The priorities of the Dutch Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers are being outlined to parliamentary committees by Dutch ministers at a series of meetings, between 11 and 14 January and continuing this week.
Preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit (May 2016), promoting humanitarian innovation and gender equality, tackling forced migration and denied access for humanitarian assistance to conflict zones are the Presidency’s key priorities, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Minister Lilianne Ploumen told the Development Committee on 17 February.
Development MEPs backed the highlighted priorities and urged the Presidency to be prepared for a possible new influx of migrants in the spring, to secure more funding for their education and to promote respect for humanitarian law, especially given that schools and hospitals are being targeted in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Women's rights and gender equality: maternity leave, "women on boards" and LGBTI rights
Women's education and economic independence are essential for gender equality and women’s empowerment, Education Minister Jet Bussemaker told Women's Rights MEPs on 28 January. A gender perspective is needed for the Europe 2020 Strategy to achieve the 75% employment target rate for women, she added. A key Presidency priority is combating gender-based violence. Ms Bussemaker also stressed that the Presidency was working on the implementation of the 1325 UN Security Council resolution on women, peace and security.
Committee Members welcomed the Presidency’s pledges, but voiced concerns about the withdrawal of the maternity leave directive and difficulties in reaching a deal on the draft EU directive on quotas for women on companies' boards. As there is a blocking minority in the Council on this directive, the Presidency thinks that it would not be wise to push this draft law further at the moment. Finally, Ms Bussemaker announced that in March the Presidency will put forward Council conclusions on gender equality and a list of actions on LGBTI equality.
Trade: deals with US and Japan, conflict minerals, anti-torture regulation
“Marrying aid and trade” for sustainable global value chains, advancing the post-Nairobi multilateral trade debate, and bilateral trade talks with the US and Japan will be among the EU trade policy priorities, Trade and Development Cooperation Minister Lilianne Ploumen told the International Trade Committee on 25 January. She also hoped to sign several Economic partnership agreements with the African countries, which will then be submitted to the European Parliament. Ms Ploumen promised to push the EU Commission on proposals as to how the EU should handle the issue of China’s market economy status, so that EU institutions can negotiate them during the next EU Council presidency.
MEPs asked Ms Ploumen how things stood with regard to ratifying the trade deal with Canada (“CETA”), to which she replied that due to the change of government in Canada, the legal fine-tuning of the text, especially in the area of the investment protection will “need some more time”. She also asked for Parliament’s help in the EU institutions’ three-way talks on the anti-torture regulation and on conflict minerals. The latter, she admitted, might turn out to be complicated, as the three are currently far apart on whether certification systems for metals and minerals imported from conflict areas should be mandatory.
Transport: aviation, railway package
The competitiveness of the EU aviation sector is a priority and progress on Single European Sky is urgently needed, Minister for Infrastructure and Environment Melanie Schulz Van Haegen told the Transport and Tourism Committee on 25 January. The Presidency also hopes to reach agreement on the “market pillar” files of the 4th Railway Package with Parliament “before Easter” and is ready to negotiate ports proposal with it as soon as Parliament is ready.
The Presidency will focus on innovation as a driver of growth. Where rules are needed, they should be smart and efficient, she said, adding that sustainable mobility will be discussed at an informal transport and environment ministers meeting in April.
Internal Market and Consumer Protection: Digital Single Market, future-proof legislation
Deepening the single market for goods and services, better regulation and the Digital Single Market are key priorities for the presidency, Minister of Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp, told Internal Market MEPs on 25 January. Mr Kamp highlighted the economic potential of the services sector: "We are falling short on what the services market has to offer", he said, defending the introduction of a "services passport" to make it easier for companies to provide services across borders. On the Digital Single Market, Mr Kamp welcomed the Gebhardt/Kallas report approved by Parliament on 19 January 2016, and referred to the first proposals presented by the Commission in December last year on contracts for the supply of digital content, on contracts for the online and other distance sales of goods and on cross-border portability of online content services.
Several MEPs called on the presidency to unblock the market surveillance package (blocked in the Council) and also the car registration proposal. MEPs also referred to the web accessibility proposal, which is entering into negotiations between Parliament and Council, and on the new firearms proposal, which the committee will start to discuss soon. The need to ensure equivalent consumer protection regardless of whether digital content is purchased online or offline, to simplify rules for SMEs, to foster innovation and to take account of the internal market’s social dimension were also mentioned in the debate.
Culture, Education and Sport: Europeana, preventing radicalisation
Building cognitive and social skills, combatting radicalisation and coping with migration are the Presidency’s key education priorities, Education Minister Jet Bussemaker told the Culture Committee on Monday 25 January. More attention will be paid to developing the skills needed to link society and labour market, she said.
Digitising Europe’s cultural heritage and improving cross-border access to audiovisual content are the key priorities in culture and media field. Europeana is a very important project for the coming months and Member States and national organisations should get more involved in this project and in finding a sustainable funding solution, said Ms Bussemaker. Martin van Rijn, State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport, confirmed that preventing radicalisation and integrating migrants are top priorities, especially for youngsters. Youth, sport and voluntary work can be used to this end.
Good governance, integrity and transparency are essential values in sport and the Presidency will seek agreement among all Member States and work together on these bases. Committee Members welcomed the Presidency’s pledges, but voiced some concerns about difficulties in coordinating and making progress at EU level, given that many of the ideas fall within the national sphere of competence.