ISSN 1977-091X

Official Journal

of the European Union

C 440

European flag  

English edition

Information and Notices

Volume 61
6 December 2018


Contents

page

 

I   Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

 

OPINIONS

 

European Economic and Social Committee

 

537th EESC plenary session, 19.9.2018-20.9.2018

2018/C 440/01

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Artificial intelligence: anticipating its impact on work to ensure a fair transition (own-initiative opinion)

1

2018/C 440/02

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Trust, privacy and security for consumers and businesses in the internet of Things (IoT) (own-initiative opinion)

8

2018/C 440/03

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Indicators better suited to evaluate the SDGs — the civil society contribution (own-initiative opinion)

14

2018/C 440/04

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The contribution of Europe’s rural areas to the 2018 Year of Cultural Heritage ensuring sustainability and urban/rural cohesion (own-initiative opinion)

22

2018/C 440/05

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The impact of subsidiarity and gold plating on the economy and employment (exploratory opinion requested by the Austrian Presidency)

28

2018/C 440/06

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Digital gender gap (Exploratory opinion requested by the European Parliament)

37

2018/C 440/07

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Bioeconomy — contributing to achieving the EU’s climate and energy goals and the UN’s sustainable development goals (exploratory opinion)

45


 

III   Preparatory acts

 

EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE

 

537th EESC plenary session, 19.9.2018-20.9.2018

2018/C 440/08

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Artificial Intelligence for Europe(COM(2018) 237 final)

51

2018/C 440/09

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on enabling the digital transformation of health and care in the Digital Single Market; empowering citizens and building a healthier society(COM(2018) 233 final)

57

2018/C 440/10

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on (a) Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, and repealing Directive 2009/22/EC(COM(2018) 184 final — 2018/0089 (COD)) and on (b) Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993, Directive 98/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Directive 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards better enforcement and modernisation of EU consumer protection rules(COM(2018) 185 final — 2018/0090 (COD))

66

2018/C 440/11

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — A renewed European Agenda for Research and Innovation — Europe’s chance to shape its future(The European Commission’s contribution to the Informal EU Leaders’ meeting on innovation in Sofia on 16 May 2018) (COM(2018) 306 final)

73

2018/C 440/12

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulations (EU) No 596/2014 and (EU) No 2017/1129 as regards the promotion of the use of SME growth markets(COM(2018) 331 final — 2018/0165 (COD))

79

2018/C 440/13

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2009/103/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 16 September 2009 relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to ensure against such liability(COM(2018) 336 final — 2018/0168 (COD))

85

2018/C 440/14

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on type-approval requirements for motor vehicles and their trailers, and systems, components and separate technical units intended for such vehicles, as regards their general safety and the protection of vehicle occupants and vulnerable road users, amending Regulation (EU) 2018/… and repealing Regulations (EC) No 78/2009, (EC) No 79/2009 and (EC) No 661/2009(COM(2018) 286 final — 2018/0145 COD)

90

2018/C 440/15

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council complementing EU type-approval legislation with regard to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union(COM(2018) 397 final — 2018/0220 (COD))

95

2018/C 440/16

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 concerning the supplementary protection certificate for medicinal products(COM(2018) 317 final — 2018/0161 (COD))

100

2018/C 440/17

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending and correcting Regulation (EU) No 167/2013 on the approval and market surveillance of agricultural and forestry vehicles(COM(2018) 289 final — 2018/0142 (COD))

104

2018/C 440/18

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. A Modern Budget for a Union that Protects, Empowers and Defends. The Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027(COM(2018) 321 final) — Proposal for a Council Regulation laying down the multiannual financial framework for the years 2021 to 2027(COM(2018) 322 final/2 — 2018/0166 (APP)) — Proposal for a Council Decision on the system of Own Resources of the European Union(COM(2018) 325 final — 2018/0135 (CNS)) — Proposal for a Council Regulation on the methods and procedure for making available the Own Resources based on the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, on the European Union Emissions Trading System and on Plastic packaging waste that is not recycled, and on the measures to meet cash requirements(COM(2018) 326 final — 2018/0131 (NLE)) — Proposal for a Council Regulation laying down implementing measures for the system of Own Resources of the European Union(COM(2018) 327 final — 2018/0132 (APP)) — Proposal for a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EEC, Euratom) No 1553/89 on the definitive uniform arrangements for the collection of own resources accruing from value added tax(COM(2018) 328 final — 2018/0133 (NLE))

106

2018/C 440/19

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on specific provisions for the European territorial cooperation goal (Interreg) supported by the European Regional Development Fund and external financing instruments(COM(2018) 374 final — 2018/0199 (COD))

116

2018/C 440/20

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context(COM(2018) 373 final — 2018/0198 (COD))

124

2018/C 440/21

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Labour Authority(COM(2018) 131 final — 2018/0064 (COD))

128

2018/C 440/22

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Council Recommendation on access to social protection for workers and the self-employed(COM(2018) 132 final)

135

2018/C 440/23

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council adapting the common visa policy to new challenges(COM(2018) 251 final) and Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 810/2009 establishing a Community Code on Visas (Visa Code)(COM(2018) 252 final — 2018/0061 (COD))

142

2018/C 440/24

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work(COM(2018) 171 final — 2018/0081 (COD))

145

2018/C 440/25

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Council Recommendation on strengthened cooperation against vaccine preventable diseases(COM(2018) 244 final — SWD(2018) 149 final)

150

2018/C 440/26

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 767/2008, Regulation (EC) No 810/2009, Regulation (EU) 2017/2226, Regulation (EU) 2016/399, Regulation (EU) 2018/… (Interoperability Regulation) and Decision 2004/512/EC and repealing Council Decision 2008/633/JHA(COM(2018) 302 final)

154

2018/C 440/27

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the transparency and sustainability of the EU risk assessment in the food chain amending Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 (on general food law), Directive 2001/18/EC (on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs), Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 (on GM food and feed), Regulation (EC) No 1831/2003 (on feed additives), Regulation (EC) No 2065/2003 (on smoke flavourings), Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 (on food contact materials), Regulation (EC) No 1331/2008 (on the common authorisation procedure for food additives, food enzymes and food flavourings), Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 (on plant protection products) and Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 (on novel foods)(COM(2018) 179 final — 2018/0088 (COD))

158

2018/C 440/28

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on unfair trading practices in business-to-business relationships in the food supply chain(COM(2018) 173 final)

165

2018/C 440/29

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a multiannual plan for fish stocks in the Western Waters and adjacent waters, and for fisheries exploiting those stocks, amending Regulation (EU) 2016/1139 establishing a multiannual plan for the Baltic Sea, and repealing Regulations (EC) No 811/2004, (EC) No 2166/2005, (EC) No 388/2006, (EC) No 509/2007 and (EC) No 1300/2008(COM(2018) 149 final — 2018/0074 (COD))

171

2018/C 440/30

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a multiannual recovery plan for Mediterranean swordfish and amending Regulations (EC) No 1967/2006 and (EU) No 2017/2107(COM(2018) 229 final — 2018/0109 (COD))

174

2018/C 440/31

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services(COM(2018) 238 final — 2018/0112 (COD))

177

2018/C 440/32

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Tackling online disinformation: a European Approach(COM(2018) 236 final)

183

2018/C 440/33

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Connecting Europe Facility and repealing Regulations (EU) No 1316/2013 and (EU) No 283/2014(COM(2018) 438 final — 2018/0228 (COD))

191

2018/C 440/34

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing an exchange, assistance and training programme for the protection of the euro against counterfeiting for the period 2021-2027 (the Pericles IV programme)(COM(2018) 369 final — 2018/0194 (CNS))

199


EN

 


I Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

OPINIONS

European Economic and Social Committee

537th EESC plenary session, 19.9.2018-20.9.2018

6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/1


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Artificial intelligence: anticipating its impact on work to ensure a fair transition’

(own-initiative opinion)

(2018/C 440/01)

Rapporteur:

Franca SALIS-MADINIER

Plenary Assembly decision

15.2.2018

Legal basis

Rule 29(2) of the Rules of Procedure

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

4.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

183/1/2

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will expand and amplify the impact of the digitalisation of the economy on labour markets (1). Technological progress has always affected work and employment, requiring new forms of social and societal management. The EESC believes that technological development can contribute to economic and social progress; however, it feels that it would be a mistake to overlook its overall impact on society. In the world of work, AI will expand and amplify the scope of job automation (2). This is why the EESC would like to give its input to efforts to lay the groundwork for the social transformations which will go hand in hand with the rise of AI and robotics, by reinforcing and renewing the European social model.

1.2.

The EESC flags up the potential of AI and its applications, particularly in the areas of healthcare, security in the transport and energy sectors, combating climate change and anticipating threats in the field of cybersecurity. The European Union, governments and civil society organisations have a key role to play when it comes to fully tapping the potential advantages of AI, particularly for people with disabilities or reduced mobility, the elderly and people with chronic health issues.

1.3.

However, the EU has insufficient data on the digital economy and the resulting social transformation. The EESC recommends improving statistical tools and research, particularly on AI, the use of industrial and service robots, the internet of Things and new economic models (the platform-based economy and new forms of employment and work).

1.4.

The EESC calls on the European Commission to promote and support studies carried out by European sector-level social dialogue committees on the sector-specific impact of AI and robotics and, more broadly, of the digitalisation of the economy.

1.5.

It is acknowledged that AI and robotics will displace and transform jobs, by eliminating some and creating others. Whatever the outcome, the EU must guarantee access to social protection for all workers, employees and self-employed or bogus self-employed persons, in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights.

1.6.

The Commission has proposed reinforcing the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund so that it can assist employees who lose their jobs and self-employed people who have to wind up their businesses as a result of the digitalisation of the economy (3). The EESC sees this as a step towards the establishment of a fully-fledged European transition fund which would help manage the digital transformation in a socially responsible way.

1.7.

The EESC recommends applying and reinforcing the principles, commitments and obligations set out in the existing texts adopted by the European institutions and the social partners on informing and consulting workers (4), particularly when deploying new technologies, including AI and robotics. The EESC calls for a European programme that takes an inclusive approach to AI, is founded on these texts and on the European Pillar of Social Rights, and involves all stakeholders.

1.8.

The EESC recommends that the ethical guidelines on AI to be prepared by the Commission should draw a line in the sand for interaction between workers and intelligent machines so that humans never become the underlings of machines. With a view to inclusive AI, these guidelines must establish principles of participation, responsibility and ownership of production processes so that, as stressed by the ILO constitution, work gives those who perform it the satisfaction of giving the fullest measure of their skill and attainments and making their greatest contribution to the common wellbeing.

1.9.

The EESC also recommends that these guidelines factor in principles of transparency when using AI systems for recruitment, assessment and supervision of workers for management purposes, along with principles of health and safety and improving working conditions. Lastly, the guidelines must safeguard rights and freedoms with regard to the processing of workers’ data, in accordance with the principles of non-discrimination.

1.10.

The implementation of the ethical guidelines on AI must be monitored. A European observatory focusing on ethics in AI systems could be assigned responsibility for acting as watchdog, including in businesses.

1.11.

The EESC recommends that engineers and intelligent machine designers be trained in ethics to avoid establishing new forms of digital Taylorism, where humans are relegated to following orders dictated by machines. Spreading best practice and exchanging experiences in this field should be encouraged.

1.12.

The EESC calls for the principle of legal responsibility to be clarified. In the interaction between man and machine, emerging health and safety risks must be tackled more ambitiously under the umbrella of the Product Liability Directive (5).

1.13.

Given the danger of social polarisation in the digital transformation, the EESC is calling on the EU institutions to begin a debate on financing public budgets and social protection systems in an economy with increasing numbers of robots (6), as taxation on labour is still the main source of tax revenue in Europe. In order to apply the principle of fairness, this debate should consider the redistribution of the benefits of digitalisation.

2.   Introduction

2.1.

The development of AI has been patchy since the concept first appeared in 1956, and throughout the second half of the 20th century. It has been the cause of high hopes alternating with crushing disappointments. However, it has seen a significant new upsurge in the last few years, made possible by the collection, organisation and storage of amounts of data that are unprecedented in human history (big data) and by the exponential increase in computing power and algorithm capacity.

2.2.

The EESC drew up an opinion on AI in 2017 (7), which addressed a considerable number of issues. As pointed out in that opinion, there is no precise definition of AI. For the purposes of the present opinion, we will consider AI to be a discipline which sets out to use digital technologies to create systems capable of autonomously reproducing human cognitive functions, including in particular grasping data, a form of understanding and adaptation (problem solving, automatic reasoning and learning).

2.3.

AI systems are now capable of solving complex problems which are sometimes beyond the scope of human intelligence. AI applications would seem to be potentially unlimited: in banking, insurance, transport, healthcare, education, energy, marketing and defence, along with sectors such as industry, construction, farming, crafts etc. (8). AI is expected to render production processes for goods and services more efficient, make businesses more profitable and help promote economic growth.

2.4.

This renewed surge forward in AI also means that a number of questions regarding its potential role in society, its level of autonomy and its interaction with human beings have surfaced again. As pointed out in the EESC’s 2017 opinion on AI (9), these questions focus particularly on ethics, security, transparency, privacy and labour standards, education, accessibility, legislation and regulation, governance and democracy.

2.5.

The different approaches need to come together in the debate on AI in order to look beyond the purely economic considerations which sometimes fetter it. A multidisciplinary framework of this sort would be valuable when analysing the impact of AI on the world of work, since this is one of the main areas in which humans and machines interact. Work has always been affected by technology. The effects of AI on jobs and work therefore need to be considered very carefully at political level, as part of the institutions’ role involves making economic changes socially sustainable (10).

2.6.

This own-initiative opinion aims to shine a spotlight on how AI will affect work, including the nature and organisation of work and working conditions. As the EESC has already pointed out (11), we need better statistics and research to be able to deliver accurate forecasts of developments in the labour market and clear indicators of particular trends, particularly as regards the quality of work, the polarisation of jobs and income, and working conditions during the digital transformation. The EU has insufficient data on what is referred to as the ‘sharing’ economy, on-demand work platforms and the new models of online subcontracting, as well as on the use of robots in industry and services to individuals, the internet of Things, and the use and spread of AI systems.

3.   AI and developments in the number of jobs

3.1.

The question of how the deployment of AI and robotics across production processes will affect the number of jobs is controversial. Many studies have endeavoured to find an answer but failed to reach a scientific consensus, and the range of findings (from 9 % to 54 % of jobs at risk (12)) reflects the complexity of choosing a methodology and the way in which this shapes the outcome of the research.

3.2.

Accurately predicting what will happen is no easy task, because the technical potential of automation is not the only factor which comes into play: political, regulatory, economic and demographic changes — along with social acceptability — also have a bearing. The availability of cutting-edge technology is no guarantee that it will be used and become widespread.

3.3.

Lastly, it is still impossible to predict the net number of jobs that can be automated in each sector without taking into consideration the changes in professions and the pace of job creation. The development of AI systems will require new jobs in engineering, IT and telecommunications (engineers, technicians and operators) and in big data: data officers, data analysts, data miners, etc.

3.4.

Public authorities will need to ensure that this digital transformation, which could affect both the number and quality of jobs, is socially sustainable (13). One of the risks flagged up by experts is the danger of jobs becoming polarised, with highly successful people — who have skills useful for the digital economy — on the one side and people who are losing out — whose qualifications, experience and expertise will be gradually rendered obsolete by this transformation — on the other. In its recent communication (14), the European Commission proposed a response to this challenge, rooted largely in education, training and improving basic writing, reading and numerical skills, along with digital skills. This response should be supported by the economic and social stakeholders, including in the context of national, European, interprofessional and sectoral social dialogue (15).

3.5.

The EESC considers however that this focus will not be able to meet all the challenges, particularly uncertainty as regards job trends. Three additional pathways are worth exploring: ‘inclusive’ AI, anticipating change, and finally — when redundancy plans are unavoidable — socially responsible and managed restructuring.

4.   Inclusive and smart AI and robotics

4.1.

The EESC supports the principle of a programme of inclusive AI and robotisation. This means that when new processes using new technologies are introduced in businesses, workers should be involved in the practicalities of how these processes work. As pointed out by the WRR (16), ‘inclusive and smart’ deployment of new technologies, where workers remain central to the processes and are involved in improving them, can help promote improvement in production processes (17).

4.2.

Given the impact of algorithms on recruitment, working conditions and professional evaluation, the EESC supports the principle of algorithmic transparency, which does not involve revealing codes but rather ensuring that the parameters and criteria used to make decisions are understandable. There must always be provision for appeal to a human.

4.3.

AI which places workers at the centre takes account of the views of those people who will be working with the new technological processes, clearly defines the tasks and responsibilities which will stay in the hands of workers, and retains some forms of work ownership by workers so that workers do not become mere underlings.

4.4.

The principle of legal responsibility must be clarified. Industrial or service robots collaborate with humans on an increasingly frequent basis. AI enables robots to ‘climb out of their cages’, and accidents can happen (18). This is why the responsibility of autonomous systems in the event of accidents must be clearly pinned down, and there must be provision for covering the health and safety risks to which workers are exposed. The European Commission is beginning to explore these emerging risks in connection with the Product Liability Directive (19). A more ambitious approach is needed with regard to safety in the workplace.

4.5.

The principle of fairness applied to the world of work consists of not alienating workers from their work. Some experts stress that there is a risk that AI may contribute to a form of de-skilling of workers. This is why steps must be taken to ensure that, as the ILO constitution puts it, work gives those who perform it the satisfaction of giving the fullest measure of their skill and attainments and making their greatest contribution to the common wellbeing. From a management point of view, this is also a way to keep workers motivated.

5.   Anticipating change

5.1.

Many studies over the last few years have shown that European — and even national — social dialogue is being eroded, despite efforts by the Commission and the European Council to reinvigorate it. However, social dialogue is one of the most effective tools for coping with the social challenges of digitalisation. The EESC therefore calls vehemently for this dialogue to be kept up in businesses and at all relevant levels, in order to prepare for the transformations in a socially acceptable way. The EESC would point out that social dialogue is one of the best guarantees of a peaceful society and reduced inequality. Above and beyond political pledges to revive social dialogue, the EU institutions have a clear duty to encourage and contribute to this form of dialogue.

5.2.

Particularly when introducing these technologies, this dialogue must make it possible to discover how production processes will change in businesses and sectors and to assess what new skills and training will be needed. However, it should also be an opportunity to explore early on how AI can be used to improve organisational and production processes and boost workers’ skills, and how the resources freed up by AI can be optimised to develop new products and services or to improve the quality of customer service.

5.3.

Socially responsible restructuring

5.4.

When redundancy plans are deemed inevitable, the challenge is to manage the social impact of corporate restructuring. As the European social partners have pointed out in their Orientations for reference in managing change and its social consequences (20), many case studies stress the importance of exploring all possible alternatives to layoffs, such as training, re-skilling and start-up support.

5.5.

In the event of restructuring, informing and consulting with workers must make it possible, in line with relevant European directives (21), to improve risk anticipation, facilitate employee access to training within the undertaking, make work organisation more flexible while maintaining security, and promote employee involvement in the operation and future of the undertaking.

5.6.

Lastly, as the European Commission quite rightly points out, the EU must guarantee that everyone, including employees and self-employed or bogus self-employed persons, has access to social protection‘regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship’, in accordance with the European Pillar of Social Rights (22).

6.   AI and developments in working conditions

6.1.

On 25 April 2018, the European Commission proposed a European approach to promote investment policies in AI development and establish ethical guidelines. It stressed that AI technologies have the potential to radically change our society, particularly in the sectors of transport, healthcare and manufacturing.

6.2.

This transformative potential affects production processes and the tasks involved in work. The impact can be positive, particularly as regards the way in which AI can improve these processes and the quality of work. The same positive knock-on effect may be felt in the form of ‘flexible’ work structures, with greater weight being attached to shared decision-making, independently organised teams, workers who perform a variety of tasks, a horizontal management structure and innovative and participatory work practices (23).

6.3.

As pointed out by the EESC (24) and the Commission itself, AI can help workers perform repetitive, difficult or even dangerous tasks, and some AI applications can improve employees’ wellbeing and make their daily life easier.

6.4.

However, this approach raises new questions at the same time, particularly as regards the interaction between AI and workers, and developments in the tasks involved in work. In factories, businesses and offices, just how autonomous will intelligent machines be and how will they complement the work performed by human beings? The EESC points out that in the new world of work, the definition of the relationship between people and machines is crucial. An approach centred on humans controlling machines is fundamental (25).

6.5.

As a matter of principle, it is not ethically acceptable for a human being to be controlled by AI or seen as the underling of a machine which issues orders regarding which, how and when tasks should be performed. However, at times it would seem that we have already crossed that particular ethical Rubicon (26). This is why AI ethical guidelines must draw a line in the sand.

6.6.

The EU must now make it a priority to avoid new forms of digital Taylorism shaped by the developers of intelligent machines. This is why, as the EESC recently pointed out, European researchers, engineers, designers and entrepreneurs who are involved in the development and marketing of AI systems must act in accordance with ethical and social responsibility criteria. One good response to this imperative could be to incorporate ethics and the humanities into training courses in engineering (27).

6.7.

Another question touches on oversight and monitoring by management. Everyone agrees on the need for reasonable oversight of production processes and thus of the work carried out as well. Currently, new technological tools would potentially make it possible to deploy intelligent systems to monitor workers in every respect and in real time, with the risk that this oversight and monitoring could become disproportionate.

6.8.

The reasonable and proportionate nature of the monitoring of work performed and performance indicators, and the relationship of trust between managers and subordinates, is therefore an issue which should also be included on the agenda for social dialogue at national, European, interprofessional and sectoral level.

6.9.

The issue of algorithm and learning data bias and potentially harmful discrimination is still controversial. Some people feel that algorithms and other predictive recruitment software can reduce recruitment-related discrimination and promote ‘smarter’ recruitment, while others consider that recruitment software will always run the danger of reflecting, even involuntarily, the bias of the people who programmed these recruitment robots. Some experts feel that algorithmic models will only ever be opinions embedded in mathematics (28). This is why it is imperative to ensure that there is provision for appeal to a human (in connection with the principle of transparency considered above: the right to request the criteria on which decisions are made), and that the collection and processing of data are in line with the principles of proportionality and specific purpose. In any event, data may not be used for any purpose other than the one for which they were collected (29).

6.10.

The General Data Protection Regulation gives Member States the option to establish more specific rules (through legislation or collective agreements) to guarantee the protection of rights and freedoms with regard to the processing of employees’ personal data within the framework of employment relationships, and this provides genuine leverage that the states and social partners must use (30).

6.11.

It should be pointed out here that these dangers do not apply solely to employees. The development of online subcontracting, platform-based work and various forms of crowdworking also goes hand in hand with new automated systems for managing performance and attendance, which sometimes seem to exceed the bounds in terms of ethics (for instance, the worker’s webcam is activated by the platform and screenshots are taken remotely).

6.12.

The algorithms used by these platforms, which establish how much freelancers are paid, their online reputation and access rights among other things, are often opaque. Workers are not told how the algorithms operate and do not have access to the operational criteria applied.

7.   Laying the groundwork for a fair transition

7.1.

In the medium term, the danger of social polarisation stressed by many experts calls for in-depth discussion on the future of our social models, including the way they are financed. The EESC calls on the Commission to launch a debate on taxation and the financing of public budgets and collective social protection systems in an economy with rapidly increasing numbers of robots (31), as taxation of work is still the main source of tax revenue in Europe. This debate should also touch on the redistribution of the benefits of digitalisation.

7.2.

The Commission proposes reinforcing the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (FEM), partly with a view to assisting employees whose jobs become obsolete and self-employed people who have to wind up their businesses as a result of the digitalisation and automation of the economy (32). The EESC sees this as a step towards the establishment of a fully-fledged European transition fund which would help anticipate and manage the digital transformation and the restructuring it will bring about in a socially responsible way.

7.3.

National debate is increasingly coming to focus on the social — and more broadly, societal — aspects of AI. Recent discussions in the UK Parliament (33) and the French Senate have illustrated the need to promote an ethical approach to AI, based on a number of principles such as loyalty, transparency and clear explanations of algorithm-based systems, the ethics and responsibility of AI applications, and raising awareness among researchers, experts and specialists as regards the potential for misuse of their research findings. In France, the Villani report claims that it aims to give meaning to AI (34). Many experts from Yale, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford universities warn against the ‘unresolved vulnerabilities’ of AI and flag up the imperative need to anticipate, prevent and mitigate them (35). Similarly, Quebec’s Research Fund (FRQ) has been working with the University of Montreal for several months on a project to establish a global observatory on the societal impact of AI and digitalisation (36).

7.4.

All these initiatives show that the debate on AI needs to look beyond purely economic and technical considerations, so that public discussion explores the role that society would like to see AI play, including in the world of work. This debate will be a way to avoid falling into the trap of a ‘false dichotomy’ between a totally naïve and optimistic view of AI and its impact, and the expectation of widespread disaster (37). Launching the debate at national level is a useful first step, but the EU also has a role to play, particularly in setting ethical guidelines, as the Commission has already begun doing.

7.5.

Responsibility for enforcing these guidelines will have to be entrusted to an observatory focusing on ethics in AI systems. We need to ensure that AI and its applications promote the wellbeing and empowerment of people and workers with due respect for fundamental rights, and do not contribute, either directly or indirectly, to loss of ownership, de-skilling and loss of autonomy. The principle of humans being in the driving seat in every situation, including work, must be applied in practice.

7.6.

This principle must also apply to other sectors, such as health professionals, who provide services closely linked to human beings’ life, health, security and quality of life. Only through rigorous ethical rules will it be possible to guarantee that workers, along with consumers, patients, clients and other service providers will be able to make the most of the new AI applications.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  D. Acemoglu, P. Restrepo (2018), Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Work, NBER Working Paper 24196, January 2018. See also: Employment Council (2017), Automatisation, numérisation et emploi (Automation, digitalisation and employment). (Volume 1) (www.coe.gouv.fr).

(2)  D. Acemoglu, op.cit.; Employment Council (2017), op. cit.

(3)  COM(2018) 380 final.

(4)  Directive 2002/14/EC; Joint Declaration of Intent by UNICE, ETUC and CEEP on social dialogue and new technologies, 1985; Joint opinion of the social partners on new technologies, the organisation of work and the adaptability of the labour market, 1991; Reference guidelines for managing change and its social impact, 2003.

(5)  COM(2018) 246 final.

(6)  https://ifr.org/ifr-press-releases/news/robots-double-worldwide-by-2020.

(7)  OJ C 288, 31.8.2017, p. 1.

(8)  For instance, see https://www.techemergence.com.

(9)  OJ C 288, 31.8.2017, p. 1.

(10)  Eurofound (2018), Automation, digitalisation and platforms: Implications for work and employment, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

(11)  OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 161.

(12)  Frey and Osborne, 2013; Bowles, 2014; Arntz, Gregory and Zierahn, 2016; Le Ru, 2016; McKinsey, 2016; OECD, 2017; see also exploratory opinion CCMI/136, OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 161.

(13)  http://www.oecd.org/employment/future-of-work/.

(14)  COM(2018) 237 final.

(15)  OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 15.

(16)  The Dutch scientific council for government policy.

(17)  https://english.wrr.nl/latest/news/2015/12/08/wrr-calls-for-inclusive-robot-agenda.

(18)  See work on Emerging risks by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (https://osha.europa.eu/emerging-risks). According to the agency, ‘Current approaches and technical standards aiming to protect employees from the risk of working with collaborative robots will have to be revised in preparation for these developments.’

(19)  COM(2018) 246 final.

(20)  Joint text by UNICE, CEEP, UEAPME and ETUC of 16.10.2003.

(21)  Directive 2002/14/EC establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community.

(22)  OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 54; OJ C 173, 31.5.2017, p. 15; OJ C 129, 11.4.2018, p. 7; OJ C 434, 15.12.2017, p. 30.

(23)  OJ C 434, 15.12.2017, p. 30.

(24)  OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 15.

(25)  OJ C 288, 31.8.2017, p. 1; OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 15.

(26)  Several European media outlets have reported on working conditions in certain logistics centres where the workers are totally controlled by algorithms telling them which tasks need to be performed within set timeframes, and where their performance is assessed in real time.

(27)  OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 15.

(28)  Cathy O’Neil, Harvard PhD and data scientist, Models are opinions embedded in mathematics (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/27/cathy-oneil-weapons-of-math-destruction-algorithms-big-data).

(29)  For instance, see the work carried out by the French CNIL (Comment permettre à l’homme de garder la main? Les enjeux éthiques des algorithmes et de l’intelligence artificielle — How can we make sure that humans stay on top? The ethical issues of algorithms and artificial intelligence,

https://www.cnil.fr/sites/default/files/atoms/files/cnil_rapport_garder_la_main_web.pdf).

(30)  Regulation (EU) 2016/679 (Article 88).

(31)  https://ifr.org/ifr-press-releases/news/robots-double-worldwide-by-2020.

(32)  COM(2018) 380 final.

(33)  https://www.parliament.uk/ai-committee.

(34)  http://www.enseignementsup-recherche.gouv.fr/cid128577/rapport-de-cedric-villani-donner-un-sens-a-l-intelligence-artificielle-ia.html.

(35)  https://www.eff.org/files/2018/02/20/malicious_ai_report_final.pdf.

(36)  http://nouvelles.umontreal.ca/article/2018/03/29/le-quebec-jette-les-bases-d-un-observatoire-mondial-sur-les-impacts-societaux-de-l-ia/.

(37)  D. Acemoglu, op. cit. See also Eurofound 2018, Automation, digitalisation and platforms: Implications for work and employment, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 23: ‘The risks comprise unwarranted optimism, undue pessimism and mistargeted insights’.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/8


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Trust, privacy and security for consumers and businesses in the internet of Things (IoT)’

(own-initiative opinion)

(2018/C 440/02)

Rapporteur:

Carlos TRIAS PINTÓ

Co-rapporteur:

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS

Plenary Assembly decision

15/02/2018

Legal basis

Rule 29(2) of the Rules of Procedure

Own-initiative opinion

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

04/09/2018

Adopted at plenary

19/09/2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

182/3/2

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The internet of Things (IoT), thanks to its interconnectivity of persons and objects, offers a vast range of opportunities for individuals and businesses. These opportunities must be backed by a series of safeguards and controls so as to ensure introduction of the IoT is problem-free.

1.2.

Since one of the pillars of the IoT is that decisions are taken automatically with no human input, it must be guaranteed that decisions do not undermine the rights of consumers or entail risks of an ethical nature or that are contrary to fundamental principles and human rights.

1.3.

The EESC calls on the European institutions and EU Member States to:

1.3.1.

ensure that security and privacy are protection by building appropriate regulatory frameworks that contain strict monitoring and control provisions;

1.3.2.

clearly define the liability of all operators in the product supply chain and the related information flows, preventing legal loopholes occurring when several producers and distributors are involved at the same time;

1.3.3.

introduce appropriate resources and effective coordination mechanisms between the European Commission and the Member States in order to guarantee consistent and harmonised application of both legislation subject to review and new rules, at the same time addressing the international scene;

1.3.4.

monitor the development of emerging technologies associated with IoT, to guarantee high security, full transparency and fair accessibility;

1.3.5.

promote European and international standardisation in order to guarantee product reliability, availability, resilience and continuation;

1.3.6.

monitor the markets and protect a level playing field for the IoT’s implementation, avoiding a concentration of transnational economic power with the new technology players;

1.3.7.

undertake to promote awareness-raising and digital capacity-building initiatives reflecting basic research and innovation in the field;

1.3.8.

guarantee the full implementation and effective use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms both online and off-line (ADR and ODR);

1.3.9.

encourage the existence, implementation and effective functioning of a European group action system that is able to put a stop to and obtain compensation also for situations where the use of the IoT causes damage or loss of a collective nature, as will be the case under the New Deal for Consumers.

1.4.

Consumer confidence will result from strict compliance with the relevant legislation and the communication of best business practice concerning privacy and security, and the institutions are duty-bound to incorporate them into corporate social responsibility and socially responsible investment strategies.

1.5.

The social and economic impact of the IoT will increase to the extent that it is sufficiently interlinked with the implementation of socio-environmental policies as part of the collaborative economy, the circular economy and the functional economy.

2.   Background and context

2.1.

The internet has burst onto the scene over the last 15 years, triggering transformations in every area of everyday life, impacting on various consumer habits. It is now forecast that over the next 10 years, the internet of Things (IoT) revolution will spread to the energy, farming and transport sectors, as well as to the more conventional sectors of the economy and society. This entails devising comprehensive policies that address this technological disruption with a smart approach.

2.2.

The IoT concept first emerged from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), basically meaning a world full of devices that are fully interconnected in such a way that the different interoperable processes can be jointly automated. The European Union has, for its part, been preparing to tackle digital convergence and the new challenges of the IoT, from the launch of ‘i2010 — A European Information Society for growth and employment’ plan (1), up to the recent IoT Action Plan (see Advancing the internet of Things in Europe, accompanying the 2016 Communication on Digitising European Industry — Reaping the full benefits of a Digital Single Market) (2).

2.3.

The EESC has frequently discussed the fourth industrial revolution, marked by the convergence of digital, physical and biological technologies, and would draw particular attention to its 2017 opinion (3) on the subject. The IoT is effectively the ideal field for the most advanced forms of AI and is where the principles outlined by the EESC are put to the test, particularly the principle of the ‘human in control’.

2.4.

IoT devices often lack authentication standards which will keep user data safe. This results in the emergence of problems, since devices, data and supply chain partners are exposed to security breaches.

2.5.

Emerging technologies like blockchain can solve security and trust issues: this can be used to track sensor data measurements and prevent not only duplication with any other malicious data but also safeguard the integrity and traceability of changes; a distributed ledger can provide IoT device identification, authentication and seamless secure data transfer; IoT sensors may be used for the exchange of data through a blockchain rather than a third party; device autonomy is enabled through the use of smart contracts, and also individual identity, integrity of data; creation and operation costs are reduced since there is no intermediary; finally, IoT devices on the blockchain provide a history of connected devices, which is valuable for any troubleshooting that may be required (4).

2.6.

In contrast, open-code distributed ledger technologies are being developed for the exchange of information and value between IoT devices They do not allow data mining but use an architecture based on a mathematical concept known as a directed acyclic graph (DAG), avoiding commissions and ensuring that the network expands its capacity as the number of users increases.

2.7.

In brief, we are faced with something that offers huge economic (5) and social potential, and great opportunities but also serious challenges associated with implicit risks, of a multi-disciplinary, cross-cutting nature that affects businesses and consumers, administrations and individuals equally. There should consequently be a shared approach to this issue but which at the same time recognises the specific character of different situations. It is worth mentioning United Nations estimates in this regard that by 2020 between 50 billion devices will be interconnected, providing consumer applications through televisions, refrigerators, security cameras, vehicles, etc.

