EU Matters - Issue 4/2014

Synopsis: 

EUROPEAN COMMISSION NEWS
The Commission’s Work Programme for 2015 is due to be adopted in December. The Commission has already indicated that its ambition is to be ‘bigger and more ambitious on big things, and smaller and more modest on small things’, indicating an intention to focus on proposals which can more easily gain consensus. For the first time, in the preparation of the Work Programme, the Commission is working in dialogue with both the European Parliament and the Member States to build support for its programme.

President Juncker has unveiled the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) - a €21bn fund which is intended to leverage 15 times its value and generate €240bn for long term investment and €75bn for SMEs over 2015-2017. It’s reported that Member States have sent lists of possible investment projects to the Commission and European Investment Bank and this list will discussed at December’s European Council. The target for approval of the plan is mid-2015.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEWS
Negotiations on the Europol proposals for a European Police Office are ongoing and amongst the issues discussed are those of governance and European parliamentary scrutiny. The employment and social aspects of TTIP were discussed at a joint hearing of the Committee on Employment & Social Affairs and Committee on International Trade. The Culture and Education Committee held a public hearing on an integrated approach to cultural heritage in Europe. The Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection examined a proposal aimed at modernising the current legislation on personal protective equipment, with an extension of product coverage and a change in three basic health and safety requirements. The Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development will be discussing priorities with Commissioner Hogan, including the 2015 agricultural budget, the impact of the Russian import ban, the dairy market and legislation on organic production.

EU BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS
Talks on the 2015 EU budget are ongoing. While the 2014-20 budget is agreed, the Council and Parliament have not reached agreement on the Commission’s proposals on the annual budget (€145.2 billion in commitments, up 1.8% on 2014 and €141.3 billion in payments, up 0.7% on 2014) with the Council calling for the budget to be cut. The amending budget for 2014 has also still to be agreed. The institutions have stated that if they cannot agree by 12 December, the EU will adopt the system of the ‘provisional twelfth’ where each chapter of the budget is funded monthly by one twelfth of its 2014 budget or the relevant amount in the 2015 draft budget, whichever is less. This emergency mechanism was last used in 1987.

DEVOLVED INTEREST IN EU MATTERS
The report of the Smith Commission for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament makes recommendations on improving the implementation of the Concordat on the Co-ordination of European Union Policy Issues which sets out the mechanisms between the UK Government and the devolved administrations for handling EU business. The recommendations include ensuring that devolved Ministers are fully involved in agreeing the UK position in EU negotiations relating to devolved policy matters and a presumption that a devolved administration Minister can speak on behalf of the UK at a meeting of the Council of Ministers according to an agreed UK negotiating line should the relevant lead UK Government Minister be unable to attend.

ECJ RULING ON AIR QUALITY
The European Court of Justice has ruled that national courts have the competence to force governments to comply with 2008 air quality directive. Environmental NGO ClientEarth sued the UK Government for not doing enough to improve air quality as nitrogen dioxide levels in 40 of the 43 UK zones were not reduced sufficiently by the directive’s 2010 deadline.

FARMERS TO BE REIMBURSED
€868million which had been removed from direct payments to farmers to establish the agricultural crisis reserve in 2014 will be reimbursed to farmers. As it was not necessary to use the crisis reserve in 2014 €86.9million will be reimbursed to the UK and €27.2million to Ireland. Reimbursement must be made no later than October 2015.

ENERGY USAGE OF LARGE SCREEN TVS
New proposals will see more challenging energy use requirements for large TV screens, similar to the previous energy efficiency changes to vacuum cleaners. The rules could be in effect from June 2016 and will also affect computer monitors. The proposals are among planned ‘ecodesign’ requirements for domestic appliances to cut energy bills.

FISCAL MARKING OF FUEL
The European Commission has referred Ireland to the ECJ for breaching EU legislation on marked fuel by permitting private pleasure craft to use dyed fuel which benefits from a lower rate of tax.

HORIZON PRIZE 2015 LAUNCHED
The European Commission has launched another round of the Horizon Prize which offers cash rewards to innovations meeting set challenges. The 2015 challenges and prizes are: Better use of Antibiotics (prize €1 million); Breaking the optical transmission barriers (prize €500,000); Clean air (prize €3 million); Collaborative Spectrum Sharing (prize €500,000) and Food Scanner (prize €1 million).

