EU Matters - Issue 4/2015
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 Digital Single Market strategy is due to be published on 6 May and will include 3 strands - better access for consumers and business (including e-commerce, geo-blocking, copyright and VAT for companies in the digital market); shaping the environment for digital networks and services (including telecoms infrastructure rules including spectrum policy, online platforms and data protection regulation); and standardisation in interoperability and digital skills (including long term growth potential of the digital economy).
The Commission has proposed a ‘tax transparency’ package aimed at tackling corporate tax avoidance, a key component of which is sharing of information between member states. The package includes an Action Plan on corporate taxation which is expected before the summer and two legislative proposals which, with agreement, are planned to be in force from January 2016.
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEWS
Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström held an exchange of views with the Committee for International Trade on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP). Key topics were investor protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS). The Commission’s consultation on these specific mechanisms to be included in the TTIP negotiations received over 150,000 responses. MEPs are expected to vote in May 2015 on a resolution which will contain the Parliament’s recommendations to the EUs TTIP negotiating team.
The Committee’s draft report is in preparation and recommends that a specific clause to deal with ISDS is not necessary. 6 of the 14 Committees drafting the Parliament’s resolution on TTIP have rejected ISDS but the Commission still wishes to include ISDS and investor protection to ensure that there could be no discrimination against foreign investors in the US. The ninth round of TTIP negotiations takes place in New York on 20-24 April, focusing on the ‘regulatory cooperation’ chapter which includes the controversial ISDS clause.
The Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety approved a resolution calling for the exclusion of public health services; genetically modified organisms; use of hormones in the bovine sector; REACH chemical legislation; and cloning from the TTIP negotiations.
NEGOTIATIONS ON ROAMING CHARGES
The Commissioner for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip has accused governments of a lack of ambition in relation to the scrapping of roaming charges and has called their response to the proposals ‘a joke’. The Commission has underlined that their position is that roaming charges should be abolished as soon as possible. Trialogue negotiations between the European Parliament and the EU Council, mediated by the Commission, are now underway to reach a deal on the legislation. MEPs want the charges to be abolished but national governments want a ‘transition period’ where a consumer would have an allowance of 7 days per year to use their phone abroad at the same price as their home country.
GEO-BLOCKING & COPYRIGHT REFORM
Modernisation of copyright law is one of the Commission’s priorities although there are reports of differences of opinion between Andrus Ansip, Commissioner for the Digital Single Market and Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Digital Economy & Society. Territorial restriction of content or ‘geo-blocking’ where consumers can for example watch a football match on TV in one country but not another is blamed for blocking the development of a pan European market for digital audio visual services. There are reports of lobbying to prevent attempts to reform copyright laws. France has also expressed concerns that overhauling the principle of territoriality could ‘lead to a decay of European culture’. As mentioned, the Commission will publish its strategy on completion of the Digital Single Market on 6 May.
MEETING WITH AGRI COMMISSIONER
The NI Assembly Committee for Agriculture & Rural Development held a meeting with Commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development Phil Hogan recently and discussions included dairy & pig market volatility; CAP implementation; Rural Development Programme ; red tape; and international trade agreements.
NEW DIRECTOR AT NI EXEC OFFICE
Andrew Elliott is the new Director of the Office of the NI Executive in Brussels. He joins the team during the Latvian Council Presidency and at the start of the Juncker Commission, and says he is looking forward to the challenge of further enhancing the region’s presence and impact in the EU.
TRIALOGUE NEGOTIATIONS PROBE
EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has indicated that her office may investigate the trialogue process – the negotiations which are held between the European Parliament and the Council, and attended by the Commission, to reach agreement on legislation. In an interview with Euractiv, Ms O’Reilly raised concerns over the transparency of the decision making process, highlighting the recent case of disagreement on the abolition of mobile roaming charges.
NEW SCOTTISH EU FUNDING PORTAL
A Scottish EU Funding Portal has been launched. It is a partnership project between Scotland Europa, Scottish Government, East of Scotland European Consortium and West of Scotland European Forum. It has been developed in response to demand from Scottish stakeholders to establish a single source of information on EU funding programmes for which Scotland is eligible. The Portal is an online community of practice for stakeholders interested in EU funding with the aim of improving and broadening knowledge of EU Programmes to ultimately lead to a greater variety and uptake of EU funds by Scottish organisations.
GOOGLE ABUSING MARKET DOMINANCE
Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager announced that a 5 year Commission investigation has found that Google has abused its dominant market position as the search engine gives prominence to its own products over those of competitors . Google has a market share of over 90% in internet searches in most EU countries. Google has 10 weeks to respond. The Commission continues to investigate other complaints about Google’s conduct in the market. A separate investigation into Google’s conduct in relation to Android has also been launched.
