ISSN 1977-091X

Official Journal

of the European Union

C 173

European flag  

English edition

Information and Notices

Volume 60
31 May 2017


Notice No

Contents

page

 

I   Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

 

OPINIONS

 

European Economic and Social Committee

 

523th EESC plenary session of 22 and 23 February 2017

2017/C 173/01

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on High-quality education for all (exploratory opinion)

1

2017/C 173/02

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Mid-term evaluation of the LIFE Programme (exploratory opinion)

7

2017/C 173/03

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The effectiveness of ESF and FEAD funding as part of civil society efforts to tackle poverty and social exclusion under the Europe 2020 strategy (own-initiative opinion)

15

2017/C 173/04

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the role of agriculture in multilateral, bilateral and regional trade negotiations in the light of the Nairobi WTO Ministerial meeting (Own-initiative opinion)

20


 

III   Preparatory acts

 

EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE

 

523th EESC plenary session of 22 and 23 February 2017

2017/C 173/05

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the proposal for a Council directive on double taxation dispute resolution mechanisms in the European Union (COM(2016) 686 final — 2016/0338 (CNS))

29

2017/C 173/06

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Recommendation for a Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area(COM(2016) 726 final) and on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Central Bank, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Towards a positive fiscal stance for the euro area(COM(2016) 727 final)

33

2017/C 173/07

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 as regards specific measures to provide additional assistance to Member States affected by natural disasters(COM(2016) 778 final — 2016/0384 (COD))

38

2017/C 173/08

Opinion European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on amending Directive 2014/59/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the ranking of unsecured debt instruments in insolvency hierarchy(COM(2016) 853 final — 2016/0363 (COD))

41

2017/C 173/09

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on a New Skills Agenda for Europe — Working together to strengthen human capital, employability and competitiveness (COM(2016) 381 final) on the proposal for a Council recommendation on establishing a Skills Guarantee (COM(2016) 382 final — 2016/0179 (NLE)) on the proposal for a Council recommendation on the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning and repealing the recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2008 on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (COM(2016) 383 final — 2016/0180 (NLE)) on the proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on a common framework for the provision of better services for skills and qualifications (Europass) and repealing Decision No 2241/2004/EC (COM(2016) 625 final — 2016/0304 (COD)) and on Upscaling skills of persons in the labour market (Exploratory opinion (Maltese Presidency))

45

2017/C 173/10

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — A European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility[COM(2016) 501 final]

55

2017/C 173/11

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Establishing the EFSD Guarantee and the EFSD Guarantee Fund(COM(2016) 586 final)

62

2017/C 173/12

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Establishing a new Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on Migration(COM(2016) 385 final)

66

2017/C 173/13

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Central Bank, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank Annual Growth Survey 2017[COM(2016) 725 final]

73

2017/C 173/14

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 87/217/EEC of the Council, Directive 2003/87/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Directive 2009/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Regulation (EU) No 1257/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Council Directive 86/278/EEC and Directive 94/63/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards procedural rules in the field of environmental reporting and repealing Council Directive 91/692/EEC (COM(2016) 789 final — 2016/0394 COD)

82


EN

 


I Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

OPINIONS

European Economic and Social Committee

523th EESC plenary session of 22 and 23 February 2017

31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/1


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘High-quality education for all’

(exploratory opinion)

(2017/C 173/01)

Rapporteur:

Benjamin RIZZO

Request by the Maltese presidency of the Council

16.9.2016

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

 

 

Section responsible

Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship

Adopted in section

3.2.2017

Adopted at plenary

22.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

207/1/5

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

The EESC:

1.1.

encourages Member States to take a stronger commitment in the field of high quality education for all to achieve the EU objectives for 2020 and the UN objectives for 2030;

1.2.

stresses the importance of state-funded high quality education and training (E&T) for all whilst emphasising the relevance of educating citizens on human rights, their role as citizens and strengthening European values in all educational programmes of Member States;

1.3.

pleads for a stronger support for early childhood education (decisive for language acquisition, socialisation, adaptation to primary education and further education) and lifelong learning (decisive for a successful integration in society and in the world of work);

1.4.

highlights the need to create training opportunities for young school-leavers, low-skilled workers and migrant workers and to recognise the outcomes of non-formal and informal education;

1.5.

finds that the future of work and digitalisation challenges are essential topics to which the EU and its Member States must give a key place in the political debate and in the social dialogue on high quality education for all;

1.6.

encourages the EU and its Member States to seek more synergies and concerted EU-wide strategies in the field of education for all;

1.7.

reminds the European Commission (EC) and its Member States that teachers and education staff need to be supported in their efforts to improve all aspects of their professional development to improve job performance. It therefore recommends investing in the qualification of teachers and trainers, striving to ensure a gender balance in recruitment, and providing stable work and good career conditions and salaries for all of them;

1.8.

asks for a more effective use of the European Funds, especially the European Social Fund (ESF), and Horizon 2020, to support quality education and training, talent support, research and innovation.

2.   General comments

2.1.

The EESC is very pleased that the Maltese Presidency has chosen ‘High quality education for all’ as an overarching theme and asked the EESC to produce an exploratory opinion on this issue. Europe should not forget the essential role played by high quality education for all in building up a European society committed to upholding fundamental rights and values. Malta aims to promote inclusion in diversity in formal and non-formal education through the provision of equitable and diverse learning routes. In this sense, Malta organised an education week in January 2017 focusing on ‘equity and learning’ and ‘digital education’.

2.2.

The EESC is also pleased that on 7 December the EC presented three communications under the title ‘Youth Initiative’ (1). This opinion focuses on the communication ‘Improving and Modernising Education: High Quality Education for All’. Moreover, as the representative of European civil society at EU level, the EESC expects to be consulted and to play an active role on any further developments related to these initiatives. As a first reaction, however, the EESC fears that the value of these initiatives could be lost when austerity measures still apply to many of our societies, hindering them to fully benefit from high quality education.

2.3.

Although education remains a prerogative of national governments, the EESC believes that the EU should use its influence and financial capacity to help Member States invest more in high quality education for all.

3.   Specific comments

3.1.    Quality education

3.1.1.

Quality education contributes to the development of free, critical, conscious, active and autonomous men and women, capable of participating in the progress of the societies in which they live and of understanding common values of freedom and solidarity. It also creates the foundation that allows people to master the challenges of the world of work.

3.1.2.

The commitment to quality education requires concrete actions, such as:

improving the support to early childhood education (decisive for language acquisition, socialisation, adaptation to primary education and further education) and lifelong learning (decisive for a successful integration in society and in the world of work);

making sure education responds to the challenges of globalisation, digitalisation and the changes in the world of work;

creating training opportunities for young school-leavers, low-skilled workers and migrant workers without neglecting digital literacy;

ensuring that information selection skills are developed as part of the education process;

recognising the outcomes of non-formal and informal education;

promoting alliances between the most diverse educational actors, involving the whole educational community;

improving and investing in the initial and in-service training for teachers and education staff;

upgrading the teaching profession and provide better working conditions and salaries;

ensuring that policies decided to cope with the economic crisis and sovereign debt do not jeopardise quality E&T;

investing in better education infra-structure and tools, such as ICT;

improving public investment in quality education, research and vocational training and continue to support and finance the Erasmus+ programme;

making better use the European Funds, especially the European Social Fund (ESF), and Horizon 2020, to support quality E&T, research and innovation;

strengthening EU-wide mobility opportunities for students, academics, teachers, trainers and researchers, who should be able to spend time in another Member State — this should apply not only to formal education but also to non-formal systems, vocational training and apprenticeships;

seeking more EU-wide synergies and concerted strategies in the field of education; and

promoting the cooperation and dialogue between companies and education and training systems and their providers with a view to identify skills needs and promote employment.

3.2.    Education and human rights

3.2.1.

The EESC believes that, while a main purpose of education is the development of people as stated above, training is a discipline and an activity more relevant to operational purposes, and closely related to the development of and insertion into the world of work. The EESC has already shown the differences and connections between education and training, which are certainly linked but have objectives of their own. In many opinions, the EESC has contributed to the recognition of education as a fundamental human right, a public good and a primary responsibility of governments.

3.2.2.

The Declaration on ‘Promoting citizenship, and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education’ (signed by the Ministers of Education in Paris in March 2015, after the attacks committed in France and Denmark) states that the EU ‘reaffirm[s] [the] determination to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of fundamental values that lie at the heart of the EU: respect for human dignity, freedom (including freedom of expression), democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect of human rights’.

3.2.3.

Unfortunately, in 2016 violence from a range of backgrounds (including political extreme right groups espousing xenophobic and racist proposals, terrorism using religious arguments, and strong rejection of refugees escaping war and conflict) has once again had painful consequences. The education on human rights and for citizenship, as well as on EU values, should therefore be strengthened in all educational programmes of Member States.

3.2.4.

In this sense, Member States must add new dimensions to education: its links to fundamental rights and to the future of work and must prepare for the cultural and functional changes resulting from environmental developments and ensure that training is suitable to the tasks and skills needed in a sustainable development economy.

3.2.5.

Information literacy is one of the challenges facing modern education. Accessing information is a civic right, but making use of information is a complex matter. The ability to select, interpret and use information can and should be shaped by means of education, in the interests of both individuals and society. Information literacy is one of the hallmarks of high-quality education.

3.3.    The economic crisis, poverty, social exclusion

3.3.1.

A Eurostat report states that ‘in 2015, around 25 million children or 26 % of the population aged 0 to 17, in the EU were at risk […] [of poverty or social exclusion]. […] In 2015 more than a third of children were at risk [of poverty or social exclusion] […] in 6 Member States: Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Spain, and Italy’. The highest increase occurred in Greece (from 28,7 % in 2010 to 37,8 % in 2015, i.e. plus 9,1 percentage points). These worrying data clearly show the connection between the crisis and the rise in poverty.

3.3.2.

The most recent EU reports on the education sector provide additional evidence on an issue reflected in many previous civil society analyses and statements: that poverty is closely tied to the socioeconomic and cultural background of families and social groups. Eurostat affirms that ‘the proportion of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU decreases with the education level of their parents. In 2015, almost 2/3 (65,5 %) of all children whose parents had a low education level (at the most, lower secondary education) were at risk of poverty […] compared with 30,3 % of children residing with parents who had a medium education level […] and 10,6 % of children with parents with a higher education level’.

3.3.3.

Educational poverty, or the share of young people failing to reach minimum standards in education, is one of the greatest challenges in Europe today. On the other hand, because of the economic crisis and strict budgetary and fiscal constraints, the quality of E&T systems has been deteriorating, increasing the risk of poverty and exclusion and jeopardising the principle of public high quality education for all.

3.3.4.

Although some European countries have decided to cut education budgets, reduce staff salaries, limit staff recruitment, stop building schools or not to allocate resources sufficient to maintain safe and liveable infrastructure of educational establishments, this trend should be reversed. In 2014, public expenditure on education was merely 1,1 % in real terms, and ten Member States reduced their spending in 2014 compared to 2013 (2). The EESC therefore urges national governments to reconsider and modify the austerity programmes that could severely affect the implementation of commitments made at European and international level in the field of education, such as the 2020 and 2030 Agendas.

3.4.    Education and the future of work

3.4.1.

The future of work is an essential topic which must be accorded a key place in political debate and social dialogue on high quality education. Moreover, tectonic shifts are reshaping the ways in which work is performed. The result is that, in spite of opening new opportunities in turning innovations into new jobs, the world of work is now characterised by high levels of unpredictability for both workers and businesses. And, while combined with new positive opportunities, the transitions that the digital revolution is bringing magnify the sense of unpredictability and complexity still further. As stated in the first Education and Training Monitor developed by the Juncker Commission, ‘Equipping people for employment is only part of the picture. Education has an equally important role in creating a better society’. However, nowadays, even the most qualified workers can lose their jobs. Although crucial, education and training per se no longer give any guarantee of a good, stable, well-paid job. Also inequalities in the labour market seem to have become a concern that needs to be adequately addressed.

3.4.2.

Vocational education and training (VET) is of increasing importance to fight unemployment and must be improved and made more accessible and relevant. Adequate human and financial resources must be allocated to ensure the quality of education outcomes and the employability of the people concerned.

3.4.3.

An EC evaluation report of investments under the European Social Fund (ESF) during the 2007-2013 period shows that by the end of 2014, at least 9,4 million European residents found a job and 8,7 million gained a qualification or certificate. Other positive results, such as increased skills levels, were reported by 13,7 million participants. This positive news should encourage Member States to continuously fight unemployment in Europe that is still high in many of them.

3.4.4.

The EESC also recommends to the EU and its Member States to invest more in research and innovation to create new and better jobs for the future.

3.4.5.

The gender pay gap still exists. Commissioner Věra Jourová said in November 2015: ‘Women continue to work nearly two months for free every year, because of an average hourly wage for women 16,4 % inferior to that of men. Equality between men and women is one of the fundamental values of the European Union, but this day reminds us that it is not one of its fundamental realities.’ Given the feminisation of the education sector, salaries should be reviewed and career opportunities improved.

3.5.    Public education

3.5.1.

Member States must reaffirm the role of public education in achieving equality and social cohesion. When considering the most recent EU data on poverty and risk of social exclusion, the importance of public education to build more equal societies cannot be understated.

3.5.2.

High quality education should be provided equitably on a not-for-profit basis. Governments have primarily the responsibility to ensure adequate resources for universally accessible education, as they have committed to do at international and European levels. Investment in education, especially in public education, should become a political priority.

3.5.3.

As not all workers have the tools to be resilient to societal, personal and professional risks, access to public, high quality up- and re-skilling opportunities and to adequate welfare protection throughout one’s life is key. As the representative of civil society at EU level, the EESC stresses the need to strengthen and to better fund public facilities for training unemployed and migrant workers.

3.5.4.

The EESC also finds that the social partners and the education community should be given monitoring powers and assess the effectiveness of public spending in education.

3.6.    Social dialogue and collective bargaining

3.6.1.

Across Europe, social dialogue in the education sector is facing a variety of challenges, due to internal and external factors. More immediate economic concerns have caused social dialogue to slip down the policy agenda. The lack of effective social dialogue is reflected in the fact that decisions affecting education staff and the school community are often taken outside formal consultations with the social partners. In many countries, the scope of bargaining has narrowed at the very moment that it should be expanding to deal with the many new challenges faced by the education community.

3.6.2.

The EESC therefore encourages Members States and social partners to strengthen the correlation between the national and the European social dialogue and to discuss how to broaden the scope of collective bargaining The European social dialogue in the education sector is crucial for meeting the Europe 2020 strategy and Agenda 2030 goals, as it brings together European employers and employees in this field so that they can agree on how to meet the challenges facing the sector. The whole education community (parents, students, civil society organisations, etc.) should also be involved.

3.7.    ICT in education

3.7.1.

In recent years, the world has shifted from a largely production-driven economy to a more services-oriented one. Knowledge creation has become a critical value factor for both production and services.

3.7.2.

Information and communication technology in the globalised world has changed economic integration and interdependence at all levels. Moreover, the digital transformation is generating major changes in industries and services. This includes the transition from traditional employment to digital jobs. ICT is used in many ways. It is also the support for social and/or political virtual networks. In this way, ICT plays an increasing role in the socialisation of children and young people.

3.7.3.

Although ICT offers opportunities in many areas, it opens the door to real dangers, such as cybercrime, hazardous and harmful content, increasing commercialisation of services, as well as enabling technological surveillance and misuse of personal data. Personal data protection and information security in the education field would need to be dealt with by a European strategy. Moreover, several European countries have national strategies in place to foster the use of ICT in different areas, including a specific strategy devoted to education, but large implementation gaps remain.

3.7.4.

The introduction of digital devices in education is a key topic for the education community and society. The EC has emphasised in its Digital Agenda and the Strategic Framework for Education and Training 2020 the need for innovative teaching and learning approaches in the Member States to enhance digital skills and prepare workers for the digital jobs of the future. Research studies and reports from the OECD and Unesco also point in the same direction: the inherent need to ensure that education establishments are equipped to use ICT in teaching and to enhance teaching competences regarding the pedagogical use of ICT at all levels of education to shape the future.

3.7.5.

The integration of new technology in education could foster the skills that are necessary for adapting to fast-changing technology and preparing students for lifelong learning and active democratic citizenship. However, while ICT in education has the potential to improve teaching and learning, it also presents many challenges for teachers and students, as the ones mentioned in this opinion

3.7.6.

Finally, it should be noted that, if the EU wants to maintain a leading position in the field of higher education and scientific research, it has to strengthen its investment in talent support, research and innovation.

3.8.    Teachers, the architects of the future

3.8.1.

It is well known that teachers play a key role in the success or failure of education initiatives and programmes. The EESC calls on educational authorities and establishments to provide continuous formal pedagogical and technical support to teachers, to help them adapt to new digital systems and to avoid the use of ICT resulting in the deterioration of working conditions. The EESC recommends investing in the qualification of trainers and teachers, striving to ensure a gender balance in recruitment by choosing the best in their professional category, and providing stable work and good career conditions and salaries.

3.8.2.

As national educational technology standards are expected to change dramatically, education staff representatives should be consulted when national education authorities are planning new strategies and programmes that challenge their daily work. Subjects such as media capture, media manipulation, media presentation and publishing, website development, data entry, handling databases, information gathering, collaborative environment and file sharing should be integrated into the initial and in-service training. It is essential that every teacher is trained to acquire these skills and competences.

3.8.3.

The EESC also recommends that Member States facilitate the mobility opportunities for teachers and education staff when travelling to different Member States, while preserving their social security and pension rights in order to make teaching and training more attractive professions for younger generations.

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  COM(2016) 940 final, COM(2016) 941 final, and COM(2016) 942 final.

(2)  Education & Training Monitor 2015.


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/7


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Mid-term evaluation of the LIFE Programme’

(exploratory opinion)

(2017/C 173/02)

Rapporteur:

Lutz RIBBE

Consultation

25.8.2016

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

 

 

Bureau decision

15.3.2016

 

 

Section responsible

Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment

Adopted in section

6.2.2017

Adopted at plenary

23.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

169/25/18

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC reiterates (1) its strong statement in favour of retaining and further developing a standalone EU funding programme for the environment, biodiversity protection and enhancement, resource efficiency, sustainable development, communication and information, and funding for environmental non-governmental organisations.

1.2.

Over the last 25 years, the LIFE programme has been instrumental in European environmental policy, and increasingly in sustainability policy as well. It is fair to say that it has become part and parcel of the EU’s environmental policy, which it has strengthened considerably.

1.3.

This has happened in two ways. LIFE projects have:

(a)

directly contributed to achieving direct and tangible successes: for example, certain endangered species that are protected under EU law have been protected from outright extinction thanks to projects funded by LIFE;

(b)

given local people an illustration of the positive concepts underlying the EU’s environment policy, and the benefits of this policy for people, nature and the environment. LIFE has thus become a kind of ‘bridge’ between EU policy and the ‘Europe of citizens and regions’, which is particularly important at a time when the added value of Europe is increasingly being called into question.

1.4.

The LIFE programme, which is particularly appreciated for its constant adaptation to new challenges, has also demonstrated that there is within civil society great deal of potential and a real willingness to get involved in implementing and developing the EU’s environmental and sustainable development policies. The implementation of EU law is far more than just a legislative act that the Member States have to put into effect. Environmental and sustainable development policy stands and falls on public acceptance; it must be publicised and made transparent, which is another area where LIFE can make an extremely valuable contribution.

1.5.

However, in many cases LIFE projects also reveal — whether directly or indirectly — the inconsistencies in policy decisions, including at EU level. While this might be awkward for some decision-makers, it should be seen as another valuable contribution that could ultimately result in environmental protection being more deeply integrated into other policy areas.

1.6.

The implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda (the SDGs) in European policy is one of the major challenges facing the EU over the next few years. LIFE will need to support this process. It is not just a question of engaging in close dialogue with the social partners and civil society groups to find the most effective means of implementation; rather, there also needs to be a change of mindset in many Commission departments and — at Member State level — many ministries, authorities and offices for which sustainability has so far been something of a side issue, in order to turn the much-discussed integration of environmental and nature protection in other policy areas into a reality.

1.7.

The EESC recommends a number of changes:

The LIFE programme should be made the main instrument for funding the Natura 2000 network. The approach taken in the past, of funding the Natura 2000 network primarily via the EU’s regional development funds and the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy, must be regarded as unsatisfactory. The Committee would draw attention to its opinion (2) in this connection, and calls for the LIFE programme to be supplemented with appropriately earmarked funds. It is important in this connection to ensure coherence between all support measures, i.e. to avoid any conflict between or duplication of support from other EU funds.

It would be advisable to examine how to further improve the extent to which projects supported by LIFE can be turned into genuine ‘model projects’, i.e. replicated elsewhere in Europe (ideally without additional subsidies).

Conventional research projects should not receive LIFE funding, in order to distinguish it even more clearly from Horizon 2020.

1.8.

The climate action strand should be further developed, primarily with regard to possible adaptation measures that could be taken by the individuals, farmers, cities/municipalities and regions particularly affected.

2.   Background

2.1.

LIFE was established in 1992; it is the main funding programme of the European Union specifically dedicated to the environment. It addresses biodiversity and habitat protection, in particular through the Natura 2000 Network, resource efficiency, climate change and communication and information. LIFE’s budget for 2014-2020 amounts to approx. EUR 3 456 million, compared to approx. EUR 2 000 million over the previous seven-year period.

2.2.

The programme’s main objectives are:

contributing to the transition towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon, climate-resilient economy as well as to protecting the environment and biodiversity,

better environmental policy-making, improved implementation and control of the EU environmental acquis as well as stronger mainstreaming of environmental and climate objectives in other policies and in public and private organisations’ practices,

improved multilevel environmental and climate governance, in particular by involving civil society, NGOs and local stakeholders,

supporting the implementation of the 7th Environment Action Plan and, in future, the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda in European policy.

2.3.

Compared to the 2007-2013 programming period, the LIFE programme now includes a number of new features:

the introduction of the ‘Climate’ sub-programme,

the introduction of a new category of projects known as ‘integrated’ projects alongside the ‘traditional’ projects, capacity-building projects and preparatory projects,

the introduction of financial instruments, namely the Natural Capital Financing Facility (NCFF) focusing on ecosystem services and natural capital protection and the Private Finance for Energy Efficiency (PF4EE),

the progressive phasing-out of national allocations of projects: from 2018, project selection will be based exclusively on merit, regardless of the geographic distribution (for traditional projects),

the Commission now relies on the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) for the management of the programme.

2.4.

Over the 2014-2020 period, LIFE is composed of:

an ‘Environment’ sub-programme, which is divided into ‘Environment & Resource-Efficiency’, ‘Nature & Biodiversity’ and ‘Governance & Information’ and accounts for roughly 75 % of the budget (EUR 2 592 million),

a ‘Climate’ sub-programme, which is divided into ‘Climate Change Mitigation’, ‘Climate Change Adaptation’ and ‘Governance & Information’ and accounts for roughly 25 % of the budget (EUR 864 million).

2.5.

The European Commission will undertake a mid-term evaluation of the LIFE programme by 30 June 2017, and has asked the EESC and the Committee of the Regions to give their views on the new shape of LIFE considering the new features introduced in 2014 ahead of the publication of the mid-term evaluation.

3.   General comments

3.1.

The EESC feels that is too early for a thorough ‘mid-term evaluation’ of the current phase of the programme given that the first projects in the new phase were only awarded in 2015 and the vast majority of them have not yet been completed, and certainly cannot yet be evaluated. Nonetheless, it would like to make an initial contribution to shaping LIFE in the 2021-2028 programming period, in light of an evaluation of the previous phases.

LIFE’s track record to date, added value and limitations

3.2.

Over the last 25 years, the LIFE programme has been instrumental in European environmental policy, and increasingly in sustainability policy as well. It has made an invaluable contribution to protecting biodiversity. It is fair to say that it has become part and parcel of the EU’s environmental policy, which it has strengthened considerably.

3.3.

This has happened in two ways. LIFE projects have

(a)

directly contributed to achieving direct and tangible successes. For example, certain endangered species that are protected under EU law have been protected from outright extinction thanks to projects funded by LIFE — examples include the projects to protect the northern bald ibis and the great bustard. LIFE was, and still is, often the only available funding option, as in many cases the Member States have not set up relevant conservation programmes, and/or have no interest in doing so;

(b)

given local people an illustration of the positive concepts underlying the EU’s environment policy, and the benefits of this policy for people, nature and the environment. LIFE has thus become a kind of ‘bridge’ between EU policy and the ‘Europe of citizens and regions’, which is particularly important at a time when the added value of Europe is increasingly being called into question.

3.4.

Many of the projects supported by LIFE to date have demonstrated that there is within civil society a great deal of potential and a real willingness to get involved in implementing and developing the EU’s environmental and sustainable development policies. The implementation of EU law is far more than just a legislative act that the Member States have to put into effect. Environmental and sustainable development policy stands and falls on public acceptance; it must be publicised and made transparent, which is another area where the LIFE programme can make an extremely valuable and indispensable contribution.

3.5.

However, in many cases LIFE projects also reveal — whether directly or indirectly — the inconsistencies in policy decisions, including at EU level. While this might be awkward for some decision-makers, it should be seen as another valuable contribution that could ultimately result in environmental protection being more deeply integrated into other policy areas.

3.6.

This brings us to the limitations of the LIFE programme: it cannot and should not claim to remedy shortcomings caused by inadequate enforcement of existing environmental legislation or by a failure to take account of environmental concerns in other policy areas. This can be demonstrated by the following three examples:

3.6.1.

LIFE can help to make it clear to the public that the primary aim of the EU’s clean air policy is to reduce the risk to public health from pollutants. It cannot, however, resolve conflicts such as those between environment and transport policymakers in Germany, which, in essence, come down to a question of which ‘protected resource’ is more valuable — protecting city-dwellers’ health from particulate pollution, or drivers’ right to free mobility.

3.6.2.

LIFE’s ‘Urban Bees’ project (3) has done an outstanding job of making broad sections of the population more aware of the importance of pollinators, of the risks they face, and of what action can be taken to protect them. However, the risks presented, for example, by certain agricultural practices or the authorisation of insecticides that are potentially harmful to bees can only be eliminated if other EU departments pay sufficient attention to them and if the precautionary principle is consistently applied.

3.6.3.

Since 1999, a total of EUR 45 million of public funding — some of which came from the LIFE programme — has gone to support a successful Austrian programme to protect the Danube salmon (4), a globally threatened species of fish concentrated in the catchment area of the river Sava. A recent study has shown that around 600 hydroelectric power plants are set to be constructed in the Danube salmon’s primary area of distribution, and experts expect these encroachments to lead to a fall of up to 70 % in the species’ population. The construction of some of the power plants will also be supported by EU funds.

