Procedure : 2016/2101(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A8-0309/2016

Texts tabled :

A8-0309/2016

Debates :

PV 25/10/2016 - 15
CRE 25/10/2016 - 15

Votes :

PV 26/10/2016 - 6.7
CRE 26/10/2016 - 6.7
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P8_TA(2016)0416

REPORT     
PDF 471kWORD 95k
20.10.2016
PE 585.449v02-00 A8-0309/2016

on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2016 priorities

(2016/2101(INI))

Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs

Rapporteur: Alfred Sant

Rapporteur for the opinion (*):

Sofia Ribeiro, Committee on Employment and Social Affairs

(*) Associated committee – Rule 54 of the Rules of Procedure

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION
 OPINION of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (*)
 OPINION of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection
 OPINION of the Committee on Regional Development
 OPINION of the Committee on Culture and Education
 RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2016 priorities

(2016/2101(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), in particular Articles 121(2) and 136 thereof,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 18 May 2016 on the 2016 country-specific recommendations (COM(2016)0321),

–  having regard to the European Council conclusions of 28 and 29 June 2016 (EUCO 26/16),

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 February 2016 on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: Annual Growth Survey 2016(1),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 7 April 2016 entitled ‘2016 European Semester: Assessment of progress on structural reforms, prevention and correction of macroeconomic imbalances, and results of in-depth reviews under Regulation (EU) No 1176/2011’ (COM(2016)0095),

–  having regard to the Commission reports entitled ‘2016 Annual Growth Survey’, ‘2016 Alert Mechanism Report’ and ‘Draft Joint Employment Report’, to the Commission recommendation for a Council Recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area, and to the Commission proposal of 26 November 2015 for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of the Structural Reform Support Programme for the period 2017 to 2020,

–  having regard to the Five Presidents’ Report of 22 June 2015 entitled ‘Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union’,

–  having regard to its resolution of 24 June 2015 on the review of the economic governance framework: stocktaking and challenges(2),

–  having regard to its resolution of 1 December 2011 on the European Semester for Economic Policy Coordination(3),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 13 January 2015 entitled ‘Making the best use of the flexibility within the existing rules of the Stability and Growth Pact’ (COM(2015)0012),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) 2015/1017 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 June 2015 on the European Fund for Strategic Investments, the European Investment Advisory Hub and the European Investment Project Portal and amending Regulations (EU) No 1291/2013 and (EU) No 1316/2013 – the European Fund for Strategic Investments(4),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 26 November 2014 entitled ‘An Investment Plan for Europe’ (COM(2014)0903),

–  having regard to the Commission Green Paper of 18 February 2015 entitled ‘Building a Capital Markets Union’ (COM(2015)0063),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 17 June 2015 entitled ‘A Fair and Efficient Corporate Tax System in the European Union: 5 Key Areas for Action’ (COM(2015)0302),

–  having regard to its resolutions of 5 February 2013(5) and 15 September 2016(6) on improving access to finance for SMEs,

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, the Committee on Regional Development and the Committee on Culture and Education (A8-0309/2016),

A.  whereas the Commission’s spring 2016 forecast indicates expected growth rates of 1.6 % for the euro area and 1.8 % for the EU in 2016;

B.  whereas Europe still faces a major investment deficit, and the need is to increase internal demand and correct macroeconomic imbalances, while further increasing investment in the EU;

C.  whereas unemployment in general (and structural unemployment in particular) in the EU remains one of the main challenges that Member States are facing, as it currently stands at a very high rate (10.5 million long-term unemployed in the EU); whereas even if the numbers have improved slightly compared with previous years, youth unemployment and unemployment rates overall in the European periphery are still significantly higher than the average rate in the EU as a whole;

D.  whereas falling oil prices and slow economic growth at the start of 2016 appear to be additional factors in dragging down the inflation rate to below zero levels;

E.  whereas political developments such as the result of the UK’s referendum and relations with Russia, as well as uncertainties in global economic developments, have further served to inhibit investment;

F.  whereas the influx of refugees into Member States has also strained investment in the Member States;

G.  whereas the European Semester recommendations to Member States have a similar responsiveness rate among Member States as the unilateral OECD recommendations (29 % vs 30 % in 2014);

H.  whereas the European Parliament, in its resolution on the Annual Growth Survey 2016, while emphasising the need for a specific focus on the euro area, welcomed the improved policy mix; moreover, it stressed the importance of increased investment, sustainable reforms and fiscal responsibility aiming to further promote higher growth levels and the recovery in Europe;

Europe’s challenge in the context of the global economic slowdown

1.  Notes with concern that the EU economy will grow less than expected on the basis of the European economic spring forecast 2016, as GDP in the eurozone is expected to increase by only 1.6 %, reaching 1.8 % by 2017

2.  Stresses that the challenges in the EU are linked to the deteriorating international environment, the failure to implement sustainable reforms and the divergences in the economic and social performance in different parts of the Union; underlines the need to improve growth, cohesion, productivity and competitiveness; considers that lack of sustainable investment and the shortcomings in completing the single market are depriving the EU of its full growth potential;

3.  Welcomes the Commission’s focus in its 2016 country-specific recommendations (CSRs) on the three main priorities to further strengthen economic growth: supporting investment for innovation, growth and job creation, pursuing socially balanced structural reforms and encouraging responsible public finances; stresses, however, that the Commission should do more to bolster fiscal sustainability in line with the Stability and Growth Pact, while making full use of its flexibility clauses, in line with the Commission communication of 13 January 2015 (COM(2015)0012);

4.  Recognises the importance of coherence between cohesion policy instruments and the wider economic governance framework, with a view to supporting the recovery efforts needed to achieve compliance with the European Semester rules; underlines, however, that the legitimacy of cohesion policy derives from the Treaties, and that this policy is the expression of European solidarity, having as its main objectives strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion in the EU by reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions, financing investment linked to Europe 2020 goals and bringing the EU closer to its citizens; is therefore of the opinion that measures linking the effectiveness of ESI Funds with sound economic governance should be applied judiciously and in a balanced way, but only as a last resort, and that their effects should be reported; recalls, moreover, that the application of such measures should always be justified, transparent and take into consideration the economic and social circumstances of the Member State concerned, in order to avoid restricting regional and local investments, which are absolutely essential for the Member States’ economies, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as these investments maximise growth and job creation and stimulate competitiveness and productivity, especially in times of strong pressure on public expenditure; as regards the cases of the two Member States that were the subject of Council decisions of 12 July 2016, which triggered sanctions under the excessive deficit procedure on the basis of Article 126(8) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), points to the Commission proposal of 27 July 2016 and the subsequent Council decision of 8 August to cancel the fines which could have been imposed, taking into account the Member States’ reasoned requests, the challenging economic environment, both countries’ reform efforts and their commitments to comply with the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact; believes, in this context, that the proposal to suspend part of the 2017 commitments for the ESI Funds under the measures linking their effectiveness to sound economic governance should take into consideration the views of Parliament, expressed during the Structured Dialogue;

5.  Welcomes the Commission’s continuing approach of limiting the number of recommendations and its effort to streamline the semester by covering mainly key priority areas of macroeconomic and social relevance when setting the policy objectives for the next 18 months; reiterates that this facilitates the implementation of recommendations on the basis of the comprehensive and meaningful range of existing economic and social benchmarks; stresses that a reduction in the number of recommendations should also lead to a better thematic focus; stresses the need to reduce economic disparities and achieve upward convergence between Member States;

6.  Fully supports the efforts made to ensure greater national ownership in the formulation and implementation of CSRs as an ongoing reform process; considers that, in order to increase national ownership and foster the effective implementation of CSRs, and in view of the fact that local and regional authorities have to implement more than half of CSRs, these should be clearly articulated around well-defined and structured priorities at European level, involving national parliaments, regional and local authorities where appropriate; reiterates that, in view of the distribution of powers and competences in various Member States, delivery on the Country-Specific Recommendations might improve with the active participation of local and regional authorities and, to this end, supports the proposal of a code of conduct for the involvement of the local and regional authorities in the European Semester as suggested by the Committee of the Regions; calls on the Member States to ensure a proper democratic scrutiny of their National Reform Programmes in their respective national parliaments;