DENMARK TO OPT IN ON JUSTICE ISSUES
A majority of the Danish parliament has agreed to join key aspects of EU justice and home affairs policy – including full cooperation with Europol. However Denmark will not opt in to EU immigration and asylum policy. The agreement requires approval in a referendum which is expected in March 2016.
EU FUNDING GUIDE
The European Commission has published a Beginner’s Guide to EU Funding which includes details for sectors including small businesses; farmers; NGOs; and young people for the funding programmes for 2014-2020.
BREACH OF WASTE WATER LEGISLATION
The Commission has referred the UK to the EU Court for a breach of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive for inadequate treatment and/or collection of waste water in 17 towns, one of which is Ballycastle.
PLAIN PACKAGING FOR CIGARETTES
MPs have agreed legislation for plain packs for cigarettes, effective from May 2016, with the UK becoming the second EU country to do so. Similar legislation has been passed in Ireland, although a legal challenge is underway. The revision of the EU Tobacco Products Directive, agreed in 2014 includes a ban on flavourings, larger health warnings and a ban on packs of less than 20 cigarettes. The introduction of plain packaging is not required by EU legislation.
WORKING TIME DIRECTIVE BREACH
The European Court of Justice has found that Ireland has breached the Working Time Directive in respect of doctors’ working hours. The ECJ found that by excluding the training hours of non consultant hospital doctors from the concept of ‘working time’ and therefore encroaching on the minimum rest period, Ireland is in breach of the law. This follows the European Commission’s referral of Ireland to the ECJ in September 2013 for failure to comply with the same directive regarding cases where junior doctors were regularly required to work continuous 36 hour shifts, to work more than 100 hours in a week or work without adequate breaks. The final judgement on the case is expected within the next 3-6 months. Ireland could face a substantial fine for the breach as well as additional fines for each day the breach continues.
NEW RULES ON MEAT LABELLING
From 1 April, new rules apply to labelling of fresh, chilled and frozen meat. Labels for pre-packed pig, sheep, goat and poultry meat must indicate in which country the animal was reared and slaughtered. If animals were born, raised and slaughtered in the same country, the label can simply state the origin country (similar labelling for beef is already in force). Discussions on labelling for processed meat are ongoing at the EU institutions.
CAP DIRECT PAYMENT EXTENSION
The European Commission has proposed a one month extension to 15 June to the deadline for aid application for direct payments by member states. The extension is to take account of implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy. The extension is only for 2015 and it is for Member States to decide if they wish to avail of it.
EU FUND FOR URBAN CO-OPERATION
URBACT III has been launched with a fund of approximately €96.3m which includes €74.3m of European Regional Development Fund monies. URBACT is an instrument of Cohesion Policy and facilitates cities to work in cooperation through networking and learning to advance integrated solutions to common urban issues. For 2014-20, 70% of the resources will focus on research and innovation; environmental protection; low carbon economy; job creation; and social inclusion.
INTERREG FUNDING CALLS TIMETABLE
The indicative timetable for funding calls for the Interreg programme 2014-2020 has been published by SEUPB, with the first call for proposals (for objective 1.2: enhancing innovation capacity of SMEs) expected in May 2015. Funding calls will generally be open for 4-6 weeks. The timetable is subject to confirmation at a meeting of the Monitoring Committee in May. SEUPB intends to hold events for each of the themes within the programme.
WOMEN INNOVATORS PRIZE
The third round of the EU Prize for Women Innovators has been launched. The prize aims to raise awareness of the need for more female entrepreneurs given that women represent only 30% of entrepreneurs in Europe. The competition is open to women who have founded or cofounded a company and who have benefited from EU research/innovation funding. Three prizes worth €100,000, €50,000 and €30,000 are on offer and the competition is open until October 2015, with the winner being announced in early 2016.
£640m FOR POST OFFICE NETWORK
The European Commission has ruled that the UK has not breached state aid rules in granting £640million to the Post Office Ltd. for delivering its whole range of services to the entire network from 2015-18. The money is intended to ensure that the Post Office continues to provide public services across the network, including in areas which would not otherwise be commercially optimal.
EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM FOR CARS
The European Parliament Internal Market Committee has agreed to the introduction of eCall – an alert system which will automatically contact the emergency number 112 when you have a car accident. All new cars and light commercial vehicles from March 2018 will be required to have the system. The final step will be a vote in plenary which is expected in April.
