EU Matters - Issue 1/2016

EUROPEAN COMMISSION NEWS

The Commission has unveiled its action plan for updating the rules on copyright, aiming for ‘a more modern, more European copyright framework’. Modernisation of the copyright rules is a priority for the Commission and is one of the pillars of the Digital Single Market strategy.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEWS

The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee held an exchange of views with Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella on the Circular Economy package. The Committee for Industry, Research and Energy held an exchange of views with Miguel Arias Cañete, Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy including discussion on the outcome of the Paris COP21 climate conference.

The Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee has endorsed the compromise text on the Directive on the use of Passenger Name Records (PNR) for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of serious crime. When adopted, Member States will have two years to comply. UK and Ireland have opted in to this Directive.

MIGRATION DEAL WITH TURKEY

As previously reported, the European Commission has set up a €3 billion fund to help Turkey to stem the flow of refugees and migrants coming through Turkey into the EU. The Commission offered €500 million from the EU budget with member states expected to contribute the other €2.5 billion. A meeting of EU finance ministers highlighted that member states want to contribute less and for the Commission to pay more into the fund. There is still no agreement on where the money should come from and no projects have been selected for funding as yet.

BORDER CONTROL AND ASYLUM

The Commission has unveiled legislative plans for the creation of an external border force which could be deployed to police a country’s external borders, even without that country’s consent. Frontex, the EU’s border agency, coordinates border protection but has no enforcement role. This new European Border and Coastguard Agency would replace Frontex, cost €280 million per year - double Frontex’s current budget – and would have 1,500 staff compared to 400 at Frontex. The bill will now commence its legislative passage through the European Parliament and Council. The Commission has also proposed that upon entering or exiting the EU, the biometric data of all EU nationals will be crosschecked with police and security databases.

The Commission is expected to propose amendments in March to the asylum legislation known as the Dublin regulation which requires that the country through which asylum seekers first enter the EU has to handle applications for asylum on behalf of all other member states. The UK and Irish governments have already stated that they will oppose any change to the ‘first country’ rule. The new proposals would use a distribution key to allocate asylum applicants to member states. In discussion with the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, Commissioner for Home Affairs and Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said “Dublin should not just be a mechanism to allocate responsibility, but also a solidarity instrument among member states. It must be revised deeply; it was adopted in a totally different landscape.” He also admitted that the Commission’s flagship refugee relocation scheme “has not delivered the expected results” with only 272 out of a total of 160,000 relocated between member states so far.

SCANDINAVIAN BORDER CONTROLS

Denmark plans to introduce border controls with Germany in January as soon as Sweden introduces formal ID checks on the Øresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. Sweden introduced border controls on the bridge in November to stem the flow of asylum seekers but wishes to now introduce additional ID checks with plans to send those without documents back to Denmark. Around 30,000 people cross the Øresund bridge every day. Internal border controls are in breach of the EU’s Schengen rules but member states say these measures are temporary and necessary in light of the refugee crisis.

The Swedish Migration Agency estimated that Sweden received almost 200,000 asylum seekers in 2015, making the country the most preferred destination in the EU per capita. 115,000 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden over the last four months alone. Among them were 26,000 unaccompanied children. The European Commission has granted Sweden a one year suspension of its participation in the EU scheme to relocate asylum seekers given the high numbers of applications to Sweden.

PEACE IV FUNDING LAUNCHED

The €270million PEACE IV programme for Northern Ireland and the border regions of Ireland was launched on 14 January. The programme was adopted by the Commission in November 2015 as reported in a previous EU Matters and aims to deepen reconciliation and tackle remaining challenges through investment in shared education, shared spaces and services and projects which bring people together.

NORTHERN IRELAND TASK FORCE

The European Commission has announced the continuation of the Northern Ireland Task Force in order to help the region participate more actively in the EU policy process and fully benefit from EU programmes and projects fostering growth and jobs.

The Task Force operates within the European Commission under the authority of the Commissioner for Regional Policy. It is today composed of representatives from 17 European Commission Directorates-General which have a role in fostering socio-economic development.

Commission President Jean-Claude   Juncker  has requested that the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, together with their counterparts in Northern Ireland, carry out an assessment of the work of the Northern Ireland Task Force by the end of 2018. The Committee for OFMDFM previously did an inquiry into the work of the Northern Ireland Task Force during Commission President Barroso’s term.

