Index 
Texts adopted
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 - StrasbourgFinal edition
Common rules for imports from certain third countries ***I
 Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Montenegro ***I
 Union tariff quotas for high-quality beef, and for pigmeat, poultrymeat, wheat and meslin, and brans, sharps and other residues ***I
 Import into the Union of agricultural products originating in Turkey ***I
 Suspending certain concessions relating to the import into the Union of agricultural products originating in Turkey ***I
 Establishment of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean ***
 Request for waiver of the immunity of Theodoros Zagorakis
 Request for waiver of the immunity of Sergei Stanishev
 Guidelines for the 2016 budget – Section III
 Annual Report 2013 on the protection of the EU's financial interests - Fight against fraud
 2014 Progress Report on Montenegro
 2014 Progress Report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
 2014 Progress Report on Serbia
 The European integration process of Kosovo
 European Semester for economic policy coordination: Annual Growth Survey 2015
 European Semester for economic policy coordination: employment and social aspects in the Annual Growth Survey 2015
 Single market governance within the European Semester 2015
 Fight against child sexual abuse on the Internet

Common rules for imports from certain third countries ***I
PDF 211kWORD 48k
Resolution
Text
European Parliament legislative resolution of 11 March 2015 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules for imports from certain third countries (recast) (COM(2014)0323 – C8-0014/2014 – 2014/0168(COD))
P8_TA(2015)0053A8-0014/2015

(Ordinary legislative procedure – recast)

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission proposal to Parliament and the Council (COM(2014)0323),

–  having regard to Article 294(2) and Article 207(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, pursuant to which the Commission submitted the proposal to Parliament (C8‑0014/2014),

–  having regard to Article 294(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 10 December 2014(1),

–  having regard to the Interinstitutional Agreement of 28 November 2001 on a more structured use of the recasting technique for legal acts(2),

–  having regard to the letter of 13 November 2014 from the Committee on Legal Affairs to the Committee on International Trade in accordance with Rule 104(3) of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to Rules 104 and 59 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on International Trade (A8-0014/2015),

A.  whereas, according to the Consultative Working Party of the legal services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the Commission proposal does not include any substantive amendments other than those identified as such in the proposal and whereas, as regards the codification of the unchanged provisions of the earlier acts together with those amendments, the proposal contains a straightforward codification of the existing texts, without any change in their substance;

1.  Adopts its position at first reading hereinafter set out;

2.  Calls on the Commission to refer the matter to Parliament again if it intends to amend its proposal substantially or replace it with another text;

3.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

Position of the European Parliament adopted at first reading on 11 March 2015 with a view to the adoption of Regulation (EU) 2015/... of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules for imports from certain third countries (recast)

(As an agreement was reached between Parliament and Council, Parliament's position corresponds to the final legislative act, Regulation (EU) 2015/755.)

(1) Not yet published in the Official Journal.
(2) OJ C 77, 28.3.2002, p. 1.


Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Montenegro ***I
PDF 212kWORD 49k
Resolution
Text
European Parliament legislative resolution of 11 March 2015 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain procedures for applying the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Montenegro, of the other part (codified text) (COM(2014)0374 – C8-0035/2014 – 2014/0190(COD))
P8_TA(2015)0054A8-0051/2014

(Ordinary legislative procedure – codification)

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission proposal to the European Parliament and the Council (COM(2014)0374),

–  having regard to Article 294(2) and Article 207(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, pursuant to which the Commission submitted the proposal to Parliament (C8‑0035/2014),

–  having regard to Article 294(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 10 December 2014(1),

–  having regard to the Interinstitutional Agreement of 20 December 1994 - Accelerated working method for official codification of legislative texts(2),

–  having regard to Rules 103 and 59 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs (A8-0051/2014),

A.  whereas, according to the Consultative Working Party of the legal services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the proposal in question contains a straightforward codification of the existing texts without any change in their substance;

1.  Adopts its position at first reading hereinafter set out;

2.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

Position of the European Parliament adopted at first reading on 11 March 2015 with a view to the adoption of Regulation (EU) 2015/... of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain procedures for applying the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Montenegro, of the other part (codification)

(As an agreement was reached between Parliament and Council, Parliament's position corresponds to the final legislative act, Regulation (EU) 2015/752.)

(1)Not yet published in the Official Journal.
(2) OJ C 102, 4.4.1996, p. 2.


Union tariff quotas for high-quality beef, and for pigmeat, poultrymeat, wheat and meslin, and brans, sharps and other residues ***I
PDF 213kWORD 49k
Resolution
Text
European Parliament legislative resolution of 11 March 2015 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council opening and providing for the administration of certain Union tariff quotas for high-quality beef, and for pigmeat, poultrymeat, wheat and meslin, and brans, sharps and other residues (codified text) (COM(2014)0594 – C8-0169/2014 – 2014/0276(COD))
P8_TA(2015)0055A8-0052/2014

(Ordinary legislative procedure – codification)

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission proposal to the European Parliament and the Council (COM(2014)0594),

–  having regard to Article 294(2) and Article 207(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, pursuant to which the Commission submitted the proposal to Parliament (C8‑0169/2014),

–  having regard to Article 294(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 10 December 2014(1),

–  having regard to the Interinstitutional Agreement of 20 December 1994 - Accelerated working method for official codification of legislative texts(2),

–  having regard to Rules 103 and 59 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs (A8-0052/2014),

A.  whereas, according to the Consultative Working Party of the legal services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the proposal in question contains a straightforward codification of the existing texts without any change in their substance;

1.  Adopts its position at first reading hereinafter set out;

2.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

Position of the European Parliament adopted at first reading on 11 March 2015 with a view to the adoption of Regulation (EU) 2015/... of the European Parliament and of the Council opening and providing for the administration of certain Union tariff quotas for high-quality beef, and for pigmeat, poultrymeat, wheat and meslin, and brans, sharps and other residues (codification)

(As an agreement was reached between Parliament and Council, Parliament's position corresponds to the final legislative act, Regulation (EU) 2015/754.)

(1) Not yet published in the Official Journal.
(2) OJ C 102, 4.4.1996, p. 2.


Import into the Union of agricultural products originating in Turkey ***I
PDF 212kWORD 49k
Resolution
Text
European Parliament legislative resolution of 11 March 2015 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the import into the Union of agricultural products originating in Turkey (codified text) (COM(2014)0586 – C8-0166/2014 – 2014/0272(COD))
P8_TA(2015)0056A8-0048/2014

(Ordinary legislative procedure – codification)

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission proposal to the European Parliament and the Council (COM(2014)0586),

–  having regard to Article 294(2) and Article 207(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, pursuant to which the Commission submitted the proposal to Parliament (C8‑0166/2014),

–  having regard to Article 294(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 10 December 2014(1),

–  having regard to the Interinstitutional Agreement of 20 December 1994 – Accelerated working method for official codification of legislative texts(2),

–  having regard to Rules 103 and 59 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs (A8-0048/2014),

A.  whereas, according to the Consultative Working Party of the legal services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the proposal in question contains a straightforward codification of the existing texts without any change in their substance;

1.  Adopts its position at first reading hereinafter set out;

2.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

Position of the European Parliament adopted at first reading on 11 March 2015 with a view to the adoption of Regulation (EU) 2015/... of the European Parliament and of the Council on the import into the Union of agricultural products originating in Turkey (codification)

(As an agreement was reached between Parliament and Council, Parliament's position corresponds to the final legislative act, Regulation (EU) 2015/753.)

(1) Not yet published in the Official Journal.
(2) OJ C 102, 4.4.1996, p. 2.


Suspending certain concessions relating to the import into the Union of agricultural products originating in Turkey ***I
PDF 212kWORD 49k
Resolution
Text
European Parliament legislative resolution of 11 March 2015 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council suspending certain concessions relating to the import into the Union of agricultural products originating in Turkey (codified text) (COM(2014)0593 – C8-0170/2014 – 2014/0275(COD))
P8_TA(2015)0057A8-0050/2014

(Ordinary legislative procedure – codification)

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission proposal to the European Parliament and the Council (COM(2014)0593),

–  having regard to Article 294(2) and Article 207(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, pursuant to which the Commission submitted the proposal to Parliament (C8‑0170/2014),

–  having regard to Article 294(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 10 December 2014(1),

–  having regard to the Interinstitutional Agreement of 20 December 1994 - Accelerated working method for official codification of legislative texts(2),

–  having regard to Rules 103 and 59 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs (A8-0050/2014),

A.  whereas, according to the Consultative Working Party of the legal services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the proposal in question contains a straightforward codification of the existing texts without any change in their substance;

1.  Adopts its position at first reading hereinafter set out;

2.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

Position of the European Parliament adopted at first reading on 11 March 2015 with a view to the adoption of Regulation (EU) 2015/... of the European Parliament and of the Council suspending certain concessions relating to the import into the Union of agricultural products originating in Turkey (codification)

(As an agreement was reached between Parliament and Council, Parliament's position corresponds to the final legislative act, Regulation (EU) 2015/756.)

(1) Not yet published in the Official Journal.
(2) OJ C 102, 4.4.1996, p. 2.


Establishment of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean ***
PDF 202kWORD 46k
European Parliament legislative resolution of 11 March 2015 on the draft Council decision on the acceptance, on behalf of the European Union, of the amended Agreement for the establishment of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (14993/2014 – C8-0027/2015 – 2014/0274(NLE))
P8_TA(2015)0058A8-0038/2015

(Consent)

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the draft Council decision (14993/2014),

–  having regard to the draft amended Agreement for the establishment of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (15458/2014),

–  having regard to the request for consent submitted by the Council in accordance with Article 43(2) and Article 218(6), second subparagraph, point (a), of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (C8-0027/2015),

–  having regard to Rule 99(1), first and third subparagraphs, Rule 99(2), and Rule 108(7) of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the recommendation of the Committee on Fisheries (A8-0038/2015),

1.  Gives its consent to conclusion of the amended Agreement;

2.  Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.


Request for waiver of the immunity of Theodoros Zagorakis
PDF 126kWORD 49k
European Parliament decision of 11 March 2015 on the request for waiver of the immunity of Theodoros Zagorakis (2015/2048(IMM))
P8_TA(2015)0059A8-0044/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the request for waiver of the immunity of Theodoros Zagorakis, which was forwarded by the Deputy Public Prosecutor at the Supreme Court of Greece on 19 December 2014 in connection with proceeding No E2010/3844 pending before the single-magistrate criminal court of Thessaloniki and announced in plenary on 28 January 2015,

–  whereas Theodoros Zagorakis waived his right to a hearing, in accordance with Rule 9(5) of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to Articles 8 and 9 of Protocol No 7 on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union, and to Article 6(2) of the Act of 20 September 1976 concerning the election of the members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage,

–  having regard to the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 12 May 1964, 10 July 1986, 15 and 21 October 2008, 19 March 2010 and 6 September 2011(1),

–  having regard to Article 62 of the Constitution of the Hellenic Republic,

–  having regard to Rule 5(2), Rule 6(1) and Rule 9 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs (A8-0044/2015),

A.  whereas the Deputy Public Prosecutor at the Supreme Court of Greece has requested the waiver of immunity of Theodoros Zagorakis, Member of the European Parliament, in connection with possible legal action concerning an alleged offence;

B.  whereas Article 9 of Protocol No 7 on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union states that Members of the European Parliament shall enjoy, in the territory of their own state, the immunities accorded to members of the Parliament of that state;

C.  whereas Article 62 of the Constitution of the Hellenic Republic provides that, during the parliamentary term, Members of Parliament may not be prosecuted, arrested, imprisoned or otherwise confined without Parliament’s prior consent;

D.  whereas Theodoros Zagorakis is accused of causing bodily harm by negligence and failing to comply with workplace safety regulations;

E.  whereas the prosecution concerns a workplace accident suffered on 13 May 2010 by an employee of the PAOK football club at the club's stadium in Thessaloniki, and whereas the accused is Theodoros Zagorakis in his capacity as chair and legal representative of the club;

F.  whereas the alleged offence clearly has nothing to do with the office of Member of the European Parliament held by Theodoros Zagorakis, but is instead linked to his position as chair of the PAOK football club;

G.  whereas the prosecution does not concern opinions expressed or votes cast in the performance of the duties of Member of the European Parliament within the meaning of Article 8 of Protocol No 7 on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union;

H.  whereas there is no reason to suspect that the intention underlying the criminal proceedings is to damage a Member’s political activity (fumus persecutionis), given that the prosecution was initiated a number of years before the Member took office;

1.  Decides to waive the immunity of Theodoros Zagorakis;

2.  Instructs its President to forward this decision, and the report of the committee responsible, immediately to the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Supreme Court of Greece.

(1) Judgment of the Court of Justice of 12 May 1964, Wagner v Fohrmann and Krier, 101/63, ECLI:EU:C:1964:28; judgment of the Court of Justice of 10 July 1986, Wybot v Faure and others, 149/85, ECLI:EU:C:1986:310; judgment of the General Court of 15 October 2008, Mote v Parliament, T-345/05, ECLI:EU:T:2008:440; judgment of the Court of Justice of 21 October 2008, Marra v De Gregorio and Clemente, C‑200/07 and C-201/07, ECLI:EU:C:2008:579; judgment of the General Court of 19 March 2010, Gollnisch v Parliament, T-42/06, ECLI:EU:T:2010:102; judgment of the Court of Justice of 6 September 2011, Patriciello, C‑163/10, ECLI: EU:C:2011:543; judgment of the General Court of 17 January 2013, Gollnisch v Parliament, T-346/11 and T-347/11, ECLI:EU:T:2013:23.


