EU institution news

Sustainable Finance and EU Taxonomy: Commission takes further steps to channel money towards sustainable activities | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has today adopted an ambitious and comprehensive package of measures to help improve the flow of money towards sustainable activities across the European Union. By enabling investors to re-orient investments towards more sustainable technologies and businesses, today’s measures will be instrumental in making Europe climate neutral by 2050. They will make the EU a global leader in setting standards for sustainable finance.

The package is comprised of:

  • The EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act aims to support sustainable investment by making it clearer which economic activities most contribute to meeting the EU’s environmental objectives. The College of Commissioners today reached a political agreement on the text. The Delegated Act will be formally adopted at the end of May once translations are available in all EU languages. A Communication, also adopted by the College today, sets out the Commission’s approach in more detail.
  • A proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). This proposal aims to improve the flow of sustainability information in the corporate world. It will make sustainability reporting by companies more consistent, so that financial firms, investors and the broader public can use comparable and reliable sustainability information.
  • Finally, six amending Delegated Acts on fiduciary duties, investment and insurance advice will ensure that financial firms, e.g. advisers, asset managers or insurers, include sustainability in their procedures and their investment advice to clients.

The European Green Deal is Europe’s growth strategy that aims to improve the well-being and health of citizens, make Europe climate-neutral by 2050 and protect, conserve and enhance the EU’s natural capital and biodiversity.

As part of that effort, companies need a comprehensive sustainability framework to change their business models accordingly. To ensure the transition in finance and prevent greenwashing, all elements of today’s package will enhance the reliability and comparability of sustainability information. It will put the European financial sector at the heart of a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the longer-term sustainable economic development of Europe.

EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act

The EU Taxonomy is a robust, science-based transparency tool for companies and investors. It creates a common language that investors can use when investing in projects and economic activities that have a substantial positive impact on the climate and the environment. It will also introduce disclosure obligations on companies and financial market participants.

Today’s Delegated Act, politically agreed today by the College of Commissioners, introduces the first set of technical screening criteria to define which activities contribute substantially to two of the environmental objectives under the Taxonomy Regulation: climate change adaptation[1] and climate change mitigation[2]. These criteria are based on scientific advice from the Technical Expert Group (TEG) on sustainable finance. It follows extensive feedback from stakeholders, as well as discussions with the European Parliament and Council. This Delegated Act would cover the economic activities of roughly 40% of listed companies, in sectors which are responsible for almost 80% of direct greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. It includes sectors such as energy, forestry, manufacturing, transport and buildings.

The EU Taxonomy Delegated Act is a living document, and will continue to evolve over time, in light of developments and technological progress. The criteria will be subject to regular review. This will ensure that new sectors and activities, including transitional and other enabling activities, can be added to the scope over time.

A new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive

Today’s proposal revises and strengthens the existing rules introduced by the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD). It aims to create a set of rules that will – over time – bring sustainability reporting on a par with financial reporting. It will extend the EU’s sustainability reporting requirements to all large companies and all listed companies. This means that nearly 50,000 companies in the EU will now need to follow detailed EU sustainability reporting standards, an increase from the 11,000 companies that are subject to the existing requirements. The Commission proposes the development of standards for large companies and separate, proportionate standards for SMEs, which non-listed SMEs can use voluntarily.

Overall, the proposal aims to ensure that companies report reliable and comparable sustainability information needed by investors and other stakeholders. It will ensure a consistent flow of sustainability information through the financial system. Companies will have to report on how sustainability issues, such as climate change, affects their business and the impact of their activities on people and the environment.

The proposal will also simplify the reporting process for companies. Many companies are currently under pressure to use an array of different sustainability reporting standards and frameworks. The proposed EU sustainability reporting standards should be a “one-stop-shop”, providing companies with a single solution that meets the information needs of investors and other stakeholders.  

Amendments to Delegated Acts on investment and insurance advice, fiduciary duties, and product oversight and governance

Today’s six amendments encourage the financial system to support businesses on the path towards sustainability, as well as supporting existing sustainable businesses. They will also strengthen the EU’s fight against greenwashing.

  • On investment and insurance advice: when an adviser assesses a client’s suitability for an investment, they now need to discuss the client’s sustainability preferences.
  • On fiduciary duties: today’s amendments clarify the obligations of a financial firm when assessing its sustainability risks, such as the impact of floods on the value of investments.
  • On investment and insurance product oversight and governance: manufacturers of financial products and financial advisers will need to consider sustainability factors when designing their financial products.