2.8.

IoT applications are already providing economic and social benefits as part of a globalised world, including services that are more responsive to the socioeconomic context, shorter feedback cycles, remote repairs, decision-making support, better allocation of resources and remote control of services. However, a number of related and highly sensitive factors arise, such as privacy and security, information asymmetry, the transparency of transactions, complex responsibilities, the blocking of products and systems and also the rise of hybrid products that can affect ownership, exposing consumers to the remote application of contracts, with the consequent weakening of guarantees.

2.9.

The huge legal challenges faced by the EU and its Member States stem from the fact that many of the specific features of the IoT (high levels of complexity and interdependence, the element of autonomy, the components of data generation and/or processing, and an open dimension) are shared with other emerging digital technologies such as blockchains, 3D printing and cloud computing. In the EESC’s view, the European Commission’s Staff Working Document (6) on liability for emerging digital technologies is a further step in the right direction.

2.10.

Ultimately, maximising the benefits and minimising the risks associated with the IoT means providing accessible, clear, concise and accurate information, promoting in particular digital inclusion and connectivity for more vulnerable consumers by designing fully traceable products and services that incorporate integrated trust, privacy and security standards.

3.   Consumer and business trust in the IoT

3.1.

The IoT is a complex ecosystem that enables devices from different manufacturers, distributors or software developers to be interconnected. This can lead to difficulties in identifying responsibility where regulations are breached or when third parties or systems suffer material loss or other damage caused by defective products or by products that are misused by third parties, excluding end-users, via the internet. It is indeed possible that many operators involved in the global product value chain are not sufficiently knowledgeable or experienced in terms of security or data protection for on-line devices.

3.2.

A new focus on responsibilities is therefore needed, aimed at ensuring that both consumers and businesses adopting IoT applications are protected in an environment in which properly-configured products may become defective and unsafe as a result of digital security incidents or unauthorised misuse (such as hackers). This environment should make it possible to anticipate, prevent and protect against automated decisions that may erode universally recognised ethical principles and human rights.

3.3.

The EESC welcomes both the revision of the application of the 1985 Directive on liability for damage caused by defective products (7), together with the recent creation of the multistakeholder expert group on liability and new technologies, with a view to ensuring a fair balance between the interests of producers and of consumers. A new framework of responsibilities should make clear provision for the traceability of responsibility and safety at every stage of the product value chain and throughout its estimated lifecycle, incorporating sustainability as a new factor that will make product updating, improvement, portability, compatibility, reuse, repair or adjustment a requirement.

3.4.

Where the IoT is concerned, specific consideration must also be given to identifying the liability of all operators in the product supply chain, preventing legal loopholes occurring when several producers and distributors are involved at the same time. The EESC considers it essential to clearly specify the procedures to be followed by consumers in each case, promoting alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms.

3.5.

The EESC stresses the importance of pre-contractual information, transparent contract clauses and clear operating instructions for devices; possible associated risks and safeguards should be explicitly highlighted.

3.6.

The interoperability and compatibility of devices and associated software must be ensured, in order to prevent problems and make it possible for the consumer to compare providers. The EESC stresses that this factor is also key to establishing a level playing field between large companies and SMEs.

3.7.

Finally, the EESC advocates respect for net neutrality and urges the Commission to carry out strict monitoring of market behaviour.

4.   Consumer privacy in the IoT

4.1.

The ability of consumers to check their personal data and privacy preferences has been improved with the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (8). The user of a device must have control over how the data generated are to be used and who may have access to them, since the diversity of data, as well as their accumulation and links with other data, mean that there is a serious risk to privacy in the IoT ecosystem.

4.2.

The effect that the multiplicity of products, services or entities may have on privacy and data protection, when data are transferred autonomously due to their interconnectivity, must not be overlooked. Similarly, in cases where information is processed or reformulated using initially harmless data, a clear picture of individuals’ habits, locations, interests and preferences could be built up, making the user profile easier to access and trace.

4.3.

Legal guarantees must ensure that users are fully able to exercise their rights to privacy and personal data protection without any restriction. This would avoid potential harm such as discriminatory practices, invasive advertising, loss of privacy and breaches of security. Consumers, for their part, must have information on the economic value of their data and reserve the right to share them.

4.4.

As provided for in the GDPR, businesses and regulators must regularly review the scope of personal data collection and assess the extent to which processed data are proportionate and necessary to the provision of the service. The various aspects and impacts of privacy must be evaluated at every stage in the conception, design and development of any connected product and the online ecosystem in which it operates (privacy by design). Hence, the principles of privacy by design and privacy by default must be implemented consistently in the IoT.

4.5.

All connected products must consequently be configured according to a pre-determined model based on the highest level of protection of privacy (by design and by default), preventing the unwanted tracing of user behaviour and occupations.

4.6.

In any case, consumers must have reliable knowledge of the data compiled, who has access to them and the purpose to which they are to be put while the link to the product or service remains active, and also of the applicable privacy policy, and must know if the algorithms used affect quality, price or access to a service.

5.   Consumer and business security in the IoT

5.1.

The interconnectivity of devices that characterises the IoT ecosystem may foster the development of unlawful or undesirable technological practices, becoming a space in which vulnerability can flourish and propagate virally. There must therefore be a comprehensive approach to security covering each and every component of the system.

5.2.

The supply of products and cybersecurity-related updates will have to be justified and provide cover not only for individual devices, but must also be extended to security risks arising from interconnectivity with other devices in the IoT: quality standards for security should not be watered down due to the number of such devices.

5.3.

In this regard, the proposal for a Regulation on the EU Cybersecurity Agency (9) contains a certification framework for the information and communication technologies which will provide for voluntary safety certification and labelling for different types of products, including those on the IoT. While the EESC welcomes this measure, it also expresses concern that it is not compulsory.

5.4.

Cybersecurity measures should cover risks arising from any kind of vulnerability, particularly hacking, unauthorised access or misuse and the risks surrounding payment methods and financial fraud. In this regard, the EESC agrees with the remit given to the multistakeholder expert group on liability and new technologies.

5.5.

The safety and security of individual users must also be addressed given risks such as the use of proximity, shared bandwidth, exposure to electromagnetic fields and possible interference with connected life-sustaining devices. The EESC backs the application of supervisory and preventive product-withdrawal arrangements for risks to consumers’ health and safety or to their private, economic interests.

5.6.

Businesses must adopt standards aligned with best practice, such as security by design and by default, and accept external, independent evaluations. In the event of security incidents or data breaches, businesses will be obliged to report such incidents, including information on liability for damage and non-compliance with legislation.

5.7.

Businesses must give consumers simple, accessible information that enables them to take appropriate decisions and to adopt safe practices, providing the necessary security updates throughout the lifecycle of the product.

5.8.

The lack of consistent standards related to IoT networks must be addressed. Advanced broadband and new generation technologies must be implemented to improve current infrastructure.

6.   Proposals for action in the framework of public policy (10)

6.1.

The public authorities, in exercising their powers in the various territories of the European Union, must actively engage in developing IoT policies and action plans with the aim of achieving a balance of interests of the various stakeholders, anticipating and guarding against possible adverse impacts. The EESC advocates:

6.1.1.

creating sand boxes, i.e. physical spaces, clusters, etc., to run pilot projects and proofs of concept. These should aim not at testing just technologies, but also regulatory models (11);

6.1.2.

financing technology infrastructure that allows the development of innovative IoT projects under the new Horizon Europe programme;

6.1.3.

appointing independent institutes and agencies as facilitators and caretakers of IoT projects. The EESC welcomes the relevant measures set out in the 2017 Regulation on cybersecurity and calls on the Commission to effectively promote standardisation processes in the digital industry using appropriate budgetary resources (12);

6.1.4.

promoting public-private cooperation platforms and partnerships, bringing in the scientific community, industry and consumers;

6.1.5.

fostering investment in the development of local business models harnessing the benefits of the IoT and making it easier to tackle complex aspects such as data protection and ownership;

6.1.6.

carrying out capacity-building in the business world with a view to co-responsibility. It should be ensured that security and privacy by design and by default are built into ITC products and services, in keeping with the principle of ‘duty of care’ advocated in the new Cybersecurity Regulation. In this connection, the EESC welcomes the planned drafting of codes of conduct to complement regulation;

6.1.7.

encouraging European and international standardisation initiatives to ensure the essential characteristics of IoT systems, i.e. reliability, safety, availability, resilience, maintainability and use. In particular, standardisation is essential for the rapid realisation of highly digitised industrial manufacturing processes;

6.1.8.

ensuring that IoT users, especially the most vulnerable or those living in sparsely populated areas, have affordable, high-quality access;

6.1.9.

promoting awareness-raising campaigns and education programmes to facilitate adoption of the IoT by businesses and consumers, enabling them to acquire the necessary capacities and skills (13), paying particular attention to vulnerable groups and diversity;

6.1.10.

launching initiatives in the educational sphere to ensure sufficient prevention, given young children’s early entry into digital environments;

6.1.11.

launching diagnostic analyses and studies of the impact of IoT on areas such as new models of sustainable production and consumption;

6.1.12.

guaranteeing the full implementation and effective use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms both online and off-line (ADR and ODR);

6.1.13.

encourage the existence, implementation and effective functioning of a European group action system that is able to put a stop to and obtain compensation also for situations where the use of the IoT causes damage or loss of a collective nature, as will be the case under the New Deal for Consumers.

6.2.

The EESC also calls on the Commission to evaluate the rules directly or indirectly related to the IoT and, where necessary, to improve the existing legislation. In this connection, the New Deal for Consumers should also focus on interconnected devices, networks and their security, and the data associated with such devices.

6.3.

Finally, the EESC stresses the importance of establishing cooperation and coordination mechanisms between the Member States for the efficient and uniform application of the planned rules and for the agreements that the European Union must draw up beyond its borders due to the places of establishment of companies and suppliers, with particular emphasis on the exchange of best practice. International policy on cross-border data flows must be coordinated so that the countries involved can establish equally high standards of protection in their national law, both substantial and procedural.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  COM(2005) 229 final.

(2)  COM(2016) 180 final.

(3)  Artificial intelligence: The consequences of Artificial Intelligence on the (digital) single market, production, consumption, employment and society (OJ C 288, 31.8.2017, p. 1).

(4)  See Khwaja Shaik, Why blockchain and IoT are best friends, https://www.ibm.com/us-en/?lnk=m on the innovations in the European financial sector see OJ C 246, 28.7.2017, p. 8.

(5)  Digital McKinsey estimates that the IoT possesses a potential economic impact of between USD 3,9 and 11,1 trillion annually.

(6)  SWD(2018) 137.

(7)  COM(2018) 246 final.

(8)  In force since 25 May 2018.

(9)  See COM(2017) 477 final.

(10)  See World Bank Group, internet of things: The New Government-to-Business Platform.

(11)  See https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/eu-and-eea-member-states-sign-cross-border-experiments-cooperative-connected-and-automated

(12)  OJ C 197, 8.6.2018, p.17.

(13)  OJ C 434, 15.12.2017, p. 36.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/14


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Indicators better suited to evaluate the SDGs — the civil society contribution’

(own-initiative opinion)

(2018/C 440/03)

Rapporteur:

Brenda KING

Co-rapporteur:

Thierry LIBAERT

Plenary Assembly decision

15.2.2018

Legal basis

Rule 29(2) of the Rules of Procedure

 

Own-initiative opinion

Section responsible

Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment

Adopted in section

5.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

194/2/3

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

Ever since the adoption of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the European Institutions in 2015, the EESC has been calling on the Commission to establish an overarching European Sustainable Development Strategy with concrete objectives, targets and actions in order to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Despite the fact that the EU played a leading role in the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and that the SDGs reflect EU core values which are to promote greater social, political, economic and environmental harmony, the European Commission has failed to develop an overarching strategy. The Reflection Paper ‘Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030’ to be published by the end of 2018 is an opportunity to emphasise the importance of adopting an overarching European strategy.

1.2.

The current lack of a European Sustainable Development Strategy is a risk for the coherent implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the EU and at national level. Divergences in the approach to addressing the SDGs may occur, as several Member States are already preparing their national sustainable development strategies while there is no European strategic framework or common implementation guidelines.

1.3.

The EESC welcomes Eurostat’s first annual 2017 Monitoring Report of the SDGs (1), which is based on a set of 100 indicators using rigorous data criteria. However, the EESC identified a number of deficiencies regarding the current set of indicators, which future publications of Eurostat’s annual SDG Monitoring Report should consider.

1.4.

The EESC calls for indicators that can provide a basis for policy planning and policy shaping. The current set of indicators fails to measure the distance to targets or to provide an appropriate progress review. Specific EU policy targets for SDGs need to be established and indicators need to be able to monitor their achievement. In the absence of specific EU policy targets, the EU could assess national performance in comparison with best and average performance.

1.5.

The EESC also identifies certain technical limitations that need to be addressed in order to ensure the best indicators are used. For example, the use of cross-cutting indicators remains insufficient to provide information about synergies and dilemmas among the goals. The spillover effects on partner countries’ sustainable development and monitoring policy coherence between important external and domestic policy objectives are also not fully integrated.

1.6.

Eurostat and the national statistical offices need to ensure they are applying a coherent framework of indicators. A comprehensive and integrated system of indicators should be in place to guarantee that the monitoring exercise on SDG implementation at European and national level is reliable.

1.7.

Eurostat and national statistical offices have limited human and financial resources for collecting new data and therefore it is not always possible to produce new and more targeted indicators. The EESC calls for adequate resources to be ensured to overcome this relevant limitation.

1.8.

EESC calls for the major involvement of civil society in the definition of indicators and in assessing the EU’s progress towards the goals. The cross-cutting nature of the SDGs requires integrated multi-stakeholder cooperation.

1.9.

The EESC recommends that the set of indicators is complemented by a qualitative shadow report, developed in close collaboration with civil society organisations to increase all stakeholders’ sense of ownership of SDGs. Qualitative information can highlight trends that would otherwise not be captured solely with quantitative metrics. The EESC proposes to take the lead on coordinating the preparation of the complementary qualitative report. In addition, the EESC proposes that the European Commission cooperate in the organisation of a European SDG Summit as a stocktaking exercise involving all relevant stakeholders.

1.10.

A coherent strategic framework also requires that other EU indicators (e.g. the indicators included in the Social Scoreboard or the European Biodiversity indicators) need to be coherent with the 2030 Agenda framework. An overarching strategy should provide this overview of the interlinkage between the SDGs, EU policies and the different sets of indicators.

1.11.

The EESC calls for the current EU governance system to be adapted to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. An overarching, sustainable EU development strategy fully aligned with 2030 Agenda would guarantee that SDGs are mainstreamed into all EU policies and provide the framework for coordination and monitoring of EU and national implementation of the SDGs. For example, the European Semester machinery should be monitoring and contributing to the implementation of the SDGs. Additionally, EU policy formulation and evaluation (e.g. The Better Regulation agenda) should be adapted to fully incorporate the SDGs into the policy cycle. A sustainability test should be applied to all legislation and policy proposals in order to estimate the impact on SDGs and decide on the appropriateness of the proposal.

1.12.

The EESC recommends that within the Commission, a Vice-President, with a dedicated team, specific budget and working structure with all Commissioners and Commission departments, should be in charge of mainstreaming the SDGs into EU policies. Furthermore, the president of the European Commission should present progress made and outline further action needed to implement the SDGs in the annual State of the European Union speech.

1.13.

Finally, the EESC calls for an agreement on an EU budget that makes sustainable development the core objective. The EESC recalls that the final Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for the 2021-2027 period will signal whether the EU will be able to achieve its 2030 Agenda commitments. The Commission’s proposal of May 2018 goes in the right direction, but ultimately misses the opportunity to make the 2030 Agenda the priority of the European agenda.

2.   Lack of EU strategy

2.1.

The EU should commit to a greater extent to its leading role in ensuring and promoting sustainable development. In fact, the UN 2030 Agenda is directly in line with the fundamental purpose of the European Union, which is to promote greater social, political, economic and environmental harmony both within Europe and around the globe. However, although the EU and its Member States signed the global Agenda, Europe is lagging behind. So far the EU and a number of Member States have failed to implement a sustainable development strategy to ensure the achievement of the SDGs.

2.2.

Recalling Article 3 of the Treaty of the European Union, a reference to sustainable development states: ‘In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall (…) contribute to, the sustainable development of the Earth (…)’. While there are some growing elements of sustainability in various EU policies, such as industrial policy, transport and energy, there remains a lack of ambition and a lack of funding. Overall, the EESC regrets the evident lack of strategy, policy coherence and integration into overall EU policy coordination.

2.3.

The EESC is the only institution at the European level that has made sustainable development a main priority. The European Parliament has no structure in place to address sustainable development, though some political groups are including the 2030 Agenda in their political priorities for the European elections of May 2019. Meanwhile, the European Commission has set up the Multi-Stakeholder Platform for the implementation of the SDGs, which is a step in the right direction, but it is not clear whether this platform will continue beyond this Commission. In addition, the EESC advocated in the past a more ambitious and larger civil society forum than the one finally created (2).

2.4.

At national level, the degree of SDG planning and implementation is dissimilar (3). Some Member States have already adopted comprehensive national sustainable development strategies, and in some cases, regional and local authorities, as well as concerned stakeholders are also running SDG initiatives to raise awareness. There is the risk of incoherence between national approaches as there is no European framework. The EESC calls for the integration of sustainable development into national policies and for organised civil society to be fully involved in design and implementation in line with an overarching EU strategy.

3.   What lies ahead

3.1.

On 13 September 2017, President Juncker announced a Reflection Paper ‘Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030, on the follow-up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change’, which will be published during the winter of 2018. In the preparation phase, the Commission is considering the views of the members of the Multi-Stakeholder Platform on the SDGs. The Platform’s members are proposing suggestions on how to improve EU governance in relation to SDGs (e.g. adopting an overarching strategy), policy recommendations and how an EU toolbox should evolve to coordinate policies, monitoring and accountability.

3.2.

The implementation of the SDGs includes economic, social, political and environmental objectives that will require fundamental changes in European societies and within the EU institutions.

3.3.

Debates about the future of Europe ahead of the 2019 European elections are crucial to raise awareness among citizens on sustainable development. European political parties must take a stand and address sustainable development within their manifestoes for the elections.

3.4.

Moreover, the EESC considers that the future European Commission and the new European Parliament emerging from the 2019 European elections should make it a priority to better mainstream the SDGs into EU policies. The EESC urges the European Parliament to strengthen its capacity to monitor and supervise SDG progress and to take responsibility for the goals. With regard to the Commission, reinforcing the leadership of the Vice-President in charge of sustainable development and restructuring the portfolios of the DGs to make it clear who is accountable for each of the SDGs are also recommended.

3.5.

The final decision on the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for the 2021-2027 period will signal whether the EU will be able to achieve its 2030 Agenda commitments. The MFF is crucial to ensuring mainstreaming of the SDGs. The European Commission’s proposal published in May 2018 goes in the right direction, but misses the opportunity to make the 2030 Agenda the priority of the European agenda. Beyond the limited proposed increase in the climate mainstreaming target, the new MFF should allocate relevant financial resources for sustainable development and also ensure that no funding undermines the implementation of the SDGs. Funding needs to be made available to SDG implementers, including Member States, local authorities, business and NGOs for innovative, scalable projects.

3.6.

The EU is undergoing a major political and institutional crisis and faces challenges such as growing social inequalities; environmental problems; and loss of trust in government and the EU (4). To overcome this situation, the EU needs to develop a new narrative that is able to provide tangible solutions to the challenges our societies are facing. The ongoing debates on the future of Europe should contribute to this new narrative, taking the 2030 Agenda and the 6th Scenario of Europe (5) into account, so that the EU becomes a driver for sustainability. Greater leadership from the European Heads of State to make the SDGs a central part of their political discourse and vision for Europe is required.

3.7.

The 2030 Agenda is based on Europe’s core values of democracy and participation, social justice, solidarity and sustainability, respect for the rule of law and human rights, both within Europe and around the globe. The new sustainable development narrative should provide citizens with answers on how public administrations and organised civil society plan to address their aspiration of economic, social and environmental wellbeing.

4.   The issue of indicators

4.1.

The EESC considers that the approach taken with the EU SDG indicators must go beyond mere evaluation by contributing to policy formulation and policy shaping, rather than just being a reporting tool. The indicators should help EU policy-makers in defining future policies and planning how to better achieve the SDGs. The indicators must also help policy-makers to identify deviations in progress towards the SDGs and introduce necessary policy changes on time in order to achieve the goals by 2030.

4.2.

From the EESC’s perspective, Eurostat’s 2017 Monitoring Report of the Sustainable Development Goals in an EU context is a good start, but there is room for improvement. It needs to be built on by improving the indicators. The current method of evaluating progress (i.e. 1 % positive change) in the absence of EU quantified targets is potentially misleading, as it provides no information about the distance to the SDGs, unlike other reports. For example, while Eurostat concludes that there is significant progress in Europe on SDG12 (6), others sources, such the OECD, come to different conclusions (7). The monitoring report needs to do more to make clear the integrated nature of the agenda, where efforts need to reinforce each goal rather than undermine any of them. While valuable, the use of cross-cutting indicators remains insufficient to provide information about synergies and dilemmas among the goals. Moreover, the report should assess the spillover effects on partner countries’ sustainable development and monitor policy coherence between important external and domestic policy objectives. Finally, indicators should be able to show comparisons between European countries, identify divergences in MS implementation and be frequently updated so that they are based on the best available science/knowledge/information.

4.3.

In order to have a coherent set of indicators providing a clear overview of SDG implementation at EU level, it is crucial to create a comprehensive system of indicators covering the European and national level. First, the current indicators used for different policy areas at EU level need to be harmonised or at least interlinked with the EU SDG indicators. For example, relevant sets of indicators such as the Social Scoreboard or the European Biodiversity indicators need to be linked to the EU SDG indicators and their relationship needs to be clearly defined. Secondly, national sustainable development strategies should use the same indicators or at least indicators comparable to the EU SDG indicators. If this is not the case, there will be a high risk of inconsistency between the different approaches taken among Member States. Thirdly, the EU needs to ensure a comprehensive process for reporting to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The European Commission should be able to provide a clear overview of SDG implementation at EU level and in all Member States.

4.4.

The EESC considers that certain limitations need to be addressed regarding the process of defining indicators. Eurostat and national statistical offices have limited human and financial resources for collecting new data and therefore it is not always possible to produce new and more targeted indicators. According to the 2017 Annual Report by the European Statistical Governance Advisory Board to the European Parliament, the cost of Europe’s statistical system amounts to 0,02 % of GDP, and following cuts to human resources linked with budgetary austerity, the number of staff has not returned to pre-economic-crisis levels (8). To improve the set of indicators, greater priority must be given to developing sustainability indicators, and adequate funding for sustainability indicators must be allocated to Eurostat and national statistical offices, in line with targets concerning SDG17. This will make it possible to add new indicators that could require additional data collection.

4.5.

On the current set of indicators from Eurostat, the EESC identifies a number of deficiencies, which need to be addressed, ideally by the publication of Eurostat’s 2018 Monitoring Report on progress towards the SDGs. Areas of improvement include:

A more objective visual presentation of overall results, to avoid a mistaken impression of Europe being mostly on track with the SDGs, contradicting other qualitative or thematic research as well as perceptions from citizens,

Greater attention to the spillover effects of Europe’s current development model, for instance by building on Eurostat’s existing work on footprints, as well as Europe’s contribution to supporting partner countries in achieving the SDGs,

A more innovative approach to grasping the indivisibility of the SDG agenda, beyond cross-cutting indicators, which on their own do not indicate imbalances and contradictions between the different dimensions of sustainability and lack an appropriate framework to assess policy coherence,

More data regarding business, local authority and NGO performance,

More information regarding Member States’ performance on the SDGs, as averages provide an incomplete picture. Providing national level information is also important given that Member States have exclusive competence regarding a number of SDGs,

Better indicators of accountability for delivery on SDGs, in line with SDG16 (9) and 17 (10), for instance regarding civil society space in Europe (11) and innovative partnerships,

More robust methodology for measuring progress for the SDGs where there is no European target, by for instance comparing average performance with the best performers among European Member States or proxy targets derived from other international commitments or available research.

4.6.

While long time series are useful, indicators should be reviewed and improved based on the identification of new challenges and the progress of scientific knowledge, including new data. While Eurostat’s efforts to include new indicators in 2018 go in the right direction, clarity about the process and timelines for including ‘on hold’ indicators is crucial. For instance, there should be an action plan and timeline indicated for the proposed indicator ‘Extent of homelessness in the EU’, recommended by FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless), which is currently listed as ‘on hold’.

4.7.

The role of organised civil society in relation to the Eurostat annual report needs to be enhanced. Eurostat should consult more with civil society on the process of defining indicators and on assessing the progress of the indicators. Generally, civil society needs to be consulted early enough in the process for recommendations to be taken on board and Eurostat needs to explain why the recommendations of civil society have, or have not, been taken on board.

4.8.

What is monitored and what is not monitored, in particular, the design and choice of indicators, has substantial political implications (12). Therefore, the process by which Eurostat prepares the annual report should allow civil society to contribute with a qualitative interpretation of the indicators. This should be accompanied by a frequent survey from Eurobarometer, to assess citizens’ perceptions of the progress being made.

4.9.

The EESC realises that civil society has limited statistical capacity to propose new indicators that can meet Eurostat statistical robustness criteria. Civil society is, however, capable of defining useful indicators that use other sources beyond Eurostat data. An example of this is the indicators that are being developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Nevertheless, the EESC considers that it is necessary to support civil society organisations with capacity-building measures to ensure that they are able to contribute better to the discussion with Eurostat.

4.10.

In order to ensure the strong new narrative based on sustainable development mentioned above, the EESC calls for an improvement in the way the European Commission and Eurostat communicate on the SDGs’ progress. The Eurostat report is not fully reader-friendly and has not been widely communicated, and therefore new ways should be explored to raise awareness of it among non-specialised audiences and citizens. Other research and communication products should also be explored as part of an ambitious awareness-raising strategy. For example, providing a ‘civil society monitoring’ section on the Eurostat SDG website would allow for interactive co-ownership of the monitoring of the goals.

4.11.

The EESC acknowledges that Eurostat’s annual report does not and cannot incorporate qualitative information. In order to cover this gap (as well as to enhance civil society involvement), the EESC proposes that the monitoring of SDG implementation should be complemented by a separate, independent qualitative shadow report, developed in close collaboration with civil society stakeholders. This shadow report should focus on: a) providing a reflection on and analysing the Eurostat report; b) complementing the Eurostat report with qualitative information coming from organised civil society; and c) providing organised civil society’s interpretation of the progress towards implementation of the SDGs. The EESC is currently conducting a study on civil society involvement in SDG monitoring (expected to be finalised by November 2018), which will specifically explore and propose a methodological approach for the preparation of this complementary report to Eurostat’s annual report.

4.12.

Accountability is at the heart of the SDG agenda. An ambitious SDG strategy needs to be complemented by a strong accountability framework where organised civil society plays a key role. This requires raising the awareness of citizens across the Union as well as opinion surveys and other citizen feedback mechanisms. In this regard, the European Commission (in collaboration with the EESC) should organise an SDG Summit to carry out an annual stocktaking event with Member States, the European Parliament, civil society, businesses and regional and local authorities, and to commit to an inclusive and regular dialogue with stakeholders. Finally, the exchange of good practices of civil society involvement in SDG assessment should be promoted. The EESC could play a key role in supporting civil society organisations in exchanging these types of experience, creating synergies, increasing knowledge and raising awareness, and promoting collaboration.

5.   Integration of the SDGs into EU governance

5.1.

The current EU governance system should be adapted so that it contributes to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. In order to achieve this, all EU institutions should take steps to ensure coordinated work on progressing towards the SDGs.

5.2.

In spite of the leadership of the Vice-President of the European Commission, it is apparent that there is a low level of buy-in among several Commission departments, which hampers progress. The same is true of the Parliament, which must establish a credible process across committees to discuss SDG implementation. Finally, the working party on SDGs within the European Council, which is welcomed, needs to ensure adequate mainstreaming of the SDGs in all matters of the European Council, e.g. the future of the CAP, the cohesion policy, the transport policy (13), external relations (14) and the next MFF for 2021-2027.

5.3.

A future overarching EU sustainable development strategy should play a crucial role in mainstreaming the SDGs into all EU policy and provide the framework for coordination and monitoring of EU and national implementation of the SDGs. As mentioned, the strategy should establish targets, the means to address them and a coherent set of indicators to be used to monitor progress. The EESC agrees with the Council on the need to develop ‘a reference indicator framework’ (15).

5.4.

As mentioned, this reference indicator framework should integrate all relevant European indicators currently used in different policy areas and define the interlinkages between the existing indicators and the SDG indicators. For example, the European Commission should ensure complete alignment and coherence between the Social Scoreboard and the EU SDG indicators. Currently, of the 12 indicators of the Social Scoreboard; eight are included completely or partially in the EU SDG set.

5.5.

The coordination and monitoring of the SDGs should be integrated into the European Semester process, as the EESC has repeatedly called for (e.g. EESC opinions NAT/693 (16), NAT/700 (17), SC/047 (18), SC/050 (19)). This should include a scrutiny process for the adequacy of SDG implementation strategies at the Member State level. National authorities should receive common guidelines and should be monitored so all efforts go in the same direction. Moreover, exchanging best practices among Member States should be promoted. The European Semester should fully extend its scope beyond the traditional economic dimension and completely integrate the social and environmental dimensions at the same level of importance in the context of a future overarching sustainable development strategy. Consequently, the country-specific recommendations should be consistent with the SDGs as well as the analysis carried out in the country reports within the European Semester process.

5.6.

The recently created Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP) aims to help Member States implement institutional, structural and administrative reforms. It is expected that the SRSP will play a relevant role in the next years. As already stressed by the EESC (20) and the Falkenberg report (21), the SRSP should assume that any supported reform needs to be coherent with the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

5.7.

In order to ensure that the SDGs are mainstreamed in all EU policies, the Better Regulation agenda needs to be adapted accordingly to ensure a comprehensive and holistic approach to the SDGs. The EESC considers that the SDG principles should be explicitly referred to in the Better Regulation guidelines and toolbox. Additionally, Better Regulation methodologies should be revised to ensure that they are capable of assessing long-term objectives and measuring the distance towards achieving the SDGs. Finally, greater attention needs to be paid to policy coherence as a tool for SDG implementation, by using, for instance, the OECD’s framework on Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

5.8.

When proposing new legislative or policy initiatives, the European Commission should clearly indicate which SDG is targeted and run a sustainability test to assess the expected impact on the SDGs (as part of the impact assessment process, aimed at assessing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of proposals). The main problems in the implementation of the SDGs that the proposed policy aims to tackle should be identified. As well, the monitoring and evaluation of ongoing EU policies need to be adapted to measure the progress towards achieving the SDGs and to recommend policy modifications that have a larger impact in promoting the SDGs.

5.9.

The Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) programme should also integrate the sustainable development perspective. The REFIT programme work should ensure that any simplification and update of EU law proposed is coherent and contributes to the SDGs.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  ‘Sustainable development in the European Union: Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context. 2017 edition’.

(2)  EESC opinion on the next steps for a sustainable European future (OJ C 345, 13.10.2017, p. 91).

EESC opinion on A European Sustainable Development Civil Society Forum (OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 73).

(3)  The EESC develops a mapping of the sustainable development initiatives at national level. A country summary for each Member State will be made available on the EESC website.

(4)  EESC opinion on the transition towards a more sustainable European future, SC/047 (OJ C 81, 2.3.2018, p. 44).

(5)  http://www.foeeurope.org/sites/default/files/other/2017/6th_scenario_future_of_europe.pdf

(6)  SDG12. Responsible consumption and production.

(7)  See for instance OECD. 2017. Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets: an assessment of where OECD countries stand.

(8)  ESGAB Annual Report, 2017, pp. 25-26.

(9)  SDG16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

(10)  SDG17. Partnerships for the Goals.

(11)  Building on existing methodologies such as CIVICUS monitor, https://civicus.org/index.php/what-we-do/innovate/civicus-monitor

(12)  EESC opinion on the next steps for a sustainable European future, NAT/700 (OJ C 345, 13.10.2017, p. 91).

(13)  EESC opinion on the Role of transport in realising the sustainable development goals, and consequent implications for EU policy-making (OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 9).

(14)  EESC opinion on the renewed ACP Partnership, REX/485 (OJ C 129, 11.4.2018, p. 76).

(15)  https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/23989/st10370-en17.pdf

(16)  EESC opinion on sustainable development: a mapping of the EU’s internal and external policies, NAT/693 (OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 41).

(17)  EESC opinion on the next steps for a sustainable European future, NAT/700 (OJ C 345, 13.10.2017, p. 91).

(18)  EESC opinion on the transition towards a more sustainable European future, SC/047 (OJ C 81, 2.3.2018, p. 44).

(19)  EESC opinion on the Annual Growth Survey 2018, SC/50 (OJ C 227, 28.6.2018, p. 95).

(20)  EESC opinion on the Structural Reform Support Programme, ECO/398 (OJ C 177, 18.5.2016, p. 47).

(21)  Sustainability Now! EPSC Strategic Notes. Issue 18 (2016), https://www.eesc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/files/rapport_kff.pdf


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/22


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The contribution of Europe’s rural areas to the 2018 Year of Cultural Heritage ensuring sustainability and urban/rural cohesion’

(own-initiative opinion)

(2018/C 440/04)

Rapporteur:

Tom JONES

Plenary Assembly decision

15.2.2018

Legal basis

Rule 29(2) of the Rules of Procedure

 

Own-initiative opinion

Section responsible

Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment

Adopted in section

5.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

201/2/7

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

Conclusions

1.1.

The EESC fully supports the designation of 2018 as the European Year of Cultural Heritage and commends all efforts by promoters and organisers at all levels to increase visibility and celebrate Europe’s diverse and rich cultural heritage (1).

1.2.

The EESC encourages all stakeholders and participants to adopt the widest possible definition of culture and to be inclusive of all citizens.

1.3.

This year should not only be a celebration of the past, but should also promote evolving, new and challenging expressions of human inspiration and skill that often arise out of the traditions embedded in each country’s rural cultural heritage.

1.4.

12 months is a small window, but it is hoped that this extra effort and investment will incentivise citizens to focus on the opportunities around cultural heritage in rural areas. This should enable them to build a re-energised, aesthetic, social and economic treasury of wellbeing for present and future generations. At the mid-way point, over 3 500 projects have received the European Year of Cultural Heritage label, with the percentage of rural projects varying from region to region.

