Месечни архиви: март 2018

Summertime: changing of the clocks

Summer time. Daylight saving time. Spring forward alarm clock vector icon II.

© Albachiaraa / Fotolia

Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament with comments on the changing of the clocks. Some citizens are in favour of the summer-time and winter-time arrangements; others call on the Parliament to abolish them.

Since the 1980s, several directives, harmonising the varying summer-time arrangements in the Member States step by step, have been adopted at EU level. The main idea is to provide stable, long-term planning which is important for the proper functioning of the internal market.

Current EU legislation

The current EU legislation in place is Directive 2000//84/EC on summer-time arrangements, which defines the summer-time period as ‘the period of the year during which clocks are put forward by 60 minutes compared with the rest of the year’ as well as its beginning ‘on the last Sunday in March’ and its end ‘on the last Sunday in October’. The directive states that a common date and time for the beginning and end of the summer-time period ‘is important for the functioning of the internal market’.

European Parliament debates

The latest European Parliament debate on the current summer-time arrangements was held in plenary on 8 February 2018. The plenary debate, with Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, followed previous debates in 2015 and 2016. It was dedicated to the impact of the biannual time change, and whether it should be abolished.

The Commissioner pointed out that based on all the available evidence it ‘is conclusive only on one point – that letting Member States free to apply uncoordinated time changes would be detrimental for the internal market’. and added that ‘conversely, the findings are inconclusive on human health’. The video and the verbatim report of the debate are published on the EP website.

Resolution of 8 February 2018 on time change arrangements

Following the debate of 8 February, a resolution on time change arrangements was adopted by 384 votes to 153 with 12 abstentions.

The resolution considers inter alia that ‘numerous scientific studies, including the European Parliamentary Research Service study of October 2017 on EU summer-time arrangements under Directive 2000/84/EC, have failed to come to a conclusive outcome, but have instead indicated the existence of negative effects on human health’.

Therefore, the Parliament calls on the Commission ‘to conduct a thorough assessment of Directive 2000/84/EC and, if necessary, come up with a proposal for its revision’. More information can be found in the press release ‘Parliament calls for thorough assessment of bi-annual time change‘.

Parliamentary questions and petitions

The summer-time arrangements have also been the subject of a number of parliamentary questions and petitions, which can be consulted in the Public Register of Documents.

Further information

The EPRS study ‘EU summer-time arrangements under Directive 2000/84/EC‘ published in October 2017, makes an ex-post impact assessment of the summertime arrangements, and points out that summertime benefits the internal market (notably the transport sector) and outdoor leisure activities, yet health research associates the arrangements with some disruption to the human biorhythm. The European Commission website on Mobility and Transport provides further information on the issue.

Do you have any questions on this issue or another EP-related concern? Please use our web form. You write, we answer.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/24/summertime-changing-of-the-clocks/

EPRS Event: Economic and Social policies for young people

Written by Marie Lecerf,

From Bratislava to Sibiu: Roadmap for the Future of Europe. On 20 March 2018, the EPRS organised a policy roundtable in the Library of the European Parliament. This is the first of a series of five EPRS roundtables to set a ‘Roadmap for the Future of Europe – From Bratislava to Sibiu’.

Anthony Teasdale, Director General of the European Parliament Research Service welcomed the participants, and the roundtable discussion was opened by Maria- João Rodrigues (S&D, Portugal), Member of the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. Maria- João Rodrigues first underlined the need for an ambitious vision for Europe in a changing world of digital revolution and deep transformations to our way of life. These changes will have huge consequences for jobs. Ensuring that two key elements are guaranteed for all is therefore imperative: 1) a basic level contract and 2) access to social protection. Rodrigues also added that these changes will impact European education systems deeply, calling for a different form of education, including access to key digital skills. The European Union has a major role to play in this future through the implementation of the social pillar. Rodrigues concluded her keynote speech saying that it is time to seize opportunities to shape the future for the next generation.

From Bratislava to Sibiu: Roadmap for the Future of Europe. Economic and Social Policies for Young People

RODRIGUES, Maria João (S&D, PT); BASSOT, Etienne;

Etienne Bassot, Director of the EPRS Members’ Research Service gave the floor to Massimiliano Mascherini, Senior Research Manager at the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound). According to Mascherini, Europe is now recovering from one of the most challenging periods in its history. A decade of economic turmoil that leaves behind severe macro-economic and social imbalances in many Member States. The undesired adverse effect of the last decade was to amplify differences among Member States in social and economic outcomes: Italy’s long term youth unemployment is more than twenty times higher than that of Denmark. If we are always proud of our diversity in Europe, these are not the differences of which we are proud. Great emphasis is now to be given to the need to promote Member States’ convergence through European and national actions and initiatives. With a view to the construction of resilient societies and with the assumption that economic and social convergence should be fully aligned, there is now a window of opportunity, with the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, to re-start the engine of the European Union ‘convergence machine’.

Max Uebe, Head of the ‘Employment Strategy’ Unit, in Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion in the European Commission, continued the discussion, highlighting that the fight against youth unemployment remains a key priority for the European Commission and that the Commission has taken more concrete new initiatives to further deliver on the European Pillar of Social Rights. More specifically, the Commission recently presented a proposal for a Council recommendation on access to social protection for workers and the self-employed. In line with the European Pillar of Social Rights, this proposal aims to set a direction for Member States to support access to social protection for all workers and self-employed people, in particular for those who, due to their employment status, are not sufficiently covered by social security schemes. Max Uebe also mentioned other European Commission initiatives in favour of young people, particularly, the European Solidarity Corps and the Youth Guarantee.

From Bratislava to Sibiu: Roadmap for the Future of Europe. Economic and Social Policies for Young People


Anna Widegren, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, continued the debate with a more critical point of view, stressing the slow progress as regards youth employment and the inclusion of young people, particularly for minorities (Roma, migrants). Widegren pleaded for more funding for traineeships and better access to social security. Underlining the fact that young people do believe in the European project, Widegren called for the work-life balance package to be put in place, for increased social protection, and for creation of a minimum income framework.

Marie Lecerf, Policy Analyst with the Economic Policies Unit of EPRS then  put the debate in perspective, stating that as regards economic and social policies for young people, findings and discussions could be gathered around three words: imbalances, changes and chances. There are imbalances between young people, between the high potential of the young generation and the lack of job opportunities, and between generations. We are now facing changing times in terms of jobs, education and mind-sets. This opens the floor to new chances to be more cooperative when designing social and economic policies for young people, chances to create more reactive mechanisms to a possible new and sudden economic shock, and chances to be more active in pleading now for more investment in youth policies.