Members of the College said:

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, said: “Europe was an early leader in reforming the financial system to support investments for climate change. Today, we are taking a leap forward with the first-ever climate taxonomy which will help companies and investors to know whether their investments and activities are really green. This will be essential if we are to mobilise private investment in sustainable activities and make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. This is a ground-breaking step for which we have consulted far and wide. We left no stone unturned in seeking a balanced, science-based outcome. We are also proposing improved rules on sustainability reporting by companies. By developing European standards, we will build on and contribute to international initiatives.”

Mairead McGuinness, Commissioner responsible for financial services, financial stability and the Capital Markets Union, said: ““The financial system plays a crucial role in the delivery of the EU Green Deal, and significant investments are required to green our economy. We need all companies to play their part, both those already advanced in greening their activities and those who need to do more to achieve sustainability. Today’s new rules are a game changer in finance. We are stepping up our sustainable finance ambition to help make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Now is the time to put words into action and invest in a sustainable way.”

Background and next steps

The EU has taken major steps over the past number of years to build a sustainable financial system that contributes to the transition towards a climate-neutral Europe. The EU Taxonomy Regulation, the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation and the Benchmark Regulation form the foundation of the EU’s work to increase transparency and provide tools for investors to identify sustainable investment opportunities.

Once formally adopted, the EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act will be scrutinised by the European Parliament and the Council (four months and extendable once by two additional months).

Regarding the CSRD Proposal, the Commission will engage in discussions with the European Parliament and Council.

The six amendments to Delegated Acts on investment and insurance advice, fiduciary duties, and product oversight and governance will be scrutinised by the European Parliament and the Council (three month periods and extendable once by three additional months) and are expected to apply as of October 2022.

For More Information

Commission Communication: EU Taxonomy – Corporate Sustainability Reporting, Sustainability Preferences and Fiduciary Duties    

EU Taxonomy delegated act 

Q&A – Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act and Amendments to Delegated Acts on fiduciary duties, investment and insurance advice

Q&A – Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive proposal

Factsheet – the April 2021 sustainable finance package  

DG FISMA’s website on sustainable finance

[1] An economic activity pursuing this objective should contribute substantially to reducing or preventing the adverse impact of the current or expected future climate, or the risks of such adverse impact, whether on that activity itself or on people, nature or assets.

[2] An economic activity pursuing this objective should contribute substantially to the stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding or reducing them or by enhancing greenhouse gas removals. The economic activity should be consistent with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

Deal on EU Climate Law: Press conference with Parliament’s lead negotiators | EU Parliament Press

Following the deal with Council on the EU Climate Law, an online press conference with EP negotiators Jytte Guteland and Pascal Canfin, is scheduled for Wednesday 21 April 10.00.

MEPs reached an informal agreement with member states on the EU Climate Law early Wednesday morning. Parliament will host a press conference on Wednesday 21 April at 10.00 with Jytte Guteland (S&D, Sweden), Parliament’s rapporteur, and Pascal Canfin (Renew, FR), Chair of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.

The press conference will take place in the ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA ROOM (SPAAK 0A50) in the European Parliament. You can follow it live via webstreaming and EbS.

A press release giving more details on the deal will be issued later Wednesday.

Information for the media

Journalists who want to ask questions, can connect via Interactio by using the link https://broadcaster.interactio.eu/join/66e2-hy1p-1w4u.

Interactio is only supported on iPad (with the Safari browser) and Mac/Windows (with the Google Chrome browser).

When connecting, enter your name and the media you are representing in the first name / last name fields.

For better sound quality, use headphones and a microphone. Interpretation is only possible for interventions with video.

Journalists who have never used Interactio before are asked to connect 30 minutes before the start of the press conference to perform a connection test. IT assistance can be provided if necessary.

When connected, open the chat window (upper right corner) to be able to see the service messages.

For more details, check the connection guidelines and recommendations for remote speakers.

MEPs reach deal with Council on obligation for EU to be climate neutral by 2050 | EU Parliament Press

  • Independent EU scientific body to be set up to monitor progress
  • Greenhouse gas budget must guide 2040 target
  • Deal reached in time for US President Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate

The new EU Climate Law increases the EU’s 2030 emissions reductions target from 40% to at least 55% while boosting the contribution from removals that can bring the target to 57%.

MEPs reached an informal agreement with member states on the EU Climate Law on Tuesday evening, a few days before US President Biden hosts a Leaders’ Summit on Climate.

