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Croatian Council presidency: What MEPs expect

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Croatia took over the rotating Council Presidency from Finland on 1 January 2020. We asked Croatian MEPs what they expect from it.

Croatia’s slogan for its six-month presidency is: “A strong Europe in a world of challenges”. The country wants to focus on sustainable development, a networked economy, safety and positioning Europe as a global leader.

Busy period ahead

Croatia will presided over the Council of the EU during a busy period, when there will be negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget as well as on future relations with the UK. However, MEPs expect to see other topics on the agenda too.

Karlo Ressler (EPP) sees the presidency as a great opportunity for Croatia to further position itself politically, economically and diplomatically within the EU. “Croatia will continue to address the issue of Brexit and lead the negotiations on a budget for the next seven years. One of the key events will certainly be the summit in Zagreb, with a focus on the European perspective of Southeast European countries.“

Biljana Borzan (S&D) said protecting the rights of workers and consumers, as well as public health and the rule of law should be at the forefront. ”I hope that the negotiations on [the EU’s long-term budget] will be successful because implementation of programmes and politics for which citizens voted on during the European elections, like the European Green Deal, depends on it“

Valter Flego (Renew Europe) said: “Croatia needs to act as a neutral mediator and ensure successful cooperation and continuous implementation of the [EU’s] programme“. He also believes that Croatia will have an opportunity to “directly show to its people what Europe does for them“.

Ruža Tomašić (ECR) expects lobbying in the national interests. “The most important document from the previous term, the report on the multi-annual plan for fish stocks in the Adriatic Sea, is still at a dead end in the Council. I expect this will change during Croatia’s presidency“. She also wants to see progress on direct payments in agriculture and the activation of unused agricultural land.

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Commission presents first reflections on building a strong social Europe for just transitions

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The Commission today presents a Communication on building a strong social Europe for just transitions. It sets out how social policy will help deliver on the challenges and opportunities of today, proposing action at EU level for the months to come, and seeking feedback on further action at all levels in the area of employment and social rights. Already today the Commission launches the first phase consultation with social partners – businesses and trade unions – on the issue of fair minimum wages for workers in the EU.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, said: “Europe is going through a momentous shift. As we go through the green and digital transformation, as well as an ageing population, the Commission wants to ensure that people remain centre stage and that the economy works for them. We already have an instrument, the European Pillar of Social Rights. Now we want to ensure that the EU and its Member States, as well as stakeholders, are committed to its implementation.

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said: “The working lives of millions of Europeans will change in the coming years. We need to take action to allow the future workforce to flourish. Europe’s innovative and inclusive social market economy must be about people: providing them with quality jobs that pay an adequate wage. No Member State, no region, no person can be left behind. We must continue to strive for the highest of standards in labour markets, so that all Europeans can live their lives with dignity and ambition.

Europe today is a unique place where prosperity, fairness and a sustainable future are equally important goals. In Europe, we have some of the highest standards of living, best working conditions and most effective social protection in the world.That said, Europeans face a number of changes such as the move to a climate-neutral economy, digitalisation and demographic shifts. These changes will present the workforce with new challenges and opportunities. The European Green Deal – our new growth strategy – must ensure that Europe remains the home of the world’s most advanced welfare systems and is a vibrant hub of innovation and competitive entrepreneurship.

Today’s publications build on the European Pillar of Social Rights, proclaimed by EU institutions and leaders in November 2017. The Commission asks all EU countries, regions and partners to present their views on the way forward as well as their plans to deliver on the Pillar’s objectives. This will feed into the preparation of an Action Plan in 2021 that reflects all contributions, and that will be submitted for endorsement at the highest political level

For its part, the Commission today sets out planned initiatives that will already contribute to the implementation of the EU Pillar. Key actions in 2020 include:

  • Fair minimum wages for workers in the EU
  • A European Gender Equality Strategy and binding pay transparency measures
  • An updated Skills Agenda for Europe
  • An updated Youth Guarantee
  • Platform Work Summit
  • Green paper on Ageing
  • Strategy for persons with disabilities
  • Demography Report
  • European Unemployment Re-insurance Scheme

These actions build on work already done by the EU since the Pillar’s proclamation on 2017. But action at EU level alone is not enough. The key to success lies in the hands of national, regional and local authorities, as well as social partners and relevant stakeholders at all levels. All Europeans should have the same opportunities to thrive – we need to preserve, adapt and improve what our parents and grandparents have built.

Consultation on fair minimum wages

The number of people in employment in the EU is at a record high. But many working people still struggle to make ends meet. President von der Leyen has expressed her wish that every worker in our Union has a fair minimum wage that should allow for a decent living wherever they work.

