Luxembourg Presidency priorities discussed by EP committees
The priorities of Luxembourg EU Council Presidency will be outlined to the various parliamentary committees by Luxembourg ministers in a series of meetings to be held during this week.
Development and Cooperation
Romain Schneider, Luxembourg's minister for development cooperation and humanitarian affairs, stressed the strategic importance of humanitarian aid and the need to revise the humanitarian system and make it more efficient in a debate with Parliament's development committee on Tuesday.
Mr Schneider outlined some of the Luxembourg presidency's chief priorities, namely: to adopt a common EU position ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, agree on a new action plan to deal with the continuing humanitarian crises, and protect vulnerable people in conflict situations. Development committee MEPs said the EU is facing a major credibility test in tackling with the refugee crisis and stressed the need for the EU to formulate a joint response.
Culture and Education
Culture’s role in development policy will be the key focus for the six coming months, ministers for culture Maggy Nagel and education and research Claude Meisch told the Culture and Education Committee on Tuesday. Completing the digital single market is another of the Luxembourg ministers’ priorities. Concerning education, priority will be given to integrating national education systems, lowering the dropout rate and promoting an active civic engagement of young people, to prevent marginalization and youth radicalization.
MEPs asked about and debated issues to do with funding education, supporting multilingualism and striking a fair balance between access to content and remunerating its creators in the digital world.
Promoting physical and motor activities for very young children (0 to 2 years) is the key item on the Presidency's work programme, sport and social security minister Romain Schneider told the Culture and Education Committee on Tuesday 14 September. The Presidency pledges to promote this aim to member states' governments, schools and sporting movements. Mr Schneider also stressed the importance of the issues of doping and rigging of sporting events, adding, as a priority, the parallel careers of sports people and notably its European dimension, linked to their mobility.
MEPs stressed that tougher laws against doping and match rigging should be proposed and even passed by member states. Existing information tools on good practice and sports' economic and social integration benefits should be better used, urged committee members.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
The Presidency will urge EU member states to ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women, equal opportunities minister Lydia Mutsch and family affairs and integration minister Corinne Cahen told the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee on Tuesday. The women on company boards directive is also a priority: “we will seek compromise in the Council to support quotas, so as to get more women into top positions”, Ms Mutsch said.
As to the maternity leave directive, the Presidency will invite the Commission to present a new initiative as soon as possible. Parental and paternity leave are equally important, to enable fathers to make more flexible arrangements and take up more family responsibilities, the ministers said.
Transport and Tourism
The Presidency will focus on finding an agreement on the 4th Railway Package governance and public contracting rules, the “political pillar”, transport minister François Bausch told the Transport and Tourism Committee on Tuesday. The second priority is aviation, and particularly air passenger rights. Mr Bausch also listed emissions from the transport sector, investment in transport infrastructure, and road safety as key concerns. The Presidency would like the December Council meeting to tackle social issues in transport and plans to hold an informal Council meeting on urban mobility in October, the minister added.
Shaping a reformed mechanism to settle investor -state disputes, on the lines indicated by the resolution approved by Parliament on 8 July, will be a Presidency priority in talks with the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), foreign and European affairs minister Jean Asselborn told the International Trade Committee. Mr Asselborn, also promised Trade MEPs that the agreement already concluded with Canada (CETA) will not reintroduce the “old ISDS” via the back door and reported that talks were already under way between Canada and EU member state ministers on ways to include courts, judges, public hearings and appellate system in the mechanism.
Concluding a trade deal with Vietnam, more progress with Japan, launching trade talks with Tunisia and re-launching those with India were also on his “to do” list.
Reforming the Court of Justice by increasing the number of judges in the General Court will be a key priority for the Presidency, justice minister Féliz Braz told the Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday. This would involve costs, but not doing anything would also have a price tag as well, he added. On the trade secrets proposal, the Presidency will aim to finalize negotiations as soon as possible, seeking a balanced deal which ensures employee mobility and proper protection for whistle blowers, economic affairs minister Etienne Schneider added.