The roundtable discussion was followed by a short Q&A session.

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/23/eprs-event-economic-and-social-policies-for-young-people/

China [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

A volumetric map of China on the flag. 3d rendering.

© rommma / Fotolia

The National People’s Congress has recently confirmed Xi Jinping as China’s President, along with several appointments of his allies to top state jobs. It has also approved amendments to China’s Constitution which, in particular, abolish the limit of two five-year terms for the office of the President, prompting concerns that the country is moving towards a more autocratic system. These decisions have cemented Xi’s grip on power in a country that plays an increasingly important role in the global economy as well as in security and foreign affairs. Analysts say that China’s growing assertiveness poses a challenge to the United States, whose policies are becoming increasing unpredictable, and to other international actors.

This note offers links to recent commentaries, studies and reports from major international think tanks on China, its ties with the EU and related issues. More studies on the topics can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think Tanks are thinking’ published in June, 2017.

EU-China relations

The Indo-Pacific: A passage to Europe?
European Union Institute for Security Studies, March 2018

Europe, Japan and a rising China: Policies and prospects
Instituto Affari Internazionali, February 2018

Dancing with the bear: Macron in China
European Council on Foreign Relations, January 2018

Macron gets the timing right in China as energetic standard-bearer for Europe
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2016

China at the gates: A new power audit of EU-China relations
European Council on Foreign Relations, December 2017

Chinese investment in Europe: A country-level approach
Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Institut français des relations internationales, Real Instituto Elcano, Mercator Institute for China Studies, December 2017

Digital infrastructure: Overcoming the digital divide in China and the European Union
Centre for European Policy Studies, November 2017

An uphill struggle? Towards coordinated EU engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Egmont, November 2017

EU-China relations in the era of Donald Trump
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, November 2017

Trump and China Boost EU–India relationship
German Marshall Fund, October 2017

The good, the bad and the ugly: Chinese influence in the Western Balkans
EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, October 2017

EU–China economic relations to 2025: Building a common future
Bruegel, September 2017

China in the Balkans: The battle of principles
European Council on Foreign Relations, July 2017

Transatlantic troubles and the EU’s pivot toward Asia
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, July 2017

China’s Belt & Road Initiative: Nice for China, not for Europe
Clingendael, July 2017

Xi’s growing power

Reading the tea leaves on China’s constitutional amendments
Bruegel, March 2018

China’s new top government leaders
Brookings Institution, March 2018

The Chinese Communist Party
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2018

All that Xi Wants: China’s Communist Party is trying to reform the country from the top down
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, March 2018

China: More authoritarianism, more uncertainty
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2018

In China, the dawn of the Xi dynasty?
Atlantic Council, February 2018

China is likely to enter another long period of severe dictatorship
Council on Foreign Relations, February 2018

Xi’s rule for life: What does our anxiety reveal?
European Council on Foreign Relations, February 2018

China’s “New Era” with Xi Jinping characteristics
European Council on Foreign Relations, December 2017

China: All the president’s men
European Council on Foreign Relations, October 2017

China’s new Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee
Brookings Institution, October 2017

Foreign relations and security

Will Trump make China great again? The belt and road initiative and international order
Chatham House, March 2018

Dynamism hallmark of China-Russia relations
Carnegie Moscow, March 2018

US allies aren’t buying its new strategies to confront China
Chatham House, February 2018

U.S. policy toward China: Dumping the baby, the bathwater, and the tub
Council on Foreign Relations, February 2018

Power and influence in a globalized world
Atlantic Council, February 2018

China has big plans to win the next war it fights
Rand Corporation, February 2018

The competition for status could increase the risk of a military clash in Asia
Rand Corporation, February 2018

China’s endgame: The path towards global leadership
Rand Corporation, February 2018

The US–Chinese power shift and the end of the Pax Americana
Chatham House, January 2018

US–China relations and the liberal world order: Contending elites, colliding visions?
Chatham House, January 2018

Exploring the links between Chinese foreign policy and humanitarian action: Multiple interests, processes and actors
Overseas Development Institute, January 2018

Geostrategic and military drivers and implications of the Belt and Road Initiative
Council on Foreign Relations, January 2018

The Belt and Road Initiative aka: One belt one road scheme
Observer Research Foundation, January 2018

Defence industries in Russia and China: Players and strategies
European Union Institute for Security Studies, December 2017

No longer a new kid on the block: China in the Middle East
Centre for European Policy Studies, November 2017

Movement on the Silk Road
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, November 2017

China at the dawn of a new era? The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party
Institute for National Security Studies, November 2017

Les Etats-Unis face à la Chine, de Henry Kissinger à Donald Trump
Institut français des relations internationales, OCP Policy Center, November 2017

Grand designs: Does China have a ‘grand strategy’?
European Council on Foreign Relations, October 2017

Xi transforms the PLA: How the military is being adapted to China’s changing global position
Polish Institute of International Affairs, October 2017

Lächelnder Hegemon?
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, October 2017

The four traps China may fall into
Council on Foreign Relations, October 2017

Chinese futures: Horizon 2025
European Union Institute for Security Studies, July 2017

China, Liu Xiaobo and the new reality of human rights
Chatham house, July 2017

A warning shot for Xi and Trump
Clingendael, July 2017

Trade and economy

China’s “matryoshka” approach for debt-to-equity swaps could be good for banks, but bad for investors
Bruegel, March 2018

What’s at stake in Trump’s looming trade war with China
Peterson Institute for International Economics, February 2018

New Chinese agency could undercut other anti-corruption efforts
Brookings Institution, March 2018

Dollar doubts? Bet on the euro before the renminbi
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2018

Trump’s tariffs risk harm to allies, cede leadership to China
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2018

China’s economy is not normal. It doesn’t have to be
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2018

A Chinese puzzle: Why economic “reform” in Xi’s China has more meanings than market liberalization
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2018

How to avert a trade war with China
Brookings Institution, February 2018

Global competition and the rise of China
Peterson Institute for International Economics, February 2018

Why Beijing should dump its debt
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2016