7.  Stresses that Europe’s long economic crisis has highlighted the strong need to facilitate investment in areas such as education, innovation and research and development, while enhancing the EU`s competitiveness by pursuing sustainable structural reforms to boost quality job creation, implementing responsible fiscal policies to create a better environment for jobs, businesses (especially SMEs) and investment; notes the impact of the European Fund for Strategic Investment after one year of functioning; stresses the importance of reinforcing the take-up of the EFSI in less developed and transition regions and the truly additional character of its investments while stepping up efforts to develop Investment Platforms, including at regional level;

8.  Underlines that the still-too-high unemployment rates, especially for youth unemployment, show that the capacity to create quality employment in several Member States is still limited, and emphasises that further action is needed, in consultation with the social partners and in accordance with national practices, in order to step up investment in skills, make labour markets more inclusive and reduce social exclusion and growing inequalities in income and wealth, while maintaining sound budgetary management; notes that support measures to facilitate access to financing, particularly for SMEs, is vital if the continuing high unemployment in many Member States is to be tackled effectively;

9.  Stresses that the current economic situation, which combines liquidity surplus with interest rates at the zero lower bound (ZLB), weak demand prospects, and restricted investment and spending by households and companies, requires the implementation of the renewed policy mix put forward by the Commission in order to create growth; notes that monetary policy alone is insufficient to stimulate growth when investments and sustainable structural reforms are lacking;

Priorities and objectives of the 2016 recommendations

10.  Highlights the Commission’s recommendation for three Member States to exit the excessive deficit procedure (EDP); agrees with the Commission that large and consistent current account surpluses hint at a need to stimulate demand and investment, in particular long-term investment, in order to cope with the challenges of the future regarding transport and communications, the digital economy, education, innovation and research, climate change, energy, environmental protection and the ageing population; calls on the Commission to continue to encourage responsible and sustainable budgetary policies that underpin growth and recovery in all Member States by putting more emphasis on investment and efficient public expenditure, and supporting sustainable and socially balanced structural reforms;

11.  Notes that further measures are needed to increase financing opportunities, notably for SMEs, and to reduce non-performing loans (NPLs), in the euro area and in conformity with EU legislation, in order to make bank balance sheets sounder and thereby increase the ability of banks to lend to the real economy; emphasises the importance of completing step-by-step and implementing the Banking Union and developing the Capital Markets Union in order to create a stable environment for investment and growth and avoid fragmentation of the euro area financial market;

12.  Underlines the fact that investment has so far lagged behind and failed to lead to sustainable and inclusive growth in the EU and to contribute to the improvement of the business environment; considers that monetary policy needs to be accompanied by appropriate fiscal policies aimed at improving growth in the EU, in line with the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, including its flexibility clauses; notes that investments at sub-national government level have decreased strongly in recent years, but nevertheless still account for around sixty per cent of public investment in the EU; underlines that investment policy instruments such as the EFSI and ESIF require properly calibrated blending and complementarity between them in order to enhance the value added of Union spending by attracting additional resources from private investors; stresses, therefore, that the Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP) should involve local and regional authorities when putting together the structural reform project in question;

Policy responses and conclusions

13.  Emphasises the need to improve the EU’s overall capacity to grow, create and sustain quality jobs and thus to tackle high levels of unemployment by creating a regulatory framework that is supportive of growth; considers that migration could play a role in compensating for the negative effects of the ageing population, depending on the ability of the Member States to better use migrants' skills and to adapt labour migration management systems to labour market needs;

14.  Highlights the importance of inclusive educational systems that foster innovation and creativity and teach skills relevant to the labour market, with particular reference to vocational education; notes that an appropriate trade-off, avoiding a race to the bottom in wages and employment standards, should be maintained between economic, social and human costs in accordance with the EU values of solidarity and subsidiarity, meanwhile keeping the focus on investment in human capital, research and development, the upgrading of educational systems and vocational education, including lifelong learning; considers that well-designed policies are needed to promote innovation, research and development in order to foster productivity, create steady sustainable growth and help address current structural challenges, thereby closing the innovation gap with other economies;

15.  Invites the Commission to give priority to measures that reduce the obstacles to greater investment flows and trade, which arise at EU level from a lack of clarity regarding the strategies that are to be followed, especially in the following fields: energy, transport, communications and the digital economy; notes the effect on bank lending in the wake of the adoption of the banking union, and at a national level, from cumbersome legal systems, corruption, lack of transparency in the financial sector, outdated bureaucracy, inadequate digitalisation of public services, misallocation of resources, the presence of barriers to the internal market in the banking and insurance sectors, and educational systems that remain out of synch with the requirements of the labour market and the completion of the single market;

16.  Deplores the fact that with regard to the Europe 2020 strategy, in which for the first time fighting poverty was part of an EU programme, the goal of reducing the scale of poverty in the Union will not be reached; considers that the goal of fighting poverty should be included right from the inception of EU policies;

17.  Underlines the importance of avoiding an excessive tax wedge on labour, given that excessive taxation diminishes incentives for the inactive, the unemployed, second earners and low-wage earners to return to employment;

18.  Takes note of the ongoing discussion between the Commission and the Member States on the methodology for the calculation of the output gap;

19.  Points out that efforts should be made to remove the remaining barriers to investment in the Member States and allow for a more suitable mix oriented towards policies fostering sustainable growth, including a genuine focus on research and development spending; believes that public and private support for research and higher education institutions are crucial factors for a more competitive European economy and that the weakness or absence of this infrastructure places certain countries at a massive disadvantage; stresses that there is no one-size-fits-all ideal EU innovation policy prescription but that in order to close the innovation-capacity divide in the EU, sufficiently differentiated innovation policies in Member States which build on the success stories that have already been attained are to be recommended;

20.  Welcomes the Agreement of the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015 and calls on the Member States and the Commission to implement it.

Sectoral contributions to the European Semester 2016

Employment and Social Policies

21.  Considers that the Council and the Commission should aim to achieve that the fiscal consolidation processes are accompanied by measures that help to reduce inequalities, and highlights that the European Semester process should help to provide answers to existing and emerging social challenges, thus ensuring a more effective economy; points out that social investments in human capital must constitute core complementary action, since human capital is one of the factors of growth and a motor of competitiveness and development; requests that major structural reforms advocated by CSRs be accompanied by a social impact assessment regarding their short-term, medium-term and long-term effects with the aim of better understanding the social, economic and employment consequences, especially the impact on job creation and economic growth;

22.  Underlines that unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment, remains an overriding problem for European societies, and that according to the Commission unemployment has continued to gradually decrease, but remains above 2008 levels, with 21.2 million unemployed in April 2016 and huge differences among Member States; points out the need of qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the employment created, in order to avoid an increase of employment rates as a mere consequence of precarious employment or of a decrease in the labour force; notes that despite producing results in skills and knowledge, some Member States’ education and training systems do not perform internationally and present growing skill shortages, which contributes to the fact that 39 % of companies still have difficulties in finding staff with the required skills; insists that in the CSRs greater priority is given to overcoming structural imbalances on the labour market, including long-term unemployment and mismatch of skills, and underlines the need to further invest in and develop education and training systems, providing society with the tools and capacities to readapt to changing labour market demands;

23.  Points out that between 2008 and 2014 the numbers of people in the EU at risk of poverty and social exclusion rose by 4.2 million, reaching a total of over 22 million (22.3 %); notes that the Commission has stated that ‘most of the Member States are still facing the acute social legacy from the crisis’; calls for a stronger effort from the Commission and the Member States to reduce poverty, social exclusion and growing inequalities, in order to tackle the economic and social disparities between Member States and within societies; is of the opinion that combating poverty and social exclusion and reducing inequalities should be one of the priorities reflected in the CSRs, as being fundamental to achieving lasting economic growth and a socially sustainable rhythm of implementation;

24.  Recalls that, as stated by Parliament, socially responsible reforms must be based on solidarity, integration, social justice and a fair distribution of wealth, a model that ensures equality and social protection, protects vulnerable groups and improves living standards for all citizens;

25.  Believes that economic growth should guarantee a positive social impact; welcomes the introduction of the three new headline employment indicators in the macroeconomic scoreboard; reiterates the call for these to be placed on an equal footing with existing economic indicators, thereby guaranteeing that internal imbalances are better assessed and making structural reforms more effective; calls, in this sense, in order to avoid a selective application, for them to be allowed to trigger in-depth analyses, and for better understanding of the cause-effect linkage between policies and actions; proposes introducing a social imbalances procedure in the design of the CSRs so as to prevent a race to the bottom in terms of social standards, building on effective use of the social and employment indicators in macroeconomic surveillance; takes the view that in case of placing employment and economic indicators on an equal footing it should go hand in hand with upgrading the role of the EPSCO Council in the European Semester;

