EU Matters - Issue 2/2015
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
The Commission has confirmed it will abandon the Circular Economy package of legislation, with this decision expected to be formalised in February. Some MEPS called for the package, which consists of 6 bills on packaging, landfill, end of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators and waste electronic equipment, to be saved or amended rather than scrapped. The Commission intends to introduce new proposals which may include the use of targets to create infrastructure and facilities to discourage landfill, by the end of 2015.
The Commission will shortly consult on plans to create Capital Markets Union (CMU) – a pan European capital market which aims to create an integrated market for raising money in financial markets – i.e. through bonds, shares and other financial instruments rather than through banks. It’s estimated the EU firms rely on banks for 80% of business finance, whereas in the US firms get 5 times more funding from capital markets than EU counterparts. While there were reports that the UK was concerned that CMU would include a ‘super regulator’ for the financial sector, a senior Commission official has confirmed that this is not planned. Reports suggest the green paper consultation also floats the idea of a single accounting standard for small companies to help make them more attractive to cross border investors. It is expected that following consultation, Jonathan Hill, the Commissioner for Financial Stability, Services and CMU will publish his plan at the end of summer 2015.
The Commission hopes to tackle tax evasion through a new global reporting standard which will require banks to provide annual information on balances, interest, dividends and sales proceeds from financial assets.
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEWS
The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs voted on legislation which aims to set common minimum standards throughout the EU on the rights of children involved in criminal proceedings and those subject to European arrest warrant proceedings.
Parliament approved a report on cross-border exchange of information on road safety related traffic offences. The proposed legislation aims to provide Member States with mutual access to each other's vehicle registration data in order to identify drivers when they commit traffic offences abroad and pursue them for fines. The law is likely to become enforceable from May 2015 in most of the EU and from May 2017 in UK, Ireland and Denmark.
The Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety has called on the Commission to implement legislation to require processed meat in foods such as lasagne to be labelled by country of origin.
In a change to previous positions, some political groups in the Parliament have now agreed to support the controversial Passenger Name Record legislation which was previously rejected in 2013 due to civil liberties concerns.
QUANTITATIVE EASING PROGRAMME
In an effort to inject more money into the eurozone economy, the European Central Bank has agreed to begin purchasing up to €60billion of government bonds from March in a quantitative easing programme. The programme will run until September 2016 at the earliest and aims to boost inflation and drive down the value of the euro against other currencies in order to make EU exports more attractive.
GREEK GOVERNMENT DEBT PROPOSAL
The new Greek government coalition led by Syriza wants a European debt conference to be organised to discuss how to write-down large portions of the government debt of Greece and other heavily indebted eurozone countries. Syriza also wants a five year grace period before the repayment of its debt burden begins. Greece’s €240 billion EU bailout concludes at the end of February and the government wants a bridge programme to be put in place until the summer while a new deal is agreed to replace the remainder of the bailout programme. The Greek economy returned to growth in 2014 after six consecutive years of recession but its debt burden remains at a 190 percent of GDP.
80% of Greek debt is held by other eurozone governments and international organisations like the IMF. The European Financial Stability Facility has paid out €141.7 billion to Greece since 2010 and now holds over 40 percent of the country’s public debt, making it Greece's largest single creditor. The government has halted privatisation deals and promised to raise the minimum wage – both of which go against the reforms international creditors say must be carried out. There are mixed reports on whether the EU is willing to extend the repayment period for Greek debt.
YOUTH EMPLOYMENT INITIATIVE
The European Commission has proposed making €1billion from the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) available from 2015. This means that the pre financing Member States receive to boost youth employment is increased by up to 30 times. The YEI exclusively supports young people not in employment, education or training in regions experiencing high youth unemployment. For the UK the YEI specific allocation is €206million (matched by the same amount from the European Social Fund). The extra pre financing for 2015 amounts to €61.9million. This legislative proposal will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, who have to adopt it before it can enter into force.
ADVICE ON FINANCIAL INSTRUMENTS
The European Commission, in partnership with the European Investment Bank (EIB) has launched FI-Compass, a new advisory service on financial instruments for the European Structural and Investment Funds. FI-Compass will provide practical know how and learning tools including manuals, factsheets, face to face training and networking events to meet the needs of managing authorities, microfinance providers and interested parties.
NI ASSEMBLY EU PRIORITIES 2015
The Committee for OFMDFM is coordinating the compilation of the EU priorities for Assembly committees in 2015 based on the initiatives contained in the European Commission’s work programme for 2015. Assembly Research and Information Service has analysed the work programme and highlighted those initiatives which may be of relevance to Northern Ireland. The Committee for OFMDFM will publish a report with details of the priorities chosen by Assembly committees for the year ahead, with a plenary debate on the report planned for March 2015.
