Greek Presidency priorities discussed by EP committees
The priorities of the Greek Council Presidency are being outlined to the various parliamentary committees by Greek ministers, from 16 to 23 January. This text will be updated daily.
Women’s rights: equal participation of women in the economy means prosperity for society
This Presidency will do its best to make its mark in the gender equality field, Secretary General for Gender Equality Vasso Kollia, told the Women’s Rights Committee on Thursday. Her priorities include stepping up the numbers of women in production jobs, which also means higher production, and in the ICT and digital sector, reconciling work and family, combatting violence against women and getting more women into decision-making roles.
"Equality cannot work without strengthening legislative work and promoting gender mainstreaming in all ministerial councils", Ms Kollia said, adding that "we need policies which help to shield women from poverty and social exclusion".
Fisheries: maritime and fisheries fund, fisheries management, deep sea fisheries
Rural Development and Food Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris told the Fisheries Committee on Thursday that his top priority was to secure an agreement between Parliament and Council on the rules governing the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). This was the final piece of draft legislation relating to the new fisheries policy that still had to be adopted. He hoped agreement could be reached at first reading, before the European elections.
Mr Tsaftaris also intended to break the deadlock between Council and Parliament that was holding up agreement on the multiannual fisheries management plans and hoped to start negotiations on the deep sea fisheries regulation and proceed with implementing the discard ban.
Regional policy: speeding up aid after natural disasters and implementing the new cohesion policy
Development and Competitiveness Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, told the Regional Development Committee on Thursday that he hoped to start Parliament-Council negotiations on reforming the EU solidary fund by mid-February so that the reforms could be completed before the elections. The fund provides aid after major natural disasters and the reforms should make it more responsive to disasters and more flexible, ensuring that the aid reaches the victims more quickly, he said.
Mr Hatzidakis said that another priority was the speedy implementation of the new cohesion policy. This required agreement on a package of measures proposed by the Commission, which still need extensive discussion between member states.
Fighting unemployment and undeclared work, boosting social cohesion and inclusion
The Presidency programme for employment and social affairs was "both ambitious and realistic", Labour, Social Security and Welfare Minister Giannis Vroutsis told the Employment Committee on Thursday. His priorities include fighting unemployment, especially youth unemployment, tackling undeclared work, which he called "an economic and social crime", creating equal opportunities for all, fighting discrimination of every kind and ensuring the cohesion of the member states' social policies and the social dimension of the European Semester.
Mr Vroutsis said he was confident that progress would be made under the Presidency with much of the legislation in the pipeline, including on posted workers and on the European network of Public Employment Services.
Environment: medical devices, medicine prices, animal and plant safety, emissions trading reform
Health Minister Spyridon-Adonis Georgiadis hailed the recent agreements on the tobacco products directive and clinical trials of medicines in the Environment Committee on Thursday. He said that the Greek Presidency would prioritize work on the medical devices regulation, in order to reinforce patient safety and restore trust among users, professionals and institutions, while improving Europe's competitiveness and reducing costs. He also mentioned legislation in the pipeline on transparency of pharmaceutical prices. Another priority is to look at immigration in terms of health, he added.
Rural Development and Food Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris mentioned package of EU proposals on animal and plant safety as priorities. Although the EU has the highest level of safety in the food production chain, inaccurate labelling, fraud, or failure to identify animal illnesses show that EU legislation in the field has to be modernised, he said. The Greek Presidency will also prioritize legislation on plant propagating material, although it is aware of concerns expressed by some MEPs and citizens, he added.
Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Yannis Maniatis said that the Presidency would focus, inter alia, on structural reform of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), maritime emissions, preparations for the 2015 climate talks, the air quality package, and legislation aiming to reduce the use of plastic bags.
Internal market: product safety and market surveillance, eCall, new package travel rules and e-invoicing in public procurement
The Presidency's internal market priorities set out by Development and Competitiveness Minister Kostis Chatzidakis set out in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee on Wednesday, are to advance to the next step in the debates on the EU-wide eCall system and the new package travel rules; reach agreement on electronic invoicing in public procurement and to end the deadlock in the negotiations on product safety and the market surveillance package.
