Editor's note

International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Tuesday, 21.11.2017, 06:08

State of the Union: effect for the Baltic States

Eugene Eteris, BC, Riga/Copenhagen, 13.09.2017.Print version

Every year in September, the President of the European Commission delivers “State of the Union Address” before the European Parliament, showing both achievements of the past year and presenting priorities for the year ahead. The “address” has some vital implications for the Baltic States as well.

The President’s address also sets out the ways the Commission will address the most pressing EU’s challenges. The speech is followed by the Parliament’s plenary debate, which starts a dialogue with the European Parliament and Council to prepare the Commission Work Programme for 2018.


Full Speech can be seen in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-17-3165_en.htm.


The “Roadmap for a More United, Stronger and More Democratic Union” can be seen at:

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/roadmap-soteu-factsheet_en.pdf

 

The President underlined that the EU’s growth, being in the fifth year of an economic recovery, has finally reaches every single EU member state. Thus, EU’s growth has outstripped that of the US over the last two years and now stands above 2% for the EU-28 and at 2.2% for the euro-zone 19 states. Besides, unemployment is at a nine year low: almost 8 million jobs have been created since the start of 2015; with 235 million people at work, more people are in employment in the EU than ever before.


Address’ importance for Baltics


Most important for the Baltic States are the following issues, which the President touched upon in his speech:


- EU Strategic Investment Plan has already triggered €225 billion worth of investment” e.g. it has granted loans to over 445,000 SMEs and supported more than 270 infrastructure projects.

- The EU-28 has brought public deficits down from 6.6% to 1.6% thanks to an intelligent application of the Stability and Growth Pact. The Commission is asking the member states for fiscal discipline but is careful not to kill growth; this approach works very well across the EU states, despite some criticism.

- The Commission is ready to put the remaining 20% of initiatives on the table by May 2018.

- In trade: partners across the globe have started lining up to conclude trade agreements with the EU. Commission proposes to open trade negotiations with Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and a number of African states. However, Europe must always defend its strategic interests: with this in mind, Commission is proposing a new EU framework for investment screening. Foreign trade is about jobs, creating new opportunities for European SMEs: e.g. every additional €1 billion in exports supports 14,000 extra jobs in Europe.

- The new EU industrial policy strategy is being presented to help EU industries become the world leader in innovation, digitisation and decarbonisation. For example, the EU manufacturing base includes presently 32 million workers.

- Combating climate change: regardless the collapse of ambition in the US on climate change, Europe will ensure efforts to make the planet great again; it is the shared heritage of all of humanity.

- Cybersecurity: cyber-attacks can be more dangerous to the stability of democracies and economies than guns and tanks. The Commission is proposing new tools, including a European Cybersecurity Agency, to help defend the member states.

- Discussion of Europe’s future: the President said that “now is the time to draw first conclusions from the debate on the future of Europe, time to move from reflection to action and from debate to decision. Over the last three years, members of the Commission have visited national Parliaments more than 650 times. They also debated in more than 300 interactive Citizens' Dialogues in more than 80 cities and towns across 27 member states. But we can still do more. This is why I support President Macron's idea of organising democratic conventions across Europe in 2018”.

“My own EU-scenario is so-called “the six’s scenario”: for me, Europe is more than just a single market, more than money, more than the euro: it was always about values. In my scenario six, there are three principles that must always anchor our Union: freedom, equality and the rule of law. These three principles must be the foundations on which we build a more united, stronger and more democratic Union”.

-“Union of equals”: In the Union of equals, there can be no second class citizens. It is unacceptable that in 2017 there are still children dying of diseases; children should have the same access to vaccines across Europe. This is why we are working with all EU states to support national vaccination efforts; avoidable deaths must not occur in Europe”.

“Workers should earn the same pay for the same work in the same place. This is why the Commission proposed new rules on posting of workers. We should make sure that all EU rules on labour mobility are enforced in a fair, simple and effective way by a new European inspection and enforcement body. It seems absurd to have a Banking Authority to police banking standards, but no common Labour Authority for ensuring fairness in our single market; we will create one”.