China fails to woo U.S. with financial sector opening
Bruegel, January 2018

China needs better credit data to help consumers
Peterson Institute for International Economics, January 2018

China, the innovation dragon
Peterson Institute for International Economics, January 2018

Meeting the China challenge: Responding to China’s managed economy
Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 2018

Chinese banks’ improved asset quality cannot hide other phantoms
Bruegel, December 2017

Writing new rules for the US-China investment relationship
Council on Foreign Relations, December 2017

China will be crucial to creating a global circular economy
Chatham House, December 2017

The scorecard on development, 1960–2016: China and the global economic rebound
Center for Economic and Policy Research, October 2017

Is China deleveraging? Too early to cheer
Bruegel, September 2017

Why China is cracking down on cryptocurrencies and ICOs
Peterson Institute for International Economics, September 2017

Globally, more name U.S. than China as world’s leading economic power but balance shifts in eyes of some key U.S. trading partners and allies
Pew Research Center, July 2017

China is the world’s new science and technology powerhouse
Bruegel, August 2017

Read this briefing on ‘China‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/23/china-what-think-tanks-are-thinking/

Boosting cooperation on health technology assessment [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Nicole Scholz (1st edition),


© vege / Fotolia

The European Commission has proposed a regulation on health technology assessment (HTA). HTA is a research-based tool that supports decision-making in healthcare by assessing the added value of a given health technology compared to others. The proposal covers new medicines and certain medical devices, and would provide the basis for permanent EU-level cooperation in four areas: joint clinical assessments; joint scientific consultations; identification of emerging health technologies; and voluntary cooperation on other aspects of HTA. Member States would still be responsible for assessing the non-clinical (economic, ethical, social, etc.) aspects of health technology, and for pricing and reimbursement. While Member States could choose to delay their participation in the joint work until three years after the rules enter into force, it would become mandatory for all after the sixth year.

Stakeholders have broadly welcomed the proposal, with the medical devices industry reportedly being more sceptical. The legislative process is in its early stages. In the Council, the Working Party on Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices is dealing with the file. The Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety is expected to consider the rapporteur’s draft report in summer 2018.


Stage: Commission proposal

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/22/boosting-cooperation-on-health-technology-assessment-eu-legislation-in-progress/

Outlook for the meetings of EU leaders on 22-23 March 2018

Written by Ralf Drachenberg and Silvia Polidori,

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council

© European Union

On 22 and 23 March 2018, the EU Heads of State or Government will convene in four different formations with varying compositions and levels of formality: a regular meeting of the European Council, a Leaders’ meeting on taxation, a Euro Summit and a European Council (Article 50) meeting. The agenda of the formal European Council includes single market issues, the European semester, social policy and international trade relations. Following the recent announcements by the US administration on trade matters, the latter issue is likely to take a more prominent place than originally expected. The informal Leaders’ meeting will focus exclusively on taxation, in particular in the digital economy, whilst the Euro Summit will discuss further developments in the euro area, banking union and the gradual completion of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). At the European Council (Article 50) meeting, EU-27 leaders are due to adopt guidelines for the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom (UK).

1. Implementation: Follow-up on previous European Council commitments

According to commitments made in its previous conclusions, the European Council should return to social policy (Table 1) at its March meeting. This is reflected in the annotated draft agenda. Contrary to the Leaders’ Agenda planning, the European Council will address neither research and innovation nor climate change.
Table 1: Commitments relating to the agenda of the European Council meeting of 14-15 December 2017

2. European Council meeting

a) Jobs, Growth and Competitiveness

Heads of State or Government will take stock of achievements to date in meeting the goals set out in its June 2016 conclusions on completing and implementing the different Single Market strategies, including on energy, by 2018. With a view to the December 2018 meeting, at which post-2018 orientations are to be discussed, they are expected to call for increased efforts to deliver on the Single Market strategy, the Digital Single Market strategy, the Capital Markets Union Action Plan and the Energy Union, including through the swift examination of recent Commission proposals.

On the Single Market strategy, the European Council will stress the importance of a well-functioning Single Market in fostering growth and creating jobs, and probably put strong emphasis on effective implementation and enforcement. It is also likely to endorse the conclusions adopted at the Competitiveness Council meeting of 12 March 2018 on a future EU industrial policy strategy. Concerning the Digital Single Market strategy, the European Council will assess progress in delivering on ‘a strong and coherent’ Digital Europe. Following up on previous conclusions and on commitments made at the Tallinn Summit, EU leaders will appraise progress in building high-quality infrastructure and communications networks, in enhancing digital skills and digitalising the public sector, thereby reviewing progress on pending legislative files and promoting operational follow-up. Regarding the Capital Markets Union (CMU) Action Plan, the European Council will also take stock of progress in meeting the 2019 deadline for completing the CMU, and possibly consider the Commission communication calling for accelerated delivery. Finally, following up on the Estonian Presidency in the second half of 2017, which had put the implementation of the Energy Union among its main priorities, the European Council will discuss the state of play on key initiatives in this area, such as electricity market design and the common rules on gas pipelines.

b) European Semester

In accordance with the European Semester cycle, the European Council is expected to review the priorities set in the 2018 Annual Growth Survey, where the Commission proposes to refocus efforts on boosting investment, pursuing structural reforms and ensuring responsible fiscal policies. It is also due to endorse the 2018 Alert mechanism report, which is the starting point for the annual macroeconomic imbalances procedure, with 12 Member States identified as having potential macroeconomic imbalances. The European Council will also endorse the Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area.

c) Social issues

EU Heads of State or Government are expected to discuss the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the recent Commission proposal on a European Labour Authority. The idea of a European Labour Authority was first mentioned by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in his 2017 State of the Union address. Following this discussion, Heads of State or Government will most likely invite the Council and the Commission to monitor the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, paying due regard to the respective competences of the Union and of Member States, through the European Semester of policy coordination. The European Pillar of Social Rights, was jointly proclaimed by the European Parliament, Council and Commission in the margins of the Gothenburg Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, held on 17 November 2017.

d) Trade

Following up on its commitment of June 2017 to address trade issues on a regular basis, the European Council is likely to reiterate its previous pledge on a ‘robust trade policy’ based on free trade principles in compliance with WTO rules. It will discuss the progress of ongoing negotiations on free trade agreements, notably with Mexico and Mercosur, and welcome the finalisation of negotiations with Japan. Following an opinion of the Court of Justice of the EU, which has clarified the mixed nature of the agreement with Singapore, EU leaders are expected to call for its signature. Moreover, whilst welcoming the political agreement in December 2017 on the modernisation of the EU’s trade defence instruments, which it had forcefully called for, leaders are expected to call on the co-legislators to advance on pending legislative proposals, including the screening of foreign direct investment into the EU, which is currently being discussed in the International Trade committee in the EP.