The new law transforms political promises that the EU will become climate neutral by 2050 into a binding obligation, and gives European citizens and businesses the legal certainty and predictability they need to plan for the transition to climate neutrality. After 2050, the EU shall aim to achieve negative emissions.

2030 and 2040 targets

The new EU Climate Law increases the EU’s 2030 emissions reductions target from 40 % to at least 55 % compared to 1990 levels.

While avoiding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be the priority, the law recognises that already emitted GHG will need to be removed to compensate for GHG emitted from sectors where decarbonisation is most challenging. To ensure sufficient reductions are made by 2030, the contribution of removals towards the 2030 climate target shall be limited to 225 Mt CO2 equivalents. The Commission confirmed in a written statement that it will propose that the LULUCF Regulation be revised. It regulates GHG emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry, to raise EU carbon sinks to levels above 300 million tons CO2eq by 2030, which would de facto correspond to a 2030 reductions target of 57 %.

The Commission shall make a proposal for a 2040 target at the latest six months after the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement. In line with Parliament’s proposal, the Commission must take into account the EU’s projected indicative GHG budget, defined as the total GHG emissions expected to be emitted without risking the EU’s commitment under the Paris Agreement, for the period 2030-2050.

European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change

Given the importance of independent scientific advice, an independent scientific body will be set up to assess whether policy is consistent and to monitor progress, as suggested by Parliament. The Advisory Board will consist of 15 scientific experts appointed for four years.

The Commission will also facilitate sector-specific climate dialogues and partnerships by bringing together key stakeholders to encourage sectors to draw up roadmaps towards climate neutrality.

Quote

After the agreement, Parliament rapporteur Jytte Guteland (S&D, Sweden) said: “After a long night of negotiations, I am proud that we now finally have a climate law. We agreed on net emissions reductions of 57 % by 2030. While I would of course have preferred to go even further, this is a good deal that is based on science and which will make a big difference for the climate. The EU must now reduce emissions more in the next decade than we have in the previous three decades put together, and we have new and more ambitious ground to stand on that can encourage more countries to step up.”

Next steps

The deal will now be put to the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee and plenary for approval as well as to the Council. The Regulation will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal.

Background

Parliament has played an important role in pushing for more ambitious EU climate legislation and declared a climate emergency on 28 November 2019.

Following the European Council decision in December 2019 to endorse the 2050 climate-neutrality objective, the Commission in March 2020 proposed the EU climate law that would make the objective a legal requirement.

European climate law: Council and Parliament reach provisional agreement | EU Council Press

The Council’s and the European Parliament’s negotiators reached a provisional political agreement setting into law the objective of a climate-neutral EU by 2050, and a collective, net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target (emissions after deduction of removals) of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990.

We are very happy with the provisional deal reached today. The European climate law is “the law of laws” that sets the frame for the EU’s climate-related legislation for the 30 years to come. The EU is strongly committed to becoming climate neutral by 2050 and today we can be proud to have set in stone an ambitious climate goal that can get everyone’s support. With this agreement we send a strong signal to the world – right ahead of the Leader’s Climate Summit on 22 April – and pave the way for the Commission to propose its “fit-for-55” climate package in June.

João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Minister of Environment and Climate Action

Regarding the 2030 target, negotiators agreed on the need to give priority to emissions reductions over removals. In order to ensure that sufficient efforts to reduce and prevent emissions are deployed until 2030, they introduced a limit of 225 Mt of CO2 equivalent to the contribution of removals to the net target. They also agreed the Union shall aim to achieve a higher volume of carbon net sink by 2030.

Other elements of the provisional agreement include the establishment of a European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, composed of 15 senior scientific experts of different nationalities with no more than 2 members holding the nationality of the same member state for a mandate of four years. This independent board will be tasked, among other things, with providing scientific advice and reporting on EU measures, climate targets and indicative greenhouse gas budgets and their coherence with the European climate law and the EU’s international commitments under the Paris Agreement.

The negotiators agreed that the Commission would propose an intermediate climate target for 2040, if appropriate, at the latest within six months after the first global stocktake carried out under the Paris Agreement. It will at the same time publish a projected indicative Union’s greenhouse gas budget for the period 2030-2050, together with its underlying methodology. The budget is defined as the indicative total volume of net greenhouse gas emissions (expressed as CO2 equivalent and providing separate information on emissions and removals) that are expected to be emitted in that period without putting at risk the Union’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Negotiators also agreed that the Commission would engage with sectors of the economy that choose to prepare indicative voluntary roadmaps towards achieving the Union’s climate neutrality objective by 2050. The Commission would monitor the development of such roadmaps, facilitate the dialogue at EU-level, and share best practices among relevant stakeholders.

