EU news focus

EU news focus: 15-21 November 2013

EU News Focus

In this week’s newsletter, we focus on the following five topics: towards the construction of a European drone; the adoption of the MFF 2014-2020; a gap between society and elites in Spain; Reding and the NSA; and the reform of the Professional Qualifications Directive. Enjoy the reading and share with us your opinion about these topics!

Internal affairs

7 Member States want to develop a European drone

Cooperation on defence matter remains quite small in the EU, but on November 19th, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Greece and the Netherlands have decided to create a “club of drone users” which will ultimately lead to the common building of a European drone by 2020. They want to use the European Defence Agency (EDA) to exchange experiences and “identify opportunities for cooperation” for several tasks (training, maintenance, etc.) related to unmanned aircrafts. The UK, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Austria may invest in the project but are not yet ready to aim at a common production. Drones are considered as a crucial weapon for the coming years, and Europeans do not want their supply to be totally dependent upon the USA and Israel. The AED is ambitious and even aims at building an unmanned fighter jet by 2030. Earlier this year, amidst the NSA spying affair, the Commission had also urged Member States to build up a European defence industry in order to “become sovereign, independent, in strategic matters”.

Cooperation on defence matters in the EU is made difficult by the rivalries between “national champions” such as Dassault (France), BAE (UK), EADS (multinational) and Finmeccanica (Italy). And despite the announcement made by the Defence ministers on 19 November, there are still issues related to the acquisition of American drones while waiting for the European one to be produced and delivered. France’s Defence minister would like European users to ally to obtain the right to bring some modifications to the American drone, but this attempt seems premature at the moment.

The European Council of 19-20 December 2013 will be dedicated to foreign and defence policy matters. It will be a good occasion to verify whether European leaders are really committed to increasing the cooperation in the defence industry.

Sources: Le Monde, Euractiv.


The European Parliament adopts the MFF 2014-2020

During its plenary session in Strasbourg, which took place this week, the EP adopted the 2014 budget and the multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2014-2020. 537 MEPs (EPP, PES and ALDE) voted in favour of the MFF, while 126 voted against (Greens, far-left and Eurosceptics) 19 abstained. The MFF, with an amount of €960 billion, will restrain the EU expenditure by around 3.5% compared to the 2006-2013 period. The cut mostly affects the cohesion policy; it has no effect on research, border controls and humanitarian aid. In exchange for a lower budget, the MEPs obtained greater flexibility in the implementation of yearly budgets (it will be possible to transfer unspent money on one item to another item or to the following year’s budget). In addition, there is a special effort to support employment and youth training, in particular with €6 billion for the youth guarantee in 2014. Finally, the EP obtained a reassessment of the MFF in 2016 to discuss modifications if economic circumstances have changed and Member States returned to growth, and also to discuss the opportunity to introduce ‘own income’ resources (i.e., not Member States’ contributions).

The EP’s rapporteur (i.e., negotiator with the Council, on the MFF), Jean-Luc Dehaene (EPP, Belgium) welcomed the increased flexibility. Ivailo Kalfin (S&D, Bulgaria) claimed it was a “very good compromise” and that the MFF would address some of Europe’s “burning problems”. Jan Mulder (ALDE, Netherlands) also pointed to the increased flexibility and said that the EU was giving a good example to Member States by cutting its budget. On the other hand, Rebecca Harms (Greens, Germany) expressed deep disappointment, declaring that the MFF would not enable sustainable development in the EU and failed to address some fundamental issues. Right-wing Eurosceptics said the EU budget was a waste and that the biggest expenditure items (agriculture and cohesion) were failing to deliver value for money.

Sources: Le Monde, BBC (MFF adoption, opinions), El País.


A gap between elites and the society on European issues in Spain?

