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Making Europe’s businesses future-ready

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EU Commission presents a new Strategy to help Europe’s industry lead the twin transitions towards climate neutrality and digital leadership. The Strategy aims to drive Europe’s competitiveness and its strategic autonomy at a time of moving geopolitical plates and increasing global competition.

The package of initiatives outlines a new approach to European industrial policy that is firmly rooted in European values and social market traditions. It sets out a range of actions to support all players of European industry, including big and small companies, innovative start-ups, research centres, service providers, suppliers and social partners. A dedicated Strategy for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) aims to reduce red tape and help Europe’s numerous SMEs to do business across the single market and beyond, access financing and help lead the way on the digital and green transitions. Today’s initiatives also include concrete steps to address barriers to a well-functioning single market, Europe’s strongest asset to allow all our businesses to grow and compete in Europe and beyond.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “Europe’s industry is the motor of growth and prosperity in Europe. And it is at its best when it draws on what makes it strong: its people and their ideas, talents, diversity and entrepreneurial spirit. This is more important than ever as Europe embarks on its ambitious green and digital transitions in a more unsettled and unpredictable world. Europe’s industry has everything it takes to lead the way and we will do everything we can to support it.”

Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, said: “Europe has the strongest industry in the world. Our companies – big and small – provide us with jobs, prosperity and strategic autonomy. Managing the green and digital transitions and avoiding external dependencies in a new geopolitical context requires radical change – and it needs to start now.”

The Industrial Policy package published today includes the following initiatives:

A new Industrial Strategy

To uphold Europe’s industrial leadership, a new Industrial Strategy will help deliver on three key priorities: maintaining European industry’s global competitiveness and a level playing field, at home and globally, making Europe climate-neutral by 2050 and shaping Europe’s digital future.

The Strategy sets out the key drivers of Europe’s industrial transformation and proposes a comprehensive set of future actions, including:

An Intellectual Property Action Plan to uphold technological sovereignty, promote global level playing field, better fight intellectual property theft and adapt the legal framework to the green and digital transitions.

As competition brings the best out of our companies, the ongoing review of EU competition rules, including the ongoing evaluation of merger control and fitness check of State aid guidelines, will ensure that our rules are fit for purpose for an economy that is changing fast, increasingly digital and must become greener and more circular.

We need fair competition at home and abroad. In addition to making the most of its toolbox of trade defence mechanisms, the Commission will adopt a White Paper by mid-2020 to address distortive effects caused by foreign subsidies in the single market and tackle foreign access to EU public procurement and EU funding. The issue related to foreign subsidies will be addressed in a proposal for a legal instrument in 2021. This will go hand in hand with ongoing work to strengthen global rules on industrial subsidies in the World Trade Organization, and actions to address the lack of reciprocal access for public procurement in third countries.

Comprehensive measures to modernise and decarbonise energy-intensive industries, support sustainable and smart mobility industries, to promote energy efficiency, strengthen current carbon leakage tools and secure a sufficient and constant supply of low-carbon energy at competitive prices

Enhancing Europe’s industrial and strategic autonomy by securing the supply of critical raw materials through an Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials and pharmaceuticals based on a new EU Pharmaceutical Strategy and by supporting the development of strategic digital infrastructures and key enabling technologies.

A Clean Hydrogen Alliance to accelerate the decarbonisation of industry and maintain industrial leadership, followed by Alliances on Low-Carbon Industries and on Industrial Clouds and Platforms and raw materials.

Further legislation and guidance on green public procurement.

A renewed focus on innovation, investment and skills.

In addition to a comprehensive set of actions, both horizontal and for specific technologies, the Commission will systematically analyse the risks and needs of different industrial ecosystems. In doing this analysis, the Commission will work closely with an inclusive and open Industrial Forum, to be set up by September 2020. It will consist of representatives from industry, including SMEs, big companies, social partners, researchers, as well as Member States and EU institutions. Where needed, experts from specific sectors will be called upon to share their knowledge. The Commission’s annual Industry Days will continue to bring all players together.

A new SME Strategy

SMEs play a key role in Europe’s industrial fabric, providing two out of three jobs, and are central to the success of this new industrial approach. The Strategy aims to help SMEs to lead the twin transitions, which also means securing access to the right skills. To build SMEs’ capacity for these transitions, the Commission will upgrade the European Enterprise Network with dedicated Sustainability Advisors. It will also expand Digital Innovation Hubs across every region in Europe to empower SMEs to integrate digital innovations. It will open up possibilities for volunteering and training on digital technologies.

