The European Economic and Social Committee has been supporting the idea of a European Energy Union from its first inception as a European Energy Community in 2010. The annual State of the Energy Union report is also broadly welcomed by the EESC as a means to keep energy at the top of the political agenda across the European Union and ensure coordinated progress across sectors and Member states. The 2015 version of the State of the Energy Union is a snapshot taken only nine months after the launch of the Energy Union programme, limiting the reports' usefulness to judge progress made towards the Energy Union. However, as is noted in the opinion, the report's publication provides the EESC a welcome opportunity to identify particular aspects in advancing and governing the Energy Union that are of particular importance to Europe's civil society. Most notably, the opinion emphasises the social dimension and implications of the Energy Union process and its adequate reflection in the progress reporting and statistical measurement. Moreover, the EESC expresses its concern about the limited extent and underspecified ways in which civil society is to be involved in the governance and progress reporting of the Energy Union. Finally, the statistical foundations of the progress reporting are – in the opinion of the EESC – in dire need of improvement in order to avoid evaluating progress and taking decisions on the basis of at times outdated and at other times incomprehensive or even non-existent data.
The European Commission review of EU trade strategy is timely in the first year of a new Commission.
The intense public interest that has been aroused by the TTIP negotiations between the EU and the US demonstrates that trade is no longer an esoteric matter nor the concern of those few who are sufficiently involved to master the finer, highly technical detail that trade involves. It is now a popular issue and part of the public agenda, but because of its technicalities it is also open to wide misunderstanding.
The opinion concerns two EC proposals, implementing the European Security Agenda: the proposal for a directive on combatting terrorism and the action plan against trafficking in firearms and explosives. The opinion is based on previous EESC work and its usual focus on protection of fundamental rights. The main conclusions concern the common policy against terrorism and the shared competence of the EU and the Member States, as well as the definitions of terrorist acts and types of them, terminology, the issue of anticipated crime and other risks of collision between security and human rights.
The euro area needs to step up its external representation. This will strengthen its relative weight in international financial institutions and give it a more prominent position in international financial markets. The EESC endorses the rationale behind the two Commission documents and agrees with the main elements of the three-phase scenario to gain a single euro area chair at the IMF by 2025. At the same time, however, the EESC proposes that the Commission also draft scenarios for making stronger and more effective the links with other relevant international bodies, taking particular account of their remits. The EESC also recommends clearly and explicitly defining the roles of euro area external representation and their dovetailing with those of the EU as a whole, with a view to preserving the integrity of the single market.
The introduction of further risk sharing is to be accompanied by further risk reduction in the Banking Union. Both the EDIS and the relevant risk reduction measures have to be dealt with in parallel and without delay and actually put into effect. An EDIS will have a positive impact on the situation of individual Member States and banks by being more able to cushion local shocks. This may discourage speculation against specific countries or banks, thus reducing the risk of bank runs. At the same time it will further weaken the link between the banks and their national sovereigns. It is imperative that the existing legislative framework of the Banking Union is fully implemented by all Member States. It is important that the Commission carry out a comprehensive in-depth impact study in order to further strengthen the legitimacy of the proposal.
The Commission communication on Steps towards completing EMU can provide a great opportunity to launch a debate at political level and with civil society to draw up conclusive proposals which go further than the current ones. It would be more useful to draw up a proposal for the European Semester as part of a comprehensive agreement on economic governance that goes beyond the status quo, changing macroconditionality and strengthening the Interparliamentary Conference. Democratic legitimacy is not tackled seriously by any of the Commission's operational proposals. The tripartite social dialogue could contribute to this matter. On the basis of its own roadmap, the EESC is committed to putting forward, possibly with the Commission, a plan on stage two (Completing EMU 2017-2025) to discuss these issues in the Member States, beginning with the euro area countries.
Competitiveness is not an end in itself. It is only a sensible objective if it improves people's well-being in practice. The EESC therefore recommends that an updated definition of competitiveness ("competitiveness 2.0") be used in future, taking into account "the ability of a country to deliver the beyond-GDP goals for its citizens". The EESC urges that future discussions refer not to "competitiveness boards" but to "boards for competitiveness, social cohesion and sustainability". The EESC asks the Commission to present concrete proposals on how the following necessary requirements with regards to these boards can be safeguarded: accountability, legitimacy and transparency; representation of balanced unbiased expertise; non-binding character of proposals of the boards; inclusion of the dual role of wages, both as a cost factor and as the main determinant of domestic demand.
The EESC welcomes the establishment of economic priority programmes for the euro area at the start of the European Semester. To achieve a recovery of growth and employment a mix of financial, taxation, budgetary, economic and social policies is needed. In contrast to the recommendation of the Commission, the focus of fiscal policy should be designed to be more expansionist than neutral. The EESC advocates the reduction of taxation on labour insofar as it does not threaten the financial sustainability of social protection systems. The EESC calls for a coordinated effort to create a more business-friendly environment for SMEs through better regulation, adequate financing and facilitation of exports to markets outside the EU. There is a particular need to open up new funding opportunities for micro-enterprises and start-ups.
The EESC welcomes the Commission's proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 1406/2002 establishing a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), as it fits in with general efforts to monitor the EU's external maritime borders much more effectively than in the past. However, it would once again stress that time is of the essence in implementing the proposed measures.
The Committee welcomes the proposal to expand the activities of EMSA; however, it has serious doubts as to whether EMSA has the human and financial resources to perform these additional activities properly.
In the Committee's view, closer cooperation and information exchange between the three EU agencies in question, and between them and the national bodies carrying out coastguard functions, should result in an efficient and effective coastguard system. In its opinion, a cost-efficient and cost-effective coastguard system would enable Member States to forgo permanent controls and allow Schengen to be restored to its former glory. The Committee endorses using remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS, also referred to as drones) because it enables full surveillance, among other things in order to avoid the loss of human life.
The Committee strongly recommends amending the title of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency in the draft regulations to read European Border Guard Agency.
The EESC supports the intention of the Dutch Presidency of the Council to address poverty through integrated approaches and through cooperation between public and private stakeholders. However, to do so, Member States must be supported by a common European framework and best-practice actors by national anti-poverty strategies. The EU Council should reiterate the commitment made to meet Europe's poverty target by 2020.