EU Matters - Issue 2/2016

EUROPEAN COMMISSION NEWS

The Commission has completed its work with the Canadian government on a revised EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The text will now be sent to the European Council and European Parliament for agreement. The original CETA was concluded in August 2014 but the Commission decided to amend the agreement to revise the investor protection clause in light of similar provisions being included in the separate Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the US.

The revised CETA text includes new provisions on a government’s right to regulate and the agreement no longer includes ad hoc arbitration of investment disputes but instead includes an institutionalised dispute settlement court. CETA is expected to remove customs duties and save European exporters €470 million each year for industrial goods and €42 million each year for agricultural goods.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEWS

The Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee held an exchange of views with Matthias Ruete, Director General of the Commission's Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME), on proposals to reinforce the protection of the EU's external borders including establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard.

The International Trade Committee (INTA) voted in favour of opening negotiations towards an EU-Tunisia free trade agreement. The Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) held an exchange of views with the World Health Organisation on the outbreak of the Zika virus.

UK REFERENDUM ON EU MEMBERSHIP

The UK Government reached a deal with the European Council on 19 February and the referendum date has been set for 23 June 2016. The deal includes a package of six documents on EU migration, economic governance, competitiveness, and implementation of EU laws. To summarise the conclusions of the Council on a new settlement for the UK within the EU:

  1. Economic governance: Respect for the rights and competences of countries outside the Eurozone or Banking Union with no requirement to participate in Eurozone bailouts and Member State responsibility for supervision of its financial institutions and regulations. UK will continue to participate in European Council deliberations on economic governance.
  2. Competitiveness: commitment by the EU to work towards strengthening of the internal market, increasing competitiveness and free trade and a reduction of administrative burdens and unnecessary legislation.
  3. Sovereignty: Recognition that the UK is not committed to further political integration in the EU. A commitment to the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. decisions should be taken as close to the citizen as possible with action at national rather than EU level where appropriate. Amendments to the subsidiarity protocol to include a ‘Red Card’ where 55% of EU national parliaments can object to draft EU legislation within 12 weeks. Where the concerns of national parliaments are not met, the EU Council will discontinue consideration of the draft legislation.
  4. Migration: Recognition that social security systems across the EU are diverse and that Member States have the right to define the principles of their systems including setting conditions for access to welfare benefits. Amendment to EU legislation to permit the indexation of new claims for child benefit to the Member State where the child resides. From 2020, indexation may be extended to existing claims.
    In circumstances of an inflow of workers of an exceptional magnitude, a Member State may be authorised to limit the access of newly arriving EU workers to non-contributory in-work benefits for a total period of up to four years from the commencement of employment. The limitation should be graduated, from an initial complete exclusion but gradually increasing access to such benefits to take account of the growing connection of the worker with the labour market of the host Member State. The authorisation would have a limited duration and apply to EU workers newly arriving during a period of 7 years.
    Reiteration of the rights of a Member State to deny free movement rights to those committing fraud or abuse of those rights including those who pose a threat to security.

The European Commission will now await the results of the referendum and will not participate in the referendum campaign. If the results of the referendum are for the UK to remain in the EU, the Commission will propose legislative texts that day to both the Council and the European Parliament to ratify the settlement reached. A Commission spokesperson said “For us there is just one plan: that is Plan A. There is no Plan B, no contingency plans and no speculation on possible outcomes.”

A report prepared by the Cabinet Office ‘The process for withdrawing from the EU’ states that it would not be feasible to leave the EU within the two-year time frame stipulated by existing treaties “A vote to leave the EU would be the start, not the end, of a process. It could lead to up to a decade or more of uncertainty”. The report states that it would take a decade for the UK to exit the EU, set up new trade agreements and negotiate new trade deals with other trading partners.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty of the European Union details the process for a withdrawal from the EU. The treaties of the EU would cease to apply to the UK from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification to the European Council of the intention to withdraw, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period. Article 50 has never been used before.

The Government has also published ‘Alternatives to membership: possible models for the UK outside the EU’ a report on alternative models for relations with the EU should there be a vote to leave the EU. The report examines arrangements used by Norway, Switzerland and Canada as well a relationship based upon World Trade Organisation rules. The report concludes It is the assessment of the UK Government that no existing model outside the EU comes close to providing the same balance of advantages and influence that we get from the UK’s current special status inside the EU”.

Prime Minister David Cameron visited Northern Ireland on 27 February as part of his tour campaigning for a remain vote in the referendum. First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness met Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond in London on 1 March to discuss the EU referendum.