INQUIRY INTO NI & EU REFERENDUM

The House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into Northern Ireland and the EU referendum. The Committee has issued a call for written submissions and plans to hold public evidence sessions in February and March 2016. The terms of reference include seeking information on NI specific issues as part of the debate on the UK’s membership of the EU and potential implications of and opportunities for Northern Ireland of a UK exit from the EU.

AGRI MARKETS TASKFORCE

As reported previously , the European Commission has established an Agricultural Markets Taskforce comprised of experts in the agriculture food chain who will discuss market transparency, access for farmers to financial instruments to hedge price risks, contractual relations within the food chain and legal possibilities for organising farmers’ collective actions. The Commission announced the 12 strong membership of the Taskforce on 12 January which includes Dr David Dobbin of United Dairy Farmers . The inaugural meeting is on 13 January with the Taskforce due to issue its final report and recommendations to the Commission in autumn 2016.

NORTH WEST SCIENCE PARK AWARD

The North West Science Park has won the 2015 ‘Sail of Papenburg’ award for Cross Border Regions. The award from the Association of European Border Regions is awarded to projects which are an exemplar of cross border cooperation. The NWRSP is a partnership between the North West Cross Border Group, NI Science Park and Letterkenny Institute of Technology and has received €14 million of INTERREG IVA funds.

EIB LOAN FOR IRISH FLOOD PROJECTS

The European Investment Bank is providing €200 million in loans to the Irish Government for 30 flood prevention and protection projects across the Republic of Ireland over the next five years. The loans were agreed by the Board of the EIB on 17 December 2015 and will be 55% match funded by the Irish Government. The funds will be channelled through the Office of Public Works and it will be for the Government to determine which projects will receive funding. This is the first time flood prevention projects have been funded through EIB loans in Ireland. Since 2008 the EIB has provided more than €3 billion for flood protection and prevention projects, and €1.1 billion for post flood reconstruction schemes in Europe.

RULE OF LAW IN POLAND

The European Commission is undertaking an assessment under the rule of law framework of the activities of the new Polish government led by the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) which was successful in October’s elections. The government has signed into law new controls of public broadcasters and laws to reform the country’s constitutional court. The Commission is deciding whether to use its mechanism for addressing ‘systemic threats’ to the rule of law in a member state. If found at fault, Poland could be stripped of its EU voting rights - although this mechanism has never been used before. Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the probe is aimed at “starting a dialogue” with the Polish government. Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said "Poland has been unfairly accused of things that don't exist in our country... of breaking the principles of the rule of law. That's not true. Democracy is alive and well in Poland." Prime Minister Szydlo debated the state of the rule of law and restrictions to press freedom in Poland with the Council Presidency, Commission and MEPs at the European Parliament on 19 January.

BOSNIA’S ACCESSION TO THE EU

Bosnia-Herzegovina is seeking to accelerate its application for EU membership. Commission President Juncker has previously stated that no further EU enlargement would take place during his first term of office. If Bosnia’s application is accepted, a series of complex and lengthy negotiations will follow.

NETHERLANDS PRESIDENCY

The Netherlands holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU from January to June 2016 and wants to see ‘a Union that focuses on the essentials, creates growth and jobs through innovation, and connects with civil society’. The Netherlands is the first of the Presidency trio for January 2016 to July 2017 which also includes Slovakia and Malta. The trio’s priorities are growth, jobs, freedom, security, justice, the energy union and the Union as a strong global actor. In briefing the European Parliament plenary in January, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte highlighted the refugee crisis; the European economy including stability of the Eurozone; and the future of the EU as key priorities.

DANISH REFERENDUM

On 3 December, Denmark voted against adopting the same ‘opt-in’ arrangement on 22 EU justice and home affairs matters that the UK and Ireland have. Denmark will retain its current opt out on these legislative matters, with 53.1% voting against changing the system. Turnout was 72%. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen had campaigned for a yes vote. Denmark originally opted out of these matters when ratifying the Maastricht treaty. The Danish government is now endeavouring to arrange a parallel deal whereby Denmark will still participate in Europol, the EU’s joint police body.

Separately, the Danish government has introduced a bill which will permit police to confiscate cash or valuables worth more than €1,340 from refugees in order to finance their stay in Denmark. The bill also proposes strict measures on family reunification and access to permanent residency permits. The Danish parliament will debate the bill on 26 January and is expected to approve the proposals.

MEP ACCESS TO TTIP DOCUMENTS

On 2 December, an agreement between the European Commission and the European Parliament was approved by the College of Commissioners to allow all MEPs to have access to all confidential documents relating to the negotiations on the Trade and Transatlantic Investment Partnership (TTIP). These documents will include the ‘consolidated texts’ which reflect the US position. MEPs will be able to read the texts in a secure reading room in the European Parliament and take handwritten notes.

