Rule of Law: European Commission takes next step in infringement procedure to protect the independence of the Polish Supreme Court | EU Commission Press

Today, the European Commission decided to send a Reasoned Opinion to Poland regarding the Polish law on the Supreme Court. The new law lowers the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65, which puts 27 out of 72 sitting Supreme Court judges at risk of being forced to retire, including the First President of the Court.

The Commission maintains that the Polish law is incompatible with EU law as it undermines the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges, and thereby Poland fails to fulfil its obligations under Article 19(1) of the Treaty on European Union read in connection with Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Commission has carried out a thorough analysis of the response of the Polish authorities to the Letter of Formal Notice sent by the Commission on 2 July 2018. The response of the Polish authorities does not alleviate the Commission’s legal concerns. The Commission has therefore moved to the next stage of the infringement procedure. The Polish authorities now have one month to take the necessary measures to comply with this Reasoned Opinion. If the Polish authorities do not take appropriate measures, the Commission may decide to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU. More information is available in a press release in all official languages, here.

Updated Blocking Statute in support of Iran nuclear deal entered into force | EU Commission Press

As the first batch of re-imposed US sanctions on Iran took effect, the EU’s updated Blocking Statute entered into force early today to mitigate their impact on the interests of EU companies doing legitimate business in Iran.

The updated Blocking Statute is part of the European Union’s support for the continued full and effective implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the Iran nuclear deal, including by sustaining trade and economic relations between the EU and Iran, which were normalised when nuclear-related sanctions were lifted as a result of the JCPOA. A press release and a MEMO Q&A are available online, as well as the joint statement by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and the Foreign Ministers of the E3 (Jean-Yves Le Drian of France, Heiko Maas of Germany, Jeremy Hunt of the United Kingdom) on the re-imposition of US sanctions due to its withdrawal from the JCPOA. You can find all relevant information on the updated Blocking Statute on a dedicated website here, and the Updated annex of the Blocking Statute, the Guidance note and the Implementing Regulation on the criteria are available online.

[Op.Ed.] An ambitious partnership with the UK after Brexit, by Michel Barnier | EU Commission Press

Op-ed by Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator for the negotiations with the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. While we regretted the UK’s departure, we respect its sovereign decision. Our task is now to organise the disentanglement of the UK from the EU’s institutions and policies. And we also need to look towards the future.

After Brexit, the EU will remain a global player, with 440 million citizens, and one of the biggest world economies. The UK has been an EU member for 45 years. We share common values and have a number of common interests. The UK, which is a member of the G7 and the UN Security Council, can be an important partner of the EU, economically and strategically. In the current geopolitical context, we have an interest not only to strengthen the EU’s role in the world but to cooperate with the UK as a close partner.

How can we achieve a new partnership?

First, we need to make sure that the UK’s exit is orderly.  80% of the Withdrawal Agreement is agreed. We will protect the rights of more than 4 million EU citizens living in the UK and British nationals in the EU. This was our first priority and a major point of vigilance for the European Parliament. The UK has also agreed to honour all its financial obligations undertaken as an EU member. A 21 month transition period will give businesses and administrations time to adapt, as the UK would stay in our Single Market and Customs Union until 31 December 2020.

However, 80% is not 100%. We still need to agree on important points, such as the protection of “geographical indications”. This refers to the protection of local farm and food products like Scottish Whisky or Parmesan cheese, where EU protection has generated significant value for European farmers and producers. We need to find solutions for specific British territories, such as the UK’s sovereign bases in Cyprus, and Gibraltar on which bilateral negotiations are ongoing between Spain and the UK.

The biggest risk caused by Brexit is on the island of Ireland. We need to make sure that Brexit does not create a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and that the Good Friday Agreement, which has brought peace and stability to Northern Ireland, will be protected. Today, the cooperation and exchanges between Ireland and Northern Ireland occur within the common framework of the EU. Since we will not know what the future relationship will bring by Autumn 2018, we need to have a “backstop” solution in the Withdrawal Agreement. The UK agrees with this, and both the EU and the UK have said that a better solution in the future relationship could replace the backstop. What the EU has proposed is that Northern Ireland remains in a common regulatory area for goods and customs with the rest of the EU. We are ready to improve the text of our proposal with the UK.

Secondly, we need to agree on the terms of our future relationship.

Let’s be frank: as the UK has decided to leave the Single Market, it can no longer be as close economically to the rest of the EU. The UK wants to leave our common regulatory area, where people, goods, services and capital move freely across national borders. These are the economic foundations on which the EU was built. And the European Council – the 27 Heads of State or government – as well as the European Parliament have often recalled that these economic foundations cannot be weakened.