The provisional agreement also sets an aspirational goal for the EU to strive to achieve negative emissions after 2050.

The provisional political agreement is subject to approval by the Council and Parliament, before going through the formal steps of the adoption procedure. The provisional agreement was reached by the Council’s Portuguese Presidency and the European Parliament’s representatives, based on mandates from their respective institutions.

The text of the agreement will follow.

Background

The European Council, in its conclusions of 12 December 2019, agreed on the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, while also recognising that it is necessary to put in place an enabling framework that benefits all member states and encompasses adequate instruments, incentives, support and investments to ensure a cost-efficient, just, as well as socially balanced and fair transition, taking into account different national circumstances in terms of starting points.

On 4 March 2020, the European Commission adopted its proposal for a European climate law, as an important part of the European Green Deal. On 17 September 2020, the Commission adopted a proposal amending its initial proposal to include a revised EU emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030. The Commission also published a communication on the 2030 climate target plan, accompanied by a comprehensive impact assessment.

On 10-11 December the European Council in its conclusions, endorsed a binding EU target of a net domestic reduction of at least 55% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990.

The Council adopted a general approach on 17 December 2020, after which the Council and the Parliament launched a series of trilogue meetings with the aim of securing an agreement on the final text.

Opening address by the Eurogroup President, Paschal Donohoe, at Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies in Florence on “Coordinating Euro Area fiscal policy to drive an inclusive recovery” | EU Council Press

Thank you for the kind invitation and the opportunity to address you all today.

This is part of a regular engagement I am having with the leading Research Centres on European policy, which began in March with my presentation to the Hertie School in Berlin.

I want to speak with you about the work of the Eurogroup, both in terms of the short-term issues linked to last week’s meeting but also the more medium to long-term issues, and the political and strategic focus that the Eurogroup can bring to these discussions.

As part of the Eurogroup engagement with key policy makers and influencers, I want to hear your thoughts and questions, as they are important for me in considering how best to advance towards our core Eurogroup objective of building a sustainable and durable economic recovery from Covid, supported by a robust and resilient economic and monetary union.

As a courtesy to institutions who host me, I try to take some time in advance of my virtual visit to read a book relevant to your local or national history. So, like some other readers at this time of Covid, I have sampled the Decameron. I say ‘sampled’; I sought advice about what stories to read.

But this collection of tales reminded me how eerily familiar the challenge of a pandemic is to humanity. The introduction to the ten days of ten tales tells of a plague so severe that ‘whenever those suffering from it mixed with people who were still unaffected, it would rush upon these with the speed of a fire racing through dry or oily substances that happened to come within its reach’. In that summer of 1348 mourning and funerals changed in a way all too familiar when Boccaccio writes that ‘it was rare for the bodies of the dead to be accompanied by more than ten or twelve neighbours to the church’.

It is a book with obvious parallels to our present day situation, and indeed, at our March meeting, my Austrian colleague made the point that we are fighting this pandemic with the same tools that have been used for hundreds of years against plagues – quarantine, lockdown and isolation.

But the parallels have profound limitations. Medicine and technology will help us to prevail in the battle against our modern pestilence.

And politics has been vital too. There has been a symmetry in this contest. A union built on political interdependence – the European Union – has to confront a disease that spreads through interdependence.

A core theme of my contention to you this morning is that while the EU has had many expected and unexpected difficulties with the pandemic, it has and is rising to the challenge. The EU has evolved at great speed and it is the vital political dimension to our shared efforts.

I believe this is demonstrated in the work of Eurogroup – to which I will now turn.

April Eurogroup agenda

In Inclusive Format with all twenty seven Member States, we discussed ongoing work on a road-map for the completion of the Banking Union – we have been mandated by Leaders to present this roadmap at the Euro Summit in June. This was a lengthy debate and there is still a lot of work to be done before we reach agreement – but this was the first step towards that process and I am confident that we will be able to do so by our June deadline.

We agreed that the work plan will be holistic, and will focus on the four equally important work streams:

  • The framework for crisis management,
  • The European Deposit Insurance Scheme,
  • The regulatory treatment of sovereign exposures, and
  • Cross-border integration.

Our banking system has proven its resilience during the COVID crisis. This is the result of our common efforts of the past decade. Yet there is still more to be done and I can say that Ministers repeated their commitment to continue our ambitious work to make our banking system even more stable and resilient.

In the regular Eurogroup, I debriefed ministers from international meetings where the ongoing comparison of the EU and US fiscal support packages was raised, which it was agreed was akin to comparing “apples and oranges”.