UK REFERENDUM ON EU MEMBERSHIP

EU leaders and the UK Government will try to reach a deal on EU reform at the February Council meeting. This effectively means that the earliest possible date for a referendum will be June 2016 as four months’ notice must be given before the vote. Should agreement be postponed until the March Council meeting, the referendum wouldn’t be before September 2016. During a hearing at the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, Jonathan Faull, head of the European Commission Task Force for Strategic Issues related to the UK Referendum said “Our hope in the European Commission is that this (February) Council proves to be the decisive one.” Speaking in December, Commission President Juncker said “I am quite sure that we'll have a deal - not a compromise, a solution, a permanent solution - in February."

The House of Commons voted by 303 to 253 to reject the House of Lords amendment to the EU Referendum Bill which would have extended the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.

Prime Minister David Cameron has confirmed that “there will be a clear Government position, but it will be open to individual ministers to take a different personal position while remaining part of the Government.” However, he stressed that taking a personal position different to that of the Government “does not effectively come into practice” until the renegotiation process is complete.

HOUSE OF COMMONS EUROPEAN SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (ESCOM)

At its meeting of 13 January 2016 , the Committee r ecommended debate on a reasoned opinion objecting to European Parliament proposals for uniform electoral rules for European Parliament elections across all 28 Member States.  At its meeting of 20 January 2016 the Committee considered matters relating to :

  • measures to reduce and recycle waste
  • an agreement on relations with Afghanistan
  • proposals relating to the creation of an EU Border and Coast Guard
  • border checks for the Schengen area

Ongoing inquiries:

HOUSE OF LORDS EU COMMITTEE

Recently published reports include EU energy governance and the United Kingdom’s participation in Pr ü m . The Committee visited Brussels in January as part of its inquiry into EU reform and met with European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans; Jonathan Faull, Head of the European Commission’s Taskforce on the UK’s EU Referendum; Chairs of the Constitutional and Foreign Affairs Committees and a number of MEPs.

Ongoing inquiries:

UPCOMING EVENTS

5 February 2016 – EU Debate NI: Implications of remaining in or leaving the EU for business, community and public sectors, Belfast City Hall

16 February 2016 – Forum Europe: 2016 European Circular Economy Conference , Brussels

18-19 February 2016 – Centre for Cross Border Studies: Bordering Between Unions – What does the UK referendum on Europe mean for us?, Dundalk

3 March 2016 – Enterprise Europe Network: Creative Connections, Bridging Borders – brokerage event, Everglades Hotel, L/derry

10 September 2016 – European Commission: launch of European Week of Sport 2016 

CURRENT EUROPEAN COMMISSION CONSULTATIONS

The list below shows a selection of open consultations. The full list of open Commission consultations is here.

Climate Action

22.12.2015 – 15.03.2016 Consultation on the functioning of the Auctioning Regulation pursuant to the scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowances trading within the Community (EU ETS)

Competition

04.11.2015 – 12.02.2016 Empowering the national competition authorities to be more effective enforcers

Education

27.11.2015 – 29.02.2016 Public consultation on a renewed Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education in the European Union

Employment and Social Affairs

22.12.2015 – 18.03.2016 Public consultation on the review of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020

22.01.2016 – 22.04.2016 Public online consultation on the Your First EURES job (YEFJ) mobility scheme and options for future EU measures on youth intra-EU labour mobility

26.01.2016 – 19.04.2016 Public consultation on an employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship (the so-called ‘Written Statement Directive’)

Environment

21.12.2015 – 28.03.2016 Consultation on the evaluation of the Environmental Noise Directive

Equal opportunities

18.11.2015 – 17.02.2016 Public consultation on possible action addressing the challenges of work-life balance faced by working parents and caregivers

Energy

18.11.2015 – 10.02.2016 Preparation of a new Renewable Energy Directive for the period after 2020

Home Affairs

12.01.2016 – 06.04.2016 Tackling migrant smuggling: is the EU legislation fit for purpose?

Information Society; Communications Networks; Content & Technology

22.15.2015 – 15.03.2016 Public stakeholder consultation on next phase of EU-US cooperation in eHealth/Health IT

Justice and Fundamental Rights, Environment, Climate Action, Banking and Finance

18.12.2015 – 23.03.2016 Public consultation on long-term and sustainable investment

Maritime Affairs

18.12.2015 – 13.03.2016 Consultation on the fisheries control regulation

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