EU Matters - Issue 3/2014

European Commission News

The European Commission has published a ‘Report of the Northern Ireland Task Force 2007-2014’ which presents the results of what became known as the Barroso Task Force in a range of EU policy areas  including research and innovation, regional and urban policy, agriculture policy and education and training. This report reprises the information supplied by the Commission to the Committee for OFMDFM in evidence to its Inquiry into the Barroso Taskforce, the report of which was published in July 2014.

Deadlines for contributions to the EU budget will be extended under amended rules proposed by the budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.  Corrections are made automatically on an annual basis.  Under the amended rules, if the corrections exceed €5billion or twice the monthly contribution for one member state, a deadline extension will kick in, allowing national treasuries to pay in instalments by 1 September of the following year, rather than having to face monthly interest charges if not paid by 1 December.  This also means that countries due to receive money will only get it after the extended deadline payments have been made.

The new Commission is expected to adopt its work programme in mid December. Meanwhile, President Juncker has proposed greater levels of co-ordinated working between the EU institutions, with the idea that the Commission, Parliament and Council will agree on a multi annual programme setting strategic objectives in the beginning of the 5 year legislative term and this programme would be reviewed mid term.  The Commission has already indicated that it would like to concentrate efforts where there is a strong change of adopting new legislation rather than on areas where reaching consensus is very difficult and that they wish to focus on broad issues rather than getting involved in more modest policy areas.

An unconfirmed report suggests that among a range of legislation which the new Commission plans to review or withdraw are laws on air quality, reducing waste and energy labelling for household appliances.

European Parliament News

The Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety agreed that member states should have the right to ban genetically modified crops from their territory even if the EU has already approved them for cultivation.  There are a number of areas of disagreement between the Parliament and the Council including whether a blanket ban can be imposed by a country or whether each separate crop would have to be banned.  In addition, the Parliament wants the list of reasons as to why a country can ban a GM crop to be extended.  Negotiations to agree a compromise legislative text are ongoing.

Following a debate on 12 November, the Parliament agreed a resolution on the Northern Ireland Peace Process urging ‘all parties to join talks launched on 16 October to resolve the outstanding issues, so as to underpin the functioning and stability of Northern Ireland’s democratic institutions’.

The European Parliament has published a study ‘Mapping the Cost of Non-Europe 2014-19’ which is part of a long term project being undertaken by the European Added Value Unit.  It attempts to identify and analyse the economic benefits of policy action at a European level in particular fields.  For example, the report cites the potential GDP gain for completing the digital single market as €656 billion per year. 

Emissions & Renewables Targets

At the October Council meeting, EU leaders agreed to a target (binding at Member State level) of reducing CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030 (from 1990 levels).  Other targets agreed (not binding at national level) were energy efficiency and renewables targets of 27% and a target to have electricity interconnection worth 15% of installed capacity. The targets will be reviewed following the 2015 UN summit on climate change. 

Working Time Directive Ruling

Following a challenge by the European Court of Justice to the UK interpretation of the EU Working Time Directive, an Employment Appeal Tribunal has ruled that UK companies have been misinterpreting the Directive.  The ruling states that overtime should be included in employee holiday pay rather than only basic pay as is the case currently.  The ruling means that all people working overtime could claim for additional holiday pay.  The government estimates that around 5million people currently in work are paid overtime and plans to set up a task force to review the judgement.  The potential for backdated claims has been limited as the ruling states that employees cannot claim more than three months after the last incorrect payment.  Under some circumstances, employees may be able to claim holiday pay back 6 years using a breach of contract claim.

ECJ Ruling on Access to Benefits

In a case relating to access to benefits in Germany, the European Court of Justice has ruled that under the 2004 Freedom of Movement directive, an unemployed migrant does not have an automatic legal right to access unemployment benefits.  The Court ruled that ‘economically inactive EU citizens who go to another Member State solely in order to obtain social assistance may be excluded from certain social benefits’. 

Tobacco Directive Judicial Review

The High Court in London has referred a case lodged by tobacco company Philip Morris to the European Court of Justice.  The company won a judicial review of the tobacco products directive claiming that the provisions for more health warnings and bans on products are disproportionate and infringe single market rules.  The decision is expected to take 2 years, during which time the directive will remain in effect.

Technology in Higher Education

The EU’s High-Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education has published its report on 'new modes of learning and teaching in universities'. The group, chaired by Mary McAleese, makes 15 recommendations highlighting the need for better targeting of resources to promote the development and use of more flexible digital learning and teaching methods in higher education.

European Investment Bank Loan

The European Investment Bank’s largest ever single loan, worth £1.5billion has been provided to National Grid PLC for investment across its national electricity transmission network.  Over the last five years the European Investment Bank has provided nearly £22billion for investment in UK infrastructure including transport, social housing, hospital, water, schools and universities.

European Arrest Warrant

The UK will officially opt back into 35 European criminal justice and policing measures including the European Arrest Warrant effective on 1 December while opting out of 100 other measures on the same day under the terms of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty.  A Commons vote on the package of measures on 10th November was passed, however opponents argue that the failure to hold a vote explicitly on the warrant itself raises doubts over the legality of opting into that measure.  The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has published a report to provide a guide to the UK’s 2014 block opt-out decision and how it has been scrutinised by Parliament.

