Thursday, 21 September 2017

State of the Union: economic progress

The State of the Union 2017 web page of the European Commission offers us materials and some updates concerning policy initiatives relating to the Commission Work Programme (CWP) 2018. In addition, a few novelties on the economic front are worth mentioning. Yesterday the Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis spoke about a proposal for a stronger and more integrated financial supervision for the Capital Markets Union (CMU) SPEECH/17/3365, complemented by a press release IP/17/3308, questions and answers MEMO/17/3322 and a brief CMU and supervision factsheet.

Today, Thursday 21 September 2017, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada entered into force provisionally IP/17/3121.

The European Commission also launched a “Border Focal Point”, a hub of EU experts IP/17/3270 and MEMO/17/3271, to help border regions - 40% of the EU territory and 150 million inhabitants - break down barriers to jobs and investments.

We can take note of the European Labour Authority president Juncker initiated in his SOTEU address, with a view to mobile workers and commuters.

Economic progress
The State of the Union 2017 brochure (108 pages), still only in English, continues with the section Progress in the economic situation (from page 74), in practice four pages of useful graphs for interested readers: faster economic growth, economic sentiment picking up, investment growth, job creation, decreasing unemployment, rising employment rate, shrinking public deficit, decreasing government debt, more robust banks, plus a table with numbers at country level in addition to aggregate figures.

A recent press release from Eurostat tells us that employment increased by 1.6% in the euro area and 1.5% in the EU28 compared with the second quarter last year.
Economic reform issues are on the agenda of the ECOFIN ministers, as told by Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis SPEECH/17/3281, and the Eurogroup, as told by its president Jeroen Dijsselbloem after the latest meeting.  

Ralf Grahn

State of the Union and EU reform compilation

The blog post Hopkok om EU:s framtid directly or indirectly referred to 31 blog posts at Eurooppaoikeus (FI), Grahnblawg (SV) and Grahnlaw (EN), about the social market economy, the European social pillar, the future of Europe and EU reform.

Since then, president Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union 2017 (SOTEU) address has been the point of departure for ten more blog articles - almost all in English - so this could be a good time to publish a new compilation for future reference:

State of the Union 2017 web page

The European Commission’s State of the Union 2017 web page is worth checking for possible updates and new language versions. Among other things, we find the useful  State of the Union 2017 brochure (108 pages), still only in English. There are sections we have not discussed yet:

Progress in the Economic Situation
Policy Implementation Report
The European Solidarity Corps: One Year on
Visits to national Parliaments
Citizens’ Dialogues
Letter on the Roadmap for a More United, Stronger and a More Democratic Union   

On Twitter you can follow the latest on #SOTEU, #EUreform and #FutureOfEurope for occasional gems.

Ralf Grahn

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

State of the Union: public opinion

After checking the European Commission’s State of the Union 2017 web page, we turn to the State of the Union 2017 brochure, where the next section is called The state of public opinion in the EU (from page 69).

The UK’s Brexit mess, terrorist attacks, economic progress, together with election results in member states and abroad have contributed to stronger feelings about the need for the European Union among citizens.

Eurobarometer 87
The SOTEU 2017 brochure presents five graphs based on the latest Eurobarometer survey, but those interested can go to further downloadable reading: Standard Eurobarometer 87 - Spring 2017 (EB87; the field work was done in May and the first results were published in August 2017).

Terrorism and immigration

Terrorism has passed immigration as the greatest European level concern among EU citizens, both worries well ahead of the economic situation, the public finances of the respondent’s own country and unemployment (when each respondent named two).

At national level unemployment, immigration, health and social security, plus terrorism are the four main concerns, but here as on other issues those interested can study the differences between member states.

EU support and reform

More than half of the population (56%) is now optimistic about the future of the European Union (EB87 page 21). There is support for EU action and reform (page 31):

EU citizens support the EU priorities and common policies tested in the survey. Though varying in intensity from one statement to another, more than half of Europeans approve of all these policies, with the exception of further enlargement of the EU.