On insolvency frameworks, there was broad agreement on the need for urgency to tackle inefficiencies, engaging at a minimum on sharing best practice and non-legislative issues to build consensus before going beyond that.

The euro as a digital currency was the subject of a detailed presentation by ECB President, Madame Lagarde, who updated on progress, shared with us some insights from the public consultation and emphasised the need for careful deliberations, given its potential impact on Europe’s strategic autonomy and economic sovereignty.

President Lagarde made it clear to us that the ECB Governing Council will decide in mid-2021 on whether to launch a project exploring the technical design, policy and infrastructure needs of a digital euro. A decision on launching a digital euro will only be taken once there is clarity on its use; protecting security and privacy. The Eurogroup will be engaged throughout this process to provide political steers and guidance. I will come back to this point.

Finally, we heard the results of a review of the Eurogroup’s current transparency standards, which was endorsed by Ministers. I am committed to ensuring a continued high level of transparency and engagement with citizens, businesses, and policy experts, such as yourselves; indeed it is one of the core objectives of my work programme and part of the reason I am so keen to hear your questions and comments today.

Digital Euro

As I mentioned earlier, the proposal for a digital euro is still at an early stage, the decision point will come later, but it is important that we start thinking about what we want out of it.

The Eurogroup confirmed its support for the continuation of the technical and preparatory work, in line with the Euro Summit mandate.

A properly-designed digital euro has the potential to unlock major benefits for citizens, businesses, Member States and the overall functioning of our economic and monetary union.

The primary aim of a digital euro would be to ensure costless access to a simple, universally accepted, safe and trusted means of payment in a context of a rising demand for digital money. At its core, a digital euro can be a way to enhance the efficiency of our payment infrastructure and contribute to the digitalization of our economies.

However, a digital euro would be issued as a complement, and not a replacement, to cash. The choice of whether to use a digital euro will be in the hands of citizens and savers but it will not mean the end of banknotes, coins and bank accounts.

At the same time, it could have a number of important economic and societal implications. These include, depending on the design of a digital euro, potential impacts on the use of cash and on the banking sector as we know it. There could also be important implications in terms of financial stability, financial inclusion, privacy, illicit financing, or tax evasion.

The increase in digital payments also raises geopolitical and security questions in the context of fast paced innovation outside of Europe. Would we be comfortable about putting this in the hands of third country private digital giants or a foreign government with a less than perfect human-rights record?

There are a number of important technical questions to be explored, and experimentations to be carried out, to ensure the robustness and resilience of a digital euro before it is introduced on a large scale.

We must ensure that a digital euro responds to and is tailored for the needs and specificities of our European economies, businesses and citizens, carefully considering the potential political, societal and economic implications.

This technical work will take some time. But when the work is done, there will be very important political decisions to be taken – within the respective institutional roles and mandates of all actors involved.

Having tools available does not necessarily equate to political willingness to use them; when the time comes we must be decisive.

EU Fiscal Supports and Vaccine Rollout

Turning now to our response to the pandemic. We have always been guided by the aim of protecting the health and lives of our citizens, which has necessitated stringent containment measures in the EU.

You will be familiar with this given the experience in Italy, and in my own country we have had one of the longest running lock downs in Europe. But we are fully focused on fighting the pandemic – and, while there have been delays, the pace of vaccination is now picking up fast and we are increasingly confident about the outlook.

Europeans have led the world in developing and exporting vaccines and funding vaccine procurement for the world’s poorest countries.

We should be proud of Europe’s industrial capacity; it has not only delivered more than a landmark 100 million doses to EU Member States to date but has also provided vaccines to the rest of the world.

That capacity is rapidly increasing and we expect to reach an annual production capacity of more than 3 billion doses by the end of this year.

At EU level there are prospects for a substantial increase in vaccine delivery in the coming months, which will enable us to reach the objective of having 70 percent of the EU population vaccinated by the summer. The vaccine strategy includes the fact that:

  • In the first quarter 107 million doses have been delivered;
  • It is expected that 360 million doses will be delivered by the end of June;
  • Looking at the successes of specific Member States, France reached its target of 10 million vaccinations a week early, and is set to double that within a month; and
  • Germany injected a record 720,000 vaccines last Thursday, and by next month expects to be giving 3.5 million vaccines a week.

For smaller Member States, including Ireland, the EU’s united approach to the vaccine programme means we are receiving vaccines at a scale that would have been impossible had we been forced to negotiate deals with manufacturers by ourselves.