Request for waiver of the immunity of Sergei Stanishev
PDF 127kWORD 51k
European Parliament decision of 11 March 2015 on the request for waiver of the immunity of Sergei Stanishev (2014/2259(IMM))
P8_TA(2015)0060A8-0045/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the request for waiver of the immunity of Sergei Stanishev, forwarded by the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Bulgaria on 24 November 2014 in connection with legal proceedings pending before the Sofia City Court (ref. CCAN No C-280/2013), and announced in plenary on 15 December 2014,

–  having heard Mr Stanishev in accordance with Rule 9(5) of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to Articles 8 and 9 of Protocol No 7 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union, and to Article 6(2) of the Act of 20 September 1976 concerning the election of the members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage,

–  having regard to the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 12 May 1964, 10 July 1986, 15 and 21 October 2008, 19 March 2010, 6 September 2011 and 17 January 2013(1),

–  having regard to Article 70 of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria,

–  having regard to Rules 5(2), 6(1) and 9 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs (A8-0045/2015),

A.  whereas the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Bulgaria has forwarded a request from the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the City of Sofia for authorisation to continue criminal proceedings against Sergei Stanishev with regard to an offence under Article 358(1), in conjunction with Article 26(1), of the Bulgarian Criminal Code;

B.  whereas, according to Article 8 of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union, Members of the European Parliament may not be subject to any form of inquiry, detention or legal proceedings in respect of opinions expressed or votes cast by them in the performance of their duties;

C.  whereas, according to Article 9 of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union, Members of the European Parliament must enjoy, in the territory of their own State, the immunities accorded to members of their parliament;

D.  whereas, under Article 70(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, a Member of the National Assembly is immune from detention or criminal prosecution except for the perpetration of a criminal offence, and whereas in such cases the permission of the National Assembly or, should the latter be in recess, of the Speaker of the National Assembly, is required, save in the case of detention in flagrante delicto; whereas, under Article 70(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, permission to initiate a criminal prosecution is not required where the Member of the National Assembly has given his or her consent thereto in writing;

E.  whereas it is for Parliament alone to decide whether immunity is or is not to be waived in a given case; whereas Parliament may reasonably take account of the Member’s position in reaching its decision on whether or not to waive his or her immunity(2);

F.  whereas the alleged offence does not have a direct or obvious connection with Mr Stanishev’s performance of his duties as a Member of the European Parliament, and nor does it constitute an opinion expressed or a vote cast in the performance of his duties as a Member of the European Parliament for the purposes of Article 8 of Protocol No 7 on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union;

G.  whereas pre-trial investigations against Sergei Stanishev had already started long before he became a Member of the European Parliament, and whereas the proceedings in question are, therefore, not connected in any way with his position as a Member of the European Parliament;

H.  whereas, in his time firstly as Prime Minister and subsequently as a member of the National Assembly, Sergei Stanishev submitted two written statements to the Speaker of the National Assembly in which he consented to criminal proceedings being opened against him in accordance with Article 70(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria;

I.  whereas in this case Parliament has found no evidence of fumus persecutionis, that is to say, a sufficiently serious and precise suspicion that the case has been brought with the intention of causing political damage to the Member concerned;

1.  Decides to waive the immunity of Sergei Stanishev;

2.  Instructs its President to forward this decision and the report of its competent committee immediately to the competent authority of the Republic of Bulgaria and to Sergei Stanishev.

(1) Judgment of the Court of Justice of 12 May 1964, Wagner v Fohrmann and Krier, 101/63, ECLI:EU:C:1964:28; judgment of the Court of Justice of 10 July 1986, Wybot v Faure and others, 149/85, ECLI:EU:C:1986:310; judgment of the General Court of 15 October 2008, Mote v Parliament, T-345/05, ECLI:EU:T:2008:440; judgment of the Court of Justice of 21 October 2008, Marra v De Gregorio and Clemente, C‑200/07 and C-201/07, ECLI:EU:C:2008:579; judgment of the General Court of 19 March 2010, Gollnisch v Parliament, T-42/06, ECLI:EU:T:2010:102; judgment of the Court of Justice of 6 September 2011, Patriciello, C‑163/10, ECLI: EU:C:2011:543; judgment of the General Court of 17 January 2013, Gollnisch v Parliament, T-346/11 and T-347/11, ECLI:EU:T:2013:23.
(2) Case T-345/05 Mote v Parliament (cited above), paragraph 28.


Guidelines for the 2016 budget – Section III
PDF 315kWORD 69k
European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on general guidelines for the preparation of the 2016 budget, Section III – Commission (2015/2008(BUD))
P8_TA(2015)0061A8-0027/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Articles 312 and 314 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 106a of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community,

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 1311/2013 of 2 December 2013 laying down the multiannual financial framework for the years 2014-2020(1),

–  having regard to the Interinstitutional Agreement of 2 December 2013 between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on budgetary discipline, on cooperation in budgetary matters and on sound financial management(2),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union and repealing Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002(3),

–  having regard to its resolution of 17 December 2014 on the Council position on the new draft general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2015(4),

–  having regard to the European Union’s general budget for the 2015 financial year(5) and to the six related joint statements agreed between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission as well as the three unilateral statements,

–  having regard to the communication on an Investment Plan for Europe adopted by the Commission on 26 November 2014 (COM(2014)0903), and to the proposal for a Regulation on the European Fund for Strategic Investments, which the Commission adopted on 13 January 2015 (COM(2015)0010),

–  having regard to Title II, Chapter 8 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgets (A8-0027/2015),

A.  whereas the EU budget is predominantly an investment budget with a strong leverage effect and is a catalyst for growth, competitiveness and jobs across the Union; whereas it facilitates the implementation of programmes and projects that would otherwise be difficult or impossible and ensures strategic investment in actions with European added value by pooling resources and allowing for economies of scale; whereas the EU budget has a tangible positive impact on citizens’ lives; whereas it has a crucial role in reducing discrepancies between Europe’s regions and ensuring investment in areas where it is most needed;

B.  whereas, as a consequence of the economic and financial crisis, the level of investment in the EU has significantly dropped, and the development gap between various regions of the EU has increased; whereas, given the persistent economic and budgetary constraints at national level, the EU budget plays a key role in fostering competitiveness and increasing economic, social and territorial cohesion in the Union;

C.  whereas the EU budget cannot accomplish its mission if its soundness, fairness and credibility are put in question; whereas it is imperative that all commitments forming part of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 are respected in full, and that a number of problems that have accumulated over the past years, notably the unprecedented amount of unpaid invoices at the end of 2014, are resolved without delay; whereas this backlog of unpaid invoices is giving rise to delays in the implementation of EU programmes and funds, with EU citizens being the first to suffer from this situation; whereas the delays in structural payments raise the issue of whether interest should not be charged on late payments, given that regional and local authorities are obliged to turn to the financial markets for advance funding to cover late EU contributions; stresses that decommitment is not a solution to the payment crisis; recalls that according to Article 310 TFEU the revenue and expenditure shown in the EU budget shall be in balance;

D.  whereas 2016 is the year when the new EU programmes of the MFF 2014-2020 will be operational and in full swing, and when the mid-term revision of the MFF will be launched;

Back on track – the ‘three Es’: Employment, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the European Union

1.  Highlights the potential and added value of the EU budget for the creation of employment and the development of enterprises and entrepreneurship for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth across the Union; stresses also, in this context, the EU budget’s contribution to economic, social and territorial cohesion and to support for research and development, as well as the potential of energy transition and interconnection for generating new jobs and growth; acknowledges that a wide range of EU programmes, including Horizon 2020, COSME, Erasmus+ and the Youth Employment Initiative, contribute directly to the attainment of those objectives; expects that the Commission will place such growth-orientated programmes and instruments at the heart of the Draft Budget 2016, in order to ensure that they are endowed with the necessary resources;

2.  Recalls that there are more than 20 million SMEs in the EU and that they account for 99 % of all businesses; believes that a favourable business environment and the development of an entrepreneurial culture, including decent jobs, in the EU could give SMEs back their role as main job creators in the Union, which has been weakened by the economic crisis; underlines, in this context, the need to facilitate the creation and operation of start-ups in the EU, through connecting entrepreneurs and fostering new projects; considers that, along with legislative simplification and reduction of red tape, available financial instruments under the COSME programme have to be used to their full extent to help and support SMEs along this path by facilitating in particular their access to markets and credits; stresses the big potential for SMEs and mid-cap firms of the European Fund for Strategic Investment;

3.  Stresses that the European Structural and Investment Funds form the biggest share of investment expenditure in the EU budget and are instrumental in job creation, boosting growth, and enhancing competitiveness and innovation; underlines the fact that EU cohesion policy has been instrumental in sustaining public investment in vital economic areas and has achieved tangible results on the ground that can empower Member States and regions to overcome the current crisis and achieve the Europe 2020 objectives; calls on the Commission and the Member States to make every effort to ensure the swift adoption of the remaining Operational Programmes in the coming months, so as to ensure that implementation will reach cruising speed in 2016;

4.  Is concerned about the funding of the Youth Employment Initiative as from 2016, given the frontloading of the entire financial envelope of the programme in 2014 and 2015; stresses that the fight against youth unemployment needs to be further intensified and that all funding possibilities should be considered for this purpose; recalls, in this connection, that 2016 will be the first year when resources under the Global Margin for commitments will be made available, as stipulated in the MFF 2014- 2020 regulation, over and above the ceilings established in the MFF for the years 2016 to 2020 for policy objectives related to growth and employment, in particular youth employment; calls on the Commission to ascertain the reasons behind the delays in the implementation of this programme and to work with Member States to ensure that the fund is fully utilised;

5.  Underlines the significance of cross-border mobility as a means of enabling Europe to take advantage of the variety of people’s skills while expanding training and job opportunities for all generations; considers that emblematic and successful mobility programmes such as Erasmus+ work to the benefit of both the individuals and the economy and should therefore be used to the full; recalls in this context that the social aspects of mobility must always be taken into account and that mobility is only one of the possible tools to combat unemployment and should not be the last resort;

6.  Recalls that tax fraud and tax evasion negatively affect the Member States’ economies and, subsequently, the EU budget; stresses, in particular, that any fraud related to VAT, such as ‘carousel fraud’, directly impacts on the EU’s revenues; asks the Commission to strengthen the EU programmes that complement Member States’ action in this field;

7.  Welcomes the introduction of green development criteria in the EU budget; believes that EU policies should effectively contribute to meeting the agreed targets in the fight against climate change, the promotion of renewable energies and energy efficiency, and the protection of the environment and biodiversity; considers that these represent key medium and long-term global challenges that should not be forgotten;

The EU budget and the Investment Plan

8.  Welcomes as a first step the Investment Plan presented by the Commission, which can create the potential to mobilise EUR 315 billion of investment in infrastructure, education and research, as well as SMEs and mid-cap companies, in order to offset the deficit in public and private investment generated by the economic and financial crisis; notes that the EU budget is expected to provide the backbone of this investment plan by making available the guarantee fund of EUR 8 billion required in commitments and payments for the provisioning of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI); considers that the EU budget contribution should deliver a significant return through a higher leverage effect; confirms its willingness to examine with the utmost vigilance how financial commitments by the EU to the EIB for the setting-up of the EFSI are entered in the EU budget;

9.  Highlights the additional and complementary nature of the proposed Investment Plan and the EU budget and their joint commitment to kick-start the economy and boost job creation; stresses that the EU budget is in itself a major investment tool with a distinctive role and mission, which has provided tangible results with a clear European added value; is convinced that every effort needs to be deployed in order to create synergies not only between the Investment Plan and the EU budget but also with national budgets, in order to bridge the investment gap, ensure convergence and stability in the EU, and maximise the effect of public spending on the real economy; underlines, moreover, the importance of removing existing impediments to investment, in particular as regards the clarity and the predictability of the regulatory framework;

Internal and external solidarity and a secure Europe

10.  Recalls that the EU budget is a tool of internal solidarity in that it supports economic, social and territorial cohesion, helps combat poverty, promotes social inclusion and helps minimise development disparities not only between Member States, but also between their regions; stresses that it is also an instrument of external solidarity, providing urgent assistance in humanitarian and civilian crises by offering support to countries in need - such as Ukraine - and by helping make the EU the biggest donor of development aid, with the aim of meeting the Union’s poverty eradication commitments, as reaffirmed in the European Consensus on Development, and contributing to the post-2015 Global Development agenda;

11.  Notes with concern that Europe, despite being one of the safest places in the world, is faced with new types of risks to its internal security which require ensuring closer police and judicial cooperation and coordination, developing measures for better integration and increased social cohesion, and at the same time promoting stability and peace in conflict areas; stresses that a common effort to handle migration flows lies at the crossroads of both internal and external solidarity; recalls its support for reinforcement of the EU’s means and for the development of a culture of fair burden-sharing among Member States when it comes to the handling of asylum and migration, in order to ensure safe and secure external borders in full respect of the EU’s fundamental values, with particular reference to action in the Mediterranean and at the south-east border of the EU; invites the Commission to propose targeted reinforcements of the relevant programmes and instruments, thus demonstrating the EU’s pledge to tackle these issues;

