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EU Economic governance review: Q&A

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The Commission has presented a Communication reviewing the EU’s Economic governance framework. Specifically, this includes an assessment of the application of the six- and two-pack legislation.

The Communication also sets out how the Commission plans to consult interested parties to receive their views on the functioning of the economic framework so far and the possible ways to enhance its effectiveness.

Why is the Commission presenting this review now?

The legislation in the six-pack and two-pack requires the Commission to review and report on the application of the legislation every five years.

The start of a new political cycle at European level is an opportune moment to assess the effectiveness of the current rules.

The economic context has changed considerably since these measures were introduced in response to the vulnerabilities exposed by the economic and financial crisis. Meanwhile, Europe is aiming to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent and to seize the new opportunities of the digital age, as set out in the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy

What are the main findings of the review?

The review considers the effectiveness of the different surveillance elements as regards the achievements of the three key objectives, namely:

        ensuring sustainable government finances, growth and avoiding macroeconomic imbalances;

        enabling closer coordination of economic policies; and

        promoting convergence of economic performances of the Member States.

The review has revealed strengths as well as possible areas for improvement.

The surveillance framework has supported the correction of existing macroeconomic imbalances and the reduction of public debt. This, in turn, has helped to create the conditions for sustainable growth, strengthened resilience and reduced vulnerabilities to economic shocks.

The implementation of recommended policies by Member States has contributed to the gradual strengthening of the EU economies and to job creation.

The establishment of a common budgetary timeline and the policy guidance issued on the basis of Member States’ draft budgetary plans has led to a closer coordination of fiscal policies within the euro area.

The surveillance framework has also promoted the gradual convergence of Member States’ economic performances. All Member States have returned to growth since the economic and financial crisis and experienced declining unemployment rates. Public finances have also improved, with public deficits and debt levels falling.

At the same time, potential growth has not recovered to its pre-crisis level and there has been persistently low inflation. Public debt levels remain high in some Member States. Reform efforts are waning. Member States’ economies remain vulnerable to an economic slowdown with risks of spill-overs that would affect the functioning of the euro area as a whole.

The fiscal stance at Member State-level has frequently been pro-cyclical. The composition of public finances has not become more growth-friendly, with Member States consistently opting to increase current expenditure rather than protect investment.

The ability to steer the fiscal stance for the euro area as a whole rests exclusively on coordination of national fiscal policies in the absence of a central stabilisation capacity.

The fiscal framework has grown excessively complex. This complexity has resulted in those rules becoming less transparent, hampering predictability, communication and political ownership.

What are the review’s findings on the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure?

The MIP has widened and complemented the scope of economic surveillance and raised awareness about economic challenges beyond fiscal policy.

It has allowed a greater focus on macro-structural and macro-financial issues relevant to macroeconomic stability, such as external imbalances, productivity, competitiveness, the housing market and private indebtedness.

The MIP has helped to focus national debates on policy action. It has also helped to deepen the dialogue between the EU institutions and national authorities about key economic challenges and priorities. The report finds that implementation of country-specific recommendations linked to the MIP was stronger compared with other recommendations, and that imbalances accumulated during the crisis are receding. However, implementation has waned in more recent years. The review also finds that the MIP has been more successful in reducing current account deficits than it has been in reducing persistent and large current account surpluses.

The reports concludes that the MIP has complemented other surveillance instruments. In particular, it provided the basis for prioritising policies not dealt with by the SGP, but relevant to public finances. This is the case for policies helping competitiveness and the growth potential in high-debt countries. 

Will the Commission come forward with any new proposals on the basis of this review?

The next step is to engage openly with interested parties to seek their views on how to strengthen the economic governance framework.

The Commission will consider all those views and on that basis complete its internal reflections on the scope for possible future steps by the end of 2020.

When and how does the Commission plan to engage with the other institutions and interested parties on the functioning of EU fiscal rules?

The Commission looks forward to an inclusive debate, involving interested parties including the European Parliament, the Council, the European Central Bank, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, national governments and parliaments, national central banks, independent fiscal institutions, national productivity boards, social partners, as well as academic institutions.

This engagement will take place through various means including dedicated meetings, workshops and an online consultation platform.

These consultations will take place over the first half of 2020.

The debate will consider, among others, the following questions:

How can the framework be improved to ensure sustainable public finances in all Member States and to help eliminate existing macroeconomic imbalances and avoid new ones arising?

How to ensure responsible fiscal policies that safeguard long-term sustainability, while allowing for short-term stabilisation?

What is the appropriate role for the EU surveillance framework in incentivising Member States to undertake key reforms and investments needed to help tackle today and tomorrow’s economic, social, and environmental challenges while preserving safeguards against risks to debt sustainability?

