Against the backdrop of China’s growing economic power and political influence, the European Commission and the High Representative review European Union-China relations and the related opportunities and challenges.
Today, they are setting out 10 concrete actions for EU Heads of State or Government to discuss and endorse at the European Council of 21 March.
The European Union and China have committed to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Yet, there is a growing appreciation in Europe that the balance of challenges and opportunities China presents has shifted. With today’s Joint Communication, the European Commission and the High Representative aim to start a discussion to refine Europe’s approach to be more realistic, assertive and multi-faceted.
China is simultaneously a cooperation partner with whom the EU has closely aligned objectives, a negotiating partner, with whom the EU needs to find a balance of interests, an economic competitor in pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance. The EU will use links across different policy areas and sectors to exert more leverage for its objectives. Both, the EU and its Member States can achieve their aims concerning China only in full unity.
Vice-President, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, said: “China is a Strategic Partner of the European Union. We pursue strong bilateral and multilateral cooperation on files where we share interests, from trade to connectivity, from the JCPOA to climate change. And we are willing to keep engaging robustly where our policies differ or compete. This is the aim of the 10 actions that we are proposing to strengthen our relations with China, in a spirit of mutual respect.”
Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said: “EU and China are strategic economic partners as well as competitors. Our economic relationship can be hugely mutually beneficial if competition is fair and trade and investment relations are reciprocal. With this Communication we make concrete proposals on how the EU can act to strengthen its competitiveness, ensure more reciprocity and level playing field, and protect its market economy from possible distortions.”
Today’s Joint Communication proposes 10 action points for the debate: these actions are formulated in the context of relations with China, but some of them relate to the EU’s global competitiveness and security. In general, the EU’s response will pursue three objectives:
- Based on clearly defined interests and principles, the EU should deepen its engagement with Chinato promote common interests at global level.
- The EU should robustly seek more balanced and reciprocal conditions governing the economic relationship.
- Finally, in order to maintain its prosperity, values and social model over the long term, there are areas where the EU itself needs to adapt to changing economic realities and strengthen itsown domestic policies and industrial base.
Specifically, the Commission and the High Representative invite the European Council to endorse the following actions:
Action 1: The EU will strengthen the EU’s cooperation with China to meet common responsibilities across all three pillars of the United Nations, Human Rights, Peace and Security, and Development.
Action 2: In order to fight climate change more effectively, the EU calls on China to peak its emissions before 2030, in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Action 3: The EU will deepen engagement on peace and security, building on the positive cooperation on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran.
Action 4: To preserve its interest in stability, sustainable economic development and good governance in partner countries, the EU will apply more robustly the existing bilateral agreements and financial instruments, and work with China to follow the same principles through the implementation of the EU Strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia.
Action 5: In order to achieve a more balanced and reciprocal economic relationship, the EU calls on China to deliver on existing joint EU-China commitments. This includes reforming the World Trade Organisation, in particular on subsidies and forced technology transfers, and concluding bilateral agreements on investment by 2020, on geographical indications swiftly, and on aviation safety in the coming weeks.
Action 6: To promote reciprocity and open up procurement opportunities in China, the European Parliament and the Council should adopt the International Procurement Instrument before the end of 2019.
Action 7: To ensure that not only price but also high levels of labour and environmental standards are taken into account, the Commission will publish guidance by mid-2019 on the participation of foreign bidders and goods in the EU procurement market. The Commission, together with Member States, will conduct an overview of the implementation of the current framework to identify gaps before the end of 2019.
Action 8: To fully address the distortive effects of foreign state ownership and state financing in the internal market, the Commission will identify before the end of 2019 how to fill existing gaps in EU law.
Action 9: To safeguard against potential serious security implications for critical digital infrastructure, a common EU approach to the security of 5G networks is needed. To kickstart this, the European Commission will issue a Recommendation following the European Council.
Action 10: To detect and raise awareness of security risks posed by foreign investment in critical assets, technologies and infrastructure, Member States should ensure the swift, full and effective implementation of the Regulation on screening of foreign direct investment.
The Joint Communication will be presented to the European Council on 21-22 March, with the Member States having the first opportunity to exchange views at the Foreign Affairs Council on 18 March. The next EU-China Summit is scheduled for early April.