To make it easier for SMEs to operate in the single market and beyond, the Commission proposes actions to remove regulatory and practical obstacles to doing business or scaling up. Among them, the Commission is stepping up its efforts to ensure prompt payment, in particular through a new virtual Observatory, as well as through alternative dispute resolution. To make it more accessible for SMEs to go public in Europe, the Commission will also support an SME Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) Fund under the InvestEU SME window. It will also empower female entrepreneurship by stimulating investment in women-led companies and funds. Furthermore, the Commission invites Member States to ensure one-stop shop assistance to companies. The objective is to make Europe the best place to start a business and grow. It will work with Member States on an EU Start-up Nations Standard to share and adopt best practices to accelerate growth of high-tech SMEs and start-ups. To ensure political commitment for these measures, a high-level EU SME Envoy will guarantee close partnership and coordination with EU Member States through national SME envoys, as well as with regional and local authorities. It will also strengthen the SME perspective in EU legislation.

A single market that delivers for our businesses and consumers

The single market is one of Europe’s greatest achievements and provides Europe’s businesses with a large domestic market. It stimulates competition and trade within the EU. It provides EU citizens with a wider choice of goods and services and more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. It gives European companies the leverage they need to become leaders on the global stage.

Nevertheless, Europeans continue to experience barriers that prevent them from fully exploiting the potential of the single market. Estimates show that removing these barriers could bring up to €713 billion by the end of the decade. The Report on barriers to the single market published today identifies a broad range of obstacles in the single market taking the perspective of Europe’s businesses and consumers. It points to the root causes of such barriers: restrictive and complex national rules, limited administrative capacities, imperfect transposition of EU rules and their inadequate enforcement.

To address these barriers, the Commission adopts today an Action Plan for Better Implementation and Enforcement of single market rules, which aims at addressing obstacles that arise from violations of EU law. The Action Plan is based on a renewed partnership between Member States and Commission in their shared responsibility to ensure that single market rules are properly enforced and applied. In this context, the Action Plan launches a Joint Task Force of the Commission and Member States to strengthen cooperation on enforcement of single market rules. The Commission, for its part, will support national and local authorities in their efforts to implement correctly European law and will not hesitate to take firm action against violations of single market rules.

Background

Industry plays a vital role in supporting Europe’s economic growth and prosperity. European industry is a global leader in many sectors representing 20% of the total value added of the EU and providing jobs for 35 million people in the EU.

In March 2019, the European Council called for a comprehensive and long-term EU industrial policy Strategy along with an integrated approach for a deeper and stronger single market. The need for a new industrial way for Europe is reflected in President von der Leyen’s Political Guidelines, the priorities set out by the European Parliament and the European Council’s Strategic Agenda 2019-2024, the European Green Deal and the Commission’s Strategy on Shaping Europe’s Digital Future.

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Coronavirus response: EU support for regions to work together in innovative pilot projects

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The Commission has announced the winners of a new EU-funded initiative for interregional partnerships in four areas: coronavirus-related innovative solutions, circular economy in health, sustainable and digital tourism, and hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions. The aim of this new pilot action, which builds on the successful experience of a similar action on “interregional innovation projects” launched at the end of 2017, is to mobilise regional and national innovation actors to address the impact of coronavirus. This initiative also helps the recovery using the new Commission programmes through scaling up projects in new priority areas, such as health, tourism or hydrogen.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “Interregional partnerships are proof that when we cooperate beyond borders, we are stronger as we come up with smart and useful solutions for all. This new pilot initiative supporting interregional innovative partnerships is especially important in the current coronavirus context, showing how much cohesion policy is committed to contribute to Europe’s prompt response and recovery.” 

Following a Commission’s call for expression of interest launched in July 2020, four interregional partnerships were selected, with one or several coordinating regions in the lead:

  • País Vasco (ES), together with three regions, will focus on the support to an emerging industry sector for prediction and prevention of the coronavirus pandemic;
  • In the field of Circular Economy in Health, the RegioTex partnership on textile innovation involves 16 regions led by North Portugal (PT);
  • In the field of Sustainable and Digital Tourism, the partnership coordinated by the Time Machine Organisation, an international cooperation network in technology, science and cultural heritage, involves five regions and Cyprus, led by Thüringen (DE); 
  • In order to enable the development of innovative solutions based on Hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions with a broad geographical coverage, two partnerships will merge: the European Hydrogen Valleys partnership gathering 12 regions led by Aragon (ES), Auvergne Rhône Alpes (FR), Normandie (FR) and Northern Netherlands (NL), and the partnership led by Košice Region (SK) with four other regions.

These partnerships will benefit from the Commission experts’ support, providing, among others, advice on how to best combine EU funds to finance projects. In addition to this hands-on support from the Commission, each partnership can benefit from external advisory service of up to €100,000 for scale-up and commercialisation activities. The money comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Next steps

The work with the partnerships will start in this month and will run for one year.This pilot further stimulates interregional cooperation, with the possibility for the partnerships to apply for support under the new programmes and the “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument from 2021 onwards.

