Posts in "European Commission" Category

How much tax is ‘fair’?

Google’s agreement with Britain’s tax collectors and the European Commission’s proposals on tax avoidance have put corporate tax firmly back on the front pages – although it never really went away.

The issue will no doubt remain near the top of political and business agendas for the foreseeable future.

So here’s four takes on what’s happened and what it means.

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Digital Single Market – Commission at crossroads in development of digital health

The scope of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy is certainly ambitious: copyright, geo-blocking and online shopping are all covered, with the aim of helping consumers and businesses to realise the potential of the digital revolution.

Dig a little deeper, and you also find numerous references to digital health. This is a welcome move, after more than three years of inactivity since the publication of the eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020, the second roadmap to support the development of digital health (eHealth). But at the moment, the strategy is heavy on analysis of the problems, and light on solutions.

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New priorities, new approaches, new structures: what does Juncker’s team have in store in 2015?

One year of institutional change ends; another year of political and policy change begins: on 16 December 2014, the new European Commission agreed its Work Programme for 2015.

The new programme, like the new Commission, aims to break with the past and introduce a new (and more political) way of working. Instead of a long list of actions for years ahead, this plan focuses only on the next twelve months, seeking to ‘clear the decks’ of moribund proposals.

What changes will we see to Europe’s political and policy environment in 2015, and how are the Commission’s working methods adjusting to ‘deliver’ the proposals set out in the Work Programme?

The politics of the 2015 Work Programme

Again underlining the continuity from electoral manifesto, to presidential programme, to detailed work programme, the Commission’s plans for 2015 are based on the same ten-point list of priorities presented by Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) to the Parliament in July.

However, this political continuity can be contrasted with legislative discontinuity, as the Commission seeks to start afresh. One of the main themes of the Work Programme is to abandon old proposals that are blocked in the system; another is to remove ‘regulatory burdens’ (while ensuring high levels of social, environmental and consumer protection). Overall, the focus is clear: economic growth, job creation, and acting only on issues where there are perceived to be concrete benefits for European citizens from EU-level action.

The 2015 programme is smaller than previous years, and has been criticised by MEPs in particular (with Frans Timmermans, the First Vice-President of the Commission, the target of much of the criticism). There are just 23 new legislative ‘packages’ (containing many more legislative and non-legislative initiatives) and 80 current initiatives are to be withdrawn, because they either fail a ’regulatory fitness’ test or are blocked by one or other of the EU’s legislative bodies. The aim was not to list everything, but only that which the Commission believed would be achievable in 2015.

However, the reaction by many MEPs to the Work Programme was negative. Aside from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) Group, other groups drafted parliamentary resolutions criticising the plan. None won a majority, although in the vote on 15 January a majority of MEPs did back amendments that criticised the plan to scrap a set of environmental proposals. Many in the Parliament believe that doing less, even if it is done better, will do little to persuade people that Europe works in their favour.

The contents of the 2015 Work Programme

The Commission grouped its actions under three themes: ‘new initiatives’, ‘cutting red tape’ and ‘clearing the decks’.

Of the 23 new initiatives, the most eye-catching is the €315bn Investment Plan to stimulate the European economy. On 13 January the first legislative element of this Plan – the proposal to create a European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) – was proposed. The Commission hopes to have this new fund in place by June.

Other employment and investment initiatives include a package of measures intended to address long-term and youth unemployment.

Digital Single Market (DSM) measures are included in a single package that aims to give consumers “cross-border access to digital services, create a level-playing field for companies and create the conditions for a vibrant digital economy and society”. Legislative proposals will include an attempt to modernise copyright law. The Vice-President responsible for the DSM, Andrus Ansip (pictured), has already committed himself to ending geo-blocking.

Measures to create an Energy Union focus on supply security, integration of national markets, demand reduction, “decarbonising the energy mix” and promoting research and innovation.

As for internal market measures, the Commission plans to take steps to improve mutual recognition and standardisation, including in services and regulated professions, increase labour mobility and coordinate social security systems to prevent abuse, develop a Capital Markets Union, and boost the competitiveness of the aviation sector.

Elsewhere, economic governance of the eurozone will be addressed, as will tax avoidance, with plans to move to a system under which the country where profits are generated is also the country of taxation – including in the digital economy. The Commission also plans to relaunch work towards a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base.

There will be reviews of the EU’s trade, security, fundamental rights and migration policies, including the Blue Card Directive, the EU-wide work permit for skilled workers from third countries.

Finally, a new inter-institutional agreement on better law-making is planned – which will include a new approach to delegated and implementing acts and a mandatory lobbying register.

79 measures were marked down for evaluation, new studies or withdrawal as part of a mission to cut red tape. Food laws, e-Privacy, audiovisual media services, telecoms, birds and habitats, accounting standards and machinery are among the diverse areas undergoing examination in the coming couple of years.

Of the 80 current initiatives or laws that are being withdrawn, the most eye-catching was the ‘Circular Economy package’, which was intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill. Timmermans told MEPs that he would propose something “more ambitious” in 2015. The proposed Energy Taxation Directive was similarly discarded. Other proposals – such as on maternity leave – were given a stay of execution, and are to be withdrawn should there be no agreement within six months.

The Commission’s new working methods

A new structure for the European Commission – with seven powerful vice-presidents, four of them running specific ‘project teams’ that focus on key priorities – has meant a new way of working.

On 11 November a 38-page Communication from the President to the Commission set out how Juncker wants things done; a further note was sent to the Commission’s services in January, explaining how to give practical effect to the new working methods.

