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The Week Ahead 08 – 14 March 2021 | EU Parliament Press

Plenary session

Conference on the Future of Europe. 
On Wednesday at 13.00, EP President David Sassoli, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa, will sign the joint declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe. This begins the process that will enable citizens to participate in reshaping the EU’s policies and institutions and to address challenges old and new, while strengthening European solidarity.


International Women’s Day Celebration. 
President Sassoli, Commission President von der Leyen and Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern (via pre-recorded video message) will address MEPs during Parliament’s International Women’s Day celebration before the session officially opens. At 11.00 on Monday, Women’s Rights Committee Chair Evelyn Regner (S&D, Austria) will be live on Facebook to answer citizens’ questions about the current state of gender equality in the EU. At 12.00, she will have a live Instagram exchange with Polish top model and activist Anja Rubik.


EU4Health programme
. MEPs will debate and cast their final vote on the €5.1 billion EU4Health programme for 2021-2027. The programme aims to make EU health systems more resilient, address cross-border health threats and make medicines and medical devices more available, accessible and affordable. (debate and vote Tuesday)


InvestEU programme for strategic and innovative investments. Parliament is set to adopt the new InvestEU programme, which is expected to mobilise €400 billion in public and private investments, guarantee simplified access to financing and provide help for SMEs that have been negatively affected by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. (debate and vote Tuesday)


Carbon levy to raise global climate ambition
. Parliament will debate and vote on how to raise global climate ambition and prevent EU production from being moved to non-EU countries that have less strict greenhouse gas emissions rules (‘carbon leakage’). A carbon levy would be placed on imports of certain goods from outside the EU, if they come from countries that are not climate ambitious enough. (debate Monday, vote Wednesday).


Due diligence and corporate accountability
. MEPs are expected to call for binding EU rules that set the standard for responsible business conduct and hold companies accountable and liable when they harm – or contribute to harming – human rights, the environment and good governance. (debate Monday, vote Wednesday)


Attacks on media in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia
. On Wednesday afternoon, MEPs will debate the attempts by Polish, Hungarian and Slovenian authorities to silence independent media with Council and Commission representatives. (debate Wednesday)


Children’s rights
. MEPs will debate and vote on a resolution on children’s rights, calling on EU member states to invest more in education, healthcare, housing, family support and childcare, and ensure that these services reach all children. (debate Wednesday, vote Thursday)


President’s Diary
. EP President David Sassoli will meet with the Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenkovic, on Thursday.


Press Briefing
. On Monday at 15.30, spokespersons from Parliament and political groups will hold a press briefing on next week’s plenary session.

Council approves greater corporate transparency for big multinationals | EU Council Press

The EU is taking measures to enhance corporate transparency of big multinational companies. Member states’ ambassadors today mandated the Portuguese presidency to engage in negotiations with the European Parliament for the swift adoption of the proposed directive on the disclosure of income tax information by certain undertakings and branches, commonly referred to as the public country-by-country reporting (CBCR) directive.

The directive requires multinational enterprises or standalone undertakings with a total consolidated revenue of more than €750 million in each of the last two consecutive financial years, whether headquartered in the EU or outside, to disclose publicly in a specific report the income tax they pay in each member state, together with other relevant tax-related information.

Banks are exempted from the present directive as they are obliged to disclose similar information under another directive.

In order to avoid disproportionate administrative burdens on the companies involved and to limit the disclosed information to what is absolutely necessary to enable effective public scrutiny, the directive provides for an complete and final list of information to be disclosed.

The reporting will have to take place within 12 months from the date of the balance sheet of the financial year in question. The directive sets out the conditions under which a company may obtain the deferral of such disclosure for a maximum of six years.

It also stipulates who bears the actual responsibility for ensuring compliance with the reporting obligation.

Member states will have two years to transpose the directive into national law.