26.  Considers that the introduction of the three employment indicators shows that the European Employment Strategy, including the Employment Guidelines, is playing an important role in the EU economic governance process, but that more efforts need to be made, notably through the introduction of social indicators;

27.  Recognises that the Commission has initiated work on the establishment of a European Pillar of Social Rights, but recalls the need to deliver the results of the consultation process and to move forward with new effective steps which seek to deliver a deeper and fairer EU and should play an important role in addressing inequality; highlights, in this regard, the Five Presidents’ Report, which calls for greater, economic and social convergence, but recognises that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions; believes, in this sense, that each common policy should be adapted to each Member State; considers that European action should also address inequalities and income differences within Member States, and must do more than simply address the situation of those in greatest need;

28.  Recognises that the European Semester now has a stronger focus on employment and social performance; while respecting the Member States’ competences, calls on them to take urgent action to ensure decent work with a living wage, access to an adequate minimum income and social protection (which has already reduced the poverty rate from 26.1 % to 17.2 %) and quality public services, and advocates the development and establishment of a proper sustainable social security system; calls on the Commission to offer support and exchange of best practices with Member States in order to improve administrative capacity at national, regional and local level, since this is a key challenge for relaunching long-term investment and ensuring job creation and sustainable growth;

29.  Stresses that the provision and management of social security systems are a Member State competence which the Union coordinates but does not harmonise;

30.  Recognises that setting of wages is a Member State competence which must be respected in line with the principle of subsidiarity;

31.  Takes note of the fact that youth unemployment has decreased, but points out that it is still at incredibly high levels, with more than 4 million persons aged under 25 unemployed in the EU, 2.885 million of them in the euro area; regrets that more than three years after the launch of the Youth Employment Initiative, the results of the implementation of the Youth Guarantee are so uneven, and sometimes ineffective; calls on the Commission to present in October a thorough analysis of its implementation which can serve as the basis for the continuation of the programme;

32.  Recalls that in many Member States unemployment benefits are decreasing year after year, as a result of, among other factors, long-term unemployment, therefore increasing the number of people living under the poverty and social exclusion threshold; calls for the guaranteeing of adequate unemployment benefits enabling people to live with dignity and actions to ensure the smooth integration of these people in the labour market;

33.  Stresses the fact that the imbalances in pension systems are basically the consequence of unemployment, wage devaluation and labour precarisation; calls therefore for reforms which guarantee adequate financing for a strong first pension pillar which ensures decent pensions, at the very least at a level over the poverty threshold;

34.  Recalls once again that the free movement of people is fundamental to enhancing convergence and integration between European countries;

35.  Notes the increased number of recommendations (to five Member States) on minimum income regimes; however, taking into account that broad income inequalities are detrimental not only for social cohesion but also for sustainable economic growth (as both the IMF and the OECD have recently stated), calls on the Commission to deliver on the promise made by President Juncker in his inaugural address to provide an adequate income for all Europeans through a European minimum income framework to cover basic living costs, while respecting national practices and the subsidiarity principle;

36.  Is concerned at the increase in income inequalities linked partially to inefficient labour market reforms; calls on the Commission and the Member States to implement measures to improve job quality so as to reduce labour market segmentation, combined with measures raising minimum wages to a decent level and strengthening collective bargaining and the position of workers in wage-setting systems in order to reduce wage dispersion; warns that in recent decades corporate management has been receiving a greater share of economic benefits while workers’ wages have stagnated or have been reduced; considers that this excessive dispersion in wages increases inequalities and damages the productivity and competitiveness of companies;

37.  Is concerned at the fact that long-term unemployment is still high, standing at 10.5 million in the EU, and recalls that the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market is crucial to guarantee the sustainability of social protection systems, as well as for their self-confidence; therefore regrets the lack of action by the Member States in terms of implementing the Council recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market; reiterates its call on the Commission to support efforts to create inclusive lifelong learning opportunities for workers and jobseekers of all ages and to take measures as soon as possible to improve access to EU funding, as well as mobilising additional resources where possible;

38.  Considers that social protection, including pensions and services such as healthcare, child care and long-term care, remains essential for balanced and inclusive growth, for a longer working life, for creating employment and for reducing inequalities; therefore calls on the Commission and the Member States to boost policies which guarantee the sufficiency, adequacy, efficiency and quality of social protection systems throughout the life cycle of a person, guaranteeing a decent life, fighting inequalities and boosting inclusion with the aim of eradicating poverty, especially for those excluded from the labour market and for the most vulnerable groups;

39.  Highlights the obstacles and barriers, both physical and digital, which persons with disabilities still encounter today; hopes that the Disability Act launched by the Commission will be promptly implemented and will focus effectively on specific measures to promote inclusion and access;

Internal Market

40.  Welcomes the large number of CSRs that support a well-functioning and integrated single market, including financing and investment opportunities which support businesses, and SMEs in particular, and help create jobs, e-government, public procurement and mutual recognition, including mutual recognition of qualifications; stresses that enforcement is key if the impact from these policy areas is to be felt; considers it crucial, in this regard, that the Commission pay as much attention as possible, in connection with CSRs, to introducing long-term reforms which have a significant impact, especially in relation to social investments, employment and training;

41.  States that the single market is a backbone of the EU economy, and stresses that an inclusive single market, with enhanced governance which favours better regulation and competition, is a crucial instrument to improve growth, cohesion, employment and competitiveness and to preserve the confidence of the business sector and consumers; calls on the Commission, therefore, to monitor the progress made by the Member States, and reiterates the importance of the formal inclusion of the single-market pillar in the European Semester so as to enable continuous monitoring of single-market indicators, allowing for systematic follow-up and assessment of Member States’ progress on CSRs;

42.  Welcomes the Commission’s determination to address the lack of tax coordination within the EU, in particular the difficulties faced by SMEs as a result of the complexity of differing national VAT regulations; calls on the Commission to assess the feasibility of further coordination and, in particular, to assess the possibility of a simplified VAT approach in the digital single market;

43.  Condemns the barriers which still exist, or have been created, that hinder a well-functioning and integrated single market; draws attention, in particular, to the partial transposition and implementation of the Services Directive by many Member States, and calls on the Commission to enforce more effectively what Member States have signed up to under EU law; recalls the Commission’s commitment to use infringement procedures, if necessary, to ensure the full implementation of legislation for the single market in goods and services and in the digital sphere;

44.  Points out that the system relating to the recognition of professional qualifications is underpinned by the principles of reciprocal trust between legal systems and reciprocal checking of the quality of the qualifications; notes that further action is required to better implement mutual recognition of professional qualifications; stresses that proper enforcement and better regulation are essential, given the fragmentation of the single market, which restricts economic activity and consumer choice, and should cover all business sectors and apply to existing and future legislation; welcomes the exercise of mapping regulated qualifications and professions, which will create an interactive public database that can aid Member States’ National Action Plans;

45.  Regrets that CSRs continue to point to deficiencies in public procurement such as the lack of competition and transparency, with 21 Member States failing to fully transpose the legislative package, resulting in distortions in the market; calls on the Commission to act swiftly to ensure that Member States meet their legal obligations by taking the necessary infringement procedures; calls on the Commission to systematically monitor in an efficient and transparent manner that administrative procedures do not create a disproportionate burden on business or prevent SMEs from participating in public procurement;

46.  Supports the Member States in their endeavours to modernise public administration services, in particular through e-government, and calls for better cross-border cooperation, simplification of administrative procedures and interoperability of public administrations to the benefit of all businesses and citizens, and at the same time calls on the Commission, where digitalisation of public services is financed from the EU budget, to engage in more effective monitoring of the appropriate use of the funds;

47.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Presidents of the Council, the Commission, the Eurogroup and the ECB, and to the national parliaments.

(1)

Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0058.

(2)

Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015)0238.

(3)

OJ C 165E, 11.6.2013, p. 24.

(4)

OJ L 169, 1.7.2015, p. 1.

(5)

OJ C 24, 22.1.2016, p. 2.

(6)

Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0358.


