The Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved at 00:01 on Thursday 26 January, 2017. The elections will take place on Thursday 2 March, 2017.

EU Matters - Issue 4/2016

EUROPEAN COMMISSION NEWS

Sir Julian King has been assigned the Security Union portfolio – a new portfolio created by Commission President Juncker.  Sir Julian’s appointment was formally announced on 19 September by the Council following endorsement by the European Parliament. The new portfolio will include establishment of a European response to terrorism, organised crime and cybercrime and Sir Julian will report to Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans.  The new portfolio encompasses responsibilities which previously sat within the migration, home affairs and citizenship portfolio of Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave his annual ‘State of the European Union’ speech on 14 September.  The speech focused on economic and security proposals, including the establishment of an EU defence headquarters to work towards a common military force which he described as being “complementary with Nato.”  As well as urging greater cooperation and solidarity among member states, President Juncker also proposed doubling the size and duration of the Investment Plan for Europe (known as the Juncker Plan) to €630bn by 2022.  In his only direct reference to the UK President Juncker said “We are even faced with the unhappy prospect of a member leaving our ranks.”  Referring to the Commission’s ruling thatIreland should recover up to €13bn (£11bn) from Apple in back taxes, Juncker said “The level of taxation in a country like Ireland is not our issue. Ireland has the sovereign right to set the tax level wherever it wants. But it is not right that one company can evade taxes that could have gone to Irish families and businesses, hospitals and schools. The Commission watches over this fairness. This is the social side of competition law. And this is what Europe stands for”.

Further to the appointment of Michel Barnier in July as chief negotiator on the Commission’s taskforce on negotiations on the UK exit from the EU (as reported previously), the European Commission has appointed Sabine Weyand to the post of deputy chief negotiator.  Ms Weyand is a deputy Director General at the Commission’s DG Trade and will take up the new post on 1 October 2016.  The taskforce will coordinate the Commission’s work on all strategic, operational, legal and financial issues related to the negotiations.

It is reported that Michael Barnier plans to begin a tour of European capitals once he takes up post in October in order to hear the views of member state governments on priorities for the negotiations on the UK exit from the EU.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEWS

The European Parliament has chosen Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt to be the Parliament’s lead negotiator on the UK exit from the EU.  Former Belgian Prime Minister, Mr Verhofstadt is leader of the liberal centre ALDE political grouping in the Parliament, is a supporter of European federalism and has previously said if the UK wants access to the single market, it must also accept the free movement of citizens”.

The Parliament does not have a role in the exit negotiations however it will have to approve the agreement on the UK exit from the EU.  It is expected that the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee will lead on scrutiny of the negotiations and may create a taskforce which Verhofstadt may lead.

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament visits London on 22-23 September 2016.  His itinerary includes his first meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and meetings with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party.

BRATISLAVA SUMMIT

EU leaders held a meeting in Bratislava on 16 September without the UK to discuss the future development of the EU in light of the UK referendum result. The leaders agreed the ‘Bratislava Declaration’ pledging to reinforce the EU’s external borders and internal security.  Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in a subsequent press conference “I am not satisfied with the conclusions [of the Bratislava summit] on growth or on immigration.”

Responding to discussions on an ‘EU defence union’, Michael Fallon, UK Secretary of State for Defence said “We are full members of the EU and we will go on resisting any attempt to set up a rival to Nato”.

The next meeting of the European Council will be held on 20-21 October in Brussels and will discuss migration, trade policy and relations with Russia.

TALKS ON SWISS IMMIGRATION

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met with Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann on 19 September to discuss a compromise deal to allow Switzerland to put a brake on immigration while preserving access to the single market.  In a referendum in February 2014 in Switzerland a majority supported the reintroduction of immigration quotas for EU nationals.  Free movement of people is a condition of the bilateral EU-Swiss agreement.  While no agreement was reached, Juncker stated "After this talk, I am more optimistic than I was in recent weeks. Everything is going in the right direction." Schneider-Ammann said "We need a solution both sides can say 'Yes' to. I am confident we can do it."