Next steps

On the basis of the agreed negotiating mandate, the Portuguese presidency will explore with the European Parliament the possibility of an agreement for the swift adoption of the directive at second reading (“early second reading agreement”).

Background

The proposed directive, tabled in April 2016, is part of the Commission action plan on a fairer corporate tax system.

The European Parliament adopted its position at first reading on 27 March 2019.

Delay is over: Work begins to shine spotlight on where companies pay their taxes | EU Parliament Press

  • Multinationals will have to disclose amount of tax they pay in each EU country
  • The public and tax authorities will be able to see what taxes are being paid where
  • Negotiations on final shape of EU bill set to begin very shortly

Four years after Parliament adopted its position on draft legislation on public country-by-country reporting, EU governments come to the table to negotiate a deal.

On Thursday, Parliament’s lead negotiators, Evelyn Regner (S&D, AT) and Ibán García Del Blanco (S&D, ES), were officially given the green light to enter into negotiations with the EU governments’ representatives, based on the position the EP adopted in 2017. Last week, member states were able to agree their negotiating position. These negotiations are now set to begin very shortly.

Evelyn Regner said:

“This is a breakthrough for tax fairness in the EU. Public country-by-country reporting will oblige multinational companies to be financially transparent about where they make profits and where they pay taxes. Especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where companies are receiving considerable support from public spending, citizens have an even greater right to know which multinationals are playing fair and which are free-riding.”

Ibán García Del Blanco said:

“We have been waiting for the Council for too long. We are ready to start negotiations immediately in order to reach an agreement under the Portuguese Presidency, thereby making progress on tax and corporate transparency. We urgently need meaningful financial transparency to fight tax evasion and profit shifting. Citizens’ trust in our democracies depends on everyone contributing their fair share to the recovery.”

The European Parliament’s main additions

The Parliament’s position adds to the Commission’s original proposal, notably in the following ways:

  • the information requested from multinationals should be presented separately, including for each tax jurisdiction outside the EU;
  • multinationals must make their annual report on income tax information publicly available and free of charge, and file the report in a public registry managed by the Commission;
  • a safeguard clause for sensitive corporate data has been added, allowing multinationals to temporarily omit information when disclosing it would be seriously prejudicial to their commercial positions;
  • additional items of information will be provided in the tax reports to help achieve a more complete picture, such as information on the number of all full-time employees, fixed assets, stated capital, preferential tax treatment, or government subsidies;
  • subsidiaries with a turnover of EUR 750 million or more would also be subject to country-by-country reporting requirements.

Background

This legislation is part of the EU’s regulatory measures to implement the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plan 13. In essence, multinationals with annual turnovers of more than EUR 750 million will be required to provide an annual tax statement that breaks down key elements of the statements by tax jurisdiction. This will provide the public and tax authorities with more visibility on what taxes are being paid where.

On 4 July 4 2017, Parliament adopted its amendments to the Commission’s proposal. It then reconfirmed its position in its first reading on March 27, 2019. On 24 October 2019, MEPs passed a strong resolution urgently calling on the member states to break the deadlock and enter inter-institutional negotiations.

IWD 2021: The gender dimension must be included in the COVID-19 recovery plans | EU Parliament Press

MEPs, national MEPs and high-level guests discussed women’s crucial role in leading the fight against the pandemic, in an interparliamentary meeting on Thursday.

At the opening of a meeting hosted by Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Chair Evelyn Regner (S&D, AT) on the occasion of International Women’s Day (IWD), EP President David Sassoli said: ‘‘The pandemic has not only increased inequalities that already existed, it is also likely to wipe out decades of achievements. Measures adopted to contain the spread of the virus have often exacerbated the gender divide. To make sure women’s lives take a step forward, not backwards, we have to achieve genuine equality. It is time to end the rhetoric and to forge ahead.’’ He added that the EP will carefully monitor that the gender dimension is included in national recovery plans.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen dedicated this International Women’s Day to women on the frontline, to health workers, sales assistants who kept supermarkets open, mothers who took care of their children while working from home, and those who lost their jobs. ‘‘We are working on putting women at the centre of all our policies”, she added. “Today, we propose a Directive on pay transparency: women must know if their employers treat them fairly, and if not, they must be able to fight back and get what they deserve. Later this year, we will propose new legislation to fight violence against women online and offline.’’

