EU news focus

What has Europe done for you? 24 February – 2 March 2014

EU News Focus

You probably read enough about Ukraine in other media, so in this week’s edition, you will read about how the EU institutions act to protect your health and your labour rights, support Europe’s poorest citizens, make the Internet safer, and much more…

European Parliament

A draft tobacco directive to discourage young people from smoking

About 700,000 people die from the consequences of smoking each year in Europe. Therefore, MEPs decided to further tackle the issue and adopted a draft revision of the tobacco directive (2001) to further deter young people from smoking. Indeed, people usually start smoking very young (under 18), so that teenagers need to be specifically protected.

Health warnings would cover 65% of the pack, front and back (instead of currently 30% on the front and 40% on the back) and would take the form of a picture. In addition, packs of 20 cigarettes would be banned. The purpose of this measure is to suppress these relatively affordable (hence more accessible to teenagers) packs. Moreover, flavours in cigarettes and certain additives would be banned. Finally, e-cigarettes would be regulated as medicinal products if they claim to help smokers quit from ordinary smoking. If they do not claim such characteristic, they would be regulated as tobacco products with a limited nicotine concentration. E-cigarettes should also have health warnings on their packs and their advertisement would be restricted.

The informal agreement with the Council should be confirmed at the meeting of Health ministers taking place around mid-March. Then, Member States would have 2 years after the directive entered into force to implement it in domestic legislation.

€3.5 billion for the most deprived during the period 2014-2020

The Parliament endorsed a deal with the Council regarding the funding of the Fund of European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD). The fund, which will have a budget of €3.5 billion from 2014 to 2020 (Member States wished it to be €1 billion lower), will be immediately operational. The EU will pay 85% of the sum (95% for the countries hardest hit by the crisis). The fund, which will replace the Food Distribution Programme, will have a wider scope than its predecessor as it “will provide food, basic material assistance and social welfare to the EU’s poorest.” “Severe material deprivation” requires not being able to afford at least four of the following nine items: rent, mortgage or utility bills; adequate house warming; ability to face unexpected expense; eat meat or proteins regularly; go on holiday; a television set; a washing machine; a car; a telephone.

Member States most affected by severe material deprivation in 2012 were Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Latvia; the least affected ones were Luxembourg, the Scandinavian countries, Austria, the Netherlands and Germany. In total, around 120 million European citizens (25%) were reckoned to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2011.

The deal still needs to be formally approved by the Council.

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

European Commission

The EU will spend €85 million for online safety projects

6 projects already benefit from EU cash for online safety projects. A total of €85 million is made available for cybersecurity in 2014 by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 programme. The purpose is to address “security, trust and privacy in a coherent way from technological, economic, legal and social perspectives, helping to promote innovation and economic growth in the EU, while protecting Europe’s society, economy, assets and fundamental rights.”

Some of the projects already funded include a single protection network for several mobile devices, secure social networks and anonymous course evaluation and an innovative biometric accessory for smartphones. In addition, there is also a pilot project to progress towards a “European Advanced Cyber Defence Centre.”

Establishment of a high-level group on own resources

The Presidents of the Commission, Parliament and Council formally established a high-level group on own resources. The purpose is to make the existing system fairer, simpler and more transparent. The group’s members will be nominated by the three EU institutions and chaired by Mario Monti. These members will work for free in this group.

The high-level group is expected to publish a first assessment at the end of the year, after a general review of the current situation. Furthermore, it will listen to the suggestions of EU institutions, national parliaments, national fiscal authorities and experts. The national parliaments would then discuss the outcome at an interparliamentary conference in 2016. The European Commission would draw on the results of this conference to present a reform proposal.

For memory, under the current rules, there are three types of “own resources”: customs duties, own resources based on VAT (0.3% is levied on the VAT base in Member States) and own resources based on Member States’ Gross National Income (GNI). This system is made even more complex by a number of “correction mechanisms”: the UK rebate (the UK is reimbursed 2/3 of the difference between its contribution and the EU money it receives), “lump sum payments” (Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria have a reduced GNI contribution) and lower VAT call rates for Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

More details are available in this Memo.

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

Council / European Council

New transparency rules on social responsibility for big companies

The Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) endorsed an agreement between the Council and the EP on a draft directive “for the disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large companies.” Under these new rules, some large EU companies would have to issue a yearly report “relating to environmental, social and employee-related matters, respect for human rights, anti-corruption and bribery matters.” This report would outline the risks addressed by the company’s policy and the resulting outcome. These new measures should therefore reinforce “the company’s transparency and accountability, while limiting any undue administrative burden.”

Additional details regarding the scope of the new text and the diversity policy applied by targeted undertakings are available in this document (see p.2).

The main conclusions of the EU-Brazil summit (24 February 2014)

Discussions covered many topics. First of all, regarding the economy, leaders highlighted the potential of EU-Brazil “economic ties to boost […] growth and generate jobs on both sides in the coming years.” Contacts between the respective business communities will be supported. Regulatory issues have also been addressed to facilitate trade. In matters of trade, European and Brazilian leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to an ambitious EU-Mercosur Association Agreement. They also agreed to continue cooperating in some strategic areas such as science, ICT and education. At global level, e.g., within the G20, both parties are willing to maintain the undergoing efforts to better regulate international finance.

On diplomatic issues, EU and Brazilian leaders “agreed on the importance of promoting the bi-regional strategic partnership between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean.” They also highlighted the importance of multilateralism in global affairs. Furthermore, they discussed a number of specific diplomatic issues such as Syria, Iran, Mali, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc. Amongst the global challenges that have to be tackled together, there is climate change, sustainable development, energy consumption and production, humanitarian aid and development, and a number of security issues (including cybersecurity, drug trafficking and Internet governance).

The whole joint statement is available here.

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

Court of Justice of the European Union

About the fixed-sum protective award for a worker being unlawfully dismissed during part-time parental leave

The CJEU declared that “where a worker is unlawfully dismissed during part-time parental leave, the fixed-sum protective award to which a full-time worker is entitled must be calculated on the basis of the full-time salary.”

In the present case, a female worker, who used to work full-time, had taken a maternity leave and then a 4-month half-time parental leave. She was dismissed without sufficient grounds so that, under Belgian law, the employer had to pay compensation worth six-month’s salary. The question was whether the salary to be taken into account was the full-time salary or the salary at the time of the dismissal (half-time salary). The Court answered that the full-time salary was the correct answer. Otherwise, the protective measure “would be likely not to have a deterrent effect sufficient to prevent the unlawful dismissal of workers and would render null the protective system put in place by EU law.” This can be additionally justified “by the fact that, in accordance with EU law, rights acquired by the worker on the date on which parental leave starts (namely all the rights and benefits derived from the employment relationship) are to be maintained as they stand until the end of parental leave.”

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

Pierre-Antoine KLETHI

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