Respecting commitments

12.  Is convinced that the EU budget cannot reach its full potential without settling in a definite and unequivocal way a number of problems that have accumulated over the past few years and, regrettably, dominated last year’s budgetary negotiations, notably the recurrent problem of unpaid invoices at year-end, the question of budgeting the MFF special instruments, and the delay in implementing cohesion policy operational programmes; considers that 2015 should be the ultimate limit for introducing tangible and sustainable solutions to these outstanding questions;

13.  Calls for the full implementation of the joint statements on payment appropriations and on a payment plan agreed between Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the end of the 2015 budgetary procedure, and considers that such action would indicate that all three institutions are serious about working towards a solution to the problem of unpaid bills; recalls the commitment to hold, in the course of this year, at least three interinstitutional meetings on payments, in order to take stock of payment implementation and revised forecasts; expects the first of these meetings, in March 2015, to provide a first overview of the level of unpaid bills at the end of 2014 for the main policy areas; regrets that, as anticipated, at the end of 2014 this level reached the unprecedented amount of EUR 24,7 billion, for 2007-2013 cohesion programmes alone; deplores the fact that this debt undermines the credibility of the EU and is in contradiction with the goals set at the highest political level for growth and employment; stresses that payments are the direct and logical consequence of past commitments;

14.  Attaches the utmost importance to the establishment and implementation of a sound payment plan with the objective of reducing the level of unpaid bills at year-end to its structural level in the course of the current MFF, as stated by the Council, Parliament and the Commission in the joint declaration agreed in the framework of the 2015 budget procedure; recalls that this plan will be agreed by the three institutions in due time before the presentation of the draft budget 2016; considers that the interinstitutional meeting in March 2015 should provide the opportunity for the three institutions to agree on this plan;

15.  Reiterates its longstanding position that the payments of special instruments (Flexibility Instruments, the EU Solidarity Fund, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund and the Emergency Aid Reserve) must be counted over and above the MFF payment ceiling, as is the case for commitments; regrets that no agreement was made possible during last year’s budgetary procedure owing to the Council’s misinterpretation of the relevant MFF provision; stresses that the Council’s position on the matter may imply a further reduction of the MFF compared to the period 2007-2013; expects the matter to be settled with the 2015 technical adjustment of the Global Margin for Payments by the Commission;

16.  Recalls that EU agencies play an important role in developing and implementing EU policies and objectives such as competitiveness, growth and employment; reminds the Commission and the Council that EU agencies execute tasks conferred on them by the legislative authority and must thus be respected as important parts of the EU administration; underlines that the agencies need sufficient financial and human resources to enable them to fulfil their statutory mandates fully and effectively; stresses that already one EU agency has announced the postponement and cancellation of ongoing projects as a consequence of the severe staff and budget cuts decided for the 2015 budget; recalls Parliament’s opposition to the redeployment pool, and requests the Commission to reverse its effect when presenting the draft budget 2016;

The way forward

17.  Urges the Commission to take due account of the above-mentioned political priorities when establishing its Draft Budget for 2016, so that the relevant EU programmes and actions are provided with the necessary means to fulfil those objectives; anticipates, in this context, a positive response from the Commission to the further requests and positions expressed in this resolution so as to settle recurrent problems and facilitate this year’s budgetary procedure; also expects the Commission to propose an adequate level of payment appropriations in its Draft Budget, based on real forecasts and needs, so as to give the EU resources to match its ambitions;

18.  Recalls that according to the Treaty, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission shall ensure that the financial means are made available to allow the Union to fulfil its legal obligations in respect of third parties; insists on the use of all means available under the MFF regulation in order to meet the Union’s legal obligations and not to jeopardise or delay payments to stakeholders such as researchers, universities, etc.;

19.  Calls on the Council, in its consideration of next year’s budget, to abandon the use of double standards and live up to the expectations raised by its own statements and decisions, whether they relate to the payment crisis, the MFF, the Europe 2020 strategy or the relaunch of investment; considers that such political declarations and commitments are void unless coupled with sufficient budgetary resources to allow their implementation;

20.  Undertakes, within the MFF ceilings and with due consideration to the acute shortage of payments, to play its role as one arm of the budgetary authority with dedication and responsibility by promoting well-targeted increases in those budgetary areas with high absorption capacity that correspond to its political priorities and guarantee successful delivery; in this light, intends to examine, with the support of its specialised committees, the specific programmes and budget lines that can better achieve this objective;

21.  Underlines that the 2016 budget will be crucial, not only because 2016 will be the first year of implementation of the new MFF provision on the global margin for commitments, but also because it should serve as a benchmark for the post-electoral MFF review and revision, to be launched before the end of 2016; stresses the need to establish political priorities and identify in good time the areas of proven added value of EU spending for which further investments will be deemed necessary in the second half of the MFF 2014-2020; stresses, in this context, the importance of closely monitoring the implementation and performance of key EU programmes, already during the current budgetary procedure;

22.  Reaffirms its position in favour of an in-depth reform of the system of EU own resources, whose current shortcomings are causing severe impasses in budgetary negotiations; attaches, therefore, the highest political importance to the work of the High Level Group on Own Resources under the chairmanship of Mario Monti; welcomes the High Level Group’s ‘first assessment report’, which proposes that the question of own resources for the EU budget be looked into from as many perspectives as possible, and eagerly anticipates the outcome of its work and the final proposals that are due to be presented at an interinstitutional conference, with the participation of national parliaments, during 2016, and considered in the context of the post-electoral MFF review and revision;

o
o   o

23.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the Court of Auditors.

(1) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 884.
(2) OJ C 373, 20.12.2013, p.1.
(3) OJ L 298, 26.10.2012, p. 1.
(4) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2014)0100.
(5) OJ L 69, 13.3.2015.


Annual Report 2013 on the protection of the EU's financial interests - Fight against fraud
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on the Annual Report 2013 on the Protection of the EU’s Financial Interests – Fight against fraud (2014/2155(INI))
P8_TA(2015)0062A8-0024/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Article 325(5) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to its resolutions on previous annual reports of the Commission and of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF),

–  having regard to the Commission report of 17 July 2014 entitled ‘Protection of the European Union’s financial interests – Fight against fraud – 2013 Annual Report’ (COM(2014)0474) and the accompanying staff working documents (SWD(2014)0243, SWD(2014)0244, SWD(2014)0245, SWD(2014)0246, SWD(2014)0247 and SWD(2014)0248),

–  having regard to the OLAF annual report 2013,

–  having regard to the Activity Report of the OLAF Supervisory Committee: February 2013 - January 2014,

–  having regard to the annual report of the Court of Auditors on the implementation of the budget concerning the financial year 2013, together with the institutions’ replies,

–  having regard to the Commission Communication of 29 September 2014 entitled ‘Protection of the EU budget to end 2013’ (COM(2014)0618),

–  having regard to the Commission report of 3 February 2014 entitled ‘EU anti-corruption report’ (COM(2014)0038),

–  having regard to the Special Eurobarometer 397 Report on Corruption,

–  having regard to the Commission’s VAT Gap reports,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 250/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 establishing a programme to promote activities in the field of the protection of the financial interests of the European Union (Hercule III programme) and repealing Decision No 804/2004/EC(1),

–  having regard to the proposal for a Council regulation of 17 July 2013 on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (COM(2013)0534),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 883/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 September 2013 concerning investigations conducted by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and replacing Regulation (EC) No 1073/1999 of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Regulation (Euratom) No 1074/1999(2),

–  having regard to the Commission proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2012 on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (COM(2012)0363),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union and repealing Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002(3),

–  having regard to its resolution of 15 September 2011 on the EU’s efforts to combat corruption(4), its declaration of 18 May 2010 on the Union’s efforts in combatting corruption(5) and the Commission Communication of 6 June 2011 entitled ‘Fighting corruption in the EU’ (COM(2011)0308),

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 2988/95 of 18 December 1995 on the protection of the European Communities’ financial interests(6),

–  having regard to the United Nations Convention against Corruption,

–  having regard to the Council of Europe’s Civil Law and Criminal Law Conventions on Corruption,

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control and the opinions of the Committee on Regional Development and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (A8-0024/2015),

A.  whereas the EU budget, to which each Member State contributes proportionately according to common objective criteria, provides support for the implementation of the Union’s policies and represents an expression of unity and an instrument to advance European integration;

B.  whereas protection of the financial interests of the EU, together with the principle of sound financial management, should guarantee that budget revenue and expenditure contribute towards the achievement of the EU’s priorities and objectives and towards increasing the confidence of citizens by assuring them that their money is being used in a transparent way, in full compliance with the aims and policies of the EU and in the interests of EU citizens;

C.  whereas the diversity of legal and administrative systems in the Member States presents a challenging environment in which to overcome irregularities and combat fraud, while any incorrect use of EU funds entails not only individual but also collective losses and harms the interests of each Member State and of the Union as a whole;

D.  whereas in order to enhance the existing measures such as the Convention on the Protection of the Communities’ Financial Interests (PIF Convention) for fighting fraud, corruption, money laundering and other illegal activities affecting the financial interests of the Union, the Commission has submitted two proposals for criminal law instruments, the PIF Directive and the Regulation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO Regulation), aimed at ensuring more effective investigation and better protection of the taxpayers’ money throughout the European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice;

E.  whereas the fight against fraud, corruption and money laundering in the Union must be a priority for political action by the Community institutions, and police and judicial cooperation between Member States is therefore crucial;

I.Detection and reporting of non-fraudulent and fraudulent irregularities

1.  Takes note of the Commission report on the Protection of the European Union’s financial interests – Fight against fraud – Annual Report 2013 (the Commission’s ‘annual report’); welcomes the broad range of legal and administrative measures taken by the Commission since 2011, thus shaping a new landscape for the further enhancement of the policy for protection of the financial interests of the Union; underlines that the current insufficient results in the fight against fraud are not due to a lack of regulation but to unsatisfactory implementation; requests that the Commission respond to Parliament’s demands in its previous annual PIF reports in a more timely manner in the following Commission report;

2.  Recalls that, in the context of the economic difficulties currently being experienced in Member States and the insufficient resources in the EU budget, the protection of the financial interests of the European Union is particularly important; stresses the fact that EU funds must be properly managed and used in the most efficient way possible;

3.  Notes that in 2013 a total of 15 779 irregularities were reported to the Commission, of which 14 170 were non-fraudulent and 1 609 fraudulent, involving an overall amount of about EUR 2,14 billion, of which about EUR 1,76 billion related to expenditure, representing 1,34 % of all payments, with the remaining EUR 380 million representing 1,86 % of gross traditional own resources (TORs) collected;

4.  Notes that although the overall financial impact of non-fraudulent irregularities reported in 2013 decreased to about EUR 1,84 billion, or 38 % less than in 2012, the number of such irregularities registered increased by 16 % on the previous year; notes, furthermore, that the number of fraudulent irregularities reported in 2013 increased by a full 30 % compared with 2012, while the financial impact thereof, involving EUR 309 million in EU funding, decreased by 21 %;

5.  Notes that, due to the availability of new information as a result of the significant changes in the way Member States and the Commission report irregularities, there has been a shift in focus in the Commission’s 2013 annual report from irregularities treated in general terms to those reported as fraudulent; invites the Commission to maintain this approach in its future Annual Report on the Protection of the EU’s Financial Interests – Fight against fraud; strongly urges the Commission, however, to further increase the availability of information and enhance analyses on the scope, types and impact of non‑fraudulent irregularities in light of the significantly high number thereof and the related negative monetary impact, which adversely affects the financial interests of the EU;

6.  Emphasises that it is incumbent on both the Commission and the Member States to do everything in their power to fight fraud, corruption and all other forms of illegal activity detrimental to the Union’s financial interests, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; points out that close cooperation and coordination between the Commission and the Member States is essential in order to ensure that the Union’s financial interests are protected effectively, and hence such cooperation and coordination must, as a matter of priority, be strengthened and made as effective as possible; points out that protecting the Union’s financial interests demands an equally vigilant approach to both resources and expenditure;

7.  Notes that the overall trend in detecting and reporting potential fraudulent irregularities in the last five years shows a slow decrease but that the number of irregularities not reported as fraudulent has progressively increased; requests that the Commission examine in more detail the main underlying reasons for this increase and that it carry out an analysis that answers the question of whether the trend is due to a shift towards detecting irregular cases or to the way in which Member States classify cases;

8.  Is convinced that the criminal law means provided for in the PIF Directive will be effective only if they succeed in providing a clear definition of PIF offences, minimum and maximum imprisonment penalties applicable in all participating Member States, and minimum rules on the statute of limitations, and if these rules are then implemented equally and efficiently by all Member States;

Revenue – own resources

9.  Welcomes the fact that 98 % of TORs are collected without significant problems, with reported fraudulent irregularities representing 0,29 % of gross established TORs (with a value of EUR 61 million) and non-fraudulent irregularities representing 1,57 % of TORs (with a value of EUR 327,4 million); notes that fraud and irregularity cases detected in 2013 amounted to EUR 380 million, of which a total of EUR 234 million was recovered by the Member States; notes, in particular, the fact that this recovery rate of 62 % for TORs in 2013 represents the best result achieved to date over the past decade;