Today the Commission launches a first phase consultation of social partners – businesses and trade unions – on the issue of a fair minimum wage for workers in the EU. The Commission is in listening mode: we want to know whether social partners believe EU action is needed, and if so, if they wish to negotiate it between themselves.

There will not be a one-size-fits-all minimum wage. Any potential proposal will reflect national traditions, whether collective agreements or legal provisions. Some countries already have excellent systems in place. The Commission wishes to ensure all systems are adequate, have sufficient coverage, include thorough consultation of social partners, and have an appropriate update mechanism in place.

Background

Social justice is the foundation of the European social market economy and at the heart of our Union. It underpins the idea that social fairness and prosperity are the cornerstones for building a resilient society with the highest standards of well-being in the world.

The moment is one of change. Climate change and environmental degradation will require us to adapt our economy, our industry, how we travel and work, what we buy and what we eat. It is expected that artificial intelligence and robotics alone will create almost 60 million new jobs worldwide in the next 5 years, while many jobs will change or even disappear. Europe’s demography is changing; today we live longer and healthier lives, thanks to progress in medicine and public health.

These changes, opportunities and challenges affect all countries and all Europeans. It makes sense to face them together and address change upfront. The European Pillar of Social Rights is our answer to these fundamental ambitions. The Pillar expresses 20 principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in 21st century Europe.

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The European Green Deal Investment Plan and Just Transition Mechanism

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The European Union is committed to becoming the first climate-neutral bloc in the world by 2050. This requires significant investment from both the EU and the national public sector, as well as the private sector. The European Green Deal’s Investment Plan – the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan – presented today will mobilise public investment and help to unlock private funds through EU financial instruments, notably InvestEU, which would lead to at least €1 trillion of investments.

While all Member States, regions and sectors will need to contribute to the transition, the scale of the challenge is not the same. Some regions will be particularly affected and will undergo a profound economic and social transformation. The Just Transition Mechanism will provide tailored financial and practical support to help workers and generate the necessary investments in those areas.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “People are at the core of the European Green Deal, our vision to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. The transformation ahead of us is unprecedented. And it will only work if it is just – and if it works for all. We will support our people and our regions that need to make bigger efforts in this transformation, to make sure that we leave no one behind. The Green Deal comes with important investment needs, which we will turn into investment opportunities. The plan that we present today, to mobilise at least €1 trillion, will show the direction and unleash a green investment wave.”

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “The necessary transition towards climate-neutrality is going to improve people’s well-being and make Europe more competitive. But it will require more efforts from citizens, sectors and regions that rely more on fossil fuels than others. The Just Transition Mechanism will help support those most affected by making investments more attractive and proposing a package of financial and practical support worth at least €100 billion. This is our pledge of solidarity and fairness.”

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, added: “For Europe to transition to a climate-neutral economy, we need both political commitment and massive investments. The Green Deal shows our determination to tackle climate change, which we are now backing up with a funding plan. First, we will use the EU budget to leverage private funds for green projects across Europe and support the regions and people most affected by transition. Second, we will create the right regulatory incentives for green investments to thrive. Last but not least, we will help public authorities and market players to identify and develop such projects. The European Union was not built in a day. A Green Europe will not happen overnight. Putting sustainability at the heart of how we invest requires a change of mindset. We have taken an important step towards achieving this today.”

The European Green Deal Investment Plan

The European Green Deal Investment Plan will mobilise EU funding and create an enabling framework to facilitate and stimulate the public and private investments needed for the transition to a climate-neutral, green, competitive and inclusive economy. Complementing other initiatives announced under the Green Deal, the Plan is based on three dimensions:

  • Financing: mobilising at least €1 trillion of sustainable investments over the next decade. A greater share of spending on climate and environmental action from the EU budget than ever before will crowd in private funding, with a key role to be played by the European Investment Bank.
  • Enabling: providing incentives to unlock and redirect public and private investment. The EU will provide tools for investors by putting sustainable finance at the heart of the financial system, and will facilitate sustainable investment by public authorities by encouraging green budgeting and procurement, and by designing ways to facilitate procedures to approve State Aid for just transition regions.
  • Practical support: the Commission will provide support to public authorities and project promoters in planning, designing and executing sustainable projects.

The Just Transition Mechanism

The Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) is a key tool to ensure that the transition towards a climate-neutral economy happens in a fair way, leaving no one behind. While all regions will require funding and the European Green Deal Investment Plan caters for that, the Mechanism provides targeted support to help mobilise at least €100 billion over the period 2021-2027 in the most affected regions, to alleviate the socio-economic impact of the transition. The Mechanism will create the necessary investment to help workers and communities which rely on the fossil fuel value chain. It will come in addition to the substantial contribution of the EU’s budget through all instruments directly relevant to the transition.

