EU INSTITUTIONS NEWS

Brexit effect: Public opinion survey shows that EU is more appreciated than ever | EU Parliament Press

The latest EU public opinion survey, conducted in September 2018, reveals a clear and growing appreciation for EU membership, reaching a record high of 68%.

The latest Eurobarometer survey, measuring public attitudes to the EU across member states, highlights that more people than ever consider their country’s membership of the European Union to be a good thing (62%). This is the highest figure recorded in the last 25 years. 68% are also of the view that their country has benefitted from EU membership – the highest figure since 1983.

Nearly all results measuring support for the EU showed a significant upturn following the UK referendum in 2016, suggesting growing concern across the continent at the impact that Brexit will have and a growing awareness, due to the difficult negotiations, of the benefits of being a member of the EU. 66% of European respondents would vote for their country to remain a member of the EU (a majority in all member states) and only 17% would contemplate leaving, with 17% undecided.

The latest Eurobarometer figures also show a growing sense of satisfaction amongst Europeans in the democratic functioning of the EU (49%), representing a three point increase since the previous survey in April, whilst 48% feel that their voice counts in the EU, though this latter sentiment appears to be on the decline in a number of countries.

The Parlemeter 2018 survey though is not all good news. Despite significant and growing support for the EU in general, half of respondents are not happy with the direction the EU is heading in, with a similar result regarding their own country. Public opinion also seems quite stable in terms of expectations about the role of the EU in the future, with 48% wanting the EU to play a more important role, as opposed to 27% preferring less.

As regards the image of Parliament across the EU, one third (32%) hold a positive view, one fifth (21%) a negative view and a relative majority (43%) remain neutral.

There is growing awareness of next year’s European elections, with 41% correctly identifying the date in May 2019 – a nine point increase over a similar survey six months ago and seven points more than in June 2013. However, 44% still could not say when the elections will be taking place, compared to 46% in June 2013.

With 51% of citizens declaring to be interested in the elections, citizens’ campaign priorities have evolved over the past six-month period. Immigration now tops the agenda (50%), followed by economy (47%) and youth unemployment (47%), whilst combatting terrorism moves down to fourth place with 44%.

Commenting on the results of the survey, President Tajani said: “As details of the UK’s withdrawal agreement are being finalised, these figures highlight growing appreciation of the benefits of EU membership across the continent. Nevertheless, there is much work to be done. Continued cooperation and solidarity at the EU level is essential in delivering answers to the concerns of ordinary European citizens.”

Guy Verhofstadt, Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, added: “The fact that 51% of UK citizens surveyed want to stay in the EU is a stark reminder of the deep divisions wrought by the Brexit decision and the need for us to find a sustainable and close long-term future relationship in the form of a broad and deep association agreement. While we must prepare for all eventualities, it appears there is little appetite in the UK or elsewhere in the EU for a so-called hard Brexit, or a costly, no-deal scenario and I hope that the outcome of the negotiations will ultimately reflect this.”

Background to the survey

The fieldwork of this survey was carried out between 8 and 26 September 2018 among 27 474 Europeans aged 16 or more, interviewed face-to-face by Kantar Public in all 28 Member States.

COLLEGE MEETING: Commission presents EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements for signature and conclusion | EU Commission Press

The European Commission today adopted the EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements, paving the way for their signature and conclusion. Through this adoption, the Commission is demonstrating its commitment to putting these agreements in place as soon as possible.