1.5.

The EESC endorses the European Alliance for Culture and the Arts’ call, of January 2018, for the European Institutions and Member States to ensure ‘substantial support within the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF)’. It also welcomes the European Commission’s proposed commitment to culture in its draft budget of May 2018 and its commitments through the New Agenda for Culture (2).

Recommendations

1.6.

Rural Cultural Heritage with all its richness and diversity should be formally recognised for its intrinsic artistic value and its economic and social contribution to the wellbeing of all European citizens (3).

1.7.

Investment by public funders should be ‘rural proofed’ so that when any new funding streams are designed, these include support for the ongoing contribution of farming families and employees and for non-governmental organisations involving individual creators, as well as folk groups, local action groups, and care farms. This should take full account of the measures needed to enhance the infrastructure of rural heritage.

1.8.

Existing EU funding streams, including the Rural Development Programme should increasingly see culture as of horizontal value and should support cultural projects, including those protecting, promoting and enhancing biodiverse landscapes. Restoration of pastoral farming and remote cottages in the Pyrenees, vineyards in Santorini, protection of common grazing in Șeica Mare (Romania) are good examples, as is the Leader cultural project in Lesvos (Greece) to support the integration of migrants. Agri-environment schemes should continue to build farmland habitats and the built environment should reach higher standards of design, respecting traditional cultural patterns while being relevant to modern usage.

1.9.

Sustainable woodlands, forests and waterways deserve support measures to avoid degradation and pollution. Resources must be provided to maintain protective strips of trees and shrubs introduced in rural areas in the past (e.g. in Poland based on the Dezydery Chłapowski concept) which reduce soil erosion and CO2 emissions and help increase yields and enrich the landscape.

1.10.

The contribution of farm open days, school rural visits, shows, craft and other fairs and cultural festivals help urban citizens to better understand and appreciate rural areas and deserve public funding support as do measures to build bridges between rural and urban citizens through cultural projects.

1.11.

Measures to introduce rural culture and traditions to new generations through innovative modern idioms should be encouraged and the economic and social benefit measured, with good practice shared and celebrated. Artists and other inspiring cultural actors, sometimes from other locations, should be supported to help communities realise the full potential of local cultural assets.

1.12.

The serious loss of craft skills needs to be addressed through increased investment in training, so that intergenerational transfers occur building on past knowledge and encouraging innovation. Rural schools should teach the employment potential of rural assets as well as external career opportunities. There is a specific challenge, not just for young farmers, but for all rural young people to be entrepreneurial in their custodial role of embracing their heritage.

1.13.

Rural cultural heritage should be promoted sustainably for the purposes of tourism, among other things, so that urban citizens can learn to appreciate the cultural values of rural areas and increasingly opt for rural homes and work in remoter settlements.

1.14.

Marketing of rural cultural produce, including gastronomic heritage, should be promoted and geographically-branded status protected, giving assurance on quality and traceability to citizens.

1.15.

Volunteering, community participation and social enterprises as well as rural private businesses, should be encouraged to develop and share their cultural activities, including promoting the diversity of languages and dialects, for the benefit of all citizens. ‘Smart’ rural communities should embrace the value and the potential of their local cultural assets and seek opportunities to cooperate with similar groups elsewhere to promote linkages, including enhancing the economic benefit of greater tourism opportunities.

1.16.

While projects to mark the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage will likely continue into the future, it is important that a clear stocktake and evaluation of quantifiable investment and outcome be carried out, taking account of economic, social and cultural factors. Some EUR 8 million were allocated to the Year following Trilogue negotiations between the European Parliament and Council in 2017. It would be fair to expect that a quantifiable proportion of this support was available to rural areas.

1.17.

More research is needed to quantify and measure the quality of the benefits of heritage and ongoing cultural activity for citizens’ wellbeing and to underpin solutions for future action. Stoic defenders of heritage need support to welcome new migrants and different cultural traditions.

1.18.

Urgent action is required on connectivity of transport and digital infrastructure which is essential for settlement in rural areas and for the development of cultural tourism.

2.   Introduction

2.1.

This opinion specifically focuses on the wide range of assets and talent that rural areas and their citizens have, and will, contribute to Europe’s cultural heritage and on how this wide definition of culture contributes to a more viable and prosperous rurality. We support the Pan-European Charter for rural heritage which promotes sustainable spatial development (4) and the reference in the 2016 Cork Declaration 2.0: ‘Land management has a key role in the interface between citizens and the environment. Policies must incentivise the delivery of environmental public goods, including the preservation of Europe’s natural and cultural heritage’.

2.2.

This initiative has to be subject to ‘rural proofing’ and the EESC is concerned that sufficient knowledge about the Year will not reach the small community groups in villages and small towns in time for them to prepare and celebrate the vast array of cultural assets around them. This Year should not only be a celebration of the past, but should also promote evolving, new and challenging expressions of human inspiration and skill that often arise out of the traditions embedded in each country’s rural cultural heritage.

2.3.

Listing existing cultural activities and learning from successful projects has real value, but the 2018 celebrations should also include new, innovative cultural events which build on the past and transfer cultural heritage on to new generations in a contemporary way, giving new opportunities to rural areas. Creative Europe has two rural projects, ‘Roots and Roads’ and ‘Food is Culture’ which, if successful, could contribute to learning and development.

2.4.

While it is difficult to quantify the economic and social benefits of cultural activity (over 300 000 jobs directly linked to European culture), the OECD believes that culture should be used as an indicator of wellbeing and it is important for the 2018 EYCH organisers to undertake some analysis which could justify future public investment. There should be a clear account of how successful the year was in reaching rural and remote areas and how any legacy of good practice such as the AlpFoodway (5) and the Terract projects (6) can be built upon for future prioritisation at European and regional levels.

3.   General and specific comments

3.1.

Rural landscapes, the mosaic of natural geological structures and human imprints of agriculture, forestry, lakes, rivers and built settlements provide, perhaps, the greatest cultural heritage there is. From national parks and Natura 2000 sites to urban fringe green spaces, there is a diverse beauty to appreciate, a source of inspiration to generations of artists, musicians, litterateurs, dancers, and to all of us, who fall into none of these categories. The Commission’s New Agenda for Culture is rather brief on rural perspectives. However, it does state that ‘restoration and upgrading of cultural and natural heritage contributes to growth and sustainability. Integrated management of cultural and natural assets encourages people to discover and engage with both’. The Mayangna people of Nicaragua use the same word for nature and culture. This is ecological citizenship.

3.2.

Rural communities even add value to the landscapes. It is farm and woodland managers and employees and craftspeople — male and female — who have sculptured these landscapes. Generations of skilled people who harnessed land and water for food, shelter and to generate income. The idea, for example, of belts of greenery and shrubs to preserve the soil developed in nineteenth-century Poland, gave the recent landscape its distinctive features. They shaped field boundaries from stone and branch, erected barns and workshops. They tended, over successive generations, native breeds of livestock suited to terrain and climate and managed vegetation. They developed locally specific gastronomy and folklore traditions. We have also inherited a rich heritage of fine buildings — mansions, castles, churches, but also peasant cottages, small rural mills and shops, such as those carefully restored at the St Fagan Folk Museum in Wales. The upkeep of similar historical architecture is often borne by private investment, with some vital public and charitable support. An innovative project in North Wales utilises renewable energy from the seabed to heat and thus reduce costs at Plas Newydd, a National Trust stately home (7). Celebration of the past and the present should seek to balance the idealistic with the reality of human struggle and effort.

3.3.

We appreciate all efforts including those of The European Heritage Alliance, to sensitively retain this heritage. Restoration includes the need for supportive planning authorities ensuring sympathetic building conversions. The REVAB project cofunded by the Erasmus Programme provides training to enhance the potential for re-using redundant agricultural buildings, thus preventing their obliteration.

3.4.

Rural people created their own culture, reflecting their work, leisure and social challenges, in all forms of art, sport and general community activity. Rural areas are often important reservoirs for the diversity of minority languages and dialects. Place names of villages, farms and fields have significant meaning which deserve to be understood and respected. They have, and still, create a legacy of value to society generally.

3.5.

However, their economic activities also evolve and sometimes disappear. Not all landscapes are pristine. Some bear witness to industrial exploitation, to wars and pillaging, to the ravages of drought, flooding and fire or even to overexploitation caused by excessive, concentrated tourism activities. They all have a story to tell, lessons to learn. Mitigating the impact of climate change will require positive intervention to retain diversity and a choice of experiences. Maintaining links with the past is branded ‘provision of public goods’ and landscapes become degraded if there is not sustainable biodiversity, sensitive planning and managed access. Even the artistic cultural manifest is diluted as rural populations decline below sustainable levels.

3.6.

Eurostat 2017 notes that more than a third of Europeans do not participate in cultural activities, which is why developing rural-cultural tourism, linked to health and recreational activities is, and will be, a major bridge between urban and rural peoples. The city of Galway is a good example of rural-urban cultural partnerships and the European Capitals of Culture initiative (e.g. Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and Matera, Italy, in 2019) should always demonstrate rural as well as city cultural characteristics. In Wales, the Heritage Statutory Body, CADW, has an open doors initiative, which is part of a 50-country project to help citizens trace the footsteps of change, to better understand their being — ‘to plan your future you need to understand your past’.

3.7.

In Greece, there is another example of shared knowledge, at the Art Farm (8), developed by Sotiris Marinis. In the village of Megali Mantineia in West Mani, he has built tree houses and a training centre, working on the principle that ‘an experience here educates about our rural and cultural heritage’.

3.8.

Rural cultural tourism is an existing and growing economic and social resource-provider and the basis of joint investment. Responsibility for protecting and supporting Europe’s cultural heritage is a national, regional and local competence and having a public sense of pride in place is key. The European Institutions can promote a sense of European common values and incentivise and promote good practice and shared experiences (9). Traditional, regional culinary recipes, beers and wines, costumes and music, as exhibited at Berlin’s Green Week (10), attract thousands of international visitors annually and help connect the present with the past. Connecting food and craft produce of rural producers directly with consumers through farmers’ markets and internet selling is increasingly popular — for example the REKO local food groups in Finland.

3.9.

Places for solitude, listening to and watching birdlife and experiencing woodlands — forest diversity as well as plant species for medical uses — all contribute to wider citizen curiosity, exploration and wellbeing. Broadening the range of opportunities and discovery should help avoid an over concentration of visits to vulnerable sites. This builds added economic and employment value, based on rural core assets, in more remote areas, a value already appreciated by smart villages and communities. In the mountain areas of Lombardy the AttivAree project strengthens people’s sense of belonging by reinforcing natural heritage through art. It also works to refurbish hostels and promote availability in remote villages such as Lavenone (11). Travel agencies should be encouraged to work in partnership with geographically remote entrepreneurs and social enterprises promoting sustainable cultural tourism.

3.10.

Disseminating and depicting cultural information using digital technology will, creatively, narrow a divide that was increasing between town and country, between young and older generations. Projects such as YourAlps (12) which reconnect youth and mountain heritage are welcomed. There are many emerging examples of innovative ways of portraying cultural traditions, such as the artistic project used in Aasted in Denmark and the village of Pfyn in Switzerland. These are projects resulting from local initiatives and identified local needs, use participative processes, which are themselves part of Europe’s cultural tradition. Public and private resources should be available at European, state and regional levels to accelerate investment in similar initiatives.

3.11.

New digital tools are also increasingly being used, for example in places of past and present conflict, to recreate important historical sites destroyed by abandonment or warfare. Technology is used to read headstones and fading manuscripts more accurately (13). We welcome the Commission’s plans for a ‘Digital4Culture Strategy’ and expect this to consider any relevant rural aspects. The MEMOLA Project, for example, uses 3D scans of old irrigation areas to educate new irrigation processes.

3.12.

More research is needed to understand how cultural activity matters to people and what health benefits are derived for all ages but especially for those with physical or mental illnesses (14), while existing Erasmus Plus Programmes, such as the TEMA Masters, currently fund good research opportunities. The high-level Horizon 2020 EYCH conference on ‘Innovation and Cultural Heritage’ (15) called for further efforts to develop research work to identify priorities and best practice in promoting cultural activities.

3.13.

Initiatives supported by charitable and philanthropic foundations have contributed significantly to preserving natural sites and supporting activities, often through social enterprises, which boost the development of rural areas in a sustainable manner. The Finnish Cultural Foundation supports research into measures to prevent agricultural residues affecting water quality in the Baltic Sea. It works with farmers believing that more biodiversity equals a richer landscape. Other charitable initiatives are welcome, such as the Wales Schools’ Cultural Heritage Trust which promotes inter-school cultural competitions involving young people in defining and delivering their choice of cultural activity (16). One example, which enables young people to explore their cultural heritage, is the school in Piscu (17), Romania, which is both a specialist heritage school and an organiser of workshops and conferences. The EESC, itself welcomed pupils from schools across Europe in March 2018 to discuss their cultural priorities under the ‘Your Europe, Your Say!’ banner (18). They concluded, ‘I want to live in a Europe that gives valour to and protects all forms of culture… we want to avoid elitism and popularise culture…but also have the opportunity to create our own…’. In Giffoni, a village in southern Italy, some 300 students prepared films and videos to promote their region.

3.14.

Investment by public funders should be ‘rural proofed’ so that when any new funding streams are designed, these include support for the ongoing contribution of farming families and employees, and for non-governmental organisations involving individual creators, as well as folk groups, Local Action Groups, and care farms. This should take full account of the measures needed to enhance the infrastructure of rural heritage.

3.15.

There is scope and demand from cultural tourists for greater thematic and geographical links. Joint branding and joined-up access projects are welcome. Village and small town agricultural shows and national events such as the Royal Welsh at Builth Wells (19), which attracts some 240 000 visitors, and the Hay on Wye literary festival which brings an estimated £21m into a small rural area, are significant economic and social contributors. Farm open days, fairs, cultural festivals, such as the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, concerts, walking processions, such as the one in Veurne in Belgium, narrow-gauge steam train railways, Nordic walking and traditional dance troupes, all contribute immensely to maintaining and promoting rural cultural heritage. The contribution of volunteers at these events, over many generations, is itself, a significant part of our cultural legacy. The work of the European Volunteer Centre and national and regional voluntary organisations in promoting quality cultural volunteering is applauded and they are encouraged to continue their valuable efforts, including providing health and safety training to ensure safe and enjoyable experiences for volunteers and tourists alike.

3.16.

However, there is an increasing shortage of skilled artisans to transfer knowledge and train a new generation in ways to protect and develop this diverse heritage. The JEMA initiative (20) which originated in France, regularly promotes the work of craftspeople and the need to train new generations. Addressing this need is a good opportunity for intergenerational bonding through, and for, cultural purposes. More practical training and recognition of acquired skills are essential within existing EU and national/regional programmes, concentrating, not only on existing craft and environmental skills, but also on mentoring, developing new techniques and cultural business entrepreneurism. Support is required for artists and others to work with local rural and urban schools, inclusively developing cultural ideas across generations and between ethnic groups.

3.17.

Rural cultural heritage is also about participative democracy. There is a strong European tradition of communal solidarity and of tackling isolation and disadvantage through community activities, many of which are based on culture. Building local sustainable leadership and delivering local priorities through community-led local development (CLLD) and the Leader method adds to a legacy of organised civil groups and movements. Social and cultural activities help bind people together in geographical areas with sparse public and private services. A tradition of voluntary sector intervention, sometimes as a deliverer of last resort, sustains sensitive, vulnerable landscapes of human survival. Public support for such activities is vital.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  EESC opinion on New Agenda for Culture (not yet published in the Official Journal).

(2)  https://ec.europa.eu/culture/news/new-european-agenda-culture_en

(3)  EESC Conference 20 and 21 June 2016.

(4)  Resolution No 2 of the European Conference of Ministers responsible for Spatial/Regional Planning of the Member States of the Council of Europe (CEMAT), on the Pan-European Charter for the rural heritage: Promoting sustainable spatial planning — ‘The rural heritage as a factor of territorial cohesion’, adopted at the 15th session of CEMAT, Moscow, Russian Federation, 9 July 2010.

(5)  http://www.alpine-space.eu/projects/alpfoodway/en/home

(6)  http://www.terract.eu/fr/

(7)  https://www.bangor.ac.uk/studentlife/studentnews/gift-s-marine-renewable-visit-to-plas-newydd-18421

(8)  https://www.facebook.com/agroktima.artfarm/

(9)  EESC opinion on New Agenda for Culture (not yet published in the Official Journal).

(10)  https://www.gruenewoche.de/

(11)  AttivAree project in the Lombardy region.

(12)  http://www.alpine-space.eu/projects/youralps/en/home

(13)  Project of Andrew Skerrett presented in the Hearing of the study group on 24 July 2018 in Cardiff.

(14)  Innovate Trust — Positive outcomes from field days horticulture project.

(15)  https://ec.europa.eu/info/events/innovation-and-cultural-heritage-2018-mar-20_en

(16)  https://jamesprotheroe.wordpress.com/Darren Park Primary School, Ferndale.

(17)  http://piscu.ro/piscu-school/#

(18)  https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/our-work/civil-society-citizens-participation/your-europe-your-say

(19)  http://www.rwas.wales/royal-welsh-show/

(20)  Journées Européennes des Métiers d’Art https://www.journeesdesmetiersdart.fr/


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/28


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The impact of subsidiarity and gold plating on the economy and employment’

(exploratory opinion requested by the Austrian Presidency)

(2018/C 440/05)

Rapporteur:

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS

Co-rapporteur:

Wolfgang GREIF

Referral

Austrian Presidency of the Council, 12.2.2018

Legal basis

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

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

4.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

192/1/1

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC welcomes the request of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union for an exploratory opinion on ‘The impact of subsidiarity and gold-plating on the economy and employment’. It adds value and more aspects to the ongoing debate on Better Regulation to provide legal certainty, clear rules and ‘to ensure that regulatory burdens on businesses, citizens or public administrations are kept to a minimum’ (1). The existing level of protection of citizens, consumers, workers, investors and the environment in Member States must not be questioned when implementing the EU legislation.

1.2.

The EESC reiterates its demand that future-related issues including debates on competences and on the level of regulations must be addressed at national and European level with the full participation of social partners and other civil society organisations. This is a fundamental expression of multi-level participatory democracy and must therefore be strengthened in the EU and the Member States.

1.3.

The EESC underlines the paramount importance of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality to provide comprehensive and sound European law-making. It underlines that the EU should focus on areas in which EU law brings a significant added value. The European Commission (EC) should therefore identify issues which really need to be dealt with at EU level in the most efficient way. Whenever the decisions require due account being taken of national, regional and local characteristics, the respective authorities should have room for manoeuvre to specify these, with the active involvement of relevant stakeholders, including social partners.

1.4.

There are diverse views within the EESC regarding the term ‘gold-plating’ that reflect differences in the point of views of the various actors. Although there is no clear-cut definition, ‘gold-plating’ generally refers to a situation in which Member States introduce requirements above the minimum set out in EU legislation (mainly directives) in the course of transposition into national law. The EC should set out guidance in order to help the Member State to correctly transpose the respective requirements of a legal act while respecting the proportionality and subsidiarity principles, as well as fair competitive conditions.

1.5.

The EESC notes that — particularly in the light of subsidiarity and proportionality and in line with EU law — it is the Member States’ sole competence to introduce additional measures other than those foreseen by the EU (minimum) requirements in order to reflect their specific characteristics. Such decisions should be made in a transparent way, after consultation with social partners and stakeholders, and should be in conformity with EU legislation. In this connection, the EESC does not question Member States’ sovereignty, freedom and responsibility in establishing national laws and practices.

1.6.

The EESC calls on the European institutions and the Member States to strengthen their efforts to reduce unreasonable administrative burdens in order to boost growth and sustainable job creation.

1.6.1.

In the framework of the preparation of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027, the EESC urges the EC to swiftly take measures to tackle unnecessary administrative burdens which heavily impede ESIF investments — state aid, procurement compliance, audit practices and delayed or even retroactive adoption of universal detailed guidance.

1.6.2.

The EESC underlines that unnecessary regulatory and administrative burden are obstacles to maximising benefits and minimising the regulatory costs to businesses, citizens and public authorities. It reiterates the necessity of simplified, consistent and better quality regulation that should be well understood and implemented, with the equally indispensable involvement of all four levels of governance — EU, national, regional and local.

1.6.3.

As in previous opinions (2), the EESC recommends carrying out a thorough SME-test in EC impact assessments.

1.7.

The EESC reiterates that European minimum standards, especially in the context of EU social, consumer, environmental policies, aim at an approximation of living and working conditions across the EU towards upward convergence. Minimum standards in EU directives should not be understood as a ‘maximum level’, never to be strengthened in the course of their transposition into national legal systems. In the EESC’s view, popular acceptance of the European integration process, however, should not be jeopardised by regulatory competition through levelling down standards. All decisions must be taken in a transparent way and in an open dialogue with social partners and civil society organisations.

2.   Introduction

2.1.

The Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU requested an exploratory opinion from the EESC on ‘The impact of subsidiarity and gold plating on the economy and employment’.

2.2.

The EESC notes that the request addresses both the principle of subsidiarity and gold-plating and broadens the current debate on Better Regulation on which the EESC has expressed its views in various recently adopted opinions (3).

2.3.

The issue of subsidiarity has recently gained new relevance, not least with the White Paper on the Future of Europe. The Task Force on Subsidiarity and Proportionality, established by Commission President Juncker in November 2017, submitted a report with recommendations for improving the application of the principles of subsidiarity (4).

The EESC finds the character of the report to be restricted in some ways and believes that this reflects the limited composition of the Task Force. It therefore, strongly suggests that in the follow–up events representatives of civil society be actively included. The Committee considers it urgent to address the proportionality of European action and, more importantly, the areas in which the EU should intensify, reduce or even freeze its action in line with the interests of citizens, the economy and other societal interests.

2.4.

For the EESC, these future-related issues must be addressed at national and EU level with the participation of the social partners and other civil society organisations. Giving them as much room as the local and regional level in the preparation and implementation of national and EU policies would directly contribute to visibly practising horizontal subsidiarity.

2.5.

The EESC welcomes the Austrian Presidency’s acknowledgments of the value of including the broad expertise of social partners and civil society organisations in the design, implementation and evaluation of policy action at national and EU level. This is a fundamental expression of multi-level participatory democracy and must therefore be strengthened in the EU and the Member States.

2.6.

In this regard, the EESC calls upon the Task Force to take due account of its opinions on subsidiarity and proportionality, which are also the basis of the comments and recommendations in this opinion.

3.   The principle of subsidiarity

3.1.

The principle of subsidiarity set out in Article 5 TEU is intended to ensure that EU action does not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the Treaty objectives and that the EU acts only in those areas that do not fall under its exclusive competence if the objectives of a legislative measure can be achieved more effectively at EU level than at national, regional or local level.

3.2.

The EESC underlines the paramount importance of these principles in a supranational community such as the EU and expressly welcomes the instruments established by the Treaty of Lisbon for compliance with the principle of subsidiarity — from the subsidiarity review before the adoption of a legislative act to subsidiarity complaints by national legislative bodies.

3.3.

The EESC also stresses that all areas foreseen by the TFEU need a well-functioning Europe and that the principle of subsidiarity must not be used to counteract EU action, which has clear European added value, to give a priori precedence to national approaches or even to withdraw the EU from key policy areas in advance. Only rules with European added value should be adopted. The EESC believes that the challenges which the continent is currently facing do not call for renationalisation towards ‘less Europe’ but rather for bold steps towards a better and more citizen-friendly Europe that also promotes cohesion.

3.4.

The EESC acknowledges that the role of Member States in the implementation of EU legislation is especially crucial in the case of the transposition of directives, which are binding concerning the result to be achieved but leave to the national authorities the choice of implementing form and methods as well as to decide — in line with EU law — to improve standards if deemed useful. At the same time, transposition should not hinder fair competitive conditions between all Internal Market players, which is important to its correct functioning.

3.5.

While Member States are responsible for transposing directives accurately and on time, it is the European Commission’s role as Guardian of the Treaties to ensure proper implementation at national level. This ‘shared responsibility’ should be clearly visible from the very start of the legislative process: good implementation depends on a clear, transparent and comprehensive impact assessment as the basis of a new EU law, clear and simple language of the proposal and realistic implementation deadlines.

3.6.

The EESC warns that even when the above requirements are met, however, the implementation at national, regional and local levels can prove to be insufficient and/or ineffective. In this regard, it reiterates its call on the EC to systematically strengthen its efforts in line with its competences to pursue cases more quickly and rigorously where Member States incorrectly transpose EU legislation or fail to do so (5) after having explored all options of cooperation.

3.7.

The EESC notes that a number of legal and political commitments have been perceived as overstretching the competence of EU institutions and as interfering with Member States’ domains and choices (e.g. national industrial relations and trade union initiatives; pensions, health and other social security systems or professional regulations, e.g. qualification criteria in the health sector).

Therefore, the EESC equally objects not only to such an overstretching of competences by EU institutions but also to the transfer of important regulatory areas of the TFEU such as, for example, consumer protection, environmental protection standards and European social policy to national level under the pretext of subsidiarity.

4.   Avoiding unnecessary regulatory and administrative burden — ‘gold-plating’

4.1.   The ‘gold plating’ debate

4.1.1.

When transposing EU legislation, Member States sometimes introduce more stringent or advanced measures than those set out by requirements in EU legislation (mainly directives) or they do not use the options offered by the directive for possible simplification. This phenomenon in many documents is called ‘gold-plating’. In the first case it is considered as ‘active gold-plating’ in the second case as a ‘passive gold-plating’.

4.1.2.

The EESC has diverse views regarding ‘gold-plating’ that also reflect differences of views among the various actors. For some stakeholders it is seen as an excess of norms, guidelines and procedures accumulated at national, regional and local levels, which creates unnecessary administrative burden and interferes with the expected policy goals to be achieved by transposed regulation. However, other stakeholders are of the opinion that the use of the stigmatised term ‘gold-plating’ would risk questioning some advanced Member States’ standards adopted democratically and introduced to their legal systems, particularly in the fields of labour, consumer and environmental law, as well as regarding the free professions.

4.1.3.

The EESC calls for a pragmatic and balanced approach and for the purposes of this opinion will focus on neutral and more precise terminology — in line with the Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Regulation of May 2016.

4.2.   Definition of ‘gold-plating’

4.2.1.

The EESC suggests defining ‘gold-plating’ more precisely. For cases where Member States transpose the content of EU legislation in a more ambitious way (on substance or procedurally) or strives to be consistent with national legislation expressions like ‘more advanced provisions’, ‘more stringent provisions’ or ‘higher requirements’ might be used. The expression ‘gold-plating’ should be limited to cases of unreasonable and unnecessary add-ons to EU legislation in the course of its transposition into national law, which cannot be justified in light of one or more goals of the proposed measure or which bring additional unnecessary administrative burden. In any case the expression ‘gold-plating’ is very general, its translation into many national languages is misleading and should be replaced by much more concrete term.

4.2.2.

Independently of terminology (and even when the term ‘gold-plating’ may be used), the EESC reiterates that this concept should in particular not refer to:

Restricting established standards in fields such as labour, social, consumer or environmental law when transposing and implementing EU legislation;

National measures that have no (objective or temporal) connection to the transposition of EU-law;

Firming up the general provisions of EU law in the course of its transposition (e.g. establishing concrete legal sanctions in cases of infringement);

Applying one out of several explicit options for the transposition of EU law;

Advanced national provisions going beyond minimum standards based on ‘non-regression clauses’ in EU law;

Applying the content of a directive to similar cases so as to ensure coherence and consistency of national laws.

4.2.3.

The EESC reiterates that the principle of subsidiarity allows the Member States to introduce more stringent measures, exercising their right to ensure the achievement of different goals (e.g. economic, social or environmental) and to demonstrate their commitment to a high level of protection, to the specific character of legal instruments such as ‘directives’, as well as to certain limits of competences. The EESC underlines that such more stringent commitments should only be taken after a transparent and inclusive debate with the social partners and stakeholders and in a spirit of mutual understanding and a balanced decision-making process.

4.3.   ‘Gold-plating’ and Better Regulation

4.3.1.

In the context of the Better Regulation agenda, the EC recognises the right of Member States to go beyond the standards set out in EU legislation (‘gold-plating’), but it is concerned about the lack of transparency in this respect. The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria have established their systems to identify the cases of ‘gold-plating’. In the United Kingdom and in the Netherlands, ‘gold-plating’ is regulated by centralised official policies, aimed at fostering economic growth.

4.3.2.

The EESC in no way questions existing Treaty provisions, in particular EU or Member State competences, but reiterates the importance of respecting ‘the general principles of Union law, such as democratic legitimacy, subsidiarity and proportionality, and legal certainty’. This means, inter alia, respecting Member States’ democratic sovereignty, freedom and responsibility to design national laws and practices that take due account of the role of social partners in this respect. The EESC has always called for the promotion of simplicity, clarity and consistency in the drafting of Union legislation, as well as greater transparency in the legislative process.

4.3.3.

The EESC has repeatedly underlined that ‘European legislation is an essential factor in integration, not a burden or a cost to be reduced. On the contrary, when balanced, proportionate and non-discriminatory it is an important guarantee of protection, promotion and legal certainty for all European stakeholders and citizens’ (6). It reiterates its opinion that legislation is essential in order to achieve the objectives of the Treaty and to create the right environment for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that benefits the public, business and citizens (7). In line with Article 3 TFEU, legislation also helps to improve well-being, protect the public interest and fundamental rights, promote a high level of social and environmental protection and ensure legal certainty and predictability. It should also prevent distortion of competition and social dumping (8).

4.3.4.

In the course of the transposition of directives, Member States sometimes add elements that bear no clear relation to the EU legislation concerned. The EESC thinks that these add-ons should be made evident either by transposing law or through documents related to them. The legitimacy of Member States to complement EU acts as the result of minimum harmonisation has generally to be recognised as long as it is transparent and respects the principles of non-discrimination and proportionality. There are many examples of non-minimalistic transposition of directives in the Member Statesthat can be seen in gold-plating.

4.3.5.

Where harmonisation is minimal, the EESC underlines that Member States are able to draft provisions that seek to achieve job creation, better living and working conditions, adequate social protection, a high and sustainable employment rate and the combating of exclusion (Article 151 TFEU), the promotion and development of SMEs and high standards of health and consumer protection (Articles 168 and 169 TFEU), as well as the protection in the environmental sphere (Article 191 TFEU) — without, however, erecting needless regulatory or administrative burden.

4.4.

The EESC believes that the following measures will help to avoid unnecessary regulatory and administrative burden:

The EC should carry out integrated impact assessments (IAs) in the course of European legislation take due account of unnecessary burden and any other impact for any substantial regulatory text;

EU laws must be assessed on their own merits, on a case-by-case basis, in order to reach targeted harmonisation which allows, depending on the circumstances, a form of harmonisation that is advanced in some areas and less so in others. It is for the EC, through IAs, to suggest the most appropriate level of harmonisation, taking into account the need for a high level of protection;

When transposing EU legislation, Member States at national and regional level should be fully transparent about any supplementary requirement that could negatively affect the Single Market, competitiveness and growth;

The fact that one Member State imposes less strict rules than another does not automatically mean that the latter’s rules are disproportionate and incompatible with EU law. It is for the Member State to assess on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the viewpoints of all stakeholders and the entirety of the regulatory context. Impact Assessment could be an important tool to that end;

Any additional requirements during the transposition of directives should be accompanied by documents stating transparently specific reasons for these additions.

4.5.

To avoid putting enterprises and other stakeholders at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis their counterparts in other Member States, the EC should set out guidance in order to help Member States to correctly transpose the requirements of a legal act while respecting the proportionality and subsidiarity principles and fair competitive conditions. In this respect, the EESC reiterates its demand for the highest possible involvement of social partners and other relevant interests in the transposition exercises as well as the strong involvement of Member States and national and regional parliaments in the respective ex-post assessments (9).

4.6.

EESC recommendations for efficient transposition:

4.6.1.

Member States should pay attention to the relevant implementation deadlines in order to allow sufficient time for consultations with all relevant stakeholders:

When preparing the national framework positions for initial negotiations in the working bodies of the Member States, attention has to be paid to the transposition deadline;

They should check if EU directives provide for two deadlines, one for producing national implementing legislation and one concerning the date by which the legislation must take legal effect;

The transposition deadline must be followed and monitored along the whole legislative process;

The EC’s implementation plans provide support and assistance.

4.6.2.

Consultations:

At EU level, EC assistance provided during the implementation process, such as recommendations and discussions in expert groups may be useful and contribute to a common understanding among Member States;

The European Commission should adjust the existing transposition methodology (guidelines) not only to ensure that the transposition of directives is not conflicting with European law but also to safeguard the effectiveness of the transposition;

The provision by the EC of specialised web-based platforms (as the existing electronic notification interface) or an electronic database for concrete pieces of EU law to share best practices could be further developed. Multilevel governance should be fostered and include all relevant stakeholders.

4.6.3.

Terminology and delegated acts:

Member States are encouraged to check precise and agreed language along the whole negotiation process in the Council;

Basic terms and definitions must be clearly defined as soon as possible in the early stage of negotiations;

Different meanings of terms and definitions in the Member States need to be taken into account by the EC;

Definitions in a specific piece of legislation should be consistent with those in other EU legislation;

Delegated acts should be subject to requirements as per Article 290 TFEU, providing clear and explicit definitions in the basic legislative text;

Delegated acts should only be considered for non-essential elements of the legislative act and only these parts may be supplemented or amended (10).

5.   Specific sensitive areas

5.1.   European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF)

5.1.1.

The European cohesion policy, namely Structural Funds and the European Social Fund in particular, are implemented in a complex administrative, institutional and regulatory environment and are a specific field where unnecessary and burdensome transposition may have a negative effect on EU policies. In this context, national and/or regional rules often ‘add to’ rather than only ensure that minimum (European) requirements are addressed. Many of these rules lead to additional administrative burden. It should be noted that additional requirements often rest on the assumption that they are important, useful, necessary, and the result of a democratic process.

5.1.2.

In the framework of the preparation of the MFF for the period 2021-2027, the EESC urges the EC to take measures swiftly to tackle unnecessary administrative burden which heavily impedes ESIF investments — state aid, procurement compliance, audit practices and delayed or even retroactive adoption of universal detailed guidance. Reducing or avoiding unnecessary administrative burden is a joint responsibility of all players.

5.1.3.