EASTERN EU STATES ON BREXIT

Robert Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia has said that Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, known as the Visegrad or V4 group, will veto any deal between the EU and UK which does not guarantee equal treatment for their citizens.  Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said “the application of the four freedoms must remain the paramount condition for keeping access [to the single market].”  Responding to Robert Fico’s comments, a spokesperson for Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban played down the comments saying "Do not over speculate on what has been said."

All EU leaders must agree unanimously on the guidelines for the negotiations between the EU and the UK.  The agreement on future relations between the EU and UK must pass by qualified majority (at least 20 member states representing 65% of the population).

The Visegrad group see the UK exit from the EU as an opportunity to take back powers from the EU institutions, with Prime Minister Orban previously saying Brexit is a fantastic opportunity for us. We are at a historic cultural moment.”

TTIP & CETA

Thousands of people marched in Brussels on 20 September to protest against the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the impact of globalisation.  The first round of negotiations on TTIP closed in July 2013.  The European Commission has a mandate to negotiate on behalf of al member states. Not a single chapter of the negotiations on TTIP have been closed.  The next round of negotiations is scheduled for early October 2016.

The CETA agreement with Canada was agreed following 5 years of negotiations but has not yet entered into force.  As previously reported the agreement is due to be signed off at the October 2016 EU-Canada summit meeting however it will not fully enter into force until it has the consent of the European
Parliament, a Council decision and has been ratified by
national parliaments.

BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA CANDIDACY

The EU Council has formally requested that the European Commission assess whether Bosnia Herzegovina should be given official ‘candidate’ status following its application for accession to the EU in February 2016.  This procedural step paves the way for opening negotiations between the government and the European Commission on the specific chapters to prepare for EU membership.  There are currently five candidates for EU membership - Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.

MOBILE ROAMING CHARGES

The European Commission has issued an updated proposal to end mobile roaming charges which places no limits on travelling days.  This latest proposal revises a previous plan which allowed tariff free roaming for up to 90 days per year, and for a maximum of 30 consecutive days. These limits in the previous plan were widely criticised. The Commission will adopt a final proposal in December to end roaming charges by June 2017.

NEW COMMONS COMMITTEE ON BREXIT

The Government has tabled standing order changes to create a new Commons Committee on Exiting the EU to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for Exiting the European Union and related matters falling within the responsibilities of associated public bodies.  The Chairmanship of the new committee will be allocated to the Labour Party.

EU COMMITTEE TO VISIT NI ASSEMBLY

The Northern Ireland Assembly will host the House of Lords EU Select Committee on 17 October 2016 as it holds a meeting in Parliament Buildings to hear evidence from key stakeholders as part of its inquiry into the impact on the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland following the vote by UK citizens to leave the European Union.

The inquiry will consider the impact on the Common Travel Area, trade relationships, the Irish land border, the impact on the peace process, the rights of Irish citizens residing in the UK and UK-Irish interparliamentary liaison.

TREASURY STATEMENT ON EU FUNDING

On 13 August, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced guarantees for EU funding:

  • all structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before the Autumn Statement will be fully funded, even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU
  • the Treasury will also put in place arrangements for assessing whether to guarantee funding for specific structural and investment fund projects that might be signed after the Autumn Statement, but while we remain a member of the EU. Further details will be provided ahead of the Autumn Statement
  • where UK organisations bid directly to the European Commission on a competitive basis for EU funding projects while we are still a member of the EU, for example universities participating in Horizon 2020, the Treasury will underwrite the payments of such awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU

The Government will also match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020.  David Gauke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury wrote to David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union outlining the steps HM Treasury will take to guarantee these funds.  The letter states “The administration of EU funding is largely devolved. We are offering the devolved administrations the same level of reassurance as we are offering to UK government departments in relation to programmes they administer but for which they expected to rely on EU funding. We will also work with the devolved administrations on subsequent funding arrangements to allow them to prioritise projects within their devolved responsibilities”.

COMMITTEE FOR THE EXECUTIVE OFFICE

The Assembly Committee for the Executive Office took evidence on the UK exit from the EU with a briefing from Professor David Phinnemore, Dean at the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast on his paper ‘After the EU Referendum: Establishing the best outcome for Northern Ireland’ prepared for the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building EU Debate NI programme.  Listen again to the evidence session here.