However, trade will now feature more prominently on the agenda, as a result of the recent declaration by US President, Donald Trump, on new tariffs on imported steel and aluminium. An ‘extraordinary trade debate’ has been added to the agenda of the March 2018 meeting, to consider the possible impact on EU industry and trade policy. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stressed the EU’s discontent with the current state of affairs, whilst outlining the bloc’s willingness to return to trade negotiations with the US. The European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, already raised the possibility of the introduction of new tariffs on a wide range of agricultural products which the US is exporting to the EU.

e) Other items

  • External relations

The European Council will adopt conclusions about the forthcoming EU-Western Balkans Summit, to be held in Sofia on 17 May 2018. On 6 February, the European Commission published its Western Balkans Strategy, in which it put forward a roadmap for the integration of the region into the European Union. At their recent Gymnich meeting in Sofia, Foreign Affairs Ministers expressed different sensitivities with respect to the content of the roadmap, which is, nevertheless, expected to feed into the European Council debate.

The Heads of State or Government will also discuss relations with Turkey and assess ‘whether the conditions are met to hold the Leaders’ Meeting with Turkey’ in Varna on 26 March 2018. At an informal summit on 23 February 2018, the EU-27 had addressed the deteriorating situation in the Mediterranean, and called on Turkey to stop its illegal actions in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.

Based on the outcome of the 19 March Foreign Affairs Council, the European Council is likely to review the latest developments in Ukraine and Syria, two unfolding crises it has followed closely in recent years. Visiting Ukraine on 12 March, days before the fourth anniversary of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, the High Representative/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, reiterated the EU’s support to Ukraine, and called for the continuation of reforms. In February 2018, Donald Tusk had called for an end to violence in Syria and for unimpeded humanitarian access. At the same time, the Council has extended the list of Syrian individuals subject to EU sanctions.

Finally, several EU leaders have expressed their solidarity with the UK following the poisoning of the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. The European Council President, Donald Tusk, announced his intention to have this item brought to the European Council’s attention and discussed.

  • Appointment of the Vice-President of the European Central Bank

The European Council is expected to appoint the current Spanish Minister of the Economy, Luis de Guindos, as Vice-President of the European Central Bank (ECB). Article 283 TFEU specifies that the President, the Vice-President and the other members of the Executive Board of the ECB shall be appointed by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, on a recommendation from the Council, after consulting the European Parliament and the Governing Council of the ECB. On 20 February 2018, the Council issued a recommendation confirming the nomination of Luis de Guindos after his endorsement by the Eurogroup the previous day. This proposal has also been supported by the Parliament in plenary. Luis de Guindos would succeed Vitor Constâncio (Portugal), whose term of office expires on 31 May 2018.

3. Leaders’ meeting on taxation

On the basis of a Leaders’ note, attention will also be paid to the topic of taxation of the digital economy. The Commission’s communication of September 2017 proposes as a core principle, fair and effective taxation. One aspect is that taxation should occur in the country where the product/service is sold. Furthermore, the focus of taxation could move from profits to revenue. The aim is to ensure the coherent allocation, within the Single Market, of the profit and related taxation of multinational enterprises, despite the differences in tax regimes amongst Member States. The Commission’s communication will be followed up by concrete proposals in 2018, to ensure that online companies are taxed fairly, as called for by the October 2017 European Council. EU leaders may also discuss the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base proposal, in order to develop meaningful solutions for digital taxation too. No conclusions are envisaged for this meeting

4. Euro Summit

Whilst the Euro Summit of December 2017 took place in an ‘inclusive format’, the upcoming meeting will be held in the EU-19 format. The discussions will focus on euro-area reform, with a view to concrete decisions in June 2018. The members of the Euro Summit will assess ongoing work towards completing Banking Union, and notably assess progress on the banking package, which is key for risk reduction in the banking sector. It is also likely to discuss the recent Commission package of measures to tackle non-performing loans in the EU. Regarding the European Monetary Fund (EMF), which could replace the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the President of the Eurogroup will report directly on recent discussions in the Ecofin Council and the Eurogroup. EU leaders might also discuss the integration of the content of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the EMU (TSCG) into the EU legal framework, the new budgetary instruments for a stable euro area, and the structural reform support programme.

5. European Council (Article 50) meeting

Following the completion of the first phase of negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU, in December 2017, the European Council (Art. 50), in an EU-27 format, will adopt guidelines on the framework for the UK’s relations with the EU after Brexit. The draft guidelines recall that ‘negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far [i.e. to guarantee EU and UK citizens’ rights, settle the UK’s financial obligations to the EU, and avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland] are respected in full’, and call for intensified efforts on the remaining withdrawal issues. The UK’s position on the future economic partnership with the EU was outlined by the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, on 2 March 2018. As a result, whilst restating the EU’s determination to have ‘as close as possible a partnership with the UK in the future’ the draft guidelines stress that, taking into account the ‘repeatedly stated position of the UK,’ namely to be outside the Customs Union and the Single Market, ‘limit[s] the depth of such a future partnership.’ Consequently, the EU proposes to initiate work towards a free trade agreement (FTA), ‘which cannot offer the same benefits as Membership and cannot amount to participation in the Single Market or parts thereof’. In addition to pure trade issues, the FTA would also envisage socio-economic cooperation. Moreover, the guidelines recall the Union’s readiness to establish specific partnerships regarding police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, as well as in the field of security, defence and foreign policy. They conclude by stressing that ‘the Union will be prepared to reconsider its offer’ if the UK’s position were to ‘evolve’.

EU leaders will be briefed by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, on the outcome of the ninth negotiation round, including the agreed transition period, until 31 December 2020, in the updated draft withdrawal agreement. It confirms the European Council’s guidelines of December 2017 in stating that, during the transition period, the UK, as a third country, ‘will no longer participate in or nominate or elect members of the EU institutions, nor participate in the decision-making of the Union bodies, offices and agencies’. Mr Barnier said that the new draft legal text was a ‘decisive step’, but added more work needs to be done on important issues, including Northern Ireland. Consequently, the European Council’s guidelines will welcome the progress achieved in the negotiations, but will also call for intensified efforts on the remaining issues.