Inappropriate practices could generate lack of trust across the overall ESIF implementation system. These include a risk-averse approach at all levels, lack of consistency in interpreting responses from different DGs of the EC, persisting gaps in the harmonisation of ESIF rules at national, local and regional level, fear of non-compliance with state aid rules, different public procurement policy approaches at EU (accent on transparency) and national (accent on value for money) level on and divergent national administrative cultures.

5.1.4.

Inappropriate practices could also adversely affect beneficiaries as well as programme bodies and increase administrative costs and burden of ESIF implementation, making it less attractive. Due to the lack of alternative dispute resolution systems, companies and particularly SMEs could be adversely affected by late payment, administrative overload, inappropriate control, refusal of projects, exclusion from collective actions, etc. For these reasons, the EESC calls for the creation of specialised dispute resolution systems.

5.1.5.

Recommendations for future action for the period 2021-2027:

5.1.5.1.

Reducing administrative burdens in the area of management and control:

Swift action at EU and national level to identify and, if possible, eliminate redundant practices, processes and procedures and to suggest more effective solutions based on good practices;

‘Shared management’ is a substantial cause for the complexity of ESIF. The ‘integrated approach’ where the administration and control of ESIF is carried out on the basis of national standards (‘devolved management’), should be applied;

Member States to carry out self-reviews of their audit, management and control systems with a view to detecting and eliminating excessive and overlapping rules, while at the same time safeguarding the correct use of EU funds;

The EC to take better account of the intensity of the aid and the specifics of the different implementation models and mechanisms (i.e. grants, financial instruments, simplified costs, etc.) when developing relevant rules and procedures.

5.1.5.2.

The EESC calls for simplifying and streamlining state aid rules, including by removing all sources of uncertainty in their application. Possible amendments should be considered, including to the applicable rules where necessary, so that similar ESIF projects are treated in the same way as those funded from EFSI and programmes directly managed by the EC, such as Horizon 2020. At the same time, the EESC warns that interpretation and guidance notes and questions-and-answer-based documents must be limited, so that they do not become another layer of de facto legislation. It recommends replacing them with a wide dissemination of good practices, and avoiding retro-active application. It calls on the EC to refrain from preparing guidelines which are valid for all Member States on the basis of a request or problems in one or a few Member States.

5.1.5.3.

In order to address the different approaches when dealing with public procurement rules, the EESC suggests creating a joint group task force consisting of relevant DGs and Funds representatives consistently interpreting the rules when necessary and providing consistent advice and a uniform approach of financial corrections.

5.1.5.4.

The EESC is of the view that subsidiarity should be better applied in the implementation of ESIF, leaving it to national authorities to verify the respect of national rules. It invites the Member States to make full use of the simplification options provided in the new programming period and to refrain from gold-plating, which relates here to all norms, guidelines and implementing procedures which can be deemed unnecessary with respect to the policy objectives set by the Managing Authorities, and to eliminate unnecessary administrative burden.

5.2.   Towards Better Regulation

5.2.1.

The EESC underlines that unnecessary regulatory and administrative burden are obstacles to for businesses, citizens and public authorities. It reiterates the need for simplified, consistent and better-quality regulation that should be well understood and implemented in a transparent way, with the equally indispensable involvement of all four levels of governance — EU, national, local and regional.

5.2.2.

Some Member Stateshave National Committees to which governments have to justify more stringent regulation than minimum levels laid down in EU legislation (‘gold plating’). In Member States where such bodies do not exist it is not necessary to create new administrative bodies, but nevertheless the process of adopting any requirements above EU standards in these countries should be transparent.

5.2.3.

As in previous opinions (11), the EESC recommends carrying out SME tests in the impact assessments on proposals for new European legislative acts more efficiently. It calls on the Member States to take advantage of options to grant exemptions to micro companies on certain rules in line with EU law. The EESC reiterates its view that regulatory burden reduction targets should be based on a comprehensive evaluation including civil society and stakeholder dialogue. The existing level of protection of citizens, consumers, workers, investors and the environment in Member State must not be questioned when implementing the EU legislation (12).

5.2.4.

The EESC reiterates the parity and homogeneity of the different goals of EU-policies according to the Treaty, underlining in particular a highly competitive socially responsible market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.

5.2.5.

The EESC invites the EC, whenever reasonable and justified to take into consideration the use of incentive-based models and international standards and guidelines.

6.   Impact on employment, consumer and environmental standards

6.1.

In recent decades, a number of EU-wide minimum standards have been established in consumer, environmental and worker protection which aim to bring about upward convergence of living and working conditions in the Union, i.e. more social convergence as per Article 151 TFEU.

6.2.

The EU legislator has deliberately left room for minimum standards to be implemented by Member States in line with EU treaty principles, especially while respecting proportionality. As a result, directives provide that Member States can take their higher standards into account in their implementation process. The EESC underlines that, whenever Member States decide to go for more ambitious protection standards, Better Regulation principles could, among other considerations, be taken into account.

6.3.

These national standards are the result of democratic negotiation processes involving to a considerable extent European and national social partners and are of benefit to employees, consumers and companies. In line with the objectives of the EU Treaty, setting such minimum standards should aim to ensure the better functioning of the single market and while at the same time not adversely affect higher levels of protection at national level. Minimum standards in EU law often even explicitly include ‘non-regression clauses’ stating that the implementation of the directive may not be used as justification for lowering eventual higher national standards to the European standard. This does not mean, however, that national standards are set in stone and can never be changed.

6.4.

In the course of national transposition of EU law, impact assessments could be used by Member States to check social, economic and other effects.

6.5.

In social policy as in consumer and environmental protection, EU legislation made sure that higher standards in Member States are not be undermined and should be safeguarded, while including all stakeholders in IAs. In this respect, the EESC has repeatedly expressed the view that the Better Regulation Agenda should deliver high-quality EU laws without undermining key policy objectives or creating deregulation pressure on social and environmental protection standards as well as on fundamental rights (13).

6.6.

The EESC reiterates that European minimum standards, especially in the context of EU social policy, aim at an approximation of living and working conditions across the EU towards upward social convergence. Minimum standards in EU directives should not be understood as a ‘maximum level’ not to be exceeded in the course of their transposition into national legal systems.

6.7.

The EESC supports the Better Regulation process and recognises its value added. At the same time, it warns that it by no means should be used as an excuse for downgrading requirements, especially in such areas as consumer, environmental and labour law, promoting prosperity growth and sustainable job creation. The EESC warns that this would fuel growing EU scepticism among broad sections of the population. In the EESC’s view, popular acceptance of the European unification process should not be jeopardised by regulatory competition through levelling down standards.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/law-making-process/planning-and-proposing-law/better-regulation-why-and-how_en#need.

(2)  OJ C 197, 8.6.2018, p. 1.

(3)  OJ C 434, 15.12.2017, p.11; OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 192; OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 45; OJ C 487, 28.12.2016, p. 51; OJ C 262, 25.7.2018, p. 22.

(4)  https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/report-task-force-subsidiarity-proportionality-doing-less-more-efficiently_1.pdf

(5)  OJ C 262, 25.7.2018, p. 22; OJ C 18, 19.1.2017, p. 10.

(6)  See, inter alia, point 1.2. of the EESC opinion on REFIT (OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 45).

(7)  COM(2012) 746 final, p. 2.

(8)  OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 45, pt 2.1.

(9)  OJ C 262, 25.7.2018, p. 22, pt. 1.2.

(10)  CES248-2013 (Information Report) (OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 145).

(11)  OJ C 197, 8.6.2018, p.1.

(12)  OJ C 262, 25.7.2018, p. 22, pt. 4.7.1 and 4.8.3.

(13)  OJ C 262, 25.7.2018, p. 22 (pt. 1.1 and 3.4.); OJ C 303, 19.8.2016, p. 45 (pt. 2.1-2.2, 2.5); OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 192 (pt. 2.4).


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/37


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Digital gender gap’

(Exploratory opinion requested by the European Parliament)

(2018/C 440/06)

Rapporteur:

Giulia BARBUCCI

Exploratory opinion from the European Parliament

Letter, 19.4.2018

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

19.7.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

176/2/6

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The causes of digital gender gap are multiple, and actions must therefore address different fields: the education system from childhood to adulthood, the labour market, work-life balance, public services and the digital divide in general. It is recommended that a multidisciplinary approach be used that brings together different aspects of innovation (technological, social, cultural etc.).

1.2.

The digital gender divide is not merely a technological issue: it is an economic, social and cultural one, to be addressed with multi-level and holistic policies, in order to address gender inequality at its deepest social and cultural roots.

1.3.

It is important to take action to increase the number of women in STEM, as this can also improve conditions in other sectors, as well as in the whole of the economy and society. At the same time it is essential to recognise the growing importance ICT-related education, as well as of cross-cutting, entrepreneurial, digital and soft skills (such as empathy, creativity and complex problem-solving) in the digital age in all sectors. Interdisciplinary education and human-centred skillsets will be essential and education systems should take these aspects into consideration.

1.4.

It is essential to ensure digital literacy and education for all, with a particular focus on girls, in order to remove the digital gender gap at its roots. More female digital role models are of primary importance in overcoming stereotyping.

1.5.

It is necessary to encourage women’s participation in technical and high-level jobs by overcoming educational and professional barriers and stereotypes as well as guaranteeing digital lifelong learning to prevent women’s exclusion from the labour market.

1.6.

Teachers and trainers should be provided with the right tools to use ICT at all levels to teach, promoting democracy and more inclusive and personalised education and training systems.

1.7.

To prevent the spiral of feminisation of poverty, fair working conditions and access to social protection (1) must be guaranteed. This is especially true in the ‘gig economy’ (2). Social dialogue and collective bargaining play a fundamental role in this regard.

1.8.

The presence of women in ICT developers’ jobs may help to overcome the gender bias that may be included in the design of a given technology.

1.9.

Female entrepreneurship must be supported by removing barriers to women’s access to self-employment and improving access to and quality of social protection measures (3).

1.10.

‘Smartworking’ and teleworking should be monitored in order to avoid the risks of blurring of boundaries between care, work and private life.

1.11.

It is important to enhance labour market participation of women with disabilities, implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (4).

1.12.

The digitalisation of the public sector represents a great opportunity for facilitating the participation of women in the labour market and assisting women with care responsibilities as well as for overcoming obstacles related to bureaucracy and access to public services.

1.13.

It is important to tackle gender stereotypes: this issue must be considered in every policy and in every field, and should be addressed at its deepest social and cultural roots.

1.14.

One of the main obstacles women face in participation in online activities and social networks is cyber-bullying. The Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence must be ratified and applied.

1.15.

All policies at national, European and international level should take into consideration discrimination against women in the digital field, which also has a negative impact on the economy and society in general.

1.16.

Public policies should be designed with a gender perspective (mainstreaming). Gender budgeting and gender lens can be useful tools in this regard.

1.17.

The EESC encourages the European Commission to strengthen the ‘Women in Digital’ Task Force and the ‘Digital4Her’ initiative. It is important to create and develop European networks of women in the digital field promoting the participation of girls and women in digital studies and careers across the EU.

1.18.

The European Commission should recommend that EU countries set national targets and indicators to monitor the situation (annual scoreboard). Improvements or worsening should be measured, also through research conducted by EIGE. Country-specific recommendations in this field could be directed to Member States in the European Semester process.

1.19.

The social partners at the appropriate levels are committed to, and have a key role to play in, enhancing gender equality in education and the labour market in order to tackle the digital gender gap. In particular the role of collective bargaining is crucial in lifelong learning and in the labour market, in addressing gender roles, promoting the role of women in decision-making and in various bodies, supporting work-life balance and tackling the gender pay gap (5).

1.20.

The EESC recommends that the European Parliament support these recommendations for the next EP legislature, this topic being fundamental for the future development of Europe.

2.   Introduction

2.1.   Gender inequality

2.1.1.

In his speech to the European Parliament on the political priorities of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker stated that discrimination should not take place in the European Union, making the area of justice and fundamental rights one of the ten political priorities of the Commission’s work. Gender equality is part of this area, even though the Charter of Fundamental Rights already plays an important role in this field, providing that ‘equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay’ (6). Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner in charge of Digital Economy and Society, has recently outlined actions as part of her strategy to facilitate an increase in the participation of women in the digital sector. It is therefore necessary to ensure the follow-up to the Digital4Her declaration signed by IT companies, providing for an inclusive and gender-balanced work culture and environment.

2.1.2.

Women continue to be discriminated against in the labour market and in society in general. The Gender Equality Index — which measures inequality in the domains of work, time, money, knowledge, power, violence and health — shows that progress in these fields is slow: the index increased from 62 points in 2005 to 65 points in 2012 and 66,2 points in 2017 (7). The causes of this discrimination are multiple. To overcome the imbalances arising from this discrimination, the first chapter of the European Pillar of Social Rights concerns equal opportunities and access to the labour market, in recognition of the fact that gender equality and equal opportunities are the fields in which discrimination is more common.

2.1.3.

The digital gender gap is a form of inequality arising from discrimination affecting women, which is likely to constitute an unbearable obstacle to women’s participation at European and global level. It slows down the growth of the European economy of the future, characterised by digitalisation. Nowadays, 68 % of men and 62 % of women use a PC and the internet regularly, 33 % of men and 18 % of women install software on their devices, and 47 % of men and 35 % of women use online banking services (8). In addition, despite representing more than half of total graduates, women continue to be under-represented in science and ICT (Information and Communications Technology) courses: they represent about a third of the total employees in the sector, with different percentages depending on the specific job (8 % software, 54 % in lower level positions among IT operators). This opinion aims to provide recommendations and proposals in order to overcome imbalances in relation to the education system and the labour market.

2.1.4.

Women also face more difficulties in going online because of cyber-bullying: online harassment is much more targeted at girls (according to EIGE data, 51 % of women face online harassment vs. 42 % of men) (9). The Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence must be ratified and applied.

2.2.   Digitalisation and digital divide

2.2.1.

Digitalisation is not merely a technological process, but an economic, social, societal and cultural one.

2.2.2.

According to a European Commission study (10), digitalisation could add EUR 415 billion annually to EU GDP and more women in digital jobs could create an annual EUR 16 billion boost to EU GDP. At the same time, companies face difficulties in recruiting ICT specialists, so there is room for more employment and better education in the digital field.

2.2.3.

The digital divide includes not only limited access to an internet connection but also the lack of the basic skills necessary to use ICT tools. One aspect of the digital divide is the digital gender divide. According to International Telecommunication Union gender-disaggregated data for 91 economies, in 2017 overall internet penetration is 44,9 % for women compared to 50,9 % for men; according to Eurostat data, in 2017 71 % of women had daily internet access as against 74 % of men, and 49 % of women had internet banking as against 54 % of men (11). It is important to frame the issue both from the labour market side — digitalisation will concern all workers — and from the user point of view — everyone is a technology user.

2.2.4.

Often the digital divideintersects with other kinds of discrimination: being part of an ethnic minority, living in a rural area, being an immigrant, disabled, poor, etc. Technology may help to overcome these barriers, making the world more inclusive for all, but — if this process is not driven by social actors — may also emphasise them.

2.2.5.

The digital gender divide is an economic, social, societal and cultural issue, to be addressed with multi-level and holistic policies, as it leads to growing gender inequality. Moreover, gender inequality must be considered in every policy and in every field, and should be addressed at its deepest social and cultural roots.

2.2.6.

The qualitative impact of digitalisation on skills needs is also interesting from the gender perspective because women are more represented in some jobs and under-represented in others, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Action is needed to increase the number of women in STEM.

2.2.7.

However, it is also essential to recognise the growing importance of soft skills in the digital age in all sectors: the main feature of artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of Things (IoT) is that machines are becoming more sensitive and smarter, with the result that the human workforce only becomes irreplaceable if it competes based on actual human skills such as the capacity to adapt to changes and to cooperate. Empathy, creativity and complex problem-solving in today’s society are more often taught to and developed by girls rather than boys (12). A multidisciplinary approach is recommended that brings together different aspects of innovation (technological, social, cultural, etc.) in an attempt not only to counter risks but also to seize the opportunities of digitalisation for women.

2.2.8.

Special attention must be devoted to people with disabilities — and women in particular — whose situation is ‘not only worse than that of women without disabilities’ (13). That is why it is important to provide ‘equal access to various components of ICT facilities and why the information society should be ensured for women and girls with disabilities’ (14).

3.   The digital gender gap in the education system

3.1.

The education system is the main policy area to be addressed. There is a decrease in women taking up ICT-related higher education when compared to 2011 (15). Improving digital literacy and skills for women at all levels is therefore essential in order to allow them to participate actively in the development of society and to benefit from opportunities arising from digitalisation and avoid being left behind. Women with disabilities should have the right to an inclusive and high-quality education. Cultural and linguistic stereotypes must be tackled, providing girls with different role models, especially in the media sector. Moreover, ICT tools can be used in teaching and class’ activities.

3.2.

In primary education, it is essential to ensure digital literacy and education for all, in order to ensure the adaptive capacity of future men and women to the rapidly evolving technologies. According to the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), which measures the educational progress of 15 year-olds across OECD countries, there are almost four times as many boys as girls who aspire to a career in STEM (16). According to an EIGE study, across the EU from 3 % to 15 % of teenage boys aspire to work as ICT professionals, but in only four EU countries did 1 % to 3 % of teenage girls aspire to work as ICT professionals. Moreover, even if youth digital skills in the EU are equal between boys and girls, boys still feel more confident about their digital skills: again this is a problem of mis-perception and gender stereotypes (17). ‘The EESC reminds Member States of the need to invest in non-discriminatory and inclusive education systems’ (18).

3.3.

It is important to train the trainers to use ICT as a tool for teaching. A focus on girls is of primary importance in order to remove the digital gender gap at its roots and to promote more inclusive and personalised education and training systems. Digital tools may also be useful to reduce the bureaucratic burdens on teachers and trainers (19).

3.4.

In secondary and tertiary interdisciplinary education, girls are still taking fewer STEM courses than boys: less than 1 in 5 ICT graduates are women (20). Interdisciplinary education and human-centred soft skills will also be essential.

3.5.

Dual learning and VET (Vocational Education and Training) should be strengthened and take into consideration girls’ access to technical and on-the-job learning (21).

4.   Digital gender gap in the labour market

4.1.

It is necessary to encourage women’s participation in technical jobs and high-level jobs, overthrowing educational and professional barriers and stereotypes. Increased presence of women in ICT could benefit this sector and the whole economy and society.

4.2.

To overcome the digital gender gap in the labour market the role of social partners at company, national and European level is of primary importance. Social dialogue and collective bargaining can propose acceptable solutions, taking into account the needs of both employers and workers (22). Increasing women in STEM and high-level jobs can also contribute to reducing the gender pay gap.

4.3.

Lifelong learning is essential to prevent exclusion from the labour market and this is even more important for women. The role of social partners is crucial here.

4.4.

Polarisation of the labour market and the ‘gig economy’: even if machines could technically replace low-skilled jobs (both manual and intellectual, due to the IoT, sensors, AI technologies), if these jobs are precarious and no rights are ensured it may be easier for companies to hire people at low cost rather than invest in new machines. This is already true in the so-called ‘gig economy’. In these contexts, no social protection along the lines of standard forms of work is ensured (23): owing to the informal nature of this kind of job, women risk moving away from traditional employment with social benefits in favour of ‘gig’ work which is more readily available and sometimes more easily managed in terms of working time. To prevent the spiral of the feminisation of poverty (24), fair working conditions must be guaranteed and a development model based on the ‘high-road’ should be promoted by all stakeholders. Here, the role of the social partners and of collective bargaining is fundamental (25).

4.5.

Technology is not neutral: while software or an algorithm should reduce the subjectivity that is typical of a human process or decision, if a cultural bias (such as gender bias) is introduced into it, then it will always reproduce this kind of discrimination on a structural (rather than casual) basis. That is why people who work in the design of these systems should be as diverse as possible. Nowadays, only 17 % of the 8 million people working in ICT are women (26); moreover, across the EU, only 20 % of women aged 30 and over who hold ICT-related degrees decide to stay in the technology industry (27). Increasing participation of women in these jobs — and thus diversity — may help to overcome bias that may be included in the design of a given technology.

4.6.

Break the ‘glass ceiling’ for a more digital economic system: Only 32 % of economic leaders are women (28) although it is proved that businesses with women in decision-making positions have better governance styles, which are usually more ‘horizontal’ and encourage diversity and creative and innovative thinking. Hence, if companies develop gender policies in order to promote women to the highest levels of the organisation, the company will benefit in terms of innovation capacity. Applied on a broad scale, this will in turn benefit the whole economic system.

4.7.

The European production system is largely made up of SMEs which face more difficulties when investing in new technologies. At the same time, digital technologies facilitate micro-entrepreneurship: through some digital tools (such as e-commerce) it is possible for micro-SMEs to reach global markets, and, in general terms, to remove barriers to access to self-employment. ‘According to the 2nd European Start-up Monitor, only 14,8 % of start-up founders are female’ (29). This problem is related to weaker business networks, stereotypes and inadequate financial support. Digitalisation can create the right environment for female entrepreneurship, Education and support services must be guaranteed in order to enable women to open their own business using the digital technologies available.

5.   Digitalisation and work-life balance

5.1.

According to an EIGE study, in ICT jobs there are longer working hours than in other sectors (30). The first issue to be addressed is therefore the sharing of care work between men and women: it is important to take action toward a more equal sharing of care work between the genders, also by adopting the proposal for a Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers (31).

5.2.

‘Smartworking’ and teleworking are often seen as tools for balancing work and private life taking into account both risks and opportunities. If smartworking can help workers to manage their private lives (especially by removing ‘dead time’ spent travelling to and from work), it is also true that, if not well managed, smartworking may lead to the blurring of boundaries between care, work and leisure time. Smartworking must be managed through specific company collective agreements in order to adapt to the cultural context, the means of production and the organisation of labour. In the longer run, smartworking may also change the way people live in cities (and rural areas) and social spaces.

5.3.

Digital tools can also represent an opportunity for those excluded from the labour market. These tools can also facilitate women’s participation in the labour market. Women with disabilities are however much more excluded from the labour market (32). Therefore it is very important to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (33).

6.   Digitalisation of the public sector

6.1.

Due to increased life expectancy and low birth rates, the European population is getting older and the burden of care work for middle-aged women is increasing. While it is essential to achieve equal sharing of care work between the genders, it is also important to recognise that digitalisation — and especially robotics — in the public sector represents a great opportunity to facilitate the participation of women in the labour market and to assist women with any care responsibilities they may have.

6.2.

Robotics may automate and — more importantly — ease some of the heaviest tasks involved in care work (such as moving an invalid person), help the rehabilitation of injured people, prevent diseases, etc. These technologies may improve the whole society’s quality of life, in particular women’s, as well as women’s participation in the labour market in two ways: it could ease work in the personal care service sector, where women are heavily represented, and may benefit women that provide unpaid care, but only if these technologies are available and guaranteed to all those in need.

6.3.

Digital technologies may also have a deep impact on all bureaucratic procedures linked to public services. Some countries are already applying this kind of technology on a broad scale, creating a unique digital identity for all procedures related to the public sector (taxes, health care, education, etc.). Expanding this process could improve the quality of life but it is also important to be aware of (and prevent) the risks related to data control by a single actor (even if this is a public authority), and to privacy, cybersecurity, transparency and ethics (34).

6.4.

Public administration should prepare gender budgets for all services and activities, to promote equality and consider the impact of policies on women. Every decision on investment should be taken using the ‘gender lens’ in three domains: gender equality in the workplace, access to capital for women and products and services that benefit women.

6.5.

While in some countries the digitalisation of the public sector is already advanced, in others this process is only beginning and this could be an opportunity to train and employ more women in the public sector, from a gender perspective.

6.6.

In order to develop digitalisation, the necessary infrastructure, such as broadband, 5G etc., should be made available with no geographical discrimination.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  SOC/581 — EESC opinion on ‘Access to social protection’ (See page 135 of this Official Journal).

(2)  The Social Protection of Workers in the Platform Economy, European Parliament, 7.12.2017.

(3)  OJ C 173, 31.5.2017, p. 45.

(4)  EESC opinion on ‘The situation of women with disabilities’ (OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 20).

(5)  A Toolkit for Gender Equality in Practice’ by the European Social Partners ETUC, BusinessEurope, CEEP and UEAPME.

(6)  Chapter III, Article 23.

(7)  EIGE, Gender Equality Index 2017 Report.

(8)  See EP Resolution of 17 April 2018.

(9)  EIGE, Youth, digitalisation and gender equality: opportunities and risks of digital technologies for girls and boys, 2018 (forthcoming).

(10)  Vessela Karloukovska, DG-CNECT, Task Force ‘Women in Digital’, European Commission.

(11)  Eurostat data.

(12)  Martha Ochoa (UNi Global Union) ‘The path to genderless digitalisation’.

(13)  EESC opinion on ‘The situation of women with disabilities’ (OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 20), para 2.1.

(14)  Idem, para. 5.3.6.

(15)  ‘Women in the Digital Age’, European Commission, 2018.

(16)  Dr Konstantina Davaki, author of the study ‘The underlying causes of the digital gender gap and possible solutions for enhanced digital inclusion of women and girls’.

(17)  Lina Salanauskaite, European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

(18)  EESC opinion on ‘EU Action Plan 2017-2019 — Tackling the gender pay gap’ para. 4.4 (OJ C 262, 25.7.2018, p. 101).

(19)  Ekaterina Efimenko, European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE).

(20)  Vessela Karloukovska, DG-CNECT, Task Force ‘Women in Digital’, European Commission.

(21)  OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 161; OJ C 434, 15.12.2017, p. 36.

(22)  EESC opinion on ‘EU concepts for transition management in a digitalised world of work’ (OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 15).

(23)  EESC opinions ‘For a European Framework directive on a Minimum Income’ (to be adopted in December’s Plenary Session) and ‘Access to social protection’ (See page 135 of this Official Journal).

(24)  Mary Collins, European Women’s Lobby (EWL); (OJ C 129, 11.4.2018, p. 7).

(25)  See e.g. the European social partners’ agreements, as well as the proposal for a Directive on work-life balance and the European Pillar of Social Rights.

(26)  Vessela Karloukovska, DG-CNECT, Task Force ‘Women in Digital’, European Commission.

(27)  Mary Collins, European Women’s Lobby (EWL).

(28)  Vessela Karloukovska, DG-CNECT, Task Force ‘Women in Digital’, European Commission.

(29)  ‘Women in the digital age’, study for the EP.

(30)  Lina Salanauskaite, European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

(31)  COM(2017) 253.

(32)  EESC opinion on ‘The situation of women with disabilities’ (OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 20), para. 5.4.1.

(33)  EESC opinion on ‘The situation of women with disabilities’ (OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 20), para. 1.2, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities.

(34)  Digital Public Services (e-Government and e-Health).


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/45


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Bioeconomy — contributing to achieving the EU’s climate and energy goals and the UN’s sustainable development goals’

(exploratory opinion)

(2018/C 440/07)

Rapporteur:

Tellervo KYLÄ-HARAKKA-RUONALA

Co-rapporteur:

Andreas THURNER

Consultation

Austrian Council Presidency, 12.2.2018

Legal basis

Article 302 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Exploratory opinion

Plenary Assembly decision

13.3.2018

Section responsible

Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment

Adopted in section

5.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

180/1/4

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC considers that the bioeconomy is about creating added value for society by producing, converting and using biological natural resources. The transition to carbon-neutrality and circularity will increasingly act as a driver for the bioeconomy, as a sustainable bioeconomy has the potential to generate economic, social and climate benefits simultaneously.

1.2.

The EESC points out that the bioeconomy contributes to climate change mitigation in several ways: by sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere in biomass, by storing carbon in bio-based products and by substituting fossil-based feedstocks and products with bio-based ones.

1.3.

The Committee also points out that the bioeconomy contributes to the EU’s climate and energy targets by replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy in electricity production, in heating and cooling and in transport. It also contributes to energy efficiency and the security of energy supply.

1.4.

The EESC is convinced that the bioeconomy plays a vital role in achieving the overall economic, environmental and social goals called for in the UN Agenda 2030 (Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs). The bioeconomy’s role is closely related to goals pertaining to industry and agriculture and to the creation of jobs in these areas.

1.5.

The Committee calls for the EU Bioeconomy Strategy to be adapted in order to provide, in line with economic, environmental and social sustainability, the most favourable conditions for the European bioeconomy to create a competitive edge for the EU.

1.6.

The EESC emphasises that policymakers must promote sustainable biomass production and mobilisation in the EU and ensure a stable, reliable and coherent framework for investments in the bioeconomy throughout value chains. Furthermore, policymakers should enhance the demand for bio-based products via public procurement, and adopt a coherent framework for technical, safety and state aid rules to provide a level playing field for bio-based products.

1.7.

The EESC considers research and innovation to be key for the development of a future-proof bioeconomy. The innovation efforts promoted by the Bioeconomy Strategy should thus be continued, including the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU).

1.8.

The Committee underlines the crucial role of education, advisory services, knowledge transfer and training for ensuring that workers and entrepreneurs have the necessary information and skills. People should be well-informed about the bioeconomy and made aware of their responsibilities so that they can be active consumers and make sustainable consumption decisions.

1.9.

The EESC stresses that proper infrastructure is a prerequisite for the bioeconomy and requires adequate funding. Efficient transport systems are needed to enable access to raw materials and the distribution of products to markets.

1.10.

The EESC recommends that the EU should strive for a global pricing system for carbon emissions, which would be a neutral and effective way of promoting the bioeconomy and bringing all market players on board to mitigate climate change.

1.11.

The EESC is convinced that involving civil society in bioeconomy initiatives and decision-making processes is paramount. The Committee stresses that it is vital to ensure that the transition to a low-carbon economy takes place fairly.

1.12.

The EESC highlights that a sustainable bioeconomy can only succeed by adopting a cross-sectoral approach. Coherence and coordination between the various EU policies and objectives are therefore needed. It is also important to ensure that measures at Member State level are coherent.

2.   Background

2.1.

The Austrian Presidency of the Council asked the EESC to draw up an exploratory opinion on the role of the bioeconomy in achieving the EU’s climate and energy goals and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Meanwhile, the EESC is currently preparing an own-initiative opinion on the new opportunities opened up by the sustainable and inclusive bioeconomy for the European economy (CCMI/160).

2.2.

At the same time, the European Commission is updating the 2012 European Bioeconomy Strategy. The EESC is monitoring this process and welcomes the Commission’s efforts. The Commission has defined the bioeconomy as ‘the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value-added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy’.

2.3.

Generally speaking, the bioeconomy involves replacing fossil fuels and fossil feedstock with bio-based energy and raw materials. The bioeconomy entails economic activities that are based on the production, extraction, conversion and use of biological natural resources. Waste streams, by-products and residues can be another main source for the supply of raw materials.

2.4.

Agriculture and forestry, together with fisheries, have a fundamental role to play in producing biomass for further use. A wide variety of industries (such as the forestry, food, chemical, energy, textile and construction industries) convert biomass, including secondary raw materials, into consumer commodities or intermediate products intended for other businesses. As a rule, the bioeconomy is based on extensive value chains, including transport, commerce and other services related to the above-mentioned activities. Additionally, ecosystem services are part of the bioeconomy.

2.5.

The EU is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 % by 2030 compared to 1990 levels (1), with separate targets and rules for the emissions trading sectors and other sectors. In addition, land use, land use change and forestry, i.e. the LULUCF sector, have been integrated into the 2030 framework, with the requirement that this sector does not generate net emissions but contributes to the aim of enhancing carbon sinks in the long term. This reflects the requirements of Article 4.1 of Paris Agreement, which calls for ‘a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century’ (2).

2.6.

In keeping with EU energy targets for the year 2030, energy efficiency should be increased by 32,5 % compared to projections, and the share of renewable energy in the overall energy mix should be 32 %, both expressed as common EU targets rather than Member State targets (3).

2.7.

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cover the different facets of the economic, social and environmental challenges being faced globally. While none of the SDGs focuses specifically on the bioeconomy, it is nevertheless linked to several of these goals.

3.   Contribution of the bioeconomy to the EU’s climate and energy goals

3.1.

The transition to carbon neutrality is a huge challenge and requires a considerable reduction in emissions as well as an increase in carbon storage. The sustainable use of bio-based natural resources is a key element here.

3.2.

The bioeconomy contributes to climate change mitigation through several mechanisms: sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere in biomass via photosynthesis, storage of carbon in bio-based products and substitution of fossil-based feedstocks and products with bio-based ones.

3.2.1.

Effective absorption of CO2 requires sustainable biomass growth. Active and sustainable forest management and the use of wood are key elements in achieving the climate targets (as already outlined in NAT/655 (4) on the implications of climate and energy policy and NAT/696 (5) on effort sharing and the LULUCF sector). One m3 of wood captures around 1000kg of CO2. As only growing biomass has the capacity to absorb CO2, it is crucial not to set limits on the use of forests, provided that the harvesting rate does not exceed the replanting and growth rate of forests and sustainable forest management practices are followed.

3.2.2.

Several kinds of bio-based products exist and new products are being developed. Such products can store carbon, thereby keeping it out of the atmosphere. Long-lasting wood products such as buildings and high-quality furniture are the most effective means of carbon storage. As long as shorter-living bio-based products are being recycled, they will not release their carbon content either. Moreover, at the end of their lifetime, bio-based products can be used as bioenergy and thereby replace fossil energy sources.

3.3.

Bioenergy also contributes to the EU’s energy efficiency goal. District heating in communities and sustainable industrial Combined Heat and Power (CHP) production are good examples of this. As buildings consume a significant amount of energy, the energy efficiency of buildings, together with the energy source used, is very important.

3.4.

Transport has a decisive role to play in achieving the climate targets. All kinds of measures that help decrease greenhouse gas emissions are therefore needed, given the different needs and characteristics of the various transport modes (as outlined in several EESC opinions, such as TEN/609 (6) on the decarbonisation of transport).

3.4.1.

Electrification of transport seems to be a rising trend. To have a positive impact on climate, electricity must be produced using energy sources with low greenhouse gas emissions, including sustainable bio-based energy sources.

3.4.2.

Fossil fuels in transport are partially replaced by sustainable biofuels. Despite increasing electrification of passenger cars, aviation and shipping as well as heavy road transport and off-road machinery remain largely dependent on fuels. In this respect, advanced biofuels are particularly promising.

3.5.

In addition to climate benefits, the use of bioenergy contributes to the availability of energy and the security of energy supply. If properly managed, bioenergy will therefore play a significant role in achieving the basic goals set out in European energy policy.

4.   Contribution of the bioeconomy to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

4.1.

The SDGs challenge us to assess the role of the bioeconomy, not only from the climate and energy perspectives, but from the overall economic, social and environmental points of view, while also taking into account a long-term global perspective. Given the broad perspective of the bioeconomy, there are interlinkages with almost all 17 SDGs. However, the bioeconomy contributes particularly to the following SDGs: 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

4.2.