The UK knows well the benefits of the Single Market. It has contributed to shaping our rules over the last 45 years.  And yet, some UK proposals would undermine our Single Market which is one of the EU’s biggest achievements. The UK wants to keep free movement of goods between us, but not of people and services. And it proposes to apply EU customs rules without being part of the EU’s legal order. Thus, the UK wants to take back sovereignty and control of its own laws, which we respect, but it cannot ask the EU to lose control of its borders and laws.

But I remain confident that the negotiations can reach a good outcome. It is possible to respect EU principles and create a new and ambitious partnership. That is what the European Council has already proposed in March. The EU has offered a Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions for goods. It proposed close customs and regulatory cooperation and access to public procurement markets, to name but a few examples.

On security, the EU wants very close cooperation to protect our citizens and democratic societies. We should organise effective exchanges of intelligence and information and make sure our law enforcement bodies work together. We should cooperate to fight crime, money laundering and terrorist financing. We can cooperate on the exchange of DNA, fingerprints, or Passenger Name Records in aviation to better track and identify terrorists and criminals. We are also ready to discuss mechanisms for swift and effective extradition, guaranteeing procedural rights for suspects.

If the UK understands this, and if we quickly find solutions to the outstanding withdrawal issues, including the backstop for Ireland and Northern Ireland, I am sure we can build a future partnership between the EU and the United Kingdom that is unprecedented in scope and depth.

Commission offers further support to European farmers dealing with droughts | EU Commission Press

The European Commission is standing by Europe’s farmers this summer, as they grapple with the difficulties of extreme droughts. Farmers will be able to receive their direct and rural development payments in advance and will be granted more flexibility to use land that would normally not be used for production, in order to feed their animals.

Commissioner for agriculture, Phil Hogan, said: “I am very concerned about these prolonged climatic developments. I have been in contact with a number of ministers from affected countries to discuss the situation and get up-to-date assessments of its impact. The Commission, as always, is ready to support farmers affected by drought using a number of instruments, including higher advance payments, derogations from greening requirements and state aid. The Common Agricultural Policy already provides a safety net for farmers who have to deal with unpredictable events. I am encouraging all Member States to look into all possible actions and measures provided for in our legislation.” The ongoing and prolonged drought situation in several EU countries is having a significant impact on the production of arable crops, as well as animal feed which could also have an impact on animal welfare. In addition, the reduction in the level of animal feed is having a particular impact on the income of livestock farmers, as this will increase their input costs if there is a shortage of fodder later in the year. In addition to higher advance payments and derogations from specific greening requirements, existing support under the CAP can be used, including state aid, de minimis, rural development investments and risk management instruments. The Commission is in contact with all Member States to receive by 31 August updated information of the impact of the spring and summer drought on their farmers. A press release is online with further information.

Follow-up to the EU-U.S. Joint Statement of 25 July: Imports of U.S. soybeans increase by over 280% | EU Commission Press

Today the European Commission has published the latest figures on EU imports of soybeans, showing an increase of 283% in imports of soybeans from the U.S., bringing the EU’s total share of imports of U.S. soybeans to 37%, up from 9% one year ago.

President Juncker has now put in place a bi-monthly reporting mechanism on the evolution of trade in soybeans from the U.S. to the EU. This is the first concrete follow-up to the EU-U.S. Joint Statement agreed in Washington between Commission President Juncker and U.S. President Trump. “The European Union can import more soybeans from the U.S. and this is happening as we speak,” President Juncker said today. “This is a win-win situation for European and American citizens.” EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, said: “The European Union and the United States have been longstanding partners and there is room to further strengthen our trade relationship. We expressed our willingness to import more soybeans from the United States and this is already happening. European and American farmers have much to gain by working together.” The EU needs soya in Europe as a source of protein to feed our animals, including chicken, pigs and cattle, as well as for milk production. The EU currently imports about 30 million tonnes per year because it cannot produce sufficient quantities. U.S. prices for both soybeans and soymeal are currently the most competitive on the market and therefore a very attractive feed option for European importers and users. A press release is online with more information.

Europe that protects: Commission reports on its efforts to tackle unfair trade | EU Commission Press

The Commission published today its annual report on trade defence activities. As part of Commission’s commitment to “Europe that protects”, the report details how the EU used its anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures in 2017 to ensure a level-playing field for European companies, in line with the requirements of the World Trade Organisation.

