Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of relevant Select Committees
Communication from the Commission on the Commission Work Programme 2018—an agenda for a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe
Exiting the European Union
(39181), 13837/17 + ADDs 1–5, COM(17) 650
10.1Each year the Commission sets out its policy and legislative priorities for the year ahead. This process means that interested parties both understand the political priorities of the Commission and have some idea of the detailed legislative proposals likely to emerge.
10.2The annual Commission Work Programme (CWP) was published on 24 October 2017. This set out its priorities to be delivered by the end of 2018, building on the ‘Roadmap for a More United, Stronger and More Democratic Union’, which President Juncker presented alongside his State of the Union address on 13 September 2017.
10.3This is the fourth annual work programme of President Juncker’s Commission, highlighting 26 new key initiatives to complete the work on his ten strategic priorities, published in November 2014, and including eleven ‘Future of Europe’ of initiatives launched with a 2025 perspective. It compiles information on the necessary work for the three main EU institutions until the end of the mandate period.
10.4The focus of the 2018 CWP is two-fold. First, there are a limited number of targeted legislative actions to complete work in the priority policy areas. Secondly, the work programme presents a number of initiatives with a forward-looking perspective, reflecting the debate kick-started by the Commission’s White Paper on the future of Europe and the State of the Union Address, as the new Union of 27 shapes its future, towards 2025 and beyond.
10.5The number of new priorities, 26, is the largest of the Juncker Commission (which had previously brought forward 23, 23 and 21 initiatives in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 CWPs respectively). This focused approach is still a considerable improvement on the average of 130 initiatives presented per year by its predecessor. It is welcome that the Commission continues to pursue its REFIT agenda (which assesses the adequacy of EU legislation in force), although the number of proposed withdrawals, repeals and measures to undergo the REFIT process has continued to decline.
10.6On 14 December, the Presidents of the three main EU institutions signed a Joint Declaration of the EU’s legislative priorities for 2018–19, the second such agreement. The Declaration sets out 31 new legislative proposals tabled by the Commission which will be given priority treatment by the Parliament and the Council for adoption or substantial progress by the time of the European Parliament elections in 2019.
10.7This is the second CWP to be published following the EU referendum in June 2016 and the decision of the UK to leave the European Union. The UK formally notified the EU of its intention to withdraw on 29 March 2017. Under Article 50 TEU, the Treaties will therefore cease to apply to the UK on 29 March 2019. However, the Government and the European Commission reached provisional agreement on the ‘phase 1’ separation issues triggered by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on 8 December 2017, and following agreement by the European Council on the 15 December, it was agreed that negotiations on a ‘transition period’ could begin.
10.8While negotiations on the transition period continue, the CWP remains important in setting out future legislation that might enter into effect after the UK has left the European Union, but during a transition period in which it may need to comply with and implement new EU law. Additionally, the initiatives presented that look further forward, towards 2025 and beyond, will be an important indicator of the future priorities of a key partner of the UK as a third country. The Committee notes the lack of information in the Government’s EM relating to the implications of the CWP for a post-Brexit UK but welcomes the Government’s commitment to “comment on the exit implications of specific proposals when they come forward”.
10.9The Commission Work Programme provides a comprehensive overview of the Commission’s 26 new key initiatives for the year ahead within its priority areas. The subsidiarity implications of the CWP will depend on how the proposals are developed and the Government states that “more detail on adherence to the principle of subsidiarity will be provided in the EM on each legislative proposal as it is brought forward”. The Committee awaits the detail of the proposals before making firm judgements on these issues while noting that the Government states that overall it believes “the CWP 2018 has broadly respected the principle of subsidiarity”.
10.10We welcome the Government’s consultation with the Devolved Administrations in advance of the Explanatory Memorandum and note its commitment to continue to work with the Devolved Administrations to coordinate the UK’s positions on specific initiatives outlined in the CWP as they develop.
10.11Although the Commission Work Programme remains an important and comprehensive overview of the Commission’s priorities for the year ahead, and beyond, we are not recommending the CWP 2018 for a specific debate. This decision reflects the changed parliamentary picture since the referendum decision, including the commitment of the Government to make time available for general debates on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. It may be that we recommend individual proposals arising from the CWP for debate when we consider them in more detail in the future.