Structural Fund Allocations

The Commission has adopted the UK Partnership Agreement which clears the way for formal adoption in November of the UK Operational Programmes for Structural and Investment funds – the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). €11.8bn is allocated to Cohesion Policy (ERDF and ESF), €5.18bn for EAFRD and €243m for EMFF.  EMFF spending is UK wide but for the other programmes, allocations for Northern Ireland for the 2014-2020 period are: ERDF Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme - €308m; ESF Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme - €205.3m and EAFRD Rural Development Programme €227m.

NI Energy Infrastructure Funded

2 projects relevant to Northern Ireland have been selected for funding under the Connecting Europe Facility for supporting trans-European energy infrastructure.  Development of the Islandmagee Underground Gas Storage facility and the Smart Grid Deployment - North Atlantic Green Zone Project were selected as Projects of Common Interest.  The European Commission will now adopt a decision formalising the list of projects selected and the maximum amount granted to each of them.

EU Funds for Food Promotion

The EU is providing €33million co-financing to 21 projects to promote European milk, sheep meat, fruit, vegetables, juice and organic food.  Funds have been provided to promote milk in the UK, Ireland, France and Denmark and for the UK, Ireland and France to promote sheep meat.

CoR - Sustainable Tourism Funding

The Committee of the Regions has published a guide ‘Sustainable and competitive tourism – new funding opportunities for local and regional authorities’ which details opportunities for a diverse range of projects from fishing and maritime heritage to renewal in rural areas; from developing skills in tourism to urban development.

British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA)

BIPA Committee B (EU Affairs) has called for an exemption to the HGV levy for Irish hauliers using roads in Northern Ireland.  The Committee has called for the British and Irish Governments to provide an assessment of how the new HGV Road User Levy is compatible with EU rules.  Separately, the Committee is also currently undertaking an inquiry into the European Investment Bank.

Scottish Parliament – TTIP

The European and External Relations Committee is planning an inquiry into the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and implications for Scotland. 

House of Lords EU Committee

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

Reports recently published:

House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee (ESCOM)

This month, ESCOM considered the implementation road map aimed at improving the EU’s Common Security & Defence Policy.  The Committee recommends a debate to enable the Minister to set 

out how he envisages how UK interests will be protected.  The Committee also considered the EU Budget 2014 and the revisions to Member States contributions as a result of adjustments to the VAT and gross national income bases over the period 2002-13.  These adjustments increase the UK’s contribution by £2.873 billion. The Committee recommends a debate on this document on the floor of the House.  The Committee also considered the UK’s 2014 block opt out decision (see above).

Other EU documents reported on by ESCOM:

Common Security & Defence Policy:  Financing European Union operations having military or defence implications;

Energy and Climate Change: Resilience of the European gas system to supply disruption in 2014-15;

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: International Organisations for Vine and Wine;

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime; EU Action to support Afghan civilian policing and Rule of Law post-2014; EU Strategy in Afghanistan 2014-16; The working of the comitology committees; The EU and the Horn of Africa: Regional Maritime Capacity Building;

Justice: Hague Convention (Choice of Court Agreements);

Treasury: Financial services: securities financing transactions; EU Solidarity Fund; EU General Budgets 2014 and 2015

Upcoming Events

Date

Name

Venue

Further details

19 November 2014

Creativity and innovation as motors for economic growth: the role of culture and territories 

Committee of the Regions, Brussels

Puglia Region Office, Brussels

20 November 2014

European Structural and Investment Funds 2014-2020 : the Role of Cities and Urban Development in the New Programmes

Committee of the Regions, Brussels

Committee of the Regions

20 November 2014

Horizon 2020 Information Workshop (including info on cross border and small business support)

University of Ulster, Magee Campus

DoE Barroso Taskforce team

27 November 2014

Europe working for Wales: Successful approaches to combatting Youth Unemployment

Millennium Centre, Cardiff

EU Policy - Welsh Government

27 November 2014

Innovation through People - EU Funding Support for entrepreneurs and SMEs

Tullyglass Hotel, Ballymena

Invest NI

27 November 2014

North West Europe Programme – Information Seminar

Dunadry Hotel, Antrim

SEUPB

2 – 3 December 2014

URBACT European Exchange Programme for Urban Development - National Info Day

London

Dept. for Communities & Local Government

3 December 2014

Collaborate to Innovate Conference: Horizon 2020 ‘Opportunity and Support’

Dublin Castle

InterTrade Ireland

11 December 2014

Rural Development Programmes 2014-2020: State of Programming and First Insights Concerning the Design of Programmes

Committee of the Regions, Brussels

(also live stream)

Committee of the Regions

Current European Commission Consultations

Consumers 
29.07.2014 – 30.11.2014 Green Paper on the Safety of Tourism Accommodation Services
Enterprise: 
08.09.2014 – 15.12.2014 A strong European policy to support Small and Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs 2015-2020 – Public consultation on the Small Business Act (SBA)
14.10.2014 – 31.01.2015 Patents and Standards – A modern framework for standardisation involving intellectual property rights
Internal Market: 
08.09.2014 – 01.12.2014 Cross-border mergers and divisions More Information

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