Some elements seem obvious – such as the obligation of commissioners to attend meetings of the College – but nevertheless represent a departure from the past: whereas Catherine Ashton was often absent, her successor as High Representative, Federica Mogherini (pictured), is expected to play the ‘Commission Vice-President’ part of her dual role to a greater degree (and, to this end, she sits in the Berlaymont building with her fellow commissioners, rather than in the European External Action Service headquarters).

The overall tone of the documents – explained in further detail in our Client Briefing – is one of centralisation and politicisation (in terms of political control, rather than necessary party political control).

Previously, technocrats handled issues in minute detail, and the political picture emerged later. Now, the intention is that politics comes at the beginning, and that the civil service will take its direction from the commissioners.

Meanwhile, the Spokesperson’s Service has agreed ‘lines to take’ and (aside from commissioners) the exclusive right to speak on behalf of the Commission. Commissioners’ private offices, or cabinets, no longer have spokespeople, but ‘communications advisors’.

In addition, there is a renewed emphasis on transparency, with an obligation on commissioners, cabinet members and senior civil servants to put on public record any meetings held with interest representatives.

The changes have faced some internal opposition, and meant an increased coordination role for the Secretariat-General, which is supporting the (department-less) vice-presidents.

Martin Selmayr, Juncker’s chef de cabinet, is providing political oversight, alongside the Commission Secretary-General, Catherine Day. They have been part of an ‘inner circle’ (including the President, vice-presidents and their cabinets) who drew up the Work Programme.

Now, that Work Programme is in place. It is time to get on with the job.

This blogpost is a shorter version of a briefing sent to Burson-Marsteller Brussels’ clients in mid-January. Click the button to contact us for more information on how we can help your business or organisation.

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Words  David O’Leary
Photos  (c) European Union 2015

2014: was it different this time? A company perspective

This time it’s different.

With this slogan, the European Parliament made it clear: the 2014 European elections would give citizens unprecedented power in determining the future leader and direction of the European Union.

With the appointment of victorious Spitzenkandidat Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) as President of the European Commission, these elections were different and took some by surprise.

But that was not all.

The role of social media during the European election campaigns has already been the subject of numerous articles. Candidates, political parties and the EU institutions have used social media to mobilise voters in what has been labelled as the first digital European election campaign.

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Review of the Year: 15 key dates in Europe’s Year of Change

That was the year that was…

Check out our Review of the Year with the fifteen key images and events from Europe’s Year of Change, including the party congresses, the European Parliament elections, the drama of the Commission presidential nomination and election, the selection of a new College of Commissioners, and the election of a new President of the European Council.

Read our review of 2014

Words  David O’Leary
Photos  (c) European Union 2015

Dear @Xavier_Bettel, it’s time to rotate the @EU_Presidency


In seven months Luxembourg will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. Preparations seem to be well underway, but so far your government has not set up a specific Twitter account for the presidency.

As you may know, the current Italian EU Presidency is quite active on Twitter. It has amassed more than 32,000 followers to its account, @IT2014EU. The Latvian government – which holds the presidency in the first half of 2015 – is already tweeting via two accounts – in English (@EU2015LV), and in Latvian (@ES2015LV). They have a combined total of  more than 3,800 followers.

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A trio of troubles in Tusk’s in-tray

??????????????????????????????????The final piece of Europe’s jigsaw is almost in place.

On Monday, Donald Tusk (pictured above) – elected by the national leaders at the end of August, becomes President of the European Council. But what faces the former Polish prime minister when he arrives in his new office on Monday?

Herman Van Rompuy – Tusk’s predecessor in the role – identified three key issues when the new President was unveiled in the summer. None of the these three issues has become simpler in the last three months.

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Who will be the social media champion of #TeamJunckerEU?

Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission team faces questions from Members of the European Parliament next week – but they already being probed on Twitter.

So how well are the commissioners-designate prepared to engage online – and who will be the social media king or queen of the new Commission?

Download our PDF infographic of the new European Commission on Twitter

There are more commissioners-designate on Twitter than serving commissioners – which is no surprise. Despite the fact that the Juncker team has more senior national experience than José Manuel Barroso’s team, they have fewer followers on average (19,000 in Juncker’s team as opposed to 26,500 in Barroso’s). However, their accounts should quickly gain followers – if they survive the hearings.

Pierre Moscovici, a former French finance minister, Commissioner-designate for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, and a relatively early adopter of Twitter, has the largest following – just over 109,000. (Barroso is the most-followed Twitter user in the current team, with 121,000 followers.)

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A five-point guide to the EU top jobs puzzle

This weekend, the European Council will meet again to decide on the holders of the EU’s top jobs.

Here’s our five-point guide to Saturday’s meeting and what it means – and have your say on one of the key issues of the summer by voting in our poll.

1. Time for action

hvr squareAfter the failure to agree on the top jobs at the last summit in July, European Union leaders are under pressure to reach an accord. The European Council is increasingly gaining a reputation as an institution that takes too long to decide anything, and whose decisions are often ‘fudges’.

Saturday is the crunch moment: if EU leaders fail to conclude a ‘package’ of appointments, it will put paid to any remote hopes of appointing the Commission on time. More importantly in the long term, it will increase popular and global perceptions of the EU as a sclerotic organisation. Herman Van Rompuy (pictured left), the President of the European Council, was criticised by EU leaders and many analysts for not preparing a watertight deal before July’s summit (although he was not helped by some prime ministers). The President will not want another failure.

The decisions are not easy: there are significant political, institutional and personal headaches for the 28 leaders. But the leaders are there to lead, and to decide. It’s time to act.

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