10.12We are content to clear the Communication from scrutiny but draw it to the attention of relevant Departmental Select Committees.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee of the Regions on the Commission Work Programme 2018—an agenda for a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe: (39181), 13837/17 + ADDs 1–5, COM(17) 650.
10.13The 2018 CWP—An agenda for a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe—consists of six documents:
10.14In introducing the CWP, the Commission states that Europe is visibly regaining its strength and has a window of opportunity that will not stay open forever. In outlining how the CWP will ensure the focus remains on the big things, where European action has a clear and demonstrable added value, it continues:
“This Commission has already delivered over 80% of the proposals that are the essential for completing the Digital Single Market, the Energy Union, the Capital Markets Union, the Banking Union, the Security Union and a comprehensive European migration policy. The priority must now be on turning proposals into legislation, and legislation into implementation. The sooner the European Parliament and the Council complete the legislative process, the sooner citizens and business will feel the benefits of our joint work. The Commission will redouble its efforts to support the co-legislators every step of the way.”
10.15The Joint Declaration signed by the Presidents of the three main EU Institutions on 14 December 2017 set out 31 new legislative proposals tabled by the Commission which will be given priority treatment by the Parliament and Council for adoption or substantial progress by the time of the European Parliament elections in 2019.
10.16The Joint Declaration set out seven priority areas:
10.17More detail on the ten political priorities outlined in the Communication is given below.
10.18The Commission sets out three initiatives in this priority area. The Commission will introduce a limited number of proposals to reinforce work to support innovation, jobs and growth through the Circular Economy Strategy, which was previously included in the CWP 2017. These will notably focus on the production and use of plastics, working towards plastic packaging being recyclable by 2030, and on the reuse of water and the management of drinking water. The Commission also proposes to move the European Skills Agenda forward with the support of the European Social Fund, paying particular attention to basic skills and to digital skills.
10.19With a 2025 perspective, the Commission launches a comprehensive proposal for the future Multi-annual Financial Framework beyond 2020, on which it expects to complete negotiations in the mandate of this Commission, and a reflection paper on a sustainable European future, following up the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including the Paris agreement on Climate Change.
10.20The Commission has already tabled 24 legislative proposals in the area of the Digital Single Market (DSM) since May 2015, and prioritises implementation of the 18 outstanding proposals by the European Parliament and Council. These include the electronic communications Code, the proposed copyright reform and the Digital Content Directive. Additionally, the Commission will present proposals on fairness in platform-to-business relations, an initiative on countering fake news and revised guidelines on significant market power in the electronic communications sector.
10.21Continuing work to complete the Energy Union and to improve the security of energy supplies and the functioning of the internal market, the Commission will propose common rules for gas pipelines entering the European internal gas market.
10.22As part of the future of Europe initiatives the Commission will present a Communication on the future of EU energy and climate policy, including the future of the Euratom Treaty.
10.23The Commission proposes four key initiatives in this area, in addition to an initiative with a 2025 perspective to make Single Market law-making more efficient by further enhancing the use of qualified majority voting and of the ordinary legislative procedure in internal market measures.
10.24In continuing efforts to protect national budgets against harmful tax practices, the Commission proposes to simplify the rules for taxing the profits that multinationals generate through the Digital Economy. A social fairness package will address labour mobility and social security coordination challenges by proposing a European Labour Authority and a multi-purpose European social security number aiming to simplify the interactions between citizens and administrations in a range of areas. The Commission will propose measures to improve the functioning of the EU food supply chain to help farmers strengthen their position in the market place and protect them from future shocks. Finally, to complete the Capital Markets Union, the Commission will propose a range of measures including rules on crowd and peer-to-peer funding, an initiative on sustainable finance and an enabling framework to facilitate the use of covered bonds.
