Review of Austrian presidency and debate on Romanian priorities on Tuesday | EU Parliament Press

On Tuesday morning from 10.30, MEPs will review the Austrian presidency; the Romanian presidency’s priorities will be debated at 15.00.

The Austrian presidency’s results will be presented by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz; the incoming Romanian Council presidency’s priorities will be presented by Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă. A press conference by EP President Antonio Tajani and Prime Minister Dăncilă is scheduled at 17.00.

You can follow both debates live on EP Live and EbS+.

Joint letter of President Tusk and President Juncker to Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom | EU Council Press

Thank you for your letter of 14 January 2019.

As you are well aware, we regret but respect the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. We also consider that Brexit is a source of uncertainty and disruption. In these challenging times, we therefore share with you the determination to create as much certainty and clarity as possible for citizens and companies in a situation where a Member State leaves the European Union after more than four decades of closest economic and political integration. That is why the Withdrawal Agreement that you and the Leaders of the 27 EU Member States agreed after long negotiations is so important. It represents a fair compromise and aims to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, thereby limiting the negative consequences of Brexit. That is also why we wish to establish as close as possible a relationship with the United Kingdom in the future, building on the Political Declaration, which the Leaders of the 27 EU Member States agreed with you. It is also why we want negotiations to this effect to start as soon as possible after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

As you know, we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, but against this background, and in order to facilitate the next steps of the process, we are happy to confirm, on behalf of the two EU Institutions we represent, our understanding of the following points within our respective fields of responsibility.

A. As regards the President of the European Council:

On the 13 December, the European Council (Article 50) decided on a number of additional assurances, in particular as regards its firm commitment to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered.

The European Council also said that, if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would only apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided, and that the European Union, in such a case, would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.

In this context, it can be stated that European Council conclusions have a legal value in the Union commensurate to the authority of the European Council under the Treaties to define directions and priorities for the European Union at the highest level and, in the specific context of withdrawal, to establish, in the form of guidelines, its framework. They may commit the European Union in the most solemn manner. European Council conclusions therefore constitute part of the context in which an international agreement, such as the Withdrawal Agreement, will be interpreted.

As for the link between the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, to which you make reference in your letter, it can be made clear that these two documents, while being of a different nature, are part of the same negotiated package. In order to underline the close relationship between the two texts, they can be published side by side in the Official Journal in a manner reflecting the link between the two as provided for in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

B. As regards the President of the European Commission:

The Political Declaration agreed at the November Special European Council (Article 50) describes a future relationship of unprecedented depth and breadth, reflecting the continuing strength of our shared values and interests. The Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration represent a fair balance of European Union and United Kingdom interests. They will ensure a smooth withdrawal and a strong future relationship in the interests of all our citizens.

As the European Council has already stated, it will embark on preparations for a future partnership with the United Kingdom immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement. As regards the European Commission, we will set up the negotiating structure for these negotiations directly after signature to ensure that formal negotiations can start as soon as possible after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, having in mind the shared ambition of the European Union and the United Kingdom to have the future relationship in place by the end of the transition. Should national ratifications be pending at that moment, the Commission is ready to propose provisional application of relevant parts of the future relationship, in line with the legal frameworks that apply and existing practice. The Commission is also ready to engage with you on a work programme as soon as the United Kingdom Parliament has signalled its agreement in principle to the Withdrawal Agreement and the European Parliament has approved it.

There is an important link between the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, reflecting Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. As stated in Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement and reflected also in Paragraph 138 of the Political Declaration, the European Union and the United Kingdom have committed to use best endeavours, in good faith and in full respect of their respective legal orders, to take necessary steps to negotiate expeditiously the agreements governing their future relationship referred to in the Political Declaration.

In light of your letter, the European Commission would like to make the following clarifications with regard to the backstop:

The Withdrawal Agreement including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland embodies the shared commitment by the European Union and the United Kingdom to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland as part of ensuring the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The Commission can confirm that, just like the United Kingdom, the European Union does not wish to see the backstop enter into force. Were it to do so, it would represent a suboptimal trading arrangement for both sides. The Commission can also confirm the European Union’s determination to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that would ensure the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.