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME
A new report by Eurojust, the EU’s judicial cooperation body reveals that organised crime groups (OCGs) are behind cross border environmental crime. The report’s main findings include that the proceeds of environmental crime are very high, yet penalties are low; links to OCGs and illegal trafficking in waste are underreported or simply not investigated; and lack of coordination among competent authorities at both national and international level. Crimes include:

  • Dangerous waste illegally exported to third states from Italy and Ireland
  • Different forms of water pollution in Greece, Hungary and Sweden
  • Illegal export of bird eggs and monkeys

EDUCATION & TRAINING IN THE EU
The Education and Training Monitor 2014 which monitors performance in education across the Member States has been published. The findings indicate that the UK is one of the counties with the highest achievement in tertiary education and digital skills. However the number of early school leavers is still above the EU average. Regarding improvements in basic skills levels, figures for reading skills in the UK have slightly improved, are unchanged for science and slightly worse for maths.

EC-UK MEETING – DECEMBER 2014
The next meeting of EC-UK, the informal meeting of Chairs of European (and equivalent) committees of the UK and devolved legislatures takes place on 8 December and the Northern Ireland Assembly will be represented by the Chairperson of the Committee for OFMDFM Mike Nesbitt. EC-UK is a six-monthly meeting, rotating around the parliaments/legislatures, with an exchange on ongoing and planned EU-related work. The Scottish Parliament hosts on this occasion.

NATIONAL PARLIAMENTS & EU SCRUTINY
In June 2014 representatives of 29 chambers of national parliaments, including the chairs of the House of Lords EU Select Committee, House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on EU Affairs signed a joint letter to the President Juncker of the European Commission proposing the establishment of a working group to explore improvements to existing systems for involving national parliaments in scrutinising EU policies and laws.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT TTIP INQUIRY
The European and External Relations Committee will hold a series of public discussions on the possible impacts of the EU-US trade agreement – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Discussions began on 27 November and will cover the implications for the devolved policy areas of health (NHS Scotland), education, agriculture, the environment and climate change, as well as the potential benefits for the Scottish economy of reducing trade barriers with the USA.

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

Recently published:

HOUSE OF COMMONS EUROPEAN SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (ESCOM)
ESCOM has been considering a regulation on the European Police College (CEPOL) - an EU Agency based in Budapest responsible for providing training and learning opportunities for senior police officers on the European dimension of policing. The Committee expects a Government debate on this opt-in. The Committee has also considered the draft regulations for fishing catch quotas for 2015.

The Committee considered draft Council Decisions on consequential and transitional arrangements on the financial consequences of the UK’s block opt-out. The Committee is recommending a debate on the EU Draft Amending Budget and the draft regulation on corrective contributions to the EU budget. The Committee also revisited two draft regulations dealing with the EU regulatory framework for medical devices and a draft directive on protection for consumers purchasing package holidays and assisted travel.

Other EU documents reported on by ESCOM:
Business, Innovation and Skills: Access to published works for the visually impaired; Insolvency proceedings;
Energy and Climate Change: Kyoto Protocol: emissions reduction targets;
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Atmospheric emissions from medium combustion plants;
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Free movement and public documents; The EU Operations Centre and the Horn of Africa; Iran Sanctions; An EU maritime security strategy; European security and defence: following up the December 2013 European Defence Council;
Home Office: Europol;
Justice: Data Protection in the EU;
Food Standards Authority: EU regulation of novel foods;
Transport: Intelligent transport systems; Safety standards for fishermen; Cableway installations;
Treasury: Financial services: benchmarks; Financial services: bank recovery and resolution; Taxation;
Work and Pensions: Integrating labour markets.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Date

Name

Venue

Further details

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

11 December 2014

Horizon 2020 Information Session for Societal Challenge 6 – Inclusive, innovative and reflective societies

University of Ulster, Jordanstown

InterTrade Ireland

9 January 2015

Fast Track to Innovation Pilot (2015-2016) - Free Interactive Information Event

Brussels

European Commission

19-20 January 2015

European Commission & European Investment Bank conference : Financial Instruments 2014-2020 under European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF)

Charlemagne Building, Brussels

FI Compass

2 February 2015

Smart, Green & Integrated Transport Information Day

Charlemagne Building, Brussels

European Commission

CURRENT EUROPEAN COMMISSION CONSULTATIONS

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

Employment and Social Affairs
01.12.2014 - 15.03.2015 Public consultation on the review of the Working Time Directive (Directive 2003/88/EC) More information

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) More Information
14.10.2014 – 31.01.2015 Patents and Standards – A modern framework for standardisation involving intellectual property rights More Information

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries:

21.11.2014 - 20.01.2015 Guidelines for the examination of State aid to the fishery and aquaculture sector (draft) More information

Public Health:

25.11.2014 - 04.01.2015

Guidelines relating to the provision of information on substances or products causing allergies or intolerances as listed in Annex II of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers More information

Find MLAs

tools-map.png

Locate MLAs

Search

News and Media Centre

tools-media.png

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

tools-social.png

Keep up-to-date with the Assembly

Find out more