The BBC has announced a series of 3 live debates on the EU referendum. On 19 May, a debate in Glasgow will focus on young people, a special edition of Question Time on 15 June and a live debate in Wembley arena on 21 June 2016.

BOSNIA APPLIES TO JOIN EU

Bosnia-Herzegovina formally applied to join the EU on 15 February 2016. The process will likely take several years with Bosnia required to undertake a series of widespread reforms in order to secure accession to the EU.

CHILD REFUGEES

Europol has said that more than 10,000 child refugees have gone missing in Europe in the past 18-24 months after having registered with state authorities amid fears that criminal gangs may be exploiting asylum seekers and refugees.

UNICEF has reported that children make up over a third of migrants crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece. The International Organisation for Migration states that one in five of those who drowned making the crossing in January was a child – 60 children out of 272 deaths.

Women and children account for nearly 60% of those crossing from Macedonia, a significant change since June 2015 when 73% of migrants were male and only 1 in 10 were under 18.

REFUGEES AND MIGRATION

EU Justice and Home Affairs Council took place on 25 February where there were heated discussions between Greece and Austria on Austria’s decision to cap the number allowed to apply for asylum, prompting some Balkan countries to introduce restrictions – resulting in migrants becoming stranded in Greece. The Greek authorities have said that 22,000 people are stranded and the numbers could reach 70,000 by next month. Hundreds of migrants stranded in Greece tried to break through the fence erected by Macedonia along its border with Greece. Macedonian police fired stun grenades and tear gas at the crowd.

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos launched the new European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) in The Hague on 22 February. The EMSC will support Member States in tackling the criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling.

France has begun to dismantle the shelters in the refugee camp at Calais known as ‘the jungle’ and riot police fired tear gas at migrants who were attacking demolition workers. David Cameron pledged an additional £17 million to help France address the situation at the camp in Calais. Belgium has become the seventh Member state to temporarily suspend the Schengen rules on internal borders in response to fears of wide scale movement of migrants from Calais to Belgium. The other Member States to have suspended the rules are Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Germany and France.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that Hungary will hold a referendum on the EU’s plan to redistribute asylum seekers across the EU using mandatory quotas.

On 2 March, the Commission unveiled plans for a €700 million emergency fund over the next 3 years to help countries struggling to deal with an influx of refugees. A large proportion of the fund is expected to go to Greece where up to 3,000 people are arriving each day.

The European Council will hold an emergency meeting in Turkey on 7 March to discuss progress on the €3billion deal for Turkey to deal with migration. The EU is now focusing on sending economic migrants arriving in Greece back to Turkey.  The first group of 308 migrants from Mahgreb, posing as Syrians was sent back to Turkey from Greece this week on the basis of a Greek-Turkish readmission agreement.

NEW DEAL ON EU-US DATA PROTECTION

The EU and the US have reached a deal on the transfer of EU citizens’ data to the US to replace the so-called ‘safe harbour’ agreement which was ruled to be invalid by the European Court of Justice in October 2015. A new ‘EU-US privacy shield’ was announced after several months of urgent negotiations between EU and US officials and comprises rules which will govern how US companies like Facebook and Google can process the personal data of EU citizens. Over 4,000 firms are said to have relied on the previous safe harbour agreement which was brought before the ECJ after Edward Snowden revealed details of US surveillance programmes. There are concerns that the new deal relies on promises from the US authorities to respect the rights of EU citizens.

Under the new deal, EU citizens will have access to new complaints procedures should they have concerns about the handling of their personal data. Complaints can be lodged with national data protection authorities and a new US ombudsman who will have responsibility for investigating EU citizens’ complaints about privacy.

‘REFIT’ PLATFORM ON REGULATION

The European Commission has launched a ‘REFIT Platform’ aimed at making EU legislation and its implementation in Member States more effective and efficient. The Platform is part of the Commission’s Better Regulation Agenda and comprises a stakeholder group drawn from the Committee of the Regions, European Economic and Social Committee, and a representative of each Member State. An online ‘Lighten the Load’ tool can be used by members of the public to make suggestions for reducing the regulatory burden. On the basis of input from this online tool, the Platform will make suggestions to the Commission.

E-CIGARETTES TO BE TAXED?

The European Council has asked the Commission to prepare a legislative text for 2017 to make provision for taxation of e-cigarettes. Under existing legislation, all Member States must impose excise duty of at least 57% on tobacco products but most countries impose only VAT on e-cigarettes at rates of around 20%.