The bioeconomy has the potential to generate economic growth and jobs, not only in urban areas but also in rural regions. It therefore has a significant role to play in achieving SDG 1 (no poverty).

4.3.

SDG 2 calls for zero hunger. Biomass is a limited resource and there are interlinkages between the production of food, feed and fibre. A responsible approach to the sustainable bioeconomy is needed to enable sufficient production for different purposes — food availability being the priority — and to ensure sound ecosystems. The principles of resource efficiency and circularity, as well as transfer towards more vegetable-based diets are all ways to reach these objectives.

4.4.

A sustainable bioeconomy contributes to SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), for instance by maintaining sound forest ecosystems which are a precondition for clean water.

4.5.

SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) is at the core of the bioeconomy. The use of side streams and waste streams provides clean energy and reduces dependency on fossil energy resources.

4.6.

On the whole, the bioeconomy has a vital role to play in enhancing economic and social goals. It plays a significant role in achieving SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth). Furthermore, the EU bioeconomy can help to substantially reduce import dependency on fossil commodities while fostering domestic added value and supporting local value chains.

4.7.

SDG 9 calls for a significant rise in industry’s share of employment and GDP, as well as the retrofitting of industries in order to make them sustainable, together with increased resource use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes. The bioeconomy is closely linked to all of these objectives, and sustainable use of biomass can enhance the EU’s industrial leadership. It also has great potential to foster the growth of SMEs and integrate them into value chains.

4.8.

The bioeconomy can play an important role in achieving SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities). The concept of climate-smart cities (7) and well-being in urban areas goes hand in hand with solutions provided by the bioeconomy (for example, timber construction or low-emission transport and district heating).

4.9.

The bioeconomy is in a good position to contribute to SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). By optimising the use of raw materials, applying eco-design and producing long-lasting and recyclable products, the bioeconomy has a remarkable role in the transition to the circular economy. However, raising consumer awareness is seen as an important precondition for informed and responsible consumption patterns and fostering sustainable production.

4.10.

The bioeconomy can contribute significantly to global climate change mitigation, as called for in SDG 13 (climate action) and as already outlined in Chapter 3. On top of domestic action, the EU can have a remarkable global impact by exporting bio-based products, climate solutions and expertise.

4.11.

Lastly, the bioeconomy has an impact on SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land). Therefore, the responsible, effective and sustainable use of natural resources must be at the centre of the bioeconomy.

5.   Prerequisites for the development of the bioeconomy

5.1.

While the bioeconomy contributes in many ways to the achievement of both climate and energy goals and the SDGs, conditions need to be favourable in order to bring this about. On the one hand, the SDGs support and enhance the conditions needed to help the bioeconomy to evolve while, on the other hand, certain SDGs impose requirements which the bioeconomy must meet.

5.2.

The EU Bioeconomy Strategy must be adapted to new markets in order to provide, in line with economic, environmental and social sustainability, the conditions most favourable to the European bioeconomy, which is evolving and expanding rapidly.

5.3.

Above all, policymakers must promote sustainable biomass production and mobilisation in the EU, and EU regional development policy should provide sufficient support to ensure the development of rural businesses. Policymakers must also ensure a stable, reliable and coherent framework for investments in the bioeconomy, throughout the value chains.

5.4.

Policymakers should adopt a coherent framework for technical, safety and state aid rules to provide a level playing field for bio-based products. The public sector also plays a major role in the demand for bio-based products via public procurement. Initiatives such as a ‘European Bioeconomy Week’ could help boost market uptake and cross-fertilise different projects.

5.5.

Research and innovation are key for the development of a future-proof bioeconomy, which could provide a competitive advantage for the EU. This should be considered in the light of the immense potential offered by new kinds of bio-products, from traditional food and fibre products to new kinds of construction and packaging materials, textiles and bio-based chemicals and plastics. The same holds true with regard to the potential of plant breeding and different substances as raw materials for bio-products (e.g. lignocellulose, plant oil, starch, sugar, protein).

5.6.

The innovation efforts promoted by the EU Bioeconomy Strategy should be continued, including the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (8). The Bioeconomy Knowledge Centre (9) should also play an important role in promoting the use of knowledge to help grow the bioeconomy. Research and innovation initiatives and programmes should also be made more attractive for businesses.

5.7.

The role of education, advisory services, knowledge transfer and training is crucial in order to ensure that workers and entrepreneurs have the necessary information and skills, with the result that the sustainability of current business could be increased and new opportunities in the bioeconomy exploited.

5.8.

At the same time, people must be well-informed about the bioeconomy and be made more aware of their responsibilities so that they can be active consumers and make sustainable consumption decisions, taking into account the different levels of willingness of people of all ages to adapt and change. To this end, information campaigns, which strengthen consumers’ trust in the bioeconomy and in bio-based products, should be organised.

5.9.

Access to raw materials is one of the basic prerequisites for the bioeconomy. An appropriate business environment for agriculture and forestry is thus necessary to foster biomass availability and mobilisation. Sustainable management of forests, land and marine resources, as called for in SDGs 14 and 15, makes an essential contribution to the security of the supply of raw materials. In this context, the existing legislative and non-legislative framework for sustainable and renewable raw materials in the EU should be acknowledged and promoted. The increasing use of side streams and residues as raw material for new uses also helps to ensure the availability of biomass. In the case of small-scale structures, cooperatives or producer organisations can play an important role.

5.10.

Proper physical infrastructure is yet another prerequisite for the bioeconomy, and to this end, adequate funding for energy, transport and digital infrastructure is needed. Efficient transport systems are crucial for enabling access to raw materials and the distribution of products to markets.

5.11.

As regards global markets, the bioeconomy is closely linked to SDG 17 which aims to strengthen the global partnership for sustainable development. This goal calls for promotion of a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the WTO. It is important for trade, in both agricultural and industrial bioeconomy products. Meanwhile, cooperation along regional value chains should be strengthened in order to foster regional development.

5.12.

In order to stimulate the development of the bioeconomy in a neutral way, the EU should strive for a global pricing system for carbon emissions, which would bring all market players on board and provide a level playing field.

5.13.

Involving civil society in the structures of bioeconomy initiatives and decision-making processes is paramount in order to strengthen cooperation between different actors within society and to enhance public awareness of the sustainable bioeconomy.

5.14.

While the transition to a low-carbon and circular economy is a huge challenge and implies profound structural changes regarding the jobs involved, it is important to ensure that the transition takes place fairly.

5.15.

A sustainable bioeconomy can only succeed by adopting a cross-sectoral approach. Coherence and coordination between the various EU policies and objectives is therefore needed, especially with regard to the climate, the environment, food, agriculture, forestry, industry, energy, the circular economy, and research and innovation. To this end, a high-level multi-stakeholder group on the sustainable bioeconomy should be established and endorsed by the Commission president.

5.16.

Progress in achieving the SDGs is measured and monitored by means of 232 indicators. These indicators include climate- and energy-related indicators, but no specific bioeconomy indicators exist. The Commission should therefore develop the most relevant indicators in order to gain a realistic and informative picture of the development of the EU bioeconomy.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  Please see the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework available at https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/strategies/2030_en

(2)  Please see Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement, available at https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/paris_agreement_english_.pdf

(3)  Please see European Commission Statement 19 June 2018, available at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-18-3997_en.htm

(4)  Please see NAT/655 on the Implications of climate and energy policy on agricultural and forestry sectors (OJ C 291, 4.9.2015, p. 1).

(5)  Please see NAT/696 on Effort-sharing 2030 and land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) (OJ C 75, 10.3.2017, p. 103).

(6)  Please see TEN/609 on the Decarbonisation of transport (OJ C 173, 31.5.2017, p. 55).

(7)  http://www.climatesmartcities.org/

(8)  https://www.bbi-europe.eu

(9)  https://biobs.jrc.ec.europa.eu


III Preparatory acts

EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE

537th EESC plenary session, 19.9.2018-20.9.2018

6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/51


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Artificial Intelligence for Europe’

(COM(2018) 237 final)

(2018/C 440/08)

Rapporteur:

Giuseppe GUERINI

Co-rapporteur:

Gonçalo LOBO XAVIER

Referral

European Commission, 12.07.2018

Legal basis

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

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

04.09.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.09.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

199/1/2

1.   Conclusions and Recommendations

1.1.

The EESC believes that artificial intelligence (‘AI’) and automation processes have enormous potential to improve European society in terms of innovation and positive transformation, but they also pose significant challenges, risks and concerns. It is therefore essential that European institutions quickly and comprehensively set about developing and regulating AI fully.

1.2.

An advanced approach to AI in Europe needs to cover several areas including: (i) public and private investment in R & D and in advanced digital infrastructures; (ii) implementation of new legislative rules or adaptation of the existing applicable ones; (iii) development of adequate knowledge and awareness among citizens and consumers, and (iv) dedicated training programmes for workers.

1.3.

In particular the liability challenges that occur in the context of emerging digital technologies should be systematically identified and dealt with at international, EU and Member State levels and the EESC would like to collaborate closely with the EU institutions in the analysis and evaluation of all the EU legislation on liability, product safety and civil responsibility which deserve adequate changes.

1.4.

The EESC agrees with the aim of the Commission’s Communication, namely to strengthen the EU’s industrial and technological capacity in order to spread AI across the internal market. The effort required to keep pace with other global players is so great that coordination among all the instruments and funding available at European and national levels is greatly needed.

Having said that, EU values and principles should not be sacrificed in the name of global competitiveness.

1.5.

With regard to the Commission’s aim of bringing AI to all potential users, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, the EESC thinks that addressing the challenge of global competitiveness requires AI to be accessible to as many entities as possible. Hence, it is crucial to make it available to all the different forms of enterprises active across the European single market, including SMEs, farmers, social enterprises, cooperatives, individual businesses, and consumer associations.

1.6.

The European Commission and the Member States should work together to develop guidelines on artificial intelligence ethics and should involve all the relevant public and private stakeholders in this effort. These guidelines will need to include principles of transparency in the use of AI systems to hire employees and assess or control their performance. In addition to ethical principles, the EESC suggests that a clear, harmonised and mandatory legal framework be developed at the European level to duly regulate AI and to update the existing rules affected by AI, with particular regard to those relating to producer liability and consumer protection. The EESC would like to collaborate closely with the EU institutions in the analysis and evaluation of the relevant EU legislation, which will, in the future, require changes due to the development of AI.

1.6.1.

The European Commission will also have to carry out a careful evaluation of the effects of AI on the labour market. This examination must take into account both the possible replacement of some workers by electronic devices or robots and the fact that certain functions, while not being fully automated, will be profoundly changed by the new technologies.

1.7.

For this reason, the EESC recommends that the stated desire that ‘no one should be left behind’ should not remain a mere proposal or exhortation but ought to be translated into concrete facts.

1.8.

It is important to highlight the role of educational training programmes in protecting European workers operating in an environment that is being profoundly changed by the gradual emergence of AI. Europe’s citizens should have access to appropriate information enabling them to be responsible and informed users of devices and applications made available by rapid technological developments.

1.9.

In cases where new measures enable public administrations to utilise technology in order to make organisational decisions and quicker choices, it will be necessary to address the issue of effective legal responsibility for such decisions within a clear legal framework that guarantees the administration’s full accountability to citizens.

1.10.

Special attention should be given to the role of civil society and social economy organisations in increasing people’s active participation in the economic and social processes that, owing to artificial intelligence, will increase participation in our society. Civil society organisations and social enterprises can play an important role in fostering understanding and acceptance of technologies by individuals, in particular through collaborative mechanisms that permit the involvement of people in the current digital transformation.

1.11.

The current technological revolution cannot and must not be carried out without the significant and active inclusion of workers, consumers and social organisations, and ongoing technological developments must be directed in such a way as to ensure greater and more responsible participation of fully informed citizens. This is why the EESC recommends that, when setting up the European Alliance for IA, the European Commission should take into account the need to create an inclusive, multi-professional and representative platform for the different stakeholders representing European citizens, including the representatives of workers, who will have to interact with smart machines (1).

2.   General comments

2.1.

Digital devices and large-scale learning machines are daily increasing the capacity of algorithms to work with huge amounts of data and this capacity is likely to increase further in the future, owing to ‘neural networks’ (which are already being used, for example, by smartphones for visual recognition of objects, faces and images).

2.2.

Such developments are transforming the traditional mode of ‘learning’ that AI machines have hitherto employed, in that they are now no longer confined to learning by extracting rules from data, but are also developing a flexible and adaptive learning capacity. This process will increase the capacity of AI to learn and act in the real world.

2.3.

In the face of the very rapid technological change underway, it is now crucial that the European Commission and the Member States work together to conduct an in-depth examination of the emerging challenges created by the rapid development of AI and involve all the relevant public and private stakeholders in the process without undermining the opportunities for progress and technological development.

2.4.

Commission Communication COM(2018) 237 seeks to strengthen the EU’s industrial and technological capacity and to encourage the spread of AI throughout the European economy in both the private sector and public administration. As noted earlier in own-initiative opinion (2), the EESC supports the Commission’s initiative, which in fact incorporates in its communication a great number of the Committee’s earlier suggestions, but urges the Commission to act promptly and decisively.

2.5.

Adopting an effective European approach to AI involves encouraging significant investment in research and innovation, including digital infrastrucutres, which are necessary to prepare for the major socioeconomic challenges that the advances in new technologies will create for European society and markets in the coming years.

2.6.

The European Commission and the Member States should work together to frame some guidelines on the ethics of artificial intelligence and involve all the relevant public and private stakeholders in the process.

2.7.

At the same time, a harmonised legal framework must be approved at European level in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the principles embedded in the EU Treaties. The new regulatory framework should contain precise rules that address the risks that machine learning entail, such as market non-transparency, lack of competition, discrimination, unfair commercial practices, threats to cybersecurity and product safety.

In particular, the regulatory safeguards should be stringent in situations where data driving artificial intelligence systems are automatically retrieved during the utilisation of electronic devices and computers.

2.8.

The EESC notes that the Staff Working Document SWD(2018) 137 final attached to the Commission’s Communication duly analyses the implications of AI for EU legislation and maps the liability challenges that arise in the context of emerging digital technologies.

2.9.

Moreover, comprehensive action plans will be needed to: (i) underpin the modernisation of education and training systems by nurturing the new skills required by the labour market of the future, and (ii) guarantee high-level protection for citizens and workers against the expected challenges (3).

2.10.

The EESC encourages the Commission to proceed quickly with further action on both regulation and encouragement of investment: the current swift pace of change demands rapid adaptation times.

3.   The European Commission proposal: European support for and investment in artificial intelligence

3.1.

The Commission announces in its Communication that it will support the spread of AI with regard to both basic research and industrial applications. In this respect, the EESC stresses the importance of involving all types of players in such a process, including SMEs, service companies, social enterprises, farmers, cooperatives, consumer associations and associations representing older people.

3.2.

With regard to the Commission’s aim of ‘bringing AI to all potential users, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises’, the EESC thinks that addressing the challenge of global competitiveness requires AI to be accessible to as many entities as possible. In addition to what the Commission has already planned in order to develop an ‘AI-on-demand platform’, it is also important to establish appropriate forms of involvement of and consultation with the various stakeholders, including SMEs, social economy networks and civil society organisations (the last-named stakeholder has a crucial role to play in involving European citizens in an informed and active way).

3.3.

The Commission has announced that it will support innovation based on artificial intelligence through a pilot project established by the European Innovation Council, which has a budget of EUR 2,7 billion for 2018-2020.

3.4.

The EESC believes that this initiative may be useful for the development of AI, but stresses at the same time that research funding should rapidly pass from the experimentation phase to the structural stage. It is also important that the Commission encourage the various research centres currently located throughout the Member States in order to develop a collaborative network at European level which is dedicated to artificial intelligence.

3.5.

The EESC notes that the Commission intends to increase investment in AI under the Horizon 2020 programme to around EUR 1,5 billion by the end of 2020. If adopted rapidly in current public-private partnerships, this approach could generate a further EUR 2,5 billion of investment within two years. The same approach must also be adopted in the future Horizon Europe framework programme.

3.6.

From a different perspective, it is a good sign that the European Commission and the European Fund for Strategic Investments — which should play a central steering role in supporting the development of AI in the EU — have launched the Venture EU programme, a EUR 2,1 billion venture capital fund to boost investment in innovative firms throughout Europe.

3.7.

However, the effort required to keep pace with other global players is so great that coordination and synergy among all the instruments and funding available at European and national levels are greatly needed. It is clear that competing with China and the US in the area of AI necessitates bringing together the forces of all public and private stakeholders operating at European level so as to ensure that the EU plays a leading role on a world scale.

3.8.

In order to profitably pursue a competitive role for the EU with regard to AI, it will also be important to invest adequately in appropriate IT software, hardware assets and digital infrastructures that can guarantee a credible role for the EU.

3.9.

Investment in AI should take into account the fact that European companies are particularly strong in the areas of automation and robotics. Such sectors, which are part of AI in a broad sense, could therefore prove to be truly important in guaranteeing a significant global role for the EU with respect to the ongoing technological development and therefore they deserve specific attention.

4.   Artificial intelligence and its impact on people and workers

4.1.

It is indisputable that the development of AI is advancing at a very rapid pace. This is why the European institutions, when assessing the impact of every regulatory measure on artificial intelligence, must adopt a multidisciplinary approach that takes on board not just administrative, legal and economic aspects, but also anthropological, psychological, sociological and technological considerations.

4.2.

To support these innovations, but above all to steer them in a direction that ensures human beings remain centre stage, it is important that the European Union acts to achieve a high degree of technological competitiveness without overlooking essential ethical, social and human considerations.

4.3.

The EESC thinks that it is therefore crucial that: (i) individual privacy and responsible processing of individuals’ data be governed by appropriate legislation, such as the effective launching of the new GDPR which, if necessary, will need to be constantly updated to keep pace with the rapid development of AI; (ii) important pieces of the applicable EU legislation be evaluated and, if necessary, adapted to the new scenarios occasioned by AI, and (iii) the competences and skills be developed that people, administrations and Europe’s companies need to benefit effectively from the advantages offered by artificial intelligence.

4.4.

As a starting point for the analysis to be carried out, it is worth noting that AI is based on the use and processing of large amounts of data, which form the basis of any application grounded in new technologies. This being the case, the main challenge for the European regulator is the establishment of transparent and regulated access to end-user data.

4.5.

The better the quality of the data processed, the better the accuracy and performance of AI systems. It must not be forgotten, however, that data concerning individuals must be acquired legally and be used in ways known to those directly concerned, in order to ensure the utilisation of personal data for the predetermined and transparent purposes for which the user has previously granted proper and informed consent.

4.6.

It is worth noting that several important parts of European legislation — for example those referring to online advertising, unfair commercial practices, product safety and liability, consumer rights, unfair contract terms, sales and guarantees, insurance, and price indication — may need to be changed and duly adapted to the new scenarios triggered by more extensive and refined utilisation of artificial intelligence in order to protect the end consumers.

4.7.

The decisive issue of product safety and liability has been properly taken into account by the Commission in its working document SWD(2018) 137 final by means of analysis of case studies and by putting forward a list of the pieces of EU legislation that deserve further analysis and evaluation. The EESC fully encourages the Commission to continue this work and is willing to make its own contribution in this respect.

4.8.

It is important to underline the role of cultural, educational and academic training, on the one hand, and provision of adequate information to the general public, on the other, in order to protect the rights of European citizens vis-à-vis the progress of the AI. In particular, it is important to ensure transparency and correctness in the management of AI algorithms and the databases on which they operate.

4.9.

It is therefore crucial that Europe’s citizens receive adequate training, as well as simple and understandable information, thereby enabling them to be responsible and informed users of the devices and applications made available by the rapid technological development that is currently taking place and becoming increasingly widespread at all levels.

4.10.

In the light of all of these demands, the EU and Member States must offer clear and effective solutions, namely by promoting a modern education system and by constantly expanding lifelong training in the labour market and civil society.

4.11.

The European Commission will have to carry out a careful evaluation of the effects of AI on the labour market. This is a major concern for many European workers who are advanced in their careers, but still far from retirement age and who look upon the changes taking place with mistrust and fear. The examination must take into account both the possible replacement of some workers by electronic devices or robots and the fact that certain functions, while not being fully automated, will be profoundly changed by new technologies. This examination and evaluation should be focused, therefore, not only on the inevitable and expected changes to production lines, but also on rethinking organisational processes and business objectives following a proper social dialogue with workers.

4.12.

In some situations, such as those that happen and have happened with many other technologies, it will be advisable to test AI in stages and successive degrees of adaptation prior to full use, in order to enable those involved to feel safe with the new technologies — including through appropriate training pathways — and to remedy any errors in adaptation during the process (4).

4.13.

The introduction of new technologies into companies requires social dialogue between the different partners involved. In this regard, workers’ organisations and unions will need to be constantly informed and consulted.

5.   Artificial intelligence, public administration and civil society

5.1.

AI is a technological and social innovation capable of radically transforming the whole of society and of changing for the better the public sector and the relationship between citizens and the public administration. The opportunities afforded by artificial intelligence could increase both administrative efficiency and the satisfaction of citizens with services provided by the public administration and with the effective running of that administration.

5.2.

For these objectives to be achieved, it is essential that civil servants also be prepared to face the changes and the challenges that AI will bring about in European society. Public employers and administration heads — together with teachers, trainers and the university staff referred to above — must be able to fully understand the AI phenomenon and to decide what new tools to introduce into administrative procedures.

5.3.

The introduction of AI in the public and private sectors requires the design of procedures that foster understanding and acceptance of technologies by the users through cooperation mechanisms that allow citizens to contribute, if possible through participatory governance systems, to the development of technologies based on IA.

5.4.

To obtain significant results on this front, it may be useful to develop increasingly reliable modes of collaboration and partnership between the public and private sectors that are aimed at seizing the opportunities arising from technological applications, artificial intelligence and robotics.

5.5.

The challenge for public administrations is particularly difficult in legal and legitimacy terms, since the right balance will have to be struck between public interests (involving the exercise of public power) and individual ones (specific manifestation of the freedom of the individual). On this note, for example, the use of AI by public administrations will require the principle of transparency and publication of administrative documents to be reconciled with the protection of personal data and the individual’s right to privacy within a clear and explicit regulatory framework.

5.6.

In cases where new measures enable public administrations to utilise technology in order to make organisational decisions and quicker choices — such as selecting a contractor in a call for tender, managing a waiting list for particular services or recruiting new employees to a public administration — it will be necessary to address the issue of effective legal responsibility for such decisions within a clear legal framework that guarantees the administration’s full accountability to citizens.

5.7.

Civil society organisations and social enterprises have an important role to play in fostering understanding and acceptance of technologies by individuals, in particular through collaborative mechanisms that permit involvement in the digital transformation processes. What is important here is the possibility of creating participatory governance systems, for example in a cooperative form, for these instruments, starting with the digital platforms which are already being used to structure new forms of economic relationship in work management.

5.8.

Administrative authorities in charge of market monitoring mechanisms should have the expertise and the powers to protect fair competition, consumer rights, as well as the safety and and rights of employees. Public or independent bodies should be placed in charge of algorithmic auditing. At the same time, companies should introduce effective mechanisms for auditing the AI’s use of data.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  See the EESC adopted opinion INT/845 — Artificial intelligence: anticipating its impact on jobs to ensure a fair transition (own-initiative opinion), rapporteur: Ms Salis-Madinier (See page 1 of this Official Journal).

(2)  INT/806 of 31 May 2017 — Artificial intelligence — The consequences of artificial intelligence on the (digital) single market, production, consumption, employment and society and society (OJ C 288, 31.8.2017, p. 1).

(3)  The EESC adopted opinion SOC/578 — Transition management in a digitalised world of work (OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 15).

(4)  See the EESC's adopted opinion INT/845 — Artificial intelligence: anticipating its impact on jobs to ensure a fair transition (own-initiative opinion), rapporteur: Ms Salis-Madinier (See page 1 of this Official Journal).


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/57


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on enabling the digital transformation of health and care in the Digital Single Market; empowering citizens and building a healthier society’

(COM(2018) 233 final)

(2018/C 440/09)

Rapporteur:

Diego DUTTO

Co-rapporteur:

Thomas KATTNIG

Referral

European Commission, 18.06.2018

Legal basis

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

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

04.09.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.09.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

193/0/3

1.   Conclusions

1.1.

In the course of the changes generated by digital transformation, people must be at the centre of care.

1.2.

Digitalisation processes must help healthcare professionals to spend more time with patients. It must be ensured that healthcare professions are appropriately staffed with qualified personnel and equipped with appropriate digital skills.

1.3.

The digital transition is changing the nature of work in health and care. Everyone involved should approach this transformation professionally and with an open mind to achieve high quality standards.

1.4.

Social dialogue at European level concerning hospitals and healthcare plus social services must be strengthened. Appropriate training and further education programmes are necessary, working conditions and the quality of jobs must be improved and staff data protection must be enhanced.

1.5.

The EESC knows that Member States are responsible for the organisation and provision of health and social care. Under the directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare (Directive 2011/24/EU), an online healthcare network (eHealth network) must be set up to advance the interoperability of eHealth solutions.

1.6.

Digital tools must be a lever to develop new forms of organisation in health and care systems. They support the potential of individuals, of local communities and social economies. By means of appropriate public investment, values of solidarity and universality must be reaffirmed as the basis of these systems.

1.7.

Digitalisation processes are not to be misinterpreted as a savings package for health care budgets. They must not lead to personnel cuts or cuts in services. Care must be considered as a personal service and, especially with ageing populations, new concepts of long-term care need to be developed.

1.8.

The EESC agrees with the vision outlined in the communication, namely to promote health, prevent and fight diseases, help respond to unmet patient needs and make it easier for citizens to have equal access to high-quality care through appropriate use of digital innovations and social economy.

1.9.

Health literacy in the social and digital context concerns a person’s ability to acquire, understand and use information responsibly to promote their well-being and stay healthy.

1.10.

Citizens should have the right to access their health data. They decide if and when to share their data. It is crucial to take account of the General Data Protection Regulation that guarantees citizens control over the use of their personal data, especially health data.

1.11.

The EESC suggests that a ‘right to (free) copying’ could be an active form of protection. This concerns all data generated by users when interacting with digital health platforms and permits citizens to reuse their own data.

1.12.

The original data of users is of useful value for algorithms and platforms; it must be regarded as an original product generated by users and be protected in accordance with laws on intellectual property.

1.13.

The ‘right to (free) copying’ also helps to involve the protection and promotion of competition, which is now being sorely tested by the systems that digital platforms are currently using to expropriate data and personal histories.

1.14.

The EESC supports (1) the four-pillar process for cross-border joint work on digital transformation in health and care, including joint clinical assessments, joint scientific consultations, identification of emerging health technologies and voluntary cooperation among Member States.

1.15.

The EESC suggests taking appropriate action to investigate new ethical, legal and social frameworks that consider the risks associated with data mining.

1.16.

The EESC suggests promoting research and innovation on the integration of digital technologies in order to renew healthcare processes, e.g. artificial intelligence, internet of Things and interoperability. The EESC gives full support to the public in secure access to reliable health data across borders to advance research and disease prevention.

1.17.

The EESC also endorses the EU’s support for small, medium-sized and social enterprises that are developing digital solutions for person-centered care and patient feedback.

1.18.

The EESC supports ‘rebalancing’ the socioeconomical asymmetry in data-driven economies by promoting the development of secure platforms and by supporting not-for-profit cooperative organisations to store, manage and share digital copies of all personal data.

2.   Background and general observations

2.1.

On 25 April 2018 the European Commission published its Communication on the digital transformation of health and care in the digital single market (2), which concerns the reforms and innovative solutions required for health and care systems to become more resilient, accessible and effective in providing quality care to European citizens and to create a healthier society. When properly designed and cost-effectively implemented, digital health and care solutions can increase the well-being of millions of citizens and radically improve the efficacy of health and care services that are delivered to patients. Digitisation can support the continuity of cross-border care (Directive 2011/24/EU), an important factor for those who spend time abroad for business or pleasure. Digitisation can also help promote health and prevent diseases, including occupational health at work. It can support the reform of health systems and their transition to new patterns of care, based on people’s needs, and allow a shift from systems focused on hospitals to integrated and more community-based welfare facilities. In the course of the changes, it must be ensured that citizens are at the centre of care. Digitalisation processes should help healthcare professionals to spend more time with the patient. It must therefore be ensured that the healthcare professions are appropriately staffed with qualified personnel and equipped with appropriate digital skills.

2.2.

The transition to digital health and care is transforming the nature of work in these areas. This can only be achieved with a high quality standard if everyone involved approaches the transformation professionally and with an open mind. Social dialogue at European level in the health sector and social services must therefore be further strengthened, so that appropriate training and further education must be developed and working conditions, particularly work-life balance, staff data protection and the quality of jobs must be improved.

2.3.

The European Commission points out that European health and welfare systems face major challenges, such as ageing, multimorbidity, vaccines, lack of healthcare professionals because of difficult working conditions and the growing problem of non-communicable preventable diseases caused by risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol and obesity and other diseases, including neurodegenerative and rare diseases. An additional and growing threat is presented by infectious diseases due to increased resistance to antibiotics and new or re-emerging pathogens. Public costs related to health and long-term care are increasing in the EU Member States and this trend is expected to continue. It is particularly important that the associated costs should be used for improving quality of work for healthcare professionals, avoiding promoting poor pay and onerous working conditions. With ageing populations, new concepts of long-term care need to be developed.

2.4.

Even when they are available, health data are often tied to technologies that are not interoperable, which is an obstacle to their wide use.

2.5.

This is why healthcare systems do not have key information to optimise their services, and why it is difficult for service providers to create economies of scale and so offer efficient digital health and care solutions and support cross-border use of health services. The quantified results based on health data need to generate personalised health insights and be accessible to general practitioners, medical specialists and scientists, such that they can be acted on, to perform clustering and predictive modelling and utilise best practices.

2.6.

As the conclusions of the report on the State of Health in the EU show, the use of patient-centred health data is not yet sufficiently developed in the EU.

2.7.

It is the Member States that are responsible for the organisation and provision of health and social care. In some Member States, particularly those with federal systems, regional authorities are responsible for the financing and provision of healthcare.

2.8.

Under the directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare (Directive 2011/24/EU), an online healthcare network (eHealth network) was set up to advance the interoperability of eHealth solutions.

2.9.

Cooperation structures have also been developed, such as the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, the joint programme to support an active and autonomous life (Active and Assisted Living programme), and public-private partnerships such as the Innovative Medicines Initiative and the Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership initiative. Regional and national smart specialisation strategies also play a central role in the development of stronger regional ecosystems in healthcare. Since 2004, two eHealth action plans have provided a policy framework for the Member States and the Commission, and the eHealth Stakeholders Group has played an important role.

2.10.

With reference also to its positions set out in previous opinions (3), the EESC believes the Commission’s proposed action in three areas should be supported. These are: secure access of the public to — and sharing of — health data across borders; reliable data to advance research, disease prevention and personalised health and care, and digital tools for citizen empowerment and person-centred care. As mentioned above, it must be ensured that digitalisation processes are not misinterpreted as a savings package for health care budgets and do not lead to personnel cuts or cuts in services. Staff shortages lead to poor care and increased morbidity risk. It should not be forgotten that the digital transformation is a two-dimensional phenomenon comprising direction and process. In terms of direction, we focus on the external factors for organisations, constantly looking at ‘what’ the digital transformation is addressing. In terms of process, the focus is on the thinking within organisations, with particular attention to ‘how’ the digital transformation is being carried out. This approach absolutely must therefore be taken into account in examining the subject of the opinion in order to guarantee a patient-oriented approach.

2.11.

Precisely for this reason, the EESC points out, as it did in its previous opinion (4), that to take advantage of the digital transformation, EU networks and planned support measures should use digital tools to implement and reinforce, not to weaken, our fundamental rights in respect of health and care. Digital tools must support the development of individual potential and of local communities and social economy; they must be a powerful lever in promoting rights and developing new forms of organisation and governance for health and care; and they must help to reaffirm the values of solidarity and universality that are the basis of our healthcare system. This should be ensured by means of appropriate public investment, as set out in a previous opinion (5).

2.12.

In line with previous opinions, the EESC believes that equal access to healthcare, one of the main objectives of health policies, can benefit from digital support provided certain conditions are met:

equal geographical coverage taking into account areas with poor coverage by digital operators (access, broadband);

bridging the digital divide in terms of use by the public, health professionals and stakeholders in health insurance schemes;

interoperability between the various components of the digital architecture (databases, medical devices) to promote continuity of care within and between these facilities;

protection of health data, which may under no circumstances be used to the detriment of patients;

electronic distribution of product information approved by drug licensing authorities to improve access (as mentioned in a previous EESC opinion (6)).

2.13.

The rapid expansion of telemedicine, connected devices and nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and the cognitive sciences (NBIC) must not result in patients being seen as mere connected bodies which can be analysed, monitored and overseen remotely by an all-powerful IT programme. The technical development of health in fact encourages the opposite: it places interpersonal relationships and social ties back at the centre of medical practice and care.

3.   Impacts of digital transformation

3.1.   Impact of digital transformation on health and care

3.1.1.

The Commission communication illustrates how the EU can help to achieve the objectives of the Council conclusions, namely by developing the necessary cooperation and infrastructure in the EU and thereby helping the Member States to fulfil their political commitment in these areas. The proposed actions also support the Commission’s commitment to achieving the UN sustainable development goal ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’ and implementing the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

3.1.2.

The EESC agrees with the vision outlined in the communication, namely to promote health, prevent and fight diseases, help respond to unmet patient needs, and make it easier for citizens to have equal access to high-quality care through appropriate use of digital innovations and social enterprises.

3.1.3.

The EESC believes that it is essential to increase the sustainability of European health and care systems, helping to maximise the potential of the digital single market through greater use of digital products and services in the areas of health and care. A further objective of the actions proposed must be to stimulate growth and promote European industry in the sector, as well as businesses, both profit and non-profit, which design and manage health and care services.

3.1.4.

Digital transformation enables in particular access to and exploitation of data that can make it possible to reduce healthcare costs as the population grows and life expectancy increases, supporting the optimisation of government action at national and European level.

3.1.5.

Health digitisation will contribute to not only reducing time spent in hospital, with a direct positive impact on healthcare in hospitals, but also assisting the recovery of patients themselves. In the context of international recognition, the World Health Organization, in cooperation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has proposed the National eHealth Strategy Toolkit, which essentially provides a method for upgrading and developing national eHealth strategies, action plans and monitoring frameworks.