10.  Is concerned that in 2013 most of the established amounts in the OWNRES database in the EU-28 are related to the ‘release for free circulation’ customs procedure for both fraud cases (93 %) and irregularity cases (87 %); calls on the Commission to take appropriate actions aimed at reinforcing the ‘release for free circulation’ customs procedure in order to make the latter less prone to occurrences of fraud and irregularity;

11.  Is concerned that in 2013 in the OWNRES database the recovery rate for fraud cases stood at only 23,74 %, a figure below the average rate of 33,5 % for the 2008-2012 period; points out that the recovery rate for irregularity cases reported for 2013 is 67,9 %; underlines, in general, the responsibility of Member State authorities and the Commission’s services towards recovering sums unduly paid and calls on them to properly assume this responsibility and substantially increase the recovery rate in cases of fraud, which is in general at a markedly low level compared to the recovery rate for non‑fraudulent irregularities;

12.  Welcomes the signature of the UN Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products by the European Union in 2013; observes that 15 Member States have signed the Protocol, but that at present it has only been ratified by Austria; invites, therefore, the remaining Member States to complete their respective ratification process as soon as possible;

13.  Underlines the fact that the smuggling of heavily taxed goods causes significant losses of revenue to the budgets of the EU and the Member States, and that direct losses in customs revenue as a result of cigarette smuggling alone are estimated at more than EUR 10 billion a year; draws attention, moreover, to trafficking in counterfeit goods, which inflicts damage upon both the tax authorities of the Member States and EU companies;

14.  Refers to the ongoing work to improve the gross national income (GNI) data, and to the issues raised in the European Court of Auditors Special Report 11/2013, which calls for shorter, more focused verification of GNI figures and improved reporting and coordination regarding results, so that the GNI system becomes ever more reliable in its contribution to the calculation of EU revenues;

15.  Notes that inclusion of the invisible economy in national accounts should contribute to ensuring more complete and reliable GNI data, and calls on the Commission and Eurostat to deepen cooperation with national statistical institutions to ensure that this element is dealt with in a coherent and comparable way in all Member States, using the most up-to-date information;

16.  Underlines the fact that in many Member States the VAT gap is continuously high owing to VAT fraud and avoidance; emphasises that the Commission has the authority to control and supervise the measures taken by the Member States; calls, therefore, on the Commission to fully use its powers in order to help the Member States in their fight against VAT fraud and tax avoidance;

17.  Notes, furthermore, that 133 cases of smuggled cigarettes were registered by the Member States in 2013, involving an estimated TOR of around EUR 7 million; underlines that this trend represents a sharp decrease compared with 2012, where 224 cases involving around EUR 25 million were reported; is seriously concerned by the fact that Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden reported no cases of smuggled cigarettes to the Commission in 2013, and questions the efficiency of the reporting process in those Member States; insists that all Member States report smuggling and counterfeiting cases to the Commission in an accurate and timely manner so as to enable a better estimation of the TOR adversely affected;

18.  Notes that the Commission will publish a study on the feasibility of a tracking and tracing system for tobacco products; underlines that this is a huge step forward in the fight against smuggling; demands that the Commission design and implement an open and competitive track and trace system, in such a way that the design and the way the system is implemented do not favour one single or only a few solution providers;

Excise Movement Control System

19.  Recalls that:

   Parliament noted in its resolution of 3 April 2014 on the Annual Report 2012 on the Protection of the EU’s Financial Interests(7) that an increased abuse of the Excise Movement Control System (EMCS) by criminal groups had been observed by enforcement agencies and that Parliament was convinced that there is a lack of physical controls of goods being transported under the EMCS;
   the Commission should provide Parliament with an update on the measures taken to increase physical checks in the next Annual Report 2014 on the Protection of the Financial Interests of the Union;
   EMCS access rights need to be tightened up in order to include a comprehensive history of compliance before trading, so that it is possible to grant business actors ‘empowered economic operator’ status (‘trusted business actors’) and therefore allow only these actors to operate under the EMCS directly by themselves;
   Parliament asked the Commission to present the results of current investigations concerning the need to amend Directive 2008/118/EC;
   verification checks conducted by Member States on people and companies applying to the register need to be more robust and comprehensive;
   the Commission should explain the action taken concerning a higher degree of cooperation with tax authorities, as goods can easily be misdeclared in order to evade excise duties;
   time limits allowed for excise movements between authorised warehouses are unrealistically long, meaning that multiple movements on the same declaration and diversion are possible before the delivery date is entered into the system; reiterates, therefore, its demands that the competent authority of the Member State declared as the destination and the new destination must be immediately informed by the consignor about any changes;
   Parliament demanded that the maximum time allowed for submission of the report on the receipt of excise goods be one working day and, furthermore, that journey time be calculated and established for each delivery in accordance with the means of transport used and the distance between the places of dispatch and destination; asks the Commission to inform Parliament once these demands have been implemented;
   that the guarantees required to establish bonded warehouses are too low in comparison with the value of the excise goods and that Parliament therefore called on the Commission to establish a variable depending on the type of goods and the level of trade that actually occurs; asks the Commission to inform Parliament once these demands have been implemented;
   Parliament is concerned that Member States have implemented their own EMCS systems based on broadly defined requirements by the Commission; reiterates its call on the Commission to take the initiative to introduce a more uniform system across the EU;

Expenditure

20.  Draws attention to the alarming 76 % increase in the number of irregularities reported as fraudulent regarding EU expenditure and urges the competent authorities to take all necessary measures to prevent such a negative trend in the coming years;

21.  Expresses concern that in the agricultural sector the number of both irregularities in general and fraudulent activities in particular increased significantly in 2013 as compared with 2012; notes that a new significant infringement trend referring to the ‘beneficiary not having the required quality’ occurred in 2013, with 51 fraudulent irregularity cases reported; considers that these trends require targeted measures aimed at on the one hand eliminating practices which may potentially lead to inadvertent infringements, and on the other hand aggressively confronting corrupt and criminal behaviour;

22.  Acknowledges that in the agriculture and rural development area, Member States recovered EUR 197 million from the beneficiaries during the 2013 financial year, while EUR 1 318,3 million remains to be recovered from the beneficiaries at year end, of which EUR 1 097,1 million is outstanding to the EU budget following the application of the 50/50 mechanism; is concerned, as recovery for the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) is below the overall average and not even half of the irregularities detected in 2009 had been recovered by the end of 2013;

23.  Points to the significant differences between Member States regarding their ability to recover sums lost as a result of irregular payments detected under the CAP and urges Member States with recovery rates below 33 % to improve significantly their results in 2015 and subsequent years;

24.  Acknowledges that following the 2013 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Member States benefit from a higher degree of flexibility in the implementation of the policy and are notably allowed to customise it to their regional or national capabilities and priorities, and to make transfers between its different pillars; calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that this increase in flexibility will not be at the expense of the monitoring and evaluation systems; notes further that in the framework of the new CAP the Commission is working on a simplification agenda; calls on the Commission to align the simplification agenda fully with DG AGRI’s anti-fraud strategy and to maintain a balance between simplification and the sound management of EU funds by ensuring adequate controls;

25.  Is also worried that the average delay between the occurrence of an irregularity, its detection and finally its reporting to the Commission is 6,3 years in the agricultural sector and 2,75 years in other sectors; recalls that after detection of the irregularity, further procedures kick in (recovery orders, OLAF investigations, etc.); requests that the Commission determine the average, minimum and maximum lifespan of a detected irregularity under shared management for each policy sector;

26.  Expects the significant increase of 475 % in irregularities reported in the fisheries sector in 2013 to represent a one-year peak, relating to the delayed implementation of programmes in the sector, and that it should not represent a negative trend which undermines the perception of the value of the EU’s fisheries policy;

27.  Notes with concern that in the area of cohesion policy there has been an increase of 15 % in the number of cases of irregularities reported; also notes, however, that decreases of 49 % have been noted in the amounts involved in non-fraudulent cases and 22 % in cases of fraud;

28.  Notes that 321 irregularities reported as fraudulent and 4 672 irregularities reported as non-fraudulent were cohesion-policy related; acknowledges the fact that in both categories the number of reports increased by 15 % as compared to 2012 and that, as in previous years, the largest share of amounts that involved irregularities in 2013 (63 %) is still related to cohesion policy; points out, however, that in both categories the corresponding amounts decreased, a gradual improvement based on the experience of previous years can be seen and that for the first time, cohesion policy was not the area of budgetary expenditure with the highest number of irregularities reported as fraudulent;

29.  Regrets, however, the lack of information available on the amounts to be recovered and the recovery rates specifically related to the cohesion policy for the financial year 2013; calls on the Commission to provide detailed information in this respect in its future annual report;

30.  Notes that for the expenditures under centralised management in a five-year perspective, the recovery rate is 54,4 % for irregularities reported as fraudulent and 63,9 % for non-fraudulent irregularities; urges the Commission to further improve the recovery process and to make it more timely;

31.  Calls on the Commission to assume full responsibility for the recovery of funds unduly paid from the EU budget and to establish uniform reporting principles in all Member States for the purpose of collecting the appropriate comparable and accurate data;

32.  Is concerned by the fact that for the recovery orders qualified as irregularities (both reported as fraudulent and not reported as fraudulent) issued between 2009 and 2013 under centralised management, the average delay between the occurrence of an irregularity and its detection is 3,4 years: more than half of the cases (54 %) were detected within 4 years of the year when the irregularity was committed, and for the other half (46 %) the delay varied between 4 and 13 years; recalls that after detection of the irregularity, further procedures kick in (recovery orders, OLAF investigations, etc.); requests that the Commission determine the average, minimum and maximum lifespan of a detected irregularity under centralised management;

33.  Is pleased that the number of cases reported as fraudulent pertaining to the European Social Fund in 2013 was 40 % lower than in the years 2009 and 2010 and that 2013 was the third year in a row in which this positive trend was maintained;

34.  Notes with satisfaction that for the programming period 2007-2013 administrative verifications, on-the-spot checks and audit operations led to the significantly higher rate of 63 % in the detection of fraudulent irregularities, compared with a rate of less than 20 % for the preceding seven-year period, although there was a slight decrease to 55 % in 2013;

35.  Takes note that in 2013 the Commission closed 217 cases of interruption of payment in the cohesion policy area and that 131 were still open at year-end, involving an amount of EUR 1.977 million; also acknowledges that the Commission adopted 15 suspension decisions in 2013 and two in January 2014;

36.  Acknowledges that in 2013, as part of the Pre-Accession Assistance (PAA), 33 irregularities were reported as fraudulent, involving an amount of EUR 14,4 million, and that those irregularities are mainly related to the Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD); notes, in addition, that nine fraudulent irregularities involving an amount of EUR 1,2 million were reported under the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA); observes that between 2003 and 2013 under the PAA the recovery rates reached 37,36 % and 29,22 % respectively for irregularity cases and fraudulent cases; calls on the Commission and the IPA beneficiary countries to take action in order to ensure a higher recovery rate under the IPA;

37.  Calls for proposals to reduce the number of spending programmes, in particular when they partly overlap, and to target programmes, whenever possible, at the Member States who are most in need of support, so that not all programmes necessarily benefit activities in all Member States;

38.  Expresses its concern about the fact that several EIB-financed projects have been affected by corruption and fraud; considers that the EIB document, dated 8 November 2013, which defines the EIB policy on preventing and deterring corrupt practices, fraud, collusion, coercion, obstruction, money laundering and terrorism financing, denotes a lack of sufficient control in a number of cases during the implementation of EIB-financed projects; expresses its concern at the fact that in 2013 the EIB financed the Passante of Mestre project for a total of EUR 350 million and that, despite the fact that this project has been affected by corruption and fraud, which led to the arrest of several of the people involved, it is considering whether to refinance the project for an additional amount of EUR 700 million through project bonds; asks, therefore, that, in cases of proven fraud and corruption, the EIB be required to suspend and/or block any foreseen and ongoing financing for the affected project;

II.Problems identified and measures required

39.  Underlines its concerns as regards the persisting threats to the EU budget, which stem from both failures to comply with the rules (non-fraudulent irregularities) and purposeful wrongdoings and criminal offences (i.e. fraud); insists on enhanced cooperation between the Member States and the Commission with a view to securing relevant and adequate measures and means for avoiding and rectifying non-fraudulent irregularities and combatting fraud;

40.  Stresses that the situation in which Member States fail to submit data in time or to submit accurate data is one that has been recurring for many years; reiterates its concern that there are still different approaches in different Member States to detecting and reporting fraudulent and non-fraudulent irregularities, including in such areas as cohesion policy and agriculture, and that in some cases there are non-standardised interpretations when applying the legal framework; points out that this impedes comparisons and an objective assessment being made and recommendations being issued by Parliament, the Commission and OLAF; calls on the Commission to develop common guidelines and indicators in order to narrow the gap between the different approaches of the Member States and to develop a unified and comprehensive information bank on irregularities actually instigated and on measures taken, including cases of fraud and corruption involving civil servants, thus providing authorities and citizens with trustworthy, comparable and centralised data for the implementation of effective corrective measures, and for an objective assessment of the actual, rather than perceived, gravity of infringements and of the parties responsible;

41.  Observes that the recommendations made by the Commission to Member States in 2012 whose implementation status is reported in the Commission’s 2013 annual report – particularly on the anti-fraud coordination services, the common rules on fraud, the reform of public procurement, the reported fraudulent irregularities, and the systems of checks and controls and of risk assessment – were generally appropriate, and finds it regrettable that a number of concerns were not fully addressed; notes, for instance, that preparations were not launched by all Member States for the implementation of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2014-2020 and its provisions on fraud prevention; calls on Member States to follow up on the recommendations made by the Commission in 2012 and to ensure that those made to them in its 2011 report as well as in its 2013 report are followed in full, and that where action on recommendations cannot be taken they submit a reasoned explanation;