3.7.

The EESC therefore also welcomes the fact that LIFE is now focusing more on improving the enforcement of legislation, not only in the authorities concerned, but also with regard to supervisory bodies.

The development of the LIFE programme

3.8.

The EESC welcomes the high level of flexibility and capacity to adapt to new challenges and to experience gained that have characterised the LIFE programme in recent years. This is also reflected in the new financing period 2014-2020:

Focus on countries where the implementation gap is bigger.

Removal of national quotas.

Increasing accessibility to businesses.

Increasing focus on innovation.

Increasing synergies with other programmes, starting with the new integrated projects introduced in 2014. In this connection, the EESC welcomes the fact that its recommendation (5) to precisely determine the financial resources allocated to ‘traditional’ and ‘integrated’ projects was taken on board.

Use of completely new environmental financial instruments (PF4EE, NCFF).

Introduction of a climate dimension.

4.   EESC’s recommendations

Maintain and strengthen LIFE

4.1.

No programme is so good that it cannot be improved. Even so, the EESC would first of all reiterate (6) its strong support for retaining this budgetarily separate funding programme beyond the current financing period. This is necessary because, despite considerable encouraging progress and despite landmark decisions such as the UN Agenda 2030, the Paris climate resolutions and the EU biodiversity strategy, environmental problems are still far from being solved and the shift to a resource-efficient, low-emissions and pro-biodiversity EU policy has not yet been successfully implemented. Quite the reverse: the Commission and the European Environment Agency themselves have produced various reports showing that in some cases the stresses are even increasing (7).

4.2.

The analyses undertaken as part of the REFIT process for the nature protection directives have made it clear that the legal framework is appropriate, but that there is nowhere near enough funding for target-based management of the Natura 2000 network. This fundamental element of biodiversity protection in Europe urgently needs adequate funding.

4.3.

The permanence of the LIFE programme is paramount to the effectiveness and credibility of the EU’s environmental policies, which must be safeguarded by the horizontal integration of the 7th Environment Action Programme, the UN’s sustainability agenda and the Paris climate resolutions into all other European policy areas and funding programmes. The EESC would point out that it has also repeatedly called for a greener and fairer European Semester.

Impact of the changes made in 2014

4.4.

The introduction of two new funding instruments into the LIFE programme as pilot projects was an innovation that the EESC welcomes. It is far too early to evaluate this approach, given that the first projects under the two facilities (the Natural Capital Financing Facility (NCFF) and the Private Finance for Energy Efficiency (PF4EE) instrument) have only just been chosen, and have not yet been implemented.

4.5.

This approach breaks completely new ground in terms of creating innovative options for small private investors to finance nature conservation projects and energy efficiency projects. This is necessary because, in many cases, such projects failed with conventional funding.

4.6.

It is at present difficult to gauge how successful this part of the programme will be, whether the cooperation initiated with the EIB will prove useful, and whether the application process will be simple enough and the financing conditions (including the use of risk capital) will be appropriate. The EESC therefore calls for this part of the new LIFE programme to be evaluated particularly closely in future.

4.7.

The Commission should also examine in its own evaluation how, if possible, to improve the extent to which projects supported by LIFE can be turned into genuine ‘model projects’, i.e. replicated elsewhere in Europe (ideally without additional subsidies) with a focus on the transfer of know-how and economic feasibility. One possible step could be to ask the promoters of particularly successful projects to answer this question in a more in-depth stage of the project.

4.8.

The EESC views LIFE as a financing facility for implementing EU measures and policies, not as a programme primarily intended for funding projects that are in the national interest. There may well be cases where, for example, LIFE projects proposed by civil society organisations mainly serve the European interest, and the national interest only to a lesser extent. Therefore, co-financing must in future be designed so that such projects do not fail because they are refused national co-financing (the EESC is aware of cases where this has occurred). In addition, the EESC urges the Commission to assess the extent to which even higher co-financing rates could be used, especially for NGOS, for which the own contribution is often a barrier that is difficult to surmount. Moreover, these contributions often come from public budgets and the co-financing providers are evidently pursuing a ‘selection policy’.

Integrated projects/complementarity with other EU policies

4.9.

‘Integrated projects’ are a specific project type developed within LIFE, the importance of which the EESC particularly appreciates. One outstanding example is the Belgian Nature Integrated Project (BNIP), which covers the whole territory of Belgium, involves 28 stakeholders, and supports 18 specific conservation projects, 48 clearly defined actions and a total of more than 300 management plans (e.g. for Natura 2000 sites). The project has brought together 52 staff in seven different teams, and has managed to build bridges between the various available EU funding pots and with national resources.

It is precisely this kind of substantive and structural links that should be further strengthened in future, for example by creating potential synergies between LIFE and a greener CAP.

New tasks for LIFE

4.10.

However, not only is there room for improvement in terms of the links between the substantive elements of LIFE and the CAP, but significant administrative and budgetary reform is needed in any event.

4.11.

To date, the EU’s regional development funds and the second pillar of the CAP have been the key instrument for funding the Natura 2000 network; this can be traced back to a proposal made by the Commission in 2004 (8). At the time, the Committee supported this proposal on condition that sufficient appropriately earmarked resources would also be made available within the said funds. This has not been the case, and the EESC therefore considers that approach to be unsatisfactory (9).

4.12.

The resources provided so far do not even come close to covering the amount needed to compensate for nature conservation requirements, develop management plans and implement the necessary measures. Natura 2000 is an area that traditionally falls within the EU’s remit, and the budget therefore also needs to provide clarity here.

4.13.

The Committee instead suggests that, for the next funding period, all resources needed to implement and maintain the Natura 2000 network should be provided from the LIFE programme and that its budget should be increased accordingly. It also asks the Commission to clarify internally whether LIFE might also be the right instrument for implementing the Trans-European Network for Green Infrastructure (10). The necessary funding should be calculated and added to the budget. It is important in this connection to ensure coherence between all support measures, i.e. to avoid any conflict between or duplication of support from other EU funds.

4.14.

The EESC stresses that funding for the Natura 2000 network constitutes a fundamental investment in an important part of Europe’s green infrastructure that will pay off not only in the form of higher quality of life and higher environmental quality, but also in higher local incomes.

4.15.

Incorporating the SDGs, i.e. the UN’s 2030 Agenda, into European policy will entail a number of truly fundamental changes to European policy approaches (11). It will also require:

(a)

a change in mindset — in some cases a radical one — particularly in those Commission services whose activities have to date not been particularly focused on sustainable development policy;

(b)

a completely new approach to governance, requiring much closer involvement from civil society stakeholders and much more bottom-up approaches.

4.16.

The EESC recommends that the Commission set up new activities and project opportunities in the next phase of LIFE post-2020, in order to strengthen the required elements referred to in point 4.15.

4.17.

Conventional research projects of the kind partly funded by LIFE in the past should be examined to determine whether they might in future be better served by the Commission’s conventional research programmes. This would clearly distinguish LIFE from Horizon 2020.

4.18.

The strand of the LIFE programme relating to climate action should in future be further developed, particularly with regard to possible adaptation measures that could be taken by the individuals, farmers, cities/municipalities and regions particularly affected.

Brussels, 23 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  EESC opinion OJ C 191, 29.6.2012, p. 111.

(2)  See EESC opinion ‘The Biodiversity policy of the EU’ (OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 14).

(3)  http://urbanbees.eu/

(4)  Protected under Annex II of the Habitats Directive.

(5)  EESC opinion OJ C 191, 29.6.2012, p. 111.

(6)  EESC opinion OJ C 191, 29.6.2012, p. 111.

(7)  The European environment — state and outlook 2015: synthesis report, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, 2015.

(8)  COM(2004) 431 of 15.7.2004 on financing Natura 2000.

(9)  See EESC opinion OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 14.

(10)  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/ecosystems/strategy/index_en.htm

(11)  See EESC opinion OJ C 117,30.4.2004, p. 22 and EESC opinion OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 41.


APPENDIX

to the Committee opinion

The following amendment, which received at least a quarter of the votes cast, was rejected during the discussion:

Point 3.6.2

Amend as follows:

 

LIFE’s ‘Urban Bees’ project  (12) has done an outstanding job of making broad sections of the population more aware of the importance of pollinators, of the risks they face, and of what action can be taken to protect them. However, the risks presented, for example, by certain inappropriate agricultural practices or the authorisation of insecticides that are potentially harmful to bees can only be eliminated if other EU departments pay sufficient attention to them and if the precautionary principle is consistently properly applied.

Reason

There can be no doubt that European agriculture observes the strictest compliance with rules on environmental preservation, animal welfare, environmental protection, and land and water management, as it is subject to the highest global standards and ‘conditionality’ (i.e. compliance with these criteria) is a binding provision for all European farmers.

Moreover, the authorisation of plant protection products is also subject to verification processes and monitoring by the European Food Safety Authority; thus the criteria must be scientific and based on an analysis of the likelihood to cause harm. This same basis should guide the proper application of the precautionary principle.

Result of the vote

For

75

Against

95

Abstentions

33


(12)  http://urbanbees.eu/


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/15


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The effectiveness of ESF and FEAD funding as part of civil society efforts to tackle poverty and social exclusion under the Europe 2020 strategy’

(own-initiative opinion)

(2017/C 173/03)

Rapporteur:

Krzysztof BALON

Plenary Assembly decision

21.1.2016

Legal basis

Rule 29(2) of the Rules of Procedure

 

Own-initiative opinion

 

 

Section responsible

Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship

Adopted in section

3.2.2017

Adopted at plenary

22.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

171/1/2

1.   Conclusion and Recommendations

1.1.

Given the fact that poverty and social exclusion are feeding populist trends in many EU Member States, the EESC welcomes the conclusions of the European Council of 16 June 2016 on Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion: An integrated approach (1) and advocates the creation in the next financial perspective of an integrated European fund to combat poverty and social exclusion, based on experience to date of the implementation of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) and the European Social Fund (ESF).

1.2.

Bearing in mind the diverse nature of the problems and target groups in the individual Member State, including the different forms of migration, the intervention of such a fund should make full use of the experience and capacity of civil society organisations by granting them a leading role in programming, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The Fund should also contribute to building the capacity of networks of civil society organisations, with a particular focus on organisations providing support.

1.3.

The EESC believes that the European Commission’s monitoring of the use of the ESF in the fight against poverty and social exclusion and the use of the FEAD for integration measures in the Member States in the current financial perspective should be more effective. Monitoring should closely involve civil society organisations and people experiencing poverty and social exclusion.

1.4.

The EESC considers cooperation between the national bodies managing the funds and the partner organisations to be of key importance (2). These organisations make a significant technical and organisational contribution, representing genuine added value in the implementation of the FEAD and the ESF. In this connection, the EESC suggests that the European Commission consider a significant clarification of the minimum requirements with which the authorities of the Member States will have to comply when implementing partnerships, and the provision of sanctions in the event of inadequate implementation.

1.5.

The EESC calls on the European Commission to consider requiring Member States to make use of technical assistance in the framework of the FEAD and the ESF, also with a view to developing the capacity of the civil society organisations involved in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. In addition, the EESC advocates strengthening the technical and organisational capacity of European networks of organisations working to combat poverty and social exclusion.

1.6.

The EESC calls on the Member States to make greater use of global grants, regranting and treatment — where possible — of in-kind contributions on the same footing as financial contributions. The possibility should also be considered of the European Commission requiring that a major part of resources made available under the operational programmes be earmarked for projects with smaller budgets. This would make it possible to support locally active organisations and self-help groups.

1.7.

The EESC will systematically support the work of civil society organisations and their cooperation with the authorities and public institutions in combating poverty and social exclusion. At the same time, the EESC declares its readiness to set up a small ad hoc group composed of EESC members and relevant European level civil society platforms which, even in the current financial perspective, would contribute to better coordination of ESF and FEAD interventions and to the discussion of the basic principles of a future integrated EU fund aimed at combating poverty and social exclusion. In this context, the EESC considers cooperation with the Committee of the Regions to be essential.

2.   Introduction

2.1.

Goal No 1 of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (3) is to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’. Tackling poverty and social exclusion is also one of the Europe 2020 strategy’s goals. However, the European institutions and some Member States are continuing to push through austerity policies, although the lack of rapid and visible improvements in the situation of European Union citizens experiencing poverty and social exclusion seems to be one of the main reasons for decreasing public support for European integration in the Member States. EU instruments to assist the fight against poverty and social exclusion, i.e. the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) and the allocation of at least 20 % of European Social Fund (ESF) resources to support for social inclusion, should be effectively used by all the Member States but should not replace a comprehensive, integrated policy to combat poverty and social exclusion.

2.2.

In the framework of its Europe 2020 strategy, the European Union has set itself the objective of reducing by 2020 the number of people in or at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 20 million. However, according to data for 2014 (4), 24,4 % of the EU population — approximately 122 million people — were at risk of poverty or social exclusion (compared with 24,2 % in 2011 and 23,4 % in 2010). An analysis of the various comparative component indicators shows that each of them has increased compared to 2008 — risk of poverty after social transfers (from 16,6 to 17,2 %), severe material deprivation (from 8,5 to 8,9 %), people aged 0-59 living in households with very low work intensity (from 9,1 to 11,1 %). At the same time, as stated by the Council of the European Union, ‘The increasing divergences between and within Member States underline the importance of actions being taken throughout the Union’ (5).

2.3.

The fight against poverty and social exclusion is one of the principal areas of cooperation between civil society organisations such as associations, foundations and social cooperatives, as well as trade unions and employers’ organisations, and the authorities and public institutions of the Member States. In order to eliminate (or substantially reduce) poverty and social exclusion, it is necessary to provide various forms of material and immaterial assistance through non-profit organisations (including social services), to create — also in the framework of the social dialogue — favourable conditions for labour market integration, and to provide appropriate funds at Member State and EU level. The EESC considers that there is a chance of achieving this goal of the Europe 2020 strategy only within a European Union considered as a community of European civil society, the Member States and the EU institutions.

2.4.

Particularly in the context of the emerging phenomenon of the ‘working poor’ and demographic trends, the viability of the Europe 2020 targets for combating poverty and social exclusion can be guaranteed only by implementing measures aimed at eliminating the causes rather than just the symptoms of poverty and social exclusion, with the broad involvement of economic, family, tax and monetary policy.

2.5.

Therefore, although the question of aid for the most deprived has been a focus of debate at the EESC (6) on many occasions, the Committee, after consultation with stakeholders and the European Commission, has drawn up this opinion with specific observations and recommendations relating to the experience acquired to date with the implementation of the FEAD and the ESF in the fight against poverty and social exclusion.

3.   The FEAD and the ESF as instruments supporting the fight against poverty and social exclusion

3.1.

The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) — in contrast to previous food aid programmes — comes under the framework of Cohesion Policy. This fund contributes to ‘alleviating the worst forms of poverty (…) by food and/or basic material assistance, and social inclusion activities aiming at the social integration of the most deprived persons’ (7).

3.2.

The European Social Fund aims: to ensure a high level of employment and high quality jobs; to promote a high level of education and training for all; to combat poverty, to improve social inclusion and to support gender equality, non-discrimination and equal opportunities.

3.3.

The measures financed by the FEAD are intended to be complementary to those financed by the ESF. While the FEAD should focus assistance on cases of the worst material deprivation and on support for the basic social activation of people suffering from long-term exclusion, the measures financed by the ESF are intended, inter alia, to facilitate beneficiaries’ further integration in social and employment terms. The FEAD is therefore intended to make it possible to take the first steps towards overcoming poverty and social exclusion, so as to give beneficiaries a chance of finding a job or engaging in other labour market policy activities. The funding earmarked for these activities is, however, insufficient to meet real needs.

3.4.

All Member States have committed to ensuring consistency of support from the ESF and the other Structural and Investment Funds with the relevant policies and priorities of the Union, including implementation of the partnership principle in the spirit of the European Code of Conduct on Partnership (ECCP) (8).

4.   Practical implementation to date of the FEAD and the ESF in the fight against poverty and social exclusion in the 2014-2020 programming period

4.1.

Both feedback from civil society organisations and publicly available information and statistical data point to a number of serious difficulties in the implementation of the FEAD and the ESF in the area in question. These problems, which occur to varying degrees in some Member States, include:

4.1.1.

Delays in launching the FEAD support mechanisms and insufficient information for the general public and target groups about the fund’s objectives and opportunities for using the programme.

4.1.2.

The inefficiency, in terms of reducing poverty and social exclusion, of earmarking 20 % of the European Social Fund budget, favouring labour market integration projects while omitting the accessibility and affordability of social services for marginalised groups (9). Although up to 2016 25,6 % of the ESF budget was earmarked for the above purpose (10), there is no visible change in the approach to ESF activities.

4.1.3.

Member States are making insufficient use of the opportunity to make low-threshold vocational and social integration services supported by the ESF available to the FEAD beneficiaries.

4.1.4.

Inadequate implementation of the partnership principle in the spirit of the European Code of Conduct on Partnership (ECCP) in the case of the ESF, and the lack of a comparable FEAD instrument, as well as shortcomings in public consultations and in the assignment of key decisions to public institutions without social consultations. Moreover, inadequate implementation of the partnership principle undermines the transparency of the use of funds, thereby increasing the risk of corruption and abuses (11).

4.1.5.

Formal and administrative requirements introduced by the Member States applying to both the FEAD and the ESF that are excessively rigorous and unnecessary for correct implementation of EU rules. These requirements, often based on the operating mechanisms of public social administrations, do not take account either of the specific features of the target groups (e.g. the homeless, for whom formal identification and registration is often impossible) or of the working methods of civil society organisations; in some Member States these organisations are subject to administrative and financial penalties that are out of proportion to the seriousness of infringements.

4.1.6.

A lack of coordination between the Structural Funds and national strategies, a failure to follow up programmes initiated under the funds with national budget resources, and the absence of a long-term approach to funding from the European Structural and Investment Funds, which can seriously undermine the effective implementation of the fund objectives in the Member States (12). Another problem is the inappropriate or unclear definition of indicators, meaning that the long-term objectives of the measures cannot be achieved.

4.1.7.

The lack of mechanisms for enhancing and supporting capacity building of civil society organisations, including a lack of stable partnerships (and, in the case of the FEAD, accreditation), a lack of pre-financing for activities or of technical assistance funding for capacity building.

4.2.

A survey of national networks of organisations involved in combating poverty (13) shows that the extent of their inclusion in the preparation of operational programmes is, with certain exceptions, very low. The voice of the aid organisations is not given due attention in the monitoring committees.

4.3.

However, given that the FEAD — in contrast to the ESF — is a new instrument, positive aspects of implementation practice to date also merit attention. Thus, as early as 2014 eight Member States had already launched FEAD operations (a further 15 did so in 2015). It is estimated that in 2014 alone 10,9 million people (14) benefited from measures supported by the FEAD. Moreover, the launch of the FEAD and the requirement for 20 % of ESF resources to be earmarked for combating poverty and social exclusion resulted in better cooperation between the European Commission and the Member States and better coordination of the activities of the various bodies working to combat poverty and exclusion. The linking of material assistance and accompanying support under the FEAD in most Member States creates the conditions for better social integration of previous beneficiaries of food aid programmes.

4.4.

Against this backdrop, the EESC welcomes the launch by the European Commission of a FEAD Network platform for exchanging experiences and networking as well as the dissemination of best practice. The EESC considers, however, that it and the main umbrella organisations working in the area of the FEAD in the Member States should be integrated in a structured dialogue with the European Commission.

5.   Recommendations for implementation of the FEAD and the ESF in the fight against poverty and social exclusion

5.1.

The EESC advocates the creation in the next financial perspective of an integrated European fund to combat poverty and social exclusion, based on experience to date with the implementation of the FEAD and the ESF. This instrument should take account of the diverse nature of the problems and target groups in the individual Member State, including aspects relating to the various forms of migration. The intervention of such a fund should make greater use than hitherto of the experience and capacity of civil society organisations by granting them significant competences in programming, implementation, monitoring and evaluation; it should also contribute to building the capacity of networks of civil society organisations, with a particular focus on organisations providing support. Integrating the funds should not diminish the budget allocation or the EU’s social commitment to the objectives pursued by the funds.

5.2.

The EESC believes that monitoring by the European Commission of the use of the ESF in the fight against poverty and social exclusion and the use of the FEAD for integration measures in the Member States should be more effective. In particular, monitoring should assess the progress of social integration, and not just the application of set quantitative indicators and should closely involve civil society organisations and people experiencing poverty and social exclusion. These questions should also be an important element of the mid-term review.

5.3.

The EESC suggests that the European Commission consider a significant clarification of the minimum requirements with which the authorities of the Member States will have to comply when implementing partnerships with civil society organisations, and the provision of sanctions in the event of inadequate implementation (15).

5.4.

The EESC calls on the European Commission to consider requiring Member States to set up — using technical assistance in the framework of the FEAD and the ESF — effective support systems for the development of the technical and organisational capacity of civil society organisations involved in the fight against poverty and social exclusion (16).

5.5.

The EESC considers professional cooperation between the national bodies managing the funds and the partner organisations — including civil society organisations, regions, districts and municipalities — based on clear principles and transparent agreements to be of key importance. These organisations make a technical and organisational contribution, representing genuine added value in the implementation of the FEAD and the ESF. Managing authorities should consult partner organisations more effectively in order to perfect operational programmes, and also encourage and support cooperation, consultation and exchange of experience (17).

5.6.

As the partnership agreements and operational programmes are the result of negotiations between the European Commission and the national authorities, the Commission could in future be more demanding when approving those agreements and programmes and require them to be corrected, if they do not fully respect the partnership principle (18).

5.7.

The EESC calls on the Member States to make greater use of global grants, regranting and treatment — where possible — of in-kind contributions on the same footing as financial contributions. The possibility should also be considered of the European Commission requiring that a major part of resources made available under the operational programmes be earmarked for projects with smaller budgets (19). This would make it possible to support smaller bottom-up projects, organisations and self-help groups and facilitate the establishment of partnerships at local level.

5.8.

The EESC is of the view that the direct beneficiaries of aid measures can and should also contribute to enhancing their effectiveness. Organisations providing support should develop appropriate evaluation tools and, where possible, recruit volunteers from among the direct beneficiaries.

5.9.

In addition, the EESC advocates strengthening the technical and organisational capacity of European networks of organisations working to combat poverty and social exclusion.

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-10434-2016-INIT/en/pdf.

(2)  According to the FEAD Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 223/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council), ‘partner organisations’ means public bodies and/or non-profit organisations that deliver food and/or basic material assistance and whose operations have been selected by the managing authority. The ESF Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1304/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council) speaks of the social partners, NGOs and other organisations.

(3)  http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

(4)  Eurostat news release No 181/2015 of 16.10.2015.

(5)  http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-10434-2016-INIT/en/pdf

(6)  Previous opinions: OJ C 133, 14.4.2016, p. 9; OJ C 170, 5.6.2014, p. 23.

(7)  Regulation (EU) No 223/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2014 on the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived. According to the Regulation, it is up to the Member States to define ‘most deprived’.

(8)  The ECCP will not apply to the FEAD because of its different legal basis.

(9)  http://www.eapn.eu/barometer-report-eapns-monitoring-the-implementation-of-the-20-of-the-european-social-funds-for-the-fight-against-poverty/

(10)  http://ec.europa.eu/contracts_grants/pdf/esif/invest-progr-investing-job-growth-report_en.pdf

(11)  See EESC opinion OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 1.

(12)  Harnessing cohesion policy to tackle social exclusion, in-depth analysis, EPRS 2016, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/IDAN/2016/583785/EPRS_IDA%282016%29583785_EN.pdf

(13)  http://www.eapn.eu/barometer-report-eapns-monitoring-the-implementation-of-the-20-of-the-european-social-funds-for-the-fight-against-poverty/

(14)  COM(2016) 435 final.

(15)  See EESC opinion OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 1.

(16)  See EESC opinion OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 1.

(17)  Cf. conclusions of the European Council of 16 June 2016 on Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion: An integrated approach, point 15.

(18)  Harnessing cohesion policy to tackle social exclusion, EPRS, in-depth analysis, May 2016 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/IDAN/2016/583785/EPRS_IDA(2016)583785_EN.pdf

(19)  For example up to EUR 50 000.


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/20


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the role of agriculture in multilateral, bilateral and regional trade negotiations in the light of the Nairobi WTO Ministerial meeting

(Own-initiative opinion)

(2017/C 173/04)

Rapporteur:

Jonathan PEEL

Plenary Assembly decision

21 January 2016

Legal basis

Rule 29(2) of the Rules of Procedure

 

Own-initiative opinion

 

 

Section responsible

Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment

Adopted in section

6 February 2017

Adopted at plenary

23 February 2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

212/0/0

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

To misquote Mark Twain (1), reports of the death of the WTO because of the failure of the Doha Round are much exaggerated. The WTO remains a viable and effective forum for trade negotiations, particularly in agriculture.

1.1.1.

The 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December 2015 reinforced this. Decisions there included the effective elimination of agricultural export subsidies. The WTO Director-General described this as ‘the WTO’s most significant outcome on agriculture’ in 20 years. This follows the Trade Facilitation Agreement and other agreements reached in Bali in 2013 at the previous Ministerial Conference.

1.1.2.

In trade in agriculture (2), there are major policy areas where agreements can best be reached at multilateral level, notably in global levels of domestic subsidies and support, export subsidies and certain aspects of market access. The latter includes a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) and special and differential treatment (SDT) for Developing Country WTO Members.

1.2.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) believes that a fresh approach, fresh input and fresh impetus are required for trade in agriculture, often the most contentious area in negotiations. In the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration (3) there was for the first time no reaffirmation of a full commitment to conclude the Doha Round, but it did include a ‘strong commitment of all members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues’, including agriculture.

1.2.1.

The multilateral approach to agriculture needs rethinking and reinvigorating, not abandoning. ‘Doha’ as a concept for a trade dialogue between developed and developing countries needs to be preserved and enhanced, whilst respecting the principle of food sovereignty for all.

1.2.2.

The EU is well positioned to play a leading, proactive role in promoting a fresh, balanced approach. The EESC urges it to do so not least due to the failure of many fast-emerging economies to make any notable efforts to help others still further behind in development. Capacity building for the latter remains critically important, as does giving less advanced developing countries greater scope to prevent undermining of their food security or of the development of their emerging agricultural sectors.

1.3.

Further consideration is also needed for what bilateral and regional negotiations can best achieve in trade in agriculture, whilst ensuring that these do not conflict with multilateralism.

