22 and 23 April 2015: 507th plenary session

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On 22 April 2015, Maroš Šefčovič, Commission vice-president responsible for the energy union, attended the plenary session for a debate on this topic.

Statements made by Workers' Group members
Pierre Jean Coulon

Pierre Jean Coulon emphasised that, in order to implement the energy union, the existing structures needed to be streamlined by removing unnecessary bodies. He suggested that two forums that he deemed extremely important should be retained: the forum on networks and the forum on regional and citizens' energy. The first would provide a forum for discussions and decisions and would serve to encourage the establishment of interconnections, which were so essential because they enabled EU citizens to receive energy at affordable prices. The second would be a hub for European energy dialogue between the various stakeholders from civil society.

Mr Coulon concluded by calling for legislative proposals in this area to be drafted and for cooperation with civil society in the Member States and at European level via the EESC and the CoR. He informed the Commissioner that the EESC would be an ally of the Commission in this endeavour but that the Commission should not forget that it existed nor overlook its opinions.

Dumitru Fornea

Dumitru Fornea inquired as to what approach the Commission would adopt regarding coal in the energy union, as this raw material had seemed to slip into the background. Nonetheless, coal was a significant factor in the security of Europe's energy supply. Indeed, a large amount of primary energy was derived from fossil fuels (82%). Furthermore, 28% of electricity in the EU was generated by coal and lignite power stations, and a significant number of Member States mined these fossil fuels.

This situation made it necessary to draw up an action plan that took into account the contribution made by coal to European energy production. Ultimately, many industries and households depended on this sector. It had to have its rightful place in the energy mix.

Anna Maria Darmanin

Anna Maria Darmanin, president of the Single Market Observatory, called on the European Commission to also consider the specific situation of islands in Europe, which required a different approach.

Gaps in the EU's energy policy had to be bridged by combating energy poverty, a problem facing inhabitants of island regions in particular. Citizens would only engage in the energy package if it met their main need – access to energy – and if it guaranteed an energy supply at affordable prices.

Finally, Ms Darmanin appealed to Mr Šefčovič to be the voice of civil society by putting forward measures to end the humanitarian tragedy currently taking place in the Mediterranean Sea.

On 22 April 2015, the plenary session was also attended by Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Trade, for a debate on trade policy and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Statements made by Workers' Group members
Sandy Boyle

Sandy Boyle emphasised that the EESC had always welcomed attempts to be transparent in negotiations to sign free-trade agreements; he also stressed the need for consultation of civil society to become a permanent aspect of this process and not something brought in after the fact, as had been the case with the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

He pointed out that in the case of the EU-US free trade agreement (TTIP), certain areas were of significant interest for society and required an exchange of information and active public participation at an early stage. He also expressed concern at the lack of transparency and consultation in the ongoing negotiations with Japan.

Mr Boyle concluded his speech by asking the Commissioner to start a dialogue with the EESC in order to find a solution that would be beneficial to all in relation to the question of investment protection in free trade agreements. In particular, this dialogue would tackle the question of a possible international court of arbitration.

José María Zufiaur

José María Zufiaur, president of the External Relations Section, emphasised that the participation of civil society in negotiations relating to free trade agreements was essential for the Committee, as well as for Ms Malmström. But it was the EESC's opinion that this participation had to improve. The European Commission included a large number of organisations with very varied interests in the consultations without taking representativeness criteria into consideration, with the result that the main socio-professional organisations were not adequately represented.

Mr Zufiaur informed the Commissioner that he had had many discussions with various civil society organisations with a view to improving the involvement of civil society in these trade agreements and that he intended to request a meeting with her to present the results of these meetings.

Christoph Lechner

Christoph Lechner referred to Ms Malmström's speech regarding the possible establishment of an arbitration tribunal for investments where UNCTAD would centralise all proceedings in this area. He said that the idea of such a tribunal may be attractive, given the growing public opposition to investor protection clauses.

In Europe, these clauses were incompatible with national constitutional law and European law, in particular the primacy of European Court of Justice case-law. Moreover, the circumvention of national jurisdictions by establishing courts of arbitration probably violated the principle of subsidiarity. It would therefore be advisable, before concluding even a provisional agreement, to consult the Court of Justice again and request a full opinion on all points that are difficult from a legal point of view.

In conclusion, Mr Lechner recalled that ETUC and the American trade unions had clearly expressed their disapproval of these negotiations, and that the EESC Workers' Group had stated its opposition to ISDS clauses. In order to make these clauses acceptable to everyone, the establishment of a democratic and transparent international court that would be capable of making fair judgments should be agreed; it ought to be possible to conclude such an agreement within one or two years.

On 23 April 2015, the plenary session also welcomed Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, for a debate on the EU's economic priorities in the coming years.

Statements made by Workers' Group members
Gabriele Bischoff

Gabriele Bischoff hoped that a genuine economic governance mechanism would be implemented in order to improve European citizens' working and living conditions. Otherwise the EU would not manage to change the course of the EMU and overcome the crisis.

She welcomed the priorities that the Commissioner had presented and said they were going in the direction sought by civil society, and stressed that the Committee was eager to support the investment programme and the golden rule for Europe.

Ms Bischoff also welcomed the Commissioner's remarks on democracy. She pointed out that the EESC had very practical proposals on how to make the EU more democratic and social and hoped that the Commission would welcome these proposals.

Finally, Ms Bischoff expressed the hope that Europe would achieve better integration, while pointing out that citizens had to be convinced of the benefits of this model for present and future generations.

Georges Dassis

Georges Dassis, president of the Workers' Group, first of all stated, in relation to the previous speaker, that the EESC had issued two opinions on taxation of the financial sector and that it had welcomed the fact that a similar proposal had been drafted by the Barroso Commission. The Committee now hoped that this measure would be implemented as it would finally enable sources of funding to be found elsewhere rather than from the lower classes. Indeed, for the most deprived citizens in particular, structural reforms had systematically resulted in austerity measures, which had led to the rich growing richer on the backs of the poor. Mr Dassis welcomed the fact that the Commissioner acknowledged this phenomenon and called on him to come up with modernisation proposals that were not synonymous with social regression. This was particularly important given the recent speeches on better regulation which advocated raising the retirement age for all professions without distinction, taxing labour and decreasing taxation of capital.

As for the problem of debt, which the Commissioner had mentioned, Mr Dassis stressed that while governments were, of course, mainly to blame, past European Commissions were also responsible. He added that there was still no equal treatment of sovereign debt and that the EESC would submit an interesting opinion on this topic to the Commission.

Finally, Mr Dassis once again called on the Commission to fulfil the role given to it by the Treaties by drafting legislative proposals that took into consideration citizens' aspirations, in order to avoid a disintegration of Europe.