How can one simplify the EU framework and improve the transparency of its implementation?

How can surveillance focus on the Member States with more pressing policy challenges and ensure quality dialogue and engagement?

How can the framework ensure effective enforcement? What should be the role of pecuniary sanctions, reputational costs and positive incentives?

Is there scope to strengthen national fiscal frameworks and improve their interaction with the EU fiscal framework?

How should the framework take into consideration the euro area dimension and the agenda towards deepening the Economic and Monetary Union?

Within the context of the European Semester, how can the SGP and the MIP interact and work better together, so as to improve economic policy coordination among Member States?

What is the link between the review and the European Green Deal?

This review was conducted in the context of the ambitions set out in the European Green Deal to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent.

This includes re-assessing the appropriateness of the current flexibility clauses in terms of their scope and eligibility, in order to facilitate the right type and level of investment while preserving debt sustainability.  

‘Green budgeting’ could also play a role in improving the quality of public finances and helping to deliver on the objectives of the European Green Deal. However, it is too soon to say whether the review will lead to the development of such tools.

The Commission will consider the input from interested parties in its reflections on the scope of any possible future steps in this regard. 

Does the existing economic governance framework facilitate green investments?

The EU’s fiscal rules aim to ensure the credibility and sustainability of public finances, thereby ensuring financial stability and smooth access to financial markets at low interest rates. These are necessary factors to ensure sustainable public investment over the medium term.

In principle, the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) is neutral as regards to the composition of public revenue and expenditure, focusing on deficit and debt. Member States are therefore free to prioritise their public expenditures in favour of investment. The rules recognise in several instances the importance of protecting investment. They also provide support for investment through the so-called “investment clause” and other flexibility provisions provided for in the Commonly Agreed Position on Flexibility contained within the SGP.

What is the link between the review and the Commission’s agenda to further deepen Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)?

Our deep economic links and interdependence mean that sound economic and fiscal governance are critically important to the Economic and Monetary Union. The governance framework needs to ensure the sustainability of public finances, support the strength and resilience of Member State economies and promote effective policy coordination. 

At the same time, further EMU reforms such as the introduction of a stabilisation capacity of appropriate size would allow fiscal policy to contribute more to macroeconomic stabilisation at the level of the euro area as a whole.

The completion of the financial union (Banking Union and Capital Markets Union) could facilitate market discipline and allow to simplify the design of an effective fiscal surveillance framework.

Does the review include any recommendations on how to reduce the complexity of the EU’s fiscal rules?

In general the review does not include any recommendations as it is an assessment  of how the rules have worked so far.

The review acknowledges that the current EU fiscal governance framework has grown excessively complex. This complexity results from the framework pursuing multiple objectives and the need to cater for a wide variety of evolving circumstances, including by the use of flexibility, in a context of divergences of views among Member States. It is reflected in a very detailed codification, encompassing several operational indicators of which a number are non-observable and frequently revised, as well as a variety of escape clauses.

As a result, the fiscal rules have become less transparent, hampering predictability, communication and political ownership.

To what extent does the review take on board the recent reports from the European Court of Auditors and the European Fiscal Board?

This reviewdraws on the assessment of the EU fiscal rules by the European Fiscal Board, as well as on existing reports and views of other interested parties, such as Member States, the European Parliament, the European Court of Auditors on the SGP and the MIP, and academia.

Those references are made explicit in the accompanying staff working documents.

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70% of the EU adult population fully vaccinated

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Today, the EU has reached a crucial milestone with 70% of the adult population now fully vaccinated. In total, over 256 million adults in the EU have now received a full vaccine course. Seven weeks ago already, the Commission’s delivery target was met, ahead of time: to provide Member States, by the end of July, with enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 70% of the adult EU population.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said:  “The full vaccination of 70% of adults in the EU already in August is a great achievement. The EU’s strategy of moving forward together is paying off and putting Europe at the vanguard of the global fight against COVID-19.  But the pandemic is not over. We need more. I call on everyone who can to get vaccinated. And we need to help the rest of the world vaccinate, too. Europe will continue to support its partners in this effort, in particular the low and middle income countries.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said:  “I am very pleased that as of today we have reached our goal to vaccinate 70% of EU adults before the end of the summer. This is a collective achievement of the EU and its Member States that shows what is possible when we work together with solidarity and in coordination. Our efforts to further increase vaccinations across the EU will continue unabated. We will continue to support in particular those Member States that are continuing to face challenges. We need to close the immunity gap and the door for new variants and to do so, vaccinations must win the race over variants.”