After meeting Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, on 8 March, Donald Tusk emphasised that ‘FTAs don’t have detailed rules for financial services and that [the EU] cannot offer the same in services as [it] can offer in goods’. Regarding the EU’s desire to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, he stated that ‘we expect the UK to propose a specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border’. On 29 February 2018, the European Commission published its draft withdrawal agreement, in which, among other issues, it proposed the ‘Establishment of a common regulatory area, comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland’, in order to ensure the free movement of goods and protect North-South cooperation. This proposal received critical comments from the UK government. President Tusk made it clear that negotiations would deal with ‘Ireland first’ before other issues could be addressed in the negotiations.

On 14 March 2018, the Parliament proposed an association agreement with the UK (based on Articles 8 TEU and 217 TFEU), with a single coherent governance mechanism for the entire relationship, comprising four pillars: trade and economic relations; foreign policy, security, defence and development cooperation; internal security; and thematic cooperation on fisheries, aviation, research, innovation, culture, education, etc.

Read this Briefing on ‘Outlook for the meetings of EU leaders on 22-23 March 2018‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/21/outlook-for-the-meetings-of-eu-leaders-on-22-23-march-2018/

Performance budgeting: A means to improve EU spending

Written by Magdalena Sapała,

performance conceptual meter indicate maximum, isolated on white background

© fontriel / Fotolia

In 2015, the European Commission launched an initiative entitled, ‘The EU budget focused on results’. The initiative is aimed at changing spending culture and making results a horizontal priority for the EU budget, by paying as much attention to funds’ performance, efficiency and effectiveness as to their absorption and compliance with financial rules. The initiative builds on earlier EU efforts in this respect, but also takes a more consistent and coordinated approach to results-oriented spending.

The actions encompassed in the initiative are based on the concept of performance budgeting. This budgetary method considers what can be achieved with the funds available, seeks to measure the results of spending, and links the results to budgetary decision-making. The concept has a long history and is complex in nature, but it is still seen as a promising budgetary innovation and attractive to many countries and organisations around the world, including most EU Member States and the EU itself.

The method is especially appealing at times of economic crisis and constraints on public spending, as it promises to increase value for money (i.e. the efficiency, effectiveness and performance of public expenditure) and to enhance the transparency and democratic accountability of the budget. It is perceived not only as a useful method to improve budgetary management, but also as a way to strengthen the performance orientation of other aspects of management of the public sphere.

Numerous examples from literature, however, indicate that performance budgeting is not easy to implement, and requires extensive preparation, the right strategy, and determination from the authority that tries to apply it. In the context of the EU budget, there are additional challenges. The significant complexity of the EU budgetary system, multiplicity of entities responsible for budget implementation at different levels, profusion of strategies and programmes with different time perspectives, and relative rigidity of financial planning do not favour the comprehensive and smooth implementation of performance budgeting. Although much has been done to make the EU budgetary system performance-oriented, there remains much room for improvement. This concerns, in particular, the quality and quantity of performance information and its role in budgetary decision-making.

The EU institutions’ support for the idea gives grounds to believe that efforts will continue. The circumstances will be particularly conducive to making changes in the coming months. The principles of performance budgeting can be enhanced in the EU’s new financial architecture, which consists of the revised Financial Regulation, the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework and a reformed system of own resources, as well as the new generation legislative framework for EU spending programmes. A solid understanding of performance budgeting is, therefore, needed, as it could increase the chances of successful reform. This paper thus aims to improve understanding of performance budgeting. It presents the origins and evolution of the concept, and seeks to clarify the terminology and the main models applied. It also considers the benefits, challenges and typical problems encountered in its implementation, with reference to the example of the EU budget.

Read the complete in-depth analysis on ‘Performance budgeting: A means to improve EU spending‘ in PDF.

Figure 2 – OECD index of performance budgeting practices

OECD index of performance budgeting practices

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/19/performance-budgeting-a-means-to-improve-eu-spending/

Trump, trade and tariffs [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

© Stephen Finn / Fotolia

U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, raising fears of a trade war with other countries. He has argued that the levies, of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium, are needed to protect U.S. national security. But many analysts and politicians believe that they are actually meant to protect domestic producers and meet Trump’s pre-election promise to return manufacturing jobs to the U.S. The European Union is seeking an exemption from the tariffs, which has already been granted in principle to Canada and Mexico. If this does not happen, the EU could respond in several ways, including by imposing its own tariffs on U.S. products.

This note offers links to a series of recent commentaries and reports from major international think tanks and research institutes in reaction to Trump’s decision. More reports on international trade can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think Tanks are thinking’ published in June 2017

The Trump tariffs on steel and aluminium: The end of the WTO?
European Centre for International Political Economy, March 2018

Are we steel friends?
Bruegel, March 2018

Trump has shown how dangerous he is to the global trading system
Chatham House, March 2018

U.S. steel and aluminium tariffs: How should the EU respond?
Bruegel, March 2018

How Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs could affect state economies
Brookings Institution, March 2018

Trump’s trade policy turns destructive
Centre for European Policy Studies, March 2018

The risks of U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2018

What we do and don’t know after Trump’s tariff announcement
Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2018

Trade policy-making under irrationality
Centre for European Policy Studies, March 2018

How imports helped the American steel industry
Brookings Institution, March 2018

A trade war on the poor: How a collapse of the WTO would hurt the worst off
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2018

Tariffs open can of worms Trump won’t be able to get back on
American Enterprise Institute, March 2018

Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs: How WTO retaliation typically works
Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2018

Trump, China, and steel tariffs: The day the WTO died
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2018

Trade talks episode 29. After Trump’s tariffs: Retaliation, negotiation, and litigation
Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2018

Shots fired: EU takes aim at peanut butter as Trump targets steel
Atlantic Council, March 2018

Are Trump’s tariffs aimed at the WTO?
Atlantic Council, March 2018

Trump steel tariffs could kill up to 40,000 auto jobs, equal to nearly one-third of steel workforce
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2018

Donald Trump, steel tariffs, and the costs of chaos
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2018

Public comment on Trump administration report on significant trade deficits
Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2018

