EU Matters - Issue 1/2015

Synopsis: This newsletter is issued on a regular basis and is intended as a selection of items potentially of interest to NI Assembly committees rather than an exhaustive list of European policy development and events.  Further details on each item can be accessed via the links provided.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION NEWS
Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans has been given a mandate from President Juncker to cut red tape and deliver ‘better regulation’. He proposes withdrawing around 80 pending bills, including the Circular Economy package which included bills on waste, recycling, and landfill which he proposes to replace with a new package of measures. The Council and Parliament will be consulted before any bills are withdrawn. The Commission presented its work programme for 2015 in December and in keeping with Juncker’s drive for ‘better regulation’ the programme contains only 23 new proposals for 2015, with the priority being the creation of an investment fund to attract €315bn worth of private and public money across Europe.

The Commission has appointed Dr Edmund Stoiber as Special Advisor on Better Regulation. He will assist Vice President Timmermans in focusing on cutting red tape for SMEs.

The Commission has published ‘textual proposals’ of the wording they would like to see included in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the USA in issues of competition, food safety and animal and plant health, customs issues, technical barriers to trade, SMEs, and government-to-government dispute settlement. This is the first time that the Commission has published specific EU legal proposals while negotiating a bilateral trade agreement.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEWS
The first plenary of 2015 took place on 12 January. There are reports that the Parliament is under pressure to progress the draft EU passenger name records bill which would permit collection of passenger flight details throughout the EU in the wake of the attacks in Paris. The bill was voted down in committee in 2011 due to civil liberties concerns.

The Parliament also passed a directive to give Member States flexibility on whether to permit the growth of genetically modified crops in their own territory. Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has also confirmed that products containing genetically modified materials will be labelled as such, addressing concerns that consumer protections will be compromised in the TTIP negotiations. The Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety will urge the Commission to propose new legislation allowing country of origin labelling on meat used in processed foods.

EUROPEAN INVESTMENT PLAN
The Special Taskforce on Investment in the EU has released a report written jointly with the European Investment Bank and with input from Member States revealing the types of projects potentially eligible for funding under the new €315bn investment scheme announced by President Juncker. As well as national projects submitted by member states, the report lists cross border projects on research, transport and energy, including projects in Northern Ireland.

There is no guarantee of projects being selected when the fund is established as they must be able to attract private investment.

The Commission adopted the legislation to create the European Strategic Investment Fund in January, with the aim of introduction in June 2015. The legislative proposals also include plans to create a European Investment Advisory Hub to help with project identification, preparation and development as well as a European Investment Project Pipeline aimed at improving investors’ knowledge of existing and future projects planned across the EU.

LATVIAN PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL
Latvia took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 January for a six month period. Latvia’s priorities for its six month term are EU competitiveness and growth; use of European digital potential in EU development; and strengthening the EU role as a global actor. An informal meeting with MLAs and the Latvian Ambassador to the UK His Excellency Mr Andris Teikmanis was hosted by the Committee for OFMDFM in December to discuss Latvia’s priorities for the Presidency.

EC-UK MEETING, EDINBURGH
The Chair of the Committee for OFMDFM, Mike Nesbitt MLA attended the EC-UK meeting of the Chairs of European (and equivalent) committees of the UK and devolved legislatures in Edinburgh on 8 December. The meeting included a briefing from Sir David Edward on potential challenges facing national and regional parliaments in the EU. The NI Assembly will host the next EC-UK meeting in 2015.

COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
The UK delegation to the Committee of the Regions holds its first meeting of the new 2015-2020 mandate on 23 January. The meeting will set the delegation’s priorities for the year ahead as well as confirming the allocations to commissions.

NEW FUNDING FOR INNOVATION
The European Commission has launched the new €200 million Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) pilot initiative to promote innovation by reducing the time it takes to bring innovative ideas to market. The pilot will be implemented in 2015-16 as a new initiative under Horizon 2020 and will be open to all types of participants, particularly from industry. Projects funded are to be ‘business-driven’ to ensure promising innovative ideas are exploited more quickly.

COPYRIGHT & THE DIGITAL AGENDA
Copyright reform is a high priority for the European Commission in as part of the Digital Single Market strategy. The Commission hopes to tackle the fragmented market for broadcasting rights for TV programmes, films and sports and to raise the possibility of access to programmes as well as full access to content services such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and iTunes across borders. Content providers, authors and performers however argue that there is no market for cross border services. A European Parliament working group is taking evidence and the Commission’s proposal for reform is expected in 2016.

CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
The European Creative Industries Alliance (ECIA) which brings together policy makes and business support practitioners has published an action plan and recommendations to maximise the contribution of creative industries to the EU economy as a driver for competitiveness, job creation and structural change. The report highlights as a best practice example the 4CNW (Creative Challenge Celtic Crescent North West) project which used cross-sectoral innovation vouchers. The project was led by Sligo County Council with partners in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

US REOPENS ITS BEEF MARKET
The United States Department of Agriculture has announced that it will reopen its market to exports of beef from the EU in January 2015, beginning with the Republic of Ireland. This follows the ban implemented by the US following the BSE crisis of the 1990s.

