- Tue, 08:01: A boiled egg every morning is hard to beat.
On Tuesday (15 July) the European Parliament “elected” (in the words of the EU treaties following the Lisbon Treaty) Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission, with 422 votes in favour, 250 against and 47 abstentions. The vote was held through a secret ballot, but Juncker had the support of the leadership of the Socialist, European People’s Party and Liberal groups.
Prior to the vote, on Tuesday Juncker published his ‘political guidelines’ for the next European Commission, the term of office of which will run from 1 November 2014 for five years. This document is addressed primarily to MEPs. It says that Juncker’s agenda will focus on 10 policy areas:
He also says that “I will leave other policy areas to the Member States where they are more legitimate and better equipped to give effective policy responses” (p3). However, as can be seen, the policy areas he does intend to intervene in are wide-ranging.
Juncker says he will also “draw on” the ‘Strategic Agenda’ for the EU decided by the European Council of Member State heads of government at the end of June – thereby indicating that he does not consider this Strategic Agenda to be conclusive.
After going through his 10 areas of action (analysed below), Juncker concludes: “My firm conviction is that we must move forward as a Union. We do not necessarily all have to move at the same speed...Those who want to move further, faster, should be able to do so. This is particularly important in the Euro zone, where we need to continue to strengthen the foundations of the euro through deeper integration. And this should be done in such a way as to preserve the integrity of the single market and to protect the rights of those outside the Euro zone.” (p12)
Bold text in quotes from this document is emphasis in the original.
‘Jobs, Growth and Investment’
· Within the first 3 months of his term of office, Juncker will present a “Jobs, Growth and Investment Package”. He says: “We need smarter investment, more focus, less regulation and more flexibility when it comes to the use of these public funds [the EU Budget and European Investment Bank (EIB)]. In my view, this should allow us to mobilise up to € 300 billion in additional public and private investment in the real economy over the next three years…To make real projects happen, we also have to develop more effective financial instruments, including in the form of loans or guarantees with greater risk capacity. A further increase in the EIB’s capital should be considered.” (p3)
The UK would contribute to any increase in the EIB’s capital, which would have to be agreed by all Member States. The UK would shoulder some of the increased financial risk taken on by the EU Budget under Juncker’s proposed new ‘financial instruments’.
· “The focus of this additional investment should be in infrastructure, notably broadband and energy networks as well as transport infrastructure in industrial centres; education, research and innovation; and renewable energy and energy efficiency.” (p4)
· “Jobs, growth and investment will only return to Europe if we create the right regulatory environment and promote a climate of entrepreneurship and job creation. We must not stifle innovation and competitiveness with too prescriptive and too detailed regulations, notably when it comes to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)…This is why I intend to entrust the responsibility for better regulation to one of the Vice-Presidents in my Commission; and to give this Vice-President a mandate to identify…“red tape” both at European and at national level that could be swiftly removed as part of my Jobs, Growth and Investment Package.” (p4)
That said, Juncker reportedly said in his speech to the European Parliament immediately prior to the vote on his appointment that he believed EU minimum standards in social matters must remain (https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/art
Completing a digital single market
· “…we will need to have the courage to break down national silos in telecoms regulation, in copyright and data protection legislation, in the management of radio waves and in the application of competition law.” (p4)
This foresees EU legislation overriding (‘harmonising’) national law in these areas, a lot of which has already been proposed by the Commission. The Government has supported some of these proposals but not others, such as the burdensome draft new Data Protection Regulation and proposals for EU control of radio spectrum.
· “…I intend to take, within the first six months of my mandate, ambitious legislative steps towards a connected digital single market, notably by swiftly concluding negotiations on common European data protection rules; by adding more ambition to the ongoing reform of our telecoms rules; by modernising copyright rules in the light of the digital revolution and changed consumer behaviour; and by modernising and simplifying consumer rules for online and digital purchases.” (p5)
Creating a European Energy Union
· “I therefore want to reform and reorganise Europe’s energy policy into a new European Energy Union. We need to pool our resources, combine our infrastructures and unite our negotiating power vis-à-vis third countries. We need to diversify our energy sources, and reduce the high energy dependency of several of our Member States.” (p5)
Among other things, this raises the prospect of the EU asserting greater control over Member States’ energy relations with non-EU countries.
