EU Matters - Issue 3/2016
EUROPEAN COMMISSION NEWS
At a European Parliament debate on 6 July, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans briefed the Parliament on the Commission’s approach to its Work Programme for 2017 which will be unveiled on 25 October 2016. Vice President Timmermans again discussed the REFIT Platform which aims to make EU legislation and its implementation in Member States more effective and efficient. REFIT is a key element in the Commissions ‘Better Regulation’ agenda which aims to reduce regulatory burdens.
David Cameron nominated Sir Julian King as European Commissioner to replace Lord Jonathan Hill, former Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. Sir Julian is the UK ambassador to France. Lord Hill resigned following the result of the UK referendum on EU membership. Commission President Juncker has transferred Lord Hill’s portfolio to Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis who already holds the portfolio for the Euro and Social Dialogue.
President Juncker will assign a new portfolio to Sir Julian this month and the European Parliament will ratify Sir Julian’s appointment in September. It had previously been reported that David Cameron had requested that Sir Julian be assigned an environmental portfolio. Recent reports suggest that officials have approached three Commissioners to discuss ceding part of their respective portfolios to create a new portfolio for the UK Commissioner designate.
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEWS
The Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) has agreed amendments on a draft regulation on energy efficiency labelling, including a new A to G scale label for household appliances to replace the current system within the next five years.
President Juncker has appointed Michel Barnier as the Commission’s Chief Negotiator in charge of the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the TEU. Mr Barnier is a former French Minister for Foreign Affairs and for Agriculture, and former European Commissioner in charge of Regional Policy, Institutional Reforms and of Internal Market and Services. His appointment is effective from 1 October 2016.
Didier Seeuws has been appointed head of the EU Brexit Taskforce established by the European Council to negotiate the terms and conditions of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Mr Seeuws was chief of staff to former European Council President Herman van Rompuy.
It is expected that the Brexit negotiations will be split into two streams. The Commission will manage the technical detail of the UK’s exit from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and the Council’s Taskforce managed by Mr Seeuws will work on the political nature of the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Commission President Juncker announced on 27 June that he would dissolve the Task Force for Strategic Issues related to the UK Referendum on 30 September 2016.
PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EU
Slovakia holds the Presidency from July to December 2016. It is Slovakia’s first time holding the Presidency and it is the second in the Presidency Trio which also includes the Netherlands and Malta. Slovakia’s priorities for the Presidency are an economically strong Europe; a modern single market; sustainable migration and asylum policies; and a globally engaged Europe. Prime Minister Robert Fico said migration, along with Brexit, will be the predominant items on the agenda.
Four key files on migration will be dealt with during the Slovakian Presidency – the EU border and coastguard; the ‘smart borders’ package; the migrant return policy; and reform of the Dublin asylum system. Slovakia is opposed to the refugee relocation scheme contained within the reforms of the asylum scheme.
An informal summit about the future of the EU, without the UK, will be held in Bratislava on 16 September.
The UK was due to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2017 during which it would chair meetings of the Council. The UK has said it will not take the Presidency. Estonia will take up the Presidency in place of the UK.
HORIZON 2020 WORK PROGRAMME
The Commission has unveiled the 2017 Horizon 2020 work programme, the EU’s programme for research and innovation. The work programme is aligned with the Commission’s agenda on jobs, investment and growth. The 2016-17 work programme introduces open research data in all new Horizon 2020 calls and funding has been made available for research into labour market integration of migrants.
SUPPORT PACKAGE FOR FARMERS
The European Commission has announced a €500 million support package for farmers in the EU who have been affected by price volatility. This package follows on from a previous support package provided in September 2015. The legislation to implement these new measures is expected in September 2016. The three main elements in this new package are:
- An EU-wide scheme to incentivise a reduction in milk production (€150 million)
- Conditional adjustment aid to be defined and implemented at Member State level out of a menu proposed by the Commission (€350 million that Member States will be allowed to match with national funds, thus potentially doubling the level of support being provided to farmers)
- A range of technical measures to provide flexibility (e.g. on voluntary coupled support), cash-flow relief (e.g. through an increase in the amount of the advances for both direct and area-based rural development payments) and reinforce the safety net instruments (by prolonging intervention and private storage aid for Skimmed Milk Powder).
It is reported that the European Commission will propose overhauled legislation on telecoms in September, including an EU wide internet speed target of 100 MBS per second by 2025. The report suggests that the Commission plans to require national governments to legally guarantee access to broadband services and to pay for broadband networks in areas where it is not already accessible.
EU-CANADA TRADE DEAL
The Commission has proposed the conclusion of the EU-Canada trade agreement CETA – the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement. As a ‘mixed agreement’ the deal will have to be ratified by national parliaments across the EU as well as the European Parliament and Council. The deal is due to be signed at the October 2016 EU-Canada summit meeting. The Commission has stated that, following a decision by Member States, it will be possible to provisionally apply CETA, although it would not fully enter into force until it has the consent of the European Parliament, a Council decision and has been ratified by national parliaments.
Following the latest round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, negotiators have said that production of a consolidated text of the agreement, planned for the end of July 2016 is now more likely in September 2016. While progress has been made on elimination of tariffs and regulatory cooperation, EU negotiators are not satisfied with the level of access to public sector tenders in the US and US negotiators are unhappy with the EU offer on trade in services. The implications for TTIP of the UK exit from the EU are also being evaluated given that the UK is the biggest EU market for US services and accounts for 25% of US exports to the EU.