1.4.

The EESC believes that the UN’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), together with the Paris Agreement (COP21 (4)), fundamentally changes the global trade agenda, especially for trade in agriculture. These agreements are profound and the need to implement them must now lie at the heart of all future trade negotiations.

1.4.1.

If the SDGs are to be realised, trade and investment must play a core role. Unctad estimates that an extra USD 2,5 trillion will be needed annually to meet these targets. The SDGs are global in nature and universally applicable — all countries must share responsibility in achieving them. They should lead to a new way of global working — broader, more participative and more consultative. Already more than 90 countries have sought the assistance of others to help meet them.

1.4.2.

There will be close synergy in promoting and implementing the SDGs and in promoting European values around the world, notably through environmental and social progress. We strongly recommend that levels of transparency and involvement of civil society as eventually achieved by the EU in the negotiations with the US must become the norm.

1.4.3.

The Nairobi Declaration stresses that the WTO has an important part to play in achieving the SDGs, which would be far harder without an effective multilateral trade mechanism.

1.5.

The Committee welcomes the Commission communication ‘Next Steps for a Sustainable European Future’, published in November 2016 (5), which sets out to integrate the SDGs fully ‘in the European policy framework and current Commission priorities’.

1.5.1.

This will be especially important for future trade in agriculture negotiations. Agriculture has a key role to play in realising most if not all SDGs, especially Goals 2 (ending hunger), 12 (sustainable consumption and production) and 15 (land degradation). Trade helps to even out imbalances in demand and supply, can significantly improve food security and nutrition through increasing food availability, promote resource use efficiency and increase investment, market opportunities and economic growth, thus generating jobs, income and prosperity in rural areas.

1.6.

The EU is uniquely positioned to drive this agenda forward: it carries weight as the world’s largest exporter and importer of agricultural products, it is no longer seen to be primarily defensive on agriculture, it has a proven sustained interest in trade and development and above all it showed in Nairobi it has the ability to produce fresh and balanced thinking. The EU has the credibility to play an effective bridging role between developed and developing countries.

1.7.

However, before it can do this effectively, the EESC urges the Commission to undertake a full impact assessment first on the likely effects that implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement will have on EU agriculture and on EU trade policy.

1.7.1.

At the same time, the EU must widen this impact assessment to include the effects on agriculture across the EU from recent EU trade agreements as well as developments in trade globally. Whilst agriculture and trade have been EU competences for over 40 years, there has at times been a lack of communication, or ‘joined-up’ thinking, between these key interests.

2.   Background

2.1.

As part (Article 20) of the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA), members of the newly established WTO (replacing the GATT, or General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) agreed to initiate further negotiations ‘for continuing the agricultural trade reform process’ by the end of 1999. In 2001 this ‘built-in reform agenda’ in turn became part of the wider ‘Doha Round’, or Doha Development Agenda (DDA). Originally set to conclude by 1 January 2005, negotiations are still ongoing after 15 years.

2.2.

Based on negotiating submissions from over 100 WTO Members, the Doha Declaration (6) stated its long-term objective to be ‘to establish a fair and market-oriented trading system through a programme of fundamental reform’. This was to include ‘strengthened rules, and specific commitments on government support and protection for agriculture … to correct and prevent restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets’.

2.2.1.

The DDA covered the ‘three pillars’ of trade in agriculture, as determined by the URAA:

substantial reductions in barriers to market access,

reductions in, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies,

substantial reductions in domestic support for agriculture that distort trade.

2.2.2.

The Doha Declaration placed as ‘integral throughout the negotiations’ special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries, to enable developing countries to meet their needs, in particular in food security and rural development. Based on Members’ submissions, it was also agreed to include non-trade concerns, such as environmental protection.

2.3.

With several missed deadlines, the Doha Round has never been completed, although notable progress was made in both Bali and Nairobi.

2.3.1.

Core to the Doha Declaration was the ‘Single Undertaking’, whereby nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. Although WTO Members came close to agreement on a number of occasions, most recently in 2008, outstanding issues remained. However this was effectively broken in Bali in 2013, through the Trade Facilitation Agreement and a number of other agreements, furthered by the specific agreements on agriculture reached in Nairobi.

2.4.

Although paragraph 12 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration states: ‘We note, however, that much less progress has been made in Agriculture’, the decision taken there to eliminate agricultural export subsidies was described by the WTO Director-General as ‘the WTO’s most significant outcome on agriculture’ (7) in 20 years. Alongside that, the Ministerial Declaration also recommitted members to continue work on reaching a ‘Special Safeguard Mechanism for Developing Country Members’ (SSM), as well as on reaching a permanent solution on ‘Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes’, for adoption at the next Conference, ‘MC11’, in 2017. The Ministerial Decision on cotton is also relevant.

3.   Specific comments: future multilateral progress in agriculture

3.1.

As both the URAA and the DDA recognised, any effective global agreement on SSM, SDT or on the overall levels of subsidies in agriculture is best covered at multilateral level. Nevertheless, if tackled piecemeal as at Nairobi, this will leave fewer incentives for the more difficult issues, with less to offer those expected to make major concessions.

3.1.1.

The WTO Agriculture Committee is showing a growing will to work for ‘agriculture related outcomes’ at MC11, due to be held in Buenos Aires in December 2017, including the URAA ‘built-in reform agenda’ (8), not least to bolster the multilateral approach.

3.1.2.

Realistically however the Doha process as such has run its course, with fresh thinking and fresh input now needed, not only for future multilateral negotiations but also for what might best be achieved at bilateral or regional level without distorting the global picture.

3.2.

The ‘Nairobi Package’ involved some six agreements on agriculture, most importantly a commitment to abolish export subsidies for agricultural exports, effectively settling one of the three pillars of agriculture, with developing countries given a little extra time to phase out such subsidies. This also delivered a key target set for SDG 2 (‘zero hunger’).

3.2.1.

The EU was a key driver for that, notably preparing a joint position beforehand with major global agricultural exporters, including Brazil. This agreement also included binding disciplines on other forms of export support, including export credits, food aid and state trading enterprises, as well as removing subsidies on cotton.

3.3.

DDA discussions on market access have so far concentrated on tariff levels, tariff-rate quotas (TRQs), tariff quota administration and special safeguards, including SDT for developing countries. As a result of the URAA, nearly all non-tariff barriers in agriculture had to be eliminated or converted to tariffs, unless other WTO rules applied, notably the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement (9). Where the ‘calculated equivalent tariffs’ still remained too high to allow any real possibility for imports, a system of TRQs was introduced, with lower tariffs within these quotas.

3.3.1.

Tariffs and TRQs can indeed be tackled in bilateral trade negotiations, but special safeguards and SDT are effectively multilateral issues. Countries can, and do, also cut their tariffs or subsidies unilaterally — many have done so.

3.4.

Domestic support for agriculture lies at the heart of multilateral negotiations, where there is now room for manoeuvre and some prospect for progress at MC11.

3.4.1.

Most countries support their farmers domestically. For some, this support is minimal (e.g. leading exporters, notably Australia and New Zealand). Other developed countries give major support to their farmers in a variety of forms, not least as remuneration for the services they provide for society. So do fast-emerging economies, where levels of support are believed to be growing markedly as they get richer but where serious time lags are emerging in reporting figures to the WTO.

3.4.2.

In September 2016 the US initiated WTO dispute proceedings against China over its domestic support measures, notably for wheat, corn and varieties of rice. China last reported figures to the WTO for 2010, since when its support is believed to have risen rapidly. Although the disputes mechanism can be cumbersome and a full procedure may not follow, this move is casting a long shadow over WTO discussions on domestic support in advance of MC11. It also seems to contradict the Bali understanding to avoid disputes on Public Stockholding issues involving developing countries (10).

3.4.3.

Figures submitted in turn by the US government to the WTO (11) show that its domestic support increased from USD 12 bn to USD 14 bn in 2013, close to its overall limit proposed in the abortive ‘July 2008 Package’. This included USD 6,9 bn in ‘amber box’ and USD 7 bn in ‘de minimis’ payments. USD 132 bn in ‘Green box’ support was given. The overall total of over USD 140 bn in support is nearly double that of 2007. This account also states that China reported trade distorting subsidies, as defined by the 1994 GATT Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture, of some USD 18 bn in 2010, Japan USD 14 bn in 2012, Russia USD 5 bn in 2014 and India USD 2 bn in 2010-2011. Brazil reported less than USD 2 bn ‘trade distorting’ support for 2014-2015 (12).

3.4.4.

In 2012-2013, EU figures notified to the WTO (13) show annual support was around EUR 80 bn, a figure numerically consistent since the start of the Doha Round. However, of this over EUR 70 bn came under ‘green box’ support. The EU’s overall ‘trade distorting’ support, including ‘amber box’, ‘blue box’ and ‘de minimis’ support, came to just EUR 10 bn. EU ‘green box’ support (non or minimally trade distorting) includes environmental protection and regional development programmes.

3.4.5.

The large shift by the EU from trade distorting support, over EUR 60 bn in 2001, to ‘green box’ follows the CAP ‘Luxembourg Agreement’ of 2003 when EU farm payments were switched from direct support for individual crops to ‘decoupled (or separated) income support’. This major unilateral step towards meeting a key DDA goal in agriculture gives the EU increased credibility as a future broker in agricultural negotiations.

3.4.6.

However the US and other countries could only be expected to make serious concessions on domestic support in return for major concessions elsewhere, including non-agricultural multilateral issues — but prospects for that are not encouraging. Some may feel that there is no need to go further due to other mega-regional agreements in hand.

3.4.7.

Other issues remain highly controversial between developing countries, notably ‘Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes’ which sets neighbour against neighbour. It was agreed in Nairobi to continue to work for a permanent solution to this issue, left over from Bali where it was raised by India. Under the Bali Decision, developing countries are allowed to continue food stockpiling programmes which otherwise may breach WTO domestic support limits.

3.5.

Nevertheless, as the Commission communication ‘Trade for All’ states, multilateralism lies at the heart of world trade and must remain ‘the cornerstone of EU trade policy’ (14). The WTO develops and enforces the rules of global trade, and ensures global compatibility. It is backed by its Disputes Mechanism (15), widely valued and increasingly used. The SDGs and COP21 are both clear sets of targets. In contrast the WTO has a clear mechanism, against widespread protectionism and trade disruption such as preceded World War II and the subsequent founding of the GATT.

3.5.1.

This rule-making role is particularly important for trade in agriculture. Above all this applies to the SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) Agreement and to the extremely complex area of Rules of Origin (ROO), although these are not part of the DDA agenda. There remains a real danger that bilateral agreements could set potentially overlapping and even conflicting rules, complicating rather than clarifying world trade rules.

3.5.2.

The 1995 WTO SPS Agreement covers the application of food safety, animal and plant health regulations. Article 5.7 covers the Precautionary Principle, now enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty. Any attempt to alter this other than at multilateral level would have profound implications for the world trade order and for the future credibility of the Agreement itself.

4.   Prospects for bilateral or regional trade agreements

4.1.

In agriculture as elsewhere, bilateral FTAs need to provide real added value. They allow more scope for regional and national differences, as well as for cultural sensitivities. They must also be judged by whether they strengthen multilateralism.

4.2.

Tariff reductions and TRQs form a key part of bilateral trade agreements. In Japan import tariffs for foodstuffs remain very high; in China tariffs are far lower. The EU could have room to manoeuvre with some TRQs, possibly where sensitivities may have changed for those set at the time of the URAA.

4.2.1.

Geographical Indications (GIs), said to be worth EUR 5,6 bn annually (16), are a very important area where the EU needs to maximise in its own interests in bilateral negotiations. EU negotiators successfully included some 145 recognised EU GIs in the EU-Canada Agreement (CETA) (17), and more with Vietnam, but this will vary depending on what is relevant to a specific FTA. Other countries, notably in East Asia, have been slow in designating GIs, whilst the US sees many such designations as generic products.

4.2.2.

The EU must also fully safeguard its agricultural interests in bilateral negotiations, and enhance these as far as possible, in particular where the EU’s negotiating partner is a significant agricultural exporter, such as Mercosur, Australia or New Zealand. The EU must avoid any temptation to make concessions in agriculture in return for gains elsewhere.

4.3.

Bilateral agreements should aim to eliminate the application of double standards in agriculture, notably in connection with the SPS and TBT Agreements, in partner countries. The EU will also want to promote its own standards in animal health and welfare, as well as promote its environmental, social and wider sustainable development standards, in line with the SDGs. The Committee welcomes the level of transparency and the involvement of civil society from the start of negotiations as eventually achieved with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and recommends that this becomes the norm in future negotiations.

4.3.1.

The EU (and others) must include a binding commitment to capacity building to help less developed countries to meet such standards, such as help in developing an acceptable certifying veterinary system, food safety standards being paramount.

4.4.

Ensuring and enhancing food security will also be a fundamental policy driver in any bilateral agriculture negotiations, as outlined in the Committee Opinion on Agricultural trade/global food security  (18). As this points out, agricultural trade needs both to ‘meet the demand of those with money to spend’ (possibly for the first time) ‘and to give help and support where people cannot eliminate hunger and shortage on their own’. It is equally important to maintain a sufficient level of food self-sufficiency, not least to protect importing countries from major price fluctuations in imported products.

4.4.1.

This Opinion outlined the huge potential demand for EU food and drink products outside Europe. Some two thirds of EU agriculture output goes for further processing. EU agri-food exports reached EUR 129 bn for 2015, a 27 % increase over 2011. In the second quarter of 2016 EU exports totalled EUR 25,4 bn, whilst in turn EU imports of food and drink products were EUR 17,8 bn. The leading exports were meat, spirits, wine, dairy, chocolate and confectionery.

5.   Trade, Agriculture and the SDGs

5.1.

The adoption by the UN of the SDGs in September 2015, the core of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the realisation of the Paris Agreement (COP 21) (19), will have profound effects on world trade. The overarching need to implement these must now lie at the heart of all future trade negotiations, especially in trade in agriculture.

5.2.

The SDGs will have more direct effect on trade in agriculture. The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but they will affect every country. The SDGs are global in nature and universally applicable — all countries must share responsibility in achieving them. The SDGs are deeply interwoven with the Paris Agreement: at least 13 SDGs refer to climate change.

5.2.1.

To help them meet the SDGs, over 90 countries have already sought the assistance of others. The SDGs are core to the global debate, which the EU has helped promote. They should lead to new ways of global working — broader, more participative and more consultative.

5.2.2.

The Committee welcomes the Commission communication ‘Next Steps for a Sustainable European Future’, published in November 2016 (20), which sets out to integrate the SDGs fully ‘in the European policy framework and current Commission priorities’, as indeed it is bound to do under the Lisbon Treaty (21). The SDGs ‘will be a cross-cutting dimension’ for the implementation of the EU’s global strategy. The EU was, as is stated, ‘instrumental in shaping’ this agenda. There will be a close synergy in promoting and implementing the SDGs and in promoting European values around the world, even though the SDGs do not directly promote good governance and the rule of law.

5.2.3.

The SDGs also go far further than the MDGs in that they specifically identify the tools, or ‘means of implementation’ for meeting all 17 SDGs and their 169 specifically identified targets. Trade is specifically mentioned in 9 SDGs (as compared to just once in the MDGs).

5.2.4.

If the SDGs are to be effectively realised, trade and investment must play a profound role, not least as Unctad estimate that to achieve these targets an extra USD 2,5 trillion will have to be found annually, much of it from the private sector. As the WTO Director-General has pointed out, the MDGs have already shown the ‘transformative potential of trade’ (22).

5.3.

Trade in agriculture must also play a core role in realising most, if not all, SDGs, critically so for Goals 2 (Hunger/Food Security), 12 (Sustainable consumption/production) and 15 (Land Degradation).

5.3.1.

It will also play an essential role in meeting Goals 1 (Poverty/Undernutrition), 8 (Inclusive, sustainable economic growth), 9 (Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 13 (Climate change), 3 (Well-being), 5 (Gender equality) and 7 (Energy). It will need too to be in full synergy with other forms of action, including development.

5.4.

As spelt out in the WTO Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, international trade can play a role towards achieving sustainable, robust and balanced growth for all (23). That stressed both that the WTO has an important part to play in achieving the SDGs, and that this would be far harder without an effective multilateral trade mechanism.

5.4.1.

The impact of trade and investment in agriculture on climate change must be taken into account Negotiations for the plurilateral Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) promise an important step in integrating climate change with multilateral trade policy but further multilateral action will still be needed to promote greater consistency.

5.4.2.

International trade can significantly improve food security and nutrition through increasing food availability and encouraging investment and growth. Conversely, recourse to protectionist measures can remove essential flexibility and prevent the development of regional markets. Nevertheless, trade agreements also need to include effective measures to allow less advanced developing countries greater scope to prevent undermining of their food security or of the development of their emerging agricultural sectors.

5.5.

The EU has led the way in incorporating sustainable development concerns into free trade agreements. Since 2010 it has successfully completed six FTAs, starting with South Korea, and one Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), with others awaiting full ratification, including Canada, Singapore and Vietnam. These contain specific chapters on trade and sustainable development (TSD), backed by a joint civil society mechanism to monitor implementation. In each instance the EESC has a key role to play.

5.5.1.

The Committee has already called (24) for similar TSD chapters to be included in current and future EU negotiations for separate stand-alone Investment Agreements. The TPP Agreement also contains specific social and environmental chapters.

5.6.

The Committee notes too that many of the ‘food poor’ in the world are agricultural workers, and alleviating hunger has rightly formed a key part of the MDGs and now SD Goal 2. 70 % of those experiencing food insecurity live in rural areas, due in part to a gradual decline in agricultural investment and chronically low agricultural yields in poor countries, but also to the absence of an effective agricultural or commercial policy that does not sufficiently account for the specificities of agricultural production (including climate, resources, living material, or market volatility). Here the considerations of the FAO, particularly in regard to social protection, should be noted.

5.6.1.

Internal trade within Africa is low — between 10-15 % of all African trade. Enhancing African countries’ ability to expand trade in agriculture linked with the SDGs covering infrastructure, regional integration and deepening of internal markets, including through increased secondary processing, will be essential to enable Africa to participate positively in agricultural trade as well as enhance food security.

6.   EU Role in future trade in agriculture negotiations

6.1.

As shown by Nairobi, where against expectations a significant Ministerial Declaration was agreed, the EU is in a strong position to play a leading role in future trade in agriculture negotiations. This is based on the EU’s perceived leading role in promoting both sustainability and development (the role it played in Nairobi) and as a result of earlier CAP reforms, the EU is no longer seen to be primarily defensive.

6.1.1.

The new Commission communication commits the EU ‘to be a frontrunner’ in implementing the SDGs, together with the Paris Agreement. All EU trade initiatives must now meet the requirements set by these closely interwoven agreements.

6.2.

The Commission has also produced a study on the impact of future trade agreements on the agricultural sector (25). This looks at 12 future FTAs and looks at the potential for European agricultural products on the world market. However, it was unable to cover the full range of agricultural products, nor processed foods in general. The Commission itself accepts that this study is incomplete insofar as its evaluation did not take into account non-tariff barriers, which nevertheless have a significant impact on trade.

6.2.1.

To enable the Commission to draw up a full and effective strategy for trade in agriculture, this should be widened to include a full impact assessment on the likely effects implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement will have on EU agriculture, together with a further impact assessment on the effects on agriculture across the EU resulting from recent developments in trade globally. That should cover recent EU FTAs, including indirect developments such as where devaluation of partner currencies has had notable impact.

6.2.2.

Agreements that pre-date the 2006 ‘Global Europe’ communication (26) should be included, notably South Africa, Mexico and Chile, not least as the latter two are scheduled for review.

6.3.

In undertaking these impact assessments, the Commission must keep in mind the need to ensure that farmers benefit fairly from such trade agreements. Farmers play a key role in feeding not just their local population but also a fast growing world population. It is essential that viable rural communities be maintained, mitigating as far as possible depopulation across Europe.

6.3.1.

Resource-efficient agricultural practices are essential. There is a need to improve resource management and access, by enhancing the adaptive capacity and resilience of small farmers to climate change, and by enhancing skills and productivity on marginal land.

6.4.

Agriculture is at real risk from climate change. Globally, resources of land and water are finite, long-term shifts in growing conditions result from greater extremes in climate, and price volatility is increasing. A strong and viable agricultural sector is essential to maintain or increase stable, safe and secure supplies of food. Trade of course helps to even out imbalances in demand and supply, promoting resource use efficiency and increasing market opportunities and economic growth, thus generating jobs, income and prosperity in rural areas.

6.4.1.

With the global ‘middle class’ population estimated to increase by some 2 bn by 2030, these too will want a choice and diversity in food they eat never enjoyed before. This will include an exponential increase in the demand for protein and other farm produce.

6.4.2.

The Cork 2.0 Declaration is important here. Farmers are the guardians of both land and other rural resources, whilst animal welfare is also a fundamental concern. The EESC Opinion on Integrated production in the EU  (27) is relevant here.

Brussels, 23 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  Classic US author.

(2)  WTO designation, used throughout.

(3)  https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc10_e/mindecision_e.htm

(4)  The Paris Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 21).

(5)  SWD(2016) 390 final.

(6)  https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/min01_e/mindecl_e.htm

(7)  https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spra_e/spra108_e.htm

(8)  https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news16_e/agng_09mar16_e.htm ICTSD Bridges report, Vol 20, No 40 — 24.11.2016.

(9)  Important not least for labelling and traceability purposes.

(10)  The WTO has to use UN classifications and include as developing countries all not classified as either developed or least developed (LDC). For its General System of Preferences (GSP and GSP+), the EU can use the more precise World Bank categories based on a country’s income.

(11)  Bridges, Vol 20, No 20 — 2.6.2016.

(12)  Bridges Vol 20, No 37 — 3.11.2016.

(13)  Bridges Vol. 19, No 38 — 12.11.2015.

(14)  COM(2015) 497 final, point 5.1.

(15)  Now handling its 513th case.

(16)  Quoted by European Commission officials at an EESC meeting on March 2016.

(17)  Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, now awaiting ratification.

(18)  OJ C 13, 15/1/2016, p. 97.

(19)  The Paris Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 21).

(20)  SWD(2016) 390 final.

(21)  Art. 21 (3) TFEU.

(22)  UN Speech, 21.9.2016.

(23)  https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc10_e/mindecision_e.htm

(24)  EESC opinion, OJ C 268, 14.8.2015, p. 19.

(25)  http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC103602/lb-na-28206-en-n_full_report_final.pdf

(26)  COM(2006) 567 final.

(27)  OJ C 214, 8.7.2014, p. 8.


III Preparatory acts

EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE

523th EESC plenary session of 22 and 23 February 2017

31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/29


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the proposal for a Council directive on double taxation dispute resolution mechanisms in the European Union

(COM(2016) 686 final — 2016/0338 (CNS))

(2017/C 173/05)

Rapporteur:

Krister ANDERSSON

Consultation

Council of the European Union, 16 February 2017

Legal basis

Article 115 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion

Adopted in section

2 February 2017

Adopted at plenary

22 February 2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

174/0/2

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC welcomes the Commission proposal for a Council Directive to improve double taxation dispute resolution mechanisms in the EU.

1.2.

The EESC agrees with the Commission that double taxation is one of the biggest tax obstacles to the Single Market. There is an urgent need for mechanisms ensuring that cases of double taxation are resolved more quickly and more decisively when they arise between Member States.

1.3.

The EESC recognises that eliminating double taxation is not by itself sufficient to create a level playing field in the area of taxation. It believes that the EU needs a common positive, forward-looking framework for corporate taxation.

1.4.

The EESC is pleased that the proposed directive adds targeted enforcement blocks to address the main identified shortcomings in the Union Arbitration Convention (1).

1.5.

The EESC very much welcomes the fact that in circumstances where Member States do not automatically start the arbitration procedure, the taxpayer can ask its national court to take the necessary steps for setting up an arbitration committee to deliver a final, binding decision on the case within a fixed timeframe.

1.6.

The EESC supports the Commission initiative to extend its monitoring of countries’ performance in all cases of double taxation disputes in cross-border situations on a yearly basis, in order to assess whether the objectives of the directive are met.

1.7.

The Committee also welcomes the flexibility provided to Member States to agree bilaterally on a case by case basis to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. This facilitates solutions in multilateral situations where the dispute at stake has to be solved not only at the EU level but also in relation to third countries through bilateral treaties.

1.8.

The EESC endorses the provision that the competent authorities may publish the final decision, subject to the consent of each of the taxpayers concerned.

1.9.

The Committee would like to stress the urgency of implementing this proposal. The number of cases of double or multiple taxation is increasing in size and magnitude. There is no room for delay.

2.   Background and Commission proposal

2.1.

One of the main problems that businesses operating across border currently face is double taxation. There are already mechanisms in place that deal with the resolution of double taxation disputes. They are the Mutual Agreement Procedures (MAP) which are foreseen in Double Taxation Conventions (DTCs) entered into by Member States as well as in the Union Arbitration Convention on the elimination of double taxation in connection with the adjustment of profits of associated enterprises.

2.2.

Although the existing mechanisms work well in many cases, there is a need to make them work better regarding access for taxpayers to those mechanisms, coverage, timeliness and conclusiveness. Moreover, the traditional methods of resolving disputes no longer fully fit with the complexity and risks of the current global tax environment.

2.3.

The proposed directive focusses on business and companies, the main stakeholders affected by double taxation situations. It builds on the existing Union Arbitration Convention, which already provides for a mandatory binding arbitration mechanism, but broadens its scope to areas which are not currently covered and adds targeted enforcement blocks to address the main identified shortcomings, as regards enforcement and effectiveness of this mechanism. As a result, all double taxation disputes involving cross-border transactions within the EU and impacting on business profits fall within the scope of the proposal.

2.4.

The proposal adds an explicit obligation of result for Member States as well as a clearly defined time limit. Situations which characterise double non-taxation or cases of fraud, wilful default or gross negligence are excluded.

2.5.

The directive allows for a Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP), initiated by the complaint of the taxpayer, under which the Member States must freely cooperate and reach an agreement within two years.

2.6.

The initial MAP phase is complemented with an arbitration procedure which provides for solving the dispute by way of arbitration within a timeline of 15 months in the case that Member States failed to reach an agreement during the initial amicable phase. This arbitration procedure is mandatory and starts automatically. It ends with the issuance of a final mandatory binding decision by the competent authorities of the Member States involved.

2.7.

Enhanced transparency is one of the objectives of the proposed directive. The competent authorities may publish the final arbitration decision and more detailed information, subject to agreement by the taxpayer. In the event that the taxpayer does not consent, the competent authorities shall publish an abstract of the decision.