As a result of these successes, all forecasters see growth accelerating throughout this year. We expect growth of around 4% this year and a return to pre-pandemic levels next year in the euro area as a whole.

There are already positive signals in the economic data with:

  • Economic sentiment increasing strongly in March;
  • Retail trade up by 3% in February;
  • All the PMI indicators rising sharply in March and now the composite PMI pointing firmly to expansion.

This optimism will be further quantified when the Commission publishes its Spring Forecast in May.

This publication will also start to forecast the economic impact of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and National Recovery and Resilience Plans. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve significant investment and reforms, especially in those parts of the EU where they will make the biggest difference.

The agreement on the RRF is also a symbolic crossing of the Rubicon for the EU – though clearly defined as a temporary measure, the issuance of joint debt by the Commission was unthinkable before last year and highlights our deeper integration as a result of this crisis.

The EU and its member states have co-ordinated to put in place an extraordinary level of support for citizens and businesses, protecting livelihoods and ensuring that the economy bounces back as soon as restrictions are relaxed – for example, the 100 billion euro SURE scheme contributed to protecting almost 30 million jobs in Europe, with 75.5 billion euro already disbursed to 17 member states, including Italy and Ireland.

The Commission’s SURE social bond issuances have had strong investor interest and have been oversubscribed, demonstrating clearly the market confidence in the EU’s efforts.

The EU’s policy response has been unprecedented in speed and in scale and this was made possible by an unprecedented unity of purpose by member states. This unity is truly where our strength lies, and I am proud of the role the Eurogroup has played in this.

This March, we repeated our commitment to keep fiscal support in place in a Eurogroup statement: We will not withdraw fiscal support prematurely.

We are all agreed that our response should remain agile – we can see that week by week as different member states extend their measures – so I am confident we will continue to have the correct strategy in place for Europe as the situation develops.

In fact, the total amount of fiscal support is still increasing, with new announcements every week. Just recently:

  • Germany just passed a 60 billion euro supplementary budget;
  • Spain recently announced 11 billion euros of additional support for SMEs;
  • Italy is preparing a substantial budget revision;
  • And many other member states are in the process of passing supplementary supports.

None of these decisions have the profile of a single massive stimulus plan. But they are happening and they will save livelihoods and accelerate growth.

Because the pandemic is a global challenge, comparisons between different countries’ approaches to tackling it at times are almost inevitable.

One of the most frequent comparisons we face is against the US, but the headlines ignore that these are not like-for-like comparisons.

Although the US has spent a lot to boost unemployment benefits and health coverage, in the euro area our safety nets and our job protections were, on the whole, much stronger to start with.

It is true that direct fiscal support has been higher in the US, though the difference is not huge once you dig below the headline figures. Besides the direct fiscal support, the EU also has substantial liquidity guarantee schemes in place to support companies and these are much larger than their US equivalents.

For 2020, the Commission assessed that EU fiscal support was around 8% of GDP in the area, and to that, one should add the liquidity measures and guarantees, which add up to around 19% of GDP according to the Commission – with the US effort being approximately 10% and 7.7% of GDP respectively.

Indeed, the IMF in its Regional Economic Outlook published last week actually finds that the EU fiscal policy response has been appropriate – the total fiscal spend is slightly lower, but it “has been more effective in preserving households’ disposable income and firms’ liquidity”.

When you have a good story to tell, like Boccaccio, you don’t always need to overly focus on the facts or details.

Europe’s response has been appropriate and adequate and I am confident that we will prevail in terms of protecting lives and livelihoods across member states.

Conclusion

I have talked about the Eurogroup’s united approach to this crisis, and it is what I have strived to do in facilitating discussions between Ministers to develop a consensus – whether that is on a digital euro, the future of Banking Union or our fiscal stance. Every voice has equal value, and I am always reminded that we each face the same issues at home, so we should share our experiences and learn from each other for the betterment of all.

I look forward to engaging with your questions now and I’d like to finish with a quote – not from Boccaccio [because the union he refers to is not the same kind of union we are talking about] but from your great statesman and one of the fathers of the European Union, Alcide de Gasperi: “Only if united we are strong”.

Thank you very much.