More than eight in ten Europeans support “the free movement of EU citizens who can live, work, study and do business anywhere in the EU” (81%, unchanged since autumn 2016). Three-quarters support “a common defence and security policy among EU Member States” (75%, unchanged), and 72% are for “a common energy policy among EU Member States” (72%, -1 percentage point). Around two-thirds of Europeans support “a common European policy on migration“ (68%, -1) and “a common foreign policy of the 28 Member States of the EU” (66%, unchanged). Around six Europeans in ten are in favour of “a digital single market within the EU” (61%, +2) and “a European economic and monetary union with one single currency, the euro” (60%, +2). More than half of respondents support “a free trade and investment agreement between the EU and the USA” (54%, +1). “Further
enlargement of the EU to include other countries in future years” is the single statement that is supported by only a minority of respondents: 40% are “for” (+1), while 49% are “against” (-2).

Even if they approve of current policies and potentially support more unitary policies, except for EU enlargement, sadly these Eurobarometer questions are too blunt to show how receptive citizens are to more detailed proposals for real EU reform.

Free movement of EU citizens

The EU27 and Michel Barnier get backing, by the overwhelming support for the free movement of people (EU citizens). Brexit tabloids and crusaders have something to think about, or do the British support free movement only for themselves? See EB87 page 32:

A large majority of Europeans in all 28 EU Member States continue to support “the free movement of EU citizens who can live, work, study and do business anywhere in the EU” (81%, unchanged since autumn 2016); majorities support free movement in proportions varying from 94% in the three Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, to 69% in Italy and 70% in the United Kingdom. Opposition to the free movement of EU citizens remains limited: it reaches or exceeds 20% in four countries: Austria (22%), Italy (22%), the United Kingdom (21%) and Denmark (20%).

Euro area

Creating a real economic and monetary union (EMU) is on the EU reform agenda, as is the invitation to non-euro countries to join the euro area. The common currency is becoming more attractive in the euro countries, but people in the countries outside are still reticent (page 33):

In the euro area, close to three-quarters of respondents support the euro (73%, +3 percentage points, vs. 22%, -3), which has reached its highest score since autumn 2004. Outside the euro area, a majority of respondents continue to oppose the single currency (58% “against”, -1, vs. 33% “for”, unchanged).

Six in ten EU citizens are in favour of  “a European economic and monetary union with one single currency, the euro” (60% “for”, +2 percentage points since autumn 2016), whereas 34% say they are against (-2). This is the first time since autumn 2009 that support for the euro has reached the 60% threshold in the whole European Union.

Designing Europe’s future

The title of the Special Eurobarometer 461 ‘Designing Europe’s future’ sounds promising, but how much wiser do we get regarding the EU reform agenda, if we read the three reports reflecting field work in April 2017?

The first report, which included questions on trust in various institutions, opinions about globalisation and its impact, and opinions about support for the euro, free-trade and solidarity, did not seem to ask or get clear responses about support for EU reform, but perhaps for existing policies with or without a demand for reform.

The second report, on security and defence, is perhaps somewhat clearer. Even if the EU supposedly has a common foreign and security policy and a common security and defence policy, the support for an EU army clearly goes beyond the current treaties (text picked from page 21):

Almost two-thirds of Europeans continue to support a common foreign policy of the 28 EU Member States. In all countries except Sweden, at least half of respondents are for a common foreign policy of the 28 EU Member states of the EU.

Three-quarters of EU citizens are for a common defence and security policy among EU Member States, and this proportion has remained above the 70% threshold since 2004. A clear majority of respondents in all EU Member States support a common defence and security policy among EU Member States.

More than half of Europeans are in favour of creating an EU army; conversely, almost four in ten are opposed to it. In 23 Member States, a majority of respondents are in favour of the creation of an EU army. The exceptions are the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland.

Logically, an EU army presupposes a unitary foreign, security and defence policy, which in turn require democratic government according to European values.