3.2.   Impact of digital transformation on people

3.2.1.

Digital transformation gives citizens the opportunity to widely access innovative and more efficient personalised healthcare knowledge, infrastructure and services and also to contribute — as service providers, information producers and data providers — to improving the health of others.

3.2.2.

It might also be considered that citizens have the right to access their health data and decide if and when to share such data. The EESC also believes it is crucial to take account of the General Data Protection Regulation, which came into force on 25 May 2018 and will guarantee citizens control over the use of their personal data, including health data. In addition, account should be taken of the statement made by the World Medical Association (WMA) on ethical considerations regarding health databases and biobanks in its Taipei Declaration, adopted by the 53rd WMA General Assembly, Washington DC, USA, October 2002, and revised by the 67th WMA General Assembly, Taipei, Taiwan, October 2016.

3.2.3.

In this respect, it is essential to challenge the risk of a widening gap in people’s digital literacy levels. Health literacy in the social and digital context concerns a person’s ability to acquire, understand and use information responsibly to promote their well-being and stay healthy. To this end, it is necessary to guarantee a level of skills and familiarity with the new tools that allow people to improve their own well-being and that of the community through measures to improve lifestyle and living conditions.

3.2.4.

As users are at the centre of design and service, the data they generate should also be considered crucial, with appropriate regulations laid down concerning ownership of the data and the right of the user him/herself and other parties to use them. The questions that should be raised are ‘who owns the data?’, ‘who has the right to use them?’, ‘under what conditions can other parties providing services use the data?’, ‘can the user freely use the data?’, etc. In this regard, an important distinction should be made between data types: raw data, on the one hand, and data generated by algorithms and artificial intelligence services, on the other. If another party generates new aggregate data using proprietary algorithms, how should ownership of the information be managed? How are business models designed to handle the presence of multiple stakeholders, each providing a fundamental part of the service? A distinction should also be made between business models based on services only (more traditional, e.g. support with activities of daily living (ADL)), and those based on patient-centred data with the possibility of developing new services in terms of tele-health (e.g. services for prevention, treatment support and adaptation).

3.2.5.

The authentic — i.e., original — data of each user is the only useful value for algorithms, services and platforms, which means that it can/must be regarded as an original product generated by users (and by them and their biological, cognitive, cultural and behavioural characteristics alone) and as such is an ‘original input’ that must be protected in accordance with similar rules, albeit ones based ad hoc on intellectual property. One suggestion could be an active form of protection through a ‘right to (free) copying’ of all data generated by users when interacting with digital health platforms, so as to permit them to reuse it — if deemed appropriate — by reaggregating it through other services/algorithms. The ‘right to (free) copying’ also helps with another problem involving the protection and promotion of competition, which is now being sorely tested by the systems that digital platforms are currently using — on the basis of contracts or otherwise — to expropriate data and personal histories.

3.2.6.

The EU itself has addressed the matter mentioned in point 3.2.5 on various occasions and in some cases has opted for a right to make data available (copying) (see Article 9 of Directive 2012/27/EU on energy efficiency: ‘if final customers request it, metering data on their electricity input and off-take is made available to them or to a third party acting on behalf of the final customer in an easily understandable format that they can use to compare deals on a like-for-like basis’).

3.2.7.

The EESC suggests creating a connected IT infrastructure so that patients with a rare disease can be contacted quickly and can make their health and medical data available for global not-for-profit research. The European Union is promoting the creation of a system of electronic health records by supporting the exchange of information and standardisation and the development of networks for the exchange of information between healthcare providers in order to coordinate actions in the event of a public health risk.

3.2.8.

This would enable people/citizens/patients/users to take back full control of their digital identity. It would allow them to participate in the acquisition of knowledge obtained from aggregated health data for personalised medicine and prevention, and also to enjoy the considerable economic benefits derived from these aggregated data.

3.3.   Impact of digital transformation on social and health systems

3.3.1.

The EESC supports (as mentioned in EESC opinion (7)) the four-pillar process for cross-border joint work on digital transformation in health and care.

3.3.1.1.

The proposal establishes a coordination group, composed of representatives of the Member States’ Health Technology Assessment (HTA) bodies, and describes the four pillars of future cooperation. The joint work would be led by the Member States through the coordination group and would comprise:

joint clinical assessments;

joint scientific consultations;

identification of emerging health technologies;

voluntary cooperation among the Member States.

3.3.1.1.1.

Joint clinical assessments concern the most innovative technologies that include: i) medicines undergoing the central marketing authorisation procedure, and ii) certain classes of medical devices and in vitro diagnostic medical devices that make it possible to address unmet medical needs, potential impact on patients, public health or healthcare systems, and significant cross-border dimension. Such assessments would be drafted and defined by the Member States’ HTA bodies, pharmaceutical companies or medical devices manufacturers (the ‘developer’), patients, clinical experts and other stakeholders. Once verified by the Commission, the report would be published and then used by the Member States.

3.3.1.1.2.

Joint scientific consultations, also referred to as ‘early dialogues’, would allow a health technology developer to seek the advice of HTA bodies on the data and evidence likely to be required as part of a future joint clinical assessment. Developers would have the possibility to request a joint scientific consultation from the coordination group. Once approved by the coordination group, the joint scientific consultation reports would be addressed to the health technology developer, but would not be published.

3.3.1.1.3.

‘Horizon scanning’, or the identification of emerging health technologies (health technologies that have not yet been adopted in the healthcare system), would help ensure that health technologies that are expected to have a major impact on patients, public health or healthcare systems are identified at an early stage in their development and included in the joint work.

3.3.1.1.4.

Member States would have the possibility to continue Voluntary cooperation at EU level in areas not covered by mandatory cooperation. This would, among other things, allow for the possibility of performing HTAs on health technologies other than medicinal products or medical devices (such as surgical procedures), as well as for the assessment of non-clinical aspects (for instance, the impact of medical devices on the organisation of care).

3.3.2.

The deployment of novel healthcare solutions enabled by digital transformation raises a number of important multidisciplinary issues, including ethical, legal and social issues. Although a legal framework already exists for data protection and patient safety, other matters need to be addressed, such as access to broadband, the risks associated with data-mining and automatic decision-making, guaranteeing appropriate standards and legislation to ensure adequate quality of eHealth or mHealth services, and accessibility and quality of services. Similarly, at the level of services, although there are rules at EU and national level governing public procurement, competition and the internal market, novel approaches that take account of digital transformation should be discussed and adopted.

3.3.3.

Digital transformation will entail a reorganisation of the health care system, with new ways and standards to provide services (e.g. using robots in conjunction with caregivers). Additionally, caregivers should undergo appropriate and specific training programmes (e.g. including social, medical or technical background), and be prepared for new job profiles and transformations in work environments. This will lead to the definition of new service models, support policies, certifications and standards suited to the introduction of digital services and technologies in real care contexts and markets. Their design and development should follow the principles of user-centred design, usability engineering by design, universal design, etc., with users and their needs at the centre of the process avoiding creating digital divide and excluding people from services.

3.3.4.

The EESC endorses the Commission’s efforts to support the development and adoption of the European electronic health record exchange format and to develop common identification and authentication measures, as laid down in Article 14(2) of Directive 2011/24/EU.

3.4.   Impact of digital transformation on the digital market

3.4.1.

The challenge is that of ‘rebalancing socioeconomical asymmetry in a data-driven economy’ (8) by means of:

a legal right to a digital copy of all personal data (medical and non-medical); data portability (Article 20, EU Data Protection Directive);

a safe and secure platform where people can store, manage and actively share data on their own terms;

a not-for-profit cooperative organisational structure of personal data platforms so that they are owned by citizens;

revenues from citizen-controlled secondary use of data being invested in projects and services that benefit members and society at large.

3.4.2.

Joint clinical assessments would facilitate faster access, avoid duplication at national level and deliver greater consistency, clarity and predictability for everyone involved in the process. The medical devices industry is overall more sceptical of the proposal. Mandatory cooperation on clinical HTA assessments may slow down market access for devices, rather than streamline it.

3.4.3.

As mobile device penetration is growing, eHealth or mHealth solutions will offer novel services with optimised processes. Processes will include facilitating mobility for health and care professionals.

3.4.4.

Digital transformation will promote the development of new agile business models, foster participation in the business by various stakeholders and bring about benefits from the quantification of users’ experiences. Its success depends on it being customer-centric (or user-centric), in order to ensure that the user perspective is considered from the very beginning of the design process (design thinking).

3.4.5.

Digital transformation will enable the widespread use of health and social data, fostering the integration of systems and devices with machine learning services and the necessity of interoperability and interaction capability (M2M) that must take into account the variety of user requirements and preferences, the development of ‘future proof’ systems, the possibility of integration with existing infrastructure and with local service providers, and any disruptive and unplanned technologies and services with new standardisation requirements.

3.4.6.

Novel key enabling technologies, such as 5G, will create opportunities for enhanced mobile broadband products and services, thus supporting the deployment of millions of connections for internet of Things (IoT) devices on a massive scale. With the proliferation of 5G and the IoT, digital transformation strategies are crucial for many stakeholders acting in the healthcare domain, particularly as new consumer behaviour and needs will demand new digitised offerings.

3.4.7.

The EESC supports services related to: health information, disease prevention, development of tele-counselling systems, online prescribing, referral, and reimbursement of medical expenses. Existing platforms such Alfred, Big White Wall, Medicine Patient Portal, Empower etc. can be regarded as enabling the digital transformation in the digital single market. Interestingly, on 29 May 2018, it was announced that the European Open Science Cloud would support EU science in world-leading position by creating a trusted environment for hosting and processing research data. The Cloud should be a broad, pan-European federation of excellent existing and emerging infrastructures that respects the governance and funding mechanisms of its component parts; membership in this federation would be voluntary; and the governance structure would include Member State ministries, stakeholders and scientists.

3.5.   Impact of digital transformation on service providers

3.5.1.

In this context, the EESC agrees on the following objectives:

a focus on healthcare providers;

a focus on patients when entering the healthcare system;

efficient data transfer within primary care (eHealth, Electronic Patient Dossier/EPD);

patients provide consent to their data being used for research; incentives to provide additional data (mHealth);

reducing the difficulties of involving patients in research.

3.5.2.

Recent technological, social and economic studies highlight that artificial intelligence, internet of Things and roboticswill make it possible to design and develop new approaches in the fields of personalised and precision medicine, cognitive frailty and cooperative robotics. Their take-up in healthcare will mean adapting and developing all processes relating to service design, provision and evaluation. In this context, digital transformation represents a fundamental but also an enabling (or ‘accelerator’) factor in the integration of innovative technologies in the healthcare domain.

3.5.3.

Digital transformation has the potential to make available a large amount of data allowing the investigation and development of novel and ambitious service solutions based on artificial intelligence. This could be the basis for creating a framework to objectively quantify chronic diseases and identify opportunities in early diagnosis and therapy monitoring. Additionally, recent advances in artificial intelligence would take advantage of data availability to develop systems that can learn and then adapt to the ways in which diseases evolve.

3.5.4.

The widespread use of data, and the ability for stakeholders to use and transform them according to users’ needs, open new scenarios for sharing data, knowledge and expertise, as already supported by the European Reference Networks, which provide a governance structure for knowledge sharing and care coordination across the EU in the field of rare diseases. If a specific location (area or country) has no expertise in a specific disease, the network can help doctors to obtain knowledge from other centres of expertise in other locations. Similarly, hospitals all over Europe can make use of the digital connecting systems to share knowledge and provide support to each other.

3.5.5.

One obvious consequence of the previous points is that cybersecurity is a key priority. As pointed out in an ENISA report (ENISA Threat Landscape Report 2017: 15 Top Cyber-Threats and Trends, European Union Agency For Network and Information Security), the complexity of attacks and sophistication of malicious actions in cyberspace continue to increase. In the healthcare landscape, where many pervasive systems are connected and significant assets are at stake, for example patient life, sensitive personal information, financial resources, etc., information security is a key issue. In the context of digital transformation, new methods and guidance are needed for modelling cybersecurity assessment frameworks, organisational countermeasures and interoperability conformance based on cybersecurity.

3.5.6.

The EESC also endorses the EU’s support for small and medium-sized enterprises that are developing digital solutions for person-centred care and patient feedback. The cooperation will of course involve public authorities and other stakeholders committed to promoting shared or mutually recognised principles for validating and certifying digital solutions for adoption in health systems (for instance, mHealth and independent living).

3.5.7.

The EESC also believes that previous initiatives to issue health care cards by the European Member States must continue under the prism of the digital transformation of health and care in the digital market. Given the sensitive nature of the medical data that can be stored in such eHealth cards, they must offer robust privacy protection.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  OJ C 283, 10.8.2018, p. 28.

(2)  COM(2018) 233 final.

(3)  OJ C 434, 15.12.2017, p. 1; OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 14 and OJ C 458, 19.12.2014, p. 54.

(4)  OJ C 434, 15.12.2017, p. 1.

(5)  OJ C 173, 31.5.2017, p. 33.

(6)  OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 14.

(7)  OJ C 283, 10.8.2018, p. 28.

(8)  World Economic Forum — The Global Information Technology Report 2014.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/66


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on (a) ‘Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, and repealing Directive 2009/22/EC’

(COM(2018) 184 final — 2018/0089 (COD))

and on (b) ‘Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993, Directive 98/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Directive 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards better enforcement and modernisation of EU consumer protection rules’

(COM(2018) 185 final — 2018/0090 (COD))

(2018/C 440/10)

Rapporteur:

Jarosław MULEWICZ

Co-rapporteur:

Antonio LONGO

Referral

(a)

European Parliament, 2.5.2018

(a)

Council, 22.5.2018

(b)

European Parliament, 2.5.2018

(b)

Council, 22.5.2018

Legal basis

Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

4.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

20.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

155/1/5

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC acknowledges the European Commission proposal regarding the better enforcement and modernisation of EU consumer protection rules and the objective to update existing rules to take into account new consumption habits and to adapt them to the evolution of the digital single market. However, as recommended by the EESC opinion on consumer vulnerability in business practices (1), concerns related to the lack of enforcement of existing rules still need to be addressed.

1.2.

The EESC agrees with the European Commission about the need to modernise and simplify EU consumer policy and considers that the new legislative package may contribute to bridging the gap created by the exponential growth of e-commerce, undermining consumer confidence and causing distortions to the single market.

1.3.

Overall, the Committee considers that the harmonisation of consumer protection law should not diminish the level of consumer protection in the Member States, while balancing it with traders’ legal certainty. The EESC acknowledges the REFIT conclusions that consumer protection rules are fit for purpose but notes, as well, that an increasing number of consumers are subject to aggressive marketing and misleading business practices.

1.4.

The EESC supports the proposal to extend consumer rights to all ‘apparently free’ digital services for which users give personal and non-personal data. It also supports greater transparency and responsibility for online platforms.

1.5.

With regard to the review of Directive 2011/83/EU on the protection of consumer rights, two different concerns have emerged within the Committee. Traders are in favour of updating, simplifying and adapting pre-contractual information, whereas consumers consider that this would lower the level of consumer protection.

1.6.

The EESC considers that the provisions on digital content, digital services and online sales should be aligned with Digital Single Market legislation.

1.7.

The EESC considers the right of withdrawal to be an efficient consumer protection tool that should not be undermined. The Committee members share different views on the Commission proposal. Traders — SMEs in particular — need additional legal certainty on unduly tested goods and early reimbursement. Consumers reject the amendment and call for the status quo to be upheld. The Committee calls on the Commission to reconsider this important provision to provide a compromise between the opposing interests.

1.8.

The EESC considers that measures to protect consumers against ‘dual quality products’ are justified and supports the Commission proposal to ensure greater transparency.

1.9.

The Committee supports the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution mechanisms such as mediation or arbitration that should be promoted at European and national level.

1.10.

The EESC calls on the Commission to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of existing consumer protection rules by the Member States; to support the harmonisation of consumer protection rules; to promote cross-border cooperation of national authorities via the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) channel and to launch a communication campaign to facilitate small and medium-sized enterprises’ compliance with consumer protection legislation.

1.11.

The EESC invites the Member States to enact stricter rules to enforce existing consumer protection legislation, tackle national and cross-border infringements and uphold the existing level of consumer protection.

1.12.

The EESC supports the proposal for specific criteria for the establishment of fines as an effective consumer protection instrument. It is important to have truly dissuasive penalties for companies that infringe the rules, amounting to a significant percentage of their annual turnover and taking into account EU-wide infringements.

1.13.

The EESC acknowledges the proposal for a directive on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, and repealing Directive 2009/22/EC. However, the Committee regrets that the recommendations of the EESC opinion on a European Framework for collective redress (2) have not been taken into account when drafting the legislative proposal.

1.14.

Easy and fast access to justice should be granted to all EU citizens. Consumers should be able to obtain compensation in case of suffered prejudice as a consequence of breach of contract. A tailored redress system for collective prejudice is therefore welcome. It should be pragmatic, cost-effective, provide the relevant safeguards and take into account existing national judicial systems.

1.15.

The EESC acknowledges the Commission’s efforts to identify the qualified entities able to claim collective redress, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity and national legislation.

1.16.

Moreover, Member States should support the creation of litigation funds for qualified entities. In cases where prejudice is of a small amount and where it is impossible to track down all people who have suffered prejudice, the EESC supports the Commission’s proposal to allocate such amounts for public purposes; however, the Committee calls for clarification on their nature (e.g. consumer assistance, information and education programmes, litigation funds).

1.17.

Finally, an important safeguard that should be included in the Directive is the possibility to opt in and opt out from a collective action. In keeping with the recommendation of the EESC opinion on a European Framework for collective redress (3), consumers should be free to decide if they wish to opt in or opt out from collective action.

2.   Background information and introduction

2.1.

On 11 April 2018, the European Commission issued a legislative package on a New Deal for Consumers. This package contains a proposal for a Directive (Omnibus Directive) amending Directive 93/13/EEC (4), Directive 98/6/EC (5), Directive 2005/29/EC (6) and Directive 2011/83/EU (7) as regards better enforcement and the modernisation of EU consumer protection rules and a proposal for a Directive on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers repealing Directive 2009/22/EC.

Omnibus directive

2.2.

The Commission proposal COM(2018) 185 on better enforcement and modernisation of EU consumer protection rules is aimed at completing existing mechanisms for consumer protection, cross-border infringements and e-commerce, as well as reducing the burden on traders. The proposal follows the conclusions of the fitness check in the framework of the REFIT programme on EU consumer rights and marketing (8) law and the assessment on directive 2011/83/EU on consumer rights.

2.3.

In particular, the Omnibus Directive proposal contains:

2.3.1.

The introduction of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions in a coordinated manner for both national and cross-border infringements;

2.3.2.

Enhanced transparency in the Digital Single Market with transparency obligations for online platforms;

2.3.3.

The expansion of consumer protection in the sphere of digital services, especially those where consumers do not pay but provide personal and non-personal data which has an economic value and therefore cannot be considered ‘free’;

2.3.4.

The reduction of burdens for businesses, allowing professionals to use new means of online communication, such as web forms or chat as an alternative to email;

2.3.5.

The revision of certain aspects relating to the right of withdrawal. In particular, the trader is allowed to reimburse the consumer only after having inspected the goods and verified that the consumer has not ‘used’ the goods rather than being limited to testing it;

2.3.6.

The possibility for Member States to restrict unsolicited aggressive and misleading practices in the context of door-step selling and excursion sales;

2.3.7.

The explicit inclusion of ‘dual quality’ products and all the marketing actions connected to it, including misleading commercial practices, particularly widespread in the agri-food sector.

Representative actions directive

2.4.

The Commission proposal COM(2018) 184 on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers lays the foundations for a European collective redress mechanism against widespread infringement of consumer protection law. This tool, already available in some EU Member States, should be extended to all. Nevertheless, the subsidiarity principle should apply allowing Member States to define this system at national level while maintaining existing ones.

2.5.

Only qualified entities at national level should be able to act on behalf of consumers and should comply with some of the minimum requirements introduced by the European Commission.

2.6.

The compensation mechanism is linked to an injunction decision. Qualified entities should be able to initiate a case of collective redress only after a court or an administrative authority has ascertained an infringement of consumer rights. The directive applies to infringements committed at national and EU level, enabling cross-border collective redress for consumers.

2.7.

In terms of compensation for prejudice suffered by consumers, the proposal makes a distinction between small amounts where compensation directed to a public cause and substantial amounts where impacted consumers are compensated directly.

3.   General comments on the Omnibus directive

3.1.

The EESC acknowledges the European Commission’s proposal regarding better enforcement and modernisation of EU consumer protection rules and the objective to update existing rules to take into account new consumption habits and to adapt them to the digital single market evolution. However, as recommended by the EESC opinion on consumer vulnerability in business practices (9), concerns related to the lack of implementation of existing rules still need to be addressed.

3.2.

The EESC wishes to refer to the Information Report on Consumer and Marketing law (10) evaluating how civil society organisations across the EU perceive the implementation of EU consumer and marketing law and the EESC Information Report on the Consumer Rights Directive (11) assessing the implementation of the Directive. These information reports have been drawn from three different data collection tools: a questionnaire, an expert hearing and 9 fact-finding missions to Riga, Rome, Warsaw, Madrid, Paris, Athens, Vilnius, Lisbon and Brussels.

3.3.

The EESC remarks that the Commission proposal takes stock of the information reports, calling for more awareness-raising, training and coordination efforts with regards to consumer policy and the regulation of online platform and the digital economy. However, the EESC concerns on the harmonisation of consumer policy; the fragmentation of national enforcement; the need to fund awareness campaigns; encourage life-long training; support SMEs; simplifying legal information to consumers and promoting alternative dispute resolution schemes, self-regulation and codes of conduct are not appropriately addressed in the proposal.

3.4.

The EESC acknowledges that consumers can find themselves in situations where they are misled or aggressively forced to conclude contracts. Specific issues have been flagged regarding call-centres selling energy, telecommunications or water contracts that are misleading consumers. Likewise, similar pressure sales have been flagged during excursions organised to sell products to certain categories of vulnerable consumers. In these situations consumers should be entitled to withdraw from the sales contract and/or be compensated for the prejudice they suffered.

3.5.

As recommended by the EESC opinion on consumer vulnerability in business practices, appropriate individual remedies such as reimbursement, replacement or termination of the sales contract should be offered to consumers. Remedies should also be adapted to the situation of each consumer, enabling them to opt for tailor-made solutions.

3.6.

The EESC also believes that the harmonisation achieved by the EU consumer protection legislation should not be lowered. Taking a step backwards is not creating a level playing field; it does not benefit consumers or traders.

3.7.

The EESC underlines that aggressive and misleading sales tactics are already banned by the full harmonisation Directive 2005/29/EC on Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. The EESC encourages the European Commission to ensure stricter enforcement of existing rules by the Member States.

3.8.

The Committee is divided on the Commission proposal to restrict certain distribution methods. Traders believe these measures should not be limited to door-step selling, stigmatising an entire economic sector, but should target all aggressive practices; consumers support the possibility for Member States to restrict certain sales methods for targeted categories of goods (such as drugs, weapons, pharmaceuticals) for health and safety reasons.

3.9.

In that respect, the cooperation between Member States’ Consumer Protection Authorities in the framework of the CPC regulation is key to efficiently tackling malpractices, without penalising legal operators. Information about traders should be accessible for consumers, and awareness campaigns should be promoted at national and EU level.

3.10.

With regard to the review of the Directive 2011/83/EU on the protection of consumer rights, two different positions and concerns emerged within the Committee. Traders are in favour of updating, simplifying and adapting pre-contractual information, whereas consumers consider that this would lower the level of consumer protection. The Committee is in favour of a balanced approach between consumer protection and traders’ legal certainty. The EESC considers that the provisions on digital content, digital services and online sales should be aligned with Digital Single Market legislation.

3.11.

As regards online platforms, transparency about their identification and responsibility should prevail. The EESC believes that it is essential for a consumer to obtain all relevant information about his counterpart at the time of signing a contract. Furthermore, the transparency of online platforms is a key factor for the development of the Digital Single Market, both for consumers and for businesses (B2B) (12).

3.12.

Furthermore, the EESC also supports the proposal to extend consumer rights to all ‘free’ digital services for which users give personal or non-personal data. As such data has a commercial value, it would be unfair to consumers to consider it ‘free’ and not provide the relevant protection. The set of measures proposed by the European Commission makes it possible to rebalance, at least in part, the relationship between the major global players of online platforms and individual users.

3.13.

The EESC is in favour of introducing modern mechanisms of information exchange between traders and consumers (i.e. chatbots, online forms). The Committee considers that these mechanisms should simplify the dialogue between the parties provided that adequate safeguards for consumers are included, such as the possibility to track the information exchange, to obtain additional information and to submit complaints. In particular, it should always be possible to use traditional forms of contact (such as call centres, for example).

3.14.

The EESC supports the concept of the right of withdrawal and recognises its role as an efficient consumer protection tool that should not be undermined. The Commission proposal risks limiting consumer rights without providing adequate evidence as to the systematic and widespread abuse of such rights. On the other hand, traders and SMEs in particular, need additional legal certainty on unduly tested goods and early reimbursement. The Committee calls on the Commission to reconsider this important point in order to reach a balanced compromise.

3.15.

The EESC welcomes the clarifications around dual-quality products as it appears that some products, food in particular, were labelled identically even if their composition was different with the risk of misleading consumers. Misleading description and labelling of products should be banned to ensure transparency.

3.16.

The EESC supports the proposal for specific criteria for the establishment of fines as an effective consumer protection instrument. As pointed out by the European Consumer Consultative Group, it is important to have dissuasive penalties amounting to a significant percentage of the annual turnover of companies that infringe the rules and taking into account the EU-wide dimension of the infringement. The Commission should examine the possibility of aligning the proposal with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation

3.17.

The EESC also supports the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution mechanisms (13) such as mediation or arbitration, which should be promoted at national level. Out-of-court settlements can be an option prior to court actions and should be supported if relevant. The courts should remain an option of the last resort. The European Commission proposal should further support these options to resolve consumer protection issues.

3.18.

Overall, the EESC considers that sustainability and quality should be at the heart of the supply chain, to ensure consumer protection during the entire production life-cycle.

4.   Specific comments on collective actions in the EU

4.1.

The EESC acknowledges the proposal for a directive on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, and repealing Directive 2009/22/EC (14). However, the Committee regrets that none of the recommendations of several EESC opinions on a European Framework for collective redress (15) have been taken into account when drafting the legislative proposal.

4.2.

The REFIT Fitness Check evaluation showed that the risk of infringements of EU law affecting the collective interests of consumers is increasing due to economic globalisation and digitalisation. In addition, a number of Member States do not provide for effective collective compensatory redress mechanisms tailored for mass prejudice situations and have not implemented the safeguards provided by the European Commission 2013 Recommendation on collective redress (16).

4.3.

Easy and fast access to justice should be granted to all EU citizens. Consumers should be able to obtain compensation in case of prejudice suffered as a consequence of a breach of contract. However, the same applies to traders, who should not be the target of undue litigation. Collective actions are a judicial tool, a procedural right, a fundamental right to allow diffuse, collective and individual homogeneous interests to be judicially protected under Article 81 of the TFEU that should be neutral and not limited to consumers (environment, workers, SMEs rights, energy, sharing economy, circular economy, platforms, all digital rights, etc.).

4.4.

A tailored redress system for collective prejudice is therefore welcome. It should be pragmatic, cost-effective, provide the relevant safeguards and take into account existing national judicial systems (e.g. Norway or Denmark). The EU Directive should define the major guidelines for harmonised EU group action, clearly stating what should be governed by an EU legal instrument and what should be left to Member States, according to subsidiarity; ensure that the scheme contributes to a more efficient, quick, affordable and fair application of justice, enable effective and total compensation for damages and grant the sustainability of this mechanism in terms of adequate funding. The current Commission proposal does not fulfil these objectives.

4.5.

The EESC acknowledges the Commission’s effort to identify the qualified entities able to claim collective redress, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. It should also be made clear that the place of establishment of the qualified entity should be the place of jurisdiction and should determine the applicable law. Additionally, the EESC considers that the Commission should further elaborate on the role of the judge on deciding the consistency of the claim; the burden of proof and production of evidence; the regime of the ‘ruling’ — ‘inter partes’ or ‘erga omnes’ and the regime of appeals.

4.6.

All legal costs of collective actions should be supported according to national judicial aid systems.

4.7.

Consumer or civil society organisations should be able to receive adequate funding and legal advice to claim redress. Specific funds should help qualified entities to remunerate legal counsels. Member States should support the creation of litigation funds for qualified entities.

4.8.

In terms of compensation, the proposed legislation does not fully address the need to provide actual compensation to consumers for the prejudice suffered. The proposal should clearly refer to the compensation of the total amount lost by consumers, regardless of the prejudice suffered.

4.9.

The EESC is concerned about the protection of the rights of entrepreneurs, including the safeguarding of company secrets. Without undermining the protection of consumers who have suffered prejudice, the EESC would welcome the introduction of mechanisms confirming the guarantee of confidentiality of information provided, not only at the stage of the proceedings, but also in final decisions.

4.10.

Likewise, traders would welcome the possibility to settle a case within a short timeframe, including through the above-mentioned alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

4.11.

The EESC invites the Commission to incorporate into the proposal for collective redress a recommendation for Member States to use technological innovations as already done by the technologically most advanced ADR- and ODR-entities, in particular with regard to the gathering of participants for a collective action. This measure should enable significant cost savings for the organizers of the collective action and for the consumer organizations that decide to join. The Commission should also encourage the exchange of best practices with a specific focus on data collection concerning all cases that are the subject of a collective action.

4.12.

In keeping with the recommendation of the EESC opinion on a European Framework for collective redress (17), the Committee believes that consumers should be free to decide whether they wish to opt in or opt out from collective action. In particular, the EESC believes that an opt-in would be appropriate for cases involving a limited number of victims who have suffered significant prejudice, while an opt-out would be more appropriate for cases involving a large number of victims who have suffered limited prejudice.

Brussels, 20 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  OJ C 12, 15.1.2015, p. 1.

(2)  OJ C 170, 5.6.2014, p. 68.

(3)  OJ C 170, 5.6.2014, p. 68.

(4)  Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993 on unfair terms in consumer contracts (OJ L 95, 21.4.1993, p. 29).

(5)  Directive 98/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 1998 on consumer protection in the indication of the prices of products offered to consumers (OJ L 80, 18.3.1998, p. 27).

(6)  Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market and amending Council Directive 84/450/EEC, Directives 97/7/EC, 98/27/EC and 2002/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council (OJ L 149, 11.6.2005, p. 22).

(7)  Directive 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on consumer rights, amending Council Directive 93/13/EEC and Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Council Directive 85/577/EEC and Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (OJ L 304, 22.11.2011, p. 64).

(8)  SWD(2017) 208 final and SWD(2017) 209 final, published on 23.5.2017.

(9)  OJ C 12, 15.1.2015, p. 1.

(10)  EESC Information Report submitted to the plenary session on 14.12.2016 (INT/796).

(11)  EESC Information Report submitted to the plenary session on 14.12.2016 (INT/795).

(12)  EESC opinion: TEN/662 — Fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services (see page 177 of this Official Journal).

(13)  Directive 2013/11/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC (Directive on consumer ADR) (OJ L 165, 18.6.2013, p. 63).

(14)  Directive 2009/22/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on injunctions for the protection of consumers’ interests (OJ L 110, 1.5.2009, p. 30).

(15)  OJ C 170, 5.6.2014, p. 68.

(16)  Commission Recommendation 2013/396/EU of 11 June 2013 on common principles for injunctive and compensatory collective redress mechanisms in the Member States (OJ L 201, 26.7.2013, p. 60).

(17)  OJ C 170, 5.6.2014, p. 68.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/73


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — A renewed European Agenda for Research and Innovation — Europe’s chance to shape its future’

(The European Commission’s contribution to the Informal EU Leaders’ meeting on innovation in Sofia on 16 May 2018)

(COM(2018) 306 final)

(2018/C 440/11)

Rapporteur:

Ulrich SAMM

Co-rapporteur:

Stefano PALMIERI

Referral

European Commission, 18.06.2018

Legal basis

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

 

 

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

04.09.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.09.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

196/1/2

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC welcomes the fact that also in the context of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, the Commission has made it clear that research and innovation must continue to be an essential EU priority.

1.2.

The EESC welcomes the fact that innovation should carry more weight and recalls its call for future funding policy needs to be well-balanced for the whole research and innovation chain, from fundamental to product-driven research. Innovation is key to economic growth and the new instruments will in particular be beneficial for SMEs. The EESC reiterates the importance of public investment in research and development as a key driver for producing and sustaining a spillover effect on the Member States’ economies.

1.3.

The EESC also welcomes the aim of further simplifying State aid rules to facilitate the combination of different funds, which can be instrumental to overcoming the large disparities between Member States and regions in terms of the number of successful research and innovation projects.

1.4.

Horizon Europe needs to invest in areas where there is particular European added value. Collaborative research projects should be prioritised, as they fulfil this requirement in a way that hardly any other programme does.

1.5.

The EESC is convinced that many grand societal challenges can only be solved at a European level and need the concerted efforts of several players, going beyond the scope of individual Collaborative research projects. This is why the idea of missions is supported.

1.6.

Supporting the mobility of researchers via Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) is another key to further strengthening the European Research Area, while EU and national policies must aim to establish adequate and attractive working conditions for professionals to avoid the phenomenon of brain drain which is counterproductive to achieving coherence in the EU.

1.7.

The EESC believes it is necessary to increase the volume of EU investment to help European workers to keep abreast of developments in and earn qualifications for digital professions.

1.8.

The EESC believes that initiatives helping SMEs to capitalise on and tap the outcome of research and innovation should be supported more effectively.

2.   Introduction

2.1.

At the informal EU Leaders’ meeting on innovation in Sofia on 16 May 2018, the European Commission invited those present to discuss and give strategic guidance with a view to the next Multiannual Financial Framework in general and the priorities to be given to Research and Innovation in particular. For this purpose, the EC proposed priorities and new initiatives in its communication (1).

2.2.

This proposal serves also as a first step towards the definition of the next Framework Programme (FP9 or Horizon Europe) aiming at the continuation and improvement of the successful Horizon 2020 programme (2).

2.3.

Equally, activities are proposed to support innovation and boost industrial leadership following the renewed EU Industrial Policy Strategy (3).

3.   Gist of the proposal

3.1.

The proposal of European Commission intends to ensure that research and innovation continues to be one of the essential EU policies and funding priorities in the future, across different budgetary instruments. More emphasis is given to innovation to make Europe a frontrunner in market-creating innovation.

3.2.

