EU news focus

What has Europe done for you? 20-26 January 2014

EU News Focus

In this week’s edition, you will particularly read about how the EU institutions act to make Europe’s economic governance more democratic, to better protect patients and the environment, and to promote peace and democracy in the European neighbourhood and further away.

European Parliament

MEPs call for a more democratic decision-making process in EU economic policy

MEPs and their national counterparts met this week at the European Parliamentary Conference. As the European semester – see note below – starts, they discussed the coordination of national fiscal policy, the need for the economic policy in the EU to take the social dimension into account, and the legitimacy of bail-out programmes. The EP President, Martin Schulz, insisted that decisions need not only be effective, but also accepted by the population. Two MEPs leading the EP’s inquiry into decisions by the “Troika” (Commission, ECB and IMF) also expressed the necessity for a more democratic policymaking process to improve the legitimacy of bail-out measures, though other participants indicated that these very same measures were always debated by the national Parliaments of bailed-out countries. Participants also agreed that a stronger cooperation between the EP and national parliaments was necessary to increase the economic policy coordination and thereby prevent an increase of disparities between richer and poorer European countries and regions which could threaten, in the longer run, the macroeconomic stability in the EU. Some underlined that this also required national governments to play their part and improve the implementation of the recommendations made during the European semester. Finally, some MEPs highlighted the need to cut red tape to make access to EU funding (either for cohesion or for R&D) easier.

Note: During the “European semester”, the Commission formulates country-specific recommendations regarding their economic policy to achieve a better coordination of EU economies, and the Council later adopts these suggestions.

More transparency of clinical trials’ results to better protect patients

According to draft legislation adopted by the “Environment, Public Health and Food Safety” Committee, the results of clinical trials carried out by pharmaceutical companies or academic researchers will have to be published in an online database open to public access. According to MEPs, this draft (which shall replace and simplify the existing Clinical Trials Directive) aims at both encouraging research and improving patients’ rights. In particular, improving transparency is a priority, as allegedly half of all trial results are not published. Furthermore, the simplification of the rules should facilitate cross-border research and larger (and, therefore, more accurate) trials. The draft text also “makes specific provision for low-intervention trials, clarifies the role of ethics committees in the authorisation process, and details how to obtain informed consent from patients.” Other important reforms are “simplified reporting procedures, and the possibility for the Commission to conduct controls.” The whole European Parliament will debate and vote on the text in April.

If you want to read more about the European Parliament’s activity each week, click here.

European Commission

Protecting the environment: the 2030 framework on climate and energy

According to the Commission, the purpose of new targets for 2030 is to make the energy and climate objectives “predictable and certain”. The EU should be able to meet the emissions targets for 2020 but needs to act more decisively to further develop the potential of renewable energies. For 2030, the EU aims at reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to the level of 1990. Moreover, the EU wants renewable energies to cover 27% of energy consumption. Member States will be responsible to distribute the effort between them. The third component of the framework is increasing energy efficiency, which will be treated more in detail by the Commission later this year. Some proposals will cover “improvements in public building standards, energy auditing and consumer awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency”. Together, the 3 pillars of the 2030 framework on climate and energy should allow reducing energy consumption and the European dependency on foreign energy (with the advantages that it carries for the trade balance), fostering growth in several sectors, and improving the European competitiveness. In addition, benefits to health (thanks to a lower pollution) are also expected. Among the concrete initiatives, the Commission also presented a project to reform the ETS (Emission Trading Scheme) to make it more efficient. It is also worth noting that, contrary to some claims, the ETS and the binding rules on reducing emissions have not led to business relocations and job losses. In addition, although the energy transition creates substantial costs, the Commission claims that these costs would anyway be incurred to replace ageing infrastructure, so that it is better to spend the money on new energy technologies rather than just on energy imports. A whole Q&A is available here. The Commission hopes that the European Parliament and the Council will adopt the framework by the end of the year, before the adoption of a global climate agreement due next year.

Still on environmental matters, the Commission recommended “minimum principles” for shale gas: while acknowledging the potential benefits of this new source of energy, it recommended “safeguards” to prevent fracking (a shale gas extraction technique) from damaging the environment. In particular, the Commission calls for careful assessment of fracking projects, for regular controls of air, water and soil quality, for proper information of the public and for the identification and implementation of best practices. Member States are invited to implement these principles within 6 months and to produce a yearly report about the steps taken to respect this recommendation.