Global cooperation and solidarity

The rapid, full vaccination of all targeted populations – in Europe and globally – is key to controlling the impact of the pandemic. The EU has been leading the multilateral response. The EU has exported about half of the vaccines produced in Europe to other countries in the world, as much as it has delivered for its citizens.  Team Europe has contributed close to €3 billion for the COVAX Facility to help secure at least 1.8 billion doses for 92 low and lower middle-income countries. Currently, over 200 million doses have been delivered by COVAX to 138 countries.

In addition, Team Europe aims to share at least 200 million more doses of vaccines secured under the EU’s advance purchase agreements to low and middle-income countries until the end of 2021, in particular through COVAX, as part of the EU sharing efforts

Preparing for new variants

Given the threat of new variants, it is important to continue ensuring the availability of sufficient vaccines, including adapted vaccines, also in the coming years. That is why the Commission signed a new contract with BioNTech-Pfizer on 20 May, which foresees the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccines between the end of the year and 2023. For the same purpose, the Commission has also exercised the option of 150 million doses of the second Moderna contract. Member States have the possibility to resell or donate doses to countries in need outside the EU or through the COVAX Facility, contributing to a global and fair access to vaccines across the world. Other contracts may follow. This is the EU’s common insurance policy against any future waves of COVID-19.

Background

A safe and effective vaccine is our best chance to beat coronavirus and return to our normal lives. The European Commission has been working tirelessly to secure doses of potential vaccines that can be shared with all.

The European Commission has secured up to 4.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far and negotiations are underway for additional doses. The Commission is also working with industry to step up vaccine manufacturing capacity.

At the same time, the Commission has started work to tackle new variants, aiming to rapidly develop and produce effective vaccines against these variants on a large scale. The HERA Incubator helps in responding to this threat.

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EU’s defence measures against unfair trade practices remained effective in 2020

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The system for protecting EU businesses from dumped and subsidised imports continued to function well in 2020 thanks to the EU’s robust and innovative ways of using trade defence instruments (TDI), despite the practical challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is part of the European Commission’s new trade strategy, whereby the EU takes a more assertive stance in defending its interests against unfair trade practices.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The EU needs effective tools to defend ourselves when we face unfair trade practices. This is a key pillar of our new strategy for an open, sustainable and assertive trade policy. We have continued to use our trade defence instruments effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic, improved their monitoring and enforcement, and tackled new ways of giving subsidies by third countries.  We will not tolerate the misuse of trade defence instruments by our trading partners and we will continue to support our exporters caught up in such cases. It is crucial that our companies and their workers can continue to rely on robust trade defence instruments that protect them against unfair trade practices.”

At the end of 2020, the EU had 150 trade defence measures in force, in line with previous years’ activity levels with an increase in the number of cases lodged towards the end of 2020. In addition, for the first time, the Commission addressed a new type of subsidy given by third countries in the form of cross-border financial support that was a serious challenge for EU companies.

The following are the main trade-defence highlights of 2020:

Continued high level of EU trade defence activity

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission had to swiftly introduce temporary changes to its work practices, especially concerning on-the-spot verification visits. This allowed the Commission to continue applying the instruments at the highest standards without a drop in the levels of activity. At the end of 2020, the 150 trade defence measures that the EU had in place – 10 more than at the end of 2019 – included 128 anti-dumping, 19 anti-subsidy and 3 safeguard measures.

In 2020, the Commission launched:

  • 15 investigations, compared to 16 in 2019, and imposed 17 provisional and definitive measures, compared to 15 in 2019;
  • 28 reviews, compared to 23 the previous year.

The highest number of EU trade defence measures concerns imports from:

  • China (99 measures);
  • Russia (9 measures);
  • India (7 measures);
  • The United States (6 measures).

Tackling new types of subsidies

In 2020, the Commission strengthened its action against subsidies granted by third countries. In particular, the Commission imposed countervailing duties on cross-border financial support given by China to Chinese-owned companies manufacturing glass fibre fabrics and continuous filament glass fibre products based in Egypt for export to the EU.

This means that, for the first time, the Commission addressed cross-border subsidies given by a country to enterprises located in another country for exports to the EU.

Support to, and defence of, EU exporters facing trade defence investigations in export markets

The importance of monitoring trade defence action taken by third countries was again evident in 2020. The number of trade defence measures in force by third countries affecting EU exporters reached its highest level since the Commission started this monitoring activity, with 178 measures in place. In addition, the number of cases initiated also increased in 2020, with 43 compared to 37 the previous year.

The report outlines the Commission’s activities to ensure that WTO rules are correctly applied and procedural errors and legal inconsistencies are addressed in order to avoid any misuse of trade defence instruments by third countries. The Commission’s interventions yielded success in some cases where measures were not ultimately imposed, affecting important EU export products such as ceramic tiles and fertilisers.  