The European Commission can also confirm our shared understanding that the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland:

  • Do not affect or supersede the provisions of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement of 10 April 1998 in any way whatsoever; they do not alter in any way the arrangements under Strand II of the 1998 Agreement in particular, whereby areas of North-South cooperation in areas within their respective competences are matters for the Northern Ireland Executive and Government of Ireland to determine;
  • Do not extend regulatory alignment with European Union law in Northern Ireland beyond what is strictly necessary to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the 1998 Agreement; the Withdrawal Agreement is also clear that any new act that the European Union proposes should be added to the Protocol will require the agreement of the United Kingdom in the Joint Committee;
  • Do not prevent the United Kingdom from facilitating, as part of its delegation, the participation of Northern Ireland Executive representatives in the Joint Committee, the Committee on issues related to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, or the joint consultative working group, in matters pertaining directly to Northern Ireland.

The European Commission also shares your intentions for the future relationship to be in place as quickly as possible. Given our joint commitment to using best endeavours to conclude before the end of 2020 a subsequent agreement, which supersedes the Protocol in whole or in part, the Commission is determined to give priority in our work programme to the discussion of proposals that might replace the backstop with alternative arrangements. In this context, facilitative arrangements and technologies will be considered. Any arrangements which supersede the Protocol are not required to replicate its provisions in any respect, provided that the underlying objectives continue to be met.

Should the parties need more time to negotiate the subsequent agreement, they could decide to extend the transition period, as foreseen in the Withdrawal Agreement. In that case, the Commission is committed to redouble its efforts and expects the same redoubled efforts from your negotiators, with the aim of concluding a subsequent agreement very rapidly. Were the backstop to enter into force in whole or in part, it is intended to apply only temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement. The Commission is committed to providing the necessary political impetus and resources to help achieving the objective of making this period as short as possible. To this end, following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, and until a subsequent agreement is concluded, the Commission will support making best use of the high level conference foreseen in the Political Declaration to meet at least every six months to take stock of progress and agree the appropriate actions to move forward.

Finally, in response to your concern about the timetable, we would like to make it clear that both of us will be prepared to sign the Withdrawal Agreement as soon as the meaningful vote has passed in the United Kingdom Parliament. This will allow preparations for the future partnership with the United Kingdom immediately thereafter to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

The Week Ahead 14 – 20 January 2019 | EU Parliament News

Austrian/Romanian presidency. MEPs will discuss the priorities of the incoming Romanian Council presidency with Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă at 15:00, following a morning debate with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz assessing the Council presidency’s achievements over the past six months. A press conference by EP President Antonio Tajani and Prime Minister Dăncilă is scheduled at 17.00. (Tuesday)

Pedro Sánchez/Future of Europe. MEPs will exchange views about the future of Europe with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday at 10.00. A press conference by EP President Antonio Tajani and Prime Minister Sánchez is scheduled at 12.30. (Wednesday)

Brexit. At 8.30 on Wednesday, Parliament will debate the state of play of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, one day after the UK House of Commons’ meaningful vote on 15 January. (Wednesday)

Euro/20 years. To commemorate the launch of the Euro 20 years ago, Parliament will host a ceremony on Tuesday at 11.30, opened by EP President Antonio Tajani and followed by speeches by Jean-Claude Juncker, Mario Draghi, Mário Centeno, Jean-Claude Trichet and Roberto Gualtieri, Chairman of Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. There will also be an exhibition on the Euro within the premises of the European Parliament. (Tuesday)

Rule of Law/EU funding. MEPs will debate and vote on rules to reduce pre-financing or suspend EU budget payments to member states which interfere with courts or which do not tackle fraud and corruption. Parliament is also set to increase funding for the Rights and Values Programme promoting democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights across the EU. (debates Wednesday, votes Thursday)

InvestEU programme. MEPs are set to approve a new EU programme for investments which otherwise would have been difficult to make. The aim is to trigger almost €700 billion in investments during 2021-2027 to boost jobs and growth. (debate Tuesday, vote Wednesday)

Pesticides. MEPs will debate and vote on plans to boost trust in the EU approval procedure for pesticides, by making it more transparent and accountable. The report from the special committee on pesticides says that the public should be granted access to the studies used in the authorisation procedure, including all the supporting data and information relating to the applications. (debate Monday, vote Wednesday)

President’s Diary. EP President Antonio Tajani will have a bilateral meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Tuesday morning and with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday morning.

Pre-session press briefing. The EP Press Service will hold a press briefing at 16:30 on Monday in the Daphne Caruana Galizia Press conference room, Strasbourg.

European Commission launches public consultation on EU rules guaranteeing equal pay between men and women | EU Commission Press

Today the European Commission is launching a public consultation to gather information on the impact of EU rules on equal pay. The principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ is enshrined in the EU’s Treaties, and EU law prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of sex.