You can watch a recording of President Sassoli and President von der Leyen’s speeches.

Greece’s first female President, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, focused on the impact that this pandemic has had on different vulnerable groups of women: single mothers, migrants, elderly women and women victims of domestic violence under lockdown. She also highlighted that 86% of those who work in the care sector in the EU were women, often poorly paid. ‘‘We have to adopt policies that take into consideration the different experiences and needs of men and women’’, she concluded.

You can watch a recording of the speech by the President of Greece.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee Chair Evelyn Regner said: ‘‘It is strikingly clear that we need gender equality and we need strong women, without which the economic and social recovery would remain incomplete. It is our duty and responsibility to make sure the differing yet interlinked needs of people of all genders are taken into account and catered for in the COVID-19 response to build a more resilient, more equal, more just society.’’

The discussion panel on ‘‘Women on the frontline: lessons learnt from the crisis management’’ gave the floor to women leaders in the political, economic and health sectors, such as Kharija Arib, President of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands, Dr Isabelle Loeb, Medical Director at St Pierre Hospital in Brussels and Kristel Krustuuk, Founder of Testlio, to share their experiences on the ground. EP Vice-President Dimitrios Papadimoulis concluded the panel, which was followed by a debate with MEPs and members of national parliaments, with closing remarks from Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, and Evelyn Regner.

You can watch a recording of Helena Dalli and Evelyn Regner’s closing remarks.

IWD celebration in plenary

President Sassoli and Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern (the latter via a pre-recorded video message) will address MEPs during a Women’s Day celebration on Monday 8 March at 17:00. That same day at 11.00, Women’s Rights Committee Chair Evelyn Regner will be live on Facebook to answer citizens’ questions about the current state of gender equality in the EU. At 12.00, she will have a live Instagram exchange with Polish influencer Anja Rubik.

International Women’s Day 2021: The Commission issues statement and new report on gender equality in the EU | EU Commission Press

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the Commission published its 2021 report on gender equality in the EU, that shows the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities between women and men in almost all areas of life, both in Europe and beyond, rolling back on the hard-won achievements of past years. At the same time, gender equality has never been so high up on the EU’s political agenda, and the Commission has made significant efforts to implement the Gender Equality Strategy, adopted one year ago. To better monitor and track progress in each of the 27 Member States, the Commission is launching today a Gender Equality Strategy Monitoring Portal.

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said today: “Women are at the frontline at the pandemic and they are more affected by it. We can’t afford sliding back; we must continue to push for fairness and equality. This is why EU has put women at the heart of recovery and obliged Member States to include gender equality in investments funded from Recovery and Resilience Facility.”

Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, added: “Despite the disproportionate impact on women’s live due the COVID-19 crisis, we need to use this situation as an opportunity. We are determined to strengthen our efforts, continue progressing and not allow a backlash on all the gender equality gains made”.

COVID-19 impact on women

Today’s report highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a major challenge for gender equality:

  • Member States recorded a surge in domestic violence: For example, the number of reports on domestic violence in France increased by 32% during the first week of the lockdown, in Lithuania by 20% in the first three weeks. Ireland saw a five-fold increase in domestic violence orders and Spanish authorities reported an 18% rise in calls during the first fortnight of confinement.
  • Women were at the frontline tackling the pandemic: 76% of healthcare and social-care workers, 86% of personal care workers in health services are women. With the pandemic, women in these sectors saw an unprecedented rise in workload, health risk and challenges to work-life balance.
  • Women in the labour market were hit hard by the pandemic: Women are overrepresented in sectors that are worst affected by the crisis (retail, hospitality, care and domestic work), because these jobs cannot be done remotely. Women also had more difficulties re-entering the labour market during the partial recovery last summer 2020 with employment rates rising by 1.4% for men but only by 0.8% for women between the second and the third quarter 2020.
  • Lockdowns have significant impact on unpaid care and work-life balance: Women spent, on average, 62 hours per week caring for children (compared to 36 hours for men) and 23 hours per week doing housework (15 hours for men).
  • A striking lack of women in COVID-19 decision-making bodies: A 2020 study found that men greatly outnumber women in the bodies created to respond to the pandemic. Of 115 national dedicated COVID-19 task forces in 87 countries, including 17 EU Member States, 85,2% were made up mainly of men, 11.4% comprised mainly women, and only 3.5% had gender parity. At the political level, only 30% of health ministers in the EU are women. The Commission’s task force for the COVID-19 crisis is led by President von der Leyen and includes five other Commissioners, three of whom are women.

Despite the challenges arising from the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission made significant efforts to move forward with the implementation of the Gender Equality Strategy over the past year. In order to track progress more effectively across the EU, the Commission launched today the Gender Equality Strategy Monitoring Portal. A joint project developed by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), the portal will allow to monitor individual EU Member States’ performance and compare that performance among the 27 Member States.

Background

The Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, adopted one year ago, is based on a vision for a Europe where women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity, are free from violence and stereotypes and have the opportunity to thrive and to lead. It sets out key actions for the 5-year period and commits to ensure that the Commission will include an equality perspective in all EU policy areas.

In the past year, the Commission has stepped up fight against gender-based violence with the first-ever EU victims’ rights strategy and announced a proposal to combat gender-based violence (public consultation is open here). The proposal for a Digital Services Act, adopted in December 2020, clarifies platforms’ responsibility and contributes to address online violence.

The Commission has taken action to encourage women’s participation in the labour market. The Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights puts gender equality at its core and establishes, amongst others, ambitious targets for women’s participation in the labour market and the provision of early childcare. On 4 March, the Commission put forward pay transparency measures to ensure equal pay for women and men for equal work.

In the Digital Education Action Plan and Updated Skills Agenda, the Commission announced a range of actions ensuring that girls and young women are equally present in ICT studies and digital skills development.

A gender equality perspective was also included into the next EU budget. Moreover, the new Recovery and Resilience Facility under the NextGenerationEU requires Member States to explain how their national recovery plans will contribute to promoting gender equality, thus helping to ensure a gender-responsive recovery in the EU.

In the past year, the Commission continued to support initiatives tackling gender stereotypes through its funding programmes, including the EU’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme. The Commission also strengthened gender equality outside of the EU by presenting, in November 2020, the new Gender Action Plan (GAP III) for 2021-2025, an ambitious agenda for gender equality and women’s empowerment in EU external action.

Today, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) published a report on the Covid-19 pandemic and intimate partner violence against women in the EU. Full details can be found in their press release.

For More Information

2021 report on gender equality in the EU

Gender Equality Strategy webpage

EIGE press release: Covid-19 derails gender equality gains

Gender equality

Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work| EU Commission Press

The European Commission has today presented a proposal on pay transparency to ensure that women and men in the EU get equal pay for equal work. A political priority of President von der Leyen, the proposal sets out pay transparency measures, such as pay information for job seekers, a right to know the pay levels for workers doing the same work, as well as gender pay gap reporting obligations for big companies. The proposal also strengthens the tools for workers to claim their rights and facilitates access to justice. Employers will not be allowed to ask job seekers for their pay history and they will have to provide pay related anonymised data upon employee request. Employees will also have the right to compensation for discrimination in pay.  