The Commission proposes to increase investments in research and innovation by allocating about EUR 100 billion to the future programme Horizon Europe and the Euratom Research and Training Programme (4).

3.3.

Equally, the Commission proposed to mobilise around EUR 11 billion for market-based instruments, including financial instruments and budgetary guarantees in a dedicated window under the InvestEU Fund, which in return would mobilise EUR 200 billion of private investment to support research and innovation.

3.4.

Member States are urged to take the necessary steps to increase their spending in research and innovation to reach the 3 % of GDP target.

3.5.

Launch of a first set of EU-level research and innovation missions with bold, ambitious goals and strong European added value. The missions will encourage investment and participation across multiple sectors throughout the value chains, policy areas (e.g. energy and climate, transport, advanced manufacturing, health and nutrition, digital), scientific disciplines (including social sciences and humanities).

3.6.

It is proposed that, whenever reviewing policy and legislation of EU and national regulatory frameworks, the innovation principle should be applied, ensuring that the impact on innovation is fully assessed.

3.7.

A European Innovation Council (EIC) will be established to identify and scale up breakthrough and disruptive innovation, focusing on fast-moving, high-risk innovations that have a strong potential to create entirely new markets.

3.8.

Measures to increase private investment in research and innovation and scale-up initiatives:

implementation of a Pan-European Venture Capital Funds-of-Funds programme (VentureEU);

transposition of the Directive (5) on preventing restructuring frameworks, second chances and measures to increase the efficiency of restructuring, insolvency and discharge procedures.

3.9.

Further simplifying State aid rules to facilitate the seamless combination of different funds and the better use of common assessment standards for research and innovation projects.

3.10.

The Commission advocates for a tax system (6) that supports innovation by allowing the costs of research and innovation investment to be tax deductible, with additional allowances for young companies.

3.11.

Introduction of an Open Science label for universities and public research organisations to empower them to become more entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary.

4.   General comments

4.1.

The EESC welcomes the fact that also in the context of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 the Commission has made it clear that research and innovation must continue to be an essential EU priority. A strong and successful programme that brings together excellence, joint research infrastructures, collaboration across borders as well as synergies between academia, industry, SMEs and research organisations is a key policy instrument for achieving sustainable European economic growth and competitiveness and to address the major challenges faced by European society.

4.2.

The EESC welcomes the fact that innovation should carry more weight and recalls its claim that the future funding policy needs to be well-balanced for the whole research and innovation chain, from fundamental to product-driven research (7). Innovation is key to economic growth and the new instruments will be in particular beneficial for SMEs. The EESC reiterates the importance of public investment in research and development as a key driver for producing and sustaining a spillover effect on the Member States’ economies.

4.3.

Regarding the high expectations that are related to the impact of Horizon Europe and its role in securing European competitiveness, the EESC recommends funding of EUR 120 billion, as also proposed by the European Parliament. The European Institutions have to demonstrate that they have grasped the overwhelming importance of research and innovation for the future competitiveness of the EU.

4.4.

The EESC believes it is necessary to increase the volume of EU investment to help European workers to keep abreast of developments in and earn qualifications for digital professions. Moreover, the EESC believes that initiatives helping SMEs to capitalise on and tap the outcome of research and innovation should be supported more effectively.

5.   Specific comments

5.1.   Research along the whole value chain

5.1.1.

European Structural and Investment Funds should be used to bring regions into the innovation economy. Synergies should be created with the Horizon Europe Programme, InvestEU Fund, the European Social Fund, the Erasmus+ Programme, the Digital Europe Programme, the Common Agricultural Policy and other programmes.

5.1.2.

The EU is the most open research and innovation area in the world. Not only does it welcome research organisations from all over the world into its projects, but it also collaborates extensively with international partners on joint programmes. Horizon Europe needs to invest in those areas where there is special European added value. Collaborative research (8) projects should be prioritised, as they fulfil this requirement in a way that hardly any other programme does: in order to make further progress on societal challenges that cannot be solved at the national level, these projects bring together the best scientists, as well as the most innovative SME and Industry stakeholders in Europe. By combining their skills and competences across disciplines, collaborative research projects result in valuable benefits for Europe’s citizens.

5.1.3.

The EESC is convinced that many grand societal challenges can only be solved at a European level and need the concerted efforts of several players, going beyond the scope of individual collaborative research projects. This is why the idea of missions is supported. The EESC acknowledges that common ambitious goals have the potential to inspire and to create momentum, i.e. the willingness to take action, across various communities, including the public. Missions should offer a long-term funding perspective over the full funding period of Horizon Europe. It is essential that the missions are first and foremost conceptualised as large-scale research missions even if they integrate various stakeholders in their sub-projects. To achieve the missions’ ambitious goals, they need to cover the whole innovation chain and include research activities on all Technology Readiness Levels. The EESC urges not to oversell the mere concept of missions, but to provide them with the adequate funding needed for their goals. These goals should be both reachable and tangible.

5.1.4.

One of the strengths of European research framework programmes is their tangible EU-wide commitment to foster a European Research Area that is open to all Member States. Stronger synergies between the next framework programme and structural funds could support this openness. Bridging the gaps between regions more effectively is one of the major political challenges for the coming years, and effective partnerships between research institutions can be one key.

5.1.5.

One important instrument in this context are FET Flagships. They are characterised by a strong focus on the development of innovative technologies. This is a unique strength. Europe needs to allow itself large-scale and long-term projects that can bear a level of uncertainty and are yet as innovative as they are forward-looking. FET Flagships should therefore be clearly differentiated from the missions. It is essential that the future FET Flagships start as planned and continue to receive priority funding.

5.1.6.

Making research infrastructure accessible all across the EU and beyond is one of the success stories of the framework programmes. Undoubtedly, top research infrastructure attracts top scientists and very often it is only access to research infrastructure that makes breakthrough results possible. Hence, research infrastructure urgently need higher funding at the European level, not the decrease in budget share which the European Commission has provided for in its proposal Securing the access of users from the EU13 countries should be a priority concern.

5.1.7.

Supporting the mobility of researchers via Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) is another key to further strengthening the European Research Area and creating impact that cannot be achieved at a national level. The EESC welcomes any initiative designed to support the mobility of researchers working in SMEs. The EESC is, however, concerned about the phenomenon of brain drain which might even be enhanced by mobility funding and so calls for EU and national policies to focus on establishing adequate and attractive working conditions for professionals to avoid this trend, which is counterproductive to achieving coherence in the EU.

5.1.8.

It should be noted that academic stakeholders from public-funded institutions in many Member States are not allowed to take out loans. Horizon Europe should therefore primarily remain focused on co-funding, not on loans.

5.1.9.

The EESC joins the plea to the Member States to take the necessary steps to increase their spending in research and innovation to reach the 3 % of GDP target.

5.2.   Research and Innovation for new markets and cohesion in Europe

5.2.1.

As underlined in the 7th report on economic, social and territorial cohesion research & innovation’ in the EU remains highly concentrated in a limited number of regions. In north-western Member States, good interregional connections, a highly skilled labour force and an attractive business environment have made it possible to capitalise on ‘research & innovation’ as tangible drivers to support economic competitiveness and social cohesion. In southern and eastern Member States, the innovation performance is weaker and regions close to centres of innovation — mainly the capitals — do not benefit from their proximity. This calls for policies that connect firms, research centres and specialised business services across regions. The EESC believes that further simplifying State aid rules to facilitate the seamless combination of different funds can be key for this objective.

5.2.2.

The post-2020 ‘research & innovation’ programmes have to take into account the economic, social and territorial dimensions that characterise EU regions, avoiding the implementation of ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategies. This approach can be supported by the implementation of strategies based on ‘open innovation’. Concerning the territorial dimension of ‘Research and Innovation’ policies, it is important to build new programmes and priorities, taking into account the economic and social aspects which characterise the territories where the action will be implemented.

5.2.3.

The post-2020 ‘research & innovation’ policies and programmes should be consistent with the targets of the ‘Economy for the Common Good — ECG’, a sustainable economic model geared towards social cohesion. ECG is a process of ‘social innovation’ and positive entrepreneurship useful to promote and support new ideas that simultaneously solve social needs, create new social relationships and strengthen economic value creation.

5.2.4.

Despite the broad commitments made as part of the implementation of the 2014-2020 programmes, SME access to innovation-based growth opportunities has had little impact in terms of competitiveness and job creation. The support framework for research and innovation some regions is still too complex, which discourages micro and small enterprises from participating in EU projects in particular. The EESC, therefore, welcomes the development of a European Innovation Council (EIC) which should accelerate the commercialisation and scale up of innovations by start-ups emerging from Horizon Europe projects. The EIC might become a faster mechanism for completing the final steps in closing the innovation gap.

5.2.5.

In order to transform research and innovation opportunities into factors for competitiveness and economic development, it essential to support cooperation between SMEs and R & D&I institutions, entrepreneurial start-ups based on the transfer of research and innovation, and coaching and fundraising activities. The EESC considers that it is important to support the transfer and capitalisation of the ‘quintuple helix’ model (9) to boost public and private partnerships.

5.2.6.

SMEs could be the leaders in terms of ‘social open innovations’, in which the human know-how for networking and capacities to co-create, co-design, and co-innovate are fundamental for the complete achievement of the social innovation in all Europe. There is the need to promote appropriate innovation policies for SMEs following what is already done by Eureka initiative. This task could be specifically faced by institutions that can directly support SMEs in engaging in business development and innovation, such as the Chambers of Commerce.

5.2.7.

In order to respect the subsidiarity principle and the considerable capacities of regions and Member States in the field of SME support, it however urges to focus on the European added value. This may lie in supporting collaboration of more than two European innovation actors or in providing capital to innovators with concepts too risky to be supported at national level. In addition, the streamlining of instruments mentioned above should lead to more efficiency of the funding landscape. It should therefore be expected that the EIC would require less budget share of Horizon Europe than the financial instruments of Horizon 2020, not the considerable increase provided for in the EC proposal. In the post-2020 ‘research & Innovation’ programmes, greater support should be given to the targets’ qualitative aspects.

5.2.8.

The ‘smartness’ of a socioeconomic system cannot be measured solely on the basis of quantitative indicators such as research and innovation spending; use should also be made of qualitative indicators such as the type of innovations brought, advantages for civil society and the number of new jobs created. The EESC, therefore, welcomes that.

5.2.9.

The EESC welcomes the fact that under the new MFF, the Commission has included accessibility as an ‘enabling condition’. All EU and national R&I funding must comply fully with accessibility criteria so that outcomes benefit all social groups, including people with disabilities, who represent 15 % of the EU population.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  COM(2018) 306 final.

(2)  See OJ C 34, 2.2.2017, p. 66 and ‘Evaluation of Horizon 2020’ (Information Report).

(3)  OJ C 197, 8.6.2018, p. 10.

(4)  The proposed budget allocation of EUR 100 billion for 2021-2027 includes EUR 97,6 bn under Horizon Europe (EUR 3,5 bn of which will be allocated under the InvestEU Fund) and EUR 2,4 bn for the Euratom Research and Training Programme.

(5)  COM(2016) 723 final.

(6)  Anticipated under the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).

(7)  OJ C 34, 2.2.2017, p. 66.

(8)  Collaborative research with a minimum of three partners from different Member States makes it possible to join forces to tackle challenges that cannot be met by one country alone and creates synergies within the EU research landscape, thus creating significant EU added value, such as those designed and implemented by Eureka.

(9)  Quintuple Helix and how do knowledge, innovation and the environment relate to each other? A proposed framework for a trans-disciplinary analysis of sustainable development and social ecology, International Journal of Social Ecology and Sustainable Development, Vol.1, No 1, p. 41-69.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/79


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulations (EU) No 596/2014 and (EU) No 2017/1129 as regards the promotion of the use of SME growth markets’

(COM(2018) 331 final — 2018/0165 (COD))

(2018/C 440/12)

Rapporteur:

Mihai IVAŞCU

Referral

European Parliament, 11.06.2018

Council, 21.06.2018

Legal basis

Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

04.09.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.09.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

196/1/1

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC supports the Commission’s proposal to make capital markets a credible alternative for financing and believes that a balance should be achieved between the three main objectives of the proposal: growing the SME markets, alleviating burdens and raising the liquidity level. The European Commission (EC) must not overregulate, but maintain a level of barriers that will discourage unprepared companies.

1.2.

The EESC expresses its belief that the current proposal, although a step in the right direction, is not enough to tackle the existing barriers on the SME Growth Markets. While there is indeed a need for a holistic approach, each individual step must carry its own weight.

1.3.

Compared with companies in the United States, those in the EU still seek bank loans as a financing option in a much larger number, sometimes even by accepting significant additional costs. Further financial education is needed, as the EU public markets have struggled to attract new issuers and the number of IPOs has not significantly increased.

1.4.

The EESC stands by its previous opinions that the low level of communication (1) and bureaucratic approaches (2) are significant barriers and much more effort must be put into overcoming these obstacles. Communication from Brussels should always target the bottom of the chain — the SMEs themselves — by involving SME associations, social partners, chambers of commerce, and so on.

1.5.

The proposal of maintaining only permanent insider lists for SMEs and the proposed two-day extension to the deadline for disclosing managers’ transactions are very much welcomed. Regarding these, the EESC can only suggest that the EC explores further methods of removing burden from the SMEs and move it to other stakeholders, such as the National Competent Authorities (NCAs), for example.

1.6.

The alleviated prospectus is indeed a significant reduction in burden, but the EESC considers that further possibilities should be examined of gradually simplifying the transfer prospectus for companies that have proven their maturity by being listed on SME Growth Markets for a significant number of years.

1.7.

The EESC is in favour of the proposed changes to the market sounding regime and would like to caution against overly detailed and/or prescriptive explanation requests from the NCAs.

1.8.

The EESC advises the EC to look into the possibility of attracting institutional investors, such as private pension funds, to invest in these SME Growth Markets, by providing incentives, especially concerning tax treatment. Member States should explore possibilities for further attractive investment support schemes at national level.

1.9.

The liquidity contracts are extremely welcomed, especially for the underdeveloped markets. The EESC believes that the 29th regime on liquidity contracts prepared by the European Commission will create an additional option for issuers, alongside national legislation.

1.10.

The EESC would like to point out that a thorough and regular impact assessment is warranted. Done yearly, these assessments could provide valuable information for future changes to the regulatory framework.

2.   The European Commission’s proposal

2.1.

This proposal for a Regulation is part of the Capital Markets Union agenda and focuses on specific changes to the functioning of the SME Growth Markets, which have been regulated as of January 2018. The EU has made considerable progress in terms of increasing sources of funding as firms gradually scale up, and making market-based finance more widely available across the EU. New rules are already in place to boost EU venture capital funds’ (EuVECA) investment in start-ups and medium-sized companies. Together with the European Investment Fund, the Commission has also launched a Pan-European Venture Capital Funds-of-Funds programme (VentureEU).

2.2.

The main goal of the proposal is to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to be listed and to use capital markets to finance their growth. The proposal includes a fine-tuning of the initial framework that represents a step forward towards improved and more effective regulation.

2.3.

The proposal will apply to all the companies that are listed on the SME Growth Markets, be they SMEs or not. This ensures, first of all, that fast-growing companies are not penalised for their positive economic performance; and second, that these markets will be able to attract large companies as well. By introducing these new rules, the Commission expects that more Multilateral Trading Facilities (MTFs) will register as SME Growth Markets (so far, only 3 out of 40 have done so).

2.4.

The proposal includes alleviations that would:

lower the burden for SMEs regarding recording and disclosure obligations while preserving market integrity and a comprehensive flow of information to investors;

create common rules for liquidity contracts on the SME Growth Markets, allowing an increase in the liquidity of shares;

allow issuers to produce an alleviated prospectus when trying to move to a regulated market (a new category of transfer prospectus will allow issuers who have been listed for at least three years to move more easily to access the main stock exchanges, hence targeting better liquidity and a larger number of investors).

3.   General comments

3.1.

SMEs account for 99,8 % of all non-financial enterprises in the EU, generating about 58 % of total added value and employing over 90 million people. However, every year, around 200 000 SMEs go bankrupt, affecting over 1,7 million workers (3).

3.2.

According to the EIB Investment Survey 2016/2017, SMEs usually depend on internal funds for investment (over 60 %) (4). The remainder is mostly made up of banking instruments. Market-based finance is not fulfilling its potential. The EESC believes that increasing this is crucial for innovative companies, or for those with a high risk-return profile.

Table 1

Source of investment finance in the last financial year, EU28  (5)

(%)

 

Micro

Small

Medium

Large

Internal funds or retained earnings

71

64

59

57

External finance

28

35

38

38

Bank loans

60

60

57

54

Other bank finance

11

8

10

11

Leasing

18

23

24

23

Factoring

2

3

3

4

Loans from family/friends

4

2

1

1

Grants

4

3

4

3

Bonds

0

0

1

4

Equity

0

0

0

1

Other

1

1

1

1

Intra-group funding

0

1

3

5

Note: All firms who invested in the last financial year (excluding don’t know/refused responses).

3.3.

The EESC would like to point out the reluctance of SMEs in seeking financing from capital markets and their willingness to suffer the increased costs of financing through bank credit. This cultural characteristic is one of the main differencing factors from the more successful US capital markets and the lower dependence of American companies on bank loans. Further financial education is of paramount importance.

3.4.

In other opinions, the EESC has already mentioned its belief that a ‘bureaucratic approach and the complexity of administrative rules are still prevalent in EU SME policies and the current support mechanisms, despite the constant efforts at EU level to minimise the administrative burden’ (6).

3.5.

The EESC has previously expressed its support for other proposals aimed at reducing the administrative burden of drawing up prospectuses for all issuers, in particular for SMEs, frequent issuers of securities and secondary issuances (7). Furthermore, the EESC has explained that ‘While bank loans are a reality, access to equity as a financial tool is also needed but is not sufficiently developed in Europe due to punitive tax regimes, lack of equity culture, poor financial literacy and fragmented insolvency regimes’ (8).

3.6.

The EESC is in favour of the European Commission’s initiative to reduce the administrative burden on SMEs, allowing them to have easier access to capital markets and to diversify their financing sources. The EESC also supports the stated objective of this proposal to increase liquidity of shares issued by SME Growth Market issuers.

3.7.

Although the advantages for SMEs of being listed on the dedicated markets are obvious, and although this improves and diversifies their financing opportunities, the EU public markets have actually struggled to attract new issuers, and the number of initial public offerings is not increasing significantly. Only 3 000 out of over 20 million existing SMEs are listed and there are only half as many IPOs compared to before the financial crisis. Insufficient liquidity on these markets translates into higher costs for issuers to raise capital and reluctance to invest on the part of capital holders, and means that market intermediaries are less inclined to support small listed companies.

3.8.

Equity finance is key for innovative companies that create value and growth, and especially for companies that have a high risk-return profile. Seed and early stage equity finance can boost firm creation and development, whereas other equity instruments, such as specialised platforms for the public listing of SMEs, can provide financial resources for growth-oriented and innovative SMEs. Additionally, equity financing may be more suitable than debt financing for SMEs that lack collateral, have negative or irregular cash flows, or require longer maturities for their investments to pay off (9).

3.9.

The EU markets are still fragmented and they do not seem able to support a large number of IPOs. Europe seemingly has a strong position in growing innovative high-tech firms, but when these companies are in need of robust capital investments, they usually go bankrupt. Fast-growing companies also often leave the EU market in favour of the United States, searching for more accessible stock option schemes.

3.10.

Listed companies are less dependent on bank financing, can access a larger investment base, and have a higher public profile. Despite this, more needs to be done to develop a more conducive regulatory framework to support access to public funding for small and medium-sized enterprises, especially by promoting the SME Growth Market label. The right balance between investor protection and market integrity should also be struck by means of proper regulation.

3.11.

SMEs with diversified financing sources are more robust and competitive, benefiting from reduced costs and better development perspectives. This allows for a stronger job market and better opportunities for citizens seeking a job regardless of their level of training.

3.12.

The EESC recommends that the European Commission consider further alleviations to the SME Growth Markets rules and requirements, so as to better differentiate them from regulated markets and make them more attractive as entry-level markets.

4.   Specific comments

4.1.

The EESC fully supports ongoing efforts to make capital markets a credible alternative for financing, as part of the Capital Markets Union agenda. However, it still seems doubtful that the current efforts are enough to reduce the considerable barriers that currently exist on the market. SMEs do not seem to be changing their financing behaviour; therefore, more needs to be done. The EC has recognised that it is just one step forward and not a complete solution to all the challenges of the capital markets.

Table 2

Types of finance that SMEs wish to see more in the financing mix over the next three years, EU28 (10)

Image

4.2.

While it remains to be seen if they will indeed reduce compliance costs, alleviate burdens and promote market liquidity — as all these objectives are quite ambitious — the EESC believes that the measures proposed are a step in the right direction.

4.3.

The EESC believes that the low number of SMEs that get access to market-based financing is also due to the lack of low-level communication. The messages and tools at EU level are not reaching the bottom of the chain — i.e. the SMEs that are targeted. This is due to several reasons, most importantly the insufficient proactive communication and interaction from Brussels to the Member States and to SME associations, the social partners or chambers of commerce. The EESC warned about this in a previous opinion (11), but has seen hardly any improvements so far.

4.4.

On the other hand, the low number of institutional investors in the SME shares and bonds markets can be explained by the lack of incentives provided for these investors, especially concerning tax treatments. The EESC advises the Commission to look into this possibility.

4.5.

The EESC welcomes the proposed two-day extension to the deadline to make managers’ transactions public. This is an important tool for preserving the transparency and symmetry of the junior markets, but the three-day deadline was a critical constraint for the SMEs. The EESC believes that the proposed amendment will lead to a more streamlined procedure in more difficult or busy periods for companies. The EESC recommends that the Commission should explore ways to remove the administrative burden from companies and shift it to other actors, such as the NCAs.

4.6.

The EESC has already expressed its full support for simplifying and streamlining the requirements for the prospectus published when securities are offered on regulated markets, making them more cost-effective and more useful for investors in terms of the information they contain (12). Any new proposal that works towards this goal is more than welcome. Considering the large amount of information that companies on the SME Growth Markets are required to disclose under the Market Abuse Regulation and Directive 2014/65/EU, the EESC considers that a simpler transfer prospectus is sufficient for companies moving to a regulated market.

4.7.

Furthermore, the EESC would support the gradual simplification of the prospectus for transferring to the regulated market for companies that have been listed for a reasonable number of years on an SME Growth Market.

4.8.

The EESC welcomes the proposal of maintaining only permanent insider lists for companies listed on the SME Growth Markets, as the number of employees with access to insider information is limited and mostly the same. This represents a significant burden reduction.

4.9.

The EESC is supportive of the modifications to the market sounding regime as the proposed amendments will facilitate the issuance of corporate bonds by SME Growth Market issuers. Concerning the justifications to be provided by SME Growth Market issuers when the public disclosure of inside information is delayed, the EESC believes that the explanations requested by the NCAs on an ad hoc basis, following notification by the issuer, should not be too detailed or overly prescriptive.

4.10.

The Market Abuse Regulation is a source of administrative and legal costs and can be seen by non-EU issuers as a barrier to listing on EU markets. The EESC recommends that further amendments should be made to tailor the requirements for the SME Growth Markets.

4.11.

While liquidity contracts are welcomed, especially for undeveloped markets, a proposal at European level would create a level playing field on which local conditions can be built. The EESC believes that the 29th regime on liquidity contracts, which the EC is currently working on, will create the possibility for market issuers to establish a liquidity contract either on the basis of national legislation, where it exists, or on the basis of Europe-wide regulation.

4.12.

The EC’s proposal is a definitive step forward. However, the EESC suggests that there should be regular impact assessments with a wide access to non-confidential data and analyses based on quantitative indicators.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  OJ C 345, 13.10.2017, p. 15.

(2)  OJ C 345, 13.10.2017, p. 15.

(3)  Marcin Szczepanski, ‘Helping European SMEs to grow: Start-up and scale-up initiatives for business ventures in the EU’.

(4)  ‘EIBIS 2016/2017: Surveying Corporate Investment Activities, Needs and Financing in the EU’, European Investment Bank, 2017.

(5)  Apostolos Thomadakis, ‘Developing EU Capital Markets for SMEs: Mission impossible?’, ECMI Commentary No 46, 4 September 2017.

(6)  OJ C 345, 13.10.2017, p. 15.

(7)  OJ C 177, 18.5.2016, p. 9.

(8)  OJ C 288, 31.8.2017, p. 20.

(9)  Iota Kaousar Nassr and Gert Wehinger, ‘Opportunities and limitations of public equity markets for SMEs’, OECD Journal: Financial Market Trends 2015/1, 49-84.

(10)  Apostolos Thomadakis, ‘Developing EU Capital Markets for SMEs: Mission impossible?’, ECMI Commentary No 46, 4 September 2017.

(11)  OJ C 345, 13.10.2017, p. 15.

(12)  OJ C 177, 18.5.2016, p. 9.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/85


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2009/103/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 16 September 2009 relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to ensure against such liability’

(COM(2018) 336 final — 2018/0168 (COD))

(2018/C 440/13)

Rapporteur:

Christophe LEFÉVRE

Referral

Council, 6.6.2018

European Parliament, 11.6.2018

Legal basis

Article 114(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

4.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

191/0/6

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the proposals made by the Commission when amending the Directive on insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to ensure against such liability. However, the Committee regrets that the Commission has not taken this opportunity to anticipate the changes connected to driverless motor vehicles, despite the comments included in the impact assessment (1) accompanying the proposal.

1.2.

As regards improving the protection of victims of motor vehicle accidents in the event of insolvency of the insurer, the Committee endorses the proposal to compensate victims through the body established in the victim’s Member State of residence. Nonetheless, the Commission excludes recourse to the body if the victim has referred the matter to the insurer directly or initiated legal proceedings. The Committee therefore recommends that this exclusion should not apply if the insurer goes out of business during this period (bankruptcy, winding up proceedings) or if the victim cedes the appeal payout to the body in order to be compensated more quickly. The Committee recommends that the levels of compensation (items of damage) chosen from between the levels in force in the country in which the accident took place and those in force in the country of residence should be those most advantageous to the victim.

1.3.

As regards improving recognition of claims history statements, the Committee recommends indicating the name of the driver implicated and his or her degree of responsibility for the accident (full, partial or none). The Committee questions the content of the statement under national legislation covering a vehicle irrespective of the driver, compared to legislation whereby a vehicle is insured for a given driver with the premiums set on the basis of the individual risk profile and accident history, or whereby a driving licence holder is insured regardless of the vehicle used. The Committee asks the Commission to require that these insurance certificates and claims history statements be issued in a form which can be authenticated and to authorise the use of an interconnected database available to law enforcement for the purpose of verifying the validity of the certificates and statements.

1.4.

As regards checks on insurance to combat uninsured driving, the Committee welcomes the proposal to use number plate recognition technology to check vehicles without having to stop them as part of a nation-wide system. If the vehicle is not covered by an insurance policy, the Committee recommends immobilising the vehicle until a valid insurance certificate is produced.

1.5.

As regards harmonisation of minimum amounts of cover, the Committee recommends that the Commission set a final deadline for completing the implementation of minimum compensation thresholds.

1.6.

As regards the scope of the directive, the Committee welcomes the clarification regarding the concept of a means of transport on public or private property, whether stationary or moving, excluding exclusively agricultural use. However, steps will have to be taken to ensure that agricultural vehicles circulating on the public highway are subject to the directive.

1.7.

Lastly, as regards consistency with existing provisions in the policy area, the Committee notes that the Commission’s proposals support the free movement of persons and goods and internal market principles ensuring the free provision of services and free establishment by insurers.

2.   Background and introduction

2.1.

The Commission proposes to amend the Directive relating to insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to ensure against such liability, amending Directive 2009/103/EC of the European Parliament and the Council (2).

2.2.

The European Commission aims to improve the currently inadequate protection of the victims of motor vehicle accidents, to reduce unequal treatment of policyholders with regard to no claims discount systems and to incorporate European Court of Justice rulings delivered since the first EU directive on vehicle insurance was adopted in 1972.

2.3.

The directive is a legal tool which is vital for the efficient operation of the single market as regards freedom of movement, based on a single premium with no need to take out an additional insurance policy in order to move around in another Member State; it also seeks to guarantee a high degree of convergence with regard to the protection of victims of motor vehicle accidents.

2.4.

The legislation is based on the international green card system which was not devised by the EU and which 48 countries have now joined. The key aspects of Directive 2009/103/EC are as follows:

an obligation on motor vehicles to have a motor third party liability insurance policy, valid for all parts of the EU on the basis of a single premium;

obligatory minimum amounts of cover which such insurance policies must provide (Member States may require higher cover at national level);

a prohibition on Member States from carrying out systematic checks of insurance of vehicles normally based in another Member State;

an obligation on Member States to create guarantee funds for compensation of victims of accidents caused by uninsured or unidentified vehicles;

protection for victims of motor vehicle accidents in a Member State other than their Member State of residence (‘visiting victims’);

a right for policyholders to obtain a statement of their claims history for the past five years from their insurer.

2.5.

Directive 2009/103/EC was evaluated (3) in 2017 in connection with the Commission’s 2016 work programme and the March 2017 action plan on financial services, and two CJEU rulings were delivered that same year. As a result, the Commission has set out its own position.

2.5.1.   Improving the protection of victims of motor vehicle accidents in the event of insolvency of the insurer

2.5.1.1.

The Commission proposes that a body be authorised in each Member State to compensate injured persons who normally reside in their territory for at least the amount required of insurance for material damage or personal injuries caused by a vehicle which is insured, if they do not receive, within three months, a reasoned reply to the information provided when making a claim, or if the insurance or reinsurance undertaking is bankrupt or being wound up. This would not apply if the victim has already submitted a claim directly to the insurer or taken legal action.

2.5.1.2.

The Commission anticipates that this body would be reimbursed by the body established in the country of the person in the wrong.

2.5.2.   Improving recognition of claims history statements, particularly across borders

2.5.2.1.

The directive requires that a claims history statement be issued covering the last five years. Insurers are not required to take this into account when calculating the premiums.

2.5.2.2.

The Commission recommends standardising the content and form of these claims history statements, which should provide the details needed to adapt the premiums in line with the claims history and to ensure that the statement can be authenticated.

2.5.3.   Insurance checks to combat uninsured driving

2.5.3.1.

The Commission recommends using number plate recognition technology to check vehicles without stopping them as part of a comprehensive national checking system, which does not interfere with the free movement of people and vehicles.

2.5.3.2.

The Commission points out that, in order to verify vehicles’ insurance status when they enter the territory of a Member State, data must be exchanged between Member States.

2.5.4.   Harmonisation of minimum amounts of cover

2.5.4.1.

The Commission further notes that the minimum levels of compensation differ from one country to another, largely due to the fact that these levels were not adjusted during the transition period. The Commission recommends that the minimum amounts of cover be harmonised, with each Member State nonetheless able to set higher minima.

2.5.5.   Scope of the directive

2.5.5.1.

By incorporating three CJEU rulings (4), the Commission clarified the scope of the motor third party liability insurance obligation, excluding accidents in which the vehicle was used for exclusively agricultural use: any activity consistent with the normal function of a vehicle as a means of transport on the public highway or on private property, whether the vehicle is stationary or moving.

2.6.   Consistency with other EU policies

2.6.1.

The Commission notes that its proposals support the free movement of persons and goods and internal market principles ensuring the free provision of services and free establishment by insurers.

3.   Comments

3.1.

The EESC welcomes the proposals made by the Commission when amending the Directive on insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles, and the enforcement of the obligation to ensure against such liability. This amendment is the result of feedback provided for under the legislative framework, impact assessments and public consultations and the integration of CJEU case-law.

3.2.   Improving the protection of victims of motor vehicle accidents in the event of insolvency of the insurer

3.2.1.

The Committee endorses the proposal to compensate victims through the body in the Member State of residence in order to offset the inaction of insurers or in the absence of a reasoned reply within a reasonable timeframe, and supports the fact that the body in the victim’s Member State of residence can apply to the third-country body of the responsible insured party for reimbursement.

3.2.2.

However, since the proposal precludes the managing body from compensating the victim if the victim has contacted the insurer directly or if legal proceedings are underway, the Committee recommends that this exclusion should not apply in the following circumstances:

if during this period the insurer goes out of business (bankruptcy, winding up proceedings);

should the supervisory authorities withdraw the insurer’s licence to operate;

if the victim cedes the payout to the body so that the victim can be compensated very quickly.

The Committee recommends that the levels of compensation (items of damage) chosen from between the levels in force in the country in which the accident took place and those in force in the country of residence should be those most advantageous to the victim.

3.3.   Improving recognition of claims history statements, particularly across borders

3.3.1.

The Committee welcomes the move to issue systematically a standardised statement certifying whether the person has been involved in any accidents over the last five years.

3.3.2.

The Committee further recommends indicating the name of the driver implicated and his or her degree of responsibility for the accident (full, partial or none).

3.3.3.

The Committee questions the content of the statement under national legislation covering a vehicle irrespective of the driver, compared to legislation whereby a vehicle is insured for a given driver with the premiums set on the basis of the individual risk profile and accident history, or whereby a driving licence holder is insured regardless of the vehicle used.

3.3.4.

The Committee does however have questions regarding the situation arising from driverless motor vehicles, or possibly regarding the concept of the responsible ‘driver’ when the motor vehicle is being piloted remotely.

3.3.5.

The Committee notes that the Commission does not plan to legislate on document fraud connected to claims history statements or insurance certificates.

3.3.6.

The Committee asks the Commission to require that these insurance certificates and claims history statements be issued in a form which can be authenticated and to authorise the use of an interconnected database available to law enforcement for the purpose of verifying the validity of the certificates and statements.

3.3.7.

The Committee notes that the Commission does not mention how the implementation of these cross-border interconnected systems will be financed.

3.4.   Checks on insurance to combat uninsured driving

3.4.1.

The Committee welcomes the proposal to use number plate recognition technology to check vehicles without stopping them, providing that the checks are part of a comprehensive national checking system, are not discriminatory and do not involve stopping the vehicle.

3.4.2.

However, the Commission remains silent regarding what action should be taken regarding vehicles identified as not being protected by an insurance policy. The Committee recommends immobilising the vehicle until an insurance certificate is produced which either is still valid or which was valid until less than a month previously.

3.4.3.

The Commission points out that this check on vehicles’ insurance status when entering the territory of a Member State requires data to be exchanged between Member States, and that the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of the people concerned by these data must be safeguarded by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

3.4.4.

However, the Commission has nothing to say regarding the managing operator or how the costs involved in setting up and managing an interconnected database of valid or invalid insurance policies would be covered.