The third report, about the EU budget, could be said to be an extremely early bird for the EU citizens to design the future of the union. The Monti report on the EU budget (own resources) was new and far from widely known, and the Commission’s reflection paper on the future of EU finances was still about two and a half months into the future.

The Special Eurobarometer 461 survey shows that a growing proportion wants to increase the EU budget (by now, as many as those against), but the respondents know little about how EU resources are spent. They want to spend more in areas where the EU lacks real powers. Since respondents do not know even the basics about the EU budget, the opinion poll demonstrates a clear need for civic education.


Better and more enlightening political leadership is needed for a higher level of public discussion about the EU reform agenda, but where would that come from?

Ownership is probably the best teacher. Since 68% of Europeans already feel they are citizens of the EU, how about giving them full political rights as part of the EU reform agenda?

Ralf Grahn

State of the Union: better regulation and enforcement

The latest updates on the  European Commission’s State of the Union 2017 web page are the new industrial policy strategy, press release IP/17/3185, cybersecurity, press release IP/17/3193, and the flow of non-personal data in the EU, press release IP/17/3190.

I have presented roughly half of the 108-page State of the Union 2017 brochure in earlier blog entries. Now we turn to better regulation and enforcement.

Better regulation

The substance of the section on better regulation is on a single text page (63), but it carries a lot of punch.

The Commission’s figures demonstrate that it has been serious about being big on big things and small on small things, which tallies with my experience of the strategic way the Juncker Commission works, beginning with the political guidelines, which said:

My agenda will focus on ten policy areas. My emphasis will be on concrete results in these ten areas. Beyond that, I will leave other policy areas to the Member States where they are more legitimate and better equipped to give effective policy responses at national, regional or local level, in line with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. I want a European Union that is bigger and more ambitious on big things, and smaller and more modest on small things.

I am just going to provide a few links to readers, who want to go beyond the SOTEU 2017 brochure.
Sorted under the Democratic change priority, the Better regulation webpage offers background information and links, although the page is in need of an update, for instance the Commission Work Programme (CWP) 2017, soon to be followed by the CWP 2018. (It would be helpful if the Commission priority pages and other web pages provided the date of the latest update.)

Here is an introduction to the Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) programme, as a part of the Commission’s better regulation agenda and integrated into the CWP process.

We remember the Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Law-Making (13 April 2016); here an IIA explanation.

On 13 December 2016 the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission signed a Joint Declaration on the EU’s legislative priorities for 2017, and the Parliament’s Legislative train schedule - last updated to the end of June - keeps track of legislative proposals.
Here is an introduction to impact assessments in EU legislative processes and here to the Regulatory Scrutiny Board.  

Subsidiarity and Proportionality Task Force

From the state of the union address we remember president Juncker’s new opening:

Last but not least, I want our Union to have a stronger focus on things that matter, building on the work this Commission has already undertaken. We should not meddle in the everyday lives of European citizens by regulating every aspect. We should be big on the big things. We should not march in with a stream of new initiatives or seek ever growing competences. We should give back competences to Member States where it makes sense.

This is why this Commission has been big on big issues and small on the small ones, putting forward less than 25 new initiatives a year where previous Commissions proposed over 100. We have handed back powers where it makes more sense for national governments to deal with things. Thanks to the good work of Commissioner Vestager, we have delegated 90% of state aid decisions to the regional or local level.

To finish the work we started, I am setting up a Subsidiarity and Proportionality Task Force as of this month to 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, who has a proven track record on better regulation, will head this Task Force. The Timmermans Task Force, which should include Members of this Parliament as well as Members of national Parliaments, should report back in a years’ time.  

Better enforcement

The European Union is, as president Juncker underlined, a community of law. Correct and timely transposition is crucial, as is effective application of EU law (page 66):

Better application of EU law is a priority of the Juncker Commission and a key part of the Better Regulation Agenda. The Commission restated its commitment to improving the application of EU law in a Communication of December 2016 which sets out a more strategic approach to its infringement policy. It announced that it would give priority to pursuing the most serious breaches of EU law affecting the interests of citizens and businesses. As of September 2017, 1,659 infringement cases have been opened by the Commission. This is a considerable increase from the previous years.

