Slovak Presidency priorities discussed in committee
The priorities of the Slovak Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers are being outlined to parliamentary committees by Slovak ministers at a series of meetings taking place in July, August and September.
Constitutional affairs: Brexit vote, funding of European parties and EP election rules
The consequences of the UK's vote to leave the EU was the main subject that State Secretary for Foreign and European Affairs, Ivan Korčok, debated with the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 6 September. MEPs asked how the Presidency intends to use the time left until the UK hands in its formal notification to leave the Union and if the future situation for Northern Ireland and Scotland was being discussed. MEPs also asked the Presidency to speed up its work on rules to tackle abuse of EU funding for political parties.
Mr Korčok said the Presidency would work to agree on an EU position for the upcoming talks with the UK and use the time to deliver on security, migration and economy issues. He also promised progress on the rules on political funding and added that Council was ready to discuss some of the changes in EU electoral law proposed by Parliament last autumn.
Women in the labour market, work-life balance, female poverty key issues for Slovak presidency
Boosting women’s participation in the labour market, promoting new work-life balance policies and strengthening the fight against female poverty throughout the Union are key issues for the Slovak Presidency, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family Ján Richter, told MEPs in the Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee on 1 September.
MEPs welcomed the minister’s speech, but stressed the importance of further action within the field of women’s rights and gender equality. They also called for speeding up the process of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, calling it a necessary measure to combat violence against women in Europe.
Employment: posting of workers, exposure to carcinogens at work, EU Accessibility Act
Presenting the priorities of the Slovak presidency in the field of social policy on Wednesday 31 August, Ján Richter, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, emphasised that the focus will be on boosting jobs and prosperity while continuing to fight against social exclusion. There will be three key legislative proposals: an overhaul of the posting of workers directive, which faced "yellow cards" by eleven member states yet was re-tabled without changes; changes to the directive on exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work, which aim to improve health and safety of workers and was presented to the Employment on Social Affairs Committee; and the EU Accessibility Act to boost the market for accessible products and services for people with disabilities.
MEPs focused on the posting of workers and urged the minister to seek a compromise with other member states so that negotiations between the Parliament and Council can start as soon as possible.
International trade: CETA ratification and China market economy status
Ratifying CETA (EU trade deal with Canada) was flagged as the Presidency’s main trade priority to International Trade Committee MEPs on 14 July. Minister Peter Žiga said that he was looking to sign the deal at the EU-Canada summit in October and that work was under way to apply CETA provisionally, which, now that the EU Commission had proposed CETA to be a “mixed agreement“ was “important in terms of our credibility towards Canada”. He also told MEPs that, as requested by most member states in the Council, investment rules would not be included in the deal’s provisional application.
Mr Žiga reported that the EU Council was also still divided on how the EU should update it’s trade defence tools and as regards the general EU approach towards China’s “market economy” status. MEPs again stressed the need for decisive EU action to protect local production against Chinese overcapacity. In their questions, MEPs also called on the Presidency to make negotiating mandates for trade talks public, in particular as regards the current trade talks with Tunisia.
Economic and Monetary Affairs: money markets funds, European Deposit Insurance Scheme, VAT
“We don’t need more Europe, we don’t need less Europe, we need a better Europe”, Minister of Finance Peter Kazimir, told Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee MEPs on 13 July. Mr Kazimir will chair the Economic and Financial Council (ECOFIN).
Presidency priorities include making progress on money markets funds, the prospectus directive, securitisation, a European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS) and modernising the VAT system, as well as strengthening the implementation of country-specific economic policy recommendations, modernising the internal market and fostering investments, inter alia by prolonging the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) until 2020.
Culture, Education and Sport: audio-video media services directive, European Year of Cultural Heritage, preventing radicalisation of young people
Ministers Peter Plavčan (Education, Science, Research and Sport) and Marek Maďarič (Culture) told the Culture Committee on 13 July that the audio-video media services directive (AVMSD), with special attention to protecting minors, will be the Presidency’s top priority for the next six months.
The ministers also assured MEPs that every efforts will be made to reach a final decision on the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage. Improving skills for an active civic life, modernising higher education and preventing radicalisation of young people are the key priorities in the education field.
Internal Market: geo-blocking, consumer rights, SMEs
Modernising and deepening the internal market is among the Presidency’s key priorities, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini told the Internal Market Committee on 14 July. The Digital Single Market, including proposals on geo-blocking and enforcing consumer rights, is also high on its agenda. On the supply of digital content proposal, the Presidency aims to reach a “partial general approach” in the Council, he added. The modernisation of industry, with a particular attention to energy-efficient sectors, was also mentioned as an important priority by Economy Minister Peter Žiga.
MEPs highlighted the importance of the collaborative economy, cybersecurity and an economy “fit for the digital age”. Some MEPs argued that the geo-blocking proposal is not ambitious enough, and that this issue will have to be addressed. VAT rules, SMEs and the UK referendum/Brexit were also mentioned.