Trump’s tariffs will hurt the economy: Congress should reassert its constitutional authority on trade
Heritage Foundation, March 2018

Trump’s tariffs would be a massive, self-Inflicted wound
Heritage Foundation, March 2018

This threat of a trade war is the opposite of “Drain the Swamp”
Cato Institute, March 2018

Trump is serious about tariffs
Hudson Institute, March 2018

Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs are counterproductive: Here are 5 more things you need to know
Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2018

Potential fallout of misguided steel and aluminum tariffs
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, March 2018

Trade remedies for steel and aluminum were long overdue
Economic Policy Institute, March 2018

5 times US tariffs have made matters worse
Foundation for Economic Education, March 2018


Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/16/trump-trade-and-tariffs-what-think-tanks-are-thinking/

Plenary round-up – Strasbourg, March 2018

European Parliament Spring

© European Parliament / P.Naj-Oleari

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson

Highlights of the session included a debate on the future of Europe with Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Costa; and debates on preparation of the 22-23 March European Council meeting; on the appointment of the European Commission Secretary-General; on the US decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium; on corporate social responsibility; on conflict minerals; and on protection of investigative journalists, following the deaths of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova in Slovakia. High Representative, Federica Mogherini, made statements on Syria, the EU-Cuba Joint Council, and EU-Central Asia relations, followed by debates. Parliament adopted, inter alia, resolutions on the post-2020 future multiannual financial framework and own-resources reform; and legislative positions on the common (consolidated) corporate tax; regulation of cross-border parcel delivery; training of professional drivers; and Europass.

Combating violence against women and girls and Istanbul Convention ratification

The March session followed International Women’s Day. Parliament debated with the Commission the current tension regarding ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. Although all EU Member States, and the EU itself, have signed, only 17 have ratified the convention to date.

Guidelines on the framework of future EU-UK relations

Members debated and adopted, by a large majority, a resolution setting out the EP’s proposals on the future relationship with the United Kingdom after Brexit. Parliament’s position aims to feed into the guidelines the European Council is expected to adopt on 22 March, on opening exploratory discussions.

Action plan on alternative fuels infrastructure

Members debated possible investment solutions to achieve the trans-European deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure action plan adopted by the Commission in December 2017, as part of the clean mobility package, alongside legislative proposals to accelerate the transition to low and zero-emission vehicles.

MFF and own resources post-2020

Parliament adopted two own-initiative resolutions, closely following the texts adopted by the Budgets Committee, on the post-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF) and on the reform of the EU own resources system, to include, inter alia, the creation of carbon, plastics and digital taxation. Members called for spending limits to be increased to 1.3 % of GNI, to pay for new political priorities (innovation, security, migration) without sacrificing traditional policies, such as the common agriculture policy and territorial cohesion. Programmes for research and innovation, mobility (Erasmus+), the youth employment initiative, support for SMEs and investment in infrastructure in the framework of the Connecting Europe Facility should also be reinforced. Members called upon the Commission to create a sanctions mechanism for Member States that breach the rule of law, but not directly the beneficiaries of European co-funding. Members are against any changes in the structure of the budget. Introducing new EU budget resources should allow reductions in the share of national contributions to 40 %. Parliament also sees Brexit as an opportunity to cancel all Member State rebates. Commission proposals for a post-2020 MFF are due to be presented on 2 May 2018.

European Semester

Following a joint debate on the European Semester, considering two reports on the Annual Growth Survey 2018 that feeds into the economic and budgetary outlook for 2018, MEPs broadly approved the consensual own-initiative report on the ‘annual growth review’ document, which kicks off the European Semester process. Although the report takes a position in favour of deepening economic and monetary union (EMU), it stresses that the role of the European Parliament and the national parliaments should be reinforced.

Common corporate tax base

Parliament debated and adopted two legislative resolutions on a common (consolidated) corporate tax base, building on the previous proposal for a common corporate tax base. The proposals aim at setting simpler EU tax rules for computing cross-border taxable income for companies, to replace varying national rules.

Fisheries agreement with Comoros

Parliament gave its consent for the termination of the EU-Comoros fisheries agreement, on the grounds that the country has not upheld its responsibilities in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Cross-border parcel delivery services

Sending or receiving a parcel delivery from another EU country costs up to five times more than domestic deliveries. Parliament adopted the regulation on making cross-border parcel delivery services more transparent, in line with the text agreed with the Council in trilogue. The new rules require maximum transparency in service provision and allow consumers and small businesses, who may lack bargaining power to negotiate reduced tariffs, to find the best deals via a dedicated website.

Training of professional drivers

Recent extreme weather conditions in Europe highlighted the tough conditions under which professional drivers have to work. The EU is updating the rules on training for lorry and bus drivers and Parliament overwhelmingly approved (604 votes for, 80 against, with 7 abstentions) the trilogue agreement reached in December 2017 on modernising this training, ensuring that qualifications are recognised throughout the EU, and setting up a register to help enforcement authorities end trade in fake licences.

Europass: framework for skills and qualifications

Parliament adopted the proposed revision of Europass framework with a large majority, approving the text agreed in trilogue. The revisions seek to benefit EU job-seekers and employers through improved services for documenting skills, qualifications and professional experience. Parliament highlighted the importance of the voluntary aspect of the Europass portal and its links to other tools in the field of education and training. Furthermore, it emphasised the importance of the national centres and of respecting the requirements and expectations of all users and providers. The objective is to ensure the tool’s full potential and flexibility to meet ever-shifting requirements.

Gender equality in EU trade agreements

Parliament adopted, by a large majority, a resolution prepared by the International Trade, and Women’s Rights and Gender Equality committees on reinforcing gender equality measures in EU trade. Although liberalisation boosts employment in the export sector, not everyone benefits equally from international trade. Conscious of the impact of trade liberalisation on women, the EU includes measures aimed at defending women’s labour rights in trade agreements. To combat the exploitation of women in export-oriented industries and support those running small businesses, the EU insists on trade and sustainable development chapters in all its trade agreements with third countries, to ensure fair work and remuneration, as well as human rights protections.

Opening of trilogue negotiations

Decisions on entering into interinstitutional negotiations for three committees: the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee on a single digital gateway; the Culture and Education Committee on the European solidarity corps; and the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on empowering Member States’ competition authorities to be more effective enforcers and to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market, were confirmed unopposed. Following a vote, Parliament approved the start of negotiations on an Industry, Research and Energy Committee report on a European programme for defence-related industrial development, on the basis of a request made during the February II plenary session.