Replying to MEPs questions on the revision of shareholders’ rights and proposals for a country-by-country tax reporting requirement, the ministers promised they will take Parliament’s call seriously and consult the member states before starting negotiations with MEPs.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
Migration, fighting terrorism and organised crime and revamping EU data protection rules will be the Presidency’s key priorities, ministers Étienne Schneider (Internal Security), Jean Asselborn (Immigration and Asylum) and Félix Braz (Justice) told Civil Liberties MEPs on Wednesday morning. The Presidency aims to conclude talks on new rules on third country students and researchers coming to the EU, European police cooperation, EUROPOL and data protection. It also expects to come close to completing negotiations on legislation to protect unaccompanied minors and hopes soon to be able to begin talks with MEPs on the EU Passenger Name Record proposals and to reach an agreement on them before the end of its term.
Replying to MEPs' questions, the ministers assured them that member states will share "best practice" on integration policies with countries that do not usually receive migrants. They stressed that the Presidency will look at preventive measures, and not just corrective ones, against radicalisation, and said that the Council would look into the 2014 court annulment of the data retention directive, since it is "not acceptable to have 28 national systems".
Guided by the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the Presidency intends to focus on implementing the new rules in three key areas: the annual setting of sustainable fishing quotas for 2016, sharing and simplifying scientific data on fish stocks and achieving progress on multiannual management plans, especially for the Baltic Sea, minister for agriculture, viticulture and consumer protection Fernand Etgen told the Fisheries Committee on Wednesday. He added that the Presidency also intends to make progress on the deep-sea trawling regulation, on which the Council has yet to agree a common position.
MEPs reminded Mr Etgen that they will insist on their full co-decision powers when negotiating the multiannual management plans, which are crucial to implementing the new CFP. They also stressed that more money is needed to improve data collection and management, and several asked for better protection of small-scale fisheries and additional efforts to combat illegal fishing.
Finalising a good inter-institutional agreement on better regulation by the end of 2015, improving the Citizens' Initiative petition system, an “important tool for EU democracy” and debating Parliament’s right of inquiry were among the priorities that the minister responsible for relations with the European Parliament, Nicolas Schmit presented to the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Asked about the current committee debate on a new EU electoral law, Mr Schimt suggested looking for a pragmatic common approach to reduce existing discrepancies between national systems.
Tackling the costs of non-Europe, breaking down barriers in the single market, improving access to goods and services online and offline, and promoting digital single market as well as better regulation will be the Presidency’s key priorities, Deputy Prime Minister Étienne Schneider told the Internal Market Committee on Tuesday. He promised MEPs that every effort would be made to unblock the Council stalemate over the "made in" regulation and achieve progress on the web-accessibility and transfer of motor vehicles directives. MEPs also asked him to ensure that the upcoming digital single market rules underpin, rather than undermine, the digital economy, and to make cyber-security rules “future proof”.
"Luxembourg has not forgotten the promise made at the Thessaloniki summit that the future of the Balkans is within the European Union", foreign and European affairs minister Jean Asselborn assured the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. "More than ever, candidates must make efforts”, he added, hoping that new negotiating chapters can be opened with the three candidate countries - Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey - by the end of the year. The Presidency will also invite the candidate countries to informal ministerial meetings, he added.
Members asked the Presidency to strive to ensure that the agreement between the political forces in Skopje reached on the night of 14-15 July is acted upon, to support the improvement of relations between Serbia and its neighbours, and to exploit the recent openings with Turkey.
Employment and social affairs
The Presidency would seek to restore the social dimension of the EU, which was endangered after the most serious crisis and recession since the 1930's, pledged Nicolas Schmit, minister for labour, employment, and the social and solidarity economy. He also stressed that smart investment in research and development and in infrastructure were crucial in order to create jobs, especially for young people. The young were in danger of losing out in the long term if macroeconomic policies were not improved and adapted to the profound transformation of the labour market caused by the digital revolution, he said.