The number of new investigations remained at a high level, similar to 2016, while the number of investigations initiated to see whether the existing measures should be extended for a new period (known as ‘expiry reviews’) increased by 75% compared to the year before. European industry, suffering from dumped imports, in some cases exacerbated by persisting industrial overcapacities, as well as the pervasive use of subsidies in certain countries, continued to call on the Commission to provide relief by making use of the EU’s trade defence instruments. In total, at the end of 2017, the Commission had 46 investigations ongoing. While shielding its companies from foreign unfair trade practices, the EU remains an open market. The anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures do not concern more than 0.31% of total imports into the EU. 2017 stood out also in terms of legislative activity. It led to the introduction of a new anti-dumping methodology for countries where serious market distortions occur. This new regulation in place since December 2017 was followed by the publication of a report on significant market distortions existing in China. Last but not least, 2017 paved the way for the modernisation of EU trade defence instruments, in place since June 2018. Taken together, these changes constitute a major overhaul of the EU’s trade defence policy that equipped the EU with sufficiently robust trade defence instruments to deal with distortions in the global economy. The full report is available online.

Trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand: Commission releases first negotiating proposals | EU Commission Press

As part of its ongoing transparency efforts, the Commission has today published reports from the first rounds of trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, as well as a set of EU text proposals covering 12 negotiating areas presented so far in the talks with Australia and 11 areas presented so far to New Zealand.

Officials from the EU and Australia met in Brussels from 2 to 6 July 2018 for the first round of trade negotiations. Discussions were held in a very good and constructive atmosphere and demonstrated a shared commitment to negotiate an ambitious and comprehensive agreement. 17 working groups met covering almost all areas of the future trade agreement. The next round of talks is scheduled for November in Australia. The first round of negotiations for a trade agreement between the EU and New Zealand was held from 16 to 20 July 2018, also in Brussels. The discussions confirmed a high degree of coherence in both sides’ views in most of the negotiating areas. The next round will be held in New Zealand in autumn. For more information see the webpages on EU-Australia and EU-New-Zealand talks.

Joint U.S.-EU Statement following President Juncker’s visit to the White House | EU Commission Press

We met today in Washington, D.C. to launch a new phase in the relationship between the United States and the European Union – a phase of close friendship, of strong trade relations in which both of us will win, of working better together for global security and prosperity, and of fighting jointly against terrorism.

The United States and the European Union together count more than 830 million citizens and more than 50 percent of global GDP. If we team up, we can make our planet a better, more secure, and more prosperous place.

Already today, the United States and the European Union have a $1 trillion bilateral trade relationship – the largest economic relationship in the world. We want to further strengthen this trade relationship to the benefit of all American and European citizens.

This is why we agreed today, first of all, to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods. We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans.

This will open markets for farmers and workers, increase investment, and lead to greater prosperity in both the United States and the European Union. It will also make trade fairer and more reciprocal.

Secondly, we agreed today to strengthen our strategic cooperation with respect to energy. The European Union wants to import more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States to diversify its energy supply.

Thirdly, we agreed today to launch a close dialogue on standards in order to ease trade, reduce bureaucratic obstacles, and slash costs.

Fourthly, we agreed today to join forces to protect American and European companies better from unfair global trade practices. We will therefore work closely together with like-minded partners to reform the WTO and to address unfair trading practices, including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, distortions created by state owned enterprises, and overcapacity.

We decided to set up immediately an Executive Working Group of our closest advisors to carry this joint agenda forward. In addition, it will identify short-term measures to facilitate commercial exchanges and assess existing tariff measures. While we are working on this, we will not go against the spirit of this agreement, unless either party terminates the negotiations.

We also want to resolve the steel and aluminum tariff issues and retaliatory tariffs.

Download the PDF here

President Juncker visits Washington, DC, to meet President Trump, discuss transatlantic relations | EU Commission Press

President Juncker is heading to Washington, DC, where he will be received tomorrow at 13:30 EST (19:30 CET) in the White House by President Donald Trump.

Both Presidents will have an open dialogue on issues of interest for EU-US relations, notably trade. Commissioner Malmström will accompany President Juncker. Later in the day, President Juncker will deliver a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) entitled “Transatlantic relations at a crossroads”. The speech is scheduled for 16:00 EST (22:00 CET). It will be broadcast live on EbS.

Brexit: European Commission publishes Communication on preparing for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has today adopted a Communication outlining the ongoing work on the preparation for all outcomes of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

On 30 March 2019, the United Kingdom will leave the EU and become a third country. This will have repercussions for citizens, businesses and administrations in both the United Kingdom and the EU. These repercussions range from new controls at the EU’s outer border with the UK, to the validity of UK-issued licences, certificates and authorisations and to different rules for data transfers. Today’s text calls on Member States and private parties to step up preparations and follows a request by the European Council (Article 50) last month to intensify preparedness at all levels and for all outcomes. Preparing for the UK’s withdrawal is not only the responsibility of the EU institutions. It is a joint effort at EU, national and regional levels, and also includes in particular economic operators and other private parties – everyone must now step up preparations for all scenarios and take responsibility for their specific situation. A full press release is available online.