EU news focus

What has Europe done for you? 3-9 March 2014

EU News Focus

In this week’s edition, you will particularly read about how the EU institutions act to prevent violence against women, create a credible banking union, make seas and airports safer, improve democracy in Europe and more… 

European Parliament

MEPs call for a European strategy to prevent violence against women

The ALDE Bulgarian MEP Antoniya Parvanova wrote a report on violence against women in Europe. She reveals the incredible fact that “almost half of European women have experienced violence at one point!” Moreover, “20-25% of women have experienced physical violence, about 10% sexual violence.” This violence has a social cost, as it damages family relationships, but it also has significant economic yearly costs of €228 billion.

Ahead of the International Women’s Day (8 March), and to tackle this dramatic situation, the women’s rights committee has called the Commission to establish a strategy and correlated legislative acts on preventing violence and on collecting comparable data. Because of subsidiarity and of the distribution of competence in the EU treaties, the EP cannot do more at present. Finally, MEPs also called for 2016 to be declared “the EU Year to end violence against women.”

MEPs prepare their version of the text on the 2nd pillar of the banking union

The second pillar of the banking union is a single resolution mechanism. MEPs are ready to compromise with the Council by integrating some concerns raised by Member States, but they do not want the system to be established in a form that would harm the credibility and fairness of the system.

So, according to MEPs, the ECB should be the only authority competent for determining whether a bank is “failing or likely to fail”; other authorities may raise concerns, but should not have a decision-making power for launching or avoiding the resolution procedure. In addition, there should be no political meddling in the resolution of a specific bank: therefore, resolution actions should be decided only by the executive board. The system should avoid intergovernmental proceedings as much as possible. Finally, the bail-in system (i.e., the fact that shareholders and non-guaranteed bondholders pay before taxpayers) should be enshrined in the single resolution mechanism.

As to the single resolution fund, MEPs are ready to accept temporary “national compartments” in the fund, but require some form of mutualisation already at the outset to ensure the immediate credibility of the fund, and they also want the full mutualisation to be seriously sped up (completed in 3 years).

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

European Commission

Towards a European maritime security strategy

According to the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, “the security and well-being of Europeans greatly depend on open and safe seas. It is therefore necessary for the EU to deal with maritime threats and challenges. We need a joined-up approach, as demonstrated in the Horn of Africa where we have achieved significant results in fighting piracy.”

Therefore, the Commission and the High Representative issued a proposal for a European maritime security strategy aimed at furthering the existing cooperation in all maritime functions (coast guards, port authorities, navies, etc.). The strategy would have a global reach, i.e., going beyond EU waters, as it would also affect ships sailing under an EU Member State’s flag.

The EU is interested in maritime security for a number of reasons such as the protection of global trade (90% of the EU’s external trade is transported by sea!), the control of its maritime borders (over 90,000 km of coasts) and the protection of offshore infrastructure. These interests may be threatened by a number of risks, e.g., piracy and terrorism, natural disasters and conflicts related to maritime territories and zones. The authors of the communication suggest the EU strategy should focus on 5 issues:

  • External action;
  • Maritime awareness, surveillance and information sharing;
  • Capability development and capacity building;
  • Risk management, protection of critical maritime infrastructure and crisis response;
  • Maritime security research and innovation, education and training.”

The Council is now in charge of drafting a concrete strategy based on the elements outlined in this week’s communication.

A Q&A is available here.

New rules for airport safety

On 6 March, new rules for airport safety entered into force. They provide “for the first time common standards for safe design, operation and maintenance in over 700 of the largest EU and EEA airports.” The new regulation had been adopted by the Commission around mid-February. National aviation authorities will act within a common European framework when certifying “airport’s compliance with technical and operational requirements” and when overseeing them. The rules allow some flexibility for existing airport infrastructure. Existing national certificates of compliance will have to be replaced by new European ones. These rules implement and detail safety standards set by the relevant international organisation.

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

Council / European Council

Improving democracy in Europe: a draft regulation on European political parties

The COREPER (Permanent Representatives Committee) approved a draft regulation on European political parties resulting from an informal agreement between the Council and the European Parliament. Thanks to this new text, European political parties and their affiliated political foundations would gain a legal status at EU level. This status would not only improve their visibility (and, consequently, the European democratic debate); it would also ensure their recognition in all Member States and allow them to receive public funding from the European budget. There would be certain conditions to benefit from the EU level legal status, in particular ensuring the respect of European values (democracy, Human rights, etc.). An independent authority would grant the status and monitor the respect of the conditions. If these are not met anymore, the sanction could be financial, and even go as far as the withdrawal of the status.