Background

In recent years, the Commission has called on national and regional authorities to develop smart specialisation strategies aiming at more effective innovation policies and enhanced interregional cooperation in value chains across borders. To date, more than 180 regional smart specialisation strategies have been adopted. Their implementation is supported by €40 billion of EU Cohesion policy funds.

As part of a set of actions presented in 2017 by the Commission to take smart specialisation a step further, a pilot action on “Interregional innovation projects” sought to test new ways to encourage regions and cities to develop new value chains and scale up their good ideas in the EU single market. This pilot action, which involved nine partnerships in high-tech priority sectors, was completed in 2019 and showed significant potential to accelerate the investment readiness of interregional investment projects.

The lessons learned will be integrated in the new “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument proposed in the framework of the post 2020 Cohesion Policy package.

The new pilot action has similar goals. Moreover, in the context of the crisis, it aims at finding solutions to the coronavirus challenges and accelerating the recovery through the commercialisation and scale-up of innovation investment. 

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Commission proposes to purchase up to 300 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine

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image: BioNTech

The European Commission today proposed to the EU Member States to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.  

This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU.

The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021. 

The EU has acquired a broad portfolio of vaccines with different technologies. It has secured up to 2.3 billion doses from the most promising vaccine candidates for Europe and its neighbourhood.  

In addition to the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, was authorised on 6 January 2021. Other vaccines are expected to be approved soon.  

This vaccine portfolio would enable the EU not only to cover the needs of its whole population, but also to supply vaccines to neighbouring countries.

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Brexit deal: How new EU-UK relations will affect you

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EU-UK relations are changing following Brexit and the deal reached at the end of 2020. Find out what this means for you.

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. There was a transition period during which the UK remained part of the Single market and Customs Union to allow for negotiations on the future relations. Following intense negotiations, an agreement on future EU-UK relations was concluded end of December 2020. Although it will be provisionally applied, it will still need to be approved by the Parliament before it can formally enter into force. MEPs are currently scrutinising the text in the specialised parliamentary committees before voting on it during a plenary session.

A number of issues were already covered by the withdrawal agreement, which the EU and the UK agreed at the end of 2019. This agreement on the separation issues deals with the protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other parts of the EU, the UK’s financial commitments undertaken as a member state, as well as border issues, especially on the Isle of Ireland.

Living and working in the UK or the EU

EU citizens in the UK or UK citizens in an EU member state who were already living there before January 2021 are allowed to continue living and working where they are now provided they registered and were granted settlement permits by the national authorities of the member states or the UK.

For those UK citizens not already living in the EU, their right to live and work in any EU country apart from the Republic of Ireland (as the UK has a separate agreement with them) is not automatically granted and can be subject to restrictions. Also, they no longer have their qualifications automatically recognised in EU countries, which was previously the case.

For UK citizens wanting to visit or stay in the EU for more than 90 days for any reason need to meet the requirements for entry and stay for people from outside the EU. This also applies to UK citizens with a second home in the EU.

People from the EU wanting to move to the UK for a long-term stay or work – meaning more than six months – will need to meet the migration conditions set out by the UK government, including applying for a visa.

Travelling

UK citizens can visit the EU for up to 90 days within any 180-day period without needing a visa.

However, UK citizens can no longer make use of the EU’s fast track passport controls and customs lanes. They also need to have a return ticket and be able to prove they have enough funds for their stay. They also need to have at least six months left on their passport.

EU citizens can visit the UK for up to six months without needing a visa. EU citizens will need to present a valid passport to visit the UK.

Healthcare

EU citizens temporarily staying in the UK still benefit from emergency healthcare based on the European Health Insurance Card. For stays longer than six months, they need to pay a healthcare surcharge.

Pensioners continue to benefit from healthcare where they live. The country paying for their pension will reimburse the country of residence.

Erasmus

The UK has decided to stop participating in the popular Erasmus+ exchange programme and to create its own exchange programme. Therefore EU students will not be able to participate in exchange programme in the UK anymore. However, people from Northern Ireland can continue to take part.

Trade in goods and services

With the agreement, goods exchanged between the UK and EU countries are not subject to tariffs or quotas. However, there are new procedures for moving goods to and from the UK as border controls on the respect of the internal market rules (sanitary, security, social, environmental standard for example) or applicable UK regulation are in place. This means more red tape and additional costs. For example, all imports into the EU are subject to customs formalities while they must also meet all EU standards so they are subject to regulatory checks and controls. This does not apply to goods being moved between Northern Ireland and the EU.

Regarding services, UK companies no longer have the automatic right to offer services across the EU. If they want to continue operating in the EU, they will need to establish themselves here.

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