The Committee has received a request for an exploratory opinion from the incoming Latvian Presidency, which recommended to look at the following aspects in regard to the agricultural and forestry sectors: rural development, social aspects, regional contribution and the potential in achieving objectives and the "self-sufficiency" of the EU in the fields of food and renewable energy. A holistic assessment and approach is required in order to facilitate the reduction of GHG emissions without hampering the sustainable development and competitiveness of the EU.
Health and related sectors are a central aspect of human existence and thus attract particular attention of citizens. The sectors of biomedical engineering and the medical and care services industry – including research and development – are among the fastest growing industrial areas, in terms of turnover as well as employment. Under biomedical engineering we understand the bridging between methods of engineering and medicine and biology for diagnostic and therapeutic measures in healthcare – including, among others, biologics and biopharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical drugs, various types of devices for chemical or biological analysis or processing as well as the development of medical equipment and technology for cure, treatment and prevention of disease. The combination of research and development, engineering and industrial production, and medical and care services is particularly important.
The EU Climate and Energy Framework is based on substantial previous legislation, some of it incompletely transposed and ineffectively implemented. Bringing the Energy Union into being will require further legislation and rigorous implementation of it. A robust governance framework is vital and the most effective type of governance is where agreeing methods for determining and implementing the objective is seen as a joint enterprise involving all stakeholders.
The EESC therefore recommends that a structured all-stakeholder dialogue must be linked to the governance process. A clear political lead to establish and participate in such dialogue and engagement on energy transition issues by the EU's legislative institutions should be articulated and developed as a matching and supporting process alongside the Energy Union. Primarily this should take the form of an independent and trusted European Energy and Climate Dialogue enabling a balanced representation of all stakeholders to exchange information, express views and influence policy-making on energy issues and consequently engage actively in the energy transition.
The European economic governance rules, conceived in crisis, played an important role in fiscal consolidation and economic policy coordination, but the cost was high in terms of growth and employment. The quantitative easing measures now being embarked upon by the European Central Bank need to be matched by greater political initiatives by the Member States. In the review of the Multiannual Financial Framework in 2016, there is a need to back urgent structural reforms of common EU interest with some form of fiscal capacity. A reasonable deviation from the 3% deficit parameter should be considered as a temporary exception for a given number of years and not be automatically liable to sanctions. A lack of implementation of country-specific recommendations (CSRs) could be countered by real involvement of civil society and the social partners in drawing up CSRs.
The EESC welcomes the Investment Plan for Europe as a step in the right direction, which however faces serious questions about the Plan's size and timescale, the high degree of leverage expected and the potential flow of suitable projects. The Plan proposes that contributions to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) from Member States will not be included in budget deficit calculations and this is to be welcomed, but it begs the question as to why ongoing strategic public infrastructure expenditures are not treated in the same way. Strategic public investment which underpins present and future economic development should be incentivised by a more benign European fiscal framework.
Islands have unique characteristics which bring specific difficulties, but these characteristics can be turned around to become opportunities if smart and sustainable development policies are implemented to give islands the competitive advantages that derive from sustainable growth and better jobs. The EESC proposes a whole series of smart policy recommendations with a view to boosting smart islands.
The EESC considers that enhanced European cooperation on energy networks is essential for the general public and businesses. Civil society and regional players have a key role to play in energy transition, the only means of guaranteeing efficiency, price control and efforts to combat climate change. The EESC proposes that platforms for discussion between regions and civil society representatives be set up at the joint initiative of the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, to include the economic and social councils or similar institutions of each Member State.
The EESC agrees with the Latvian Presidency, recognizing the fundamental importance of the EU 2020 Strategy review to boosting European competitiveness. The Europe 2020 and the Investment Plan should be much more closely linked in the way that it could remedy the main shortcomings of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The Structural Funds should focus more on the implementation of environmental programs or those with a human aspect, which would also promote the sustainable development of factors "beyond GDP".
The EESC considers it vital to preserve the "biodiversity" of the financial system, without this meaning the arbitrary application of rules. In this context the Committee applauds the consideration the European Commission has given to the introduction of calibrated financial regulation frameworks to consider the specificities of cooperative and savings banks that avoid the undesirable effects of uniform application of prudential rules and possibly an overload of administrative burdens.
The EESC has always been committed to a level playing field, and therefore recommends the use of objective parameters that justify a specific regulation for each business model. Essentially, these are financial and economic performance, contribution to the real economy, risk management, and governance. The EESC proposes that the financial authorities should offer incentives to those actors who best comply with these conditions, and calls for stronger ethical standards and codes of good governance for all kind of banks, as these are vital for restoring lost confidence.
The EESC welcomes the AGS 2015, but reminds that it is not possible to implement a growth plan that supports job creation measures without investment. Social investment can play a critical role in the promotion of welfare and the eradication of poverty and exclusion. The Committee welcomes the streamlining of the European Semester and acknowledges the efforts made by the Commission to encourage more civil society participation. The review of the Europe 2020 strategy should be published in a timely manner in order to give stakeholders sufficient time to prepare their positions.