The trade agreement will eliminate virtually all tariffs on goods traded between the two sides. The agreement also includes a strong, legally binding commitment to sustainable development, including the respect of human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and the fight against climate change, with an explicit reference to the Paris Agreement. President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The trade and investment agreements with Vietnam are exemplary of Europe’s trade policy. They bring unprecedented advantages and benefits for European and Vietnamese companies, workers and consumers. They take fully into account the economic differences between the two sides. They promote a rules- and values-based trade policy with strong and clear commitments on sustainable development and human rights. By adopting them a few hours before welcoming the participants in the ASEM-EU Summit in Brussels, the Commission shows its commitment to open trade and engagement with Asia. I now expect the European Parliament and EU Member States to do the necessary for the agreement to enter into force as soon as possible“. Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “The Commission has now delivered two valuable and progressive agreements with Vietnam that I am convinced the European Parliament and EU Member States can support. Vietnam has massive potential for EU exporters and investors to do business, both now and in the future. (…)Through our agreements, we also help spread European high standards and create possibilities for in-depth discussions on human rights and the protection of citizens. (…)” A press release, a memo and specific sectoral factsheets are online with more information. The press conference of Commissioner Malmström on the EU-Vietnam trade and investments agreements can be watched on EbS here.

Brexit: General Affairs Council (Art. 50), 16/10/2018 | EU Council Press

Main results

The Council, meeting in an EU27 format, was informed by the Commission’s Brexit chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, about the most recent talks with the UK, including his meeting with UK Secretary of State Dominic Raab. During the meeting, Michel Barnier explained that despite intense negotiating efforts, some key issues remain open, in particular the backstop to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Ministers discussed the state of  negotiations and the way ahead in preparation for the summit of EU27 heads of state and government which will take place the following day. During the meeting, ministers reiterated their willingness to continue working towards a deal and reconfirmed their trust in the negotiator. However they also underlined the need to be prepared for all eventualities.

We are now entering a very crucial phase of intensive negotiations concerning Brexit. The main focus and concern, as Presidency, is to keep the unity of the EU27. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has our continued support.

Gernot Blümel, Austrian Federal Minister for the EU, Art, Culture and Media

Background

All the withdrawal issues need to be covered in the withdrawal agreement, which should be agreed in good time to be ratified before the withdrawal date of 29 March 2019.

An agreement on a future relationship can only be negotiated and concluded once the UK has become a third country. However, an overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship will be set out in a political declaration accompanying and referred to in the withdrawal agreement.

Vice-President Ansip in Tallinn for the Digital Summit | EU Commission Press

Tomorrow, Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market will be in Tallinn, Estonia for the Digital Summit 2018, gathering heads of government, ministers, tech community leaders and influential thinkers to discuss implications of digitisation on governments, economies and societies.

At last year’s Summit President Jean-Claude Juncker used the occasion to urge Member States to complete the Digital Single Market. In October 2017, Member States had only adopted 6 legislative proposals out of 24 the Commission had put forward a year ago. Ahead of this year’s Summit, Vice-President Ansip stressed “When it comes to completing the Digital Single Market, the good news is that we are not starting from scratch. We have achieved quite a lot. More than two-thirds of our proposals have now been agreed. But in the digital era, where digitisation drives innovation, there is no time for complacency. We need to do more than pledge our commitments, but act and agree on the remaining proposals, such as e-privacy, cybersecurity and copyright, if we want to stay competitive and create sustained growth and jobs in Europe.” This year’s summit will focus on how artificial intelligence (AI) and free-moving data can be wielded in the service of digital states, economies and societies. The Commission presented its European approach on AI in April 2018, and is now working with Member States on a coordinated plan to be presented by the end of the year. Member States are encouraged to develop their national strategy, to open data and to increase investment in order to make the most of this strategic technology. An overview of the Digital Single Market is available here.

TRADE: The Commission welcomes Council green light for EU-Singapore Trade and Investment Agreements | EU Commission Press

Today, EU Member States in the Council authorised the signature and conclusion of the trade and investment agreements between the EU and Singapore.

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “I am very pleased that Member States have given their formal backing to these agreements. Opening new opportunities for European producers, farmers, service providers and investors is a key priority for this Commission. Singapore is an important gateway to the whole Asia-Pacific area, and it is vital that our companies can have a foothold there. These agreements also promote sustainable development, as they include ambitious commitments on the protection of the environment and labour rights and uphold the right to regulate. They are yet another example of the EU’s determination to work with like-minded countries to uphold rules-based international trade.” Today’s decision follows the proposal made in April of this year by the European Commission. EU and Singapore leaders will sign the agreements on 19 October in Brussels, on the margins of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). After signature, the European Parliament will vote on the agreements. Once approved by the European Parliament, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement is expected to enter into force in 2019, before the end of the current mandate of the European Commission. The EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement will only enter into force following its ratification at EU Member States’ level. For more information, see adedicated website.