Development: humanitarian assistance, particularly to women and children in crisis areas
A key issue for the Presidency is to make the international humanitarian system more efficient, coordinated and flexible, using the momentum created by the recent World Humanitarian Summit, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs Lukáš Parízek told the Development Committee on 12 July. The situation of women and children in crisis areas calls for a better response too, he added.
MEPs welcomed this agenda and urged Mr Parízek to make sure that no development money is diverted to support security or for other purposes.
Industry, Research and Energy: telecoms, 5G, China, Horizon 2020
The telecoms packages, including moving to a roaming charge-free system by 2017 and renegotiating use of mobile spectrum for 5G, are among the Presidency priorities, Transport, Construction and Regional Development Minister Roman Brecely told the Industry, Research and Energy Committee on 12 July.
On the issue of China’s market economy status, the Presidency will “proceed very carefully”, but there will be “sufficient protection for European industry”, Minister of Economy Peter Žiga told MEPs.
The Presidency will also aim to foster innovation, use the Horizon 2020 programme to the full and bring the European space programme to fruition, added Minister of Education, Science, Research and Sport Peter Plavčan on 11 July.
Agriculture: farm crisis, unfair trading practices, trade talks, organics and forestry
The need for common European solidarity-based solutions to the agricultural crisis and unfair trading practices was stressed by Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Gabriela Matečná, in a debate with the Agriculture Committee on 13 July. The Presidency will seek to make progress on draft proposal on organic products, veterinary medicinal products and medicated feed laws, she said. Simplifying EU farm policy, promoting sustainable forestry and advocating a balanced trade deals will be also high on the agenda, she added.
MEPs stressed that the difficulties on agricultural markets demand further action now, adding that they expect Commissioner Phil Hogan to come up with new measures on 18 July and discuss them with the committee the next day.
Public Health: medical devices, veterinary medicines, availability of medicines
The Presidency will formalise the agreement between the institutions on medical devices in September, Health minister Tomáš Drucker told Environment and Public Health Committee on 12 July. Work will also focus on veterinary medicinal product legislation, with the aim of obtaining a mandate for negotiation with MEPs. The availability of medicines, “a critical issue for patients and growing problem in Europe”, he said, will also be among the Presidency priorities.
Regional Development: implementation of the new EU cohesion policy, Omnibus, Urban Agenda
The need to assess the benefits of the recent EU cohesion policy reform innovations and simplify implementing mechanisms was stressed by Deputy Prime Minister for Investments and the Information Society Peter Pellegrini, on 13 July, in a debate with the Regional Development Committee. Mr Pellegrini said that the Presidency will focus on the structural reform support programme, the Omnibus regulation and the Urban Agenda.
Replying to MEPs' questions, Mr Pellegrini agreed on the need to improve the reputation of cohesion policy and raise awareness among citizens on its results and benefits.
Foreign affairs: EU enlargement, EU-NATO, visa requirements
Regaining the credibility of EU enlargement policy, which is the best EU tool to promote reforms in the neighbourhood, while maintaining the conditionality principle and assessing each country’s progress, is a key Presidency priority, Foreign and European affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák, told the Foreign Affairs Committee on 12 July.
MEPs welcomed the Presidency’s focus on enlargement, hoping the current slowdown could be overcome. Several asked Mr Lajčák to ensure the swift implementation of EU-NATO declaration on mutual capabilities and timely lifting of EU visa requirements for Georgia and Ukraine.
Legal Affairs: e-justice, copyright, whistleblower protection
More efficient cross-border judicial cooperation with emphasis on ‘e-justice’ - electronic communication in the justice field - is high the Presidency’s agenda, as are progress in creating a digital single market and copyright reform, Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská and State Secretary at the Culture Ministry Ivan Sečík, told the Legal Affairs Committee on 12 July.
MEPs highlighted the importance of whistle-blower protection and progress on the shareholders’ rights directive. A priority stressed by both sides was revising the so-called ”Brussels IIa regulation” to help international couples resolve disputes, involving more than one country, over divorce and child custody.
Fisheries: sustainable management of fishing fleets, data collection, North Sea
The need to ensure fish stocks are sustainable and to protect the EU’s thriving fisheries sector was stressed by Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Gabriela Matečná on 12 July, in a debate with the Fisheries Committee. Ms Matečná said the Presidency will focus on the following legislative files: the data collection framework, the sustainable management of external fishing fleets, the technical measures regulation and the Commission proposal on the North Sea management plan, which it is to table this summer.
Replying to MEPs’ questions on the implications of Brexit, Ms Matečná said it is rather early to discuss this and that it will be examined once Article 50 is triggered.
Transport: aviation safety, electric vehicles, ICAO and IMO
Ongoing revision of aviation safety rules and preparing EU positions for the next ICAO and IMO meetings, will be the Presidency priorities, Transport, Construction and Regional Development Minister Roman Brecely told the Transport Committee on 12 July. He also stressed the need to boost take-up of electric vehicles and cycling.
MEPs asked the minister about the effects of minimum wages in Germany and France on the transport single market, initiatives for road transport and decarbonisation, ensuring EU funding for transport projects, whether a European or a global approach to ETS should be preferred and progress on air passenger rights.