The existing policy framework for EU engagement with China is the Council Conclusions on the EU’s Strategy on China adopted in July 2016 and the Joint Communication of the Commission and of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy ‘Elements for a New Strategy on China’ of June 2016. This remains the cornerstone of the EU’s policy towards China.
Ursula von der Leyen: Next six months crucial for the EU
The College of Commissioners met today via videoconference the Government of Germany for the beginning of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that the start of the German Presidency came at a crucial point in time as the next six months would, to a large extent, determine the future of the EU.
“Not only must we overcome the crisis, but rather we want to and we must also continue courageously along the path of modernisation within the European Union”, she said at the press conference following the meeting. “Europe’s most significant challenges before the crisis will remain the same once this crisis is over: climate change, digitalisation, and Europe’s position in the world.”
She reminded of the urgency of the task to forge an agreement on the NextGenerationEU and the long-term EU budget in the European Council, saying it was the crisis that ‘sets the pace’. “Every day we lose, we will be seeing people losing their jobs, companies going bust, and the weakening of our economies.”
In a statement issued earlier today, President von der Leyen invited David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, in her capacity as rotating Presidency of the Council, and Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, to a meeting on 8 July to take stock of progress and prepare the intensive political negotiations that lie ahead.
Von der Leyen also noted that the priorities of the German Presidency and the priority projects the Commission adopted were fully aligned – from climate change to digitalisation to resilience. She said the Commission would also be closely working with the German Presidency during the ‘decisive phase’ of the Brexit negotiations, as well as on external relations.
She stressed that the two sides working together can help Europe navigate its way through this crisis with strength and unity, as well as make NextGenerationEU a catalyst for modernisation in Europe.
Youth Employment Support: a bridge to jobs for the next generation
European Commission is taking action to give young people all possible opportunities to develop their full potential to shape the future of the EU, and thrive in the green and digital transitions. The coronavirus pandemic has emphasised the often difficult start many young people face in the labour market. We need to act fast. Now is the time to direct our attention towards the next generation.
The Commission is using this opportunity to ingrain the green and digital transitions in the DNA of the EU’s youth and employment policies. With NextGenerationEU and the future EU budget, the Commission already proposed significant EU financing opportunities for youth employment. It is now for the Member States to prioritise these investments. At least €22 billion should be spent on youth employment support.
Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “It is more important than ever that we help the next generation of Europeans to thrive and get on the jobs ladder, especially at this time of crisis. We are proposing clear and specific ways forward for our young people to get the professional chances that they deserve. Today’s proposals also set out what EU funding is available to support Member States in boosting youth employment. By investing in the youth of today, we will help to create a competitive, resilient and inclusive labour market for tomorrow.”
Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said: “Now is the time to carry out much-needed reforms of the support measures we offer to young people. We owe it to the millions of graduates and those taking their early steps on the labour market to mobilise all the support we can. Our youth deserve the very best opportunities possible to develop their full potential.”
Youth Employment Support: a bridge to jobs for the next generation
The Youth Employment Support package is built around four strands that together provide a bridge to jobs for the next generation:
- The EU created the Youth Guarantee in 2013 and has since built bridges to the labour market for some 24 million young people. The Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation on a Bridge to Jobs reinforces theYouth Guarantee and steps up the outreach to vulnerable young people across the EU, now covering people aged 15 – 29. The Recommendation keeps the pledge that if you sign up to the Youth Guarantee, you will receive an offer of employment, education, apprenticeship or training within four months. Bridge to Jobs will be more inclusive to avoid any forms of discrimination, with a wider outreach to more vulnerable groups, such as youth of racial and ethnic minorities, young people with disabilities, or young people living in some rural, remote or disadvantaged urban areas. It will link in with the needs of companies, providing the skills required – in particular those for the green and digital transitions – and short preparatory courses; and it will provide tailored counselling, guidance and mentoring.
- The Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation on vocational education and training aims to make systems more modern, attractive, flexible and fit for the digital and green economy. More agile, learner-centred vocational education and training will prepare young people for their first jobs and gives more adults opportunities to enhance or change their careers. It will help vocational education and training providers to become centres of vocational excellence, while supporting diversity and inclusiveness.