Many MEPs were extremely disappointed with the Council, which is blocking the agreement on product safety, and urged the Presidency to promote consensus in order to guarantee that consumers are well informed on product origin. Internal market MEPs also asked the Presidency to put maximum pressure on the Council in order to reach a deal on e-invoicing and on new rules simplifying the transfer of cars within the EU.
Industry: reducing energy and internet costs for citizens, boosting research and innovation
Top of the Presidency’s priorities are the development of the digital single market, the extension of broadband networks to reduce costs for citizens and businesses and the creation of systems to ensure cyber and telecommunications security, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis told the Industry, Research and Energy Committee on Wednesday. MEPs quizzed Mr Chrysochoidis about electricity grids across Europe, the possibility of adding €250 million to EU GDP to ensure that the EU's poorest citizens can have equal access to the internet and the protection of European citizens’ private data.
Industrial policy will be a key tool for tackling competitiveness problems, said the minister for development and competiveness, Kostis Chatzidakis. Reducing red tape, mitigating the negative impact of the high cost of energy, giving access to finance to SMEs and stimulating investment are high on the agenda, he stressed.
The minister for the environment, energy and climate change, Giannis Maniatis, stressed the importance of tackling the harmful impact of climate change, enhancing the competitiveness of energy prices, tackling the 'energy poverty' of vulnerable citizens and completing the internal energy market. The minister for education and religious affairs, Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos, highlighted the need to improve mobility and prospects for researchers and students, and to create an innovation-friendly environment.
Economic and monetary affairs: winding up failing banks, the real economy socially friendly growth, taxation rules
Completing the single resolution mechanism for banks, financing the real economy, socially friendly growth and progress on taxation rules were among the Greek Presidency's key priorities, Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras told the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
MEPs said flexibility was very important, also from EU countries, in order for a deal on single resolution to be reached. They quizzed the minister on the wider aspects of banking reform and taxation. Finally, discussions focussed in particular on the specific situation of Greece, with various MEPs asking for proof to back the minister's assertions that the country had turned the corner.
Agriculture: CAP reform, animal and plant health rules and promotion measures
Fine-tuning the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform,, in a manner "faithful to our political decisions", will be the Presidency's top priority, Rural Development and Food Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris told the Agriculture Committee on Tuesday. "We need to finalise the CAP reform, which was our common success," to "give European farmers a stable working environment," he said.
Other areas in which the Presidency will try to advance include promotion measures for EU agriculture products at home and abroad and the animal and plant health package, which also covers rules on the production and marketing of seeds.
During the debate, committee members quizzed Mr Tsaftaris about his position on the latest draft legal measures related to the CAP reform and the draft regulation on plant reproductive material (seeds). They also discussed the current situation in the dairy sector, the fairer distribution of EU funds across the EU, support for family farming, issues related to the authorisation of GM crops in the EU and cloning.
Culture and education: job-focused teaching, economic importance of art, media freedom
Quality teaching, which focuses on entrepreneurship and digital skills and meets labour market needs, is the Presidency’s key education aim, Education Minister Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos told the Culture and Education Committee on Tuesday. He also stressed the need to support job training and training for teachers and trainers.
For culture and sports, the Presidency’s priorities will be to promote the contribution the cultural and creative sectors to the economy, encourage the digitisation of cinemas, combat doping and match fixing and improve the sustainability of major sporting events, said Culture Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos.
Media Minister Simos Kedikoglou stressed the importance of protecting freedom of expression and user rights as media converge.
MEPs urged the Presidency to ensure that all projects and programmes in this area have the necessary funding. They also stressed the need for close cooperation between Parliament and the Council to find rapid solutions for files being negotiated, such as European capitals of culture and the restitution of cultural treasures illegally removed from member states.
Transport: maritime policy, rail, inland waterways, alternative fuels infrastructure
Maritime policy, and in particular finalising draft laws with Parliament on marine equipment, funding for the European Maritime Safety Agency and maritime spatial planning, will be a key Presidency priority, Shipping and Maritime Affairs Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told the Transport Committee on Tuesday. The Presidency also wishes to see progress in the Council on the market access to ports proposal, he added.
The 4th railway package will also be a priority, said Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis, adding that he hoped the Council could agree a general approach on the European Railway Agency file by March.
He also hoped that the Council could agree by the end of the Presidency on the Naiades II inland waterway transport package, air passenger rights and truck weights and dimensions. The Presidency would seek agreements with Parliament on the alternative fuels infrastructure proposal and airport noise limits, he added.