HOUSE OF COMMONS

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into the future of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following Brexit.

The European Scrutiny Committee inquiry on implications of the outcome of the referendum for its role is ongoing. 

The European Scrutiny Committee is recommending that the European Commission’s latest asylum reform proposals should be debated on the floor of the House. These proposals would:

  • Revise EU rules on who qualifies for international protection
  • Establish a fully harmonised common EU asylum procedure
  • Revise EU rules on reception conditions for asylum seekers
  • Establish a new EU framework for the resettlement of individuals in need of international protection

The Committee also says that the decision whether or not to opt into the new Europol Regulation must be debated on the floor of the House before the Government notifies the EU institutions of its opt-in decisions.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has launched an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on the creative industries, tourism and the digital single market.

HOUSE OF LORDS

The House of Lords EU Select Committee and its Sub-Committees are undertaking a number of inquiries in relation to the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership:

The House of Lords Constitution Committee published a report ‘The invoking of Article 50’ on 13 September 2016 in which it states that Government should not trigger Article 50 without consulting Parliament. The Committee says it would be 'constitutionally inappropriate' and would set 'a disturbing precedent' for the Government to act on the referendum without explicit parliamentary approval. 

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES

The External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee is considering implications for Wales of the EU referendum and over coming weeks will be examining impacts across a range of sectors including research, agriculture, public services, environment and intra-UK relations.

The Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee is conducting a consultation as part of its inquiry into the Future of Agricultural and Rural Development Policies in Wales following the UK vote to leave the EU.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

The European and External Relations Committee continues to consider the EU referendum and its implications for Scotland.   The Committee has published its report with the initial evidence it received from stakeholders and the key issues emerging.  The Committee took evidence on 14 September from First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP on the EU referendum and implications for Scotland.

BIPA INQUIRY ON UK EXIT FROM EU

The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Committee B (European Affairs)has launched an inquiry to examine the effects on British-Irish relations of the UK leaving the EU.  The Committee is seeking views on:

  • Implications for the Common Travel Area, Schengen and visa policy
  • Effect on Irish influence in the EU and decision making within the EU institutions
  • Article 50 negotiations and the role of Ireland
  • Effect on the Crown Dependencies and Gibraltar

UPCOMING EVENTS

27 September 2016 – Transitional Justice Institute & the Committee on the Administration of Justice: Brexiting and Rights, Ulster University Belfast

10-13 October 2016 – Committee of the Regions: European Week of Regions and Cities 2016

12 October 2016 – Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS): Outcome of the European Referendum – a Northern Ireland perspective, Parliament Buildings

16 January 2017 – Policy Forum for Northern Ireland: Economic development in Northern Ireland – key challenges and future opportunities post Brexit, Belfast

CURRENT EUROPEAN COMMISSION CONSULTATIONS

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

Climate Action:

Consultation on monitoring and reporting of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from Heavy Duty Vehicles 20.07.2016 – 28.10.2016

Consultation on the revision of Regulation (EU) No 443/2009 and Regulation (EU) No 510/2011 setting CO2 emission performance standards for light duty vehicles. 20.07.2016 – 28.10.2016

Employment and Social Affairs, Economic and Financial Affairs:

Public consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights  08.03.2016 – 31.12.2016

Internal Market:

Public Consultation on Single Market Information Tool 02.08.2016 – 07.11.2016

Single Digital Gateway  26.07.2016 – 21.11.2016

Public consultation on the possible revision of the Mutual Recognition Regulation (EC) No 764/2008  07.06.2016 – 30.09.2016

Public consultation on Internal Market for Goods – Enforcement and Compliance 01.07.2016 – 31.10.2016

Transport:

Public consultation on the enhancement of the social legislation in road transport 05.09.2016 – 11.12.2016

Review of Directive 2006/1/EC on the use of hired vehicles for the carriage of goods by road 11.08.2016 – 04.11.2016

Public consultation on the Revision of the Port Reception Facilities Directive (2000/59/EC) 13.07.2016 – 16.10.2016

Youth, Sport:

Evaluation of the Youth policy cooperation in the EU - public consultation 18.07.2016 – 16.10.2016

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