The EESC thinks the "work-life balance" package is a step in the right direction, to be further analysed and be improved in the future. Social partners throughout Europe should be encouraged to examine additional practical solutions to promote a work-life balance that suits the specificities of workplaces, particularly in SMEs. Moreover, there is need for investment in high-quality, affordable and available care services and facilities for all families, as well as for tax deductions that help working parents to continue working.
Opinions in the spotlight
The EESC takes the view that the general development of distributed prosumer energy should form an important and sustainable part of the European Union’s energy policy. Such an approach would be beneficial and might even be necessary from the point of view of energy security and in light of environmental and social concerns. In particular, the Committee points to the prosumers’ advantages of, among others, lower energy transmission costs, better use of local energy sources, and the economic and social involvement of local communities.
The EESC adopted this opinion after in-depth work carried out during the four meetings of the study group. The opinion also reflects the national debates with civil society organisations carried out in all Member States between 2 September and 2 November 2016. These discussions were coordinated by three members of the EESC ('trios') from the country concerned, often in cooperation with the European Commission (15 debates) or the national economic and social council (7 debates). Participants came from a wide range of employers' and trade union organisations and other civil society organisations, as well as, to a lesser extent, from the academic world. A total of 116 EESC members and nearly 1,800 representatives of civil society organisations participated in the 28 debates. The conclusions/recommendations of the national debates have been grouped in the opinion, while the reports on the national debates will be published separately.
The EESC welcomes the New Skills Agenda for Europe. However, it wishes to see more innovative solutions in the fields of education and skills development, as Europe needs a genuine paradigm shift in the goals and functioning of the education sector. The EESC considers that helping individuals to acquire a minimum set of skills is not enough, and that it is crucial to ensure that a Skills Guarantee becomes a guaranteed pathway that enables people to advance and reach the highest achievable level of skills. The Committee calls for more focus on social and gender perspectives, non-formal and informal learning and entrepreneurship as a life skill. It also regrets the lack of new financing to back up the Agenda and encourages more dialogue with organised civil society.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies offer great potential for creating new and innovative solutions to improve peoples lives, grow the economy, and address challenges in health and wellbeing, climate change, safety and security.
Like any disruptive technology, however, AI carries risks and presents complex societal challenges in several areas such as labour, safety, privacy, ethics, skills and so on.
A broad approach towards AI, covering all its effects (good and bad) on society as a whole, is crucial. Especially in a time where developments are accellerating.
The EESC proposes an EU Platform For Change ("Platform"), to address gender equality in transport, initially prioritising increasing women's employability in the sector. This initial objective could later be supplemented by including "women as users". Membership could include, but not exclusively, EU- and national-level representative bodies of policy makers, the transport industries, their trade unions, media, passenger organisations and NGOs willing to commit to concrete actions to address gender inequality in transport.
The Committee calls on the Member States to step up their efforts in combatting aggressive tax planning, along with tax avoidance that could lead to significant losses of revenue for Member States' budgets. The EESC believes that the harmonisation and simplification of tax rules should be a priority for the Member States and that the elimination of tax barriers should go hand in hand with these harmonisation efforts. The Committee proposes to extend the common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB) and recommends that Member States to look for solutions to implement the recommendations of the High Level Group on Own Resources. Finally, the EESC feels that the introduction of qualified majority voting in the field of direct taxation could support better the efforts to harmonise the rules on establishing the tax base for the main taxes.
The EESC welcomes and supports the European Commission's decision to tackle the problem of intermediaries enabling aggressive tax planning. The Committee notes that the related administrative costs must be reduced to the furthest extent possible for all sizes of businesses and stresses that the taxpayer carries the ultimate responsibility to comply with the proposed directive.
The EU has one of the world's most open investment regimes, and collectively EU Member States have the fewest restrictions in the world on foreign direct investment (FDI). The OECD expressly acknowledged this in its FDI Regulatory Restrictiveness Index which measures statutory barriers against foreign investment in over 60 countries.
The Commission's reflection paper of 10 May 2017 on Harnessing Globalisation recognised increasing concerns about foreign investors' strategic acquisitions of European companies with key technologies. These concerns called into question the capacity of the current regulatory framework to address them.
The EESC supports the proposals that enhance the international competitiveness of SMEs, reduce cost, harmonise and simplify processes for registration, filing of company changes and conversions. It believes that guidance by the Commission to the Member States on transposition of the directives is useful.