The Week Ahead 15 – 21 October 2018 | EU Parliament News

Workers’ rights/Gig economy. EU rules to protect precarious workers, including on-demand, voucher-based and platform workers, will be voted on by the Employment Committee. Proposals include more information on contractual terms, making work schedules more predictable, length of probationary periods and cost-free training. It aims at addressing recent digital developments that led to the so-called Gig economy and the rise of platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo. (Thursday)

Climate change/CO2 emissions from trucks. New binding reduction targets for CO2 emissions produced by heavy-duty vehicles will be up for a vote by the Environment and Public Health Committee. CO2 emissions from trucks represent 6% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions (2015). Without EU action, this share is expected to increase. (Thursday)

Borders control/Migration. The Civil Liberties Committee will vote on two legislative proposals that aim to make information exchange and data sharing between the various EU information systems more effective and efficient, to boost protection of the EU’s external borders, improve migration management and enhance internal security, while fully upholding fundamental rights. (Monday)

Development policy/Bill Gates. The Development Committee and the European Think Tanks Group (bringing together five think tanks) are organising a public debate on the future of development and innovation in Europe. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates will join one of the panels. (Wednesday)

Plenary preparations. Political groups will prepare for the 22-25 October plenary session in Strasbourg, where they will vote on an EU ban on polluting throwaway plastics, quality of drinking water, recommendations following the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica case, road charging for heavy goods vehicles and the 2019 EU budget. MEPs will also discuss the conclusions of the 17 and 18 October European Council and continue the debate on the future of Europe with Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis.

President’s diary. EP President Antonio Tajani will meet Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, on Wednesday. On Thursday, President Tajani will meet Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates and participate in the European Council, followed by a press conference.

Youth Media Days. 120 young journalists, aged between 18 and 30, will gather for the Youth Media Days. They will participate in several media workshops and discuss with politicians, professional journalists and experts on how to inform young voters about the European elections. (Tuesday to Thursday)

EU adopts tougher rules on money laundering | EU Council Press

The Council today adopted a new anti money laundering directive. This directive introduces new criminal law provisions which will disrupt and block access by criminals to financial resources, including those used for terrorist activities.

The new rules include:

  • establishing minimum rules on the definition of criminal offences and sanctions relating to money laundering. Money laundering activities will be punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 4 years, and judges may impose additional sanctions and measures (e.g. temporary or permanent exclusion from access to public funding, fines, etc.). Aggravating circumstances will apply to cases linked to criminal organisations or for offences conducted in the exercise of certain professional activities.
  • the possibility of holding legal entities liable for certain money laundering activities which can face a range of sanctions (e.g. exclusion from public aid, placement under judicial supervision, judicial winding-up, etc.)
  • removing obstacles to cross-border judicial and police cooperationby setting common provisions to improve investigations. For cross-border cases, the new rules clarify  which member state has jurisdiction, and how those member states involved cooperate, as well as how to involve Eurojust. 

Next steps

Once the directive is published in the EU official journal, member states have up to 24 months to transpose it into national law.

Background

This directive complements, on the criminal law aspects, the directive on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing which was formally adopted in May 2018.

Directive on countering money laundering by criminal law (PE-CONS 30/18)

Directive on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing (press release, 14/05/2018)

Speech by Michel Barnier at the closing session of Eurochambre’s European Parliament of Enterprises 2018 | European Commission – Speech [Check Against Delivery]

Ladies and gentlemen,

On 29 March 2019, in less than 6 months, the UK will leave the European Union.

We have always respected the UK’s sovereign decision to leave the European Union, even if we profoundly regret this vote We respect its decision to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.