Antonio Estrella, law professor in Madrid, asks in El País whether there is a gap between Europhile elites and a Eurosceptic society, as the latter perceives Europe as a problem rather than a solution. He recalls how Europe became a symbol of hope and modernity in Spain after the end of the dictatorship and that Europhilia was consensual in Spain. A deep erosion of this consensus has however taken place since the beginning of the financial and economic crisis in 2008: the citizens’ perception of Europe has worsened while the position of the elites barely changed. So, according to various opinion polls, a majority of Spanish citizens believes the Euro is responsible for the economic vows of their country, though only 30% would like Spain to abandon the single currency. Furthermore, trust in EU institutions is extremely low and 77% of Spanish people apparently believe that their voice does not count at all in the EU. Faced with this situation, political parties maintain that the solution is “more Europe”. The socialist PSOE supports a federal Europe; the right-wing Partido Popular also confirms a “firm commitment to the European project”. In addition, most articles published by Spanish intellectuals also express the need for “more Europe”. So, Antonio Estrella asks: is more Europe the only solution or is the society right and we should be more critical towards the EU? Should political parties reflect the society’s mind or is the society mistaken? He says that the ideal solution would be a deep reform of the EU to make it more democratic and open and not so much dominated by Germany and other creditor countries. But he also doubts that “more Europe” is about to come in a near future, so he argues that Spain should also deal with its problems without waiting for “more Europe”, “something that political and intellectual elites have not understood yet.”

Source: El País.

International Relations

EU Commissioner Viviane Reding on the offensive over data protection in Washington

Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Justice, is well-known for using harsh words when she thinks it is appropriate to do so without consideration for the usual diplomatic restraint. So, when she went to Washington to meet Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, to discuss the NSA behaviour, she said “America’s behaviour until now is shocking” and that she came to “enquire about whether America is ready to see us as partners and not opponents”. Mrs Reding wants the US to treat European citizens as well as American ones. Apparently, effective results start to appear: Americans seem readier to satisfy several European claims in matters of data protection. So, the American Congress may take into account the rights of European citizens, not only American ones, when drafting new regulations. A reform may take place in the coming months, if the administration of Barack Obama is ready to push a reform packet of data protection law through Congress before the mid-term elections. Moreover, the spying affair shall have no impact on the on-going negotiations on the TTIP. Another element that may push the Americans to improve the situation is the need to clarify issues related to the NSA if they want to reach an agreement on police and judicial cooperation between both sides of the Atlantic. Mrs Reding hopes to settle such an agreement by next summer.

Sources: Spiegel, Süddeutsche Zeitung.


The Professional Qualifications Directive (PQD) has been updated

On 15 November, the Council adopted an update to the PQD to support workers’ mobility by making mutual recognition of qualifications more efficient.

A European professional card (in form of an electronic certificate delivered by the Member State of origin) shall facilitate automatic recognition of the qualifications in the host State. It will be applied to professions meeting following criteria:

  • “There is clear interest from professionals, the national authorities and the business  community;
  • The mobility of the professionals concerned has significant potential; and
  • The profession is regulated in a significant number of Member States.”

There are around 800 regulated professions in the EU. In the future, the need for regulation will have to be transparently demonstrated and will be balanced with “the principles of necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination.” The directive also foresees an update of the “minimum training requirements” to several “individual professions” (most of them in the medical sector).

In addition, where the scope of activities in the host State is larger than in the home State, the host State shall grant partial access to the professional wishing to exercise in its territory. A State will have the option to refuse partial access only “on the grounds of public health concerns.”

To prevent that a professional prohibited from practicing in one State (because of a criminal or disciplinary conviction) tries to circumvent this by practicing in another Member State, an alert mechanism will be set up: national authorities will “proactively” inform the authorities of other Member States.

The directive also wants to promote “common training principles” while respecting the principle of subsidiarity. These common principles would “try to better respond to the needs of the professions”, and qualifications acquired under common training frameworks would automatically be recognised in the different Member States.

The directive recognised the need to verify that foreign professionals have the necessary language skills but also reminds that language controls shall not be a hidden manner of excluding foreigners from a regulated profession.

Finally, a traineeship realised in another Member State shall be recognised when “the graduate applies for accessing a regulated profession in the home Member State.”

Sources: Council of the EU.

Next week…

The European Parliament will discuss several important topics in committee meetings, e.g., the portability of pension rights (“to make it easier to keep or obtain pension rights when working in another EU country”), limits on vehicles’ noise to protect public health, and public procurement legislation “restricting access from third countries not offering reciprocal access to their markets.” In addition, a website on the European elections is due to go online on Sunday.

Among the events on the Council’s side, there will be an informal meeting of ministers for Cohesion on Tuesday in Vilnius and the 3rd Eastern Partnership summit, also in Vilnius, on 28-29 November. During this latter event, representatives of the 28 Member States and of the European institutions will meet with representatives of 6 Eastern partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine (which has recently declined to sign an association agreement with the EU under strong pressure from Russia). Association agreements will be initiated with Georgia and Moldova.

Sources: EP website, Lithuanian Council presidency website.

Pierre-Antoine KLETHI

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