New measures, which take into account the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on both, employers but also on women, who have been hit in particular hard, will increase awareness about pay conditions within the company and give more tools to employers and workers to address the pay discrimination at work. This will address a number of substantial factors contributing to the existing pay gap and is particularly relevant during COVID-19 pandemic, which is reinforcing gender inequalities and puts women into greater risk of poverty exposure.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Equal work deserves equal pay. And for equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.”

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourová said: “It is high-time both women and men are empowered to claim their right. We want to empower job seekers and workers with tools to demand fair salary and to know and claim their rights. This is also why employers must become more transparent about their pay policies. No more double standards, no more excuses.”

Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, said: “The pay transparency proposal is a major step toward the enforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between women and men. It will empower workers to enforce their right to equal pay and lead to an end to gender bias in pay. It will also allow for the detection, acknowledgment and addressing of an issue that we wanted to eradicate since the adoption of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Women deserve due recognition, equal treatment and value for their work and the Commission is committed to ensuring that workplaces meet this objective.”

Pay transparency and better enforcement of equal pay

The legislative proposal focuses on two core elements of equal pay: measures to ensure pay transparency for workers and employers as well as better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination.

Pay transparency measures:

  • Pay transparency for job-seekers – Employers will have to provide information about the initial pay level or its range in the job vacancy notice or before the job interview. Employers will not be allowed to ask prospective workers about their pay history.
  • Right to information for employees – Workers will have the right to request information from their employer on their individual pay level and on the average pay levels, broken down by sex, for categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.
  • Reporting on gender pay gap – Employers with at least 250 employees must publish information on the pay gap between female and male workers in their organisation. For internal purposes, they should also provide information on the pay gap between female and male employees by categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.
  • Joint pay assessment – Where pay reporting reveals a gender pay gap of at least 5% and when the employer cannot justify the gap on objective gender neutral factors, employers will have to carry out a pay assessment, in cooperation with workers’ representatives.

Better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination:

  • Compensation for workers – workers who suffered gender pay discrimination can get compensation, including full recovery of back pay and related bonuses or payments in kind.
  • Burden of proof on employer – it will be by default for the employer, not the worker, to prove that there was no discrimination in relation to pay.
  • Sanctions to include fines – Member States should establish specific penalties for infringements of the equal pay rule, including a minimum level of fines.
  • Equality bodies and workers’ representatives may act in legal or administrative proceedings on behalf of workers as well as lead on collective claims on equal pay.

The proposal takes into account the current difficult situation of employers , in particular in private sector, and maintains proportionality of measures while providing flexibility for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and encouraging Member States to use available resources for reporting of data. The annual costs of pay reporting for the employers are estimated to be from €379 to €890 or companies with 250+ employees.

Next steps

Today’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national law and communicate the relevant texts to the Commission. The Commission will carry out an evaluation of the proposed Directive after eight years.

Background

The right to equal pay between women and men for equal work or work of equal value has been a founding principle of the European Union since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The requirement to ensure equal pay is set out in Article 157 TFEU and in Directive on the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation.

The European Commission adopted a Recommendation on strengthening the principle of equal pay between men and women through transparency in March 2014. Despite this, the effective implementation and enforcement of this principle in practice remains a major challenge in the European Union. The European Parliament and the Council have repeatedly called for action in this area. In June 2019, the Council called on the Commission to develop concrete measures to increase pay transparency.

President von der Leyen announced binding pay transparency measures as one of her political priorities for this Commission. This commitment was reaffirmed in the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 and today the Commission is presenting a proposal to that end.

For More Information

Questions & Answers – Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work

Proposal for a directive on pay transparency to strengthen the principle of equal pay

Impact Assessment

Executive summary – Impact Assessment

Factsheet – Pay transparency: equal pay for women and men for equal work

EU action for equal pay

Fit for Future platform selects EU initiatives for simplification and modernisation| EU Commission Press

he Commission’s Fit for Future Platform has now selected 15 initiatives with the aim of helping to simplify EU law, cut red tape for citizens and businesses, and ensure that EU policies respond to new and emerging challenges. These efforts will be part of the Platform’s first annual work programme to be adopted this month.