- A renewed impetus for apprenticeships will benefit both employers and young people, adding a skilled labour force to a wide range of sectors. The European Alliance for Apprenticeships has made available more than 900,000 opportunities. The renewed Alliance will promote national coalitions, support SMEs and reinforce the involvement of social partners: trade unions and employers’ organisations. The goal is to sustain the apprenticeship offers now, as apprentices we train now will be highly skilled workers in a few years’ time.
- Additional measures to support youth employment include employment and start-up incentives in the short term, and capacity building, young entrepreneur networks and inter-company training centres in the medium term.
The Commission urges Member States to step up youth employment support by making use of the significant funding available under NextGenerationEU and the future EU budget. For example, the EU can help fund:
- Start-up grants and loans for young entrepreneurs, mentoring schemes and business incubators
- Bonuses for SMEs hiring apprentices
- Training sessions to acquire new skills needed on the labour market
- Capacity-building of public employment services
- Career management training in formal education
- Investments in digital learning infrastructure and technology
During the aftermath of the global 2008 financial crisis, youth unemployment went up from 16.0% in 2008 to a peak of 24.4% in 2013. The figures went down since, with record lows of 14.9%, just before the pandemic hit. Nevertheless, youth unemployment has always remained more than twice as high as general unemployment. The latest figures show that youth unemployment stood at 15.4% across the EU in April 2020. Many fear that a spike is just in front of us.
Significant EU funding is available for Member States to implement reforms spearheaded by the initiatives presented today. The European Social Fund Plus will be a key EU financial resource to support the implementation of the youth employment support measures. As part of the Recovery Plan for Europe, the Recovery and Resilience Facility and REACT-EU will provide additional financial support for youth employment.
Most EU Member States not on track to reduce air pollution by 2030
The assessment of Member States’ first programmes of measures to control air emissions finds that the implementation of the new European clean air rules needs improvement. Member States need to step up efforts across all sectors to make sure their citizens can breathe clean air, preventing respiratory diseases and premature death caused by breathing polluted air.
EU Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “This report sends a clear message. All across Europe, too many citizens are still at risk from the air they breathe. We need more effective measures to cut pollution in numerous Member States and to tackle air emissions across sectors, including agriculture, transport and energy. There has never been a better time to make these changes: investing in cleaner air means investing in citizens’ health, in our climate, and it’s the kick-start our economy needs. That’s the thinking behind the European Green Deal, and it’s the logic the environment needs.”
According to the first Commission report to assess the implementation of the National Emission reduction Commitments Directive (NEC Directive) published today, most Member States are at risk of not complying with their 2020 or 2030 emission reduction commitments. While some Member States show good practices that should be inspiring for others, the Report demonstrates the need for additional measures in order to reduce air pollution. The Commission will continue to monitor and support national efforts in this regard, through financial and non-financial tools. Efforts are especially needed in agriculture to reduce ammonia emissions, which is the most common and severe implementation challenge across the EU.
Effective implementation of clean air legislation forms an essential contribution to ‘a zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment’ announced by the Commission in the European Green Deal and related initiatives. Synergies with climate and energy policies need to be enhanced and further assessed, also in line with the European Green Deal approach.
Alongside this implementation report, the Commission has also released today its consultants’ analysis of each Member State National Air Pollution Control Programme and emission projections, as well as an EU-wide horizontal report bringing together this information.
The National Emission reduction Commitments Directive, which entered into force on 31 December 2016, is the main legislative instrument to achieve the 2030 objectives of the Clean Air Programme. When fully implemented, the Directive would reduce by almost 50% the negative health impacts of air pollution by 2030, and bring substantial benefits for the environment and climate.
The Directive sets national emission reduction commitments for the periods 2020-29 and more ambitious ones for 2030-onwards for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
Compliance with the 2020 emissions reduction commitments will be checked in 2022, when the emission inventories for 2020 become available.
The NEC implementation report will be complemented later this year by the Second Clean Air Outlook which will present up-to-date modelling results on the extent to which the EU and its Member States are on track to meet their clean air objectives for 2030 and later.
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