3.5.   Harmonisation of minimum amounts of cover

3.5.1.

The Committee supports the Commission’s analysis regarding varying minimum thresholds, particularly those thresholds which fail to meet requirements as they are below the thresholds provided for by the directive in nearly half of the EU Member States.

3.5.2.

Rather than simply recommending that the thresholds be harmonised (5), the Committee recommends that the Commission set a final deadline (possibly the end of 2019) to finish implementing minimum compensation thresholds, since the deadline has already passed.

3.5.3.

The Committee recommends that the levels of compensation (items of damage) chosen from between the levels in force in the country in which the accident took place and those in force in the country of residence should be those most advantageous to the victim.

3.6.   Scope of the directive

3.6.1.

The Committee welcomes the clarification regarding the concept of a means of transport on public or private property, whether stationary or moving, excluding exclusively agricultural use. However, steps will have to be taken to ensure that agricultural vehicles circulating on the public highway are subject to the directive.

3.7.   Consistency with existing policy provisions in the policy area

3.7.1.

The Committee would also point out that the Commission’s proposals support the free movement of persons and goods, and that they comply with internal market principles ensuring the free provision of services and free establishment by insurers.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/10102/2018/EN/SWD-2018-247-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1.PDF.

(2)  OJ L 263, 7.10.2009, p. 11. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2009:263:SOM:EN:HTML

(3)  https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiatives/ares-2017-3714481_en.

(4)  Vnuk (2014 C-162/13), Rodrigues de Andrade (2017 C-514/16) and Torreiro (2017 C-334/16).

(5)  Directive 84/5/EEC, amended by Directive 2005/14/EC.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/90


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on type-approval requirements for motor vehicles and their trailers, and systems, components and separate technical units intended for such vehicles, as regards their general safety and the protection of vehicle occupants and vulnerable road users, amending Regulation (EU) 2018/… and repealing Regulations (EC) No 78/2009, (EC) No 79/2009 and (EC) No 661/2009’

(COM(2018) 286 final — 2018/0145 COD)

(2018/C 440/14)

Rapporteur:

Raymond HENCKS

Consultation

European Parliament, 28.5.2018

Council, 4.6.2018

Legal basis

Article 114(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

4.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

193/1/2

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

Over recent decades, road safety in the European Union has improved significantly through the tightening of Highway Code rules, provisions on driver behaviour and working and training conditions for professional drivers, through improvement in road infrastructure and in emergency services, and through stricter EU legislation on vehicle safety to which the automotive industry has always responded with new technologies.

1.2

Even so, the number of people killed on EU roads has remained way above the target the EU set itself in the 2011 White Paper on transport, notably moving towards the target of zero fatalities by 2050 and halving fatal road accidents by 2020.

1.3

The majority of road accidents are down to human error alone, mostly involving speeding, distraction or drink-driving. EU citizens must therefore be further encouraged — even required — to shoulder the primary responsibility for their safety and that of other road users in the EU by adopting appropriate behaviour.

1.4

What is needed, then, is a comprehensive approach to road safety that covers driver behaviour, the working conditions and skills of professional drivers, and infrastructure. The on-board safety systems that can prevent or correct human errors are another crucial safety factor.

1.5

The EESC welcomes the Commission's aim of making a new range of advanced safety measures mandatory for all vehicles in the form of standard equipment for road vehicles, including tyre pressure monitoring, intelligent speed assistance, driver drowsiness and attention monitoring/distraction recognition, reversing detection, emergency stop signal and emergency braking.

1.6

The EESC also endorses the requirement for trucks and buses to be equipped with a detection and warning system for vulnerable road users in close proximity of the front and nearside of the vehicle and to be designed and constructed in such a way as to improve the visibility of vulnerable road users from the driver's seat and to have a lane departure warning system. It also welcomes the additional obligation to design and construct buses which are also accessible for people with reduced mobility, including wheelchair users.

1.7

However, it wonders why the Commission does not make having an alcohol interlock a requirement and merely plans to facilitate the installation of these devices. The EESC considers that the installation of a breathalyser should be mandatory and not optional.

1.8

The EESC further recommends that event (accident) data recorders should also be required for lorries, trucks and buses, since, even if these vehicles' tachographs already provide some of the driving data, they do not store the crucial data during and after an accident.

1.9

Finally, the EESC regrets that security systems stricter than those required by European legislation, and which manufacturers voluntarily install, are often confined to high-end models, with cheaper models losing out and lacking advanced, non-mandatory security measures. This means that not all EU citizens have access to cars that are equally safe. To remedy this, the EESC recommends that, as regards the regulation under consideration, and as a rule, the European Commission require European standards to be adapted to technological developments within shorter deadlines.

1.10

This also applies to trucks and buses, in particular as regards the system detecting and warning of the presence of users in the immediate vicinity of the front and right side of the vehicle, which the proposal for a regulation does provide for, but which should also be made mandatory within shorter deadlines.

2.   Introduction

2.1

Over recent decades, road safety has improved significantly, mainly through advanced safety systems installed on board vehicles, the improvement in road infrastructure, the tightening of Highway Code rules, awareness raising campaigns for drivers, and the speed and efficacy of emergency response services.

2.2

However, significant disparities remain across Member States, despite the efforts of the European Commission which, through its various programmes and guidelines, seeks to harmonise safety rules throughout the European Union.

2.3

For example:

road signs and the minimum driving age are not always the same everywhere;

the use of a mobile phone while driving using a hands-free set is permitted in some countries;

the maximum permitted blood alcohol level varies, depending on the Member State, between zero tolerance and a more permissive approach;

speed limits differ;

the safety equipment required for cyclists (helmet) and for motorists (high-visibility vest, emergency warning triangle, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher) are not the same everywhere.

2.4

In 2017, the number of people killed on EU roads was 25 300, a 2 % drop in one year (1), which nevertheless falls well short of significantly reducing the number of road deaths (2), to move towards the target of zero fatalities in road transport by 2050.

2.5

Around 135 000 people were seriously injured last year (3), including many pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, considered by the Commission to be particularly ‘vulnerable’ users.

2.6

According to the European Commission, the socio-economic cost of road accidents is estimated at EUR 120 billion annually (medical treatment, unfitness for work, etc.).

3.   Commission proposal

3.1

The initiative under consideration is part of the third mobility package devoted to ‘Europe on the Move’, which aims to make mobility in the EU safer and more accessible, to make European industry more competitive and European jobs safer, and to adjust more effectively to the need to combat climate change, including by enhancing the requirements relating to safety devices in road vehicles.

3.2

As the current provisions regarding the EU type-approval procedure by type of car in the context of the protection of pedestrians and hydrogen safety have to a large extent been overtaken by technological developments, Regulations (EC) Nos 78/2009 (protection of pedestrians), (EC) No 79/2009 (hydrogen-powered motor vehicles) and (EC) No 661/2009 (type-approval requirements for the general safety of motor vehicles) are repealed and replaced by the equivalent provisions of UN rules and amendments thereto that the Union has voted in favour of or that the Union applies, in accordance with Decision 97/836/EC.

3.3

Overall, the scope of the Regulation on the General Safety of Motor Vehicles is retained, but, in terms of safety features currently applicable to vehicles with corresponding exemptions, the scope is extended to cover all categories of vehicles and eliminate the current exemptions relating to sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and vans.

3.4

The draft regulation sets out the general technical type-approval requirements for vehicles, systems, components and separate technical units and provides a list of safety areas, for which detailed rules are further developed (or need to be developed) in secondary legislation. All UN road safety rules that are applicable on a mandatory basis in the EU are set out in an annex to the draft regulation under consideration.

3.5

The proposal also envisages empowering the Commission to set rules and detailed technical requirements via delegated acts.

3.6

The current scope of the requirement for a passenger car to be equipped with a tyre pressure monitoring system is extended to cover all categories of vehicle.

3.7

A series of advanced safety features, such as intelligent speed assistance, driver drowsiness and attention monitoring/distraction recognition systems, reversing detection, emergency stop signal, alcohol interlock installation facilitation and advanced emergency braking system are made compulsory for all vehicles.

3.8

Passenger cars and light commercial vehicles must also be equipped with:

an event (accident) data recorder

lane keeping assist, and

frontal protection designed and constructed with an enlarged head impact protection zone for vulnerable road users.

Light and heavy lorries (categories N2 and N3) and buses (categories M2 and M3) must be equipped with:

a detection and warning system for vulnerable road users in close proximity of the front and nearside of the vehicle, designed and constructed in such a way so as to improve the visibility of vulnerable road users from the driver's seat; and

a lane departure warning system.

Buses must be designed and constructed in such a way as to be accessible to persons with reduced mobility, including wheelchair users.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles must comply with the requirements set out in Annex V of the regulation.

Regarding automated vehicles, rules and detailed technical safety requirements need to be further developed as a basis for their deployment.

4.   General comments

4.1

The EESC congratulates the Commission on its move to make a new range of advanced safety measures mandatory standard equipment for road vehicles. However, it also points out that in addition to revisions of the minimum standards required for new cars sold on the EU market, it should also further encourage EU citizens, or even require them, to shoulder the primary responsibility for their safety and that of other road users in the EU, through appropriate behaviour.

4.2

In themselves, these new measures relating to safety devices in vehicles, however useful and necessary they may be, are likely to have only a limited effect on the reduction of serious road accidents, in the absence of other complementary measures with regard to user behaviour, the working conditions and skills of professional drivers, and road infrastructure. The persistence of a large number of road accidents, resulting in a large number of deaths and serious injuries, requires a further dynamic adjustment of road safety policy, as part of which, in addition to the strengthening of requirements for safety devices in road vehicles and preventive measures, dissuasive measures targeting those who do not respect the rules and endanger their lives and the lives of others are also taken.

4.3

The EESC believes that, while we must promote driver-to-driver interaction technologies and intelligent transport systems (ITS), we cannot expect the mobility of the future, in particular intelligent transport systems and fully automated driving, to manage to address current challenges in the short to medium term.

4.4

According to the Commission, the revised framework will be better tailored to improve the protection of vulnerable road users. Article 3(1) of the regulation defines the vulnerable road user as ‘a road user using a two-wheel powered vehicle or a non-motorised road user, such as a cyclist or a pedestrian’. The EESC thinks this definition does not necessarily cover all ‘high risk’ categories, such as those who have an intrinsic frailty due to their age (children, elderly people) or to a disability.

4.5

It is well known that the risks incurred by road users are mainly due to driver behaviour (speeding, alcohol or drug abuse, use of portable electronic devices while driving, lapses in concentration, physical condition of drivers, driving too long, not taking rest periods) and inadequate infrastructure (lack of facilities reserved for pedestrians, lack of appropriate lighting).

4.6

The EESC therefore agrees that in order to prevent some of these dangers, the Commission should require new cars to be systematically equipped with:

a control system that is adaptive and an intelligent speed assistance system which, in addition to the security aspect, also encourages driving that saves fuel and hence cuts pollution,

a tyre pressure monitoring system,

advanced driver drowsiness monitoring and distraction recognition systems.

4.7

It also wonders why the proposal for a regulation does not make having an alcohol interlock a requirement and merely plans to facilitate the installation of these devices. According to a study by Verband der TUV e.V (4), 11 % of accidents in 2016 were due to drivers recognised as being in a state of intoxication. Since the ratio of undetected to detected drink-driving cases is 1 to 600, the number of accidents arising from alcohol abuse is estimated at more than 25 %. The EESC considers that the installation of a breathalyser should not be limited to repeat offenders who have had their licences suspended by the judgement of a court for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but be mandatory across the board.

4.8

The EESC recommends that event (accident) data recorders should also be required for trucks and buses, since, even if these vehicles' tachographs already provide some of the driving data, they do not store the crucial data during and after an accident.

4.9

According to the Commission's impact assessment, appended to the proposal for a regulation under consideration, it is expected that over a 16 year period, the introduction of the new safety features will help to reduce fatalities by 24 794 and serious injuries by 140 740. The EESC wonders whether such estimates, quantified to such a precise figure, are not likely to be considered as lacking in credibility, and undermine the added value of the whole impact study.

4.10

Finally, the EESC draws attention to the fact that manufacturers are voluntarily developing vehicles with higher safety standards than those required by European legislation. Unfortunately, these improvements are often confined to high-end models that are sold on the main markets of the Member States, with cheaper models losing out and lacking advanced, non-mandatory security measures. This means that not all EU citizens have access to cars that are equally safe. To remedy this, the EESC recommends the European Commission require European standards to be adapted to technological developments within shorter deadlines.

This also applies to trucks and buses, in particular as regards the system detecting and warning of the presence of users in the immediate vicinity of the front and right side of the vehicle (blind spot), which should also be made mandatory within shorter deadlines.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  Commission Press release of 10 April 2018 IP/18/2761.

(2)  Commission Press release of 10 April 2018 IP/18/2761.

(3)  Commission Press release of 10 April 2018 IP/18/2761.

(4)  https://etsc.eu/wp-content/uploads/5_VdTÜV_DeVol_Brussels.PPT_17.06.18.pdf.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/95


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council complementing EU type-approval legislation with regard to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union’

(COM(2018) 397 final — 2018/0220 (COD))

(2018/C 440/15)

Rapporteur:

Séamus BOLAND

Consultation

European Parliament, 2.7.2018

Council, 3.7.2018

Legal basis

Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

4.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

198/0/7

1.   Conclusions

1.1.

The EESC welcomes the European Commission proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council complementing EU type-approval legislation with regard to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union.

1.2.

The EESC believes that the proposal is focused on the practical steps necessary to address real consequences for the vehicle manufacturing and distribution industry and consumers as a result of unavoidable legal changes in the certification of type-approval issues by UK authorities on the basis of EU laws.

1.3.

In that context the EESC believes that this proposal should act as a template for many other similar agreements required as a consequence of Brexit.

1.4.

The EESC recommends that agreement on this proposal recognise that there is a need for a reasonable lead-in time before full implementation of the new system is enforced. Overall, the cessation deadline of 29 March is far too restrictive and should be extended on agreed terms between the UK and the EU.

1.5.

The EESC accepts that following the cessation of UK membership UK type-approval agencies can no longer certify vehicles under EU legislation and that UK-based manufacturers will have to seek approval from any of the 27 EU-based agencies. Noting that the UK government believes that their agency should be recognised in international terms as a type-approval agency, the EESC recommends that any confusion on this point be clarified.

1.6.

The EESC notes that this proposal will be implemented within parameters as set out in the overall negotiated cessation agreement. Therefore it recommends that this proposal is not diluted in any way.

1.7.

The EESC notes that, within the EU, there may be changes and amendments to directives based on new technology, new information and so on. It therefore recommends that there is the necessary flexibility within agreements so that proper negotiations can take place.

1.8.

The EESC recommends that all overall agreements on trade, as well as the cessation of membership, should take account of the huge market that exists in the EU and the UK and that all agreements should ensure that there is no negative disruption of this market.

1.9.

The EESC strongly recommends that the necessary information systems, training and advice are well resourced and are transparently available to all sections of the industry including consumer and environmental stakeholders.

1.10.

The EESC accepts that, while ‘fundamental rights’ are not affected by this proposal, consumer rights will always be a concern and therefore recommends that this is acknowledged throughout implementation.

2.   General

2.1.

On 23 June 2016, following a referendum on EU membership, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland decided to leave the European Union. This decision includes Gibraltar.

2.2.

On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom notified the EU of its intention to withdraw from the Union, as per Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Once triggered, a process of negotiation on membership cessation was established, with a view to the successful management of new complex legal arrangements.

2.3.

Once agreed it is envisaged that from 30 March 2019, the United Kingdom will no longer be a member of the EU and will become a third country, unless the agreement proposes a new commencement date.

2.4.

It is accepted that the withdrawal of membership will create the need to resolve numerous practical matters in relation to EU-wide regulation of goods and services. In particular, type-approval agencies based in Britain will no longer have a role as an EU regulator from the date of cessation of membership. This in turn has consequences for existing and future regulation of goods, including goods already approved.

2.5.

However, it should be noted that the exact position of the UK in relation to the UK type-approval agency will be the subject of the overall negotiated agreement still underway.

2.6.

Among the many implications will be the disruption of the various product supply chains, which are finely tuned to deliver goods in a cost-efficient and timely manner across all Member States, including Great Britain.

2.7.

The proposal is also keenly aware of the need to maintain all quality standards as well as ensuring that environmental and consumer-related standards are not diluted.

2.8.

This proposal could easily act as a template for other similar agreements and in that context it is essential that it has the support of all stakeholders and that of the wider public.

2.9.

This proposal states that there are no consequences for the protection of fundamental rights. However, the EESC would note that changes in regulation structures affecting goods will always have implications for consumers.

2.10.

This opinion will concentrate on the situation pertaining to the type-approval system as applied to motor engines, vehicles involved in the transport of goods, as well as engines for use in non-mobile machinery.

3.   Gist of the Commission Proposal

3.1.

The Commission proposal seeks to deal with the EU legislative framework governing the type-approval system as it applies to a number of products, which will no longer apply to the United Kingdom on cessation of membership of the Union.

3.2.

Specifically, and subject to transitional arrangements that may be made in the cessation agreement, the Commission proposal names the following legislation as being affected:

Directive 2007/46/EC concerning the type-approval of motor vehicles and trailers (to be replaced by a Regulation which will be applicable as from 1 September 2020),

Regulation (EU) No 168/2013 concerning the type-approval of two- and three-wheeled vehicles and quadricycles,

Regulation (EU) No 167/2013 concerning the type-approval of agricultural and forestry vehicles, and

Regulation (EU) 2016/1628 concerning the type-approval of engines for use in non-road mobile machinery.

3.3.

The proposal also makes it clear that the existing UK type-approval authority will no longer be able to continue as such under EU legislation. Therefore, in order to achieve continued compliance with EU legislation and to maintain access to European markets, manufacturers who obtained approvals in the UK will need new approvals from any of the EU 27 type-approval authorities. This includes products already in production.

3.4.

While there are considerable implications for the future role of the UK type-approval authority, there are serious concerns for the future of vehicle manufacturing in the UK and conversely within the EU. These concerns centre mainly on the legal uncertainty of UK type-approvals and dilution of one of the main principles of regulation, which is the maintenance of regulatory consistency across all of the European Union.

3.5.

The proposal aims to address these issues by the temporary modification of existing rules, so that manufacturers affected can apply to any of the EU-27 for approval with the minimum of inconvenience. Its main points are that it:

explicitly allows concerned manufacturers to apply to an EU-27 type-approval authority for new approvals for existing types,

allows that tests underpinning the UK type-approvals do not have to be repeated because the technical service was not designated and notified by the EU-27 type-approval authority before,

provides that such approvals may be granted if the requirements for new vehicles, systems, components and separate technical units are met rather than those for new types,

proposes to help identify new type-approval authorities for those products already on the market prior to the withdrawal, to avoid that no authority would be in charge of carrying out in-service conformity checks or issuing a possible future recall.

3.6.

The Commission proposal acknowledges the need to protect consumers in terms of vehicle safety and maintenance of environmental standards.

3.7.

The proposal makes clear that the work of type-approval authorities does not end with the production or placing on the market of a vehicle, system, component or a separate technical unit, but extends over several years after the placing on the market of those products.

4.   Observations

4.1.

Car manufacturers require fresh certificates for new models, which are released roughly every seven years, but also for significant design or engine alterations which can happen more frequently. This clearly magnifies the urgency of ensuring that, following Brexit, there is a smooth realignment of the regulatory mechanisms required for their production.

4.2.

Around 56 % of UK vehicle exports go to Europe; only about 7 % of European vehicle exports come to the UK. However, data measuring market functions as applied to the supply of spare parts would suggest a more complex set of arrangements which would require a smooth regulatory regime.

4.3.

The EESC notes that despite the publication of this proposal, its effect cannot be assessed due to the huge uncertainty surrounding the current negotiations between the EU and UK.

4.4.

The EESC believes that the proposal is more suited to the successful negotiation of an agreement between Britain and the EU whereby there is sufficient agreement to implement measures which allow trading to occur in some form within a customs union and/or a single market.

4.5.

The EESC agrees with the following statement as published by the House of Commons (fifth report of session 2017-2019, entitled ‘The impact of Brexit on the automotive sector’): ‘It is difficult to see how it would make economic sense for multinational volume manufacturers — the bulk of the UK automotive sector — to base production in the UK in a no deal or WTO tariff scenario.’ Therefore, in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario, the proposal will need review in terms that will ensure that is robust enough to be prepared for such a scenario.

4.6.

The exact situation concerning the future role of the UK type-approval body is as yet not agreed by the UK and the European Union. The EESC believes that resolution of this issue is essential if the new regulatory regime is to be successful.

5.   Challenges

5.1.

The EESC welcomes the proposal’s objectives, in particular, the intention to reduce costs to the industry, in terms of border delays and unnecessary bureaucracy, while ensuring that the highest standard applies. However, the EESC believes that achievement of these objectives is an enormous challenge, bearing in mind that a whole new regulatory system must now be devised.

5.2.

However, the EESC also notes that such a regime will unavoidably contribute to higher costs, mainly because Britain will become a non-member and like other non-members there will be, of necessity, different arrangements.

5.3.

Matters covered under regulations such as environment, consumer rights, quality of products and so on are often subject to new or changed internal EU laws and ongoing directives. The EESC believes that both the EU and the UK will need to ensure that the regulatory regime agreement will be flexible enough to manage this, so that the least disruption occurs.

5.4.

Within the EU the process for manufacture and distribution of vehicles has developed in a highly integrated manner. There are many complex and efficient supply chains in operation, which in the view of all experts and the EESC will change significantly following the UK’s cessation of EU membership. It is also the view of the EESC that such disruption will reduce the efficiency of these systems.

5.5.

Because of the high numbers of vehicles manufactured in Britain and exported within the EU, the EESC is particularly concerned that any exclusion of the UK from this market will negatively affect overall competitiveness, which in turn will increase costs to all sections of the economy as well as consumers. Therefore, the Commission’s proposal, which advocates that all of these interests are protected, must ensure that there is ongoing commitment to this and it must be enshrined in future agreements.

5.6.

The complexity of proposed changes will require strong commitments by both sides to provide comprehensive information and training programmes to the industry as well as each of the type-approval agencies. This represents a considerable challenge in terms of resources and will require significant time. The time requirement will be particularly challenging given the current schedule of the UK’s withdrawal as stipulated under Article 50.

5.7.

Given the time that the negotiated agreement is taking and the time needed to conform various systems, the EESC believes that a transition period will be required beyond the March 2019 cessation date.

5.8.

Given that a favourable outcome is the continuance of the current system, governing the movement of vehicles and associated products between the UK and the EU, the EESC believes that vehicles manufactured in the UK will need to conform to EU regulation. Therefore it is noted that, unless the UK is in some way associated with the customs union or single market or both, this proposal will be extremely difficult to administer.

5.9.

The EESC believes that the new status of the UK as a non-member will continually pose challenges to the vehicle, mobile and non-mobile regulatory regime. Therefore, an inability to speedily deal with these problems will eventually force manufacturers to change the nature of their current supply chain, which could affect the continuity of available products and have an impact on the cost to consumers.

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/100


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 concerning the supplementary protection certificate for medicinal products’

(COM(2018) 317 final — 2018/0161 (COD))

(2018/C 440/16)

Rapporteur working alone:

János WELTNER

Referral

Council, 21.6.2018

European Parliament, 2.7.2018

Legal basis

Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

 

 

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

4.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

20.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

167/2/7

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC takes note of the fact that the Commission, in its Staff Working Document (SWD), has analysed four options to deal with the current problems arising from the present status of the Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC).

1.2.

The EESC agrees with the European Commission’s (EC) conclusion, which proposes modifications in line with Option 4 (1), i.e. legislation on both export and stockpiling waivers by amending Regulation (EC) No 469/2009.

1.3.

The EESC welcomes the fact that this proposal leaves SPC protection intact as regards placing products on the EU market.

1.4.

The EESC also welcomes the market exclusivity of EU SPC holders in the Member States during the full period of SPC protection.

1.5.

The EESC deems it to be most important that, on those non-EU markets where protection does not exist or has expired, there be fair competition for EU-based manufacturers who bring generics and biosimilars to these markets.

1.6.

The EESC strongly supports those safeguards that ensure transparency and protect against a possible diversion onto the Union market of generics and biosimilars (G/Bs) in respect of which the original product is protected by an SPC.

1.7.

The EESC supports the Commission’s stance on SMEs, since they play an important role in manufacturing generics and developing biosimilars. SMEs will be better able to plan their market activities if the new SPC comes into force.

1.8.

The EESC supports the Commission’s plan for an evaluation of orphan and paediatric legislation, with further analysis in 2018-2019.

1.9.

The EESC understands the Commission’s position that, although it would be advantageous, the Commission will not be tabling a proposal for a unitary SPC at the moment, as the unitary patent package has not yet come into force.

1.10.

The EESC supports the amendment of Regulation (EC) No 469/2009, as it is set out in document COM(2018) 317. At the same time, the EESC recommends that the Commission could propose to amend Regulation (EC) No 469/2009, as it is set out in document COM(2018) 317, to ensure that an SPC manufacturing waiver can be immediately applied.

2.   Background

2.1.

An SPC will extend the period of effective protection for patents on new medicinal products, where an authorisation is required for them to be placed on the market.

2.2.

The holder of both a patent and an SPC benefits from a maximum of 15 years of protection from the moment the product in question first obtains authorisation to be placed on the market in the EU.

2.3.

The benefits of an SPC for its holder are significant. Since an SPC confers the same rights as a basic patent, the monopoly resulting from the basic (reference) patent is extended and enables its holder to prevent competitors from making use of the invention (manufacturing the medicine, offering it for sale, storing it, etc.) in those Member States in which an SPC has been granted.

2.4.

An SPC serves as compensation for the investment put into research. It should also compensate for further research, monitoring and waiting in the period between the patent application being filed and authorisation to place such a product on the market being received.

2.5.

In the EU, an SPC can be granted under the following conditions:

2.5.1.

On the date of application for supplementary protection the product is protected by a basic patent;

2.5.2.

The product has not already been the subject of a certificate;

2.5.3.

A valid and first administrative authorisation to place the product on the market as a medicinal product has been granted.

2.6.

The Stakeholders’ Views (2) indicate that today’s SPCs place EU-based manufacturers of generics and biosimilars (G/Bs) at a disadvantage vis-à-vis manufacturers capable of producing G/Bs outside the EU.

2.7.

In its current form, the EU SPC increases reliance on imports of drugs and pharmaceuticals outside the EU.

2.8.

The global pharmaceutical market has changed. Fast-growing economies (pharmerging) combined with ageing populations in the traditional industrialised regions have driven a massive demand for medicines. Total global spending on medicines increased from EUR 950 billion in 2012 to EUR 1,1 trillion in 2017 (USA 40 %, China 20 % and the EU less than 15 %). Biologics will represent 25 % of the pharmaceutical market value by 2022. This is being accompanied by a shift towards an ever-greater market share for G/Bs, which could represent 80 % of medicines by volume by 2020 and about 28 % of global sales.

2.9.

According to Medicines for Europe, 56 % of medicines by volume currently supplied in the EU are G/Bs.

2.10.

The Bolar (3) exemption has eliminated an unintended side effect of strong patent protection, based on the rationale that free competition should be allowed as soon as protection expires. It is a manufacturing waiver for testing and clinical trials purposes, and was intended to ensure that a generic could enter the market as soon as possible after the expiry of patent/SPC protection.

2.11.

Regarding the SPC manufacturing waiver, EU firms are facing a situation similar to the pre-Bolar one. While the legitimate purpose of an SPC is to prevent the manufacturing of competing products for the purpose of marketing on the EU market while the SPC is in effect, it has two unintended and unforeseen consequences, namely:

2.11.1.

Preventing G/Bs from being manufactured in the EU and exported to third countries (where no legal protection applies) during the EU SPC term; and

2.11.2.

Preventing them from being manufactured in the EU (and then stored) early enough to be placed on the EU market immediately as of day-1.

2.12.

Manufacturers of G/Bs (based in a Member State where the application of a SPC for the reference medicine has been applied) face the following problems:

2.12.1.

During the period of protection covered by the certificate of the reference medicine in the EU, manufacturers cannot manufacture that medicine for any purpose, including for export outside the EU to countries where SPC protection for the reference medicine has expired or never existed, while manufacturers based in those third countries can do so.

2.12.2.

Immediately upon expiry of the certificate: they are not ready to enter the EU market on day-1, since the EU SPC system does not allow manufacturing in the EU until then. By contrast, manufacturers based in third countries where SPC protection for the reference medicine has expired earlier, or never existed at all, can be ready to enter the EU market as of day-1, via exports, and thus gain a considerable competitive advantage.

2.13.

The G/B sector now accounts for 160 000 jobs in the EU (Medicines for Europe). The loss of jobs, especially of highly skilled jobs, loss of know-how and a brain drain to non-EU countries, notably to Asia, must be prevented by an urgent change in the regulation of SPCs.

2.14.

The EU was a pioneer in the development of regulatory procedures to approve biosimilars: the EMA authorised the first biosimilar in 2006, while the FDA did so only in 2015. However, there are clear signs that Europe is now losing its competitive edge, with its trade partners catching up. Therefore there is an urgent need for the EU to restore the competitiveness of EU-based manufacturers of G/Bs. Doing nothing or postponing an initiative would further weaken the EU industry and unravel the EU’s pioneering effect and competitive advantage in the biosimilar sector in particular.

2.15.

In accordance with the Single Market Strategy, a targeted recalibration of certain aspects of SPCs is needed, aiming to tackle the following problems:

2.15.1.

Loss of export markets in unprotected third countries;

2.15.2.

Day-1 entry onto Member States’ markets for EU-based manufacturers of G/Bs by introducing an ‘SPC manufacturing waiver’ in the EU SPC legislation, allowing the manufacture of G/Bs within the EU during the SPC term;

2.15.3.

Fragmentation resulting from the uneven implementation of the current SPC regime in the Member States that could be solved in connection with the upcoming unitary patent, and the possible creation thereafter of a unitary SPC title;

2.15.4.

Fragmented implementation of the Bolar research exemption.

3.   General comments

3.1.

What can we expect from the new regulation?

3.1.1.

Strengthening and retaining manufacturing capacity and know-how in the EU, thereby reducing unnecessary relocation/outsourcing.

3.1.2.

Strengthening EU patients’ access to medicines by diversifying geographical sources of supply and thus strengthening home production.

3.1.3.

Removing obstacles to starting generic and biosimilar businesses in the EU, especially for SMEs that have more difficulties in overcoming obstacles and which may have difficulties if they have to face non-EU competition.

3.1.4.

As manufacturing capacity established for export purposes can, prior to expiry of the certificate, be used with a view to supplying the EU market from day-1, it is also expected to boost, to some extent, access to medicines in the Union by enabling G/Bs to enter the market more quickly after the certificates have expired, thus ensuring the availability of a wider choice of affordable medicines once the period of patent and SPC protection has passed. This should have a positive effect on national health budgets.

3.1.5.

The proposal will, to some extent, make medicines more accessible to EU patients, especially in those Member States in which access to some reference medicines (e.g. certain biologics) is difficult, by creating the conditions to help related G/Bs gain more rapid entry into the Union market once the relevant certificates have expired. It will also diversify the geographical origin of medicines available in the EU, thus strengthening the supply chain and security of supply.

4.   Specific comments

4.1.

The EC may find some way to use EU funds to support the building of manufacturing capacity in Member States for export purposes during the SPC term. This may, for certain products, allow a quicker scale-up of production for entering the EU market on day-1.

4.2.

The Commission may support the activities of interested NGOs for developing indicators for monitoring and evaluating the new SPCs for the future development of the EU market share of EU-manufactured generics and biosimilars.

Brussels, 20 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  SWD(2018) 240 final, p. 29.

(2)  SWD(2018) 242 final.

(3)  Directive 2001/83/EC and Directive 2001/82/EC.


6.12.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 440/104


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending and correcting Regulation (EU) No 167/2013 on the approval and market surveillance of agricultural and forestry vehicles’

(COM(2018) 289 final — 2018/0142 (COD))

(2018/C 440/17)

Rapporteur:

Mindaugas MACIULEVIČIUS

Referral

European Parliament, 28.5.2018

Council, 1.6.2018

Legal basis

Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Section responsible

Single Market, Production and Consumption

Adopted in section

4.9.2018

Adopted at plenary

19.9.2018

Plenary session No

537

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

190/2/3

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC welcomes this proposal for a Regulation amending and correcting Regulation (EU) No 167/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council (1). The proposal follows feedback received by stakeholders and Member States in the first implementation period and therefore it should be supported.

1.2.

The EESC supports the extension for five more years of the power of Commission to adopt required delegated acts, as there is a continuing need to update various elements of the type-approval process.

1.3.

The EESC welcomes the strong commitment of the Commission on consulting various stakeholders and social partners on every initiative in this field.

1.4.

The EESC acknowledges the work of the Commission at international level. New standards introduced by delegated acts are defined in close cooperation with international working bodies such as UNECE and OECD dedicated working groups.

2.   The Commission proposal

2.1.

The Commission proposal upgrades to technical progress Regulation (EU) No 167/2013 by updating certain requirements and correcting certain editorial errors following feedback received by stakeholders and Member States in the first implementation period.

2.2.

More precisely, this act introduces clarifications to two definitions of tractor categories and corrects certain terms important for the uniform application of the Regulation without possible interpretations as well as the references to a repealed legislative act.

2.3.

Regulation (EU) No 167/2013 empowers the Commission to lay down the detailed technical requirements, test procedures and limit values, where applicable, in four delegated acts on (i) occupational safety (vehicle construction requirements); (ii) functional safety; (iii) braking; and (iv) environmental and propulsion performance. This power has already expired on 21 March 2018.

2.4.

The current proposal extends the power conferred on the Commission to adopt delegated acts for 5 more years and sets out its tacit renewal, unless the Council or the European Parliament expressly object to it.

3.   General comments

3.1.

The EESC welcomes this proposal for a Regulation amending and correcting Regulation (EU) No 167/2013. It responds to the concerns raised by stakeholders and Member States and by upgrading certain requirements and correcting a number of editorial errors it improves the applicability and the clarity of the legal text. This is obviously beneficial for all parties involved.

3.2.

On which concerns the extension for five more years of the power conferred on the Commission to adopt delegated acts, the EESC agrees in principle with the proposal and is pleased that, as it had always called for, the Commission has considered it appropriate to extend the delegation for a fixed period, with the possibility of renewal, as long as there are no objections raised by the Council and the Parliament (2).

Brussels, 19 September 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  OJ L 60, 2.3.2013, p. 1; OJ C 54, 19.2.2011, p. 42.

(2)