MEPs welcomed this ambitious agenda, but also urged the Presidency to strive for faster progress on air passenger rights and e-call, and to consider starting deliberations on the Single European Sky 2+.
Legal affairs: EU sales law, account preservation order and insolvency proceedings
Proposals for a Common European Sales Law, a European Account Preservation Order and the revision of the insolvency proceedings regulation were among the priorities presented by Mr Justice Minister Charalampos Athanassiou at the Legal Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday. He stressed the importance of agreeing on these proposals to build confidence in cross-border transactions and boost growth and competitiveness. Besides these topics, MEPs posed questions on women on company boards, free movement, the Hague Child Abduction Convention and the proposed European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Civil liberties: data protection, rise of the far right, migrants, smart borders
The Presidency's key civil liberties priorities are the review of EU data protection rules, the future of EU-US relations following revelations of US National Security Agency snooping, the rise of the far right across Europe, the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in the EU, solidarity with countries facing particular pressure on their asylum systems, setting up a European Public Prosecutor's Office and moving forward with the "Smart Borders" package, Justice Minister Charalampos Athanassiou, Home Affairs Minister Yiannis Michelakis, and Secretary General for Civil Protection Patroklos Georgiadis told the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday.
MEPs urged the Greek government to move forward with draft laws on anti-discrimination measures and public access to EU institutions' documents, both of which have been blocked in the Council for several years. Discussion also focused on internal policy issues, such as police violence in Greece, detention conditions of migrants and asylum seekers and the rise of extremist parties such as Golden Dawn. "Economic growth is the best way to address these problems", said Mr Michelakis.
Foreign affairs: focus on external border security and enlargement
Mobility and security at the EU’s external borders, and specifically in the Mediterranean, will be a Presidency priority, foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos told foreign affairs MEPs on Monday. An integrated maritime policy, including issues relating to international law of the sea, will be also high on the agenda, as will enlargement to the Western Balkans, he added.
Many MEPs pressed the minister to use the momentum of the Greek Presidency to end deadlock over the name dispute with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the reunification of Cyprus.
Development: humanitarian aid coordination and funding synergies
Completing the EU Aid Volunteers Corps legislation and putting it into effect, applying the EU consensus on humanitarian aid, improving the resilience of crisis-prone countries and ensuring that humanitarian aid promotes growth are the Presidency’s humanitarian aid priorities, Deputy Foreign Minister Kyriakos Gerontopoulos told the Development Committee on Tuesday.
The debate focused on ways to step up coordination among humanitarian aid organisations, ensure the safety of aid workers and achieve synergies in aid funding.
Trade: talks with the US and Japan; safeguarding EU farm and maritime interests
Fine-tuning the EU’s negotiating strategy in bilateral trade talks, particularly with the USA (TTIP) and Japan, will be among the presidency’s key trade priorities, Vice-Minister for Development and Competitiveness Notis Mitarachi told Trade Committee MEPs on Monday. He stressed the importance of protecting the EU’s high-quality farm produce, by including geographical indication and designation of origin clauses in all new trade deals.
Trade Committee chair Vital Moreira (S&D, PT) voiced concerns about the increasingly “vocal positions against trade in general” being expressed in member states ahead of the European elections. He asked how the Council would respond to increasing scepticism, fuelled by data protection or food security issues, about the TTIP. MEPs also questioned the feasibility of concluding TTIP talks before the end of 2014, as initially foreseen. In addition, they said they wished to see progress on removing non-tariff trade barriers in trade talks with Japan and hoped for compromises on trade law proposals currently in three-way talks between the Council, Parliament and the Commission.
Constitutional Affairs Committee: elections centre-stage
May’s European elections are of the utmost importance to the debate on proposals and solutions for the EU, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas told the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Thursday 16 January. Concluding talks on the statute and funding of European political parties is a key Presidency priority, he told MEPs. The Transparency Register of interest groups, EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Parliament's right of inquiry were also debated, although an agreement on the latter file is unlikely until the end of the Presidency.
MEPs quizzed Mr Kourkoulas about immigration, free movement, informing citizens about the European elections, European political parties, talks on the Single Resolution Mechanism for failing banks, the Citizens' Initiative and his evaluation of Troika actions.