ASSEMBLY YOUTH PROJECT & ERASMUS+
The Northern Ireland Assembly has been awarded €50,000 of Erasmus+ funding to develop a youth engagement project. The aim is to ‘encourage positive, respectful relationships and represent the voices of young people on issues which affect their lives’. The programme will give 36 young people the opportunity to actively participate in democratic life by working closely with the Northern Ireland Assembly. The participants will consult young people across Northern Ireland about the issues that concern them and report to an Assembly Committee. The programme will run from April until December 2015.
Ending roaming charges for using mobile phones abroad is a priority for the European Commission. Last year, the European Parliament voted to end roaming fees by the end of 2015 but the latest proposal is that telecoms providers will offer a ‘basic roaming allowance’ which customers can use for data and calls at domestic rates up to a limit. Finding a way to end roaming charges has been complicated by the wholesale charges that operators pay each other when their customers travel abroad. If the European Commission initiates a review of the wholesale market and makes legislative proposals to amend it, roaming charges will not be phased out before 2018. This proposal will be negotiated with the Parliament and Commission and will likely change.
FRANCE TO PAY BACK CAP PAYMENTS
In the biggest bill levied against a country under the current EU review of past subsidy payments, the European Commission has asked France to pay back €1.1billion as a result of inaccurate declarations of arable land between 2008 and 2012. The bill represents around 2% of subsidies received by French farmers over the same period and makes up the bulk of the €1.4billion which the Commission wants to recoup from member states.
NI EXECUTIVE OFFICE BRUSSELS UPDATES
The Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels is now producing a regular list of EU events which fall under the thematic groups (environment; economy and social) of the Executive’s EU Liaison Officers as well as a ‘funding gateway’ document which includes a list of open funding calls. Email ONIEB to join the distribution lists.
HOUSE OF LORDS EU COMMITTEE
The EU Select Committee has announced an inquiry into the Government’s Review of the Balance of Competences between the UK and the EU. The Committee will consider what the impact of the Review may be and aims to report by the end of March 2015.
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
- The post-crisis EU financial regulatory framework: do the pieces fit?
- The impact of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office on the United Kingdom
HOUSE OF COMMONS EUROPEAN SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (ESCOM)
ESCOM considered a 2013 Commission Report on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Committee has concerns about the scope of the Charter’s application in the UK and recommend a debate on the floor of the House.
Other EU documents reported on by ESCOM:
Business, Innovation and Skills: Opening up education: innovative teaching and learning through new technologies; Single-member private; limited liability companies; European Private Company;
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Fisheries: catch quotas and effort limitation for 2015;
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: EU Special Representative for Kosovo; EU Special Representative for Afghanistan; EU Special Representative for South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia; EU Special Representative for the Sahel; EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa; EU Special Representative for Human Rights; EU-Turkmenistan relations;
Health: Regulation of medical devices;
Home Office: Forced labour;
Treasury: Financial management; Financial services: money market funds; Protecting the EU’s financial interests; Financial services: benchmarks; Stability and Growth Pact.
25 February 2015 – Audiences NI Conference (including Creative Desk Europe), Belfast
26 February 2015 and various in March 2015 – INTERREG & PEACE pre-application workshops, various venues
3 March 2015 – EU Funding Masterclass for SMEs, Belfast
3-5 March 2015 – Realising the Opportunities of a Circular Economy – conference on waste, recycling and recovery, London
4 March 2015 – Sustainable future for EU farming?, Brussels
5 March 2015 – Creative Europe Funding Workshop for film/TV companies, L/Derry
9-10 March 2015 – European Summit on innovation for active and healthy ageing, Brussels
17 March 2015 – INTERREG VB North West Europe Programme Project Ideas Laboratory, Lille
17-19 March 2015 – Cold Water Island Tourism, Isle of Arran, Scotland
24-25 March 2015 – Urban Regeneration conference, Liverpool
31 March 2015 – Forum of the Future of Agriculture, Brussels
8 April 2015 – Creative Europe breakfast – cultural funding opportunities, London
15 April 2015 – An Investment Plan for Europe: joining forces, Brussels
11-13 May 2015 – E-Health Week, Riga
30 September – 2 October 2015 - 3rd Nature and Sports Euro’meet, Newcastle, Co. Down
CURRENT EUROPEAN COMMISSION CONSULTATIONS
The list below shows a selection of open consultations. The full list of open Commission consultations is here.
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
17.12.2014 – 25.03.2015 Public consultation on proposed modifications to Regulation 773/2004 & Notices on Access to the File, Leniency, Settlements and Cooperation with national courts
Employment and Social Affairs
01.12.2014 - 15.03.2015 Public consultation on the review of the Working Time Directive (Directive 2003/88/EC)
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
11.02.2015 - 11.03.2015 Online survey on research and innovation activities related to raw materials (European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials)
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries:
09.02.2015 – 04.05.2015 Multi-annual plan for the North Sea demersal fisheries
28.012.015 – 22.04.2015 Mid Term Review of the EU Maritime Transport Strategy