The Just Transition Mechanism will consist of three main sources of financing:

1)   A Just Transition Fund, whichwill receive €7.5 billion of fresh EU funds, coming on top of the Commission’s proposal for the next long-term EU budget. In order to tap into their share of the Fund, Member States will, in dialogue with the Commission, have to identify the eligible territories through dedicated territorial just transition plans. They will also have to commit to match each euro from the Just Transition Fund with money from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund Plus and provide additional national resources. Taken together, this will provide between €30 and €50 billion of funding, which will mobilise even more investments. The Fund will primarily provide grants to regions. It will, for example, support workers to develop skills and competences for the job market of the future and help SMEs, start-ups and incubators to create new economic opportunities in these regions. It will also support investments in the clean energy transition, for example in energy efficiency.

2)   A dedicated just transition scheme under InvestEU to mobilise up to €45 billion of investments. It will seek to attract private investments, including in sustainable energy and transport that benefit those regions and help their economies find new sources of growth. 

3)   A public sector loan facility with the European Investment Bank backed by the EU budget to mobilise between €25 and €30 billion of investments. It will be used for loans to the public sector, for instance for investments in district heating networks and renovation of buildings. The Commission will come with a legislative proposal to set this up in March 2020.

The Just Transition Mechanism is about more than funding: relying on a Just Transition Platform, the Commission will be providing technical assistance to Member States and investors and make sure the affected communities, local authorities, social partners and non-governmental organisations are involved. The Just Transition Mechanism will include a strong governance framework centred on territorial just transition plans.

Background

On 11 December 2019, the Commission presented the European Green Deal, with the ambition of becoming the first climate-neutral bloc in the world by 2050. Europe’s transition to a sustainable economy means significant investment efforts across all sectors: reaching the current 2030 climate and energy targets will require additional investments of €260 billion a year by 2030.

The success of the European Green Deal Investment Plan will depend on the engagement of all actors involved. It is vital that Member States and the European Parliament maintain the high ambition of the Commission proposal during the negotiations on the upcoming financial framework. A swift adoption of the proposal for a Just Transition Fund Regulation will be crucial.

The Commission will closely monitor and evaluate the progress on this transition path. As part of these efforts, every year the Commission will hold a Sustainable Investment Summit, involving all relevant stakeholders, and it will continue to work for promoting and financing the transition. The Commission invites the investment community to make full use of the enabling regulatory conditions and ever-growing needs for sustainable investments, and authorities to take an active role in identifying and promoting such investments.

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EU, U.S. and Japan agree on new ways to strengthen global rules on industrial subsidies

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In a Joint Statement issued today, representatives of the European Union, the United States and Japan announced their agreement to strengthen existing rules on industrial subsidies and condemned forced technology transfers practices.

In a meeting held in Washington, D.C., the EU, the U.S. and Japan agreed that the current list of subsidies prohibited under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) rules is insufficient to tackle market and trade distorting subsidisation existing in certain jurisdictions. They concluded therefore that new types of unconditionally prohibited subsidies have to be added to the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.

A structural reform of the WTO and levelling the playing field in global trade is a key priority for the EU and the von der Leyen Commission. Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan said: “This Joint Statement is an important step toward addressing some of the fundamental issues distorting global trade. The EU has been arguing consistently that multilateral negotiations can be effective in resolving these problems. I welcome the fact that the United States and Japan share this view. I am grateful to Ambassador Lighthizer and Minister Kajiyama for their constructive collaboration. This Statement is also a symbol of a constructive strategic collaboration between three major players in global trade.”

The EU, U.S. and Japan also agreed that for particularly harmful types of subsidies, such as excessively large subsidies, the burden of proof should be reversed: the subsidising WTO member must demonstrate that there are no serious negative trade or capacity effects and that there is effective transparency about the subsidy in question. The signatories of the statement also reaffirmed the importance of technology transfers for global trade and investment and discussed possible core rules to be introduced to prevent forced technology transfer practices of third countries.

The Joint Statement also confirmed continued cooperation on a number of key items such as:

The importance of market oriented conditions

Reform of the WTO, to include increasing compliance with existing WTO notification obligations

Pressing advanced WTO members claiming developing country status to undertake full commitments in ongoing and future WTO negotiations

International rule making and trade related aspects of electronic commerce at the WTO; and

International forums such as the Global Forum of Steel Excess Capacity and the Governments/Authorities’ Meeting on Semiconductors.

The Joint Statement is an important step toward resolving some key issues in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in June 2020 in Nur-Sultan.

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