OPINION of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (*) (28.9.2016)

for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs

on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2016 priorities

(2016/2101(INI))

Rapporteur: Sofia Ribeiro(*)

(*) Associated committee – Rule 54 of the Rules of Procedure

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs calls on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

A.  whereas according to the Commission(1) economic growth remains relatively modest and the recovery remains uneven, with some countries registering quarterly declines;

B.  whereas it emerges from the country reports(2) that the gender gap is still significant, remaining one of the main barriers to achieving gender equality and an unacceptable form of gender discrimination, and urgent efforts are needed to narrow the gap in the employment rate between men and women;

1.  Notes that the country-specific recommendations (CSRs) demonstrate the differences that exist between Member States under the European Semester framework and the need for upward social and economic convergence; argues that the Member States should continue to give priority to reforms tailored to their own policy bottlenecks that will strengthen their social and economic recovery and competitiveness, and create quality employment and boost social cohesion; recalls, accordingly, that it is necessary to increase public and private investment, implementing socially responsible structural reforms which reduce economic and social inequalities and taking an approach based on fiscal and budgetary responsibility, making the best use of the existing flexibility margins where necessary so as to make it compatible with economic growth and quality employment; considers that the social partners should be actively involved in the process of drafting and implementing structural reforms when necessary, in order to improve the unsatisfactory implementation of reform; reiterates that these reforms should enable the EU and its Member States to meet the five targets of the Europe 2020 strategy, and insists on these reforms not weakening the protection afforded to workers and SMEs;

2.  Considers that the Council and the Commission should aim to achieve that the fiscal consolidation processes are accompanied by measures that help to reduce inequalities, and highlights that the European Semester process should help to provide answers to existing and emerging social challenges, thus ensuring a more effective economy; points out that social investments in human capital must constitute core complementary action, since human capital is one of the factors of growth and a motor of competitiveness and development; requests that major structural reforms advocated by CSRs be accompanied by a social impact assessment regarding their short-term, medium-term and long-term effects with the aim of better understanding the social, economic and employment consequences, especially the impact on job creation and economic growth;

3.  Underlines that unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment, remains an overriding problem for European societies, and that according to the Commission unemployment has continued to gradually decrease, but remains above 2008 levels, with 21.2 million unemployed in April 2016 and huge differences among Member States; points out the need of qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the employment created, in order to avoid an increase of employment rates as a mere consequence of precarious employment or of a decrease in the labour force; notes that despite producing results in skills and knowledge, some Member States’ education and training systems do not perform internationally and present growing skill shortages, which contributes to the fact that 39 % of companies still have difficulties in finding staff with the required skills; insists that in the CSRs greater priority is given to overcoming structural imbalances on the labour market, including long-term unemployment and mismatch of skills, and underlines the need to further invest in and develop education and training systems, providing society with the tools and capacities to readapt to changing labour market demands;

4.  Highlights the importance of private investment, but believes that public expenditure should be also promoted in an efficient and effective way; considers it vital to grant Member States a broad leeway for investing in quality vocational training and education, as well as in granting equal access to them, starting with greater national cofinancing margins to support the main EU projects in these areas; believes Member States should focus on sources of expenditure that will raise productive capacity in the future and that will have strong positive spillover effects on the economy as a whole, especially through education and training (academic, professional and vocational), R&D and infrastructures (transport, energy and communication);

5.  Points out that between 2008 and 2014 the numbers of people in the EU at risk of poverty and social exclusion rose by 4.2 million, reaching a total of over 22 million (22.3 %); notes that the Commission has stated that ‘most of the Member States are still facing the acute social legacy from the crisis’; calls for a stronger effort from the Commission and the Member States to reduce poverty, social exclusion and growing inequalities, in order to tackle the economic and social disparities between Member States and within societies; is of the opinion that combating poverty and social exclusion and reducing inequalities should be one of the priorities reflected in the CSRs, as being fundamental to achieving lasting economic growth and a socially sustainable rhythm of implementation;

6.  Recalls that, as stated by Parliament, socially responsible reforms must be based on solidarity, integration, social justice and a fair distribution of wealth, a model that ensures equality and social protection, protects vulnerable groups and improves living standards for all citizens;

7.  Calls for the completion of the European internal market as the most potential tool for growth and the fight against unemployment in the EU, with parallel controls in terms of enforcement of the law and respect for rules;

8.  Recalls that the longer-term vision outlined in the Europe 2020 strategy is a good first step, but believes these targets should be adapted to the reality and the needs of the different Member States, leaving sufficient political space for Member States to find their own contextually adapted path to reform in close consultation with stakeholders, while ensuring that the Europe 2020 strategy remains central to their objectives;

9.  Recalls the invitation of the European Council(3) to make use of the annual gender equality reports in the context of the European Semester in order to enhance gender mainstreaming;

10.  Regrets the absence of gender mainstreaming in the Europe 2020 Strategy, and calls on the Commission and the Council to introduce into the strategy a gender equality pillar and an overarching gender equality objective;

11.  Believes that economic growth should guarantee a positive social impact; welcomes the introduction of the three new headline employment indicators in the macroeconomic scoreboard ; reiterates the call for these to be placed on an equal footing with existing economic indicators, thereby guaranteeing that internal imbalances are better assessed and making structural reforms more effective; calls, in this sense, in order to avoid a selective application, for them to be allowed to trigger in-depth analyses, and for better understanding of the cause-effect linkage between policies and actions; proposes introducing a social imbalances procedure in the design of the CSRs so as to prevent a race to the bottom in terms of social standards, building on effective use of the social and employment indicators in macroeconomic surveillance; takes the view that in case of placing employment and economic indicators on an equal footing it should go hand in hand with upgrading the role of the EPSCO Council in the European Semester;

12.  Considers that the introduction of the three employment indicators shows that the European Employment Strategy, including the Employment Guidelines, is playing an important role in the EU economic governance process, but that more efforts need to be made, notably through the introduction of social indicators;

13.  Recognises that the Commission has initiated work on the establishment of a European Pillar of Social Rights, but recalls the need to deliver the results of the consultation process and to move forward with new effective steps which seek to deliver a deeper and fairer EU and should play an important role in addressing inequality; highlights, in this regard, the Five Presidents’ Report, which calls for greater, economic and social convergence, but recognises that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions; believes, in this sense, that each common policy should be adapted to each Member State; considers that European action should also address inequalities and income differences within Member States, and must do more than simply address the situation of those in greatest need;

14.  Recognises that the European Semester now has a stronger focus on employment and social performance; while respecting the Member States’ competences, calls on them to take urgent action to ensure decent work with a living wage, access to an adequate minimum income and social protection (which has already reduced the poverty rate from 26.1 % to 17.2 %) and quality public services, and advocates the development and establishment of a proper sustainable social security system; calls on the Commission to offer support and exchange of best practices with Member States in order to improve administrative capacity at national, regional and local level, since this is a key challenge for relaunching long-term investment and ensuring job creation and sustainable growth;

15.  Notes that social protection, including pensions and services such as healthcare, childcare and long-term care, are considered in the 2016 CSRs(4) to be essential for balanced and inclusive growth, and can contribute to increasing the employment rate and reducing the gender gap;

16.  Stresses that the provision and management of social security systems are a Member State competence which the Union coordinates but does not harmonise;

17.  Calls on the Member States to incorporate the gender dimension and the principle of equality between women and men in their National Reform Programmes and stability and convergence programmes, through the setting of qualitative targets and measures that address persisting gender gaps;

18.  Recognises that setting of wages is a Member State competence which must be respected in line with the principle of subsidiarity;

19.  Recognises that the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) has been developed to play a key role in leveraging investment and promoting growth and job creation; calls on the Commission to make a strong commitment to promoting EFSI and the use of the resources earmarked for it in European territories that are especially affected by severe unemployment and in those with a low or zero level of participation; calls on the Commission to closely monitor and control the investments under the Juncker Plan, in order to assess the economic and employment impact of the investments in real terms, with a parallel analysis of the obstacles encountered, particularly with regard to SMEs since the Plan does not only represent a new source of finance for them but also provides them with technical assistance and advice; calls at the same time on the Commission to continue its efforts to improve the business environment and conditions for obtaining business finance; advocates an increase in social and environmental investments and support for the participation of social actors in the operation of the fund; also stresses the importance of ensuring that the rules governing the EFSI-funded programmes are fully adhered to; considers that, as requested by Parliament, the projects should be focusing on quality and, additionally, should boost the creation of quality employment and upward social convergence; reiterates its stress on the importance of investments in human capital and other social investments and on the need for effective implementation of the Social Investment Package;

20.  Stresses that to date the Juncker Plan (EFSI) has not achieved its intended results, as the projects it has financed concern exclusively major infrastructure, which does not create sustainable and lasting employment; highlights the fact, moreover, that there is a need for measures and investment for existing infrastructure that has become obsolete and needs to be secured and modernised;