As regards legislation, health and safety rules continued to be a priority, together with two negotiation procedures for future laws on the European network of employment services and a common platform to prevent undeclared work.
Agriculture and rural development
Simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would be one of the Luxembourg Presidency's top priorities, the agriculture minister, Fernand Etgen, told the agriculture committee on Thursday. The Presidency would seek to launch negotiations with Parliament on protective measures against plant pests, the medicated feed proposal and the organic farming reform and to advance work on the revision of the EU's school fruit and vegetable and milk schemes. It was also "firmly committed", Mr Etgen said, to "help the most affected sectors" hit by the recently extended Russian embargo on EU foodstuffs and to monitor the situation on the EU's milk and sugar markets in view of the end of quotas and falling prices for both commodities.
Members of the agriculture committee strongly urged Mr Etgen to push for quicker, meaningful measures to stabilise the market and help sectors that are facing major difficulties. They also want the Presidency to advance work on plant health legislation and on the revamp of the school schemes.
Industry, research and energy
Three ministers addressed the industry committee. The digital economy was a horizontal priority of the Luxembourg Presidency, the prime minister and minister for communications media, Xavier Bettel, told MEPs on Wednesday morning. Regarding legislation on e-government and the accessibility of public websites, his presidency would work to keep the balance between regulation and self-regulation in the IT field, he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Marc Hansen, Luxembourg secretary of state for research, stressed the importance of a European research area in order to improve coherence at EU level as well as gender equality. On Thursday morning, Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg's economy and trade minister said he would work for a better integrated single market, the modernisation of copyright and easy access to finance for SMEs. MEPs stressed that data protection reform, family businesses, renewables and copyright legislation should be high on the Presidency's agenda.
Environment and public health
The environment minister, Carole Dieschbourg, told the environment and public health committee: “The circular economy is for us a tremendous opportunity to make our economy more competitive and to create new jobs. The new proposal will come at the end of the Luxembourg Presidency and we will make sure that the high ambitions of the proposal will be strengthened.” Among priorities, she also mentioned the national emission ceilings directive, reduction of emissions from road vehicles and the reform of the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS). Among non-legislative files, Mrs Dieschbourg cited the greening of the European semester, the European strategy on biodiversity, the report on the state of nature in the EU to be published by the European Environment Agency, the REFIT exercise regarding the habitats and birds directives, and preparations for the COP21 climate conference in Paris.
“We are facing a Europe which is still finding it difficult to emerge from the crisis,” said Mrs Lydia Mutsch, minister for health and gender equality, on Thursday. "It’s an ageing Europe, which entails many public health challenges. The Luxembourg Presidency has decided to put its work under the aegis of patients and innovation,” she added. Among priorities, she cited the revision of the medical devices regulation, veterinary medicinal products, personalized medicines, addressing dementia as part of a multi-sectoral approach, taking stock of the implementation of the directive on cross-border healthcare, the EU alcohol strategy, and lessons to be drawn from the Ebola crisis. Concerning food safety, she highlighted the importance of the ongoing legislative procedures on cloning, GMO imports, novel foods and official controls in the agri-food chain.
Economic and monetary affairs
Piere Gramegna, finance minister of Luxembourg and president-in-office of the economic and financial affairs council, outlined his priorities for the coming six months at a meeting with the economic and monetary affairs committee on Wednesday. The Presidency would push for a swift take-off of the Juncker Plan, start the construction of a capital markets union, work on a more effective and more efficient economic and monetary union, step up the fight against fraud and work towards fairer corporate taxation.
Referring to the so called five presidents' report on completing economic and monetary union (EMU), Mr Gramegna said the EMU was currently lacking tools and needed to be made more efficient. "The Eurozone needs more credibility by putting in practice what has been agreed already, including the bank recovery and resolution directive, the single resolution fund and the deposit guarantee scheme," he said. He stressed that the Eurozone was "a space of solidarity, but also of responsibility" and wanted to bridge the gap with citizens with a "change of language". "And we should not forget the social dimension. Our aim should be a social triple A status," he said.