1. Digital Single Market Policy
Almost two years after the European Commission presented its proposal on a telecoms single market (Connected Continent), on 30 June, the three EU institutions finalized negotiations on two important issues: roaming charges and net neutrality. All other elements of the package will be discussed as part of the new Digital Single Market framework. The agreed rules are described in the Commission’s press release as bringing an end to roaming charges in 2017 and mandating net neutrality (i.e., disallowing discrimination between types of Internet traffic). Roaming surcharges for telephone calls, messages and data usage will be capped as of 30 April 2016 and completely abolished on 15 June 2017. There are safeguards to ensure that telecoms providers recover their costs, and roaming providers can apply a ‘fair use policy’ to prevent abusive practices. The net neutrality obligation requires operators to treat all Internet traffic equally, with a limited number of exceptions. Preferential agreements for services requiring a specific level of quality will be permitted. The measures implementing these terms are expected to be adopted this autumn.
On 24 June, ten days after the Council agreed on a general approach, the first three-way (“trilogue”) meeting on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took place between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The aim is to reach an agreement by the end of the year. In this first meeting, the institutions discussed a timetable for the negotiations. At the press conference, two of the leading Members of the European Parliament on this matter, Jan-Philipp Albrecht (Greens) and Claude Moraes (S&D), presented the two key principles for the negotiations: (i) the new legislation should offer a higher standard of protection than the existing Directive of 1995; and (ii) the GDPR and the Law Enforcement Data Protection Directive constitute a package—they must be negotiated and adopted together. The next meeting is scheduled for 14 July and may focus on the territorial scope of the legislation and the international transfers of data. Please refer to our blog, Inside Privacy, for a more detailed analysis.
2. Energy & Climate Change Policy
On 28 May, the European Commission launched a new public consultation on resource efficiency and the ‘circular economy’ in Europe. The feedback gathered during the consultation will be used to prepare a new action plan on a circular economy and a revised legislative proposal on waste. The new proposals, both expected later in 2015, intend to improve the implementation of waste policy in Europe and to better frame waste management within the product value chain. They may also help to identify existing regulatory obstacles to a circular economy and increased recovery and recycling. The new proposals are eagerly awaited by industry and stakeholders since the Commission withdrew the previous circular economy package at the start of 2015 in the context of its first attempts at “better regulation.” The public consultation will run until 20 August 2015.
On 18 June, Pope Francis released his first Encyclical, “Laudato Si,” dedicated to the relationship between humanity and the environment. The Encyclical highlights humanity’s moral responsibility in countering climate change as well as the relation between environmental degradation and inequality. The Encyclical may have a significant impact on conservative and Christian democratic parties in Europe, who will have to take important policy decisions on the EU’s emissions trading, renewable energies and circular economy regimes during the next years. Beyond Europe, the timing of the Encyclical is also well chosen just a few months before COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, in Paris where delegations from around the world will negotiate a new global agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gases in December.
3. Internal Market & Financial Services Policies
In June, the European Parliament and the Council both approved the regulation establishing one of Junker’s priorities: the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI). The fund is intended to boost the European economy and will primarily focus on projects in the telecoms, energy and transport infrastructure sectors. In July, the executive director and the members of the steering and investment committee are likely to be nominated. The European Investment Bank Group, which will house and staff the EFSI, has already approved ten projects for pre-financing, including investments in healthcare research in Spain and the expansion of a key airport in Croatia.
On 17 June, the European Commission presented its action plan for a fair and efficient corporate tax system in Europe. Among other measures, it includes the proposal for the introduction of a common consolidated corporate tax base in the EU. A similar proposal from 2011 was blocked in the Council following a disagreement among member states. The new proposal is expected for 2016.
On 23 June, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, outlined her vision for a new industrial policy to the European Parliament. The priorities are: (i) the integration of business into a global value chain, (ii) the adoption of smart and clean technologies, as well as (iii) ensuring a business-friendly environment in Europe. The Commission is expected to present a broader and more detailed single market strategy in autumn.
During the European Council on 25-26 June, British Prime Minister David Cameron launched the negotiations on the UK’s EU membership with a brief argument in favor of a new deal between the EU and the UK over dinner. The European Council agreed to come back to the issue in December.
On 30 June, Greece became the first developed country to default on an IMF loan repayment following a week of protracted and unsuccessful negotiations with its creditors. On Sunday, 5 July, the Greek electorate will decide in a referendum on whether to accept the 25 June proposal of the Eurogroup countries and the IMF or refuse it, as is advocated by the current Greek government.
4. Life Sciences & Healthcare Policies
After several rounds of unsuccessful negotiations, the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee approved the compromise text on novel foods on 25 June. The agreement defines novel foods as any food that has not been used for human consumption to a significant degree within the EU before 15 May 1997. The new regulation includes a centralized procedure for the approval of new foodstuffs. It also intends to promote innovation by granting exclusivity for scientific data used to support novel foods applications for a five year period. The text must now be approved by the European Parliament in plenary session in September or October and by the entire Council later in autumn. The new rules will apply two years later.
On 19 June, the Council of Ministers agreed on a general approach for the new legislation on medical devices and in vitro medical devices (such as pregnancy tests). The proposal from the Commission in 2012 had been triggered by a scandal in France over defective breast implants. The new legislation will address some of the shortcomings in the current legislation including pre-market conformity, post-market oversight and traceability. Now that the Council has found a common position, the negotiations with the European Parliament can start in the autumn.
5. Trade Policy & Sanctions
On 22 June, the Council extended EU economic sanctions on Russia, introduced in response to Moscow’s destabilizing role in Eastern Ukraine, until 31 January 2016. This extension is in accordance with the political guidelines that link the sanctions to progress on the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which are supposed to be fully implemented by 31 December 2015.
On 24 June, the U.S. Senate, in a 60-38 vote, gave President Barack Obama the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), allowing him to conclude the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This “fast track procedure” will provide a new impulse to the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the EU. Moreover, through the negotiations on the TPP, it is likely to unblock some of the more difficult aspects of the negotiations between the EU and Japan on their Free Trade Agreement.