The draft regulation also deals with the funding of European political parties. The current distribution of EU funding (i.e., funding coming from the European budget) will remain the same: 15% of the sum is distributed equally between all European political parties and foundations; 85% will be distributed in proportion of each party’s share of MEPs). For information, in 2013, €33.9 million were dedicated to this expenditure item. Regarding donations, they will be limited to €18,000/donor/year. In addition, the names of those giving more than €3,000 will have to be published. Finally, contributions from members may not exceed 40% of the party’s or foundation’s budget.

The Council and the EP now need to formally approve the text over the coming months. The regulation is expected to become applicable on 1 January 2017, thus allowing for a sufficient transition period.

The European Council’s conclusion on Ukraine

The decisions of the European Council on Ukraine are not directly an action for the sake of the EU citizens, but I believe this topic should nevertheless be briefly discussed in this newsletter for two reasons: 1) It is in the interest of the EU and its citizens to have a stable and democratic direct neighbourhood; 2) The question of the future of Ukraine generates a lot of interest among European citizens.

The Heads of State and government condemned the Russian attitude in Ukraine, in particular the deployment of troops in Crimea in violation of the Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. The European Council also rejected the Crimean authorities’ project to hold a referendum within 2 weeks to decide on a potential secession from Ukraine and integration in Russia: this decision violates the Ukrainian Constitution. The European leaders also expressed their commitment to de-escalation in the region and to finding a diplomatic solution that maintains peace, stability and prosperity in Europe. This solution can be supported by multilateral initiatives (e.g., sending observers and peacekeepers to protect minorities), but it requires first and foremost a dialogue between the Russian and Ukrainian governments. The European Council welcomed the restraint shown by Ukrainian troops and government and urged Russia to be much more cooperative. To incentivise Russia to follow the path of diplomacy, the European leaders decided to suspend talks with Russia on visa matters and expressed support for the boycott of the next G8 summit to be held in Sochi. They also indicated that further measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit, could follow if Russia keeps it belligerent attitude.

Regarding Ukraine itself, the Heads of State and government encouraged a constitutional reform, democratic elections and the effective protection of the rights of all minorities. The EU will also offer financial support to Ukraine both bilaterally and in the framework of an IMF package. This help should be complemented by structural reforms aimed at restoring the stability and competitiveness of the Ukrainian economy. Finally, the EU reiterated its commitment to signing the association agreement with Ukraine as originally foreseen last autumn. A visa liberalisation process will also start to facilitate contacts between the citizens of Ukraine and those of the EU.

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

Court of Justice of the European Union

Automatically excluding a female worker from a training course because she takes maternity leave amounts to an unfavourable treatment (case C-595/12, Napoli)

Ms Napoli was successful in a competition to obtain the post of deputy commissioner in the prison service. However, before being appointed, she needed to participate in a vocational training course which formed “an integral part of her employment.” Now, 3 weeks before the start of the course, Ms Napoli gave birth and had to take a 3-month maternity leave under Italian law. As a result, the prison service informed Ms Napoli that she would be excluded after the first 30 days of the course, in accordance with the regulation, and that her salary would be “suspended”. It also told her “she would be admitted as of right to the next course organised”.

The Court started by reminding that “less favourable treatment of a woman related to pregnancy or maternity leave constitutes discrimination on grounds of sex.” In the present case, there was an employment relationship and the course was part of the “working conditions”, the improvement of which must also benefit to female workers when they return from maternity leave.

The Court went on saying that Ms Napoli was, admittedly, able to return to the same job and kept her job. However, the exclusion from the course negatively affected her working conditions: compared to her colleagues, who benefited from the course and continued being paid, she lost a chance to be promoted to a better job with better working conditions. In addition, the automatic exclusion from the course did not respect the famous principle of proportionality, “in particular because the competent authorities are under no obligation to organise such a course at specified intervals.” A non-discriminatory solution, suggested the Court, would be to provide the female worker returning from maternity leave with “equivalent parallel remedial courses enabling her to be admitted within the prescribed period to the examination and thereby to be promoted, without delay, to a higher grade.” This would prevent her career development from being adversely affected by maternity leave.

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

Pierre-Antoine KLETHI

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