10.25As part of continuing work to create a deeper and fairer economic and monetary union, the Commission will propose bringing the European Stability Mechanism into the European Union legal framework “to make it more democratically accountable, and, at the same time, strengthen its role and decision-making”. Also under this key initiative the Commission will propose creating a dedicated euro area budget line within the EU budget in order to provide four functions: structural reform assistance; a stabilisation function; a backstop for the Banking Union; and a convergence instrument to give pre-membership assistance to Member States on their way to euro membership.
10.26The second key initiative in this area are proposals to complete the Banking Union to achieve both risk reduction and risk sharing. These proposals, together with the Capital Markets Union, aim to help build a stable and integrated financial system for citizens and business.
10.27Finally, launched with a 2025 perspective, the Commission will propose a Communication on the possible creation of a permanent European Minister of Economy and Finance, who is democratically accountable, to increase the efficiency of policy making.
10.28The Commission will deliver on the Trade for All Strategy. EU trade deals will be pursued through negotiations with Mercosur and Mexico, and the Commission will work with the European Parliament and Member States to make sure that agreements, including with Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, are reached and properly implemented so that the benefits can be delivered.
10.29Completion of the Security Union is a key priority for the Commission. This key initiative includes several individual proposals, particularly aimed at combatting terrorism. These include proposals to improve cross-border access by law enforcement authorities to electronic evidence and to financial data and to further strengthen the rules against explosives precursors that terrorists use for homemade weapons.
10.30The Commission also proposes to strengthen the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism and to endow it with its own operational capacities to provide better crisis and emergency support with maximum efficiency and minimum bureaucracy.
10.31Looking ahead to 2025, the Commission proposes two initiatives in this area. The first is a Communication on a possible extension of the tasks of the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office to include the fight against terrorism ahead of a specific Leaders Summit in Vienna in September 2018, dedicated to security matters. The second is an initiative to strengthen the Rule of Law in the European Union.
10.32The Commission says that implementation of the European Agenda on Migration is on track, with priority to be given by the European Parliament and the Council to the proposals already on the table. The Commission will furthermore make the necessary proposals in 2018 to revise the Visa Code and upgrade the Visa Information System and in that context will withdraw its proposals for a Visa Code and the Touring Visa.
10.33The longstanding partnership with countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific will be renewed, adapting it to the rapidly evolving global context and transforming it into a strong and modern political alliance. Links with Asia will also be enhanced. There will also be new frameworks for engagement with India, Iraq and Iran, following the historic nuclear deal with the latter.
10.34There are two initiatives in this area launched with a 2025 perspective. The first is a credible enlargement perspective, with a strategy for the successful accession of Serbia and Montenegro as frontrunner candidates in the Western Balkans. Looking for more efficiency and consistency in implementing the Common Foreign Policy, the Commission proposes the possibility of further enhancing the use of qualified majority voting in Common Foreign Policy, making use of the so-called ‘passerelle clauses’ in the current treaties.
10.35Communicating Europe, is the key initiative in this area. The Commission will produce a Communication on how to make the Union more united, stronger and more democratic in communication terms, proposing a revision of the European Citizens Initiative to make it more accessible and easier to use.
10.36Building on the work of the Task Force headed by First Vice-President Timmermans announced in the State of the Union address, the Commission will present its ideas on further enhancing subsidiarity, proportionality and better regulation to make sure the EU only acts where it can add value. Additionally, with a forward perspective, the Commission will propose options for enhancing efficiency at the helm of the European Union, reflecting on doing less more efficiently and giving back competences to Member States where it makes sense to do so.
10.37In his Explanatory Memorandum of 14 November 2017, the Minister of State in the Department for Exiting the European Union (Lord Callanan) sets out the Government’s initial view on the implications of the key policy initiatives announced in the CWP.
10.38After stating, in familiar terms, that until the UK exits the EU the Government will continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation, he says that the Government broadly welcomes the CWP 2018. Commenting on the broad range of the CWP the EM summarises that:
“there are some areas where the Government welcomes Commission proposals, areas where we have some concerns and areas where we need more information before forming a complete view.”
10.39Commenting on the 26 new initiatives in the CWP 2018, the Government states that this “broadly aligns with the number brought forward throughout the Juncker Commission’s CWP and these are consistently, substantially lower than the average figure for new initiatives under the previous Commission”.