SOTEU brochure presentations   

Having come this far, we might as well remind ourselves what the remaining part of the State of the Union 2017 brochure promises to deal with:

The State of Public Opinion in the EU
Progress in the Economic Situation
Policy Implementation Report
The European Solidarity Corps: One Year on
Visits to national Parliaments
Citizens’ Dialogues
Letter on the Roadmap for a More United, Stronger and a More Democratic Union   

Future blog posts are going to look at these sections.

Ralf Grahn

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Progress on the European Commission’s ten priorities

After our customary pit stop on the European Commission’s State of the Union 2017 web page,  the Commission State of the Union 2017 brochure (108 pages) continues on page 35 with a section Progress on the European Commission’s 10 priorities.

Starting from the 2014 political guidelines for the Commission - with the ten priorities presented in detail in the booklet A New Start for Europe - the SOTEU 2017 brochure dedicates two pages or more to each priority in a readable mix for an educated  general reader (or participant at a citizens’ dialogue) about statistical fact, legislative progress, individual examples, next steps and potential benefits.

This means that on more than twenty pages in all (pages 35 to 59, to be exact), there is more context and detail (and support for arguments) than the Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was able to highlight during his hour-long state of the union address.

Since I am not going into each Commission priority in this blog post, here is a reminder of what they are at headline level:

1. A new boost for jobs, growth and investment
2. A connected digital single market
3. A resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy
4. A deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base
5. A deeper and fairer economic and monetary union (EMU)
6. A balanced and progressive trade policy to harness globalisation [renamed and updated]
7. An area of justice and fundamental rights based on mutual trust
8. Towards a new policy on migration
9. Europe as a stronger global actor
10. A union of democratic change

Trade and investment   

Circumstances have changed for the sixth priority, leading to a new title and revised content. The headline A Reasonable and Balanced Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. reflected the expectations of a groundbreaking Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Since the TTIP negotiations are on hold during the new US administration, this has liberated Commission resources to pursue and initiate (separate) free and fair trade deals and investment agreements with other important trading partners, while conducting negotiations in a more transparent manner. Besides, the Commission has moved towards a more protective (or protectionist) mould for trade policy, labeled as ‘not naïve’. The latest proposals were published the day after the SOTEU address. See IP/17/3182 and  IP/17/3183, the launch of trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, as well as other links in the press releases.    

Worthwhile summary

The SOTEU brochure section Progress on the European Commission’s 10 priorities is a worthwhile summary of progress in various areas for an educated public interested in EU affairs.

For professionals interested in more exact references to legislative processes, I would recommend the EPRS publication presented in the blog post European Commission priorities at mid-term. Even more detailed, if we consult the background documentation (print versions), is the European Parliament’s Legislative train schedule, last updated to the end of June 2017.

Naturally, outside perspectives and independent views are necessary in order to evaluate gaps between wishes and realities, between gloss and gaps. In a 16 September 2017 post, The State of the Union [What Think Tanks Are Thinking], the European Parliamentary Research Service Blog has compiled titles and links to more than fifty papers from research institutes and organisations since April 2017.

After the state of the union speech, we can expect more activity with a specific SOTEU focus from think tanks, organisations and individual writers. Thus, a new and hopefully thematic compilation from the EPRS soon would be welcome.

SOTEU brochure in progress  
Having come this far, we might as well remind ourselves what the remaining part of the State of the Union 2017 brochure promises to deal with:

Better Regulation
Delivering on What the EU Promised: Enforcing More Effectively Our Joint Decisions
The State of Public Opinion in the EU
Progress in the Economic Situation
Policy Implementation Report
The European Solidarity Corps: One Year on
Visits to national Parliaments
Citizens’ Dialogues
Letter on the Roadmap for a More United, Stronger and a More Democratic Union   

We continue the presentations in future blog posts.

Ralf Grahn