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C 155 E/54 Official Journal of the European Union EN 3.7.

2003

(2003/C 155 E/060) WRITTEN QUESTION E-2827/02


by Hans Karlsson (PSE) to the Commission

(8 October 2002)

Subject: Distortion of competition by state aid

The internal market is a cornerstone of the European Union. In order for the internal market to operate
and for the Member States to develop the Community, all businesses must compete on roughly equal
terms. At present, however, the terms are not equal because some sectors are receiving state aid. Germany
is one of the countries which the Commission examined this year and which was found to have paid out
unlawful state aid to set up and develop a sawmill. Commission decision 2002/468/EC (1) requires
Germany to recover the state aid granted. Despite that, Germany plans to grant further state aid for a
number of development projects in the German forestry industry, which include the Stendal pulp plant at
Sachen/Anhalt, Klausner Nordic Timber at Wismar and Stallinger GmbH at Munkran.

In view of these plans, what measures will the Commission take to ensure that state aid already paid is
recovered and what initiatives will it take to prevent further payments of state aid?

(1) OJ L 165, 24.6.2002, p. 15.

Answer given by Mr Monti on behalf of the Commission

(22 November 2002)

The State aid, which Member States are allowed to grant, is subject to published rules. Article 87 (2) and
(3) of the EC Treaty foresees exceptions on basis of which State aid may be considered to be compatible
with the common market.

The aid Germany intends to grant or has granted to Zellstoff Stendal, Klausner Nordic Timber and
Stallinger GmbH consists of investment aid based on regional considerations. The rules for such type of aid
are not specific to a certain sector. The three projects are located in Eastern Germany, which is considered
to be one of the less-favoured regions within the Community. In these regions aid can be granted up to a
level fixed by the Commission in order to promote the economic development of these regions by
supporting investment and thus job creation.

In cases where the Commission has found aid granted by a Member State incompatible with the EC Treaty
it orders that the Member State concerned recovers the incompatible aid. The Member State is obliged to
inform the Commission about its efforts on the recovery and the Commission closely monitors the
recovery.

(2003/C 155 E/061) WRITTEN QUESTION E-2864/02


by Charles Tannock (PPE-DE) to the Commission

(11 October 2002)

Subject: The cost of bank transfers and the Commission’s powers to authorise legal proceedings

In his extremely clear and helpful answer to Written Question E-2271/02 (1), Commissioner Bolkestein has
outlined the legal position regarding the permitted charges for cross-border credit transfers.

As the Commissioner will be aware, there has been considerable discussion in the Economic and Monetary
Affairs Committee of the European Parliament about the cost of transfers within the Eurozone and the
widespread practice of double-charging by the receiving as well as the executing bank in the case of OUR
transfers in contravention of the terms of the Cross-Border Credit Transfer Directive (Directive 97/5/EC (2)
3.7.2003 EN Official Journal of the European Union C 155 E/55

of the Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 1997). The Commissioner says in his reply that if any
unlawful charges are levied by a bank then the customer ‘is entitled to be credited the amount which has
been wrongly deducted’ adding that all Member States have correctly transposed the Directive on this
point, but that ‘the Commission cannot take any legal proceedings if customers are not using their rights.’

Is the Commission saying that even if a Member State government or Central Bank is consistently failing to
ensure that its banks are respecting the terms of the Directive that the Commission has no legal power to
refer the Member State to the European Court of Justice?

If the Commission does have that power and fails to use it, and subsequently refuses to respond to requests
from natural or legal persons who have suffered financially as a consequence of the Commission’s refusal
to act, does the Commission believe that under Article 232 of the Consolidated Treaty that such persons
would have the right after two months to complain to the Court of Justice on the basis that an institution
of the Community (the Commission) ‘has failed to address to that person any act other than a
recommendation or opinion’?

(1) OJ C 137 E, 12.6.2003, p. 66.


(2) OJ L 43, 14.2.1997, p. 25.

Answer given by Mr Bolkestein on behalf of the Commission

(19 November 2002)

The application of Directive 97/5/EC on cross-border credit transfers has been closely monitored by the
Commission, on behalf of which many studies on price trends and on national transposal measures have
been carried out. This information is available at the following address: http://europa.eu.int/comm/
internal_market/en/finances/payment/directives/index.htm

The OUR payments procedure (all charges payable by the originator) was introduced to end the practice
whereby a deduction was made, usually by an intermediate bank, from the amount transferred. It
transpires from the Commission’s examination of national transposal measures that this provision has been
correctly incorporated into national law. It may, however, be the case that the national provision is
incorrectly applied, often because of misinterpretation of the national legislation by one of the parties
involved. The majority of complaints examined by the Commission have shown that, in most cases,
double-charging by banks was due to a misapprehension on the part of one of the three banks involved
that the transfer was actually a SHARE transfer (shared costs).

When the Commission receives complaints about double-charging for cross-border transfers, it first
informs complainants of their rights under Directive 97/5/EC. They are then in a better position to
challenge their bank should problems arise. The Commission always tells them how to get in touch with
the ombudsmen in the FIN-NET network. Should they fail to obtain satisfaction from their bank, they may
have recourse to the out-of-court complaint settlement procedure offered by the FIN-NET network.
However, it would seem that complainants are hesitant about embarking on claims procedures for the sake
of a few euros.

The Commission naturally has the power to take action in cases where Community legislation has not
been or has incorrectly been incorporated into national law or where the national transposal provisions
have not been properly applied. However, the information at the Commission’s disposal does not suggest
that the Directive is being applied incorrectly in a systematic and deliberate manner in any of the Member
States.

As indicated in the previous answer, under Regulation (EC) No 2560/2001 (1), charges for all cross-border
payments in euros must, with effect from 1 July 2003, be the same as those for payments within a
Member State, both for the beneficiary and for the sender. The Commission thus intends in the future to
amend the legal framework for cross-border transfers to bring it into line with that for domestic transfers.

(1) Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No 2560/2001 of 19 December 2001 on cross-border payments in euro 
OJ L 344, 28.12.2001.