· “…we need to strengthen the share of renewable energies on our continent…I therefore want Europe’s Energy Union to become the world number one in renewable energies.” (p5)
· “I would also like to significantly enhance energy efficiency beyond the 2020 objective, notably when it comes to buildings, and I am in favour of an ambitious, binding target to this end that continues the current energy efficiency pathway.” (p5)
In 2007 the Member States agreed a target of a 20% increase in the EU’s energy efficiency by 2020, compared to projected energy use. While an Energy Efficiency Directive was adopted in 2012, it does not set binding energy efficiency targets on Member States. Juncker is not crystal clear if he intends binding national targets.
Completing the single market in goods and services, with a stronger industrial base
· “We need to complete the internal market in products and services” (p5)
· “We need to bring industry’s weight in the EU’s GDP back to 20% by 2020, from less than 16% today.” (p6)
· A “Capital Markets Union” should be built, though details of what this would entail are not forthcoming (p6).
· “Free movement of workers has always been one of the key pillars of the internal market, which I will defend, while accepting the right of national authorities to fight abuse or fraudulent claims…At the same time, I will ensure that the Posting of Workers Directive is strictly implemented, and I will initiate a targeted review of this Directive to ensure that social dumping has no place in the European Union. In our Union, the same work at the same place should be remunerated in the same manner.” (p6)
The Posting of Workers Directive allows companies based in one Member State to send their employees to another Member State on a temporary basis to carry out work there. These employees are not treated the same way as migrant workers under EU law. The Directive requires that they benefit from the same minimum legal entitlements as apply to local workers where they are posted, but otherwise their employer determines their terms and conditions eg) They may not be paid the same as local workers doing the same job. This has caused consternation among local workers in various countries.
· Juncker will “work for the adoption at EU level of a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base and a Financial Transaction Tax.” (p6). The former was proposed by the Commission in 2011, and would introduce a common regime for calculating a company’s taxable profits in Member States that companies could opt for if they wished, rather than applying national law. The Government was very sceptical but does not yet seem to have formally exercised its veto over the proposal; in 2011 it said it wanted to try and prevent other Member States pursuing the measure among themselves through the EU’s ‘enhanced co-operation’ procedure, which may be possible if the UK finally blocks the initiative. Regarding a Financial Transaction Tax, 11 Eurozone states are seeking to adopt this through enhanced co-operation.
Further integration to support the Euro
· Juncker wants to “preserve the stability of our single currency and to enhance the convergence of economic, fiscal and labour market policies between the Member States that share the single currency.” (p6)
He plans to do this on the basis of the Commission’s 2012 ‘Blueprint for a Deep and Genuine Economic and Monetary Union’ and the “Four Presidents Reports” (the main one of these was published in December 2012, the four Presidents being the Presidents of the European Commission, European Central Bank, European Council and the Eurogroup, which comprises Eurozone finance ministers – the last of these was Juncker himself at the time).
· “I want to launch legislative and non-legislative initiatives to deepen our Economic and Monetary Union during the first year of my mandate. These would include…proposals to encourage further structural reforms, if necessary through additional financial incentives and a targeted fiscal capacity at Euro zone level; and a proposal for a more efficient external representation [vis-à-vis the rest of the world] of our Economic and Monetary Union.” (p7)
Of course, as the Eurozone integrates further it increases the prospect of it forming a very powerful bloc within the EU.
A free trade agreement with the US
· “Under my presidency, the Commission will negotiate a reasonable and balanced trade agreement with the United States of America, in a spirit of mutual and reciprocal benefits and transparency… However, as Commission President, I will also be very clear that I will not sacrifice Europe’s safety, health, social and data protection standards or our cultural diversity on the altar of free trade. Notably, the safety of the food we eat and the protection of Europeans' personal data will be non-negotiable for me as Commission President. Nor will I accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States is limited by special regimes for investor disputes.” (p7)
· Juncker will also “insist” on greater public transparency of the negotiations on the agreement (p8).
Building an ‘area of justice and fundamental rights’
· “Our European Union is more than a big common market. It is also a Union of shared values, which are spelled out in the Treaties and in the [EU’s] Charter of Fundamental Rights.” (p8)
· “I intend to make use of the prerogatives of the Commission to uphold, within our field of competence, our shared values, the rule of law and fundamental rights, while taking due account of the diversity of constitutional and cultural traditions of the 28 Member States. I intend to entrust a Commissioner with specific responsibility for the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law. This Commissioner will also have the responsibility of concluding the accession of the Union to the European Convention of Human Rights” (p8).
This raises the prospect of the Commission being more vigorous in taking Member States to the EU Court of Justice for allegedly not complying with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, where their action comes within the scope of EU law.