The public consultation will gather input from citizens, public authorities, social partners, civil society and researchers to find ways to better implement and enforce the equal pay principle enshrined in the Gender Equality Directive and the 2014 Pay Transparency Recommendation. Commissioner Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: “Women still earn on average 16.2% less than men in the EU. This is simply unfair. This inequality hasnot changed over the last several years. We need to work together to bring change and make sure this inequality becomes a thing of the past.” The public consultation is one of many actions of the European Commission’s Action Plan to tackle the gender pay gap, launched in November 2017. This action plan follows up on the 2014 Pay Transparency Recommendation, which raised awareness on the gender pay gap and encouraged companies to revise their pay structures. However, the 2017 Implementation Report of this Recommendation showed that in a third of Member States, transparency measures still do not exist. It also concluded that the persisting gender pay gap and this limited follow-up calls for possible further measures at EU level. Today’s public consultation will feed into this assessment. The consultation on EU legislation on equal pay is available online and is open until 5 April. More information on equal pay and the gender pay gap can be found online.

Capital Markets Union: European Supervisory Authorities report on costs and performance of retail investment products | EU Commission Press

Yesterday the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) published the results of their first comprehensive analysis of costs and performance of the main categories of investment products for savers, e.g. mutual funds, insurance, pension and structured products.

Prepared at the request of the Commission, today’s reports contribute to the Capital Markets Union‘s efforts to unlock the capital around Europe and offer investors and savers additional opportunities to put their money to work. To fulfil this objective, savers need to be confident that potential investments offer appropriate return for the level of risk undertaken. Today’s contribution by the ESAs follows up on the CMU Mid-term review published by the Commission in June 2017 and complements other actions that aim to improve the functioning of retail investment markets, such as previous studies on distribution systems of retail investment products across the EU and on options for online tools supporting retail investors. More information is available on the websites of the European Banking Authority, the European Securities and Markets Authority and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority.

Remarks by President Donald Tusk at the opening ceremony of the Romanian Presidency | EU Council Press

I am very proud and happy that in this first half of 2019 I will be managing our common, European matters together with you, as part of your first ever EU presidency. I am sure that you will be performing your own ‘Romanian Rhapsody’ with energy and wisdom during these six months. That your presidency will be as energetic, as Romanian and as European as the music of George Enescu. And I do not say this just because we are at the Athenaeum tonight. But because I know how resilient and creative the Romanian nation is. I feel that you will do your very best in ‘conducting’ the orchestra, creating the right sound and working as a team with the European interest in mind.

You will be the hosts of Europe and I strongly believe that you will take the proverb, a good farmer makes a good farm, seriously. I also believe that you will play by the rules. In a fast-changing world, in which the future will surprise us every day, following the rules and being attached to principles will play a particular role. You will all remember the beautiful poem by Nichita Stănescu:

The future is approaching, I can hear it, I can see it
The thoughts I send its way
return faster than ever.
And sparks keep shooting through my soul
broadcasting its arrival.

To a large degree it will now be up to Romania, how, and if, Europe will overcome the challenges of the future. It depends only on you, whether, for Europe, Romanian politics will be a good example, or a dire warning. What is at stake during the Romanian Presidency, as well as the informal European Council in Sibiu, is nothing less than the way we envisage our European future together. To those in the European Union who might think that playing outside the agreed rules and cutting corners means strength, I say: you are wrong. It means weakness. To those working hard to defend European values, our freedoms and rights, I say: keep fighting. Remember that there will always be challenges and, sometimes, ‘light does not come from light, but from darkness’, as Mircea Eliade once put it. And when ‘all obstacles seem like walls, the issue is to treat them as mirrors or windows’, in the words of Andrei Pleșu.

Romania has the power to fascinate and enchant. The first car in our family was a grey Dacia 1300 of my father-in-law. Interestingly, today my son’s father-in-law also drives a Dacia Duster. To me, however, Romanian cars have been less fascinating than Romanian intellectuals and sports personalities. Mircea Eliade, whom I quoted earlier, Emil Cioran, the Dadaist Tristan Tzara, Eugen Ionescu – they are all heroes of my imagination. And so are the athletes, who have delighted audiences around the globe, such as Nadia Comăneci and Simona Halep. But what has left the greatest imprint on my memory was the 1986 European Cup final in Sevilla, that is the victory of Steaua Bucharest over Barcelona. And I would like to appeal to all Romanians, to defend, at home and in Europe, the foundations of our political civilisation – freedom, integrity, the truth in public life, the rule of law and the constitution – with the same determination as Helmuth Duckadam when he defended penalty shots. Back then I also couldn’t believe it possible to save 4 penalties in a row! But he made it. And also you will make it. I will help you with this as much as I can.