42.  Acknowledges the fact that non-fraudulent irregularities are often caused by insufficient knowledge of the rules, complex requirements and regulations; points out that modifications to the rules pertaining to both revenue and expenditure, including those aimed at simplification, require time for adoption on the part of the authorities responsible for their proper implementation; urges the Member States and the Commission, in this connection, to better coordinate the interpretation of the legal framework and the strict application thereof, to implement targeted and timely measures to strengthen administrative capacities, both in public administrations and among stakeholders, including civil society organisations, including by means of guidance and training and by establishing schemes for retaining qualified and skilled staff; calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to conduct a mid-term assessment of whether the new regulatory architecture of cohesion policy further prevents and reduces the risk of irregularities, and to evaluate the possibility of greater regulatory simplification as regards the existing rule;

43.  Considers that Member States which detect and report irregularities, including cases of fraud, on their own should be supported and encouraged to further improve their reporting and management systems; expresses concern at the Commission’s inability to establish whether or not the low number of irregularities and cases of fraud detected by certain Member States and the wide gaps in the number of cases reported for different years are due to the ineffectiveness of these Member States’ control systems;

44.  Regrets the fact that only some Member States allocate relevant resources to counter fraud and finds it unacceptable that in cases of fraudulent irregularities certain Member States limit their actions to corrective measures only without proceeding to investigate the potential criminal offence and sanction those responsible, thus failing to adequately protect the financial interests of both the EU and individual taxpayers; notes that statistics submitted by Member States regarding criminal cases and their outcome are incomplete, making it difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of fraud investigation and prosecution procedures in the Member States; considers, therefore, that the adoption of decisions which introduce criminal law responsibility at EU level, and the introduction of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office as a tool in starting and coordinating investigations into such irregularities, should represent a strong disincentive to committing illegal acts as well as to foregoing due process in pursuing and punishing corrupt or criminal behaviour which damages the financial interests of the EU;

45.  Is of the opinion that effective action against corruption is possible if criminal law measures are respected and complemented by other measures such as better transparency and accountability; insists, therefore, that Member States demonstrate firm political will in effectively countering corruption at both national and EU level by adopting effective anti-corruption legislation and by proceeding with the existing proposals at EU level, and calls upon citizens to convincingly exert pressure on governments to vigorously pursue meaningful anti-corruption policies;

46.  Welcomes the first EU Anti-Corruption Report of February 2014 as a valuable tool to monitor and evaluate efforts in the fight against corruption, and reaffirms the particular importance of intensifying exchanges of the current good practices highlighted in that report; also welcomes the Commission’s Communication on Fighting Corruption in the EU (COM(2011)0308), which explores the necessary steps to better implement the existing anti-corruption instruments and proposes ways to integrate stronger anti-corruption considerations in a number of internal and external policy areas; notes, however, the importance of extending the scope of the Anti-Corruption Report to the cross-border and EU-level element of corruption and to the assessment of the measures taken to further improve the integrity of the EU institutions, and emphasises the need for a fully comprehensive and coherent anti-corruption strategy encompassing all EU policies, that addresses, inter alia, the concerns raised in the first EU Anti-Corruption Report; requests that the Commission report to Parliament and the Council on the implementation by the EU institutions of their internal anti-corruption policies, including its obligations under the UN Convention against Corruption;

47.  Stresses the need for structured coordination between management authorities and anti-fraud bodies, and the importance of coordination and exchange of best practices between Member States and among various administrations within the same Member State in order to homogenise, as much as possible, the approach to tackling fraud; invites the Commission to create a mechanism for the exchange of information between the national competent authorities, in order to allow a crossed comparison of the accounting records concerning the transactions among two or more Member States with a view to helping to detect any transnational fraud in the context of the new MFF 2014-2020, with regard to the macro-category of European Structural and Investments Funds (European Social Fund – ESF; European Regional Development Fund – ERDF; Cohesion Fund – CF; European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development – EAFRD; European Fund for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries – EMFF), in order to ensure a horizontal approach to protecting the financial interests of the European Union;

48.  Underlines the fact that greater transparency allowing for proper scrutiny is key to detecting fraud schemes; recalls that in previous years Parliament urged the Commission to take action to ensure one-stop transparency for all beneficiaries of EU funds from all Member States by publishing on the Commission’s site a list of all beneficiaries, independent of the administrator of the funds and based on standard categories of information to be provided by all Member States in at least one working language of the Union; calls on the Member States to cooperate with and provide full and reliable information to the Commission regarding the beneficiaries of the EU funds managed by Member States; regrets the fact that this measure has not been implemented and calls on the Commission to implement it as a matter of urgency; regrets the fact that this repeated request has not been taken into account by the Commission;

49.  Calls on the Commission to promote adequate legislation on the protection of whistle-blowers, access to information and the transparency of lobbying, as these are necessary for ensuring the civic control of governments and EU institutions and subjecting their practices to public scrutiny, and to use EU funding to support the work of independent organisations in this area, inter alia to establish financial support for trans-border investigative journalism;

50.  Encourages the Commission to further enhance its supervisory role in respect of EU budget expenditure through audit, control and inspection activities, remedial action plans and warning letters preceding the submission of payments claims; calls on the Member States and their authorities to intensify their efforts and to tap their potential to detect and correct errors prior to claiming reimbursement from the Commission by making full use of the information available to them; underlines, in this regard, the particular value of preventive actions in forestalling unlawful disbursements and thus eliminating the need for subsequent actions to recover misappropriated funds;

51.  Welcomes the adoption of the public procurement directives and the directive on the awarding of concessions, and welcomes the fact that ten Member States have already introduced specific measures or sets of measures in public procurement in order to mitigate corruption and strengthen transparency and the effectiveness of management, control and audit systems; invites the Commission to proceed with the implementation of the rules on public procurement in order to provide necessary support to Member States through guidance, the sharing of best practices and training; calls on the Commission to continuously and impartially monitor the compliance of the Member States with the existing directives and start infringement procedures if necessary;

52.  Notes that the level of irregularities and fraud caused by non-compliance with public procurement rules remains high; calls on the Member States to transpose rapidly into national law the recently adopted Directive 2014/24/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 on public procurement(8), Directive 2014/25/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 on procurement by entities operating in the water, energy, transport and postal services sectors(9), and Directive 2014/23/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 on the award of concession contracts(10), in order to further mitigate the risk of irregularities and fraud;

53.  Welcomes the establishment of the Competence Centre for administrative capacity building in support of public administrations responsible for managing the ERDF and the Cohesion Fund and the introduction of the Public Procurement Action Plan developed by the Competence Centre in collaboration with the competent Commission services; requests, however, that the Commission report on the concrete results achieved so far as a result of the centre’s activities and the implementation of the aforementioned action plan;

54.  Urges the Commission to maintain its strict policy of interruptions and suspension of payments;

55.  Welcomes the report on the implementation of the Commission Anti-Fraud Strategy (CAFS) and the guidance provided to Member States’ managing authorities on the implementation of the relevant anti-fraud provisions; insists, however, that in the delegated and implementing acts pertaining to the European structural and investment funds the Commission adopt more simplified rules, facilitating effective and efficient absorption, while ensuring that the level of the fight against fraud is not undermined by these delegated and implementing acts;

56.  Welcomes the establishment of anti-fraud coordination services (AFCOS) in Member States as required by Article 3(4) of the new OLAF Regulation and the fact that Germany reconfirmed its working cooperation arrangement with OLAF; notes that AFCOS aim to facilitate effective cooperation and the exchange of information with OLAF, and insists that Member States which have not yet designated AFCOS do so without further delay; expects that AFCOS will assist in facilitating better reporting of irregularities and contribute towards a balanced interpretation of the relevant EU acts; is nevertheless concerned by the substantial discrepancies already existing between the different AFCOS established in the Member States in terms of functions, tasks and powers as well as human resources allocated; acknowledges that the AFCOS’ mandate, institutional framework and tasks are not defined in detail in Regulation (EU, EURATOM) No 883/2013, but is of the opinion that AFCOS which are operationally independent with a comprehensive mandate including investigative powers represent a benchmark to be developed by all Member States;

57.  Acknowledges the Commission’s reporting on the results of the Hercule II Programme; takes note that in 2013 the budget of Hercule II was reduced to EUR 14 million in commitment appropriations and EUR 9,9 million in payment appropriations compared with 2012, resulting in difficulties in meeting the financial commitments made in 2013 and previous years; observes with satisfaction that Hercule II activities are the subject of increasing interest from the Member States, as demonstrated by the ever growing number of applications received following the calls for proposals; welcomes the positive results obtained in 2013, in Germany, Spain and Romania for example, thanks to the deployment of highly sophisticated and transnational compatible technical equipment purchased under the programme;

58.  Welcomes the adoption of the Regulation establishing Hercule III for the financial period 2014-2020, which allows for an increased maximum co-funding percentage for technical assistance grants of 80 % of the eligible costs, and up to 90 % in exceptional and duly justified cases, instead of the maximum of 50 % under the Hercule II Decision; notes that the first call for proposals was successfully launched in 2014; is nevertheless concerned that the programme is already particularly affected by the issue of outstanding payments, leading to possible adverse effects on funded and future projects; recalls the importance of sound financial instruments such as Pericles 2020 and Hercule III in the fight against illegal activities affecting the resources of the Union;

59.  Welcomes the successful outcomes of numerous joint customs operations (JCOs) involving the cooperation of OLAF and Member States with various third-country services, along with active support from DG Taxation and the Customs Union, Europol and Frontex, which have resulted in the seizure of, inter alia, 68 million smuggled cigarettes, 124 kg of cocaine and 140 000 litres of diesel fuel;

60.  Notes that in 2013 OLAF issued 353 recommendations for administrative, disciplinary, financial or judicial action to be taken by the relevant EU institutions, bodies, offices, agencies or the competent national authorities, and that about EUR 402,8 million was recommended for recovery; is concerned that the rate of indictment following OLAF’s judicial recommendations for the period 2006-2013 is only about 54 %; is worried, as the low rate of indictment also sheds a bad light on the quality and usability of OLAF’s investigative results; calls on the Commission to urgently improve the effectiveness of OLAF; deems that a fully-fledged and proper oversight over OLAF’s affairs by the Supervisory Committee (without interference in ongoing investigations) is indispensable, and therefore urges the Commission and OLAF to improve the current situation in which the Supervisory Committee is not able to fulfil its purpose; also regrets the lack of information available on conviction rates in cases involving offences against the Union’s budget;

III.Investigations and the role of OLAF

61.  Takes note that in 2013 OLAF self-reportedly received the largest amount of information registered to date and claims to have issued an unprecedented number of recommendations; points out that the method for counting incoming information and issued recommendations has also been changed; asks the Supervisory Committee to analyse the effects of these data changes and the quality of recommendations issued by OLAF;

62.  Calls on the OLAF Supervisory Committee to inform Parliament about the duration of OLAF investigations and the calculation method hereto, as this method was changed in 2012; points out that this change may artificially reduce the apparent duration of investigations; asks the Supervisory Committee to closely analyse the quality of information provided by OLAF, including reports to the institutions;

63.  Notes the adoption of new working arrangements between OLAF and its supervisory committee and calls for a speedy resolution of the remaining issues between these two institutions;

o
o   o

64.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Auditors, the OLAF Supervisory Committee and OLAF.

(1) OJ L 84, 20.3.2014, p. 6.
(2) OJ L 248, 18.9.2013, p. 1.
(3) OJ L 298, 26.10.2012, p. 1.
(4) OJ C 51 E, 22.2.2013, p. 121.
(5) OJ C 161 E, 31.5.2011, p. 62.
(6) OJ L 312, 23.12.1995, p. 1.
(7) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0338.
(8) OJ L 94, 28.3.2014, p. 65.
(9) OJ L 94, 28.3.2014, p. 243.
(10) OJ L 94, 28.3.2014, p. 1.