Europe fit for the Digital Age: Commission proposes new rules and actions for excellence and trust in Artificial Intelligence | EU Commission Press

The Commission proposes today new rules and actions aiming to turn Europe into the global hub for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI). The combination of the first-ever legal framework on AI and a new Coordinated Plan with Member States will guarantee the safety and fundamental rights of people and businesses, while strengthening AI uptake, investment and innovation across the EU. New rules on Machinery will complement this approach by adapting safety rules to increase users’ trust in the new, versatile generation of products. Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, said: “On Artificial Intelligence, trust is a must, not a nice to have. With these landmark rules, the EU is spearheading the development of new global norms to make sure AI can be trusted. By setting the standards, we can pave the way to ethical technology worldwide and ensure that the EU remains competitive along the way. Future-proof and innovation-friendly, our rules will intervene where strictly needed: when the safety and fundamental rights of EU citizens are at stake.” Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said: “AI is a means, not an end. It has been around for decades but has reached new capacities fueled by computing power. This offers immense potential in areas as diverse as health, transport, energy, agriculture, tourism or cyber security. It also presents a number of risks. Today’s proposals aim to strengthen Europe’s position as a global hub of excellence in AI from the lab to the market, ensure that AI in Europe respects our values and rules, and harness the potential of AI for industrial use.” For years, the Commission has been facilitating and enhancing cooperation on AI across the EU to boost its competitiveness and ensure trust based on EU values. The new AI regulation will make sure that Europeans can trust what AI has to offer. Proportionate and flexible rules will address the specific risks posed by AI systems and set the highest standard worldwide. The Coordinated Plan outlines the necessary policy changes and investment at Member States level to strengthen Europe’s leading position in the development of human-centric, sustainable, secure, inclusive and trustworthy AI. You will find more information on the press releaseQ&A document and factpage, or by asking the chatbot.

Education and skills: Commission launches public consultation to support lifelong learning and employability | EU Commission Press

The Commission has launched a public consultation on a European approach to micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability. During the next 12 weeks, the consultation will collect ideas for a common definition of micro-credentials – recognition of short, targeted learning courses – and for the development of EU standards ensuring their quality and transparency. Within Europe, a growing number of people need to update their knowledge, skills and competences to fill in the gap between their formal education and the needs of a fast-changing society and labour market. Public and private stakeholders are rapidly developing short-term learning courses. ‘Micro-credentials’ are a crucial step to certify the outcomes of these experiences, thus supporting people to improve or gain new skills throughout their careers and reaching out to a more diverse group of learners. Micro-credentials have the potential to make education more inclusive, and will promote flexible, short term learning opportunities. Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: In these unprecedented times, our learning opportunities need to adapt. They should be flexible, modular and accessible to anyone wanting to develop their competences. Our European approach to micro-credentials will facilitate the recognition and validation of these important short learning experiences. It will contribute to making lifelong learning a reality across the EU.” Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, said: “As Member States strive to meet the target of 60% of adults in annual training set by the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, we need to make learning as user-centric as possible. Whether you take a short course in coding through a VET provider or learn a foreign language with a language school, your newly-acquired skills should be recognised throughout the European labour market. The public consultation that we launch today is an important step to put this flagship action from our European Skills Agenda into practice.” The public consultation is available online.

Bucharest-based Cybersecurity Competence Centre gets green light from Council | EU Council Press

The EU is set to boost the security of the internet and other critical network and information systems by establishing a Cybersecurity Competence Centre to pool investment in cybersecurity research, technology and industrial development. The new body, to be based in Bucharest, Romania, will in particular channel cybersecurity-related funding from Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe Programme.

This ‘European Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Competence Centre’ will work together with a network of national coordination centres designated by member states.

The Centre will also bring together the main European stakeholders, including industry, academic and research organisations and other relevant civil society associations, to form a cybersecurity competence community, in order to enhance and spread cybersecurity expertise across the EU.

The Council adopted the regulation establishing the Centre and the network today. This will be followed by a final adoption by the European Parliament.

The new Cybersecurity Competence Centre and network will play a key role in helping secure the digital infrastructure so many of us use every day for work and leisure, as well as information systems and networks in vital areas such as health, transport, energy, financial markets and banking systems. It will also bolster the global competitiveness of the EU’s cybersecurity industry, SMEs in particular, and strengthen our leadership and strategic autonomy in the cybersecurity domain.

Mariana Vieira da Silva, Portuguese Minister of State for the Presidency, Presidency of the Council

The Competence Centre will closely cooperate with the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA).

Next steps

Today’s vote, taken by written procedure, means that the Council has adopted its position at first reading. The legal act now needs to be adopted by the European Parliament at second reading before being published in the EU Official Journal. The regulation will enter into force 20 days after its publication.

