Austrian Presidency priorities discussed in committees
The priorities of the Austrian Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers are being outlined to parliamentary committees by ministers, in a series of meetings.
Austria is holding the Presidency of the Council until the end of 2018. Hearings take place between 9 and 12 July.
Industry, research and energy: digitalisation, clean energy package, Horizon Europe
Capitalising on the potential of the digital economy and finalising the Clean energy package are among the main priorities outlined by Education, Science and Research Minister Heinz Faßmann, Economic and Digital Affairs Minister Margaret Schramböck and Transport Minister Norbert Hofer to MEPs on Tuesday. The Presidency will work to reduce red tape, while pushing the discussion on the Horizon Europe programme for 2021-2027. On energy, the Presidency will facilitate negotiations on the revision of the European electricity market and promote innovative technology to move towards a clean energy system.
MEPs urged the ministers to reach a common position on the revision of the Gas directive, since the EP is ready to begin negotiations. On the overhaul of the internal electricity market, MEPs invited the Presidency to focus on capacity and energy poverty.
Constitutional affairs: European Citizen Initiative, Transparency Register, Right of Inquiry
Among the top priorities are the commitment to reach an agreement on the European Citizen’s Initiative, the ongoing work on the Transparency Register and the Right of Inquiry, as well as continuing with the inter-institutional agreement on better law-making, according to EU, Arts, Culture and Media Minister Gernot Blümel, on Wednesday. He also stressed the importance of unity among the 27 member states, in light of Brexit.
MEPs appreciated the forthcoming efforts and the goal set for the European Citizen’s Initiative. They also discussed the Transparency Register, Brexit, the MFF, “disembarkment platforms”, digital taxation, EU citizens’ trust in the European Union and the Right of Inquiry, particularly highlighting the need to reach an agreement on the latter.
Economic and Monetary Affairs: Banking Union, Capital Markets, EMU, taxation
Finance Minister Hartwig Loger told MEPs on Wednesday that the Presidency wants to pursue efforts to complete the Banking Union and the Capital Markets Union, and is seeking to reduce risk across the continent as well as reducing the stock of Non-Performing Loans. The Presidency would also like to develop a deeper Economic and Monetary Union by establishing a common backstop for the Single Resolution Fund, provided in the form of the European Stability Mechanism.
A third objective is to formulate a fairer tax system at European level, with particular focus on digital tax proposals, modernising VAT systems, and working on a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base.
Fisheries: multiannual plans, technical measures, MFF, control regulation
Plenipotentiary Minister Thomas Oberreiter said, on Wednesday, that the Presidency’s ambition is to achieve progress on proposals for multiannual plans in Western European waters, the Western Mediterranean and the Adriatic as well as the so-called technical measures, which would create the right conditions for a modern and effective fisheries system. Progress is expected as well on the MFF.
MEPs warned the Presidency that reducing funds for fisheries could put certain projects under threat. They also stressed the importance of the fight against plastic pollution in oceans and the proliferation of waste in general.
Transport and Tourism: Mobility Package, Connecting Europe Facility, rail passenger rights
The Presidency is carefully analysing developments in EU governments’ positions to find common solutions in the discussions on the Mobility Package proposals on road transport sector reform, said Transport, Innovation and Technology Minister Norbert Hofer on Tuesday.
MEPs quizzed Mr Hofer on the Presidency’s position on funding for the Connecting Europe Facility and the proposal to create the European Labour Authority. In relation to ongoing reform of the road haulage sector, some MEPs asked what the Presidency aims to do to improve drivers’ working conditions, while others stressed that it is important to ensure that the reform does not fragment the market and that SMEs are not overburdened. MEPs also asked for details about the Presidency’s intentions on automated driving, the Brenner Pass and the rail passenger rights proposal.
Regional Development: subsidiarity, simplification, efficiency to guide structural funding reform
Parliament’s ambition of reaching an early agreement on the Multi Financial Framework (MFF or long-term budget) and post-2020 structural funding rules requires MEPs to be highly flexible and willing to compromise, according to Family Minister Juliane Bogner-Strauß, on Wednesday. MEPs asked the Presidency to reconsider inviting Regional Development Committee MEPs to the dedicated informal General Affairs Council meeting scheduled for the end of November.
The minister also outlined that effective implementation through simplification and control mechanisms rank high on the Presidency’s agenda.
Culture and Education: cultural heritage, quality education, mobility, copyright
Protecting common European heritage, including the European content on big online platforms, as well as protecting the rights of artists are at the core of the Presidency, Culture Minister Gernot Blümel said on Wednesday. Efforts will be made to have a new Creative Europe programme to support innovation and digitalisation of the culture sector, he added.
The new Erasmus+ programme will be the main priority, Education Minister Heinz Faβmann said, also on Wednesday, with recognition of diplomas also a very important point on the agenda. Minister Juliane Bogner-Strauβ said the Presidency would try to increase the rate of successful applications for the Solidarity Corps programme. The economic dimension of sport, as well as sport in the workplace, will top the agenda too, Civil Service and Sport Minister Hans-Christian Strache said on Wednesday.
Culture Committee MEPs called on ministers to fight for more funding for Erasmus+ and asked for support to truly protect artists’ rights and remunerate them fairly, during negotiations on new European rules on copyright.
Budgetary affairs: invitation to appear declined
The Austrian Presidency has declined the Budget Committee's invitation to explain their priorities on the negotiation of the annual budget for 2019 or the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, the EU's long-term budget.