21.  Regrets that the social economy has been overlooked by the Commission in its package of assessments/recommendations; points out that this sector encompasses 2 million businesses employing more than 14 million people and contributing to the achievement of the 2020 targets; calls on the Commission and the Member States to give social enterprises greater recognition and a higher profile; considers that this lack of recognition makes it harder for them to access funding; calls on the Commission to come forward with a proposal for a European statute for cooperatives, associations, foundations and mutual societies;

22.  Calls on the Member States to use their fiscal space to increase public investment in areas conducive to growth, such as infrastructure, education and research;

23.  Recognises the efforts made by several Member States in implementing structural reforms to enhance productivity, foster job creation, raise competitiveness and improve the business environment; recalls that in some Member States the reforms implemented have favoured flexibility at the expense of security, and therefore insists on the need to rebalance the general approach so as to implement new socially responsible reforms focusing on the wellbeing of citizens and making efficient and sustainable economic growth compatible with EU social standards; takes the view, nevertheless, that further progress is necessary, especially in cases of inefficiency and in particular in the case of Member States with large current account surpluses, notably through the implementation of measures to channel excess savings towards the domestic economy and thereby boost domestic investment; recalls that, in order to boost strong and sustainable growth and upward social convergence, there are many other pending structural reforms, in areas such as fiscal policy, energy and industrial policy, and reforms with regard to pension and healthcare systems, public spending and social investment, as well as shifting taxes from labour in such a way as to foster job creation and incentives for entrepreneurship and employment creation;

24.  Takes note of the fact that youth unemployment has decreased, but points out that it is still at incredibly high levels, with more than 4 million persons aged under 25 unemployed in the EU, 2.885 million of them in the euro area; regrets that more than three years after the launch of the Youth Employment Initiative, the results of the implementation of the Youth Guarantee are so uneven, and sometimes ineffective; calls on the Commission to present in October a thorough analysis of its implementation which can serve as the basis for the continuation of the programme;

25.  Recalls that in many Member States unemployment benefits are decreasing year after year, as a result of, among other factors, long-term unemployment, therefore increasing the number of people living under the poverty and social exclusion threshold; calls for the guaranteeing of adequate unemployment benefits enabling people to live with dignity and actions to ensure the smooth integration of these people in the labour market;

26.  Reiterates the importance of systematically monitoring transparency in the general government sector, as a crucial criterion for increasing trust in Europe and as a way of promoting a virtuous circle of growth and investment;

27.  Strongly believes that a more business- and employment-friendly regulatory environment will encourage greater private investment, growth and job creation;

28.  Stresses the fact that the imbalances in pension systems are basically the consequence of unemployment, wage devaluation and labour precarisation; calls therefore for reforms which guarantee adequate financing for a strong first pension pillar which ensures decent pensions, at the very least at a level over the poverty threshold;

29.  Recalls once again that the free movement of people is fundamental to enhancing convergence and integration between European countries;

30.  Notes the increased number of recommendations (to five Member States) on minimum income regimes; however, taking into account that broad income inequalities are detrimental not only for social cohesion but also for sustainable economic growth (as both the IMF and the OECD have recently stated), calls on the Commission to deliver on the promise made by President Juncker in his inaugural address to provide an adequate income for all Europeans through a European minimum income framework to cover basic living costs, while respecting national practices and the subsidiarity principle;

31.  Is concerned at the increase in income inequalities linked partially to inefficient labour market reforms; calls on the Commission and the Member States to implement measures to improve job quality so as to reduce labour market segmentation, combined with measures raising minimum wages to a decent level and strengthening collective bargaining and the position of workers in wage-setting systems in order to reduce wage dispersion; warns that in recent decades corporate management has been receiving a greater share of economic benefits while workers’ wages have stagnated or have been reduced; considers that this excessive dispersion in wages increases inequalities and damages the productivity and competitiveness of companies;

32.  Is concerned at the fact that long-term unemployment is still high, standing at 10.5 million in the EU, and recalls that the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market is crucial to guarantee the sustainability of social protection systems, as well as for their self-confidence; therefore regrets the lack of action by the Member States in terms of implementing the Council recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market; reiterates its call on the Commission to support efforts to create inclusive lifelong learning opportunities for workers and jobseekers of all ages and to take measures as soon as possible to improve access to EU funding, as well as mobilising additional resources where possible;

33.  Considers that social protection, including pensions and services such as healthcare, child care and long-term care, remains essential for balanced and inclusive growth, for a longer working life, for creating employment and for reducing inequalities; therefore calls on the Commission and the Member States to boost policies which guarantee the sufficiency, adequacy, efficiency and quality of social protection systems throughout the life cycle of a person, guaranteeing a decent life, fighting inequalities and boosting inclusion with the aim of eradicating poverty, especially for those excluded from the labour market and for the most vulnerable groups;

34.  Regrets the fact that the Commission, in its package of recommendations, has disregarded Parliament’s request to strengthen the application of Article 349 TFEU, in particular through the adoption of specific measures, with a view to enhancing the outermost regions’ integration into the EU; notes that these regions have specific characteristics and constraints and unemployment rates of over 30 %; stresses the need for differentiated measures and programmes to be implemented to reduce asymmetries and maximise social cohesion in the EU; calls on the Commission to pay particular attention to other rural areas that are faced with a great many economic, environmental, demographic and social challenges; considers that priority should be also given to all regions that still face high long-term and youth unemployment, and that productivity growth remains slow, affecting living standards and competitiveness; calls, in this regard, on the Member States to establish specific investment programmes for their subregions whose unemployment rates exceed 30 %; reiterates its call on the Commission to help those Member States in the design and financing within the MFF as agreed, of those investment programmes;

35.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to show greater commitment to combating demographic challenges through implementation of the cohesion policy, as laid down in Article 174 TFEU, especially in those regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps; considers that with reference to the European Semester, the focus on demographic problems should be widened to take in other aspects that go beyond the impact of ageing on national budgets; is of the opinion that these points should be included in the CSRs as a sign of not just national but also regional and local awareness; reiterates that territorial cohesion needs to be strengthened through strategic investment in areas suffering from serious demographic problems, in order to increase competitiveness, improve the industrial fabric and territorial cohesion, and, ultimately, maintain population levels;

36.  Believes that the reduction of administrative burdens and compliance costs on businesses, especially SMEs, and the repeal of unnecessary legislation while continuing to ensure high standards of consumer, employee, health and environmental protection is key to delivering growth and jobs;

37.  Points out that the challenges that have been emerging in the EU since 2015, such as the need to accommodate refugees, the need to fight terrorism and boost security, the ongoing economic and social crisis, the farming crisis and the identity crisis affecting the European Union itself, require serious adaptation efforts and careful consideration with regard to the application of sanctions to Member States with an excessive deficit; highlights the serious efforts that have been made to adapt to these new circumstances; notes the importance of the Commission consistently and coherently applying the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact; calls on the Commission and the Council to consider not applying any cuts to the ESF, as sanctions on Member States in 2016, given the current situation, and considering that this would imply a suspension of the application of this fund in the countries under sanction at the moment when they most need them;

38.  Stresses that Member States’ deficit levels may be increase by their need to cofinance projects financed by ESI funds; notes that with regard to budgetary restrictions, many deprived regions have less possibilities of benefiting from ESIF; asks the Commission to revise the requests for cofinancing concerning areas with dramatic levels of indebtedness or deficit;

39.  Regrets that Parliament’s position, after being adopted in plenary, will have little possibility of influencing or indeed modifying the CSRs under discussion; calls for an enhanced democratic component in the European Semester procedure at both EU and national levels; calls for an agenda in which Parliament’s position is strengthened and is taken into consideration before the Council takes a decision;

40.  Regrets that stakeholder engagement in the European Semester at national and EU level is still insufficient, too low-quality and inadequately monitored; calls on the Commission and the Council to issue strong recommendations, particularly on the involvement of civil society organisations in a quality structured dialogue, on a par with the social partners, in order to ensure the visibility, ownership and accountability to the citizens which are essential for democratic engagement and societal understanding of the role of the Semester process;

41.  Highlights the obstacles and barriers, both physical and digital, which persons with disabilities still encounter today; hopes that the Disability Act launched by the Commission will be promptly implemented and will focus effectively on specific measures to promote inclusion and access;

42.  Stresses the importance of listening to the voices of social and democratic representatives, the majority of whom, over the past few years, have been calling for a review of the European Semester procedure, to the benefit, in particular, of investments, the quality of social spending, and extraordinary measures for employment and training.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