Visit the website

EU, Japan and US met in Washington D.C. to jointly address global trade-distortive practices | EU Commission Press

Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström, met yesterday in Washington with Mr. Hiroshige Seko, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan, and Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative as part of the trilateral talks launched in 2017 to address global issues such as trade-distortive practices.

The representatives of the EU, Japan and the US reiterated their concerns, reviewed ongoing work, and agreed to deepen their cooperation in all areas covered by the Ministerial Statements issued following their previous meetings in New York and Paris, including with respect to non-market policies and practices in other countries, industrial subsidies and state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfers, as well as WTO reform, digital trade and e-commerce. For more detail about the outcome of the discussion, see the joint statement issued following the meeting.

INVITATION | Reform of the World Trade Organization: challenge or deadlock? (January 29)

We are most pleased to invite you to participate in an evening of discussion on the prospect of reforming the World Trade Organization with our distinguished speakers Mr Justin Brown PSM, Australian Ambassador to the European Union, Ms Maria Åsenius, Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Malmström, Mr Stéphane Lambert, Counsellor and Head of Trade, Economic and Science & Technology Policy, Mr David Luff, Professor, College of Europe and Mr Roderick Abbott, Senior Adviser, European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE).

Mr Jaya Ratnam, Ambassador of Singapore to the EU, will hold an introductory speech.

The event will be moderated by James Kanter, Editor, EU Scream, the podcast on Europe and its political extremes, and former EU Correspondent for The New York Times.


About the debate

As stated by EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström:the multilateral trading system has for the past decades provided a stable, predictable and effective framework, helping many economies to grow rapidly”, while the WTO has played a crucial role in ensuring an open, fair and rules-based global trade system. However, in the last decades, both technological and geo-economic transformations have changed not only trade routes, but also the very landscape upon which the WTO rules-based system has been built. This process has resulted in several gaps due either to the fact that some regulations have become out-dated, for example, in the case of market-distorted subsidies, or as a result of a deficit in some increasingly important areas of international trade, such as e-commerce.

As a result of this setting, tensions regarding the current trade system have emerged as a serious threat to global economic growth and have raised several concerns about the fact that these dynamics, if not appropriately managed, could induce a resurgence of protectionist-driven policies across countries. Nevertheless, as Pascal Lamy recently argued, this setting has also emerged as an opportunity to make critical reforms to the WTO, a process which has remained stalled and elusive for too long. Within this context, the European Union has engaged in a constructive dialogue with its trade partners in international fora and put forward a concept paper to pursue the modernisation of the WTO based on three main principles, namely: updating the rule book on international trade, strengthening the monitoring role of the WTO and overcoming the imminent impasse regarding the dispute settlement system.

The Ottawa ministerial meeting at the end of October has emerged as a first sign of the willingness of several countries and trading blocs to foster reliable and predictable rules-based international commerce, whereas the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires at the beginning of last December resulted in a 90-day moratorium on increases in import tariffs to provide a window for negotiations between the US and China. Does reform of the World Trade Organization represent a challenge or deadlock?


This event will be held under the Chatham House Rule. Participants are free to use the information received but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the attendees may be revealed. For this reason, unless explicitly authorised by PubAffairs Bruxelles, the filming and/or the recording of the event by any means are strictly forbidden.


The event will commence with a welcome drink at 7.00 pm, followed by a panel debate at 7.30 pm. After the panel debate there will be an opportunity for questions and discussions.

We look forward to seeing you at 7h00 pm on the 29th of January 2019 at The Office, rue d’Arlon, 80, Brussels.

All our debates are followed by a drink in a convivial atmosphere.

General Affairs Council, 08/01/2019 | EU Council Press

Agenda highlights

The Romanian presidency will present its priorities for the next six months.

The presidency will also inform ministers about its plans regarding work on the multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027.

Both items will be taken in public session.

Ministers will exchange views on disinformation, following the calls from the European Council to develop a coordinated response to this challenge.

The Council will review the state of play on legislative files in view of the end of the legislative cycle.

Over lunch, ministers will exchange views on how to better communicate Europe to citizens.