Employment and Social Affairs: coordination of Social Securities, work-life balance, European Labour Authority
Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection Minister Beate Hartinger-Klein said on Wednesday that the Presidency would like to make progress on coordinating social security systems and on inter-institutional negotiations on work-life balance and health risks in the workplace.
Moreover, the minister said they will pursue agreements on establishing a European Labour Authority and look forward to future negotiations on the European Social Fund Plus.
Development MEPs insisted that the Presidency should not make the provision of humanitarian aid contingent on its migration policy. At the debate on Wednesday with Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Minister Karin Kneissl, MEPs pointed out the importance of reaching an agreement in Council on the EU's partnership with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. They also asked for the sustainable development goals to be prioritised, including healthy food, clean water and sanitation, as well as making progress on Parliament's recent call to lift the minimum age limit for marriage to 18 throughout the European Union.
Naming combatting extreme poverty as the number one goal, the minister mentioned food crises, forced displacement, sexual and gender-based violence among other priorities she expects the Presidency to focus on in the humanitarian field.
Internal market and consumer protection: digital, free movement, accessibility
The goods package, which aims to enhance market surveillance, mutual recognition and to tackle unsafe products in the internal market, the New Deal for Consumers, the proposal on online platforms and the ongoing negotiations on digital contracts and on the European Accessibility Act were among the topics discussed with Digital and Economic Affairs Minister Margarete Schramböck on Wednesday.
MEPs highlighted how important free movement is to the internal market, stressing that the area without internal borders is key to achieving more jobs, growth and competitiveness. If there is one thing that people appreciate about the EU, it is the internal market, they said, also asking the Austrian Presidency to focus in particular on SMEs and start-ups.
Legal affairs: security, copyright, insolvency, subsidiarity and a connected digital single market
Enhanced police cross-border cooperation and evidence exchange, ongoing negotiations on profitable businesses and insolvency rules, as well as advancing with the update of copyright rules are key priorities of the Presidency, said Constitutional Affairs Minister Dr Josef Moser, on Monday.
MEPs also called on the Presidency to work on female representation on boards, open and efficient EU governance, e-privacy, subsidiarity principles and whistle-blower protection.
Agriculture and rural development: CAP reform, international trade, veterinary medicines
Post-2020 EU farm policy reform and outlawing unfair trading practices in the food supply chain are among top Presidency priorities, Women, Families and Youth Minister Juliane Bogner-Strauss told MEPs on Monday. The Presidency, she added, will also focus on ongoing trade talks with non-EU countries, the bio-economy strategy, proteins’ supply in the EU as well as veterinary medicines and medicated feed laws.
MEPs insisted that the future EU farm policy should remain truly common, well-funded and made simpler and fairer. Many members also called for sensitive EU agricultural sectors to be protected during international trade talks.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs: security, asylum, Poland, e-privacy
Reinforcing security to make sure EU citizens feel protected will be a key priority, said Interior Minister Herbert Kickl on Tuesday. He also welcomed the “paradigm shift” in the EU migration and asylum policy, resulting from the latest European Council.
MEPs demanded clarification on the plans to establish “regional disembarkation platforms” outside of the EU, raising concerns regarding EU values and respect of international conventions. They also reminded the Minister that the reform of the Common European Asylum System should be treated as a package, urging him to work towards an agreement on the review of the Dublin Regulation.
Asked about the Article 7 procedure against Poland, Justice Minister Josef Moser said, also on Tuesday, that the issue will be discussed in the next Justice and Home Affairs Council, hinting that several member states are in favour of pursuing dialogue with Warsaw. Moser also replied to questions on the new e-privacy legislation, admitting there are “conflicting interests” in the Council, with some countries thinking the proposal “is not mature”.
International Trade: Russia, US tariffs, trade negotiations
MEPs questioned Digital and Economic Affairs Minister Margarete Schramböck on Tuesday about the Presidency’s position on continued application of sanctions against Russia, the planned response to US tariffs on European steel and aluminium products as well as the possible tariffs on cars and car parts.
When asked about long-standing trade talks with Mercosur countries which still continue after 20 years, Minister Schramböck said the Presidency supports ongoing trade agreements. MEPs finally called for progress to be achieved also on negotiations on foreign direct investment screening and the export of civilian and military dual use products.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: raising awareness among young Europeans
On Tuesday, Juliane Bogner-Strauβ, Federal Minister within the Chancellery for Women, Families and Youth, told Women’s Rights MEPs that gender equality was at the top of Presidency’s priorities. A conference on the future of gender equality will be held in Vienna in October, with a focus on youth, as well as smaller events in schools throughout Europe. Among the other priorities of the Austrian Presidency: the opportunities of digitalisation for young girls and boys, gender mainstreaming, work-life balance and the implementation of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women.
MEPs welcomed the organisation of this conference on gender equality and urged Austria to encourage the 10 member states that still have not done so to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
Foreign Affairs: Western Balkans
Increasing the stability in the European neighbourhood, driving the EU perspective for South Eastern European states and strengthening EU-Asia relations are amongst Presidency's priorities, Integration and Foreign Affairs Minister Karin Kneissl, told the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs welcomed the minister’s focus on the Western Balkans, while several of them urged her not to weaken the EU’s focus on the Eastern Partnership, war in Eastern Ukraine and Russia’s aggressive policy. Commenting on migration, Ms Kneissl stressed that it needs to be addressed by a different set of tools, as the current ones were designed to deal with hundreds, not thousands, of refugees.