26.9.2016

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

35

12

0

Members present for the final vote

Laura Agea, Tim Aker, Guillaume Balas, Brando Benifei, Mara Bizzotto, Enrique Calvet Chambon, David Casa, Ole Christensen, Martina Dlabajová, Lampros Fountoulis, Elena Gentile, Arne Gericke, Thomas Händel, Marian Harkin, Danuta Jazłowiecka, Agnes Jongerius, Jan Keller, Ádám Kósa, Jean Lambert, Jérôme Lavrilleux, Jeroen Lenaers, Verónica Lope Fontagné, Javi López, Morten Løkkegaard, Dominique Martin, Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, Emilian Pavel, João Pimenta Lopes, Georgi Pirinski, Marek Plura, Sofia Ribeiro, Maria João Rodrigues, Anne Sander, Jutta Steinruck, Ulrike Trebesius, Marita Ulvskog, Renate Weber, Tatjana Ždanoka, Jana Žitňanská

Substitutes present for the final vote

Georges Bach, Rosa D’Amato, Rosa Estaràs Ferragut, Tania González Peñas, Sergio Gutiérrez Prieto, Eduard Kukan, Flavio Zanonato, Gabriele Zimmer

(1)

European Commission,Employment and Social Developments in Europe - Quarterly Review, Summer 2016’ (June 2016)

(2)

COM(2016)0095 final/2

(3)

Council conclusions on Gender Equality, 337/16

(4)

COM(2016) 321 final


OPINION of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (27.9.2016)

for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs

on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2016 priorities

(2016/2101(INI))

Rapporteur: Catherine Stihler

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection calls on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1.  Reiterates the importance of a well-functioning, competitive and integrated single market to the recovery of the European economy after the financial crisis; supports the inclusion of Country-Specific Recommendations (CSRs) which go beyond fiscal and macroeconomic targets and which allow for a more balanced policy mix with the potential to establish sustainable growth that fosters greater stability, economic growth, environmental progress, employment and greater competitiveness, without which there cannot be a balanced recovery; welcomes this repositioning, as well as the streamlined structure of CSRs; stresses that fragmentation of the single market is one of the major impediments to higher structural economic growth; calls for efforts to combat tax fraud and tax evasion to be stepped up;

2.  Welcomes the large number of CSRs that support a well-functioning and integrated single market, including financing and investment opportunities which support businesses, and SMEs in particular, and help create jobs, e-government, public procurement and mutual recognition, including mutual recognition of qualifications; stresses that enforcement is key if the impact from these policy areas is to be felt; considers it crucial, in this regard, that the Commission pay as much attention as possible, in connection with CSRs, to introducing long-term reforms which have a significant impact, especially in relation to social investments, employment and training;

3.  States that the single market is a backbone of the EU economy, and stresses that an inclusive single market, with enhanced governance which favours better regulation and competition, is a crucial instrument to improve growth, cohesion, employment and competitiveness and to preserve the confidence of the business sector and consumers; calls on the Commission therefore to monitor the progress made by the Member States, and reiterates the importance of the formal inclusion of the single-market pillar in the European Semester so as to enable continuous monitoring of single-market indicators, allowing for systematic follow-up and assessment of Member States’ progress on CSRs;

4.  Takes note that Member States play a crucial role in the good governance and proper functioning of the single market, and that they therefore need to jointly exercise proactive ownership and management of the single market, generating a new political impetus through consolidated state-of-health reports on the single market and the formal inclusion of the single market as a pillar of governance in the European Semester;

5.  Acknowledges the new structure of CSRs in 2016, which allows for more effective targeting on key identified challenges; stresses, however, that progress by Member States on all CSRs should not be overlooked and that existing difficulties in implementation should be thoroughly analysed;

6.  Stresses the importance of ensuring consistency between ongoing and future Commission single-market initiatives and the European Semester process, in particular those involving the Single Market and Digital Single Market, Internal Energy Market, Capital Markets Union and Europe 2020 Strategies; calls on the Member States to cooperate fully in implementing the Digital Single Market and Single Market Strategies, and to support further development of the collaborative economy;

7.  Calls on the Commission to take into account future policies, such as those relating to the capital markets union and the digital single market, as well as the situation on the ground in each country, when drawing up the CSRs, with a view to preparing the Member States in advance and hence ensuring smooth implementation of those policies;

8.  Underlines the importance of an inclusive and transparent process leading to relevant and necessary reforms through the European Semester; stresses the importance of continuous dialogue with all relevant stakeholders in order to strengthen the Semester procedure;

9.  Calls on the Member States to do all they can to foster a healthy business environment by further reducing red tape and improving administrative efficiency and the quality of legislation, as well as through investment and innovation, energy efficiency, R&D and digitalisation, in order to create jobs, particularly through micro-businesses, e-commerce, start-ups and SMEs;

10.  Welcomes the Commission’s determination to address the lack of tax coordination within the EU, in particular the difficulties faced by SMEs as a result of the complexity of differing national VAT regulations; calls on the Commission to assess the feasibility of further coordination and, in particular, to assess the possibility of a simplified VAT approach in the digital single market;

11.  Condemns the barriers which still exist, or have been created, that hinder a well-functioning and integrated single market; draws attention, in particular, to the partial transposition and implementation of the Services Directive by many Member States, and calls on the Commission to enforce more effectively what Member States have signed up to under EU law; recalls the Commission’s commitment to use infringement procedures, if necessary, to ensure the full implementation of legislation for the single market of goods and services and in the digital sphere;

12.  Highlights, among those existing barriers, the obstacles which prevent persons with disabilities from fully enjoying the benefits of the internal market; hopes that the Disability Act launched by the Commission may be promptly implemented and will focus effectively on specific measures to promote inclusion and access;

13.  Points out that the system relating to the recognition of professional qualifications is underpinned by the principles of reciprocal trust between legal systems and reciprocal checking of the quality of the qualifications; notes that further action is required to better implement mutual recognition of professional qualifications; stresses that proper enforcement and better regulation are essential, given the fragmentation of the single market, which restricts economic activity and consumer choice, and should cover all business sectors and apply to existing and future legislation; welcomes the exercise of mapping regulated qualifications and professions, which will create an interactive public database that can aid Member States’ National Action Plans;

14.  Regrets that CSRs continue to point to deficiencies in public procurement such as the lack of competition and transparency, with 21 Member States failing to fully transpose the legislative package, resulting in distortions in the market; calls on the Commission to act swiftly to ensure that Member States meet their legal obligations by taking the necessary infringement procedures; calls on the Commission to systematically monitor in an efficient and transparent manner that administrative procedures do not create a disproportionate burden on business or prevent SMEs from participating in public procurement;

15.  Supports the Member States in their endeavours to modernise public administration services, in particular through e-government, and calls for better cross-border cooperation, simplification of administrative procedures and interoperability of public administrations to the benefit of all businesses and citizens, and at the same time calls on the Commission, where digitalisation of public services is financed from the EU budget, to engage in more effective monitoring of the appropriate use of the funds;

16.  Notes that several CSRs focus on skills and labour markets; stresses that the right skills and investment in initial and lifelong training are key to ensuring productivity, competitiveness and output growth; calls on the Commission and the Member States to pursue, adopt and step up digital and lifelong learning programmes as a matter of urgency; stresses, moreover, the need to enable and encourage both students and apprentices to take an apprenticeship, traineeship or study trip abroad as part of their training;

17.  Welcomes the greater emphasis placed on labour markets in the country reports, highlighting serious structural problems such as long-term unemployment and the poor implementation of active labour market policies; stresses the fact that too many of the problems identified have not been addressed by way of targeted recommendations.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

26.9.2016

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

28

2

0

Members present for the final vote

Dita Charanzová, Sergio Gaetano Cofferati, Daniel Dalton, Nicola Danti, Vicky Ford, Evelyne Gebhardt, Sergio Gutiérrez Prieto, Liisa Jaakonsaari, Philippe Juvin, Eva Paunova, Virginie Rozière, Christel Schaldemose, Andreas Schwab, Olga Sehnalová, Igor Šoltes, Ivan Štefanec, Catherine Stihler, Richard Sulík, Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein, Mylène Troszczynski, Anneleen Van Bossuyt, Marco Zullo

