delaying tactic.

Analysts said the German demands were a sign that Berlin did not want to be seen opening the way for further financial commitments, like bailing out banks in weaker parts of the euro area, before national elections in September.

“This instrument will never see the light of day in a German election year, ” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe director at Eurasia Group, referring to the plans for the direct aid to banks. “Agreement on the E.C.B. supervisor will certainly be a precondition for its use.”

Euro zone finance ministers were meeting here to discuss the situation, as well as aid for Cyprus, Ireland and Portugal, on Friday, before finance ministers from the rest of the Union arrive later for meetings ending Saturday.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/business/global/new-concerns-from-germany-over-eu-banking-supervisor.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Europe Seeks Update of Law on Fliers’ Rights

But the proposal is not completely pro-passenger. As announced in Brussels by the European Union transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, it would also significantly roll back airlines’ obligations to passengers who wind up stranded for extended periods because of extraordinary events like the Icelandic volcano eruption three years ago that grounded more than 100,000 flights across Europe.

The proposal, which would require approval by a majority of the Union’s 27 member countries and the European Parliament, aims to address common airline practices that remain a regular source of frustration to travelers. Helen Kearns, a Commission spokeswoman, said that if adopted, the new rules probably would enter force before the end of 2015.

Eight years after the E.U. first introduced its far-reaching package of passenger rights legislation, the law is still not well understood by customers, which critics say leads to frequent abuses by airlines.

“It is very important that passenger rights do not just exist on paper,” Mr. Kallas said in a statement. “We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters most — when things go wrong.”

The European Union regulation applies to all carriers that take off from an airport in one of the Union’s member states, regardless of their nationality. The rules do not apply to non-European airlines on flights that originate outside the European Union.

Among the proposed changes is a rule obliging airlines to inform passengers about the nature of any flight disruption no later than 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time. Passengers who are delayed by two hours or more would be entitled to care and assistance at the airport, including meals and refreshments, regardless of the distance of their flight. After five hours, passengers would have the right to renounce the flight and have their ticket price reimbursed.

In the event of a flight that has already boarded and is delayed by more than one hour on the tarmac, passengers would have the right to free drinking water, access to toilets and medical assistance. Should the tarmac delay extend to five hours, passengers would have the right to cancel their ticket and get off the plane.

The new proposal also clarifies the rights of passengers who miss a connecting flight because of a delay. Travelers would be entitled to care and assistance after two hours of waiting at their connecting airport and financial compensation if their arrival was delayed by more than five hours on any flight of less than 3,500 kilometers, or about 2,175 miles.

For flights of up to 6,000 kilometers, the right to compensation would kick in after nine hours, while for longer flights the deadline would be 12 hours.

Airlines would also be compelled to re-route passengers on another airline — or an alternative transport mode — if they are unable to find an alternate route on their own services within 12 hours of the original departure time.

Rules for handling passengers’ complaints would also be tightened. Airlines would be obliged to establish clear complaint procedures and systems and to acknowledge complaints within a week of receipt. A deadline of two months would be set for airlines to formally reply.

“Complaints about air travel amount to 80 percent within the transport sector, which shows the extent of the problem in Europe,” Monique Goyens, director general of the Brussels-based consumer organization BEUC, said in a statement. “We hope this prompts a much-needed upsurge in airlines’ respect for passenger rights.”

Airline groups also cautiously welcomed the proposal. Viktoria Vajnai, a spokeswoman for the Association of European Airlines, in Brussels, described it as “a step in the right direction” for both airlines and passengers.

“We believe that a comprehensive and coherent regulation will benefit not only passengers but the whole aviation industry,” Ms. Vajnai said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/business/global/europe-seeks-update-of-law-on-fliers-rights.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Official Warns Britain Against Leaving European Union

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, the body that groups the 27 E.U. member states, said that the European Union had benefited tremendously from British membership and that Britain’s departure would be like seeing “a friend walk off into the desert.”

But Mr. Van Rompuy also suggested that the strategy developed by Prime Minister David Cameron to restore dwindling public support for keeping Britain inside the bloc was likely to fail.

In an interview published Friday in The Guardian, a British daily, Mr. Van Rompuy said that renegotiation could undermine the one part of the European Union that Mr. Cameron says he values most: the single market under which around 500 million Europeans can do business without barriers.

“If every member state were able to cherry-pick those parts of existing policies that they most like, and opt out of those that they least like, the Union in general, and the single market in particular, would soon unravel,” he said.

The intervention from Mr. Van Rompuy highlights the fact that other nations are likely to resent a process under which Britain seeks to retain the parts of E.U. membership that it likes, while rejecting the rest. In order to renegotiate British membership terms, all other member states would have to agree on the changes.

And, if that sort of discussion begins, other countries may make demands too, including some that could weaken the single market which seeks to establish a level playing field on trading issues.

“All member states can, and do, have particular requests and needs that are always taken into consideration as part of our deliberations,” Mr. Van Rompuy said in the interview. “I do not expect any member state to seek to undermine the fundamentals of our cooperative system in Europe.”

Mr. Cameron argues that, to persuade euro-skeptical British voters to stay in the European Union, the country should loosen its political and social policy ties to the Union and refocus them around Europe’s single economic market. He wants to renegotiate the terms of British membership and seek approval for the result of that negotiation from the public, possibly in a referendum.

Britain formally joined in the process of European integration in 1973, when it acceded to the European Economic Community. Two years later, after a change of government and negotiations on the terms of membership, it held a referendum in which around two-thirds of those who voted elected to stay.

One theory in Britain is that the euro debt crisis presents a new opportunity to re-fashion the process of European integration because the 17 countries that use the single currency may need to rewrite the Union’s governing treaties in order to become more closely integrated. That could give Britain the chance to negotiate its looser relationship simultaneously as part of a grand bargain.

Mr. Van Rompuy suggested, however, that such a rewriting of the treaties might not happen because it might not be necessary.

“The treaties allow a considerable degree of flexibility and much can be done without needing to amend them,” he told The Guardian. “It is perfectly possible to write all kinds of provisions into the treaties, but amending them is a lengthy and cumbersome procedure needing the unanimous agreement of every single member government and ratification.”

Mr. Van Rompuy’s comments come at a sensitive moment, ahead of a widely anticipated speech by Mr. Cameron, expected in mid-January, during which he might make the promise of a referendum explicit. Many of his own lawmakers now want Mr. Cameron to promise a straight “in or out” vote, though he has so far resisted.

The political mood within Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party has hardened against engagement with Europe, partly because of the rise in popular support for the U.K. Independence Party, which has campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union and for tighter immigration controls.

UKIP is expected to do well in the next elections to the European Parliament in 2014, which will be held under a proportional electoral system that favors smaller parties. The party is unlikely to win many, or even any, seats in British parliamentary elections, expected the following year, because these will be fought under a first-past-the post system that tends to favor mainstream parties.

The smaller party could, though, take enough votes from the Conservative Party to deprive it of the seats it will need to form the next government.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/world/europe/eu-may-unravel-if-uk-quits-official-says.html?partner=rss&emc=rss