3.   General comments

3.1.

The EESC welcomes the Commission proposal for a Council Directive, as part of the Corporate Tax Package, to improve double taxation dispute resolution mechanisms in the EU. There is an urgent need for mechanisms ensuring that cases of double taxation are resolved more quickly and more decisively when they arise between Member States.

3.2.

The EESC agrees with the Commission statement that Europe needs a tax system that fits its internal market and that supports economic growth and competitiveness, attracts investment, helps to create jobs, fosters innovation and upholds the European social model. Taxation should provide stable revenues for public investment and growth-friendly policies. It should ensure that all businesses enjoy a level playing field, legal certainty and minimal obstacles when operating cross-border.

3.3.

The EESC shares the concerns of the Commission that disagreement amongst Member States over who has the right to tax certain profits often results in companies being taxed twice or more on the same income. The most recent figures from the Commission indicate there are around 900 double taxation disputes ongoing in the EU, with EUR 10,5 billion at stake.

3.4.

The Committee welcomes the Commission’s work to ensure that all companies operating in the EU pay their taxes where profits and value are generated, but they should not be subject to double or multiple taxation of the same profits. This principle is essential for fair and effective taxation. The EESC agrees with the Commission that one of the biggest tax obstacles to the Single Market is double taxation.

3.5.

The EESC very much welcomes the initiative by the Commission to address double taxation in a coordinated manner in the EU. It agrees with the Commission that to boost jobs, growth and investment, a favourable tax environment needs to be created for business, by reducing compliance costs and administrative burdens, and by ensuring tax certainty. The importance of tax certainty in promoting investment and growth has recently been recognised by the G20 leaders and has become the new global focus. Member States need to find a balance between implementing necessary reforms and providing a steady, clear and predictable tax environment for businesses.

3.6.

The EESC recognises that eliminating double taxation is not by itself sufficient to create a level playing field in the area of taxation. It believes that the EU needs a common positive, forward-looking framework for corporate taxation. This is the rationale behind the Commission’s proposal to re-launch the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).

3.7.

The EESC recognises that most Member States have bilateral tax treaties with one another to relieve double taxation and that there are procedures to resolve disputes. However, these procedures are long, costly and do not always result in an agreement. The Union Arbitration Convention provides some relief. However, its scope is limited to transfer pricing disputes and there is no recourse to repeal the interpretation of the rules.

3.8.

The EESC is pleased that the proposed directive adds targeted enforcement blocks to address the main identified shortcomings in the Union Arbitration Convention, i.e. situations of denial of access, whether implicit or explicit, as well as prolonged and blocked procedures.

3.9.

The EESC also welcomes the fact that a wider range of cases will be able to benefit from a mechanism, providing for mandatory binding resolution of disputes. These improvements to Dispute Resolution Mechanisms will save both businesses and administrations a considerable amount of time, money and resources and will reinforce tax certainty for companies in the EU.

3.10.

The EESC very much welcomes the fact that in circumstances where Member States do not automatically start the arbitration procedure, the taxpayer can ask its national court to take the necessary steps for setting up an arbitration committee to deliver a final, binding decision on the case within a fixed timeframe. This will help to avoid uncertainty for the businesses involved and builds on mechanisms and good practices which are already applied in all Member States for cross-border disputes in areas other than taxation. However, the EESC would like to stress the necessity for Member States to ensure that the duration of these court proceedings is short to avoid significant delays in solving disputes.

3.11.

The EESC supports the Commission initiative to extend its monitoring of countries’ performance on all cases of double taxation disputes in cross-border situations on a yearly basis, in order to assess whether the objectives of the directive are met. Existing analysis shows that there are cases that are prevented from entering existing mechanisms, that are not covered by the scope of the Union Arbitration Convention or DTCs, that get held up without the taxpayer being informed about the reasons or that are not resolved at all. At this stage, the EESC does not find the performance at Member State level satisfactory and calls for close Commission scrutiny of the functioning of the directive when implemented and publication of its analysis and results.

3.12.

The EESC agrees that the elimination of double taxation should be achieved through a procedure under which, as a first step, the case is submitted to the tax authorities of the Member States concerned with a view to settling the dispute using the Mutual Agreement Procedure. In the absence of such an agreement within a certain time frame, the case should be submitted to an Advisory Commission or Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission, consisting of both representatives of the tax authorities concerned and independent persons of standing. The tax authorities should take a final binding decision with reference to the opinion of an Advisory Commission or Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission.

3.13.

The EESC recognises that an effective minimum standard for dispute resolution mechanisms needs to be established in the EU addressing comprehensively and with sufficient detail the procedural steps needed to ensure homogeneous and effective application.

3.14.

The Committee also welcomes the flexibility provided to Member States to agree bilaterally on a case by case basis to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. This facilitates solutions in multilateral situations where the dispute at stake has to be solved not only at the EU level but also in relation to third countries through bilateral treaties.

3.15.

The EESC endorses the provision that the competent authorities may publish the final decision, subject to the consent of each of the taxpayers concerned.

3.16.

The Committee would like to stress the urgency of implementing this proposal. The number of cases of double or multiple taxation is increasing in size and magnitude. There is no room for delay.

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  Convention on the elimination of double taxation in connection with the adjustments of profits of associated enterprises (90/436/EEC).


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/33


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Recommendation for a Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area’

(COM(2016) 726 final)

and on the

‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Central Bank, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Towards a positive fiscal stance for the euro area’

(COM(2016) 727 final)

(2017/C 173/06)

Rapporteur:

Javier DOZ ORRIT

Co-rapporteur:

Petr ZAHRADNÍK

Consultation

European Commission, 27.1.2017

Legal basis

Article 304 of the TFEU

 

 

Section responsible

Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion

Adopted in section

2.2.2017

Adopted at plenary

22.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

218/4/4

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC appreciates the European Commission’s effort to apply an economic policy that focuses on supporting the strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth of the euro area as well as a balanced mix of monetary, fiscal and structural instruments in order to achieve this, including a positive fiscal stance.

1.2.

The EESC therefore welcomes the European Commission’s recommendation for a positive fiscal stance for the euro area that also respects the long-term fiscal sustainability objectives.

1.3.

The EESC would like to encourage the European Commission to take full advantage of its role as guardian of the EU Treaties, with their commitment, among other things, to enhancing well-being, social progress and social justice on the one hand, and economic prosperity and competitiveness on the other hand, as well as its recently increased powers in interpreting fiscal rules flexibly in order to allow for significant increases in public investment which, under specified conditions, should not be taken into account when calculating the deficit targets of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP).

1.4.

The EESC welcomes the emphasis on increasing investment and building on the existing Investment Plan. This must be adequately funded so as to lead to a significant increase in EIB lending compared to recent years. Governance structures should ensure that funds are adequately directed towards countries in which investment has fallen particularly severely. These measures must be combined with adequate structural reforms that promote growth, employment and social cohesion.

1.5.

The EESC welcomes the European Commission’s call for a symmetrical adjustment of current account deficits within the euro area. This should be shared both by Member States with deficits and those with surpluses. Member States should decide how to make these adjustments, in accordance with the common general orientation.

1.6.

Emphasis should be given to structural reforms that can stimulate demand and growth even in the short-term, while avoiding those that are likely to undermine growth by increasing job and income insecurity. The structural reforms adopted should have the potential to bring about tangible improvements to business conditions, reduce barriers to investment and contribute to the completion of the EU single market in all of its aspects.

1.7.

Productivity growth should be a priority objective of structural reforms. These should ensure the fair distribution of any productivity gains in order to ensure stronger demand and supply-side improvements.

1.8.

Restoring and increasing growth in productivity and GDP should be viewed as the key means of restoring health in the economies suffering from the highest levels of indebtedness.

1.9.

Reforms that support the creation of high quality (i.e. stable, fairly paid) jobs should be prioritised.

1.10.

The EESC stresses that strengthening and promoting social and civil society dialogues both at the national and the euro area level is of paramount importance for agreeing and successfully implementing the policies that are necessary for recovery and long-term economic sustainability.

1.11.

Effective measures against money laundering, tax offenses, the use of tax havens and unfair tax competition between Member States will also help to achieve the objectives of the SGP.

1.12.

The EESC supports the creation of a European Deposit Insurance Scheme and calls for the creation of a common backstop for the Single Resolution Fund of the banking union to be speeded up. Decisive steps should be taken to solve the problem of non-performing loans, while at the same time protecting consumers’ rights and respecting the relevant principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

1.13.

The EESC supports the initiatives to complete the Economic and Monetary Union, including a strong European Pillar of Social Rights, more fiscal flexibility and a fiscal capacity for the euro area, notably by promoting the establishment of a Euro Treasury, which should ultimately issue common bonds, under strong democratic and political control.

1.14.

The EESC calls for the further improvement of the European Semester with a reinforced coordination role of the European Commission in it and a clear commitment of the Member States to implement the policies they agree on at Council level, thus avoiding uncertainty and creating a conducive investment environment.

2.   Background

2.1.

Following the Five Presidents’ Report, there is a commitment under the European Semester to strengthen the integration between the euro area and the national levels. As in 2016, the 2017 Annual Growth Survey is accompanied by a recommendation for a Council Recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area. The aim is to offer an opportunity for an early and focused discussion about the euro area as a whole, ahead of country-specific discussions, so that common challenges are fully reflected in country-specific actions.

2.2.

For the 2017 European Semester, the Commission presented the following five recommendations on the economic policy of the euro area:

Pursue policies supporting growth and convergence and remove bottlenecks to investment and job creation. Countries with current account deficits or high external debt should seek to raise productivity, while countries with current account surpluses should increase domestic demand and investment;

Deliver an overall positive fiscal stance that supports reforms and strengthens recovery. Combine differentiated national efforts to secure both long-term fiscal sustainability and macroeconomic stabilisation. Improve the composition of public finances;

Implement reforms promoting job creation, social fairness and convergence, and shift taxes away from labour, in particular for low-income jobs;

Agree on a European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS) and start work on the common backstop for the Single Resolution Fund. Address risks to the viability of the banking sector and promote the orderly deleveraging of high private debt;

Accelerate the completion of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union, including by implementing the remaining actions under stage 1 of the Five Presidents’ Report.

2.3.

A new feature of the European Semester 2017 is the Communication ‘Towards a positive fiscal stance for the euro area’. In this document the Commission stresses the need for a positive fiscal stance, also seeing a window of opportunity for achieving it. In order to deliver such a fiscal stance, the euro area must adopt a more collective approach that takes account of the differences in situations across countries. The Commission recommends a fiscal expansion of up to 0,5 % of GDP in 2017 for the euro area as a whole, having set out a band between 0,3 % and 0,8 % to allow for differentiation among countries with different risks in terms of their macroeconomic stability and fiscal sustainability.

3.   General comments

3.1.

The EESC takes a positive view of the European Commission’s call for an overall positive fiscal stance in the euro area. However, the EESC is also concerned that limiting fiscal expansion to the two or three Member States that currently have fiscal space according to the EU fiscal rules is unlikely to deliver the overall fiscal stance that is proposed. It is vital to strengthen economic growth in the euro area and in the EU in this period of political crisis and of uncertainty fuelled by Brexit and the policies of the new U.S. government, particularly protectionist trade policies. Fiscal expansion and a greater increase in public and private investment will boost domestic demand, which is a crucial factor for robust growth. This will also be supported by structural reforms that aim to increase productivity, enhance conditions for developing business activities and eliminate barriers to investment.

3.2.

This shift in the European Commission’s assessment of the economic situation in the euro area is in line with the EESC’s previous opinion on the economic policy of the euro area (1), which argued for the active use of fiscal policies to support the recovery of the euro area as a whole. The positive fiscal stance proposed by the European Commission is modest but — provided it is combined with the effective use of the Investment Plan and the EFSI — it could help overcome the deeper problems of slow growth, partial stagnation and continuing divergences in levels of economic performance across the euro area countries.

3.3.

The EESC notes that a positive fiscal stance for the euro area as a whole should be regarded as a short- or medium-term instrument which must be compatible with long-term fiscal sustainability. At the current juncture, the GDP deficit and debt targets should be applied flexibly, taking into account the goals and purposes of the EU in general and of the EMU and the Stability and Growth Pact, as mentioned in Articles 119 and 120 TFEU.

3.4.

The EESC calls on the European Commission to live up to its role as the guardian of the EU Treaties, in particular Article 3 TEU which sets out the objectives of advancing well-being, cohesion and social justice, and acknowledges that the specific numerical limits imposed by the SGP and its rigid implementation are neither appropriate nor necessary under the current circumstances of stagnation and historically low interest rates, a conclusion that is shared, among others, by the OECD. Advancing well-being, cohesion and social justice is fully compatible with economic and productivity growth.

3.5.

The EESC proposes that the Golden Rule is adopted in the implementation of the SGP, whereby public investment that will contribute to improving growth potential and economic competitiveness should not be taken into account in the deficit targets of the SGP. The EESC reiterates the comments it made in its opinions on the Investment Plan for Europe, on the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) and on the extension of its duration (2): higher public investment is necessary for stimulating growth in the short and long-run, and the latter is a necessary condition for public budget consolidation.

3.6.

The EESC warns that failure to steer economic policies towards promoting the general objectives of the EU and the EMU, including in the forthcoming White Paper on the Future of Europe, may fail to stem the rise of anti-EU and anti-EMU sentiment. This could be particularly problematic given the current challenges posed by, among other things, geopolitical developments in the EU’s neighbourhood, the waves of refugees and migrants, and climate change. Only a united and economically strong Europe with strong popular support could succeed in transforming such challenges into opportunities. The European institutions, in collaboration with civil society committed to the European project, should strive to transmit to all Europeans, through appropriate means, all the positive things that the EU is supposed to do for them in the fields of politics and the economy.

3.7.

An instrument that can contribute to restoring growth and reducing divergences should be the Investment Plan for Europe. The level of funding so far has meant that it can only maintain past levels of credits from the EIB with a strong bias towards investment in countries in the least difficulty. This should be addressed with urgency, ensuring enough flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact in relation to the necessary public investment and thereby enabling investment levels in energy transition, education and skills, infrastructure and EFSI-funded projects to increase decisively across the whole euro area, while encouraging investment in innovative private sector projects.

3.8.

Tax policy, with progressive taxation, is a key element in promoting social fairness. In this context, an optimal, appropriate and growth-stimulating fiscal system is of the utmost importance. Reducing taxation on the lowest incomes can both contribute to macroeconomic stability and act as a greater incentive to paid employment. Nevertheless any tax reductions should be accompanied by alternative tax sources to ensure that budget deficits are avoided.

3.9.

The EESC welcomes the European Commission’s call on Member States with current account deficits and high external debt to focus on improving their productivity growth. In this context, it notes that fair redistribution of income and wealth deriving from productivity gains should increase equality and have a positive impact on domestic and aggregate demand in the euro area. It is important to stimulate domestic demand as a necessary condition for supporting growth and overcoming the crisis.

3.10.

The EESC believes that priority in structural reforms should go to those reforms that enhance productivity growth but also strengthen job security and the social protection system within the framework of appropriate business conditions. No euro area country can compete in the modern world on the basis of low wages and casualised employment. The emphasis should be on reforms that combine negotiated flexibility with security so as to enhance, and create incentives for enhancing, skills and innovation. Labour market reforms should promote greater stability in employment, which will help improve both the supply and the demand side of the euro area economy, even in the short term.

3.11.

The EESC stresses once more (3) that the current malaise of the euro area has been due to weak demand, itself the outcome of fiscal policies and asymmetric current account balance adjustment (based mostly on labour costs) pursued in previous years during the greatest post-war recession, and not due to Member States’ insufficient reform efforts. The Committee underlines again that structural reforms aiming at the supply side of the economies will not go far in stimulating investment and growth unless an expansionary fiscal stance in the euro area is adopted and sustained until recovery is well under way.

3.12.

The EESC regrets that during the crisis, social and civil society dialogues have been compromised if not completely side-lined in the Member States, particularly those where financial support had to be provided, and which underwent large-scale social and labour market reforms. Some headline indicators reflecting the European Pillar of Social Rights in a balance between social partners should be recommended for inclusion in the European Semester paradigm. The EESC notes that, at present, procedures for social dialogue are not guaranteed in the EU and in many Member States, preventing the social partners from taking part effectively in the European Semester process.

3.13.

The EESC believes moreover that economic policy coordination under the European Semester should be improved and the role of the European Commission in it reinforced. To add credibility to the process, Member States should duly fulfil their commitments taken in Council meetings.

4.   Specific comments

4.1.

The EESC supports the European Commission’s initiatives to complete the banking union, namely by establishing a common deposit insurance scheme and a common backstop for the Single Resolution Fund. These steps are essential in order to relieve the burden on national government budgets associated with ensuring the public good of banking system stability. They are all the more important in view of the fact that progression towards a political union remains off the agenda for the time being.

4.2.

The EESC also notes that the issue of banks’ non-performing loans is of paramount importance for complementing policies that aim to relaunch growth. Steps should be taken promptly in order to address the problem, while at the same time taking into account considerations of consumer protection.

4.3.

Fiscal fraud and tax evasion are leading to a significant decline in public revenue, which has a very negative impact on the fulfilment of the SGP objectives and the capacity to increase public investment. In particular, tax havens are essential for large-scale tax evasion operations and their related crimes (e.g. money laundering). Putting an end to the use of tax havens should be a priority. The EESC calls on all EU and euro area institutions to adopt and implement directives to this end without delay.

4.4.

Unfair tax competition between Member States impairs the tax collection capacity of a number of Member States and, therefore, their ability to meet SGP objectives. The EESC believes that the EU authorities should take reasonable and balanced steps to end unfair tax competition practices, following recommendations from the OECD and the IMF.

4.5.

While recognising the enormous effort to further strengthen and develop the euro that is required at this time and will be required in the near future in order to provide lasting prosperity and stability for the euro area, the EESC believes that the following objectives, among others, are desirable:

Establishing a unified external representation of the euro area in international fora (International Monetary Fund, OECD, etc.) (4);

Developing fiscal flexibility and a fiscal capacity for the euro area, including the possibility of issuing euro bonds through potential institutional steps such as the creation of a common euro area treasury (5);

Strengthening the European Pillar of Social Rights through proper social dialogue and by involving the social partners in all legislative initiatives (6);

Creating a specific process of macroeconomic dialogue for the euro area as suggested in previous EESC opinions (7);

Strengthening democratic control over EU policies (8).

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  OJ C 177, 18.5.2016, p. 41.

(2)  OJ C 268, 14.8.2015, p. 27, and OJ C 75, 10.3.2017, p. 57.

(3)  OJ C 177, 18.5.2016, p. 41.

(4)  OJ C 177, 18.5.2016, p. 16.

(5)  OJ C 451, 16.12.2014, p. 10, OJ C 268, 14.8.2015, p. 33, and OJ C 332, 8.10.2015, p. 8.

(6)  OJ C 451, 16.12.2014, p. 10, and EESC opinion on a European Pillar of Social Rights (OJ C 125, 21.4.2017, p. 10).

(7)  OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 33, and OJ C 177, 18.5.2016, p. 35.

(8)  OJ C 332, 8.10.2015, p. 8.


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/38


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 as regards specific measures to provide additional assistance to Member States affected by natural disasters’

(COM(2016) 778 final — 2016/0384 (COD))

(2017/C 173/07)

Rapporteur:

Pietro Vittorio BARBIERI

Consultation

Council of the European Union, 11.1.2017

European Parliament, 15.12.2016

Legal basis

Articles 177 and 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion

Adopted in section

2.2.2017

Adopted at plenary

22.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

183/0/2

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC endorses the Commission’s 2016/0384 proposal to amend Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 (1) as regards specific measures to provide additional assistance to Member States affected by natural disasters.

1.2.

The EESC welcomes the Commission’s proposal to institute support under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for Member States and regions affected by major natural disasters, complementing the resources available under the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF).

1.3.

The EESC supports the introduction of a separate priority axis for reconstruction operations supported by the ERDF within an operational programme, without the need for national co-financing, in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 2012/2002 establishing the European Union Solidarity Fund.

1.4.

The EESC supports extending the eligibility period of expenditure so that it runs from the date of the natural disaster, even if this date precedes the entry into force of the present amendment to the regulation.

1.5.

The EESC supports the proposal to allow a Member State which has already included operations it has carried out in a payment application to the Commission, to make the necessary adjustments for the next payment application.

1.6.

In line with the position taken in previous opinions, the EESC supports the above-mentioned Commission initiatives intended to streamline and speed up the aid procedure, in order to respond to natural disasters in a more timely, effective and visible fashion.

1.7.

At the same time, the EESC believes that the fund needs to be revised once again in order to further clarify its scope, which does not exclude disasters brought about by climate change and acts of terrorism, and to review the access thresholds, which the EESC considers to be overly high.

1.8.

The EESC considers that the fund is an important demonstration of European solidarity and that Europeans should be made more familiar with it.

2.   Arguments in support of the opinion and specific comments

2.1.

Sadly, Europe has experienced a number of natural disasters and, unfortunately, many EU countries have suffered some form of major disaster over the years.

2.1.1.

In 2002, central Europe, particularly Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were hit by severe flooding. That same year, the EU decided to use the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) to respond to major natural disasters and to demonstrate European solidarity for the regions affected. Since then, this fund has been used to respond to many and various disasters, including flooding, forest fires, earthquakes, storms and drought (2).

2.2.

The EESC considers that it is quite appropriate to use the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) (3) to complement the EUSF in the event of major disasters. The two funds share the same ethical principles and certain programmatic criteria for action. Not only do both funds provide further evidence of European solidarity, the operations that they generally finance work towards the same goal: promoting economic growth and balanced and sustainable development in Europe’s regions (4).

2.3.

The EESC has already pointed out that timely delivery of aid is key to ensuring that the aid will be effective and properly visible. More specifically, the EESC has already addressed the red tape involved in EUSF procedures (5), along with the overly lengthy timeframe for delivering aid (6).

2.4.

The EESC reiterates the points it has made previously regarding the way that the fund operates:

clarify the scope of the fund once and for all to avoid giving rise to unfounded expectations and ensure that it is not used tendentiously in political rhetoric;

redefine the threshold of economic impact for a disaster to be assessed as sufficiently serious, so that the fund is used only in exceptional circumstances;

continue to streamline operating mechanisms and timeframes so that the aid is indeed delivered immediately.

2.4.1.

The EESC is also concerned about the rise in the number of disasters, both natural and otherwise, and stresses the need to step up prevention policies.

2.5.

The EESC supports the addition of Article 120(8) to Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 creating a separate priority axis with an ERDF co-financing rate of up to 100 %, provided that the operations:

are selected by managing authorities in response to major natural disasters;

focus on reconstruction in the wake of a natural disaster;

are supported under an ERDF investment priority.

2.6.

The EESC supports the derogation to Article 65(9) of Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013, whereby expenditure for operations under this priority axis will be eligible from the date of the natural disaster.

3.   The view of the EESC

3.1.

The EESC considers that the proposal for a regulation must be read together with Regulation (EC) No 2012/2002 with the subsequent changes, so that the proposal takes account of and amends the regulation. The proposed amendments are in line with the recommendations made in previous EESC opinions to speed up and streamline the fund’s operating mechanisms. Some issues still need to be addressed.

3.2.

The EESC therefore points out that the regulation is particularly important because it provides proof of European solidarity. It complies with the subsidiarity principle by factoring in Member-State policies and coordinates with other EU policies, such as other Structural Fund and European Investment Bank (EIB) programmes. The EESC considers that the regulation should take account of and be considered in the context of the Stability Pact derogations provided for Member States affected by natural or other disasters.

3.3.

The regulation stipulates major natural disasters and does not stand in for the Member States in the event of disasters where the resulting damage is assessed below a figure which the EESC considers to be an excessively high threshold which should be revised.

3.4.

Eligible operations do not include housing, with the exception of temporary emergency housing; the State or insurance companies must intervene here. Historic towns may rely on economic activities based on second-home tourism. The EESC considers that the dichotomy between housing and economic activities needs to be tackled.

3.5.

The regulation also stipulates that there can be no overlap with other EU measures intended to overcome regional difficulties due to natural or other disasters. One key prerequisite for accessing the fund is a natural disaster risk prevention plan. The EESC considers that the European institutions and Member States place insufficient emphasis on prevention.

3.6.

The regulation specifies that operations approved for financing must comply with the provisions of the Treaty and the legislative instruments adopted thereafter. It calls for sound financial management and transparent public procurement procedures, as well as environmental protection and climate change adaptation with investment in environmentally sound infrastructure projects. When the regulation was adopted, no specific directive on accessibility was in force (7). Since the demand for accessible products and services has risen still further as the EU’s population ages (8), the EESC considers that key criteria should include accessibility of emergency and reconstruction initiatives.

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  COM(2016) 778 final — 2016/0384 (COD).

(2)  For instance, aid granted by the Commission through the EUSF has been key to coping with the natural disasters which hit Bulgaria, Italy and Romania in 2014.

(3)  The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is one of the European Union’s Structural Funds. It aims to bridge the development gap between European regions, taking into account the natural and demographic disadvantages of some regions. ERDF operations aim to spur on economic growth through the structural adjustment of developing regions.

(4)  In order to promote the resumption of economic activity in affected regions, it has been decided to focus on specific aspects of emergency and recovery, such as building temporary housing and reconstructing key infrastructure destroyed during the disaster.

(5)  OJ C 181, 21.6.2012, p. 52.

(6)  OJ C 170, 5.6.2014, p. 45.

(7)  Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States as regards the accessibility requirements for products and services, COM(2015) 615 final — 2015/0278 (COD).

(8)  It is expected that in 2020 approximately 120 million persons in the European Union will have multiple and/or minor disabilities. It should also be pointed out that the residents of the rural and mountain towns hit by recent natural disasters are largely older people.


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/41


Opinion European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on amending Directive 2014/59/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the ranking of unsecured debt instruments in insolvency hierarchy’

(COM(2016) 853 final — 2016/0363 (COD))

(2017/C 173/08)

Rapporteur-general:

Daniel MAREELS

Consultation

Council of the European Union, 3.1.2017

European Parliament, 16.1.2017

Legal basis

Articles 114 and 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

 

 

Section responsible

Section for Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion

Adopted at plenary

22.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

169/0/3

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC welcomes the Commission’s proposal to amend the BRRD (1) or, more specifically, to establish a harmonised national ranking of unsecured debt instruments in insolvency proceedings. This proposal forms part of the wider package of recently published proposals for further banking reform (2). The package essentially aims to transpose texts drawn up following work carried out within an international framework, such as the G20, the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board.

1.2.