Latest evolutions on the TTIP negotiations: a public consultation on some sensitive issues

The TTIP stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, more commonly known as EU-US free trade agreement. The main piece of news is that the public will be consulted on provisions related to investment protection, in particular those regarding the settlement of disputes between investors and a State. Indeed, the public interest in this agreement is high, and fears have arisen, that the States’ right to regulate would be seriously reduced by the investor-to-State dispute settlement (ISDS) system (though the EU trade commissioner tried to appease them). In an effort of transparency and democracy, the Commission intends to publish in March a proposal regarding the investment part of the agreement. After that, citizens will have three months to comment. There will be explanations for non-experts, so that everyone will be able to participate! The rest of the negotiations is not affected and will continue as scheduled. The Commission also précises that there were already public consultations before the start of negotiations and that stakeholders have been consulted 3 times since June 2013. Karel De Gucht, the EU trade commissioner, also insisted on the fact that not all barriers to trade would be removed and that some regulatory differences would continue to exist even if the TTIP is successfully negotiated and ratified.

If you want to know more about the Commission’s action, click here.

Council / European Council

The EU actions to support peace across the world

The 28 ministers of Foreign Affairs met this week and discussed many topics, including the suspension of some sanctions against Iran, the possibility of an EU military operation in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the peace conference on Syria.

Regarding Iran, the EU implemented its part of the first step of the Joint Action Programme which has been successfully negotiated towards the end of last year under the leadership of Lady Ashton, the EU High Representative. The suspension of sanctions is set to last 6 months, after which progress made by Iran will be assessed. Moreover, it also represents a sign of the EU’s good will before the beginning of negotiations about a comprehensive solution in February.

Regarding the CAR, the Council welcomed the deployment of missions by the African Union and the French army. As France called for its European partners to increase their support, the Council approved the idea of an EU military operation to stabilise and secure the area around the capital city Bangui. Lady Ashton announced that the next step would be operational planning under the fast track procedures.

Regarding Syria, the Council expressed its full support to the peace conference organised by the UN in Geneva as a first step towards a peaceful political solution to the bloody conflict. The 28 ministers of Foreign Affairs restated that “the only solution to the conflict is a genuine political transition, based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 and preserving the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria.”

The EU relations with its neighbours

The EU opened on 21 January accession talks with Serbia. The horizon set for the Serbian adhesion to the EU is 2020. The Council also confirmed “political agreement on a regulation concerning certain procedures for applying the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the EU-Serbia Interim Agreement.”

In addition, the Council gave the green light to start negotiations with Georgia and Albania on agreements regarding the security of classified information.

Finally, on the latest developments in Ukraine, the Council expressed “deep concern” about the recently adopted legislation that will significantly infringe fundamental rights such as freedom of association and freedom of expression. It also urged all parties to the Ukrainian political crisis to launch an “inclusive dialogue” to reach “a democratic solution […] that would meet the aspirations of the Ukrainian people”. Finally, the EU reaffirmed its commitment “to Ukraine’s political association and economic integration, based on the respect for common values, and to signing the Association Agreement with its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, as soon as Ukraine is ready.”

More information about the Council’s work can be found here; for the European Council, click here.

Court of Justice of the European Union

The ESMA can adopt emergency measures to regulate or prohibit short selling (case C-270/12, UK v Parliament and Council)

Regulation 236/2012 (14.03.2012) aims, among others, at harmonising rules on short selling, which is a practice consisting, for a seller, in selling assets that he does not own at the time the sale is agreed. Then, this seller hopes that the price of the assets will decrease, so that he may buy them at a price lower than his selling price in order to make a benefit (and be able to transfer the asset to his own buyer). The legal basis for this regulation on short selling is Article 114 TFEU which allows harmonising measures to be passed where they are “necessary for the establishment and functioning of the internal market”. And an article of the regulation gave the ESMA (European Securities and Market Authority) the power to intervene in emergency situations by issuing legally binding measures. The UK considered that this rule gave a too wide margin of appreciation to the ESMA and therefore violated “the EU principles relating to the delegation of powers”. Furthermore, it challenged the correctness of the legal basis. However, the Court of Justice did not agree and declared in its judgment that the ESMA’s discretion in using its powers was far less extensive than claimed by the UK because several conditions must be met for the ESMA to use its emergency powers. So, “the Court finds that the powers available to ESMA are precisely delineated and amenable to judicial review in the light of the objectives established by the authority which delegated those powers to it.” In the rest of its reasoning, the Court explained why the regulation did not violate the EU rules on delegation of powers and why Article 114 TFEU was the appropriate legal basis. More details can be found here.

If you are interested in learning about more European Court’s judgments, click here.

Pierre-Antoine KLETHI

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