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight and Chairman of the Fit for Future Platform, said: “Simplification has become more important than ever, as we seek to kick-start Europe’s economy, hit by the pandemic. So even though our regulatory policy is recognised as one of the best in the world, we can still do better. We must ensure that EU laws provide the intended benefits for the economy and society, while simplifying existing legislation, reducing burden wherever possible and staying forward-looking. This can have real effects on the ground.

The Platform will issue opinions on the 15 selected topics, covering a broad range of sectors from competition, finance, health, environment, statistics and transport, to customs and internal market. These opinions will enrich the analysis by the Commission, and inform its evaluations and impact assessments.

The Platform will consider the following guiding principles in issuing its opinions:

  • Digitalisation: Helping businesses to take up digital solutions and accelerating public sector modernisation to reduce regulatory burdens.
  • Efficient labelling, authorisation and reporting obligations: Identifying bottlenecks due to disparities across Member States, striving to simplify procedures to facilitate investment in future infrastructure and innovation, and striking the right balance between reporting efforts and performance assessment of EU legislation to help small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular.
  • Simplification of EU legislation: Ensuring that EU laws are predictable, unambiguous and avoid overlaps in different areas.

Have Your Say: Simplify!

All citizens and stakeholders are invited to contribute to the work of the Platform via the Have Your Say – Simplify! portal. Ideas for simplification and burden reduction in each of the 15 selected topics, received by 30 April 2021, will be considered by the Platform in preparing its 2021 opinions. Other suggestions will be taken into account for the preparation of the 2022 annual work programme.

Background

The Commission has a commitment to simplify existing EU law and to reduce unnecessary costs as part of its regulatory fitness and performance (REFIT) programme.

The new Fit for Future Platform gathers practical expertise in various policy areas from national, regional and local authorities, the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee and stakeholders. Its opinions will feed directly into the Commission’s ongoing work to simplify existing EU laws, reduce unnecessary burdens and to ensure that Union policies are forward-looking and relevant in light of new and emerging challenges.

For more information

The Fit for Future Platform

Have Your Say – Simplify!

Press release on the launch of the Fit for Future Platform

European Commission 2021 work programme

Single Market: Commission adopts new guidance documents to facilitate the free movement of goods | EU Commission Press

The free movement of goods is an essential corner stone of the Single Market that benefits European citizens and businesses. Ensuring and facilitating its smooth functioning is of paramount importance particularly in the current pandemic and for Europe’s economic recovery. Today, the Commission adopted three guidance documents that aim to help European citizens, businesses, but also national administrations to fully harness the Single Market for goods. Facilitating the free movement of goods and preventing national barriers is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, in which certain Member States introduced restrictive measures that disrupted the functioning of the Single Market. Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the Internal Market, said: “Our internal market is the true driver of European recovery and prosperity, and the coronavirus pandemic taught us to cherish its value and not to underestimate its vulnerabilities. The guidance documents published today will help ensure a more uniform implementation of rules on the free movement of goods and improve how the Single Market functions.” Specifically, the Guidance on the implementation of the 2019 Regulation on Mutual Recognition offers detailed information on various aspects of the Regulation, including on the mutual recognition declaration for operators, the assessment of goods for national authorities, and on support services provided by SOLVIT centres and Product Contact Points. The guidance on the application of Treaty provisions regarding the free movement of goods gives an overview of the relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the EU on obstacles that may affect goods and operators in the Single Market. The guidance on the market surveillance of goods clarifying Article 4 of the new Market Surveillance Regulation aims to strengthen market surveillance in the EU and help ensure that products reaching the EU market, particularly those sold online, comply with EU product rules. The documents deliver on the actions foreseen in the Commission’s Single Market Enforcement Action Plan published in March 2020 and will help to strengthen the implementation of rules in the Single Market in order to support Europe’s path to recovery. 