10.40Considering the Commission’s focus on the eleven initiatives to shape the new Union of 27 to 2025 and beyond, the Government notes that:
“while it remains overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed, for those proposals with a 2025 view, which fall after our departure, the UK Government believes these are a matter for the EU27 to decide on.”
10.41The Government will analyse the full implications of new initiatives when the Commission presents specific proposals and, with regard to financial implications, states that it “will press for costs to be met from within existing budget resources, respecting the agreed budget ceilings of the Multiannual Financial Framework”.
10.42The Government’s initial view on the key policy areas are set out in the following paragraphs.
10.43The UK broadly welcomes the Commission’s intent to deliver on the Circular Economy Action Plan, the proposals being progressed broadly aligning with UK policy interests. More specifically, the proposed regulation on minimum quality requirements for reused water is “expected to have limited implications for the UK”, given our low level of planned reuse of treated wastewater. Secondly, noting the four improvement areas identified by the REFIT evaluation, the Government says that the “UK welcomes any amendments to the Drinking Water Directive if it delivers benefits for citizens, business and society whilst identifying red tape and potential to lower costs”.
10.44The Government notes the Commission’s plans to move the European Skills Agenda forward at Member States’ and regional level, saying that the “proposed criteria are mostly in line with the aims and aspirations of our own apprenticeships programmes”.
10.45The UK Government strongly supports the Commission’s commitments to complete the Digital Single Market (DSM), which it believes “can play a critical part in ensuring future prosperity for all Member States” and has argued for an open, flexible market with a regulatory framework that reflects the dynamic nature of the digital economy, increases cross-border ecommerce and facilitates scale up of EU businesses. However, the Government notes concern at the proposal on fairness in platform-to-business relations as it believes that the existing competition framework is flexible and sufficiently capable.
10.46Significant progress has been made in delivering the Energy Union and the Government welcomes the Commission’s priority to adopt the Clean Energy Package, supporting “a robust and flexible governance framework which supports attainment of EU level objectives without constraining Member States’ ability to set their most cost-effective pathway to decarbonisation or imposing unnecessary burdens”. The Government is assessing the full implications of possible revision of the Euratom Treaty and the impact on association between the new UK regime and Euratom post-exit.
10.47The Government will scrutinise the detail of company law proposals with a view to minimising burdens on business and tax authorities and seeking to ensure that the proposals provide Member States with a greater degree of flexibility to set VAT rates at a level that suits their domestic circumstances and needs. The UK Government agrees that the specific issue of taxation of profits generated by multinationals through the digital market is important and welcomes EU discussions, which it will work to ensure complement and reinforce the work of the OECD Task Force on the Digital Economy.
10.48The Government has put forward its view to the Commission that improving the EU food supply chain will be “addressed most effectively if Member States have the flexibility to choose measures that best reflect the organisation of their domestic food supply chains, rather than follow a ‘one size fits all’ approach”.
10.49As the Commission aims to complete the Capital Markets Union, the UK will monitor the details of the specific proposals and actively engage as initiatives develop.
10.50The UK has already responded to the Commission consultation on a European Pillar of Social Rights, welcoming the intent of the pillar, but stating a belief “that its application should be primarily for the euro area, with opt-in for non-euro area states”, with a preference for a non-legislative approach which gives flexibility for reforms to be driven by Member States.
10.51The Government makes no specific comment on the Commission’s proposals aimed at completing the Economic and Monetary Union, but notes that “regardless of our relationship with the EU, it is in our interests that the euro area is a successful currency area”.
10.52While recognising that the Commission’s work to complete the Banking Union is primarily a matter for participating Member States, the Government states that the interests of non-participants in the Banking Union, such as the UK, should also be respected.
10.53The Government continues to support EU’s ambitious and open trade policy and will continue to monitor the debate on the Modernisation of Trade Defence Instruments. The Commission is also calling for the adoption of proposals on the Screening of Foreign Direct Investment, about which the Government says the UK, and several other Member States, have concerns.