For the Committee, it remains imperative that the banking system is resilient and adequately capitalised as a prerequisite and basis for maintaining financial stability. At the same time, in the event of a bank crisis, it is essential that the private capital of shareholders and other bank creditors be called on in the first instance (‘bail-in’), in order to avoid the need to call on public money or taxpayer funds. Employees’ wages and pension benefits should also remain fully excluded.

1.3.

The EESC welcomes the fact that the present proposal is being taken out of the aforementioned package and dealt with as a matter of priority (see point 1.1). Indeed, the recent development resulting in Member States legislating individually in this area and on the basis of their own interpretation may give rise to difficulties, for example when applying the ‘bail-in’ regime. It is appropriate to change course and abandon the individual approach in favour of a harmonised approach at EU level, so that the same BRRD rules apply everywhere.

1.4.

A harmonised approach will also prevent further distortions between Member States and undesirable competition in the market. The EESC deems it important to create a more level playing field between institutions and Member States and to reduce risks in the financial sector.

1.5.

The Committee welcomes the fact that the proposal contributes to the robustness of the resolution mechanism and, at the same time, improves and may speed up its operational applicability.

1.6.

The Committee believes there should be a loss absorption framework for all banks. In that regard, it is positive that the current proposal contributes to the implementation of specific measures for global systemically important banks. These require G-SIBs (3) to hold more loss-absorbing capacity, known as TLAC (4), which can be called on in the event of a crisis. This proposal also helps implement the bail-in regime for other banks by mitigating, where appropriate, any risk of legal debate.

1.7.

The Committee welcomes the incorporation of the abovementioned TLAC framework within the existing European requirements for all banks — the so-called MREL (5) — in such a way that all G-SIBs are subject to harmonised rules. Furthermore, incorporating them into a single framework will also help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the resolution process.

1.8.

Banks have a very important role to play in financing the economy, and in particular households and SMEs. The potential negative impact on banks’ funding costs should therefore be minimised. At the same time, the new rules should not only facilitate and broaden as far as possible the issuance of the unsecured debt instruments in question, but also offer the greatest possible clarity and legal certainty to all parties, including investors. It is important that the consumer protection rules are both fully applicable and applied in practice.

1.9.

The proposed approach whereby the new rules are only applied to future issuances of the debt instruments concerned appears to be the most realistic option and can thus also be supported.

2.   Background  (6)

2.1.

The present proposal (7) is part of a package of five legislative proposals (8) concerning banking regulation recently published by the Commission, which builds on existing legislation in this area (9). It is now being taken out of the package and brought forward with a view to speeding up adoption and implementation.

2.2.

This package aims to transpose texts drawn up following work carried out by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board, also taking into account the results of the Commission’s call for evidence, which was aimed at assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of current banking law.

2.3.

Generally speaking, this package of proposals is essentially designed to:

2.3.1.

increase the resilience of the EU financial institutions and foster financial stability;

2.3.2.

improve the lending capacity of banks in order to support the EU economy; and

2.3.3.

promote the role of the banks in achieving deeper and more liquid European capital markets, in order to support the creation of a capital markets union.

2.3.4.

At the same time — and it is appropriate to mention this here — the proposals aim for a more sophisticated and comprehensive application of the proportionality principle for the benefit of small and/or non-complex banks.

2.4.

Against this backdrop, the present proposal aims to create a harmonised national ranking of unsecured debt instruments. This is important for the resolution of a bank under the BRRD framework.

2.5.

In the event of such a resolution, it is important that losses are in the first instance borne by private capital and not by taxpayers or governments. This is achieved through a ‘bail-in’, i.e. writing off debts or converting them to risk capital.

2.6.

To this end, all banks must have a minimum level of equity and eligible liabilities, i.e. they must comply with the MREL requirements.

2.7.

A new element is that now international agreements have been reached regarding additional requirements for global systemically important banks (G-SIBs), as part of efforts to tackle the ‘too big to fail’ issue. One of the other abovementioned proposals of the package of measures seeks to incorporate this very requirement, known as total loss-absorbing capacity (TLAC), into the existing MREL system for these banks.

2.8.

Both obligations have already encouraged a number of Member States to adapt (10) their insolvency laws at national level to the ranking of certain bank creditors.

2.9.

This adaptation is being carried out in varying ways in the Member States, which is not ideal and not entirely desirable in the light of the objectives set. The present proposal aims to remedy this by introducing a harmonised regime (see 2.4).

3.   Observations and comments

3.1.

Overall, this package of measures and the proposal under consideration are to be welcomed. They further complement and refine the important reform efforts that were undertaken following the crisis to strengthen the financial sector. They also help to further reduce risk in this sector.

3.2.

Overall, the important thing is that the banking system is resilient and sufficiently capitalised. That in turn is important for maintaining financial stability. Stability requires that, in the event of a bank crisis, the private capital of shareholders and other bank creditors be called on in the first instance (‘bail-in’). This approach should avoid the need to resort to public money or taxpayer funds. Employees’ wages, pensions and other fixed remuneration should also remain safeguarded in any case (11).

3.3.

This approach should be applied fully to all banks. In this respect, the EESC is pleased that work is also being carried out on a more robust scheme for global systemically important institutions (G-SIBs), in line with agreements reached at G20 level.

3.4.

It is positive that this proposal integrates the TLAC system into the existing MREL requirements, as provided for in the BRRD. Not only does this improve the application of the existing rules, but it also lays the foundation for a harmonised regime for the largest significant banks. That will in turn have a positive impact on the operational applicability of the regime.

3.5.

Given the very important role banks play in financing the economy, particularly households and SMEs, the issuance of instruments of this kind should be done under the right conditions and as broadly as possible. The new system helps to provide clarity and legal certainty for all parties, including investors. Attention must also be paid to costs. The new rules should minimise the potential negative effect on the funding costs of banks.

3.6.

The fact that a number of Member States have very quickly begun making the adjustments to national insolvency law in order to take account of developments at European and international levels (see above) is in itself very positive.

3.7.

Unfortunately, this has been done in varying ways, leading to significant differences between the Member States and also to a number of adverse effects, such as uncertainty for issuers and investors and their treatment in the event of the bail-in regime being applied. This may also hinder the application of the BRRD framework to banks that operate in more than one country.

3.8.

In the Committee’s view, it is not desirable for varying treatment of unsecured debt instruments to exist here, which, moreover, would lead to distortions between financial institutions and Member States and result in unwanted competition in the market.

3.9.

Swift action is therefore desirable and the challenge is not only to stop Member States adopting individual approaches, but more specifically, to move towards a harmonised approach. This would not only lead to a more level playing field between institutions and Member States but also contribute more effectively to the pursuit of the fundamental objectives of greater financial stability and a reduction of risks in the financial sector.

3.10.

The new regime contains no provisions relating to the possibility (or not) for certain investors to purchase or acquire these unsecured debt instruments. It is probably not appropriate to deal with this issue in the BRRD and, moreover, the important thing is ultimately for consumer protection (12) in this area to be fully applicable and that it can be given full effect in practice.

3.11.

This regime only applies to future issuances and not to the existing stock. For the sake of legal certainty and — perhaps unintended — effects on the markets, issuers and investors, this would appear to be a reasonable approach, even though there may (temporarily) be certain consequences for regulators.

3.12.

Finally, it would also seem appropriate to aim for a realistic date of entry into force (13).

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive.

(2)  In addition to the aforementioned text, that legislative package also includes amendments to Regulation (EU) No 575/2013 (the Capital Requirements Regulation or CRR), to Directive 2013/36/EU (the Capital Requirements Directive or CRD) and to Regulation (EU) No 806/2014 (the Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation or SRMR). For references, see footnotes 8 to 10. On these proposals, see also EESC opinion ECO/424 currently in the pipeline (February 2017).

(3)  Global Systemically Important Banks.

(4)  Total Loss Absorption Capacity.

(5)  Minimum Requirement for Eligible Liabilities and Own Funds.

(6)  This text is based, among other things, on the information provided by the Commission (e.g. press release and Q&A) on the package and the proposal currently being discussed.

(7)  COM(2016) 853 final.

(8)  As of 23 November 2016. See http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-3731_en.htm.

(9)  The package includes amendments to:

the Capital Requirements Regulation (CRR) and the Capital Requirements Directive (CRD) of 2013. These set out prudential requirements for credit institutions (banks) and investment firms and rules on governance and supervision;

the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD) and the Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation (SRMR) of 2014. They include the rules on the recovery and resolution of failing institutions and establish the Single Resolution Mechanism.

(10)  Others are in the process of making similar adaptations.

(11)  In accordance with Article 44(2)(g)(i) BRRD.

(12)  See the MiFID and MiFID 2 rules. The latter shall enter into force at the beginning of 2018.

(13)  The current texts provide for 1 July 2017. The question arises as to whether or not that is feasible.


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/45


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on a New Skills Agenda for Europe — Working together to strengthen human capital, employability and competitiveness

(COM(2016) 381 final)

on the proposal for a Council recommendation on establishing a Skills Guarantee

(COM(2016) 382 final — 2016/0179 (NLE))

on the proposal for a Council recommendation on the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning and repealing the recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2008 on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning

(COM(2016) 383 final — 2016/0180 (NLE))

on the proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on a common framework for the provision of better services for skills and qualifications (Europass) and repealing Decision No 2241/2004/EC

(COM(2016) 625 final — 2016/0304 (COD))

and on ‘Upscaling skills of persons in the labour market’

(Exploratory opinion (Maltese Presidency))

(2017/C 173/09)

Rapporteur:

Indrė VAREIKYTĖ

Co-rapporteur:

Tatjana BABRAUSKIENĖ

Consultation

European Parliament, 6 October 2016

European Commission, 17 February 2017

Council of the European Union, 21 October 2016

Maltese Presidency, 16 September 2016

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

 

 

Section responsible

Employment, Social affairs and Citizenship

Adopted in section

3 February 2017

Adopted at plenary

22 February 2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

196/0/6

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The Committee welcomes the New Skills Agenda for Europe proposed by the Commission and believes it to be a positive step towards a better balance between skills needed by individuals, the labour market and societies. It also believes that better skills matching should improve the access of skilled and competent people to the labour market.

1.2.

It is understandable that the new Agenda and its initiatives focus on solving current issues, mostly by amending existing tools and measures in order to improve their application and functioning. However, there is a need to introduce more innovative solutions in the fields of education and skills development, as Europe needs a genuine paradigm shift in the goals and functioning of the education sector and an understanding of its place and role in society.

1.3.

The EESC highlights that increasing labour market participation, meeting the needs of changing, uncertain and complex labour markets, as well as fighting poverty, inequalities and discrimination in the EU cannot be properly addressed without taking the related social and gender perspectives into account.

1.4.

The Committee asks the Commission to provide a broader view on the functioning of and mutual encounters between the overall education and training, labour and social systems and their individual measures, especially on issues related to higher levels of education, the role of lifelong learning, cross-border mobility, the entrepreneurial mind-set, creativity, innovation, social and intercultural skills.

1.5.

The EESC would also like to see more explicit links between the new Agenda and both the European Semester and the Europe 2020 Strategy — in particular, their education and employment targets. as well as to anticipate the New Skills Agenda’s role with regard to the 2030 Agenda, the Digital Single Market Strategy, the Circular Economy Strategy, Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019, the Pillar of Social Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.

1.6.

The Committee regrets the lack of specific action in the new Agenda relating to the key role that non-formal and informal learning plays in preparing young people for life. In addition, entrepreneurship in its broader sense (i.e. sense of initiative) is not highlighted in the new Agenda as a life skill that benefits all individuals. In this respect the Commission should also pay special attention to the specific skills needs of the liberal professions (1).

1.7.

The EESC cannot accept that there is no new financing envisaged to enforce the new Agenda and firmly believes that making the best use possible of existing funding programmes will not be enough to underpin the Agenda’s ambitions. Furthermore, the proposed sources of funding for the Agenda — namely the ESF and Erasmus+ — are already being planned and distributed at national level, thus using them for the purposes of implementing the Agenda is even more uncertain.

1.8.

The Committee appreciates the strong focus on dialogue with social partners and businesses in the Agenda and encourages further strengthening of such dialogue, as well as dialogue with relevant civil society organisations (CSOs) and organisations which work directly with beneficiaries and can reach out to vulnerable people.

1.9.

The EESC believes that the proposed Skills Guarantee will make a tangible difference only if lessons are learned from the implementation of the Youth Guarantee.

1.10.

Skills development in the digital era is occurring in a context of rapid and at times disruptive change, where business models may change fundamentally. Therefore the EESC believes that merely helping individuals to acquire a minimum set of skills is not enough and that it is crucial to ensure that the Skills Guarantee becomes a guaranteed pathway that enables and encourages people to advance further and reach the highest achievable level of skills. The EESC presses for further solutions to increase the funding, such as public and private investment, required to ensure the swift provision of skills. Instruments used in some EU Member States, such as collective agreements on paid training leave, should also be examined.

1.11.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that improving individual skills alone will not give the desired effect of employability unless the closely intertwined supporting social, economic and gender policies are also developed further.

1.12.

The EESC believes that efforts to further develop the EQF should focus on strengthening cooperation between Member States and all stakeholders, the importance of recognising skills and further education qualifications and validating skills acquired through non-formal and informal learning, with special attention to transversal skills. Furthermore — especially with regard to achieving a high level of skills — it is important to enhance non-formal and informal learning in such a way that they can blend into existing formal education and training systems without obstacles and in a way that it is acceptable to all relevant stakeholders.

1.13.

It is crucial to ensure that the attempt to upgrade the EQF does not become too burdensome and bureaucratic, as well as to achieve greater consistency between EU qualification instruments — namely the EQF, ECVET and EQAVET. ESCO should support the development of the EQF and its use, but it is essential to finalise the referencing processes in order for ESCO to be able to contribute.

1.14.

The EESC strongly supports the new Europass Framework, particularly the move from using Europass as a document-based facility to a service-based platform. It believes that transparency, usability, accessibility and efficiency should be the main drivers in its development. It is crucial to ensure that the renewed Europass Framework is accessible to persons with disabilities.

1.15.

The EESC has reservations, however, on whether it is ethical to use Erasmus+ programme funds, as the initial financial source. At the same time, the Commission should reassess the budgetary implications in a more realistic manner, especially in relation to the financial implications for the Member States and budgetary implications resulting from the dissemination of the new Europass Framework to the public.

2.   Overview of the Commission’s proposal

2.1.

The Commission has adopted a New Skills Agenda for Europe with the aim of ensuring that people develop a broad set of skills from early on in life and of making the most of Europe’s human capital, which should boost employability, competitiveness and growth in Europe.

2.2.

The Commission estimates that 70 million Europeans lack adequate reading and writing skills, have poor numeracy skills, and more than 20 % practically can’t work with computers (2), which puts them at risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. On the other hand, over 30 % of highly qualified young people work in jobs that do not match their talents and aspirations, while 40 % of European employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate. At the same time, too few people have the entrepreneurial mind-set and competences to start their own business and keep adapting to evolving requirements of the labour market.

2.3.

The Commission believes that increasing skills levels, promoting transversal skills and finding ways to better anticipate the labour market’s needs, including based on dialogue with the industry, are essential to improve people’s chances in life, and support fair, inclusive and sustainable growth as well as cohesive societies. To help tackle skills challenges, the Commission proposes ten initiatives to be implemented over the next two years:

a Skills Guarantee to help low-skilled adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills and progress towards an upper secondary qualification,

a review of the European Qualifications Framework for a better understanding of qualifications and to make better use of all available skills in the European labour market,

the ‘Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition’ — bringing together Member States and stakeholders from education, employment and industry to develop a large digital talent pool and ensure that individuals and the labour force in Europe are equipped with adequate digital skills,

the ‘Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills’ to improve skills intelligence and address skills shortages in specific economic sectors,

a ‘Skills Profile Tool for Third-Country Nationals’ to support early identification and profiling of skills and qualifications held by asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants,

a revision of the Europass Framework, offering people better and easier-to-use tools to present their skills and get useful real-time information on skills needs and trends which can then help with career and learning choices,

making Vocational Education and Training (VET) a first choice by enhancing opportunities for VET learners to undertake a work based learning experience and promoting greater visibility of good labour market outcomes achieved by VET,

a review of the Recommendation on Key Competences to help more people acquire the core set of skills necessary to work and live in the 21st century — with particular focus on promoting entrepreneurial and innovation-oriented mind-sets and skills,

an initiative on graduate tracking to improve information on how graduates progress in the labour market,

a proposal to further analyse and exchange best practices on effective ways to address brain drain.

3.   Scope of the document

3.1.

In this opinion the EESC focuses on the Agenda itself and three of the initiatives already proposed alongside the Agenda: the Skills Guarantee, the review of the European Qualifications Framework, and the revision of the Europass Framework.

3.2.

The Committee also responds to the request made by the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union to provide an exploratory opinion on the topic of Upscaling skills of persons in the labour market. Due to the overlap in scope and area, the Committee’s response to this request has been incorporated into this opinion and enriches it by expanding on the Committee’s views on the social dimension and gender-related aspects of skills and employability.

4.   General remarks on the Agenda

4.1.

The Committee welcomes the New Skills Agenda for Europe proposed by the Commission and believes it to be a positive step towards a better balance between society’s and business’ needs for skills. While it is understandable that the new Agenda and its initiatives focus on solving current issues mostly by amending existing tools and measures in order to improve their application and functioning, the EESC stresses the need to introduce more innovative solutions in the fields of education and skills development. Many Member States and EEA States have various innovative approaches already in place, yet they are not monitored and mentioned in the Agenda, let alone promoted to the Member States.

4.2.

The EESC strongly believes, and the relatively low impact of the overall EU measures (3) in education and youth employment sectors since 2009 supports the belief, that now is the time for a genuine paradigm shift in the goals and functioning of the education and training sector, encompassing all its strands — formal, non-formal and informal and understanding its place and role in society, as well as recognising education itself as a factor in productivity. Stronger focus on investment in human development is crucial to the future of Europe; thus the new Agenda should provide not only partial solutions to existing labour market disparities, but measures to empower every single individual in the EU to become better, more qualified and more flexible in choosing economic activities.

4.3.

Upscaling and matching skills, as well as retraining and continuing professional development are highly relevant in relation to the European Union’s social and political commitments, with a view to increasing labour market participation and meeting the needs of changing labour markets, as well as fighting poverty, inequalities and discrimination in the EU. These issues cannot be properly addressed without taking the related social and gender perspectives into account. Yet, the Committee regrets that the new Agenda focuses on skills and employability in general, but does not identify specific measures to engage the potential of individuals in part-time employment and precarious work, as well as economically inactive women, elderly citizens and persons with disabilities who could all make substantial contributions to the development and growth of the EU.

4.4.

The EESC believes that the main aspects of gender disparities (4) in relation to skills development were left out during the planning stage of the Agenda. These include: pressures on women to take caring roles and to reconcile work and family life, discrimination, stereotyping, higher representation of women in non-standard employment, limited occupational choices for part-time work (which raises the risk of overeducation, especially in cases of ‘occupational downgrading’) and fields of study in which women and men are heavily represented, thus being more likely to be affected by overeducation in the labour market.

4.5.

The Agenda focuses firmly on the provision of a minimal set of skills and the development of low and medium skills, yet the Committee notes the lack of a broader view from the Commission on the functioning of and mutual encounters between the overall education, labour and social systems and their individual measures. Such a limited view ignores the equally important issues of higher levels of education and training, the role of lifelong learning, cross-border mobility, entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation, social skills and intercultural education, to name a few. In this respect the Commission should also pay special attention to the specific skills needs of the liberal professions (5).

4.6.

The EESC therefore urges the Commission to adopt a coordinated, coherent and consistent approach to its policy initiatives, particularly where they involve the development of skills. There is a lack of efficient coordination between simultaneous initiatives proposed by separate DGs which are closely intertwined. Better coordination could highly increase the effectiveness and impact of such measures.

4.7.

Given that skills development has key implications for economic growth and in order to ensure real impact, the Committee would also like to see more direct links between the new Agenda and both the European Semester (especially country-specific recommendations) and the Europe 2020 Strategy. This refers in particular to their education and employment targets, as well as the Agenda’s role in relation to the 2030 Agenda, the Digital Single Market Strategy, the Circular Economy Strategy, Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019, the Pillar of Social Rights (especially proposed benchmark schemes) and the Sustainable Development Goals. Establishing such connections would strengthen the Agenda’s place among the EU’s long-term goals and overarching policy frameworks and, therefore, guarantee its status as a strategic initiative.

4.8.

The Committee acknowledges that effective skills matching is crucial, as having 30 % of young Europeans overqualified for their jobs in terms of acquired formal qualifications, and, at the same time, 40 % of employers reporting a lack of employees with the required skillset is unsustainable. Yet it is of the utmost importance to bring skills matching into line with the creation of quality jobs, as well as to emphasise the importance of cross-border mobility as a method for skills matching in order to have a fully functional and effective society.

4.9.

The new Agenda underlines both the importance of inclusion and the acquisition of employability skills. Moreover, while it focuses mostly on the needs of industry, the EESC believes there should also be greater focus on the skills that are more broadly relevant to society. Skills are also for the wider benefit of individuals and society — such as transversal, transferable or soft skills (e.g. critical and creative thinking, social, civil and cultural competences) (6). The Committee also regrets that entrepreneurship (in a broad sense, i.e. sense of initiative) is not highlighted in the new Agenda as a life skill that benefits all individuals.

4.10.

Furthermore, the EESC once again highlights the multibillion Euro missed opportunity which has arisen as a result of a lack of support for female entrepreneurship (7). Women in business create jobs, innovation and new skills in all sectors of industry. In addition they are proactive in social entrepreneurship, enhancing and promoting community and social innovation (8).

4.11.

The EESC recognises that ensuring all young people have basic skills is vital, yet regrets the lack of specific measures in the new Agenda to address the key role that non-formal and informal learning plays in preparing young people for life. Skills and competences acquired outside formal education and training give young people an opportunity both to be employed and to take their place in and contribute to wider society. The majority of communication, cultural, managerial and personal skills that employers look for are gained through non-formal and informal learning and these competences must be validated and recognised (9).

4.12.

Taking into account the prioritisation of financial investment in educational disciplines that are considered more relevant to boosting national economies, the Committee believes that the new Agenda should not encourage governments to withdraw commitments made in the Bucharest Communique of the Bologna Process, relating to securing proper funding for higher education. Such divisions might undermine other areas of education and limit general access to education and generic skills.

4.13.

In order to further facilitate the integration of young people into today’s labour market, the Member States should also recommit to the strategic framework for cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) and the 2006 Oslo Agenda, which remain highly relevant today. Without further progress in the fields of STEM and practical skills, it will be difficult to improve vocational education and training and apprenticeship systems.

4.14.

The EESC highlights the fact that national education systems are the first level responsible for efficient and well-functioning education and training; the responsibility, therefore, to ensure minimum levels of basic skills lies with the governments of the Member States. Thus it is crucial for the Commission to re-evaluate whether the new Agenda will allow the authorisation and promotion of required changes at national level and genuinely help the Member States to make better use of existing funds. It is nonetheless important to support a national mechanism for consultation between governments and stakeholders with a view to strengthening social dialogue, fostering cooperation, ensuring effective distribution of best practices and swift collection of feedback and relevant data.

4.15.

However, the Committee has concerns over whether the value of the proposed initiatives may be lost, considering that in reality European countries are still facing the crisis. Budget cuts, especially in the resources earmarked for education and training can make it harder to remedy young people’s unequal starting points and to promote high-quality lifelong education and training for all.

4.16.

The EESC cannot accept that there is no new financing scheme envisaged to enforce the new Agenda. It suggests incorporating the Agenda into an enabling macroeconomic framework where investing in people’s skills and capabilities is not treated as a cost but an outlay which will bring positive benefits over time.

4.17.

The EESC firmly believes that making the best use possible of existing funding programmes will not be enough to underpin the Agenda’s ambitions. More funding will therefore be needed in addition to the potential adjustments during the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework for 2014-2020 envisaged in the document. The EESC also encourages the Member States to increase expenditure on education and ensure that it is spent effectively. It believes that contributions made by the Member States to cover expenditure on education and training should not be included in the framework used to calculate their budget deficit.

4.18.

Furthermore, the Committee highlights that the proposed sources of funding for the new Agenda — namely the ESF and Erasmus+ — are already being planned and distributed at national level, thus using them for the purposes of implementing the Agenda is even more uncertain.

4.19.

The Committee appreciates the strong focus on dialogue and consultation with social partners and businesses in the new Agenda and encourages a further strengthening of such dialogue to improve skills matching and ensure better access for skilled workers to the labour market, both as part of the New start for Social Dialogue  (10), as well as within the Member States. It is also essential to recognise and support the role of civil society organisations (CSOs) due to their vast experience of service provision under social enterprise frameworks and preparedness to deliver on social entrepreneurship skills, which are a key building block in the Agenda. Additionally, and especially with regard to harnessing entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills, it is important to include the professional representative bodies in the dialogue.

4.20.

The EESC also stresses the need for more emphasis on targeted measures to reach out to disadvantaged groups, including persons with disabilities. This entails collecting data at national level to assess the impact of current measures on targeted groups and making sure that measures are adapted to learners’ specific needs in terms of access, duration and delivery. This means working in partnership with decision-makers, organisations and associations which work directly with potential beneficiaries. Some such associations are quite small which prevents them from accessing EU grants. Solutions should therefore be found to ease their access to such financial support.

5.   On the proposal to establish a Skills Guarantee

5.1.

The EESC believes that the proposed Skills Guarantee will make a tangible difference only if lessons are learned from the implementation of the Youth Guarantee (i.e. avoiding overlaps, ensuring greater consistency). In particular, the Skills Guarantee should aspire to ensure prompter implementation, have an integrated approach with accompanying social services, be more open to partnerships with businesses, social partners and CSOs, and be more flexible in order to accommodate users with special integration needs. It is essential that the Skills Guarantee is viewed as an added value intervention measure rather than just a job creation measure.

5.2.

The Committee has previously highlighted (11) that skills development in the digital era is occurring in a context of rapid and at times disruptive change, where business models may change fundamentally. Some of the impact that digitalisation is having on employment is already visible, while various estimations suggest that roughly 50 % of today’s medium-skilled jobs are at risk of being replaced by digital technology in the next 20 years and that in the future workers will need comprehensive re-skilling measures every five years (12). Therefore, a continuous approach to re-training and lifelong learning, as well as close dialogue with businesses, social partners and stakeholders become all the more important. The EESC presses for further solutions to increase the funding, such as public and private investment, required to ensure the swift provision of skills. Instruments used in some EU Member States, such as collective agreements on paid training leave, should also be examined.