SCHOOL FRUIT SCHEME 2015-16
€150m has been approved for the School Fruit Scheme in the EU for the 2015-16 school year. Established in 2009, the scheme is aimed at reversing the trend of declining fruit and vegetable consumption by specifically addressing children. Ireland receives €1.2m, 75% of which is EU funding. The UK, Sweden and Finland have opted out of the scheme.
Think tank Open Europe has published a report on the potential economic impact of the UK leaving the EU. The report includes a number of potential scenarios – in a worst case scenario GDP could be 2.2% lower outside the EU and in a best case scenario it could be 1.6% higher outside the EU. The more realistic range is estimated as between a loss of 0.8% to GDP in 2030 – where the UK strikes a comprehensive trade deal with the EU but does nothing else; and a 0.6% gain in GDP where the UK pursues free trade with the rest of the work and deregulation, in addition to a free trade agreement with the EU. The report suggests that the Swiss and Norwegian models of EU association would not be suitable for the UK and examines how these models could be adapted for the UK circumstances.
Open Europe has also written about the potential impact of ‘Brexit’ on Ireland, with estimations of a loss to Irish GDP in 2030 of between 1.1% and 3.1%.
HOUSE OF LORDS EU COMMITTEE
The EU Select Committee published its report on the UK opt-in to EU justice & home affairs matters and finds that the Government’s interpretation of the opt-in protocol is legally unsustainable. Separately, the Committee has published its report on the Balance of Competences Review and while welcoming the Review as ambitious, criticises the Government for failing to draw the various reports together in a final analysis.
- The UK’s opt-in protocol: implications of the Government’s approach
- The Review of the Balance of Competences between the UK and the EU
- Capital Markets Union: a welcome start
- The North Sea under pressure: is regional marine co-operation the answer?
- A new EU Alcohol Strategy?
HOUSE OF COMMONS EUROPEAN SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (ESCOM)
ESCOM has published a Scrutiny Reform follow-up and Legacy Report . The Committee has criticised the Government for failing to schedule debates on highly-charged issues such as the free movement of EU citizens and the EU Budget. The Committee states that it remains deeply concerned about the manner in which the BBC treats EU issues, which will be a key issue in the run up to any referendum on EU membership and raises wider questions about the BBC's accountability to Parliament which must be taken into account as part of the forthcoming review of the BBC Charter.
Other EU documents reported on by ESCOM include:
Employment guidelines intended to provide a framework for policy coordination within the annual European Semester; a Communication from the Commission on female genital mutilation ; two Council decisions on international cooperation to prevent match-fixing; and two Communications which are part of the new Energy Union package.
Other documents include:
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Plant reproductive material;
Food Standards Authority: Food law: official controls;
Justice: Comitology – adaption of the regulatory procedure with scrutiny; Rule of Law in the EU; Procedural rights;
Transport: Civil aviation: passenger protection; Safety standards for fishermen, maritime safety and inland waterways: freight;
Work and Pensions: European aid to the most deprived; Trans-boundary effects of industrial pollution; Integrating labour markets.
24 April 2015 – NI European Regional Forum: EU Funds Masterclass - ‘Europe for Citizens’, Belfast
27-28 April 2015 – DG Regio: Clusters in regional economic development, Brussels
1 May 2015 – NI Environment Link: EU Funding for environmental measures, Parliament Buildings, Belfast
11-13 May 2015 – Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU: E-Health Week, Riga
25 June 2015 – Environmental Protection Agency: networking event on Horizon 2020 Societal Challenge 5, Dublin
25 June 2015 – Place & Space Research: Planning for Climate Change conference, London
30 Sept – 2 Oct 2015 – European Network of Outdoor Sports: 3 rd 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.
Banking and finance
18.02.2015 – 13.05.2015 Building a Capital Markets Union
18.02.2015 – 13.05.2015 Review of the Prospectus Directive
18.02.2015 – 13.05.2015 An EU framework for simple, transparent and standardised securitisation
25.03.2015 – 17.06.2015 Consultation on the preparation of a legislative proposal on the effort of Member States to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet the European Union’s greenhouse gas emission reduction commitment in a 2030 perspective
Employment and Social Affairs:
19.02.2015 – 15.05.2015 Public consultation on service provision to long-term unemployed
15.04.2015 – 08.07.2015 EU Timber Regulation Review
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries:
09.02.2015 – 04.05.2015 Multi-annual plan for the North Sea demersal fisheries
Research and Technology:
23.02.2015 – 22.05.2015 Public online stakeholder consultation on the ex-post evaluation of the 7th Framework Programme
10.03.2015 - 02.06.2015 Mid-term review of the 2011 White Paper on transport