And we are doing our best to reach a deal on the UK’s orderly withdrawal.

Since the beginning of this negotiation, we have made good progress.

In fact, as you can see in this copy of the draft Treaty, a lot of the Withdrawal Agreement – 80%-85% – has now been agreed with the UK.

However, some difficult issues have been left until the end.

We must agree on the governance of the Withdrawal Agreement and on geographical indications that are currently protected in the 28 EU Member States.

Above all, we need to agree on how to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland for political, human, and economic reasons.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

The UK wants to and will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.

This means that there must be checks on goods travelling between the EU and the UK – checks that do not exist today:

  •        customs and VAT checks;
  •        and compliance checks with our standards to protect our consumers, our economic traders and your businesses.

We have agreed with the UK that these checks cannot be performed at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

A crucial question is, therefore, where they will take place.

The EU is committed to respecting the territorial integrity and constitutional order of the UK, just like the UK has committed to respecting the integrity of our Single Market, including Ireland, obviously.

Therefore, the EU proposes to carry out these checks in the least intrusive way possible.

For customs and VAT checks, we propose using the existing customs transit procedures to avoid doing checks at a physical border point. To be more specific:

o   Companies in the rest of the UK would fill in their customs declarations online and in advance when shipping goods to Northern Ireland.

o   The only visible systematic checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would involve scanning the bar codes of the lorries or containers, which could be done on ferries or in transit ports.

o   These arrangements already exist within EU Member States, in particular those with islands, for example between mainland Spain and the Canary Islands.

For regulatory checks, on industrial goods for instance, these could be carried out by market surveillance authorities.

Again, this would not need to happen at a border but directly in the market or at the premises of companies in Northern Ireland.

This leaves the health and phytosanitary checks for live animals and products of animal origin. EU rules are clear: such checks must happen at the border because of food safety and animal health reasons. And obviously, in the future the island of Ireland will and must remain a single epidemiologic area.

o   Such checks already exist in the ports of Larne and Belfast.

o   However they would have to cover 100 % rather than 10 % of live animals and animal-derived products, which would involve a significant change in terms of scale.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Both the EU and the UK exclude having a physical border on the island of Ireland. Therefore what will arrive into Northern Ireland will also be arriving into the Single Market.

There will be administrative procedures that do not exist today for goods travelling to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Our challenge is to make sure those procedures are as easy as possible and not too burdensome, in particular for smaller businesses.

I understand why such procedures are politically sensitive, but let me make three remarks.

First, Brexit was not our choice. It is the choice of the UK. Our proposal tries to help the UK in managing the negative fall-out of Brexit in Northern Ireland, in a way that respects the territorial integrity of the UK.

Second, our proposal limits itself to what is absolutely necessary to avoid a hard border: customs procedures and the respect of EU standards for products.

It does not include measures on free movement of people, services, healthcare or social and environmental policy.  But the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland will continue as today.

And yet, our proposal gives Northern Ireland benefits that no part of a third country enjoys. In particular continued access to the Single Market for goods and continued benefits from the EU free trade agreements.

Our proposal also includes the continuation of the island’s Single Electricity Market, as requested by the UK.

Over the past week, we have met the leaders of all Northern Irish political parties – many of whom I have met before, and many of whom I will meet again. My door is always open. And my team met on Monday a group of Northern Irish business leaders and a group representing local government.

Naturally, there were questions, doubts and worries about our proposal – and Brexit in general.

But most conversations focused on the added value for Northern Ireland so long as we can mitigate the burden of doing checks.

Third, our proposal is just a safety net, a “backstop”.

It is needed because the details of the future relationship will only be negotiated after the UK’s withdrawal.

But the future relation in itself might mitigate the necessary checks, or even make some unnecessary:

o   For instance, a veterinary agreement would mean less frequent inspections of live animals.

o   And we are still open to the idea of having a customs union with the UK. Such a customs union would eliminate an important part of custom checks.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Apart from the issue of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the Withdrawal Agreement will include other important issues, on which we already agreed with the UK.