This ‘at a glance’ note is intended to review some of the highlights of the plenary part-session, and notably to follow up on key dossiers identified by EPRS. It does not aim to be exhaustive. For more detailed information on specific files, please see other EPRS products, notably our ‘EU legislation in progress’ briefings, and the plenary minutes.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/16/plenary-round-up-strasbourg-march-2018/

New US tariffs: Potential impact on the WTO

Written by Roderick Harte,

Steelmaking workshop,sparks fly, very beautiful

© zhengzaishanchu / Fotolia

On 8 March 2018, US President Donald Trump signed orders imposing tariffs of 25 % on steel imports and 10 % on aluminium imports. These tariffs will apply to all countries, except Canada and Mexico (and possibly also Australia). President Trump has expressed a willingness to discuss the measures with individual countries and make additional exceptions if US (security) concerns are addressed. The European Commission and other US trading partners have expressed their concern at the measures, fearing that they could lead to a wider trade dispute. The Trump administration’s justification of the tariffs on national security grounds is also viewed as a threat to the multilateral trading system.


In April 2017, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross initiated Section 232 investigations into US imports of steel and aluminium (Box 1). In his January 2018 reports on both investigations, Secretary Ross concluded that current US imports of steel and aluminium threatened to impair US national security (Box 2 provides figures on US imports in 2017). He therefore recommended action to reduce US imports of both materials, through the introduction of trade restrictions, and proposed several alternative remedies to President Trump (including tariffs, quotas, and a combination of the two, aimed at different groups of countries).

President Trump’s tariffs orders

On 8 March, President Trump ordered the imposition of a 25 % ad valorem tariff on imports of steel and a 10 % ad valorem tariff on imports of aluminium. The tariffs will take effect after 15 days, namely on 23 March. President Trump decided to exclude Canada and Mexico for now, choosing instead to continue discussing US concerns with them in the framework of the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The orders indicate that President Trump might also remove or modify the tariffs on imports from other countries, provided that they find alternative ways of addressing US national security concerns. One country that reportedly will be granted an exemption is Australia. Parties located in the USA that are directly affected by the tariffs will, in certain cases, be able to request exclusions (e.g. limited domestic supply of an article). President Trump’s controversial decision led to the resignation of his top economic advisor, Gary Cohn.

Box 2: Selected figures on US imports of steel and aluminium

According to the Section 232 investigations, the US imported around 30 % of its steel in 2017, and 64 % of its aluminium in 2016 (this figure rises to 89 % for primary aluminium, i.e. not recycled).

The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) has calculated the size and origin of US imports of steel and aluminium for 2017 (in terms of value). In the case of steel, total US imports amounted to US$29 billion, and the top 5 foreign sources were the EU (US$6.2 billion), Canada (US$5.1 billion), South Korea (US$2.8 billion), Mexico (US$2.5 billion) and Brazil (US$2.4 billion). For aluminium, total US imports amounted to US$17 billion, and the top 5 sources foreign sources were Canada (US$6.9 billion), China (US$1.8 billion), Russia (US$1.6 billion), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (US$1.3 billion) and the EU (US$1.1 billion).

Initial responses from US trading partners

Since President Trump first announced his intention to impose tariffs, on 1 March, the European Commission and key US trading partners have expressed their concern over and, in some cases, readiness to respond to the measures. The Commission stated that it would ‘react firmly and commensurately to defend [EU] interests’ (see Box 3). It also expressed doubt about the pretext of national security, arguing that the EU is a traditional US ally. China responded to President Trump’s initial announcement by saying that it ‘would have to make a justified and necessary response’ should the US decide to proceed. Japan has stated that the US measure would have a ‘big impact’ on bilateral ties, and South Korea indicated that it might file a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

A major concern across the globe is that the US tariffs could result in tit-for-tat trade measures from US trading partners, which in turn could trigger a new response from the Trump administration resulting in further escalation. The ensuing downward spiral could give rise to a broad trade dispute that would harm economic growth. On 3 March, President Trump showed how such a scenario could unfold, by suggesting that he would respond to any new EU tariffs by putting a tax on imports of European cars. At the same time, some commentators have pointed out that Trump’s final decision signals a willingness to discuss the tariffs and apply additional exceptions if certain US conditions are met. That might reduce the risk of immediate escalation.

Security exceptions and the multilateral trading system

The Trump administration bases its decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports on national security concerns. Under WTO law, countries can indeed invoke national security to justify trade restrictions: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) contains security exceptions in Article XXI that permit WTO members to deviate from the agreement’s rules in specific cases. So far, countries have rarely invoked these exceptions and the WTO has never had to make a ruling on it (though recently there have been a few instances in which Article XXI GATT was brought up, including a dispute between Qatar and the UAE).

If the US tariffs are challenged in Geneva (as has happened before, see Box 4), WTO judges will likely have to rule on the question of whether these measures constitute a violation of WTO rules. Given the fact that the Trump administration is widely expected to invoke Article XXI GATT in its defence, such a case would probably involve an assessment of the applicability of security exceptions. That would make it an extremely sensitive matter to adjudicate, since it would touch directly on US national sovereignty. Article XXI GATT is also often read as saying that it is up to the member invoking it to judge if a measure is in its national security interests. Some experts therefore consider it unlikely that the WTO would rule against the Trump administration on this issue.

Irrespective of the outcome, however, a WTO ruling on these tariffs could have a profound impact on the multilateral trading system. If, on the one hand, the Trump administration were to win a dispute, its successful invocation of a security exception at the WTO would create a precedent for other countries to follow. That could ultimately lead to the hollowing out of existing multilateral trade rules. A ruling against the Trump administration, on the other hand, could severely reduce US commitment to the WTO. Given the political and economic importance of the USA, that would also seriously undermine the multilateral trading system.

Read this At a glance note on ‘New US tariffs: Potential impact on the WTO‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/14/new-us-tariffs-potential-impact-on-the-wto/

Western Balkans: Enlargement strategy 2018

Written by Velina Lilyanova,

Map Balkans and Pins

© Željko Radojko / Fotolia

With a resolute tone and a sense of urgency, the European Commission’s new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans sets a clear direction for the region’s six countries: it offers them a credible enlargement perspective and pledges enhanced EU engagement. It indicates 2025 as a possible enlargement date. However, seizing this opportunity remains a challenge, as the aspirants must each deliver on difficult, key reforms, and solve all outstanding bilateral disputes.