“In a Union of equals, there can be no second class consumers: I will not accept that in some parts of Europe, people are sold food of lower quality than in other countries, despite the packaging and branding being identical. Slovaks do not deserve less fish in their fish fingers; Hungarians less meat in their meals and Czechs less cacao in their chocolate. EU law outlaws such practices already: we must now equip national authorities with stronger powers to cut out any illegal practices wherever they exist”

- European Solidarity Corps: “I am particularly proud of the young Europeans who are serving in the new European Solidarity Corps. They are bringing European solidarity to life." Over 1,700 officers from the new European Border and Coast Guard are now helping member states’ 100,000 national border guards patrol.

- On democracy: “Democracy is about compromise; the right compromise makes winners out of everyone. A more united Union should see compromise, not as something negative, but as the art of bridging differences. Democracy cannot function without compromise; hence, Europe cannot function without compromise. This is what the work between Parliament, Council and Commission should always be about”.

- On banking union: “If we want banks to operate under the same rules and under the same supervision across our continent, then we should encourage all member states to join the Banking Union. Completing the Banking Union is a matter of urgency. We need to reduce the remaining risks in the banking systems of some of the EU states. Banking Union can only function if risk-reduction and risk-sharing go hand in hand. As everyone well knows, this can only be achieved if the conditions, as proposed by the Commission in November 2015, are met. To get access to a common deposit insurance scheme, the states first need to do their homework”.

- Stronger single market: “When it comes to important single market questions, decisions in the Council shall be taken more often and more easily by qualified majority, with the equal involvement of the European Parliament. We do not need to change the Treaties for this: there are so-called “passerelle clauses” in the current Treaties which allow us to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting in certain areas, if all Heads of State or Government agree to do so. I am also strongly in favour of moving to qualified majority voting for decisions on the common consolidated corporate tax base, on VAT, on fair taxes for the digital industry and on the financial transaction tax. Europe has to be able to act quicker and more decisively”.

- Stronger Economic and Monetary Union: “The euro area is more resilient now than in years past. We now have the European Stabilisation Mechanism (ESM); which should now progressively graduate into a European Monetary Fund and be firmly anchored in the Union’s structure. The Commission will make concrete proposals for this in December. We need a European Minister of Economy and Finance: a minister that promotes and supports structural reforms in the EU states. A minister can build on the work the Commission has been doing since 2015 with the Structural Reform Support Service. The new minister should coordinate all EU financial instruments that can be deployed when a EU state is in a recession or hit by a fundamental crisis. I am not calling for a new position just for the sake of it. I am calling for efficiency. The Commissioner for economic and financial affairs (ideally also a Vice-President) should assume the role of Economy and Finance Minister, who should also preside over the Eurogroup. The European Economy and Finance Minister must be accountable to the European Parliament. We do not need parallel structures. We do not need a budget for the Euro area but a strong Euro area budget line within the EU budget”.

- Setting up a Subsidiarity and Proportionality Task Force: “Starting from September 2017, the EU will take a very critical look at all policy areas to make sure we are only acting where the EU adds value. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans will head this Task Force, which should include Members of the European Parliament as well as members of national Parliaments; it should report back in a years’ time”.

- New rules on the financing of political parties and foundations: “We should not be filling the coffers of anti-European extremists. We should be giving European parties the means to better organise themselves. I also have sympathy for the idea of having transnational lists – though I am aware this is an idea more than a few would disagree with. Such lists would help make European Parliament elections more European and more democratic”.

- Administrative/institutional reform in the EU: “The need to strengthen democracy also has implications for the European Commission. I am sending the European Parliament a new Code of Conduct for Commissioners, which first of all makes clear that Commissioners can be candidates in European Parliament elections under the same conditions as everyone else. The new Code will of course strengthen the integrity requirements for Commissioners both during and after their mandate. If you want to strengthen European democracy, then you cannot reverse the democratic progress seen with the creation of lead candidates – 'Spitzenkandidaten'. I am convinced that any future President will benefit greatly from the unique experience of having campaigned in all quarters of European continent. To understand the challenges of his or her job and the diversity of our member states, a future President should have met citizens in the town halls of Helsinki as well as in the squares of Athens. In my personal experience of such a campaign, it makes you more humble, but also strengthens you during your mandate. And you can face the other leaders in the European Council with the confidence that you have been elected, just as they have. This is good for the balance of the European Union. More democracy means more efficiency. Europe would function better if we were to merge the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council”.


Finally, said the President: “Europe would be easier to understand if one captain was steering the ship. Having a single President would better reflect the true nature of our European Union as both a Union of States and a Union of citizens”.


References to: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-17-3165_en.htm





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