10.54The Government says that it is “committed to ensuring European security “ and welcomes the Commission’s work “to improve the internal Security of the European Union”. The Government encourages European efforts that address the challenges posed by the increasing use of electronic means in cross-border crime, but would wish to ensure that proposals do not jeopardise some of the practical cooperation that is already happening. The UK is fully compliant with EU Regulation 98/2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors and strongly supports efforts by the Commission to reduce terrorist access to precursors.
10.55The proposals to strengthen the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism are part of an ongoing debate, and the Government will comment as the proposal progresses.
10.56The Commission’s desire to deliver on the European Agenda on migration is supported by the UK Government, which agrees with the Commission and European partners that a managed and coordinated EU approach to migration is still needed. The Government also see a need to reinforce work with transit and source countries as a key part of addressing the root causes of migration and reducing the dangers faced on transit routes, and is committed to working with European partners to address these challenges. The UK does not participate in the borders elements of Schengen, but will watch developments on the proposals to revise the Visa Code and upgrade the Visa Information System closely.
10.57The Government welcomes the Commission’s ambitions to pursue and strengthen its relations with key partners and deliver on the Global Strategy. The UK will need to continue working with all the relevant global actors on foreign and defence policy. The Government says it supports the Commission’s prioritisation of rapidly implementing the European Defence Fund and the European Defence Industry Development Programme, saying:
“Collaboration on European Defence research and capability development is in our mutual interests, helping Europe play a greater role in defence while ensuring it complements cooperation with NATO in this area”.
10.58The Government supports the ongoing commitment of the Commission to deliver a Union of democratic change. On specific proposals to amend the Comitology regulation, the Government, whilst agreeing that procedures should be modernised, says it is essential that balance is retained regarding the role of expert committees.
10.59The Explanatory Memorandum sets out the initial views of the Devolved Administrations.
10.60The Scottish Government places particular importance on measures designed to strengthen an open and innovative European economy. Looking more closely at the 10 priorities, the Scottish Government:
“recognises that a lack of digital skills in businesses is one of the main barriers to growth and wishes the retention of digital skills as a specific priority for a “New Boost for Jobs, Growth and Investment”. This complements the Scottish Government’s desire to continue work on creating “A Connected Digital Single Market”. The Scottish Government has also identified “A Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy” as a priority area. The Scottish Government has a key interest in “A Deeper and Fairer Internal Market with a Strengthened Industrial Base”, particularly with relation to EU Better Regulation and Posted Workers Directive. The Scottish Government agrees that a “New Policy on Migration” is an appropriate priority for next year. Another work programme area of importance to the Scottish Government is “Justice and Fundamental rights based on Mutual Trust.” They would also encourage further trade deals and would want to benefit from these in the future, including a balanced and progressive trade policy.”
10.61Noting the publication of CWP 2018 Northern Ireland has potential interest in:
“the European Fund for Strategic Investment 2.0; revisions to the Financial Regulation/Omnibus; the proposals for the Multiannual Financial Framework post 2020; delivery of pending proposals on Digital Single Market; the Internal Market Strategy; implementation of the Circular Economy Strategy, in particular, proposals to deliver on the Circular Economy Waste Package and the Plastics Strategy; Energy Union and the priority in updating policies on climate change; adoption of the Clean Energy Package; work to continue to improve security of energy supplies and functioning of the internal energy market; the proposal of common rules for gas pipelines entering the EU internal gas market; the focus of efforts on new CO² standards for cars, vans and heavy duty vehicles and work on batteries and alternative fuel infrastructure.
“Northern Ireland also have a potential interest in new initiatives to improve the functioning of the EU food supply chain; Completing the Security Union including a proposal to improve cross-border access of law enforcement authorities to electronic evidence; initiatives to facilitate cross-border access to and use of financial data by law enforcement authorities; Revision of the Regulation on service documents; Revision of the Regulation on taking of evidence; and the priority pending proposals for EU Cybersecurity Agency; European Criminal Records System (ECRIS); and Schengen Information System (SIS).”
10.62The Welsh Government notes the “breadth and ambition of the Commission Work Programme” and say they will engage constructively in ongoing EU business in a spirit of co-operation and in a way that is consistent with the rights and obligations of EU membership.
29 January 2018