The strategy’s main messages

On 6 February 2018, as a follow-up to Commission President Juncker’s letter of intent to the European Parliament, the Commission published its new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans (WB). It comes at a time of growing attention to the region and aims to breathe life into the enlargement process, by renewing EU engagement and launching a series of specific initiatives designed to bring tangible benefits to citizens. The strategy acknowledges the WB as a part of Europe that shares history, cultural heritage, challenges and opportunities with the EU, and also the same future. It confirms that a credible accession perspective is a key driver of transformation, and offers the WB a historic window of opportunity, while underscoring the responsibility of the region’s leaders for making a choice and turning it into reality. For the first time, an indicative date for the possible accession of Serbia and Montenegro (as technically most advanced in the process) is set: 2025. The Commission, however, emphasises that this is a target, not a promise, and that the other aspirants could catch up depending on their own merits and rate of progress.

Priority reform areas for the Western Balkan countries

The criteria for EU membership are well established, and while the reform priorities highlighted are not new, the strategy puts them squarely in focus. It outlines three main areas where action needs to be taken without delay. The first is the rule of law: the strategy is explicit when pointing to ‘clear elements of state capture’, ‘links with organised crime and corruption at all levels of government and administration’ and controlled media, among other things. As none of the WB six is considered a functioning market economy, the second area includes addressing structural weaknesses, low competitiveness and high unemployment. As a third area of action the strategy calls for unequivocal commitment to overcoming the legacy of the past through reconciliation and the adoption of definitive binding solutions to all bilateral disputes prior to accession. The stumbling blocks include statehood disputes, and unresolved border, property and social issues. This focus comes at a time when the long (now internal to the EU) dispute between Croatia and Slovenia is again alight.

Montenegro and Serbia are expected to step up efforts to meet the interim benchmarks. For Serbia, forging an agreement with Kosovo and fully aligning with EU foreign policy are key requirements. Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, commended for their alignment with EU foreign policy and their overall progress, expect to open accession talks in 2018. For FYR Macedonia, the main obstacle remains the name issue with Greece, but hopes for resolving it are high. Bosnia and Herzegovina has just submitted its answers to the EU questionnaire aimed at assessing its readiness, and hopes to get candidate status. The strategy is less specific about Kosovo: the country can make sustainable progress by implementing its stabilisation and association agreement, and then forge ahead ‘once objective circumstances allow’.

What the EU has to do

While it is true that the WB carry the burden of the reforms, EU readiness is no less of a challenge. Enlargement would entail costs, have an impact on institutional arrangements and require public support. Hence, the strategy includes a set of actions to be taken later in 2018: launching an initiative to strengthen enforcement of the rule of law; adopting communications on the possibility to enhance the use of qualified majority voting; and stepping up strategic communication. As regards funding, specific provisions for enlargement are to be reflected in the Commission’s proposals for the EU budget after 2020. Special arrangements on the national languages of future EU Member States and irrevocable commitments ensuring that new Member States will not be in a position to block subsequent WB accession, are also planned.

New initiatives and specific measures foreseen

flagship initiative

Figure 1 – Flagship initiatives.

To deliver on the EU’s pledge for greater engagement in the region, the annex to the strategy, an ‘Action Plan in support of the transformation of the WB’, includes six flagship initiatives (Figure 1). Each targets a specific area of mutual interest for the EU and the WB, and envisages concrete actions to be taken between 2018 and 2020. On the rule of law, the Commission plans to enhance the assessment of reform implementation, including through new advisory missions on the ground. On security and migration, it proposes stepping up joint cooperation in fighting organised crime, countering terrorism and violent extremism, and improving border security and migration management.

Socio-economic development would be encouraged by boosting private investment, supporting start-ups, SMEs and facilitating trade, as well as providing more funds for education and health, among other things. More investment is also envisaged for transport and energy connectivity. The digital agenda includes a roadmap to lower roaming costs and to support the deployment of broadband and the improvement of digital skills. The initiative on reconciliation aims to support the fight against impunity and transitional justice, including through setting up a regional commission to establish facts about war crimes. Increasing cooperation in education, culture, youth and sport is also planned. To help implement these initiatives, the Commission has proposed a gradual increase of funds under IPA II until 2020, as far as reallocations within the existing envelope allow.

Reactions to the new strategy

The new strategy was long anticipated and its messages widely welcomed. It has also sparked debate and raised questions both across the WB and the EU. Serbia and Montenegro, singled out as the most advanced in the process, welcomed the document. Serbia defined it as an encouraging message, although President Vučić acknowledged that ‘mountains of obstacles’ lie ahead, most notably the Kosovo issue and border disputes with neighbours. Montenegro, commended for its ‘most notable progress’, also welcomed the document; its prime minister even voiced confidence that it could join the EU ahead of 2025. Albania and FYR Macedonia hailed the positive assessment of their countries’ progress on the European path, and the Commission’s readiness to recommend opening accession negotiations with them shortly. The response from Kosovo has been mixed. While hailing the strategy for treating Kosovo as an integral part of the enlargement plans of the EU, President Thaçi expressed dissatisfaction with it, as, for ‘known political reasons‘ (referring to the non-recognition by five EU Member States), it gives no specific timeframe and clarity on the next steps.

The EU itself is divided over the issue: at the February informal foreign ministers’ meeting, diverging views were expressed on the timetable, either favouring swifter integration or questioning the 2025 perspective. EU leaders are expected to endorse the strategy at the May summit in Sofia and at the June European Council.

Experts welcome the strategy for its clear language and for being more explicit in identifying problems. However, they also point to some gaps and ambiguities that raise questions as to whether the strategy ‘would do enough to change the dynamics in the region’. They commend the strategy for giving bilateral disputes a central place, but less so for remaining vague about possible solutions or about preventing a future veto on enlargement by individual Member States. The highlight of reconciliation, another ‘critically important element‘ of the strategy, is also welcome. In that respect, concerns have been expressed that the strategy is rather ‘aspirational’ and fails to concretely address past grievances still undermining the prospects for peace.

Read this At a glance note on ‘Western Balkans: Enlargement strategy 2018‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/03/14/western-balkans-enlargement-strategy-2018/