5.3.

Therefore the EESC believes that merely helping individuals to acquire a minimum set of skills is not enough and that it is crucial to ensure that the Skills Guarantee becomes a guaranteed pathway that enables people to advance further and reach the highest achievable level of skills. The objective of the Guarantee should be not only to enhance basic skills, but also to allow progression towards higher qualifications and a broader set of skills. Otherwise these individuals — especially women (13) and the elderly — will remain trapped in unemployment or low-skilled occupations, which are continuously diminishing in a digitalising world.

5.4.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that improving individual skills alone will not give the desired effect of employability unless the closely intertwined supporting social, economic and gender policies are also developed further. This refers especially to policies relating to: services enabling a work-life balance, encouraging entrepreneurship, support services to single parents in difficulty, the provision of qualitative, accessible and affordable full-time childcare facilities, as one of the main drivers to encourage both female and male labour market participation and the availability of proper care services for the elderly population, etc. (14).

5.5.

The EESC highlights the essential role of the social partners and their activities (15) in skills improvement and policy development. The Committee also believes that the role of relevant CSOs should be better promoted, given their wide-ranging experience of dealing with skilling measures for persons currently unable to access the labour market. These groups are usually correlated with lower qualification levels and have weaker links with other skills suppliers such as public employment services, providers of formal education and training, etc. Furthermore, the variety of service users grouped together by not-for-profit providers of work inclusion services — sometimes with complex needs — means that CSOs are ready to provide tailor-made learning offers, which is one of the three pillars contained in the Skills Guarantee. If people with low qualifications are to be the main target of the Skills Guarantee, CSOs should therefore be recognised as one of the key players in the implementation process.

5.6.

The EESC believes that the roles and responsibilities relating to the acquisition of qualifications and second chance and upskilling programmes should be shared between the state, companies, learners and education providers and the activities should be built upon successful cooperation. Yet, the incentives needed to ensure that employers and employees accept and share such roles and responsibilities when engaging in upskilling are still unclear.

6.   On the proposal for a revision of the European Qualifications Framework

6.1.

The EESC believes that further development of the EQF should focus on strengthening cooperation between Member States, social partners and other stakeholders, thus building trust in each other’s qualifications frameworks and education quality systems. It is important — following the principles of Lifelong Learning — to keep in mind the importance of recognising skills and qualifications for further education and not just for the labour market. Formal qualifications must find ways to validate skills acquired through non-formal and informal learning, with particular reference to transversal skills. This is just a way of acquiring knowledge through different and more flexible learning pathways that the core principles of learning outcomes and qualifications frameworks give solid ground for.

6.2.

It should be noted that even though ESCO has a great potential, it is still under development and causing uncertainty among the Member States. ESCO should support the development of the EQF and its use, but it is essential to finalise the referencing processes in order for ESCO to be able to contribute.

6.3.

The Committee agrees with the need to improve the understanding and comparability of different qualifications. As such, the proposed revision’s focus on strengthening the transparency and consistency of the EQF is highly welcome. However, it is crucial to ensure that the attempt to upgrade the EQF does not become too burdensome and bureaucratic.

6.4.

The EESC highlights that — especially with regard to achieving a high level of skills — there is still a lot of work left to do in order to enhance non-formal and informal learning in such a way that they can blend into existing formal education and training systems without obstacles and in a way that it is acceptable to all relevant stakeholders. Currently such integration is very limited due to the lack of commonly accepted definitions of equivalency, low mutual trust in national qualification frameworks and the vast differences in levels of referencing between the national qualification frameworks and the EQF.

6.5.

The EESC also recommends ensuring greater consistency between EU qualification instruments — namely the EQF, ECVET and EQAVET.

7.   On the proposal for a revision of the Europass Framework

7.1.

The EESC strongly supports the new Europass Framework, particularly the move from using Europass as a document-based facility to a service-based platform.

7.2.

The Committee believes that transparency, usability, accessibility and efficiency should be the main drivers in establishing a European-wide platform through which individuals can access a range of services. It is crucial to ensure, that the new Europass Framework is accessible to persons with disabilities. It is also important to take into account the accessibility of information in terms of physical environment, as some disabilities affect the ability to use IT systems, and, in such cases, special access points and other alternative methods of access should be available.

7.3.

However, the EESC has reservations over whether it is ethical to use Erasmus+ programme funds — an estimated EUR 2 500 000 — as the initial source of funding for developing web services for skills and qualifications. At the same time, the Committee urges the Commission to reassess the budgetary implications in a more realistic manner as there will be financial implications for Member States due to increased scope of information gathered and the resulting need to upgrade their data submission tools and channels.

7.4.

The Committee believes that it is also important to evaluate the budgetary implications of the dissemination of the new Europass to the public, as the success of the new framework not only depends heavily on the general increase in the quality and the number of services, but also on a clear increase in users.

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  http://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/promoting-entrepreneurship/we-work-for/liberal-professions_en

(2)  This rate is higher among the 55-65 age group where 50 % of adults have no basic ICT skills. OECD, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), June 2015.

(3)  e.g. European Commission, ‘Education and Training Monitor 2016’, September 2016; European Policy Centre, ‘Towards a Europeanisation of Youth Employment Policies? A Comparative Analysis of Regional Youth Guarantee Policy Designs’, September 2016.

(4)  International Labour Organisation, ‘Skills mismatch in Europe’ Statistics Brief, September 2014.

(5)  http://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/promoting-entrepreneurship/we-work-for/liberal-professions_en

(6)  EESC opinion on Fostering creativity, entrepreneurship and mobility in education and training (OJ C 332, 8.10.2015, p. 20).

(7)  EESC opinion on Female entrepreneurs (OJ C 299, 4.10.2012, p. 24).

(8)  10 country case studies on the impact of female social entrepreneurship in Europe have been analysed as part of the Europeans Women’s Lobby project WEStart.

(9)  EESC opinion on EU Policies and Volunteering (OJ C 181, 21.6.2012, p. 150).

(10)  A new start for Social Dialogue, Statement of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Social Partners, 27 June 2016.

(11)  EESC opinion on Effects of digitalisation on service industries and employment (OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 161).

(12)  e.g. Bowles, J. The computerisation of European jobs — Who will win and who will lose from the impact of new technology onto old areas of employment?, 2014, Frey, C. M., Osborne, M., ‘The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’, 2013, Pajarinen, M., Rouvinen, P., Ekeland, A., Computerisation Threatens One-Third of Finnish and Norwegian Employment, ETLA, 2015.

(13)  European Commission Roadmap ‘New start to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families’, August 2015.

(14)  EESC opinion on Female employment in relation to growth ( OJ C 341, 21.11.2013, p. 6).

(15)  Joint activities undertaken by the European social partners, focusing on VET and particularly apprenticeships, investment in education and training, tackling school drop-out rates and achieving better learning outcomes.


APPENDIX

Examples of relevant EESC opinions

SOC/555

High quality education for all, (2017)

SOC/552

Mid-Term Evaluation On Erasmus+, ongoing (2017)

SOC/524

Engaged universities shaping Europe, 2015

SOC/523

Improving the performance of national dual training systems, 2015

SOC/521

Recognition of skills and qualifications acquired through non-formal and informal learning — the practical input of organised civil society, 2015

SOC/518

Fostering creativity, entrepreneurship and mobility in education and training, 2015

CCMI/136

Effects of digitalisation on service industries and employment, 2015

SOC/502

Women in science, 2014

SOC/499

Quality framework for traineeships, 2014

SOC/493

Opening up education, 2014

CCMI/118

Employability of young people — matching training with industry needs in an age of austerity, 2014

SOC/486

Female employment in relation to growth, 2013

SOC/476

Rethinking education, 2013

INT/679

Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan, 2013

SOC/469

The role of business in relation to education in the EU, 2013

SOC/446

Female entrepreneurs, 2012

SOC/439

Young persons with disabilities, 2012

SOC/438

Erasmus for all, 2012

SOC/431

EU Policies and Volunteering, 2012

SOC/429

Modernisation of higher education in Europe, 2012

SOC/421

Youth employment, technical skills and mobility, 2012

SOC/409

Making post-secondary vocational education and training more attractive, 2012

SOC/404

An agenda for new skills and jobs, 2011


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/55


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — A European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility’

[COM(2016) 501 final]

(2017/C 173/10)

Rapporteur:

Stefan BACK

Consultation

European Commission, 20.7.2016

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society

Adopted in section

10.2.2017

Adopted at plenary

23.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

128/0/2

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC endorses the European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility (1) (the strategy), including its aims and methods, which are in line with the 2011 EU transport policy white paper (the white paper) (2) and the intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) submitted by the EU and its Member States at the COP 21 Conference, also endorsed by the EESC (3) and supported by the Marrakesh COP 22 Conference.

1.2.

The EESC reiterates the statements made in its opinions on the white paper and its implementation and on the effects of the COP 21 agreement on EU transport policy, to the effect that the white paper’s aims for GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions reduction still apply, although the methods for achieving these aims need updating and strengthening.

1.3.

It welcomes the measures in the strategy that go beyond the white paper, in particular promotion of innovation including the European Strategy on Cooperative and Intelligent Transport Systems (4), the development of connected, integrated and automated vehicles and the integration of electric vehicles and the energy system through smart grids, as well as the development of new business models and new transport patterns following on from the development of a sharing economy and the general development of the digital economy.

1.4.

The EESC endorses the holistic approach of the strategy, which provides coherence between transport and other policy areas such as developing the electricity market, encouraging research and innovation, developing new transport solutions and new skills, as well as improved mobility planning, including development of public transport. It would have liked this approach to be further developed in terms of the links between the strategy and the communication on the upgrading of the internal market, including synergies between opening up markets and efficiency. This also applies with regard to the prospects of the digital economy, including digital mobility, and the development of a sharing economy and a circular economy.

1.5.

The EESC underscores the potential effects of the developments described under 1.4 on transport patterns, and draws attention to their social implications, including effects with respect to users and working conditions of employees, and the situation of micro-enterprises used as subcontractors. All these issues require timely attention in order to resolve possible problems at an early stage. Likewise, effects upon isolated communities should be considered.

1.6.

The EESC underlines the paramount importance of restoring confidence in vehicle emission data provided by manufacturers and endorses the measures designed to achieve this result. It also emphasises the importance of support from and dialogue with stakeholders and the public as well as the steps taken to establish responsibility for past erroneous data and prevent repetition.

1.7.

It welcomes efficiency-enhancing measures such as the facilitation of TEN-T implementation, a review of the rail network for competitive freight, and the importance attached to promoting multimodality and incentivising a shift toward lower emission modes, including rail, and combined transport. It notes the Commission’s call for market access for buses and coaches, but the EESC recommends the Commission also to consider other policy measures to expand public transport networks and encourage modal shift from private cars. It therefore recommends a more in-depth review of the options available. However, it regrets the silence on improved rules on market access in road haulage and on the improved energy efficiency enabled by the European Modular System for vehicle combinations. In this context, the EESC also draws attention to its opinion on the internal market of international road freight: social dumping and cabotage (TEN/575) and again underlines the importance of clear and enforceable legislation and the necessity to fight all forms of social dumping as well as fraud and abuse regarding posting of workers and access to welfare benefits.

1.8.

The EESC also welcomes the plans to review the Eurovignette Directive, but reiterates the importance of flexibility for avoiding unreasonable cost effects in distant and sparsely populated areas including islands and mountain regions. It also underscores the importance of a level playing field between modes with respect to infrastructure charges and external costs to ensure fair competition between modes.

1.9.

It takes note of the relaunch of the European Electronic Tolling Service (EETS), but recalls that the EETS was decided upon in 2004 and has still not been implemented, which points to a need to review the entire system so as to overcome the obstacles to implementation.

1.10.

The EESC welcomes the attention paid to alternative fuels, focusing on the importance of encouraging innovation and on the need for an appropriate framework enabling cross border use of electricity, natural gas, hydrogen and biofuels that does not impinge on food production, in line with views expressed previously by the EESC. It welcomes the focus on interoperability and standardisation in electromobility.

1.11.

It likewise welcomes the attention paid to the vital question of financing solutions and draws attention to the need to find co–financing solutions for small projects.

1.12.

The EESC appreciates the importance that the strategy attaches to support from civil society. It highlights the potential of participatory dialogue to gain support and solve problems and the possibilities of coalition building in civil society and subnational authorities (5).

1.13.

As a matter of transparency, the EESC proposes that the Commission should publish a yearly emission scoreboard for the transport sector.

1.14.

It endorses the planned ICAO and IMO action and suggests that further actions could be taken, such as pursuing a structured external dialogue on low-emission transport with neighbouring countries in the lead up to specific projects.

1.15.

The EESC notes that the effort-sharing proposal leaves it up to each Member State to decide on how to secure its GHG emission reduction and recommends that the demands on transport be kept within the limits set out in the white paper.

1.16.

The EESC regrets that updating the white paper is no longer on the Commission’s agenda, since digitalisation, the evolution of energy policy and the holistic view of policy design and implementation of the current Commission warrant an update.

2.   Background

EU emissions reduction commitments and the 2011 transport policy white paper

2.1.

On 20 July 2016, the European Commission decided on a package of measures to reduce emissions in the sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) (the package).

2.2.

The package is part of the implementation of the 40 % reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, decided by the European Council on 23-24 October 2014, and the undertaking (intended nationally determined contribution (INDC)) made by the European Union and its Member States at the COP 21 Conference in Paris in December 2015.

2.3.

Under the October 2014 conclusions, ETS sectors should reduce emissions by 43 % and non-ETS sectors, including transport other than aviation, by 30 %, to be shared between Member States on the basis of fairness and solidarity. The conclusions make no specific mention of transport.

2.4.

The EU transport policy white paper 2011 [COM(2011) 144] finds that developed countries’ GHG emissions must be reduced ‘by 80–95 % below 1990 levels by 2050’, in order to keep global warming under 2 oC. For transport, a ‘reduction of […] 60 % […] by 2050 compared to 1990’ levels or 20 % below 2008 levels (8 % above 1990 levels) by 2030 would suffice.

2.5.

The Commission has confirmed that these aims are compatible with the 2014 policy framework for climate and energy 2020–2030, the 2015 Energy Union framework and the INDC commitments made by the EU (6).

2.6.

It has also stated that further efforts will be needed after 2020 to achieve those aims (7).

2.7.

The recent progress assessment on the implementation of the white paper has found that it is too early to draw conclusions and places emphasis on implementation (8).

The Package

2.8.

The package consists of:

An overarching communication entitled ‘Accelerating Europe’s transition to a low-carbon economy’ [COM(2016) 500] (the communication)

A legislative proposal on binding annual greenhouse gas emission reductions by Member States from 2021 to 2030 [COM(2016) 482] (the effort-sharing proposal)

A legislative proposal on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry into the 2030 climate and energy framework (COM(2016) 479)

A European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility (COM(2016) 501) (the strategy).

2.9.

The communication sets out the basic principles governing implementation, such as burden sharing linked to Member States’ economies (fairness and solidarity), flexibility through the use of emission rights in non-ETS sectors, maintenance of ambitious GHG reduction levels by dealing with each sector separately (environmental integrity). The communication highlights the importance of a context that promotes transition.

2.10.

The effort sharing proposal distributes responsibility between Member States for the INDC under the COP 21 Paris Agreement. Each Member State decides how to achieve its results.

2.11.

The strategy implements the emissions reduction aims of the white paper. It focuses on road transport, and includes the following main points:

a)

Efficiency, behaviour, road pricing

Optimising transport systems

Influencing behaviour through road tolls

Favouring multimodality

b)

Alternative fuels

Promoting low emission alternative energy for transport

Developing second generation biofuels

Infrastructure deployment directive on alternative fuels (2014/94/EU)

c)

Low-emission vehicles

Common standards to enable cross-border travel

Promoting zero-emission vehicles including through public procurement

Certification of CO2 emissions and fuel consumption for buses and HGVs

Restoring confidence in the measurement of emission levels under real driving conditions

d)

Creating a context: synergies and new business models, innovation, digital economy, competence development, investment and support

Creating a favourable context for low-emission mobility though synergies with other policy areas, research, innovation and competence building

e)

Aviation and maritime transport — international action

A global market-based measure for aviation has now been proposed by ICAO and energy efficiency design criteria for shipping, starting with emissions monitoring, are being developed by the IMO.

3.   General comments

3.1.

In line with its position on the white paper and the INDC of the EU (9), the EESC supports the aims set out in the strategy.

3.2.

The EESC reiterates its support for the aims of the white paper and repeats the regrets in its 2015 opinion on the implementation of the white paper that the internal transport market is still far from complete and that measures in that direction would be welcome (10). Full implementation of the internal market would improve resource efficiency and reduce emissions. It must be achieved through clear and enforceable rules and accompanied by measures to fight all forms of social dumping as well as fraud and abuse regarding posting of workers and access to welfare benefits.

3.3.

The EESC also supports the new and innovative elements in the strategy, such as C-ITS including development of cooperative, connected and automated vehicles and the integration of electric vehicles in the energy system through smart grids, the development of new business models and new transport patterns following on from both the development of a sharing economy through IT platforms and the general development of the digital economy. Digital systems will also have effects on both passenger and goods transport and will, for instance, optimise traffic flows and the possibility of making resource-efficient choices that will reduce emissions (11).

3.4.

It underlines the paramount importance of restoring confidence in vehicle emission data provided by manufacturers and endorses the measure designed to achieve this result. It emphasises the importance of support from and dialogue with stakeholders and the public as well as the steps taken to establish responsibility for past erroneous data and prevent its repetition.

3.5.

It reiterates that many of the proposed measures require flexibility and adjustment to local conditions, including road pricing (12).

3.6.

It renews its support for the aims of the COP 21 Paris Agreement and the EU INDC and maintains its view that these commitments do not add to the aims set down in the white paper (13). It takes note of the parties’ support for implementing the Paris Agreement in the Marrakesh Action Proclamation and the constitution of a Marrakesh Partnership for Global Action involving both party and non-party stakeholders.

3.7.

The EESC reiterates its view that the implementation of the white paper and the framework strategy for a resilient energy union (COM(2015) 80) need to be reviewed and, where appropriate, new measures added to achieve their aims (14).

3.8.

The EESC underscores the need to create an environment that encourages the implementation of the strategy or an enabling framework, and in this regard refers to the Commission’s communication entitled ‘The Road from Paris’ (15), about the need to ‘move away from a fragmented system characterised by uncoordinated national policies, market barriers and energy isolated areas’. The Energy Union is a framework for an enabling environment for energy transition and the upcoming research, innovation and competitiveness strategy will tap into the synergies between energy, transport, the circular economy and industrial and digital innovation to make present and future European low-carbon and energy efficiency technologies more competitive. As already mentioned in point 3.3 above, this also includes measures to improve skills and the promotion of research and development.

Multi-stakeholder action from civil society — the public, consumers, social partners, SMEs, innovative start-ups and globally competitive industries — is needed. Smart cities and urban communities and their role in developing public transport and transport planning are mentioned as contexts in which a large part of the future transformation will take place (16).

3.9.

The strategy adopts a cross-sectoral approach, for instance when addressing the need for an enabling environment and when referring to digital mobility solutions and links with energy policy. This approach is in line with the Commission staff working document on the implementation of the white paper and with the Commission communication on the upgrading of the single market, both of which endeavour to improve visibility and understanding of sectoral policies by placing them within the context of overarching EU strategies (17).

3.10.

The EESC endorses the strategy’s holistic approach to transport policy, but would have liked to see it more developed, for instance on consistency between the strategy and the communication on the upgrading of the single market, including synergies between market opening and efficiency, the prospects offered by the digital internal market, the sharing economy and the circular economy, including effects on transport patterns as well as social aspects (18).

3.11.

The Commission working document accompanying the strategy brings up a number of new ‘societal’ developments, such as the sharing economy in transport, automatic and connected vehicles, digitalisation and mobility as a service. These developments, including the growing use of internet platforms, should have been mentioned in the strategy.

3.12.

The EESC regrets that the strategy does not mention the social aspects, including consumer rights, labour market relations and the status of micro enterprises, of some of the planned initiatives, for instance the C-ITS plan, the digital economy, new transport patterns or further opening up of the market in different transport sectors. It considers it important to address these issues at an early stage so as to avoid unnecessary tensions.

3.13.

The EESC appreciates the fact that financing is raised in the strategy, as it is fundamentally important to the strategy’s implementation. It draws attention to the financing needs of areas with limited financial resources and projects that are not big enough to reach the thresholds set for EU co-financing. Options for financing small projects should be available in the transport sector, as is the case in the energy sector.

3.14.

The EESC attaches importance to the review of the white paper, which the Commission had already planned for 2016 (19). It does not agree that it is too early to assess implementation (20), since developments such as digitalisation, the development of energy policy and the holistic policy design and implementation of the current Commission warrant an update of the white paper.

3.15.

The EESC supports the proposals set out in the strategy for external action, particularly further action in the ICAO and IMO regarding aviation and shipping. It regrets that the strategy does not mention other forms of external action, such as structured dialogues and benchmarking with neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe and North Africa.

4.   Specific comments

4.1.

The EESC endorses the action plan appended to the strategy, subject to the following remarks:

It regrets the fact that while the action plan mentions facilitation of TEN-T implementation, a review of the European rail network for competitive freight, and the rules on market access for coach and bus services, no mention is made of the planned proposals regarding improved rules on access to the market for goods transported by road. This leaves out an element of transport market regulation where there is considerable room for improving the functioning of the market so that it develops into a more energy- and resource-efficient transport system. The EESC draws attention to its opinion on the internal market of international road freight: social dumping and cabotage (TEN/575) and again underlines the importance of clear and enforceable legislation and the necessity to fight all forms of social dumping as well as fraud and abuse regarding posting of workers and access to welfare benefits.

The EESC is pleased to note the plans to revise the Eurovignette Directive (1999/62/EC), the European Electronic Tolling Service (EETS) Directive (2004/52/EC) and the 2009 Commission Decision on technical aspects of the EETS.

It reiterates its view that flexibility and avoidance of unreasonable cost effects in remote and sparsely populated regions including islands and mountain regions should be important elements in any forthcoming proposal (21).

The EETS Directive was adopted in 2004 and has still not been implemented, in spite of various attempts. The EESC thinks that the concept should now be reviewed in order to make it more attractive to operators and users.

4.2.

It agrees that the European Strategy on Cooperative and Intelligent Transport Systems has great potential for providing added value though better efficiency, and draws attention to the changes C-ITS will mean for transport patterns, market structure, contractual law and social aspects with, for instance, an increased number of micro-enterprises managed by internet platforms. Due consideration should be given to these aspects (22).

4.3.

The EESC endorses the strategy’s aim to favour multimodality and underlines that preference should be given to the most resource-efficient transport solutions in each particular case. It also hopes that the evaluation of the directive on combined transport will lead to a useful update with sufficient flexibility to ensure maximum efficiency, without, however, providing for a parallel market access in road transport. It underscores the importance of incentivising a shift towards low emission modes including rail and combined transport and the importance in that respect that infrastructure charges and external costs are addressed in a way that ensures fair competition between modes.

4.4.

The EESC draws attention to the improved resource efficiency delivered by 25,25-meter vehicle combinations (European Modular System (EMS)). Two EMS vehicle combinations can carry the load of three conventional combinations, meaning better energy efficiency and reduced emissions per unit. Subject to the appreciation of each Member State, EMS combinations should therefore be allowed wherever conditions are appropriate, including in cross-border traffic.

4.5.

It supports the strategy’s approach to alternative fuels, including the need for market support and infrastructure deployment in line with the different needs of the different transport modes, currently mainly a) electricity, mostly for cars; b) natural gas in various forms, mostly used by lorries, buses and ships; and c) biofuels. The EESC underlines that the alternative fuels sector is constantly developing and that both supply and demand may change.

4.6.

The EESC endorses the plans to develop biofuels that do not come from agricultural products or land use that impinge on food production, but from other sources such as residual products, by-products and waste, including from forestry, in line with views expressed previously by the EESC (23).

4.7.

It emphasises the importance of involving civil society and subnational authorities in the implementation of the strategy. An important part of this would be greater use of participatory dialogue with civil society, as suggested in the EESC’s explanatory opinion of 11 July 2012 entitled: ‘Getting civil society on board’ (24) which has resulted in two conferences, in Malmö in 2015 and in Milan in 2016, on the future of the European Core Network Corridors addressing implementation, governance and financing issues.

4.8.

To improve transparency, the EESC suggests that the Commission should publish a yearly emission reduction scoreboard.

4.9.

It also points to the importance of coalition building to support implementation and resolve problems, as proposed in the EESC opinion on this matter (25).

4.10.

The EESC regrets that the effort-sharing proposal does not discuss the possible need for sector-specific emission reduction aims. The strategy maintains that the white paper is aimed at transport, based on a sound assessment of what is feasible, without negative effects on transport functions. Additional steps described in the Commission staff working document accompanying the strategy are modest and would reduce transport emissions by 18-22 % by 2030, instead of the 18-19 % now planned (26).

Brussels, 23 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  COM(2016) 501 final.

(2)  COM(2011) 144 final.

(3)  OJ C 24, 28.1.2012, p. 146; OJ C 291, 4.9.2015, p. 14; and OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 10.

(4)  COM(2016) 766 final.

(5)  OJ C 299, 4.10.2012, p. 170, OJ C 389, 21.10.2016, p. 20.

(6)  COM(2014) 15 final, p. 14, point 4.1; COM(2015) 80 final; COM(2011) 112 final, p. 6.

(7)  COM(2014) 15 final, p. 14, point 4.1.

(8)  SWD(2016) 226.

(9)  OJ C 24, 28.1.2012, p. 146; OJ C 291, 4.9.2015, p. 14; OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 10.

(10)  OJ C 291, 4.9.2015, p. 14, points 1.5 and 1.6.

(11)  COM(2016) 766 final.

(12)  OJ C 24, 28.1.2012, p. 146.

(13)  OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 10, points 1.3, 3.1, 4.6, 5.1 and 5.2.

(14)  OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 10, points 1.4, 5.2 and 5.3.

(15)  COM(2016) 110 final, Section 3.1, p. 5.

(16)  COM(2016) 110 final, Section 3.1 at p. 7.

(17)  SWD(2016) 226, Section 4.1 p. 27.

(18)  COM(2016) 288 final and COM(2016) 356 final.

(19)  OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 10, points 1.4 and 5.2.

(20)  SWD(2016) 226, Section 5, p. 34 and Section 2, p. 4.

(21)  OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 10, point 1.6.