These issues are important for your businesses, your employees and your regions.

In particular, we already agreed that:

European citizens who arrived in the UK before the end of 2020 and British citizens who moved to other EU countries before that date can continue to live their lives as before. We remain in close contact with the organisations representing the citizens concerned, most notably to discuss the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

All financial commitments undertaken by the 28 EU Member States will be honoured by the 28, for instance on the European Social Fund and the regional policy. All current programmes will continue, with the UKs participation.

The UK will retain all the rights and obligations of a Member State for a transition period, until the end of 2020, at its request.

This will leave time for businesses to prepare.

And this will leave time to finalise the future relationship.

To be clear, all these points will enter into force on the condition that we agree on the whole Withdrawal Agreement, which must then be ratified, I hope in the beginning of next year by the UK and by the European Parliament.

General Affairs Council (Art. 50), 16/10/2018 | EU Council Press

Agenda highlights

The Council, meeting in an EU27 format, will be updated by the Commission’s Brexit chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, about the state of play of Brexit negotiations with the UK, regarding both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on future relations. Ministers will on this basis prepare the European Council (Article 50) of 17 October 2018.

Withdrawal issues

All the withdrawal issues need to be covered in the withdrawal agreement, which should be agreed in good time to be ratified before the withdrawal date of 29 March 2019. Some parts of the text have already been agreed in principle by the UK and the EU negotiators, although nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

There are still parts of the withdrawal agreement that require further negotiation. One of them is the issue of avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Future relationship

An agreement on a future relationship can only be negotiated and concluded once the UK has become a third country. However, an overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship will be set out in a political declaration accompanying and referred to in the withdrawal agreement.

MEPs back update of rail passenger rights across EU | EU Parliament Press

  • Higher compensation in the event of delays 
  • Better information to passengers and assistance for people with reduced mobility 
  • Only 5 member states fully apply the EU rail passenger rights rules 

Transport MEPs backed strengthened rail passengers’ rights, such as higher compensation rates for delays and better assistance to persons with reduced mobility.

EU rail passenger rights rules have been in force since 2009. Today’s vote is an important step towards improving and updating those rights.

Higher compensation rates after long delays

MEPs backed an increase in compensation, meaning that passengers can request equivalent to 50 percent of the ticket price for delays of between 60 and 90 minutes, in addition to passengers’ rights for continuation of the journey or rerouting. Passengers would be entitled to 75 percent of the ticket price for a delay of 91 minutes to 120 minutes and 100 percent of the ticket price for delays of more than 121 minutes.

Current rules stipulate that passengers may request compensation equivalent to 25 percent of the ticket price for delays of 60 to 119 minutes and 50 percent for a delay of 120 minutes or more.

Better information and assistance

According to proposed changes, more information on passenger rights will be available at stations and in trains. The information will also be printed on the ticket to make passengers aware of their rights and allow them to claim their rights before, during and after the trip.

MEPs also clarified rules to ensure assistance free of charge to persons with reduced mobility and persons with disabilities at stations.

They also clarified that rail operators and station managers are responsible for fully compensating passengers in a timely manner if they have caused loss of or damage to mobility equipment, or lost or injured animals trained to assist disabled people.

To help in take-up of cycling, new and refurbished trains must in the future have a well-indicated space to transport assembled bicycles, MEPs say.

They also backed clearer deadlines and procedures for complaints handling.

Ensuring uniform application of EU rail passenger rights rules

To ensure that EU rail passenger rights rules are applied earlier and in all countries, Transport Committee MEPs also backed the proposed earlier phase-out of temporary exemptions used by a number of member states in applying certain parts of the 2009 passenger rights rules for domestic rail services. So far, only 5 member states (Belgium, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Slovenia) fully apply the EU rail passenger rights rules.

Exemptions for domestic rail services may last no longer than 1 year after the entry into force of the amended rules, MEPs say.

Next steps

The draft rules will now need to be voted on by the full house of the European Parliament.