Substitutes present for the final vote

Birgit Collin-Langen, Roberta Metsola, Julia Reda, Marc Tarabella

Substitutes under Rule 200(2) present for the final vote

Tim Aker, Franc Bogovič, Albert Deß, Sofia Ribeiro


OPINION of the Committee on Regional Development (13.9.2016)

for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs

on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2016 priorities

(2016/2101(INI))

Rapporteur: Fernando Ruas

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Regional Development calls on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 7 December 2015 entitled ‘The promotion of the social economy as a key driver of economic and social development in Europe’ (15071/15),

1.  Acknowledges the greater coherence of the new mainstreamed European Semester, which allows for more opportunities to engage and communicate with Member States and stakeholders at all levels, reinforcing national ownership and proposing fewer recommendations, and focusing on three key priorities as stabilising elements – supporting investment, pursuing structural reforms and preserving responsible public finances – with a view to boosting growth, job creation, training and education opportunities, research and innovation; notes that the boosting of the social economy through projects that encourage growth and social enterprises could bring employment and prosperity to the regions; is of the opinion that the involvement of regional and local authorities still needs to be enhanced and suggests the introduction of a code of conduct on the involvement of the local and regional authorities in the European Semester, similar to the one on partnership within cohesion policy;

2.  Notes that some Member States are still facing high unemployment rates, especially regarding youth and long-term unemployment; stresses that the capacity to support labour markets is still limited in many of the Member States and that cohesion policy funds sometimes remain the main source of investment in growth, development, employment and education; underlines in this context the existing opportunities within the European Semester to explore tools and mechanisms to ensure that the flexibility permitted by the Stability and Growth Pact can be used in strategic areas of investment for growth and sustainable employment; calls, moreover, on the Commission to assist Member States in making full use of their fiscal space to support productive investment and recalls the fact that the benefits of structural reforms become apparent in the long term; also considers that involving the beneficiaries of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds investments when assessing the ongoing European Semester should be considered;

3.  Emphasises the key role social economy enterprises play in generating highly competitive and fairer regional development through their diverse range of business models with social and ecological objectives; stresses the need to increase the visibility of the existing partnerships between regional and local authorities and social economy organisations across the Member States; calls on the Commission to present an EU Action Plan for Social Economy Enterprises in order to unlock the full potential for sustainable growth;

4.  Is concerned by the cumulative lack of investments, which affects long-term sustainable growth and quality job creation, and regrets in this context the late adoption of the operational programmes under cohesion policy in the current programming period; stresses, therefore, the importance of their swift and consistent implementation in coordination with other EU-funded programmes and initiatives; recalls in this context that the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) must be implemented in a way that is complementary and additional to the ESI Funds, so that the full public and private investment potential can be harnessed and a fairer geographical balance ensured; more generally, reiterates that synergies and complementarities between different EU funds, programmes, initiatives (including the Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) programme and Horizon 2020) and national investments must be exploited in order to maximise the full impact of the projected investments, reduce territorial disparities and better achieve Europe 2020 goals; underlines also the necessity of enhancing multi-level governance and improving the overall quality of public administration, both horizontally and vertically, with a particular focus on administrative capacity as well as on strengthening public procurement rules, transparency, accountability and the fight against corruption;

5.  Recognises the importance of coherence between cohesion policy instruments and the wider economic governance framework, in view of supporting the recovery efforts needed to achieve compliance with the European Semester rules; underlines, however, that the legitimacy of cohesion policy derives from the Treaties, and that this policy is the expression of European solidarity, having as its main objectives strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion in the EU by reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions, financing investment linked to Europe 2020 goals and bringing the EU closer to its citizens; is therefore of the opinion that measures linking the effectiveness of ESI Funds with sound economic governance should be applied judiciously and in a balanced way, but only as a last resort, and that their effects should be reported; recalls, moreover, that the application of such measures should always be justified, transparent and take into consideration the specific socio-economic circumstances of the Member State concerned, in order to avoid restricting regional and local investments, which are absolutely essential for the Member States’ economies, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as these investments maximise growth and job creation and stimulate competitiveness and productivity, especially in times of strong pressure on public expenditure;

6.  As regards the cases of the two Member States that were the subject of Council decisions of 12 July 2016, which triggered sanctions under the excessive deficit procedure on the basis of Article 126(8) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), underlines the Commission proposal of 27 July 2016 and the subsequent Council decision of 8 August to cancel the fines which could have been imposed, taking into account the Member States’ reasoned requests, the challenging economic environment, both countries’ reform efforts and their commitments to comply with the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact; believes, in this context, that the proposal to suspend part of the 2017 commitments for the ESI Funds under the measures linking their effectiveness to sound economic governance should take into consideration the opinion of Parliament, to be expressed during the Structured Dialogue;

7.  Calls on the Commission to take better account of the Europe 2020 Strategy and address its key targets properly by improving its implementation, carrying out a strategy analysis in the context of the European Semester and suggesting measures and a methodology for improved monitoring of the EU funds’ expenditures related to Europe 2020 goals; believes that the forthcoming Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) review will provide an opportunity to analyse, evaluate and, where necessary, improve the added value of and support from ESI Funds towards achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy, which has an indirect relation to European Semester processes;

8.  Points out that rebalancing the economic asymmetries generated by the different monetary policies between the eurozone and non-eurozone is of importance for achieving the goals of territorial cohesion;

9.  Believes that ensuring the transparency and effectiveness of public expenditure is essential for creating a growth-friendly environment; considers, furthermore, that simplification of administrative procedures should be pursued more vigorously, with the main objective being to reduce the administrative burden; welcomes the fact that several Member States have been able to address the CSRs in their operational programmes (OPs) by means of targeted investments or reforms undertaken in the context of ex-ante conditionalities; points out that the CSRs could be a useful tool for the dissemination of investment opportunities and, together with the ex-ante conditionalities within cohesion policy, could play a key role, as they have important positive spillover effects on the broader investment environment; appreciates the fact that the ESI Fund investments already contribute to the implementation of structural reforms and improve overall economic performance in Member States as recommended in the relevant CSRs, contributing to the fulfilment of the EU’s strategic goals of producing economic growth, quality jobs and sustainable development across the Union, including in regions or areas suffering from natural or geographical handicaps;

10.  Is of the opinion that the proposed Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP) should provide dedicated and targeted support to Member States on a voluntary basis to assist them with the design and implementation of institutional, structural and administrative reforms, serving as an additional support and ensuring at the same time that there is no overlapping / double financing with other Union instruments or support from other types of technical assistance already in place; invites the Commission, in this context, to issue a single strategic document setting priorities and criteria for the use of the SRSP in coordination with other EU capacity-building measures; emphasises that the proposed budgetary transfer from the technical assistance under cohesion policy to the SRSP at the initiative of the Commission should not be a precedent for any future proposals.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

8.9.2016

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

26

4

2

Members present for the final vote

Pascal Arimont, Franc Bogovič, Victor Boştinaru, Steeve Briois, Andrea Cozzolino, Rosa D’Amato, Michela Giuffrida, Krzysztof Hetman, Ivan Jakovčić, Marc Joulaud, Constanze Krehl, Louis-Joseph Manscour, Martina Michels, Iskra Mihaylova, Jens Nilsson, Andrey Novakov, Stanislav Polčák, Fernando Ruas, Monika Smolková, Maria Spyraki, Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, Matthijs van Miltenburg, Lambert van Nistelrooij, Derek Vaughan, Kerstin Westphal, Joachim Zeller

Substitutes present for the final vote

Jan Olbrycht, Dimitrios Papadimoulis

Substitutes under Rule 200(2) present for the final vote

Czesław Hoc, Karol Karski, Julia Reda, Tatjana Ždanoka


OPINION of the Committee on Culture and Education (28.9.2016)

for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs

on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2016 priorities

(2016/2101(INI))

Rapporteur: Bogdan Andrzej Zdrojewski

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Culture and Education calls on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1.  Acknowledges that youth unemployment is a perpetual challenge for Europe; notes that the employment situation varies significantly across the EU; acknowledges the vulnerable situation of youth of Roma, other minority or immigrant origin and of young people with disabilities in the labour markets of most Member States; points therefore to the need for labour market reforms, reflecting the fact that education is a right for every citizen and is the most fundamental requirement for integration, social inclusion and the fight against poverty and exclusion;

2.  Stresses, moreover, the urgent need for reform in the direction of twin-track education and training projects adapting the skills of young people to current and future labour market requirements, while making a determined effort to combat discrimination and inequalities in line with the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy; notes the recent adoption by the Commission of the new skills agenda for Europe; expresses, in this context, its further support for the Youth Employment Initiative as part of the Youth Guarantee scheme, as a tool to assist Member States in offering young people tailored support based on their needs; calls for continued commitment by the EU to the Erasmus project;