2014 Progress Report on Montenegro
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on the 2014 Progress Report on Montenegro (2014/2947(RSP))
P8_TA(2015)0063B8-0211/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the European Council conclusions of 19-20 June 2003 and to the annex thereto entitled ‘The Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans: moving towards European integration’,

–  having regard to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Montenegro, of the other part(1), of 29 March 2010,

–  having regard to the outcome of the EU-Montenegro Accession Conference of 16 December 2014,

–  having regard to the report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 22 May 2012 on Montenegro’s progress in the implementation of reforms (COM(2012)0222), and to the Council conclusions of 26 June 2012 deciding to open accession negotiations with Montenegro on 29 June 2012,

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2014-2015’ of 8 October 2014 (COM(2014)0700), accompanied by Commission Staff Working Document SWD(2014)0301 entitled ‘Montenegro 2014 Progress Report’, and the Indicative Strategy Paper (2014-2020) adopted on 19 August 2014,

–  having regard to the General Affairs Council conclusions of 16 December 2014 on the enlargement and stabilisation and association process,

–  having regard to the declaration and recommendations of the 9th Meeting of the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC) of 1-2 December 2014,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions concerning Montenegro,

–  having regard to the work of Charles Tannock as the standing rapporteur on Montenegro of the Committee on Foreign Affairs,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas Montenegro is currently the only country in the region opening and provisionally closing negotiating chapters with the EU, which is a welcome development; whereas this leading role is considered to constitute increased responsibility, both in a regional context and as far as the enlargement process as a whole is concerned;

B.  whereas each candidate country is judged on its own merits, and further progress will hinge on the efficient implementation of the country’s reform strategies and action plans;

C.  whereas sustainable dialogue and constructive cooperation between government and opposition are important in order to achieve progress in the accession preparations and to ensure citizens’ trust in the electoral process and in state institutions; whereas all political forces should remain focused on the country’s EU accession process;

D.  whereas Montenegro should further develop a solid track record as regards the rule of law, which is a fundamental prerequisite for EU accession and taking on the obligations of EU membership; whereas corruption remains a very serious concern;

E.  whereas civil society plays an important role in the process of reform and EU accession;

F.  whereas the issue of freedom of expression and the media remains of concern; whereas there were new cases, albeit reported to have decreased, of violence against the media during the reporting period; whereas the competent authorities need to improve the investigation and prosecution of old and new incidents and to create a positive atmosphere for the free and independent functioning of the media;

1.  Welcomes the progress made in the accession negotiations, noting that so far sixteen chapters, including chapters 23, 24 and 31, have been opened and two (science and research, and education and culture) provisionally closed;

2.  Encourages the continuation of the accession negotiations on the basis of implemented reforms and concrete results, delivered in particular with regard to the rule of law, the media environment and the fight against corruption; welcomes the adoption on 16 December 2014 of a number of laws in line with the Action Plan for Chapter 23; is of the view that progress in the negotiations and the improving strategic, normative and institutional framework need to be accompanied by real progress on the ground, with focus on the implementation of relevant action plans and strategies;

3.  Welcomes the further strengthening of negotiation structures, including the establishment of the Rule of Law Council; calls on the government to reinforce intra‑institutional coordination and broaden interministerial consultations;

4.  Reiterates that rule-of-law-related reforms constitute the core of the European integration process and are an essential condition for progress in overall accession talks; considers that political will remains crucial for achieving and maintaining substantial progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime, which constitutes the litmus test for the independence, efficiency and professionalism of the judicial system;

5.  Notes the importance of ensuring the inclusiveness of the reform process with the active participation of civil society, in order to achieve the necessary progress in the negotiations; urges more active parliamentary oversight in this regard;

6.  Welcomes the adoption of the 2014 action plan to strengthen parliamentary oversight and of the Parliamentary Code of Ethics in December 2014; stresses the need to reinforce the capacities of the Montenegrin Parliament and to follow up on the technical report it adopted in July 2013 on the alleged misuse of public funds for party political purposes, and that judicial follow-up remains incomplete; invites the government to consider the relevant recommendations of the Montenegrin Parliament and to improve parliamentary access to the relevant information;

7.  Is concerned that the deeply polarised domestic climate has resulted in the main opposition party boycotting certain parliamentary sessions, namely Prime Minister’s Questions, and that this undermines the democratic functioning of institutions; urges, therefore, all political forces, in government and opposition alike, to focus on the country’s EU accession process and to engage in sustainable dialogue and constructive cooperation, especially within the parliament; underlines that strong political will is necessary for successful implementation and institutional strength;

8.  Invites the government to effectively implement the recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR, the Venice Commission and GRECO on electoral rules in line with European standards and best practices, including those on the right to stand as an independent candidate, on proportional public funding to promote a level playing field for all candidates and on auditing of political parties; notes that local elections were marred by allegations of electoral wrongdoing; stresses that these should be investigated and, where necessary, prosecuted by the competent authorities;

9.  Stresses the importance of a clear separation between state and party lines; welcomes the new law adopted in December 2014 on political party financing and urges all political parties to establish a track record of its effective implementation, which should aim to significantly reduce the opportunities to misuse public funds; regrets the fact that important pieces of relevant legislation were adopted without cross-party consensus;

10.  Welcomes the Commission’s stronger focus on public administration reform in the accession process; welcomes the fact that progress is on track in this regard, but notes that further steps can be taken to improve the quality of legislation and local administration; shares concerns over the politicisation of public administration; calls for progress in enhancing the transparency, efficiency and accountability of central and local government administration and for their coordination to be improved, along with coordination among local self-governments, notably in the areas of investment, project planning and implementation; considers it essential to address shortcomings in the fields of recruitment, dismissal and evaluation criteria, the non-implementation of performance appraisals, and weak administrative, oversight and inspection capacities;

11.  Encourages further efforts to strengthen the capacities of the Ombudsman’s office concerning anti-discrimination cases;

12.  Welcomes the new judicial reform strategy for 2014-2018, noting with satisfaction that the relevant action plan has generally been implemented on time and that the new Supreme State Prosecutor has been elected; welcomes new legal measures to enhance transparency in the election of state prosecutors; notes that the progress registered in the judicial reform area facilitated the opening of four additional chapters in the Intergovernmental Conference of December 2014; encourages further efforts to monitor and further decrease the backlog of cases and the length of court proceedings, and to improve the efficiency of the constitutional court;

13.  Welcomes the progress made by Montenegro with regard to the implementation of reforms aiming to ensure the independence and increased efficiency of the judiciary; remains seriously concerned about undue influence on judicial independence, particularly in the recruitment and career development of judges and prosecutors; underlines the urgent need to improve the selection criteria for appointments and promotions and to comply with the principles of legality and proportionality in disciplinary proceedings; calls for key reform measures on the recruitment, promotion and disciplinary systems for judges and prosecutors; notes that some of these concerns are to be addressed in a package of organisational laws on the judiciary;

14.  Is concerned about the backlog of cases pending before the Constitutional Court, in particular those relating to the possible systematic violation of human rights, such as the initiative to examine the constitutionality of the Law on Misdemeanours;

15.  Is concerned that no serious efforts have been made to tackle impunity in war crime cases; encourages the competent authorities to prosecute war crime cases in a timely manner, including at the highest level; urges the competent authorities to effectively investigate, prosecute, try and punish war crimes in line with international standards, and to ensure that court rulings are implemented and that victims have swift access to justice and fair compensation;

16.  Is concerned that, despite the substantial financial resources channelled from international donors to the authorities, only limited progress has been made in combating corruption, which remains a threat to the proper functioning and stability of democratic institutions, the rule of law and economic development; calls for a more proactive role for the National Commission for the Implementation of the Strategy for the Fight Against Corruption and Organised Crime, as the key anti-corruption coordination unit; underlines the urgent need for more active participation and effective cooperation of the government, all sectors of public life and civil society in preventing corruption, and in strengthening the legislative framework and protecting whistle-blowers;

17.  Urges the authorities to enhance the capacity of prosecutors, judges, the police and other law enforcement agencies, and to develop a solid track record of investigations, prosecutions and convictions at all levels, including high-level corruption cases; welcomes the adoption of anticorruption laws, particularly on lobbying, general administrative procedure, public procurement and amendments to the laws on the prevention of conflicts of interest; calls for their effective implementation to allow for more cooperation between law enforcement agencies and to enhance the system of checks for conflicts of interest and asset declaration; calls on the Commission to closely monitor the implementation of those laws; considers it important to strengthen institutions to enable them to take a more proactive approach against corruption, and to fully involve the new parliamentary committee for overseeing the work of the Agency for Anti-Corruption, which should receive sufficient resources; stresses that shortcomings with regard to the independence and accountability of the judicial system remain a matter of serious concern and hamper the fight against corruption;

18.  Calls also on the judiciary to work in a more transparent manner in the field of corruption and organised crime cases, in particular when it comes to publishing in verdicts the names of companies, individuals and civil servants involved in such crimes;

19.  Notes that frequent legal changes may hinder the effectiveness of fighting organised crime; calls for the capacities of competent authorities to be enhanced, particularly as regards conducting complex investigations and dealing with difficult cases; welcomes amendments to the Criminal Code to prevent and monitor radicalisation and religious extremism; welcomes the new criminal law which criminalises ‘foreign fighters’, including jihadists; calls on the competent authorities to effectively implement relevant legal provisions in order to prevent and monitor any potential threat to the security of Montenegrin citizens; stresses the importance of combating all forms of extremism;

20.  Welcomes the signing of the Agreement on Strategic and Operational Cooperation between Montenegro and Europol, the progress made in the negotiations on the conclusion of the agreement with Eurojust, and Montenegrin institutions’ achievement of observer status in the relevant European judicial networks; encourages close operational cooperation with relevant European judicial bodies, including on the issue of trafficking in human beings;

21.  Notes the recent efforts to improve consultation mechanisms with civil society organisations (CSOs) in order to achieve more transparency in policy and law-making in an inclusive process; welcomes public discussions on the revision of action plans for Chapters 23 and 24; invites the competent authorities to further develop sustainable public funding for CSOs and an appropriate institutional framework; welcomes the fact that a new council for the development of non-governmental organisations has been appointed by the government; calls on the competent authorities to adjust the legal framework and practices in order to protect civil society activists against attacks and hatred reportedly propagated in certain newspapers, and build a climate in which they can work without fear or reprisal;

22.  Reiterates the importance of freedom of expression as one of the core values of the European Union; considers it essential for journalists to have full independence; is greatly concerned about the deteriorating state of media freedom and the weak professional and ethical standards among media practitioners in Montenegro; strongly deplores the fact that targeted incidents against journalists and media property continue; notes that the Government of Montenegro has set up a commission to investigate attacks against journalists; urges the competent authorities to implement the recommendations of this commission and to achieve a consistent track record of prosecutions and final convictions of perpetrators; considers it essential to have independent public service media with editorial independence and stable and sustainable financing in order to deepen democratic standards; stresses the responsibility of all those in politics and the media to nurture a climate of tolerance for different opinions; underlines that public statements in support of media freedom help create a climate conducive to respect for and protection of journalists; welcomes the agreement between media representatives to review the professional code of ethics as a first step towards improving media self-regulation; considers it necessary to adopt a clear legislative framework, which will establish rules related to media ownership and financing;

23.  Is of the view that transparent handling of the totalitarian past, including the opening up of the archives of the secret services, is a step towards further democratisation, accountability and institutional strength;

24.  Welcomes the fact that the anti-discrimination law has been almost fully aligned with the acquis; invites the authorities to address the remaining shortcomings concerning racial discrimination and the provisions on sanctions; calls on the authorities to provide all necessary financial and administrative resources to the Anti-Discrimination Council; while acknowledging some progress in the social inclusion and education of the Roma population, is concerned about high drop-out rates and the low proportion of Roma students among the total student population; calls for the fostering of initiatives which support the housing, health, education and employment of the Roma population, and the empowerment of Roma women and the education of female Roma students; welcomes the efforts of the competent authorities to protect LGBTI rights during the second Pride event, which was held without any incidents; is concerned, however, that attacks on LGBTI community members and activists are continuing; urges both political and civil society actors to fight widespread hostility and violence against sexual minorities, in particular by efforts to educate and inform the public in order to help change attitudes, and by providing training to the police, prosecutors and judges;

25.  Welcomes improvements in the legal framework with regard to the rights of persons with disabilities; notes that further actions are needed to comply with the EU acquis; urges the government to accelerate progress regarding the accessibility of buildings for people with disabilities, and considers it regrettable that the majority of state and local institutions, including the selected priority buildings (such as the parliament and courts), are still not accessible to people with disabilities; remains concerned about the high drop-out rate of students with disabilities from the education system after elementary school and after high school; notes the importance of ensuring sufficient transparency with regard to the fund for professional rehabilitation and employment for people with disabilities and its expenditure;

26.  Stresses the need to further strengthen the implementation and follow-up of child-related laws and policies, and to provide adequate capacities; calls for the quality of education for all children to be improved and for further efforts in support of vulnerable children to be pursued; highlights the importance of expanding the reform in the area of juvenile justice also to children in administrative, civil and criminal proceedings in order to promote broader access to justice;

27.  Is concerned that progress regarding women’s rights, gender equality, women’s representation in politics and on the labour market and the fight against domestic violence remains limited; underlines the urgent need, in this regard, to accelerate progress regarding women’s rights, gender equality, women’s representation in politics and on the labour market and the fight against domestic violence; calls, in this regard, for better involvement of the parliament, more structured cooperation with civil society, and the enhancing of institutional capacities, including improving cooperation between social services and law enforcement authorities; urges that the rights of victims be placed at the centre of all measures and that due diligence be exercised in preventing, investigating, punishing and providing reparation for acts of domestic violence;

28.  Welcomes Montenegro’s policies aimed at creating a climate of tolerance and inclusion for all national minorities; strongly encourages the Montenegrin authorities to further protect the multinational identity of the Boka Kotorska region and enhance its cultural and economic cooperation with neighbouring EU Member States;

29.  Welcomes the fact that freedom of thought, conscience and religion continues to be guaranteed and enforced; notes that tensions persist between the Serbian and the Montenegrin Orthodox Churches, especially on property issues; calls for the adoption of a new law on the legal status of religious communities;