FISH DISCARDS BAN IMPLEMENTED
The new ban on discards of unwanted fish comes into effect in January 2015 for herring and mackerel and a year later for cod and haddock. Boats will now be obliged to land the unwanted species.

ASSEMBLY RESEARCH ON CAP AWARD
A research paper CAP Reform 2014-20: EU Agreement and Implementation in the UK and in Ireland jointly prepared by the NI Assembly Research & Information Service (RaISe) and research colleagues in the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Houses of the Oireachtas was nominated for a CAP Communication Award 2014, a scheme organised by the European Commission DG for Agriculture and Rural Development to showcase best practice examples of communication of the Common Agricultural Policy.

CHALLENGE TO WELSH CAP PAYMENTS
January 2015 marks the start of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy. A successful legal challenge to the Welsh Government’s definition of a moorland payment region from ‘Fairness for the Uplands’ means the Welsh Government must develop new proposals for agreement with the Commission. This may have a knock on effect of delaying payments to Welsh farmers in 2015.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES
NAfW Research Service has published a blog on the implications for Wales of TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: are Welsh public services safe on the ‘altar of free trade’?

HOUSE OF LORDS EU COMMITTEE
On 19 January 2015, the Committee Chairperson Lord Boswell attended an informal interparliamentary meeting in Brussels hosted by the Dutch Tweede Kamer to discuss how national parliaments can have a more active role in the EU and how they scrutinise EU issues. Topics of discussion included:

  • A possible “green card”: a mechanism whereby national parliaments could work together to propose an EU initiative to the European Commission
  • The Commission Work Programme: how national parliaments can better scrutinise this annual document
  • The “reasoned opinion” procedure: possible ways to improve the current procedure for national parliaments to scrutinise EU initiatives on the basis of subsidiarity

Current inquiries being undertaken by the House of Lords EU Committee and its Sub Committees:

  • EU Financial Regulatory Framework
  • Civil Use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems
  • The EU and Russia
  • EU Regional Marine Co-operation
  • The UK’s Opt-In and International Agreements

Recently published:

  • The impact of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office on the United Kingdom
  • The United Kingdom opt-in to the draft CEPOL regulation
  • EU Data Protection law: a ‘right to be forgotten’?

HOUSE OF COMMONS EUROPEAN SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (ESCOM)
ESCOM has condemned the Government’s failure to schedule debates on EU documents. The Committee has the power to recommend that the Government arrange debates on EU documents which Members consider legally and/or politically important. Only 4 of the 16 debates recommended by the Committee have taken place since September. The Committee has recommended for debate in the House documents on Russia and the Ukraine: EU restrictive measures and has recommended for debate in the Committee a proposal to amend the 2006 Principal VAT Directive and the European Semester Alert Mechanism report.

Other EU documents reported on by ESCOM:

  • Energy and Climate Change: Emissions Trading System: market stability reserve;
  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: EU zootechnical legislation;
  • Home Office: Forced labour; Repeal of obsolete EU police and criminal justice measures;
  • International Development: Food and Agriculture Organisation; The EU approach to resilience;
  • Office for National Statistics: Statistics;
  • Transport: Seafarers; Inland waterways;
  • Treasury: Financial management: investigations of fraud; Taxation; Financial services: benchmarks; Financial services: occupational pension funds.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Date Name Venue Further details
 2 February 2015  Smart, Green & Integrated Transport Information Day Charlemagne Building, Brussels European Commission
 5 February 2015  Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership – Where now for the EU-US trade deal?  Brussels Forum Europe
 3-5 March 2015  Realising the Opportunities of a Circular Economy – conference on waste, recycling and recovery  London  Resource

CURRENT EUROPEAN COMMISSION CONSULTATIONS
The list below shows a selection of open consultations. The full list of open Commission consultations is here.

Climate Action
19.12.2014 – 16.03.2015 Consultation on the Revision of the EU Emission Trading System (EU ETS) Directive
Communications Networks, Content & Technology
12.01.2015 – 12.04.2015 Public consultation on the Lamy Report: the future use of the UHF TV broadcasting band
Competition
17.12.2014 – 25.03.2015 Public consultation on proposed modifications to Regulation 773/2004 and the Notices on Access to the File, Leniency, Settlements and Cooperation with national courts 
15.01.2015 – 05.05.2015 Guidelines on the application of the specific rules set out in Articles 169, 170 and 171 of the CMO Regulation for the olive oil, beef and veal and arable crops sectors
Employment and Social Affairs

01.12.2014 - 15.03.2015

Public consultation on the review of the Working Time Directive (Directive 2003/88/EC) 

Energy

22.12.2014 – 13.03.2015

Consultation on the list of proposed Projects of Common Interest (Trans European energy infrastructure) PCIs relevant to Northern Ireland include:
Electricity: North South interconnector; South Donegal-Omagh South; Omagh South – Turleenan; Irish-Scottish Links on Energy.
Gas: NSI West corridor NI-GB-RoI-Scotland

Enterprise:

14.10.2014 – 31.01.2015 

Patents and Standards – A modern framework for standardisation involving intellectual property rights 

Internal Market: 

08.09.2014 – 31.01.2015

Cross border mergers and divisions 

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