3.  Emphasises the need to continue the efforts to reduce early school leaving and foster the education of disadvantaged young people, in line with the targets set by the Europe 2020 strategy; notes that the results of the Education and Training Monitor 2015 show that in spite of some advances towards the achievement of the Europe 2020 targets, there is a rising risk of increasing the inequalities gap by leaving out the most vulnerable, including young people having different socio-economic backgrounds and disadvantaged groups; draws attention to the need to increase participation levels in the labour markets among young women – particularly for women following maternity leave and for single mothers – and young migrants, the low-skilled, young people with disabilities, and all young people who are at risk of discrimination;

4.  Highlights that labour market policies generally, and skills matching in respect of vocational education and training (VET) policies specifically, must aim to create and promote high-quality and secure jobs, in line with the ILO Decent Work agenda; notes that these policies must contribute to combating the phenomena of precarious employment, zero-hour contracts and unpaid internships;

5.  Welcomes the Commission’s initiatives to launch consultations over setting up a European pillar of social rights; considers it crucial for this initiative to be able to trigger a more flexible development of skills and competences, lifelong learning actions, and active support for quality employment;

6.  Highlights that social entrepreneurship is a growing field that can boost the economy whilst simultaneously alleviating deprivation, social exclusion and other societal problems; considers, therefore, that entrepreneurship education should include a social dimension and should address such subjects as fair trade, social enterprises, and alternative business models such as cooperatives, with a view to striving towards a more social, inclusive and sustainable economy;

7.  Calls for measures to facilitate young people’s transition from education to work by ensuring quality internships and apprenticeships, giving young people clearly defined rights that include access to social protection, written and binding contracts and fair remuneration, in order to ensure that they are not discriminated against when it comes to accessing the world of work;

8.  Recalls that the level of education funding across Member States remains low in comparison to the pre-crisis situation, and calls for increased investment in infrastructures and for ensuring the quality and relevance of the education and training system through all available European funding instruments, in particular the Structural Funds (ERDF and ESF) and the EFSI; reiterates that sustainable investments in education and culture reinforce employability and contribute to sustainable growth and quality job creation in the EU; furthermore, calls on Member States to channel investment into an inclusive education which responds to societal challenges with regard to ensuring equal access and opportunities for all, including by broadening early childhood education and adult learning opportunities and facilitating the return to education and training for young people who have left initial education;

9.  Underlines the need for structural reform and modernisation of school education and vocational education and training systems in the Member States, including a holistic policy approach to learning and teaching, fostering innovation, creativity and the use of digital technologies; also stresses the need to foster better interaction between the EU and the Member States and to facilitate the exchange of best practices among the Member States;

10.  Highlights the need to strengthen synergies between culture and education and promote arts education as a crucial tool for the development of critical thinking and creative and transferable skills and competences, as well as civic values which enable learners to become active, responsible and open-minded members of society; takes the view that it is essential to boost public investment in order to preserve and enhance the quality of health and education systems and the quality of services provided for the public, as well as in order to create favourable conditions for economic development;

11.  Underlines that the still-too-high unemployment rates show that the capacity to create jobs in most Member States is still limited; emphasises that further action is needed, in consultation with social partners and in accordance with national practices, to make labour markets more inclusive overall; expresses concern at the fact that most of the new jobs created are low-quality jobs, characterised by low wages and precarious conditions, and are therefore unable to significantly stimulate consumption and internal demand;

12.  Recalls the key role that non-formal education and informal learning can play in developing and sustaining necessary skills for youth employability, such as entrepreneurship, leadership and capacity-building, especially amongst marginalised groups;

13.  Emphasises the need to improve the EU’s overall capacity to create and sustain quality jobs and thus tackle high levels of unemployment, while considering that migration could play an important role, including through education schemes complemented with efficient public expenditure with a view to making high-quality social and environmentally sustainable investments in order to integrate workers into the labour market and reduce unemployment;

14.  Highlights the need to consider the specific educational needs of minority and immigrant youth as well as of young people with disabilities, with due respect for the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Union;

15.  Calls on Member States to increase the attractiveness of sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes and studies, in order to address the existing shortage in this field as well as to intensify the development of digital skills and media literacy at all levels of education;

16.  Underlines the fact that education and training reforms have proved successful where social partners have been involved within the European Semester consultations;

17.  Welcomes the contribution of Erasmus+ to fostering mobility and cultural exchanges across the EU and with third countries; calls for better promotion and use of the European tools for transparency, mobility and recognition at European level of skills and qualifications acquired, in order to ensure greater guarantees and more certainty of professional and social integration for young people who are willing to take advantage of mobility to increase their opportunities for training and employment; reaffirms the need also to ensure mobility opportunities for vocational training, disadvantaged young people and people suffering from different forms of discrimination;

18.  Stresses the importance of achieving validation of competences, skills and knowledge acquired through informal, non-formal and lifelong learning by 2018, as stated by the Council recommendation of 20 December 2012; notes in this regard that recognition is crucial in enhancing access to formal education and new professional opportunities, while also reinforcing self-esteem and motivation to learn; emphasises the fact that some Member States have made significant progress in developing the relevant legal framework, while others have difficulties in creating comprehensive validation strategies; highlights, therefore, the need to develop comprehensive strategies to enable validation;

19.  Emphasises that the cultural and creative industries contribute significantly to youth employment, employing, on average, more young people than any other sector; recognises that more than 6 million people in the EU are working in the cultural sector; stresses that further promotion of and investment in the cultural and creative industries will be beneficial in creating new jobs and combating youth unemployment, and therefore calls for strengthening of the use of EU funding schemes, in particular Horizon 2020 and EFSI; underlines in this context that cutting-edge technologies, creative media and ICT are of particular interest to young people;

20.  Reiterates that the Europe for Citizens programme is the only EU programme exclusively dedicated to promoting active European citizenship, strengthening social cohesion and creating economic opportunities by the creation of transnational partnerships, town twinning and networks of towns;

21.  Highlights the key role of research and science for building sustainable economic development and international cooperation; recommends, therefore, continued investment in academic and scientific research, in the framework of the Horizon 2020 agenda to reach the 3 % objective for R&D, as outlined by the Europe 2020 strategy.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

26.9.2016

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

16

4

2

Members present for the final vote

Isabella Adinolfi, Dominique Bilde, Andrea Bocskor, Nikolaos Chountis, Silvia Costa, Mircea Diaconu, María Teresa Giménez Barbat, Petra Kammerevert, Andrew Lewer, Stefano Maullu, Luigi Morgano, Momchil Nekov, Michaela Šojdrová, Helga Trüpel, Sabine Verheyen, Bogdan Brunon Wenta, Bogdan Andrzej Zdrojewski, Milan Zver, Krystyna Łybacka

Substitutes present for the final vote

Ernest Maragall, Emma McClarkin, Martina Michels


RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

Date adopted

11.10.2016

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

39

14

4

Members present for the final vote

Gerolf Annemans, Pervenche Berès, Udo Bullmann, Esther de Lange, Fabio De Masi, Anneliese Dodds, Markus Ferber, Jonás Fernández, Sven Giegold, Neena Gill, Roberto Gualtieri, Brian Hayes, Gunnar Hökmark, Danuta Maria Hübner, Cătălin Sorin Ivan, Petr Ježek, Barbara Kappel, Georgios Kyrtsos, Alain Lamassoure, Philippe Lamberts, Werner Langen, Bernd Lucke, Olle Ludvigsson, Ivana Maletić, Fulvio Martusciello, Marisa Matias, Costas Mavrides, Bernard Monot, Luděk Niedermayer, Stanisław Ożóg, Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Sirpa Pietikäinen, Alfred Sant, Molly Scott Cato, Pedro Silva Pereira, Theodor Dumitru Stolojan, Kay Swinburne, Michael Theurer, Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, Ernest Urtasun, Marco Valli, Tom Vandenkendelaere, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Miguel Viegas, Beatrix von Storch, Jakob von Weizsäcker, Pablo Zalba Bidegain, Sotirios Zarianopoulos

Substitutes present for the final vote

Alain Cadec, Ashley Fox, Sophia in ‘t Veld, Thomas Mann, Emmanuel Maurel, Siôn Simon, Joachim Starbatty, Tibor Szanyi, Romana Tomc

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