30.  Encourages the government to implement sustainable economic reforms, including legal provisions on anti-competition mechanisms, to boost competitiveness and overcome structural weaknesses, to tackle the large informal sector and to improve the business environment overall; calls for the strengthening of social dialogue among the various partners; calls, furthermore, for the strengthening of capacities, including engagement in public consultations, and for economic policy formulation and coordination, also in order to reduce regional disparity; insists on the need to effectively fight tax evasion; is concerned that legal and judicial uncertainties, including licensing, tax administration procedures and contract enforcement, may entail risks for economic actors and undermine the capacity of Montenegro to attract foreign investments; underlines the urgent need to resolve commercial disputes with foreign investors that are critical to the economy of Montenegro; shares concerns about the lack of tangible improvement in the labour market situation and persistently high levels of youth and long-term unemployment, and therefore calls for active labour market measures;

31.  Notes that there is still insufficient dialogue between the two sides of industry and calls for further strengthening of the rights of those who set up new trade unions; welcomes amendments to labour law to regulate the rights of employees in the event of bankruptcy; encourages the government to accelerate the work on its first employment and social reform programme with a view to identifying and addressing Montenegro’s key challenges in employment policy, social inclusion and poverty reduction;

32.  Commends the implementation of the Small Business Act, and the fact that Montenegro has joined the EU’s Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Programme (COSME); calls for the public-sector support schemes for SMEs to be speeded up, as SMEs are one of the leading forces driving economic development;

33.  Continues to be seriously concerned about the delay in the resolution of the bankruptcy procedure of Montenegro’s biggest industrial manufacturer, the aluminium plant KAP, which is in breach of the country’s obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA); urges the government and the parties involved to reach a sustainable solution for KAP, in compliance with SAA state aid rules and based on transparency and the rule of law;

34.  Regrets that Montenegro has ignored the injunction of the Cypriot court regarding the KAP sale, and calls on Montenegro to fully recognise relevant decisions by the judicial authorities of EU Member States;

35.  Encourages Montenegro to continue progressing in the field of environment protection and climate change by strengthening administrative capacity, developing sustainable energy policies and promoting an eco-friendly economic model that stimulates investments, in order to ensure alignment with the environmental and climate acquis; recalls the need to draft a national energy strategy which takes into account the many different renewable energy sources, and the need to respect the natural heritage and the areas under protection and international recognition; calls urgently for consultations on transboundary projects;

36.  Calls for long-term planning with regard to tourism along the coastline, and for the creation of strong mechanisms to prevent the destruction of the environment and corruption in the field of spatial planning and construction;

37.  Commends Montenegro’s proactive participation and constructive role in regional and international cooperation, and in the process of regional reconciliation; congratulates the government on having achieved full alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and encourages the authorities to continue to align the country’s foreign policy position with that of the EU, particularly given the current situation of the international terrorist threat; congratulates the government on being the only EU candidate in the Western Balkans, together with Albania, to fully align with the EU’s positions and decisions on the situation in Ukraine; calls on the Montenegrin authorities to step up cooperation with international political and economic partners in order to strengthen the country’s resilience against external pressures and attempts to destabilise the country and the region; welcomes the country’s participation in EU, NATO and UN civilian and military missions;

38.  Calls on all NATO members, in particular those EU Member States which belong to NATO, to actively support Montenegro’s accession to the NATO alliance in order to provide greater security in the Adriatic, where all the other countries are already NATO members, and hence enhance regional security;

39.  Encourages Montenegro to address the outstanding bilateral issues with its neighbours as early as possible in the accession process, in a constructive and neighbourly spirit; reiterates the need to swiftly settle the still pending border demarcation and succession issues with Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo; encourages further cooperation with neighbouring countries by sharing experiences of the accession negotiations; welcomes Montenegro’s observer status in the Energy Charter Treaty;

40.  Urges that the border issue with Croatia be resolved by mutual agreement without delay and, should a mutually agreed solution prove impossible to find, calls for the dispute to be settled in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in accordance with the rules and principles of international law;

41.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the government and parliament of Montenegro.

(1) OJ L 108, 29.4.2010, p. 3.


2014 Progress Report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on the 2014 Progress Report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2014/2948(RSP))
P8_TA(2015)0064B8-0212/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the European Council decision of 16 December 2005 to grant the status of candidate country for EU membership as well its conclusions of 17 December 2013; having regard to the conclusions of the Council of the European Union of 16 December 2014,

–  having regard to the Presidency conclusions of the Thessaloniki European Council of 19-20 June 2003 concerning the prospect of the Western Balkan countries joining the Union,

–  having regard to the eleventh meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Council between the country and the EU, held on 23 July 2014,

–  having regard to the Commission’s Progress Report (SWD(2014)0303) and to its communication of 8 October 2014 entitled ‘Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2014-2015’ (COM(2014)0700), as well as to its Indicative Strategy Paper (2014-2020) adopted on 19 August 2014,

–  having regard to UN Security Council resolutions 817 (1993) and 845 (1993),

–  having regard to the judgment of the International Court of Justice on the Application of the Interim Accord of 13 September 1995,

–  having regard to the opinion of the Venice Commission on the seven amendments to the Constitution of the country, adopted on 10-11 October 2014,

–  having regard to the findings of the OSCE/ODIHR international election observation mission carried out for the presidential and early parliamentary elections,

–  having regard to the 12th meeting of the EU-Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) held on 26-27 November 2014,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions,

–  having regard to the work of Ivo Vajgl as the standing rapporteur on the country of the Committee on Foreign Affairs,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been an EU candidate for nine years and is the most advanced country in terms of alignment with the acquis;

B.  whereas the Commission has recommended to the Council, for the sixth consecutive time, the opening of negotiations; whereas the country is prepared to negotiate with the EU; whereas for the past eight years Parliament has called continuously for the opening of accession negotiations with the country, and whereas further delays in opening the negotiations might have a negative impact on the reform processes in the country and the credibility of the EU in the region;

C.  whereas the Council has been blocking progress to the next stage of the accession process owing to the unresolved name issue with Greece; whereas bilateral issues are not meant to obstruct the accession negotiations with the European Union; whereas the lack of progress in the EU integration process may increase the costs for regional stability, affect the EU’s credibility and lead to a decline in the country’s democratic standards;

D.  whereas this further postponement is adding to the growing frustration of Macedonian public opinion at the stalemate in the EU integration process, and risks exacerbating domestic problems and internal tensions;

E.  whereas each (potential) candidate country will be judged on its own merits, and the speed and quality of the necessary reforms determines the timetable for accession;

F.  whereas bilateral issues should be addressed in a constructive spirit as early as possible, taking into account the principles and values of the UN and of the EU;

G.  whereas the lack of constructive and inclusive government-opposition dialogue and the post-election boycott by the opposition have plagued parliamentary work; whereas it is the shared responsibility of both government and opposition to ensure sustainable political cooperation, which is essential for the country’s democratic development and the pursuit of the European agenda; whereas the elections took place under biased media coverage and in a climate of insufficient separation of state and party activities;

H.  whereas at the 12th meeting of the JPC no joint recommendation could be adopted; whereas a fully functioning JPC is instrumental in ensuring parliamentary control over the accession process;

I.  whereas the rule of law, freedom of the media, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are essential parts of the EU enlargement process;

J.  whereas corruption and organised crime continue to be serious problems; whereas freedom of expression and the independence of the media continue to be under threat;

1.  Reiterates, for the ninth consecutive time, its call on the Council to set a date for the start of accession negotiations without further delay, so as not to lose the momentum and in order to boost acquis-related reforms and strengthen the democratisation process; reiterates its view that the name issue, which is a bilateral issue, must not represent an obstacle to the launch of accession negotiations although it should be solved before the end of the accession process; endorses the Commission’s consideration that the failure of the parties to reach a compromise after almost two decades of mediated talks is having a direct and adverse impact on the European aspirations of the country and its people; invites both governments to take concrete steps towards finding a mutually acceptable solution; reiterates the importance and necessity of a constructive approach to challenges with neighbours on these bilateral issues;

2.  Recalls the commitment of Member States to revert to the issue in 2015 with a view to opening accession negotiations; considers that starting EU negotiations can only positively influence efforts towards resolving bilateral disputes while also generating further much-needed reforms, particularly in respect of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption; emphasises that continuing to delay the opening of negotiations entails an increasing and unpredictable cost for the country as well as for regional stability; stresses that further prolonging the status quo undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the EU’s enlargement policy and its position in the region;

3.  Reiterates its position that bilateral issues should not be resorted to in order to hinder the accession process; considers that they should not represent an obstacle to the official opening of accession negotiations, but should be addressed as early as possible in the accession process; is mindful of the lack of compliance by one of the parties with the ruling of the International Court of Justice of 5 December 2011 on the application of the Interim Accord of September 1995; invites Greece to reaffirm its commitment made in the 2003 Thessaloniki Agenda, and to create a positive environment for settling bilateral differences in the spirit of European values and principles; calls for further progress, including in high-level contacts between the governments and in bilateral relations with Bulgaria with a view to negotiating an agreement on good neighbourly relations which would address common issues; reiterates its concern over the use of historical arguments in the current debate with neighbours, and welcomes any efforts towards joint celebrations of common historical events with neighbouring EU Member States; considers that this could contribute to a better understanding of history and good neighbourly relations;

4.  Calls for more active EU engagement on the name issue, and supports a proactive approach on the part of EU political leaders; invites the new Vice-President / High Representative (VP/HR) to develop new initiatives to overcome the current stalemate and to work, in cooperation with the UN Special Representative, towards a mutually acceptable solution; calls on the Council to conduct a thorough discussion on the Macedonian EU accession perspective in the first half of 2015; insists that all candidate and potential candidate countries should be treated in the integration process on their own merits; believes that the continuation of the High Level Accession Dialogue with the Commission would bring additional quality to the reform process;

5.  Calls on all NATO members, and especially all EU Member States which are NATO members, to actively support the accession of the country to NATO in order to achieve greater security and political stability in south-east Europe;

6.  Encourages the establishment of cross-border cooperation in the areas of history, culture and education and the promotion of European values that support efforts towards democratic changes; in that respect, calls on neighbouring EU Member States, in the spirit of good neighbourly relations, to support the willingness to introduce democratic changes, which means supporting the opening of the negotiation process;

7.  Encourages the country to establish joint expert committees with its neighbours on history and education, with the aim of contributing to an objective interpretation of history, strengthening academic cooperation, and promoting positive attitudes in young people towards their neighbours;

8.  Strongly encourages the authorities and civil society to take appropriate measures for historical reconciliation in order to overcome the divide between and within different ethnic and national groups, including citizens of Bulgarian identity;

9.  Takes note of the proposed package of amendments to the Constitution; is of the opinion that some proposals, including the provisions concerning the definition of marriage and the formation of international financial zones, could be further improved in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission; recalls also the need to respect the European Convention on Human Rights as well as to take account of the EU acquis; stresses the need for careful preparation of the implementing legislation for any constitutional changes; emphasises that the process of long-lasting constitutional change requires broad political support, constructive dialogue and cooperation between all political forces; stresses the need for an all-inclusive public debate and careful consultation and the building of consensus with opposition parties, civil society and relevant stakeholders;

10.  Is concerned at the polarised domestic climate; urges the government to respect the role of the parliament by providing sufficient scope and time for consultations, including on constitutional changes, in the interest of enabling full, independent parliamentary control; calls on the government and on all political parties to work towards improving relations in order to maintain political stability, to ensure sustainable constructive political cooperation, and to accelerate the European agenda; recalls that compromises are fundamental for a functioning democracy; underlines the need to improve the inclusiveness and transparency of the accession process; stresses that the post-election boycott is a problem that needs to be solved in a spirit of shared responsibility between government and opposition with regard to the correct functioning of the parliament; invites the VP/HR to engage with all parties in order to facilitate political dialogue;

11.  Is seriously concerned at the worsening of relations between the government and the opposition, particularly with regard to the recent announcement of charges against the opposition leader by the Prime Minister and also to the counter-accusations of criminal wrongdoing; condemns all illegal surveillance, and calls for all allegations to be published and freely reported; calls for an independent investigation into all allegations and the surveillance carried out, on a basis of full respect for the principles of transparency, impartiality and the presumption of innocence; reiterates the importance of upholding the fundamental principle of freedom of expression; calls on all political actors to engage in constructive dialogue in order to keep the focus on the strategic priorities of the country and its citizens;

12.  Regrets the absence of the opposition in the regular work of the JPC; considers it essential to ensure the proper functioning of the JPC through the proper representation of all parliamentary parties in its proceedings;

13.  Is concerned that interethnic coexistence remains fragile and poses a challenge for the country; is concerned about rising interethnic tensions exposing the lack of trust between communities; strongly condemns the use of ethnocentric and divisive language, particularly during election campaigns; emphasises that the start of EU accession talks can help the country better address this challenge by strengthening interethnic cohesion around that common goal; condemns all forms of extreme nationalism and ethnocentrism which deepen division in society; calls on all political parties and civil society organisations to actively promote an inclusive and tolerant multiethnic and multireligious society and to protect the fundamental rights of all persons belonging to ethnic minorities; recalls that education plays a vital role in achieving tolerance and respect between different people; calls on the Commission to step up projects and programmes aimed at strengthening interethnic dialogue and mutual understanding;

14.  Welcomes the fact that the EU agenda remains the country’s strategic priority; encourages the country to further consolidate reforms and to reverse policies and practices which could still constitute obstacles for its European future, and to secure progress in the implementation of EU-related reform priorities, including in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue;