Justice, rights and values: Council adopts programmes of up to €1.8 billion for 2021-2027 | EU Council Press

The Council today adopted the two programmes which constitute the EU justice, rights and values fund as part of the EU financial framework for 2021-2027. The programmes will help to further promote, strengthen and protect justice, rights and EU values. They will support the further development of an European area of justice based on the rule of law, mutual recognition and mutual trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit us in many ways, from our health to our economic and social fabric, and the recovery efforts will build the Europe we will live in for decades to come. It is of utmost importance to ensure that in doing this we strengthen our democratic and open societies, we build a future based on our common values and we promote our citizens right to justice by further developing a modern, well-functioning justice area. The funding under these programmes will be key to help us achieve this.

Francisca Van Dunem, Portuguese Minister of Justice

The rights and values programme will have an overall budget of maximum 1.55 billion (a budget of €641.7 million, with an additional allocation of maximum €912 million) and it sets out four specific objectives:

  • to protect and promote EU values
  • to promote equality and rights, including gender equality, anti-discrimination and the rights of children
  • to promote citizens engagement and participation in the democratic life of the EU and to raise awareness of the common European history
  • to fight violence, notably against children and women

The justice programme will have a budget of €305 million and it sets out the following specific objectives:

  • to facilitate and support judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters and to promote the rule of law independence and impartiality of the judiciary
  • to support and promote judicial training, with a view to fostering a common legal, judicial and rule of law culture
  • to facilitate effective and non-discriminatory access to justice for all, including by electronic means, and to support the rights of victims of crime as well as the procedural rights of suspects and accused persons

The Commission and Austria secure COVID-19 vaccines for the Western Balkans | EU Commission Press

The European Commission and Austria are announcing today the conclusion of agreements for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines for the Western Balkans. The 651,000 BioNTech/Pfizer doses are funded by the European Commission and will be shared with the facilitation of Austria. The first delivery to all the partners in the region is due in May, with regular tranches to continue until August.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “It is crucial to speed up the vaccination campaigns everywhere. I am happy to announce that we have secured doses to help vaccinate health care workers and other vulnerable groups in the Western Balkans. The European Union stands by our partners in the region, who have been looking to us for support. I want to thank Austria for facilitating this transfer, showing its firm commitment and solidarity with the Western Balkans.”

Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi, added: “Despite the current global shortage, the EU will deliver life-saving vaccines for the Western Balkans. We have provided support from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: First, with emergency medical equipment like masks, ventilators, intensive care units and ambulance vehicles; second, by strengthening the resilience. Now, we will help ensure the vaccination of all frontline medical workers across the region, as well as some of the other vulnerable groups. We care about the Western Balkans whose future is in the European Union.”

Austrian Foreign Minister, Alexander Schallenberg, stressed: “It is a top priority to make COVID-19 vaccines rapidly and comprehensively available to people across Europe. Against this backdrop, supporting the Western Balkans to obtain vaccines is an act of European solidarity and an investment in the health and security of the whole region. After all, blank spots on the vaccination map, wherever they may be, pose a danger to all of us. No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Austria has facilitated the sharing of these vaccines through legal arrangements with the producer and the Western Balkan partners. The doses are funded from the €70 million package adopted by the Commission in December 2020 to help cover the cost of vaccines, secured under the EU’s advance purchase agreements for the Western Balkan partners. The overall distribution between countries will be based on the epidemiological needs, prioritising in first instance medical workers and other vulnerable groups.

Background

The European Commission is committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world. This is why it immediately responded to the WHO’s call for action and has helped raise almost €16 billion since 4 May 2020 under the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery.

The COVAX Facility is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. So far €2.47 billion have been announced by the EU and the EU Member States for COVAX. COVAX aims to purchase 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, including over 1.3 billion for developing countries.

In addition, the EU Vaccines Strategy also contributes to global solidarity efforts. The EU has invested close to €3 billion to pre-finance the production of vaccines through its Advanced Purchase Agreements with pharmaceutical companies. These agreements offer EU Member states the possibility to resell, donate or transfer options to partner countries.

The Commission proposed to set up an EU sharing vaccines mechanism on the 19 of January, that will pay particular attention to the Western Balkans, the EU’s Neighbourhood and Africa and benefit above all health care workers and vulnerable populations.

The EU has acted very quickly in support of the Western Balkan partners from the start of the crisis, mobilising a very substantial package of €3.3 billion to help address the immediate health crisis and mitigate the socio economic crisis. More recently in October, the Commission put on the table an Economic and Investment Plan of up to €9 billion to spur the long term recovery of the Western Balkans and convergence with the EU.

For more information

Coronavirus Global Response