Competition: Commission invites stakeholders to provide comments on the application of EU competition law to collective bargaining agreements for self-employed | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has launched today a public consultation to gather views and evidence from citizens, businesses, social partners, academia, government bodies and all interested parties as part of an initiative to ensure that EU competition rules do not stand in the way of collective bargaining by certain solo self-employed people.

Both in the digital economy and beyond, some solo self-employed might be in a situation of unbalanced negotiating power vis-à-vis certain companies/buyers of labour, leading them to have little influence over their payment and working conditions. Collective bargaining can be a powerful tool to achieve better working conditions.

According to EU competition law, self-employed are considered ‘undertakings’ and thus risk infringing competition rules when they bargain collectively. Whilst it is not for competition policy to address the social challenges faced by self-employed people, the initiative could ensure that EU competition rules do not prevent self-employed in a weak position from engaging in collective negotiations or agreements to improve their working conditions. Any action in this field would at the same time need to ensure that consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) continue to benefit from competitive prices and innovative business models, including in the digital economy.

Between 6 January and 8 February 2021, the Commission published for feedback an inception impact assessment, where it set out four initial options in this regard. The options range from covering only platform work to covering all solo self-employed.

The Commission launches today a detailed public consultation, to gather further information about the current situation of solo self-employed, and to identify the added value of EU action in this area, the likely impact of the policy options and the preferences of stakeholders.

All stakeholders are invited to submit their views on the Commission’s consultation website until 28 May 2021.

The Commission will carefully review all input and will publish the stakeholders’ submissions and a summary of the main findings on the consultation website.

In parallel, on 24 February 2021 the Commission launched a first-stage consultation of European social partners on a separate initiative that focuses on the working conditions in platform work on the basis of the social policy provisions of the Treaty under Article 153 TFEU, which is not subject to this open public consultation.

Next steps

Subject to the outcome of the impact assessment, the adoption of an initiative is scheduled by the end of 2021.

In addition to the public consultation in the framework of this initiative, the Commission will also hold a dedicated meeting with social partners.

Background

President von der Leyen‘s mission letters addressed to Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and Commissioner Nicolas Schmit underlined the importance in this mandate to “ensure the working conditions of platform workers are addressed.” This particular initiative forms part of the actions seeking to address this issue.

Article 101 of the TFEU prohibits anticompetitive agreements and decisions of associations of undertakings that prevent, restrict or distort competition within the EU’s Single Market.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has expressly excluded collective bargaining by employees and false self-employed from the scope of Article 101 TFEU. The initiative aims to clarify the applicability of EU competition law for collective bargaining by (genuine) self employed who are considered undertakings.

EU Cohesion policy: over €63 million for improved drinking water and wastewater services in Burgas district, east Bulgaria | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has approved an investment of more than €63 million from the Cohesion Fund to provide better access to drinking water and improved sewerage for the people living in the district of Burgas, in east Bulgaria near the Black Sea. This integrated project will improve the efficiency and sustainability of existing facilities by reducing leakage as well as operating costs, and improving connections. Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “This project will contribute to improve the quality of life of nearly 280,000 people thanks to a more reliable clean water supply while further 53,000 people will benefit from better wastewater systems. Moreover, this major project has an important significance for the environment, thanks to increased sustainability of water sources”. The renewed infrastructure includes around 7 km of new water supply network and 158 km that will be rebuilt, improving the quality of drinking water and increasing the efficiency of supply networks, reducing current water losses. In addition, 73 km of sewerage pipe will be laid and 22 km will be rebuilt, alongside the renovation of sewage pressure tanks and wastewater collectors and the installation of new rainwater collectors. The project will ensure compliance with the EU legislation and high environmental standards. Finally, a new wastewater treatment facility is expected to become operational in March 2023. More information regarding EU funded investments in Bulgaria is available on the Open Data Platform.