In the UK, excise and VAT amounts to £6.17 of the recommended retail price of £7.98 for a pack of 20 premium brand cigarettes. The excise income alone is worth €15.5 billion a year. Global sales of e-cigarettes in 2015 were €7.5 billion and are forecasted to grow to €46 billion in next 10-15 years.

HOUSE OF COMMONS EUROPEAN SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (ESCOM)

At its meeting of 24 February 2016, the Committee published its own legal advice on the outcome of the Government’s negotiation on the UK’s membership of the EU. The Committee also considered matters relating to:

  • Proposed Directive on procedural safeguards for child suspects and defendants
  • Proposed Directive on the presumption of innocence and EU law
  • Exchanging information on criminal convictions
  • A voluntary humanitarian admission scheme for Syrian refugees in Turkey
  • The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund
  • Single Market Strategy

Ongoing inquiries:

HOUSE OF LORDS EU COMMITTEE

Recently published reports include Europe in the world: towards a more effective EU foreign & security strategy and Subsidiarity assessment: Reform of EU electoral law. The Committee plans to hold an evidence session with legal experts to examine the process by which a Member State can withdraw from the EU.

Ongoing inquiries:

UPCOMING EVENTS

9 March 2016 – EU Debate NI: Implications of a Brexit for border towns & cities, Waterfoot Hotel, L/derry

10 March 2016 – EU Debate NI: EU referendum and consequences for environment, energy, CAP, fisheries policy and agri-food businesses, Seagoe Hotel, Craigavon

31 March 2016 - Network on Humanitarian Action & European Commission: European Humanitarian Round Tables 2016, Dublin

4 April 2016 – Quadriga Consulting: The Big EU Business Debate, Riddel Hall QUB

19 April 2016 – Committee of the Regions: For a rural agenda at the heart of programming after 2020, Brussels

26 April 2016 - Centre for Irish Business and Economic Performance: The Economic Implications of Brexit, Riddel Hall QUB

20-21 May 2016 – European Parliament: European Youth Event 2016, Strasbourg

30 May – 3 June 2016 – European Commission: Investing for a greener future - EU Green Week, Brussels

13 – 17 June 2016 – European Commission: Sustainable Energy Week, Brussels

10 September 2016 – European Commission: launch of European Week of Sport 2016

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

22.12.2015 – 18.03.2016 Public consultation on the review of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020

26.01.2016 – 19.04.2016 Public consultation on an employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship (the so-called ‘Written Statement Directive’)

Environment

21.12.2015 – 28.03.2016 Consultation on the evaluation of the Environmental Noise Directive

Equal opportunities, Employment and Social Affairs

03.02.2016 – 27.04.2016 Public consultation in the context of ex-post evaluation of the European Social Fund during the 2007-2013 programming period

General and Institutional Affairs:

01.03.2016 – 01.06.2016 Public Consultation on a proposal for a mandatory Transparency Register

Home Affairs

12.01.2016 – 06.04.2016 Tackling migrant smuggling: is the EU legislation fit for purpose?

15.02.2016 – 09.05.2016 Public consultation for the 2016 evaluation of the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan on Drugs

Information Society; Communications Networks; Content & Technology

22.15.2015 – 15.03.2016 Public stakeholder consultation on next phase of EU-US cooperation in eHealth/Health IT

Justice and Fundamental Rights, Environment, Climate Action, Banking and Finance

18.12.2015 – 23.03.2016 Public consultation on long-term and sustainable investment

Maritime Affairs

18.12.2015 – 13.03.2016 Consultation on the fisheries control regulation

24.02.2016 – 18.05.2016 European Fisheries Fund (EFF) ex post evaluation and the possible future European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) after 2020

Regional Policy

03.02.2016 – 27.04.2016 Consultation on ERDF and Cohesion Fund 2007-2013 ex-post evaluation

Transport, Research and Technology, Energy, Climate Action, Internal Market:

10.02.2016 – 10.05.2016 A sustainable bioenergy policy for the period after 2020

04.03.2016 – 31.05.2016 Public consultation on the development of a comprehensive, integrated Research, Innovation and Competitiveness strategy for the Energy Union

Transport:

09.02.2016 – 05.05.2016 Stakeholder consultation on Regulation (EC) 1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations

03.03.2016 – 27.05.2016 Public consultation for the evaluation of Directive 2007/59/EC on the certification of train drivers operating locomotives and trains on the railway system in the Community

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