(22)  COM(2015) 192 final.

(23)  OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 10, point 1.8.

(24)  OJ C 299, 4.10.2012, p. 170, point 1.11 and OJ C 389, 21.10.2016, p. 20.

(25)  OJ C 389, 21.10.2016, p. 20.

(26)  SWD(2016) 501, Section 5, p. 82 -83.


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/62


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Establishing the EFSD Guarantee and the EFSD Guarantee Fund’

(COM(2016) 586 final)

(2017/C 173/11)

Rapporteur:

Jan SIMONS

Consultation

24 November 2016

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Section for External Relations

Adopted in section

31 January 2017

Date adopted in plenary

22 February 2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

205/1/0

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the establishment of the European External Investment Plan (EIP) and the proposal for a Regulation on the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) and establishing the EFSD Guarantee and the EFSD Guarantee Fund as steps in the right direction towards tackling the causes of irregular migration at its roots. The eradication of poverty is also a goal on which the EFSD should focus.

1.2.

The Committee calls for a particular focus on resolving the situation in the countries that are the main source of migration where economic, social and security conditions have led to economic devastation and spiralling poverty while blocking any efforts towards sustainable development.

1.3.

The Committee refers to its previous opinions where it has stressed the need to involve the private sector in development on condition that such development is in line with the sustainable development goals and that the private sector respects basic economic, environmental and social rights, the core International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and the Decent Work Agenda. This should apply also to the investment projects financed by the EFSD.

1.4.

The Committee considers the proposal on the EFSD compliant with its recommendation to use development assistance as a multiplying factor for matching private capital with investments in developing countries and to link them to clearly defined aims, such as the creation of more and better jobs, production quality improvement and transfer of management know-how to the private sector.

1.5.

The Committee calls on the Commission to study and analyse the experience of the implementation of the Investment Plan for Europe and the European Fund for Strategic Investment to avoid any shortcomings and obstacles taking into consideration that the situations in the partner countries covered by the EFSD are much more complicated than those in the EU Member States.

1.6.

The Committee welcomes the coordination of the cooperation and governance through the strategic board of the EFSD where all the relevant institutions and bodies should be represented. Given the irreplaceable role of civil society in development cooperation, the EESC asks to be given the status of observer on the strategic board and recommends involving the representative civil society organisations in partner countries in the decision making process, including the preparation of concrete projects.

1.7.

The Committee recommends that the one-stop shop to be established for the investors should not be limited to investment issues but should provide guidance and all necessary information and contacts for those who would like to engage in development activities.

1.8.

The Committee would suggest that the Regulation include the commitment to extend the validity of the EFSD and the Guarantee beyond the limit of 2020 after the evaluation of the results of its implementation and calls on the Commission, the Council and the EP to take this into consideration when preparing the new Multiannual Financial Framework.

2.   Gist of the Commission’s proposal

2.1.

On 28 June 2016, the European Council asked the Commission to present a proposal for an ambitious External Investment Plan (EIP) as a part of the EU’s new Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda for Migration (1). The new plan is based on three pillars: a new investment fund (pillar 1); technical assistance (pillar 2) to help local authorities and companies to develop a higher number of sustainable projects and attract investors; and (pillar 3) a range of dedicated thematic, national and regional EU development cooperation programmes combined with structured political dialogue targeted at improving the investment climate and overall policy environment in the countries concerned.

2.2.

Pillar 1 will be partly implemented through the establishment of the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD). The EFSD will have the key objective of providing an integrated financial package to finance investments starting in the regions of Africa and the Neighbourhood. The EFSD will be composed of regional investment platforms, which will combine financing from existing blending facilities and the EFSD Guarantee. It will operate as a ‘one-stop shop’ to receive financing proposals from financial institutions and public or private investors and deliver a wide range of financial support to eligible investments.

2.3.

The key objective of the EFSD is to provide an integrated financial package to finance investments for countries that are signatories to the Partnership Agreement between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States of the one part, and the European Community and its Member States (2), and the Neighbourhood, thereby creating growth and employment opportunities, maximising additionality, delivering innovative products and crowding-in private sector funds. The EFSD is expected to mobilise up to EUR 44 billion of investments using funds from the general budget of the Union and other sources amounting to EUR 3,35 billion up to 2020.

2.4.

The Union will make available a total of EUR 750 million for the EFSD Guarantee until 2020 stemming both from the Union’s general budget and the 11th European Development Fund (EDF). The Commission intends to propose the mobilisation of the contingency margin to provide EUR 250 million. Other contributions from the Union budget would be made by the use of redeployments or refocusing of programmed funds. Further financing could also include other contributions by other contributors, such as Member States.

2.5.

The EFSD will be managed by the Commission and implemented through regional investment platforms, which will combine financing from existing blending facilities for Africa and for the Neighbourhood and the granting of the EFSD Guarantee. The Commission will be advised by a strategic board and two operational boards, one for each Regional Investment Platform. The Commission will manage the EFSD secretariat, which will ensure the performance of all tasks and functions needed to fulfil the objectives of the EIP.

3.   General comments

3.1.

The EESC represents European organised civil society in several bilateral committees such as ACP-EU, Euromed, the East Partnership, Latin America and others, and presents its views on the role of civil society in supporting development (3). Civil society can play a very important role in evaluating the usefulness and sustainability of the investment projects, in overseeing the transparency of their financing and in monitoring their implementation.

3.2.

The Committee considers the problem of the great number of refugees and irregular migrants to the EU as one of the great challenges that the EU has faced in recent years. The two phenomena have different causes and call for differentiated solutions. The top priority for the international community must be to deploy all its efforts in bringing an end to military conflicts and establishing a peace settlement in order to create the conditions necessary for real development and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Alongside the important role of civil society in prevention, mediation and solving conflicts, the EU, as the biggest donor of development aid, should play the major role in these efforts.

3.3.

The causes of irregular migration are often the result of weak economic prospects and low economic growth in the countries of origin combined with poor social conditions and significant security issues, which result in exacerbated poverty and force thousands of people to take the road of exile. The Committee welcomes the efforts of the Commission and the Council to find the best approach to resolving the issue of irregular migration by tackling its root causes

3.4.

Official Development Assistance remains irreplaceable in the fight against poverty especially in the least-developed countries, fragile states and for vulnerable populations but it cannot cover all development needs.

3.5.

The Committee, in its opinions on the role of the private sector (4) and on financing development (5), concluded that that it is necessary to mobilise all available resources and give a much greater role to the private sector both at European and local levels on condition that this development will be in line with the sustainable development goals and that the private sector will respect human rights including economic and social rights, especially the core ILO conventions. The new jobs created should comply with the ILO Decent Work Agenda and this should apply also to the investment projects carried out by means of the European Fund for Sustainable Development.

3.6.

The new instruments such as the EFSD Guarantee and the Guarantee Fund should be used as a multiplying factor for attracting private capital to the investments in developing countries and linking them to clearly defined aims, such as the creation of more and better jobs, improvement of production quality and transfer of management know-how to the private sector. Furthermore, the blending of the public and private investments must be transparent and respect the necessary balance to avoid the situation where the private investors reap all the benefits and the public sector covers the loses. The results of the projects must be clearly measured and benchmarked, evaluating among other positive results the elimination of the causes of irregular migration.

3.7.

Since the EFSD is inspired by the Investment Plan for Europe and the European Fund for Strategic Investment the Committee is asking the Commission to draw lessons from its functioning since it cannot be described as a complete success This experience has to be studied and analysed carefully to avoid any shortcomings and obstacles when managing the EFSD, taking into consideration that conditions in partner countries are different and much more complicated than those in the EU Member States.

3.8.

The proposed EFSD will transform the existing blending Africa Investment Facility (6) and the Neighbourhood Investment Facility (7) into two investment platforms under one umbrella. The Committee considers it necessary to involve representative civil society organisations at local level in the decision making process, including the preparation of concrete projects, to enable them to play their part in monitoring the transparency of the financing and the effectiveness of the investment projects.

3.9.

The EU has an excessive number of financial tools linked to development programmes (11th European Development Fund with its different financing envelopes, facilities, platforms, the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014 to 2020 (EU budget) with its different territorial and regional programmes, sectorial programmes, EIB with its facilities and programmes, EBRD, etc.). which makes it very complicated for the general public and the relevant partners to understand them and find out how to use them. The EFSD plans to become the one-stop shop for those who are interested in investment in the developing countries. The Committee recommends that it should not be limited to investment but provide guidance with all necessary information and contacts for those who would like to engage in the development activities.

3.10.

Only 6 % of the EU development assistance went to fragile states and most of it was directed at the 10 countries that have plentiful natural resources. The Committee hopes that the EFSD will also bring positive results to fragile states, especially those with military conflicts, devastated economies and failed governance where the proposed Guarantee may help private investors face higher risks for their projects. The Committee is also against the attempts to set a maximum percentage that the Guarantee can cover which would limit its application to investments in fragile countries.

3.11.

The Committee considers that the main qualitative change to the present situation could be to address coordination and streaming of cooperation and governance through the strategic board of the EFSD, where all the relevant institutions and bodies should be represented. Given its role in the development cooperation the EESC calls on the Commission to give observer status to representatives of the Committee so that the views of civil society can be represented.

3.12.

The Committee considers that the very significant added value of the new External Investment Plan should be provided via its second pillar related to technical assistance and the third pillar, which would cover the issues of improving democracy and governance in partner countries especially transparency, monitoring and accountability and creating a business environment that was conducive to investment leading to growth and new jobs and the eradication of poverty.

3.13.

It is also necessary to improve communication about the investment plan and its specific projects to enable civil society to monitor its implementation.

4.   Specific comments

4.1.

The proposal for a regulation on the EFSD Guarantee states (8) that it would be granted for an initial investment period ending on 31 December 2020, which in the Committee’s view is too short to fulfil the goals of the EIP. The Committee would hope that it would be possible to extend the EIP and enlarge its scope to include other countries and regions depending on its success and this should be taken into consideration when the new Multiannual Financial Framework is prepared.

4.2.

It is proposed that Member States will have the option of providing contributions in the form of a guarantee earmarked by a region, sector or investment window (9). The Committee recommends adding that Member States’ contributions should be in line with the EU’s development priorities.

4.3.

We welcome the Commission’s commitment to reporting annually to the European Parliament and the Council on the financing and investment operations covered by the EFSD Guarantee and are pleased to note that the report will be made public to allow the relevant stakeholders, including civil society, to express their views. The EESC will be keen to participate in the evaluation of whether the EFSD contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals, including the key reason for its creation — removing the causes of irregular migration.

4.4.

In all its opinions on development cooperation, the Committee has insisted that aid must be provided in a completely transparent manner in order to prevent fraud, corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion. It therefore supports the explicit mentioning of these principles in the proposal (10).

4.5.

The Committee suggests adding the eradication of poverty to the SDGs mentioned in Article 3(2) on which the EFSD will focus and to mention it also among the general objectives under Article 8(1)(a).

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  EESC Opinion REX/478 on New Migration Partnership with third countries (see page 66 of this Official Journal).

(2)  Signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2000 (‘Cotonou Agreement’).

(3)  OJ C 264, 20.7.2016, p. 1, OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 138, OJ C 44, 11.2.2011, p. 129, OJ C 229, 31.7.2012, p. 133, OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 24.

(4)  OJ C 67, 6.3.2014, p. 1.

(5)  OJ C 383, 17.11.2015, p. 49.

(6)  C (2015) 5210 final.

(7)  C (2016) 3436 final.

(8)  Point 9 of the considerations.

(9)  Point 14 of the considerations and Article 14 point 4.

(10)  Articles 17, 18, 19 and 20.


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/66


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Establishing a new Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on Migration’

(COM(2016) 385 final)

(2017/C 173/12)

Rapporteur:

Cristian PÎRVULESCU

Consultation

Commission, 17.8.2016

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

 

 

Section responsible

Section for External Relations

Adopted in section

31.1.2017

Adopted at plenary

22.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

225/4/2

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The European Agenda on Migration should be designed so as to take into full consideration the humanitarian dimension of its scope, and the EU should not forget its fundamental commitments and legally binding rules to protect lives and human rights, especially of people in danger.

1.2.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) supports the vision emerging from the Valletta Summit, which took place in November 2015, the key aim of which was to provide a long-term response to migration, addressing the root causes of migration and creating a dialogue with third countries based on cooperation and shared responsibility. The EESC hopes that the Euro-African Dialogue on Migration and Development (the ‘Rabat Process’) and the Khartoum Process will contribute to the swift implementation of the Valletta Action Plan.

1.3.

The EESC supports the tailored and specific agreements with each country, with full respect of human rights. Flexibility provides the right perspective and combination of actions and incentives.

1.4.

While the need for policy coordination and streamlining is clear, it seems that the Agenda on Migration is becoming an overarching policy, superseding other policies in pursuit of its actions and objectives (e.g. neighbourhood, development assistance and trade). While it acknowledges the importance of the migration policy, the EESC also considers the other policies to be equally important and worth pursuing, and recommends that participation in the migration policy is not used as a condition for cooperation in other policy areas. The primary aim of coordination is to promote synergy, complementarity and comprehensiveness between the various policy areas.

1.5.

A distinction should be made between lack of cooperation with third countries based on lack of political will and lack of cooperation based on lack of capacity and resources. They both need to be addressed but via different means. In order to ensure sustainability and resilience, the focus should be on building capacity first. Under no circumstances should assistance be conditional on readmission and border controls.

1.6.

The economy is central to addressing the root causes of migration, but this should not mean ignoring the political, institutional and administrative dimensions of stability and prosperity. The strategy needs to be readjusted so as to include more committed and targeted support in three areas: conflict resolution and state building, promotion of democracy and human rights, and civil society development.

1.7.

In order to treat the root causes of migration in the long term, a country needs a viable and legitimate government, strong representative institutions, effective parties, mass media and civil society organisations. The EU should consider giving proper attention and support to democratic assistance and not treat democracy issues just like the ‘general business environment’, since it is mentioned in the third pillar of the External Investment Plan.

1.8.

The development of legal migration channels and institutional capacities to support legal migration should be a priority within the Partnership Framework with third countries, for the EU, Member States and third countries.

1.9.

Civil society organisations play a significant role in making the resettlement, travel and reception of migrants and refugees more safe and humane. The proposal should reconsider the role of and support for their activities, from local organisations in the countries of origin and transit to those participating in the rescue operations and managing reception and integration. Moreover, civil society organisations should be involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the actions of all competent authorities involved in managing migration.

1.10.

The EESC encourages public authorities, at national, regional and local level, to take part in the implementation of the migration and asylum policy, according to international legal obligations and with the aim of protecting human rights and facilitating integration.

1.11.

The EU and Member States, directly or indirectly, must respect human rights and observe the principle of non-refoulement, on the basis of the Geneva Convention, when carrying out these actions and procedures.

1.12.

The EU has to be certain when granting ‘safe country’ status to countries of origin and transit, so as not to violate the principle of non-refoulement (1).

1.13.

The Commission has set out its strategic vision on how EU external action can foster the resilience and self-reliance of forcibly displaced people in places that are as close as possible to the refugees’ country of origin. While this vision has certain advantages, it should be noted that the EU, as a responsible and resourceful international actor, also has its own moral and legal obligation to help those who seek international protection, in accordance with international treaties.

1.14.

The EESC supports the increasing rates of return and readmission, with a preference for voluntary return and a focus on reintegration. Voluntary return with a focus on reintegration should be one of the main strategic choices that the EU and Member States make in managing the migration process.

1.15.

In all the compacts and agreements, the EU should ensure that mainly positive incentives are used, that assistance is well designed and organised, and that it also addresses the institutional and administrative capacities of the government, promotes democracy and human rights and includes civil society organisations in all processes, especially local and national ones.

1.16.

The EESC encourages the EU institutions, the Member States, and governments of third countries to involve and support the diaspora groups as much as possible. They could be a valuable resource for the long-term development of the countries of origin and transit and also bring a valuable contribution to European society and economy. The promotion of diversity and openness to the world has been a pillar of European society and the migration policy has to be in line with these two principles.

1.17.

The EESC encourages the Member States to participate fully in efforts to coordinate EU policy on migration. Solidarity and cooperation between Member States are two prerequisites for an effective implementation of the Partnerships Framework with third countries.

1.18.

The EESC encourages the European Commission to establish its planned platform of dialogue to include input from business, the trade unions, and other social partners, to maximise the benefits of migration for the European economy and the migrants themselves (2). The EESC is ready to cooperate for its establishment and proper functioning.

2.   Background (based on the EC Communication)

2.1.

Much has been achieved since the adoption of the European Agenda on Migration, not least beyond the EU’s borders. Hundreds of thousands of people have been rescued at sea (3). The Valletta Summit in November 2015 brought migration issues to the heart of the EU’s relations with African countries.

2.2.

However, much more needs to be done. The EU is still faced with a humanitarian crisis. Third countries and EU partners are housing refugees, many of them unaccompanied minors forced to leave their homes and economic migrants who aspire to come to Europe.

2.3.

The ultimate aim of the Partnership Framework is a coherent and tailored engagement by which the Union and its Member States act in a coordinated manner, bringing together instruments, tools and leverage to establish comprehensive partnerships (compacts) with third countries so as to better manage migration in full respect of our humanitarian and human rights obligations.

2.4.

Immediate action should be taken with key partners in the following areas, where specific and measurable targets should be set: working with key partners to improve the legislative and institutional framework for migration; concrete assistance for capacity building on border and migration management, including providing protection for refugees; increasing rates of return and readmission with a preference for voluntary return and a focus on reintegration; stemming the irregular flows while offering legal migration channels, including increased resettlement efforts.

3.   General comments

3.1.

The EESC believes that well-managed migration is an opportunity for the EU, the countries of origin and for the migrants and their families. Migration is an inherent feature of human society. In the recent history of the European peoples, migration is very important.

3.2.

Problems occur when people do not leave voluntarily; where many migrants are forced to leave their place of residence as a result of extreme poverty, war or natural disasters. These people are very vulnerable. If European countries fail to launch management procedures and laws to make it easier for migration to be channelled through legal and transparent procedures, many people migrating through irregular routes, often at serious risk to their lives, are exploited by criminal networks involved in smuggling and human trafficking.

3.3.

When developing policies and laws to organise migration and border controls, the EESC warns that they should comply fully with the Conventions on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.

3.4.

The Commission’s proposal brings much-needed coordination and harmonisation to the procedures and instruments used to manage the increasingly complex migration process. Given the nature and dynamic of recent migration trends, it is salutary to have a review and a clearer agenda of priorities.

3.5.

The EESC considers that the focus on saving people at risk while travelling is fully justified. This should be an absolute priority for both the EU and Member States. Even though lives are still being lost at sea, the Committee praises the role of ordinary people, civil society organisations, and military and civilian personnel involved in the rescue operations.

3.5.1.

As well as the stated short-term objectives of the compacts: to save lives in the Mediterranean sea; to increase the rate of returns to countries of origin and transit; to enable migrants and refugees to stay close to home and to avoid making dangerous journeys, the EESC also encourages the EC to include the protection of migrants along the so called Balkan route, whose lives and safety could be in danger, and the creation of legal routes for migration.

3.6.

The EESC reiterates that the EU and its Member States constitute the world’s largest development and humanitarian donor and that the EU provides significant support to refugees, internally displaced persons and host communities, for example in the Horn of Africa and Lake Chad areas (Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan).

3.6.1.

The Agenda on Migration should be designed to take full consideration of the scope of the humanitarian dimension. The EU has difficulty managing the current migrant and refugee flows. However, it should not forget its fundamental commitments and legally binding rules to protect lives and human rights, especially of those in danger.

3.7.

The Agenda on Migration will be successful only to the extent that third countries are willing and able to work closely with the EU and the Member States. Each country has its own profile with regard to migration. A number of them are countries of origin and experience conflict, tensions and severe deprivations, while other are transit countries, more stable but also more vulnerable. Some of them have to face a disproportionate number of refugees and migrants seeking safety and assistance on their territories, most notably Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Their willingness and capacity to implement measures derived from this migration partnership depend on various and complex historical, political, economic, security and cultural factors. It is therefore necessary to find the right perspective and combination of actions and incentives in relation to each of them. At the same time, the compacts should have a common focus, one that encourages the institutional, democratic, social and economic development of the third countries.

3.8.

The Agenda on Migration needs further strengthening and more coordination with other relevant policies areas. In the Commission’s proposal, three such policies are envisaged: neighbourhood, development assistance, and trade. In the European Neighbourhood Policy, broadly half the available funding will be devoted to migration-related issues. In the development policy, the proposal envisages the introduction of positive and negative incentives which reward those countries that fulfil their international obligation to readmit their own nationals, and those that cooperate in managing the flows of irregular migrants from third countries, as well as those taking action to adequately host persons fleeing conflict and persecution. Consequences for those who do not cooperate with readmission and return policies are also envisaged. With regard to trade policy, where the EU can give preferential treatment to its partners, the EC proposes that cooperation with migration policies should be a factor in the evaluation of trade preferences under ‘GSP+’.

3.9.

Aside from these, all policy areas, including education, research, climate change, energy, environment and agriculture, should in principle be part of a package, are envisaged to be migration sensitive, and bring maximum leverage to the discussion.

3.10.

While the need for policy coordination and streamlining is clear, this strategy raises some concerns. It seems that the Agenda on Migration is becoming an overarching policy, superseding other policies in pursuit of its activities and objectives. This could affect these other policies, each of which is legitimate in its aims and scope. The neighbourhood policy should bring stability and prosperity to the EU border, and a disproportionate focus on migration might sideline other relevant areas. The development policy also has wide ranging objectives, including relief for vulnerable communities and building better economic and social prospects for tens of millions of people. Trade policy also has a significant developmental dimension, bringing more opportunities for EU citizens and third country citizens alike.

3.11.

While acknowledging that the migration agenda is important, the EESC also considers each policy equally important and worth pursuing. The aim of coordination is primarily to promote the synergy, complementarity and comprehensiveness of the various policy areas.

3.12.

Related to this, the specific framing of policy coordination suggests the possibility of a conditional and coercive approach — third countries should cooperate with the EU and member countries in the readmission and return of their own nationals, managing migrant flows on their territories and across borders, and hosting people fleeing conflict and persecution. Otherwise, access to EU funding and assistance and to the EU market could be jeopardised. This option could prove problematic and ultimately ineffective. The cooperation of third countries in the migration agenda is driven by internal concerns and internal capacities. A distinction should be made between lack of cooperation based on political will and lack of cooperation based on lack of capacity and resources. They both need to be addressed but by different means. In order to ensure sustainability and resilience, the focus should be on building capacity first. It is also very important to make a distinction between development assistance and migration cooperation. The latter should not be made conditional on the first under any circumstances.

3.13.

When addressing the ‘root causes’ of migration, the Commission proposal refers almost exclusively to the economy. It also emphasises the role of private investors looking for new investment opportunities in emerging markets. As stated in the proposal: ‘Instead of letting irregular migrants risk their lives trying to reach European labour markets, European private and public resources should be mobilised for investment in third countries of origin’.

3.14.

The Commission also envisages an ambitious External Investment Plan, with three pillars: ‘the first pillar would enable using scarce public resources in an innovative way to mobilise private investment by offering additional guarantees and concessional funds. The second pillar would focus on technical assistance, helping local authorities and companies develop a higher number of bankable projects and make them known to the international investor community. The third pillar would target the general business environment by fostering good governance, fighting corruption, removing barriers to investment and market distortions.’

3.15.

In addressing the root causes of migration, the economy is central. It should be closely connected with the political, institutional, administrative and social dimensions of stability and prosperity. The lessons learnt from decades of assistance and development work show that institutions are fundamental and if the proper framework and infrastructure is missing, the envisaged dynamic will not be triggered. Private investors would not invest in countries of origin and transit if they were unstable. Financing for investment, development and other policy areas should remain distinct but have complementary objectives.

3.16.

Many of the third countries, especially those that became countries of origin for refugees and migrants, have fundamental problems with stability and effectiveness of government. Their infrastructures and economies are weak and their administrative systems underdeveloped. Thus, a renewed effort towards conflict resolution and state building should be considered. This is not only the case in Syria and Libya, but also in many other countries. Acknowledging this fact could help prioritise measures and actions and target the very reasons people ultimately flee from or transit through those territories. Narrowly defined interventions, for example training border guards or transferring technology to them, breaking up smuggler networks, or providing incentives to return, will have a positive but limited impact. Migration is a phenomenon that correlates with state weaknesses and failures of different natures and degrees.

3.17.

The inclusion in the third pillar of the External Investment Plan of governance as a ‘general business environment’ is not sufficient to capture the range of issues that need to be addressed. In order to treat the root causes of migration in the long term, a country needs a viable and legitimate government, strong representative institutions, effective parties, mass media and civil society organisations. The EU should consider giving proper attention and support to democratic assistance. This is relevant not only in the framework of migration but also in other policy areas like neighbourhood and trade.

3.18.

In the Commission proposal, the role of civil society is insufficiently acknowledged and supported. Civil society organisations have a significant role to play in making the resettlement, travel and reception of migrants and refugees safer and more humane. From refugee camps to migrant routes, including the sea, to reception sites in the EU, they make a valuable if not indispensable contribution. The proposal should reconsider the role of and support for their activity, from local organisations in the countries of origin and transit, to those participating in the rescue operations and managing reception and integration. Moreover, civil society organisations should be involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the actions of all competent authorities involved in managing migration. Their work and feedback could bring the whole process closer to the human rights standards that the international and EU treaties recognise and protect.

4.   Specific comments

4.1.

In organising all activities and procedures, the EU and Member States, directly or indirectly, should respect human rights and observe the principle of non-refoulement, on the basis of the Geneva Convention.

4.2.

The EESC is deeply concerned about the agreement between the EU and Turkey and its impact on the fundamental rights of the individuals subject to it. The EU-Turkey Statement is contested by civil society groups and human rights advocates, as it treated Turkey as a ‘safe country’. The EU has to be certain when granting ‘safe country’ status to countries of origin and transit, so as not to violate the principle of non-refoulement.

4.3.

The Commission has set out its strategic vision on how EU external action can foster the resilience and self-reliance of forcibly displaced people in places that are as close as possible to the refugees’ country of origin (4). While this vision has certain advantages, it should be noted that the EU, as a responsible and resourceful international actor, also has its own moral and legal obligation to help those who seek international protection.

4.4.

The operational steps aimed at fighting against migrant smuggling are welcomed. The smugglers impose very high costs for helping migrants and expose them to serious risks. At the same time, combating smuggling will not solve the structural issues of migration. Again, creating legal routes for migration is key and it would decrease the dependence of migrants on smuggling networks.