DEFICITS IN SPAIN AND PORTUGAL
The European Commission has recommended new fiscal paths for Spain and Portugal following a Council decision that both countries had not taken effective action to correct excessive budget deficits and thereby breached rules of the Stability and Growth Pact. The Commission has granted extra time for both countries to bring their deficits below 3% of GDP – one extra year for Portugal and two years for Spain. The Commission also recommended that fines for breaching the EU deficit rules be cancelled for both countries. This decision needs to be approved by the Council. The Commission has the right to propose fines of up to 0.2% of GDP or to withhold payments from the EU budget. Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said “We’re at a time in Europe when people are having their doubts about Europe and we have to be careful about how the rules and the implementation of these rules are perceived”.
REFERENDUM IN HUNGARY
Hungary will hold a referendum in October 2016 on whether to accept mandatory EU quotas for relocation of asylum seekers. The referendum is in response to the Commission’s 2015 proposal to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers. The referendum question will be “Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?” Hungary erected a fence along its border last year to try to stop the flow of asylum seekers.
COUP IN TURKEY
Following a failed military coup in Turkey on 15 July, over 9,000 people have been detained including 3,000 judges. 10,000 civil servants have been suspended and 24,000 teachers and interior ministry employees and 9,000 police officers have been sacked. Arrest warrants have been issued for some journalists and several TV channels have been closed down. Almost 300 people were killed in the coup. EU leaders condemned the coup but have expressed concerns that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could introduce a more authoritarian regime in Turkey and that EU-Turkey relations could be damaged. President Erdoğan has described the coup as a ‘gift from god’ which he will use to reform Turkey. He has indicated plans to further concentrate powers in the office of the President. The Turkish government has said US based cleric Fethullah Gülen was behind the coup - a claim he has denied.
MEPs have underlined that the attempt to reintroduce the death penalty in Turkey will end accession talks for Turkey to join the EU. Commission President Juncker has said “I believe that Turkey, in its current state, is not in a position to become a member any time soon and not even over a longer period."
The EU is to open two further chapters in Serbia’s accession talks – the chapters on EU legal codex, on judiciary and fundamental rights, and on justice, freedom and security. The decision came following Croatia lifting its veto over the opening of new chapters amid disputes over prosecution of war criminals. EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that when German and French leaders met counterparts from the Western Balkans they confirmed that EU expansion in the region was still their “strategic goal”. He said "There should not be the slightest doubt about our strong commitment to welcoming Serbia in the EU family, where it belongs”.
The EU opened two further chapters in accession talks with Montenegro on 30 June. Out of a total of 35 negotiating chapters, 24 chapters have now been opened for negotiations of which 2 chapters have already been provisionally closed.
COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
The Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed that its full and alternate members on the Committee of the Regions will be Declan McAleer MLA and Colin McGrath MLA. The nominations will now be sent on to the European Commission by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to be officially confirmed.
European Week of Regions and Cities takes place 10-13 October 2016. Formerly known as ‘Open Days’, this annual event focuses on regional and local development. This year’s theme is ‘Regions and cities for sustainable and inclusive economic growth’.
The Committee of the Regions is running a free online course on the EU budget and funding for regions and cities from 31 October to 9 December.
HOUSE OF COMMONS EUROPEAN SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (ESCOM)
The House of Commons is in recess and will sit again on 5 September 2016. The Committee has launched a consultation exercise seeking views on its role and the EU scrutiny process given the implications of the outcome of the referendum. The Committee is seeking comments on:
- How should scrutiny adapt to Brexit? What should be subject to scrutiny, and what outcomes would be useful?
- Should any particular policy areas be subject to increased scrutiny?
- Are there areas where the Committee should offer a lighter touch?
- What are the pressing questions the Committee should ask in dealing with individual proposals?
- How can Committee material be made more accessible and useful to third parties?
Written submissions should be submitted by 30 September 2016.
HOUSE OF LORDS EU COMMITTEE
The House of Lords is in recess and will sit again on 5 September 2106. Recently published reports by the EU Committee include Children in crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU; and Scrutinising Brexit: the role of Parliament
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES
A new committee was established on 28 June 2016 to consider items referred to it by the Assembly’s Business Committee. The External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee will consider implications for Wales of the EU referendum.
SCOTTISH PARLIAMENTThe European and External Relations Committee continues to consider the EU referendum and its implications for Scotland. The Committee met on 28 July to take evidence on economic matters and then heard from a range of witnesses on business and sectoral interests.
CURRENT EUROPEAN COMMISSION CONSULTATIONS
Climate Action, Environment:
Mid-term evaluation of the LIFE Programme 17.06.2016 – 09.09.2016
Employment and Social Affairs:
Public consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights 08.03.2016 – 31.12.2016
Single Digital Gateway 26.07.2016 – 21.11.2016
Public consultation under the Start-up Initiative 31.03.2016 – 31.07.2016
Public consultation on Internal Market for Goods – Enforcement and Compliance 01.07.2016 – 31.10.2016
Justice and Fundamental Rights, Consumers:
Public consultation for the Fitness Check of EU consumer and marketing law 12.05.2016 – 02.09.2016
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries:
Consultation on Fishing Opportunities for 2017 under the Common Fisheries Policy 15.06.2016 – 01.09.2016
Research and Technology, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Agriculture and Rural Development:
Public consultation on Horizon 2020 ‘Food Security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy’ Work Programme 2018-2020 06.06.2016 – 28.08.2016
Review of Regulation (EC) No 1071/2009 on access to the occupation of road transport operator and Regulation (EC) No 1072/2009 on access to the international road haulage market 15.06.2016 – 15.09.2016
Evaluation of the Youth policy cooperation in the EU - public consultation 18.07.2016 – 16.10.2016