· “…close partners such as the United States must convince us that the current safe harbour arrangements really are safe if they want them to continue. The U.S. must also guarantee that all EU citizens have the right to enforce data protection rights in U.S. courts, whether or not they reside on U.S. soil.” (p8)
The ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement between the EU and US allows various US companies and other organisations to sign up to certain data protection practices and in so doing be regarded as providing an adequate level of data protection under the terms of the EU’s Data Protection Directive, which regulates when data can be transferred to entities outside the EU.
· “…judicial cooperation among EU Member States must be improved step by step…by strengthening common tools such as Eurojust [the EU body supposed to aid Member State co-operation on criminal prosecutions]; by making progress on new tools such as the European Public Prosecutor’s Office which is designed to tackle criminal fraud which damages the EU budget; and by mutual recognition of judgements” (p8)
A stronger EU policy on migration
· “…we need to protect those in need through a strong common asylum policy. The newly agreed common asylum system has to be fully implemented, and divergences in national implementation removed.” (p9)
The UK opted in to the first wave of EU asylum legislation but, in the main, has remained outside the more recent wave. The Commission may still try to enforce certain applications of the older legislation by the UK, given the UK is still bound by this legislation.
· There will be a Commissioner with special responsibility for Migration. (p9)
· “…we need to secure Europe’s borders…We therefore need to step up the operational capacities of the European border agency FRONTEX. A budget of just EUR 90 million a year certainly does not equal the task of protecting Europe’s common borders. We need to pool more resources amongst Member States to reinforce the work of FRONTEX and put European Border Guard Teams into action for quick deployment in FRONTEX joint operations and rapid border interventions. This is the joint responsibility of all EU Member States, North and South, which needs to be taken up in a spirit of solidarity.” (p9)
The UK is not bound by EU law on border controls on persons coming from outside the EU, but has co-operated with EU initiatives intended to help police the EU’s “external border” (often in the Mediterranean).
The EU as a ‘stronger global actor’
· “We need a stronger Europe when it comes to foreign policy.” (p9)
· The next EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy “must act in concert with our European Commissioners for Trade, Development and Humanitarian Aid as well as for Neighbourhood Policy. This will require the High Representative to more fully play his/her role within the College of Commissioners. To make this possible, I intend to entrust other external relations Commissioners with the task of deputising for the High Representative both within the work of the College and on the international stage.” (p10)
The present High Representative, Baroness Ashton, has been criticised by some for not participating actively enough within the College of Commissioners. The High Representative role, introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, is quite tormented in that it is a member of the Commission but is supposed to be accountable to the Council of Ministers for core foreign policy matters falling under the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. To add to this, the Lisbon Treaty made the High Representative responsible for the new European External Action Service, which sits outside both the Commission and Council. The idea was for the High Representative to create coherence between all the EU’s policies dealing with the rest of the world, but other Commissioners in the end retained a lot of power over matters such as international development.
· “…even the strongest soft powers cannot make do in the long run without at least some integrated defence capacities. The Treaty of Lisbon provides for the possibility that those Member States who wish to can pool their defence capabilities in the form of a permanent structured cooperation. This means those Member States who wish to can engage in joint EU missions in crisis zones if needed...Member States should also create more synergies in defence procurement.” (p10)
‘Permanent structured co-operation’ allows a sub-group of willing Member States to pursue greater military integration within the EU structure. This risks greater divergence from/duplication of NATO among those Member States.
· “The EU needs to take a break from enlargement so that we can consolidate what has been achieved among the 28. This is why, under my Presidency of the Commission, ongoing negotiations will continue, and notably the Western Balkans will need to keep a European perspective, but no further enlargement will take place over the next five years.” (p10)
Bringing about ‘democratic change’ in the EU
· “A European Commission under my leadership will be committed to filling the special partnership with the European Parliament, as laid down in the Framework Agreement of 2010, with new life. I want to have a political dialogue with you, not a technocratic one.” (p10)
Among other things, the 2010 Framework Agreement says that the Commission President will “seriously consider” sacking an individual Commissioner (as he is legally able to do under the EU treaties) if this is requested by the European Parliament.
· “I also intend to review the legislation applicable to the authorisation of Genetically Modified Organisms. To me, it is simply not right that under the current rules, the Commission is legally forced to authorise new organisms for import and processing even though a clear majority of Member States is against. The Commission should be in a position to give the majority view of democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice, notably when it comes to the safety of the food we eat and the environment in which we live.” (p11)
This paves the way for greater EU restrictions on GMOs.
· “The relationship with national Parliaments is of great importance to me, notably when it comes to enforcing the principle of subsidiarity. I will explore ways to improve the interaction with national Parliaments as a way of bringing the European Union closer to citizens.” (p11)