4.5.

A coordination mechanism needs to be introduced between the EU level and that of the Member States to deliver the compacts. If some Member States have historical ties with the third countries, they could be mobilised to ensure better cooperation.

4.6.

The EESC welcomes the upcoming proposal for a structured resettlement system providing a common approach to safe and legal arrival in the Union for persons in need of international protection via resettlement, as a direct demonstration of the EU’s commitment to helping countries under the heaviest pressure (5). The Valletta Action Plan included a commitment by the EU and Member States to launch pilot projects that pool offers for legal migration. However, the proposal should be much clearer and identify specific projects to be implemented.

4.7.

The EESC welcomes the reform of the Blue Card (6) presented on 7 June 2016, which aims to attract highly skilled migrants to the EU labour market.

4.8.

The EESC welcomes the design of the compacts aimed at increasing the effectiveness and sustainability of the return process and providing adequate financial support to readmitting countries and in particular to the communities that will reintegrate those who return. Providing incentives for authorities and individuals is indispensable in ensuring an effective process.

4.9.

The EESC supports the increasing rates of return and readmission with a clear preference for voluntary return and a focus on reintegration. This should be one of the main strategic choices that the EU and Member States make in managing the migration process. It increases the chance that those involved will all cooperate and, importantly, turns migration into a possible engine of local development.

4.10.

The efforts of the EU and the Member States should be coordinated at global level. The EESC agrees with the recommendation of the European Commission to support the establishment of a UN-supported global resettlement scheme to enable rapid and efficient resettlement to safe countries. The EU has both the resources and the experience to make a difference including via a push towards a more global and multilateral process for managing migration.

4.11.

The EESC broadly supports the direction of the specific partnerships with third countries: concluding compacts with Jordan and Lebanon, taking EU-Tunisia cooperation to the next level; launching and agreeing compacts with Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia; and supporting the Libyan Government of National Accord. In all these compacts and agreements, the EU should ensure that mainly positive incentives are used, that assistance is well designed and organised, and that it also addresses the institutional and administrative capacities of the government, promotes democracy and human rights and includes civil society organisations in all the processes, especially local and national ones.

4.12.

The EESC acknowledges the efforts on all sides to make the Partnership Framework operational and effective, as presented in the First Progress Report published by the European Commission (7). The launch of projects funded by the EU Trust Fund for Africa in the five priority countries is a sign that cooperation is possible. The EESC encourages the EU institutions to work towards a quick adoption of the Regulation on the European Fund for Sustainable Development, a key instrument in promoting sustainable development, inclusive growth, economic and social development and regional integration outside Europe.

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  OJ C 71, 24.2.2016, p. 82.

(2)  A European Agenda for Migration, COM(2015) 240 final, pp. 15-17.

(3)  In the Italian ‘Mare Nostrum’ Operations alone 140 000 people were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2015, EU operations in the Mediterranean have contributed to saving more than 400 000 people.

(4)  COM(2016) 234 final of 26 April 2016.

(5)  See COM(2016) 197 final of 6 April 2016.

(6)  COM(2016) 378 final.

(7)  COM(2016) 700 final.


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/73


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Central Bank, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank Annual Growth Survey 2017’

[COM(2016) 725 final]

(2017/C 173/13)

Rapporteur:

Etele BARÁTH

Consultation

European Commission, 8.12.2016

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

 

 

Subcommittee responsible

SC/046

Adoption by the subcommittee

17.1.2017

Adopted at plenary

22.2.2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

181/5/36

Cooperation, ownership and flexibility

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) endorses the priorities set out in the European Commission’s 2017 Annual Growth Survey, i.e. the primacy given to fostering job creation and growth, through the three pillars of the AGS: pursuing structural reforms, ensuring responsible fiscal policies, and boosting investment. This annual survey provides a suitable basis for launching the European Semester process and, subsequently, drafting the ‘country-specific recommendations’.

1.2.

The European Semester is seen as a good instrument for further progress in policies and reform, leading to recovery and employment. The AGS 2017 outlines the most pressing economic and social priorities, accompanied by specific recommendations, however the EESC takes very seriously the negative aspects of the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact and Country-Specific Recommendations applied at national level to set the euro area fiscal stance.

1.3.

The AGS recognises many positive developments and signs of recovery in the EU. Investment has started to pick up, 8 million new jobs have been created since 2013, the employment target of 75 % is within reach, there are structural improvements in the performance of the labour market, and the average public deficit level has been reduced slightly in some Member States.

1.4.

The Committee shares the view that preserving the European way of life is rooted in ensuring a promising economic future for all, but believes that further efforts are necessary to this end. The AGS openly says that the recovery is still fragile. Unemployment remains high, the risk of poverty has if anything increased, GDP and productivity growth rates are too low, and investment worryingly remains below pre-crisis levels. There are still significant imbalances and broader risks within the euro area and the EU in general.

1.5.

The EESC also believes that globalisation and technological and demographic developments, in particular digitalisation, are important catalysts for change and that everyone should be able to capitalise on them. The principal measures must include investment in levers of growth: knowledge, innovation, education and ICT.

1.6.

The Committee supports the goals of equality, equity and inclusion, and draws attention to the importance of reforms and coordinated policies.

1.7.

At the same time, the EESC notes that integration must be strengthened if joint objectives are to be achieved and handicaps overcome. European governance that is responsible, based on cooperation and characterised by both discipline and flexibility provides a guarantee in this regard. The European Semester clearly shows that setting up high-level partnerships between Member States is an effective way to overcome the crisis.

1.8.

The EESC welcomes, in principle, the missions set out in the 2017 growth survey, as well as the distribution of tasks between the Commission and the Member States. It repeats its proposal — made previously, in its analysis of the 2016 growth survey — to supplement the European Semester. As well as increasing investment, structural reforms and strengthening macroeconomic balance, the main objectives also include progress to be made in terms of ‘beyond GDP’ indicators (social, environmental and sustainability targets).

1.9.

The EESC believes that only a comprehensive system of indicators — such as the current system, which is also able to factor in social and environmental ramifications — is truly able to show real economic growth on the basis of results (GDR — gross domestic result).

1.10.

In the EESC’s view, a clear and comprehensible overview of the political and strategic positions for the near future and for the longer term is essential. It is important that the priorities of the Juncker Commission as well as the 2030 targets, based on the Europe 2020 strategy (and which also cover sustainable development), jointly determine development processes.

1.11.

According to the European Commission’s latest forecasts (1), EU Member States’ economic development will fundamentally stay the same between 2016 and 2018 in comparison to 2015, and the principal source of growth will be consumption rather than investment. This outlook, which is related to low growth and investment, is inauspicious, all the more so given that the strengthening of domestic demand remains as important as ever when it comes to boosting investment.

1.12.

The coordination of all instruments of social policy should also be strengthened, given the limits to the EU’s competences. A well-designed benchmark system, which will be proposed by the future European Pillar of Social Rights, could stimulate the reform process and ensure better coordination of social policies within the European Semester.

1.13.

Analysing the consistency between traditional cohesion policy — currently undergoing a mid-term review — and its financing (ESI Funds) on the one hand, and the new investment instruments (EFSI) on the other hand, should be a focus of the Annual Growth Survey. Since this is one of the most dynamic forms of cooperation between the Union and the Member States, it is also important to ensure better coordination, including in terms of its implementation. The implementation of improvements should be coordinated.

1.14.

The Stability and Growth Pact is one of the main pillars supporting the functioning of the European Semester. Sustainable, long-term economic, social and environmental development must be based on appropriate and coordinated fiscal policies at EU level and the transparent and predictable functioning of financial systems.

1.15.

The EESC draws attention to the fact that the structural changes needed to achieve sustainable development require considerable funds which will only be available if budgetary resources are used more effectively and investment is significantly increased.

1.16.

Although this new European fund, the EFSI, will enable resources in the productive and physical infrastructure sectors to be substantially increased, the fact that social and public investment levels continue to be well below what is needed is very problematic. Sufficient budgetary flexibility should therefore be ensured.

1.17.

The EESC strongly recommends that investing in education, training, healthcare and other social systems should be the priority, especially in regions with lower than average development.

1.18.

European governance must be characterised by both shared ownership and reasonable flexibility. On the one hand, the EESC is of the view that the mid-term revision of the Union’s budget, redefining the objectives, significantly increasing the proportion of own resources and revenue, and making implementation more effective and efficient could help to shape a system in which flexibility could also be seen as a way to cover the risks. On the other hand, improved market conditions and smart regulation can encourage the competitiveness of the European economy in a broad sense (including from an economic, social and environmental perspective).

2.   Context

2.1.

At present, the European Union is being held together not so much by a shared political will to construct the future as by legal guarantees and the need for economic cooperation. The Union is divided and continues to face a crisis on several fronts that refuses to go away. The Brexit vote and the ensuing uncertainty are a clear sign of this. While the political stalemate is deeper than the economic one, there are still considerable economic disparities in spite of the economic recovery which can be observed in some Member States.

2.2.

The migration crisis is sending a tragic signal around the world, one that requires Europe to honour its humanitarian commitments, to maintain its social and societal systems and to consolidate the role it plays beyond the continent’s borders.

2.3.

In terms of how the Union operates, the gap between society’s perception and reality has widened. The partnerships forged between civil society and civil society organisations on the one hand and the Union’s institutional framework on the other are far from satisfactory; Europeans have the distinct impression that the situation is deteriorating. Citizens, as well as large, medium-sized and small businesses, expect effective measures.

2.4.

The political forces that pit the presumed or real requirements of national independence against what has been achieved together are gaining ground. Unfortunately, contemporary politics emphasises differences rather than convergences.

2.5.

Starting from when the proposals were drawn up as part of the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy, it became clear that it was essential to strengthen the development processes (and related instruments) that directly affect European citizens, so as to give expression to European values and advance the Union’s interests.

2.6.

The economic crisis and the ensuing drop in investment have fractured the growth-based unity among the Member States and provoked increasingly serious strains. In spite of the Union’s fundamental objective, the development gaps between Member States — and more particularly between certain regions — are widening.

2.6.1.

In addition, the rules on budget deficits set in 2005 should be adapted to the current economic and social situation of the EU, and should take into account that some public expenses, such as education, have to be removed from deficit calculations as they are important investments for the future.

2.7.

While the European Union is a major draw, broadly speaking it has not yet recovered its role as a magnet for investors. In terms of productive investments, it is progressively losing ground to the United States. The countries that are lagging behind are holding back the ones that are more dynamic. The fall in productivity levels and the weakness of innovation processes bring down the rate of European added value in global competition.

2.8.

In some countries, productive investment has declined despite a substantial budget surplus, which constitutes an obstacle to making up lost ground. The response is slow and bureaucratic.

2.8.1.

However, the EESC estimates that investment and consumption are greatly needed in order to create the conditions for economic transition to a sustainable economy tackling climate change. There should be new training and job creation to boost European competitiveness.

2.9.

In 2014, the European Commission launched a new model for economic development. The objectives set — creating jobs and promoting growth, strengthening the European single market, streamlining the system of economic regulators, consolidating priority EU achievements, the energy market, supporting investment in the digital market and services, giving priority to intellectual and physical networks to connect Europe, and boosting environmental responsibility — represent a fresh impetus vital for the economy.

2.10.

The measures taken to implement the programme, the work undertaken under the REFIT programme, the European Fund for Strategic Investments and the related institutional framework seem to confirm the validity of the intentions. However, as mentioned before, these growth prospects are not enough.

2.11.

A lack of growth-oriented budgetary policies for countries affected by high public debt and budget deficits, in some cases brought about by the financial and banking collapse, rather than profligate government spending, has turned out to be counter-productive and has contributed to widening the gap between surplus and deficit countries. In some cases, it might be more effective to grant more time to allow a more gradual adjustment, as increasing economic growth plays a key role in reducing deficit and debt ratios

2.12.

A set of development tools needs to be deployed to ensure growth, stimulate symmetrical adjustment across the EU and ease social tensions. The European Semester enables a country-specific process to be drawn up and implementation to be monitored, but this process plays only a coincidental role in setting the fiscal stance of the euro area, as Commission Communication COM(2016) 726 final on the economic policy of the euro area clearly points out.

2.13.

The main objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy are still relevant. The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, with more than 22 million unemployed in the EU and more than 17 million in the euro area. More than 122 million people are living either on the verge of poverty or at risk of poverty. The lack of prospects for young people constitutes a significant obstacle to a renewable future for Europe. There is a low level of labour mobility. The system of lifelong learning is still not the focus of policies. The trends, which are diverging from the objectives, are not encouraging. There are already more than 70 Directives concerning social rights in force. In its opinion on the European Pillar of Social Rights the EESC argues that, as part of the preparation of the Annual Growth Survey, upward convergence needs to be set as an objective for social rights in Europe. Likewise, it stresses the need to ensure growth and competitiveness across the EU. In this context, it underlines the necessary interdependence between economic, employment and social policy (2).

3.   Specific comments

3.1.

Investment

3.1.1.

The European Commission places the overview of measures that aim to further develop the financial system at the heart of its Annual Growth Survey. These measures are mainly significant in terms of consolidating how the sector functions, improving the efficiency of the EFSI, removing barriers to investments, and expanding the global role of the European economy.

3.1.2.

The EESC agrees that it is vitally important to establish a capital markets union and other framework conditions, so as to improve funding conditions, spread risk and make credit more accessible — particularly by removing hurdles for the SME sector — and to put the principle of equal opportunities into practice.

3.1.3.

Examples include the Regulation on venture capital funds and efforts to develop the Social Entrepreneurship Fund, ‘second chance’ for failing entrepreneurs, the improvement of insolvency proceedings, and the implementation of preventive restructuring schemes. Stimulating the involvement of banks and improving their operational efficiency should form one pillar of efforts to boost investment activity.

3.1.4.

There is every indication that the European Fund for Strategic Investments — in addition to its enlargement, which has already been the subject of a decision — acts as a major incentive on the European investment market. This may take on particular significance with regard to the achievement of the 2030 targets, which also include the sustainable development criteria. The gradual transition towards a low-carbon, circular economy will create new jobs, particularly in the service sector, and products complying with sustainability criteria could open new avenues for innovation.

3.1.5.

The Committee has already emphasised in previous opinions that the completion of the Energy Union and the Digital Single Market Strategy will open up ideal opportunities for investment. Increased dynamism in these areas also depends on international trade agreements, some of which may be adversely affected by changing attitudes in global politics, and how accessible markets are as a result.

3.1.6.

The EESC considers it essential that the Structural Funds can be used more than is currently possible to support education and training, and the mobility that is linked to this.

3.2.    Pursuing structural reforms

3.2.1.

The EESC backs the commitment to implement the structural reforms in a differentiated manner, as agreed. The necessary national and European measures to achieve this should be laid out.

3.2.2.

The EESC agrees with the European Parliament’s view that a flexible and well-functioning labour market is one condition for a positive economic situation to develop. However, the EESC also believes that the social dimension of the European single market needs to be strengthened.

3.2.3.

The country-specific recommendations should be implemented in such a way as to ensure that due consideration is given to the budgetary capacities of the Member States so that they can develop policies to boost growth and social inclusion.

3.2.4.

The EESC welcomes the EC’s launch of a consultation on a European Pillar of Social Rights from March 2016, and agrees that economic development should result in greater social progress and cohesion. The best performing Member States in economic terms have developed more ambitious and efficient social policies but, generally speaking, competitiveness and the social dimension need to be enhanced in Europe.

3.2.5.

It is important that reforms implemented by Member States guarantee access to high quality services. Thus improving the level of education, training, healthcare, housing and childcare is an essential prerequisite for economic development and will have a direct impact on changing lifestyles and social inclusion.

3.2.6.

The social partners play a particularly important role in shaping, developing and implementing structural reforms. This role must be rooted in a newstart for social dialogue — one that is based on the current form of dialogue but with enhanced mechanisms for participation. Responsible social engagement depends a lot on clear and direct communication, and the EESC welcomes the announced intention by the EC to involve the social partners in a deep and systematic way in the European semester cycle.

3.2.7.

Consistency in the vision for and implementation of the reforms would also enable the European Semester process to take more account of the social dimension. The tools and methodology of economic policy should be supplemented with a long-term results-based perspective and social values that also take sustainability into account.

3.2.8.

Implementing a system of incentives that creates a level playing field for competition, provides more support to growth and reduces the opportunities for abuse should be an integral part of the reform process.

3.3.    Positive fiscal policies

3.3.1.

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact, and monitoring how its provisions are applied and what their impact is on individual Member States’ economies, are important elements of the European Semester process. It is regrettable that the semester process has proved to be a one-sided instrument that proscribes high debt and deficits on pain of penalties, but only prescribes a simple reduction of high surpluses. The EESC is in favour of flexibility, particularly when this enables public investment to boost sectors that are also of long-term benefit (education, training and healthcare).

3.3.2.

Nevertheless, the EESC believes that the implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact must be complemented by the introduction of a procedure for social imbalances, similar to the existing procedure for macroeconomic imbalances, that would identify and analyse the social impact of economic activities in the Member States. As stated above, special consideration must be given to national budget deficits when these are linked to investments for the future, such as education, or investments aimed at creating the conditions for economic transition to a sustainable economy tackling climate change.

3.3.3.

The EESC welcomes the European Central Bank’s strengthened role, the Commission’s efforts made to attain a positive fiscal stance for the euro area in support of monetary policy. The EESC recognises the important role played by the ECB in restoring stability in the wake of the crisis. This must be complemented by stronger measures to accelerate the rate of increase in economic growth and job creation. In this context, the EESC is gravely concerned and disappointed that the Council rejected the Commission’s recommendation for a positive fiscal stance in the euro area.

3.3.4.

The low interest rates that are currently typical offer Member States the opportunity to increase public investment while also reducing their indebtedness. The EESC is of the opinion that — within the limits of the Stability and Growth Pact — the mid-term review of the EU budget and the preparation of the next programming period, and the introduction of an ‘EU budget focused on results’, should offer an opportunity to implement original investment practices that support economic growth and ensure long-term sustainability.

3.3.5.

The forecasts in the 2017 Annual Growth Survey take on particular importance when the structural evolution of European society is analysed. Efforts to mitigate the negative effects of ageing on society are putting increasing pressure on Member States’ budgets. The importance of training and re-training, the preventive role played by the health sector, and the need to reform the social protection system should be emphasised once again.

4.   General comments

4.1.

The detailed development and implementation of a priority programme that aims to fully consolidate the euro area’s financial system are both essential and urgent. However, this should not result in widening the gulf between Europe’s countries.

4.2.

The first period of two-speed development announced by the ‘five presidents’ and aimed at completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union ends in 2017. A ‘white paper’ paves the way for the next step. In the situation generated by Brexit, the strengthening of the four unions — economic, fiscal, financial and political — is of particular importance. In the post-Brexit period, it is essential to revise financial capacity upward.

4.2.1.

While the focus of attention up to now has primarily been the strengthening of the euro area’s economic and financial system — setting up competitiveness and productivity councils, strengthening the banking union and agreeing on its third pillar, a deposit guarantee scheme (EDIS), creating a body responsible for ensuring budgetary discipline, and making headway towards close cooperation on the capital markets — the readiness to instigate political cooperation should also be intensified.

4.2.2.

This clearly must encourage the EU’s leaders to work out a general strategic approach based on a flexible economic policy. In line with the Treaty of Lisbon and the regulatory framework governing its implementation, this approach will take greater account of each country’s societal and social characteristics, and its resilience, even in cases where economic regulation agreements and their instruments work well

(the more flexible approach to reducing budget deficits recently adopted by France, Spain and Portugal reflects this potential development).

4.3.

In previous budgetary and financial periods, the requirement to demonstrate ‘European added value’ has assumed considerable importance in the framing of programmes and tasks. The various programmes supported by European funds have increasingly targeted practical collaboration between EU Member States where joint efforts have resulted in better outcomes than would have been possible at strictly national level (Connecting Europe Facility, Horizon 2020, etc.), or have promoted the convergence of common European interests between the local level and Member State level (fight against unemployment and poverty, development of infrastructure, regional and urban development, etc.). However, the extent of available resources is not in proportion to the tasks that are to be accomplished.

4.4.

The alignment of the Europe 2020 objectives has also received considerable attention in the country-specific recommendations drawn up during the European Semester process. In addition to fiscal and structural reforms, the reform agendas of Member States have also had to set out specific objectives and stipulate how they are to be achieved. The three pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy — a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe — and its system of indicators can continue to serve as a point of reference for the responses that will have to be found to the new challenges that will arise by 2030.

4.5.

The goals of long-term socio-environmental sustainability must play a greater role in the European Semester mechanism. This will encourage dialogue on key issues such as the promotion of various investments in the social and public sectors, the consideration of investments with long-term benefits when calculating the fiscal deficit, and the development of an institutional structure for the welfare of citizens. There must be a new ‘golden rule’, defining what is consumption and what is investment. The necessary conditions to that end can be put in place by examining the possibility of reforming EU budget mechanisms and of increasing EU own resources.

4.6.

A more widespread sense of ownership, from the point when aims are determined up to their implementation, as well as a recognition of the growing role of final beneficiaries, are particularly important in this consultation. The role of the national Parliaments has to be strengthened and their subsidiarity concerns respected.

4.7.

There is no consistent vision of the future, political will or governance capacity. The legal framework is complicated and the involvement of the social partners and civil society is token, which is reflected in the lack of public support. This worsens the democratic deficit and undermines trust.

4.8.

At present, development processes are being shaped by two very different major sets of economic/financial instruments and institutions, each with their own procedure. Complementarity between these instruments and institutions should be increased; it is not enough just to draw up guidelines to this end. A systematic solution is needed.

4.8.1.

On the one hand there are the conventional European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds), which aim to foster cohesion. They take the form of aid for investment and development and are continuously modernised, although their nature remains unchanged. They are available thanks to redistribution of the Union budget, sourced from contributions from the most developed Member States. In some cases, beneficiaries fail to appreciate the real value of these funds, arguing that they are ‘entitled’ to them.

4.8.2.

To facilitate the complementarity mentioned above, it is essential to expand and simplify the rules as part of the mid-term review planned under the seven-year financial framework (MFF) that runs up to 2020.

4.8.3.

This is the aim of the European Commission proposals to strengthen the financial objectives, stimulate investment, deal with migration, and reduce youth unemployment.

4.8.4.

Improving flexibility and simplifying the rules on access to funding are key elements.

4.8.5.

The second set of instruments used in the implementation of the Juncker plan is the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), a new market-oriented financial instrument capable of supporting venture capital and activating public, banking and private funds. The EFSI already totals EUR 500 billion and its reference period runs until 2020. It could be called on to play an important role in the next programming period.

4.9.

It is important to incorporate the new governance mechanism thus created into the development-focused governance of the future. The two funding systems must also be harmonised within each Member State. In the longer term, it makes sense to combine the two governance mechanisms.

4.10.

The EESC is encouraged by the new communication from the European Commission which summarises, for the period up to 2030, the strategic orientation work that has been carried out to tackle the challenges of sustainability.

4.11.

Missions under the new programming process should focus on a small number of clear objectives. Implementation requires a new strategic instrument within the European Commission — a coordination-based system of governance that also takes control by society into account.

4.12.

Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of different financial instruments suggests that a proposal needs to be framed even now for the period running up to 2030 to secure a better distribution of tasks between the traditional cohesion objectives and market-oriented investments. The project assessment mechanism linked to the EFSI provides excellent methodological support, including for those cases where traditional cohesion instruments are used.

4.13.

The institutional structure of the partnership should be strengthened and opened up to all European citizens under the right of public participation, in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the European Semester. EU citizens should be ensured access to relevant information and be able to take part in planning and implementation decisions. They should also be able to express their opinions regarding draft programmes, calls for tender and evaluation reports.

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  European Commission: Winter 2017 Economic Forecast — Overview, 13 February 2017

(2)  SOC/542 (OJ C 125, 21.4.2017, p. 10).


APPENDIX

to the OPINION

of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following points of the subcommittee opinion, which were replaced by amendments adopted by the Assembly, received at least one-quarter of the votes cast (Article 54(4) of the Rules of Procedure):

a)   Point 1.9:

 

The EESC believes that only a complex system of indicators — one that is also able to factor in social and environmental ramifications — is truly able to show real economic growth on the basis of results (GDR — gross domestic result).

Voting result:

For:

111

Against:

109

Abstentions:

13

b)

Point 2.13:

 

The main objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy are still relevant. The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, with more than 22 million unemployed in the EU and more than 17 million in the euro area. More than 122 million people are living either on the verge of poverty or at risk of poverty. The lack of prospects for young people constitutes a significant obstacle to a renewable future for Europe. There is a low level of labour mobility. The system of lifelong learning is still not the focus of policies. The trends, which are diverging from the objectives, are not encouraging. There are already more than 70 Directives concerning social rights in force. ‘The EESC emphasises the need for growth and competitiveness in the whole of the EU. In this context, the EESC stresses the necessary interlinkage between economic, employment and social policy’  (3).

Voting result:

For:

145

Against:

62

Abstentions:

14

c)   Point 3.2.2:

 

The EESC agrees with the European Parliament’s view that a flexible and well-functioning labour market is one condition for a positive economic situation to develop. The EESC notes that the EU is the most developed region in the world in terms of social provision.

Voting result:

For:

141

Against:

65

Abstentions:

16


(3)  EESC opinion on ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’ (SOC/542) (OJ C 125, 21.4.2017, p. 10).


31.5.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 173/82


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 87/217/EEC of the Council, Directive 2003/87/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Directive 2009/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Regulation (EU) No 1257/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Council Directive 86/278/EEC and Directive 94/63/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards procedural rules in the field of environmental reporting and repealing Council Directive 91/692/EEC

(COM(2016) 789 final — 2016/0394 COD)

(2017/C 173/14)

Consultation

European Parliament, 13 February 2017

Council of the European Union, 20 February 2017

Legal basis

Article 192(1) and 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment

Adopted at plenary

22 February 2017

Plenary session No

523

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

178/1/2

Since the Committee endorses the contents of the proposal and has already set out its views on the subject in its earlier Opinion 1491/90 adopted on 18 December 1990 (*1), it decided, at its 523rd plenary session of 22 and 23 February 2017 (meeting of 22 February 2017), by 178 votes to 1 with 2 abstentions, to issue an opinion endorsing the proposed text and to refer to the position it had taken in the abovementioned document.

Brussels, 22 February 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(*1)  EESC Opinion 1491/90 on the proposal for a Council Directive harmonizing and rationalizing reports on the implementation of certain Directives relating to the environment (OJ C 60, 8.3.1991, p. 15).