Strong focus on monitoring and enforcement

There was a renewed focus on the monitoring of measures in place in 2020, including changes to surveillance practices to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the trade defence instruments. This also involved customs authorities, EU industry, and in certain instances, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Continuing its efforts to address instances where exporters tried to avoid measures, the Commission initiated three anti-circumvention investigations in 2020 and completed five such investigations during the year, where measures were extended in four cases to also address imports from third countries where transhipment was found to have taken place.

The report also recalls the findings of the European Court of Auditors from July 2020, which confirmed the successful enforcement of the EU’s trade defence instruments by the Commission. The report made a number of recommendations to further strengthen the Commission’s response to the challenges posed by unfairly traded imports that the Commission has started to implement in 2020, such as improving monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of measures. 

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Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2022: improving long-term sustainability of stocks

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The Commission today adopted its proposal for fishing opportunities for 2022 for the Baltic Sea. Based on this proposal, EU countries will determine how much fish can be caught in the sea basin, for what concerns the most important commercial species.

The Commission proposes to increase fishing opportunities for herring in the Gulf of Riga, whilst maintaining the current levels for sprat, plaice and by-catches of eastern cod. The Commission proposes to decrease fishing opportunities for the remaining stocks covered by the proposal, in order to improve the sustainability of those stocks and to help other stocks such as cod and herring recovering.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “The poor environmental status of the Baltic Sea is heavily affecting our local fishermen and women, who rely on healthy fish stocks for their livelihoods. This is why the Commission is doing its utmost to restore those stocks, and today’s proposal is a reflection of that ambition. However, the state of the Baltic Sea is not only related to fishing, so everyone must do their part to build the long-term sustainability of this precious sea basin.”

Over the past decade, EU’s fishermen and women, industry and public authorities have made major efforts to rebuild fish stocks in the Baltic Sea. Where complete scientific advice was available, fishing opportunities had already been set in line with the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for seven out of eight stocks, covering 95% of fish landings in volume. However, in 2019 scientists discovered that the situation was worse than previously estimated. Decisive action is still necessary to restore all stocks and ensure that they grow to or remain at sustainable levels.

The proposed total allowable catches (TACs) are based on the best available peer-reviewed scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and follow the Baltic multiannual management plan adopted in 2016 by the European Parliament and the Council. As regards western Baltic cod, western Baltic herring and salmon, the Commission will update its proposal once the relevant scientific advice will be available (expected by mid-September).

Cod

For eastern Baltic cod, the Commission proposes to maintain the TAC level and all the accompanying measures from the 2021 fishing opportunities. Despite the measures taken since 2019, when scientists first alarmed about the very poor status of the stock, the situation has not yet improved.

For western Baltic cod the scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) is postponed to mid-September, and the Commission will update its proposal accordingly. However, since it seems unlikely that the stock has developed favourably, the Commission proposes already now to maintain the spawning closure. It also proposes to maintain all accompanying measures in the eastern part of the catch area, given the predominance of eastern Baltic cod in that area.

Herring

The stock size of western Baltic herring remains below safe biological limits and scientists advise for the fourth year in a row to stop catching western herring. The Commission, therefore, proposes to close the directed fishery and set a TAC limited to unavoidable by-catches, whose level the Commission will propose at a later stage, as ICES is currently not in a position to provide sufficient scientific data.

For central Baltic herring, the Commission proposes a reduction of 54% in line with the ICES advice, because the stock size has dropped very close to the limit below which the stock is not sustainable. In line with the ICES advice, the Commission proposes to decrease the TAC level for herring in the Gulf of Bothnia by 5%, while the situation for Riga herring allows for an increase of the TAC by 21%.

Plaice

While the ICES advice would allow for an increase, the Commission remains cautious, mainly to protect cod – which is an unavoidable by-catch in plaice fisheries as currently conducted. It therefore proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged.

Sprat

Similarly to plaice, the ICES advice for sprat would allow for an increase. The Commission however advises prudence and proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged. This is because sprat and herring are caught in mixed fisheries and the TAC for central Baltic herring has to be reduced again significantly. Moreover, sprat is a prey species for cod, which is not in a good condition.

Salmon

ICES has postponed its scientific advice for salmon to mid-September. The Commission will update its proposal accordingly. A special advice from ICES of April 2020 already provides information about the issues affecting these stocks, pointing to the fact  that the MSY objective cannot be achieved for all salmon river stocks if the commercial and recreational mixed-stock sea fisheries are continued at current levels.

Next steps

The Council will examine the Commission’s proposal in view of adopting it during a Ministerial meeting on 11-12 October.

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