15.  Notes that the presidential and early parliamentary elections of April 2014 were assessed by the OSCE/ODIHR as efficiently administered; shares concerns, however, over the blurred line between state and party activities, which is contrary to international obligations for democratic elections, as well as over biased media reporting and allegations of voter intimidation; welcomes the electoral reforms, but urges the authorities to investigate alleged irregularities before and during the elections; calls on the government to address all ODIHR recommendations in due time in order to improve the electoral process, including the management and accuracy of the electoral registers; also, in this regard, recalls the need to draw up electoral registers corresponding to international standards;

16.  Urges the government to address the shortcomings in the implementation of IPA assistance, such as the systemic problems of the control system, insufficient intrainstitutional and interinstitutional coordination, the backlog in procurement, the low absorption rate and the low capacity of institutions; calls for the strengthening of the link between EU assistance and national reform strategies and for IPA funds to be used to lever far greater budget decentralisation in the country; calls for action to prevent further losses of assistance and to accelerate programme implementation in order to enhance the impact of EU assistance;

17.  Welcomes the adoption of the new legislative framework for the civil service and public employment in February 2014, as a step towards providing for a unified, transparent and accountable public administration; is concerned that, despite legislative progress, the public administration remains fragmented, politicised and subject to political influence; strongly encourages it to enhance its professionalism and independence at all levels; encourages efforts to implement the law, with due respect for the principles of transparency, merit and equitable representation; invites the government to adopt a public financial management reform program;

18.  Urges the full implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA); calls for the completion of the review of its implementation, to result in policy recommendations; strongly recommends considering the OFA an essential element for the rule of law, inter-community relations and continued decentralisation; strongly encourages the development of local governance and the promotion of long-term confidence-building measures at the political level, such as holding public debates to explain the benefits of the OFA; calls on the government and the competent local authorities to proceed with the implementation of the Strategy on Integrated Education and to provide increased funding for that purpose; considers it important to include civil society organisations (CSOs) in the process; recommends a more proactive approach in order to ensure the ethnic, cultural and linguistic identities of all communities;

19.  Welcomes the high level of alignment with the legislative acquis and the improving efficiency and professionalism of the courts as a result of comprehensive judicial reforms; is concerned, however, about undue political influence over certain court proceedings, and emphasises that the judiciary should remain independent of all external pressures of the parliamentary and executive branches; stresses the need to ensure proper implementation of judicial standards in line with European norms and best practice; calls for the unification of jurisprudence in order to ensure a predictable judicial system and public trust; calls for improvement of the quality of justice, increased use of non-judicial remedies and alternative dispute resolution, better strategic planning, better access to justice for vulnerable members of society and more involvement of professional and civil society organisations in monitoring judicial independence;

20.  Notes the positive developments in the implementation of the 2011-2015 anti-corruption programmes, and the strengthening of the personal and institutional integrity system as well as of interinstitutional and international cooperation; notes the outstanding substantial issues related to the implementation of money-laundering legislation, including cross-border issues, the conduct of national risk assessment and improving operational efficiency; reiterates that an independent and fully functional State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption should be the leading state institution tackling this issue; in order to improve the work of that Commission, calls on the competent authorities to enhance IT interconnectivity between the courts and the prosecution service and to create a central register of public officials;

21.  Calls for the more efficient implementation of anti-corruption policies and legislation, particularly in politics, public administration, public procurement and law enforcement, as well as for the enhancement of administrative capacities; urges the country to achieve a track record for convictions in combating corruption, including high-level cases; calls on independent CSOs and media to expose corruption and champion independent and impartial investigations and trials; calls on the public prosecutor’s office to enable adequate and timely investigation of claims in this area;

22.  Notes with satisfaction that the legal and institutional framework is in place regarding the fight against organised crime; commends the country’s active regional and international cooperation, including through Eurojust and Europol; welcomes the fact that a number of successful police operations against organised groups have been carried out, in particular cutting off international routes for drug trafficking and smuggling of migrants;

23.  Condemns all forms of political and/or religious extremism and sees a need for cross-border cooperation with other Western Balkan countries and EU Member States; welcomes the changes to the Criminal Code which further define both offence and penalties for persons participating in political and/or religious extremism; strongly reiterates the need for a common proactive strategy for foreign, security and defence policy, having in view the current international terrorist threat; recalls that public policy should combat all forms of extremism, and that stigmatisation of any one religious group in this context should be carefully avoided;

24.  Regrets the lack of cooperation with CSOs and public stakeholders in lawmaking; points out that such cooperation should be based on the government’s genuine will to consult various stakeholders in both lawmaking and policymaking; stresses the crucial role that CSOs can play in raising public awareness of the accession process and making it more transparent, accountable and inclusive; encourages the government to help develop civil society in rural areas as well; calls on the government to initiate substantial debate with universities, academics and students on higher education reform;

25.  Encourages the authorities to retrieve the relevant Yugoslav secret service archives from Serbia; takes the view that transparent handling of the totalitarian past, including the opening-up of the archives of the secret services, is a step towards further democratisation, accountability and institutional strength;

26.  Is very concerned that political and financial pressures are constantly and significantly undermining media independence; deplores the continued deterioration in freedom of expression, resulting in the lowest level of press freedom in the region; regrets in this context that in the index compiled by Reporters Without Borders the country has fallen from 34th place in 2009 to 117th in 2015; notes with growing concern state control over the media, including continued dependence on the state budget, frequent resort to self-censorship, and poor professional standards and ethics; notes with concern the resort to defamation in the political and media context; while noting that some steps have been taken to restore the dialogue between government and the media community, regrets that the law on audiovisual services has been amended by a fast-track procedure without due consultation with media stakeholders;

27.  Urges the government to pursue policies enhancing media pluralism and diversity of opinion, and to guarantee the independence of the public broadcaster and the media regulator; notes with concern that the public broadcaster has displayed significant bias in favour of the governing parties, both during electoral campaigns (as reported in the OSCE/ODIHR reports) and in non-campaign circumstances (as reported in the Commission’s Progress Report); welcomes the fact that the government has made data on government advertising publicly available; calls on the government, however, to enhance the transparency of the criteria used in the allocation of funds; strongly recommends to the Commission that it be more active in monitoring and advising on policy developments and in encouraging dialogue among all media stakeholders;

28.  Reminds the government and the political parties of their responsibility to create a culture of inclusion and tolerance; calls for the anti-discrimination law to be aligned with the acquis as it does not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation; condemns all violence against the LGBTI community and calls for the perpetrators, including those responsible for violent incidents against the LGBTI Support Centre in Skopje, to be brought to justice; underlines the need to combat prejudices and discrimination against the Roma and to take further measures to improve their situation, particularly in the areas of housing, health, education and employment; calls on the authorities to ensure a gender perspective in all policy areas aimed at ensuring equality between men and women; reiterates its concern at the continued existence of gender stereotypes in society and at domestic violence; encourages the government to address the structural gender and pay gap in the economic, political and social fields; calls on the Commission to fulfil its own commitment to making the Employment and Social Policy Chapter a priority in the accession process, by launching an initiative in this respect in the High Level Accession Dialogue with the country;

29.  Remains concerned at the high rates of child poverty and lack of capacity of the institutions responsible for implementing policies and strategic actions in this field; urges the government to step up its efforts to implement the revised national strategy on poverty and social exclusion; urges that greater attention be paid to ensuring fair and effective access to justice for all children; stresses the need for additional efforts by the government to support children with disabilities and children from the Roma community; calls for further efforts to be made to improve children’s health and nutrition, with Roma children being a particular concern;

30.  Welcomes the fact that the country continues to be the regional leader in terms of ease of doing business, as well as its improved performance in the World Bank global ranking, in which it has risen from 31st in 2013 to 30th in 2014; notes, however, that difficult contract enforcement and frequent legal changes without adequate consultation pose serious challenges to the business climate; underlines, at the same time, the importance of making progress as regards labour law and strengthening the social dialogue; stresses the need to further improve the business environment by supporting SMEs, reducing regional disparities, and linking R&D institutions to the business and employment sector;

31.  Welcomes the fact that FDI inflows have remained stable and have allowed greater export diversification; notes that 80 % of total FDI stock originates from EU companies, with trade flows in goods and services with the EU having further increased; reiterates the importance of attracting foreign investment, and believes that the delay in the EU accession process may represent an obstacle to deeper economic integration; recognises the need to increase public revenues and create jobs in high-productivity sectors, as the overall structure of the economy remains focused on low-productivity activities; stresses that all rules covering the international financial zones should be in conformity with the acquis and with international requirements;

32.  Welcomes the reduction in the overall unemployment rate from 29,9 % in the first quarter of 2013 to 27,9 % in the third quarter of 2014; calls on the government to renew its efforts to further reduce structural and long-term unemployment, in particular among young people (for whom the rate stands at over 50 %) and vulnerable groups including the Roma; calls for the adoption of reforms to increase labour force participation and labour mobility as well as to reduce the large informal sector which continues to hamper competition; is concerned that the level of education and training of the workforce often fails to correspond to the real needs of the economy, and that a large number of young skilled workers are consequently being forced to emigrate owing to the difficulty of finding adequate employment opportunities within the country; expresses its concern at recent legislative changes that challenge the right to strike, and calls on the authorities to revise the legislation in line with ILO standards;

33.  Notes the steps taken to reduce unemployment among women, but calls on the government to do more since unemployment among women is still much higher than the EU average;

34.  Points out that significant efforts are needed, in cooperation with civil society and relevant stakeholders, in the field of the environment and in particular in the areas of air and water quality, nature protection and waste management; is concerned about air and water pollution; notes with concern the concentration of harmful particles, which is several times above the permitted limit, especially in Skopje, Tetovo, Bitola, Kičevo and Kavadarci; calls on the competent authorities to increase their cooperation with a view to implementing the relevant legislation, strengthening administrative capacities and allocating sufficient funds for investment in infrastructure such as waste water treatment plants;

35.  Regrets that the 2013 energy targets have not been met, with regard in particular to energy efficiency and the use of renewables; calls, in this regard, for adoption of the relevant action plans and alignment with EU climate policy;

36.  Welcomes the fact that the country has remained active and constructive in regional cooperation and has no outstanding border issues with its neighbours; welcomes its upcoming presidency of the Central European Initiative; invites the government to improve the overall level of alignment with CFSP declarations and decisions; underlines the importance of progressive alignment with the EU’s foreign policy positions;

37.  Welcomes the progress made on and willingness to finalise the rail link between the country and Bulgaria, which will lead to better economic and social relations;

38.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Government and Parliament of the country.


2014 Progress Report on Serbia
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on the 2014 Progress Report on Serbia (2014/2949(RSP))
P8_TA(2015)0065B8-0213/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Presidency conclusions of the Thessaloniki European Council of 19 and 20 June 2003 concerning the prospect of the Western Balkan countries joining the European Union,

–  having regard to Council Decision 2008/213/EC of 18 February 2008 on the principles, priorities and conditions contained in the European Partnership with Serbia and repealing Decision 2006/56/EC(1),

–  having regard to the Commission opinion of 12 October 2011 on Serbia’s application for membership of the European Union (SEC(2011)1208),

–  having regard to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between the European Communities and their Member States and the Republic of Serbia that entered into force on 1 September 2013,

–  having regard to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999), to the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of 22 July 2010 on the question of the accordance with international law of the unilateral declaration of independence in respect of Kosovo, and to UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/64/298 of 9 September 2010, which acknowledged the content of the opinion and welcomed the readiness of the EU to facilitate the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina,

–  having regard to the Declaration and Recommendations from the second EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee meeting of 26-27 November 2014,

–  having regard to the European Council conclusions of 28 June 2013,

–  having regard to the Commission’s 2014 progress report on Serbia of 8 October 2014 (SWD(2014)0302),

–  having regard to the conclusions of the General Affairs Council of 16 December 2014,

–  having regard to its resolution of 16 January 2014 on the 2013 Progress Report on Serbia(2),

–  having regard to its resolution of 27 November 2014 on Serbia: the case of the accused war criminal Šešelj(3),

–  having regard to the work of David McAllister as the Foreign Affairs Committee’s standing rapporteur on Serbia,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas the European Council of 28 June 2013 decided to open accession negotiations with Serbia; whereas the first intergovernmental conference (IGC) took place on 21 January 2014;

B.  whereas in its 2014 Progress Report on Serbia the Commission reports on the progress made by Serbia towards European integration, assessing its efforts to comply with the Copenhagen criteria and the conditionality of the Stabilisation and Association Process;

C.  whereas Serbia, like every country aspiring to EU membership, must be judged on its own merits in terms of fulfilling, implementing and complying with the same set of criteria, and whereas the speed and quality of the necessary reforms determines the timetable for accession;

D.  whereas the EU has placed the rule of law at the core of its enlargement policy;

E.  whereas the Commission has highlighted the need to strengthen economic governance, the rule of law and public administration capacities in all of the Western Balkan countries;

F.  whereas Serbia has taken important steps towards the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, resulting in the First Agreement on the Principles of Normalisation of Relations of 19 April 2013; whereas further steps are urgently needed in order to deal with all pending issues between the two countries;

G.  whereas good neighbourly relations constitute a key element of the successful European integration of any country, and whereas bilateral issues should be addressed in the accession process in accordance with the negotiating framework, in a constructive and neighbourly spirit, taking account of the EU’s overall interests and values; whereas important steps have been taken in the historical reconciliation process between Serbia and its neighbours;

H.  whereas the implementation of the legal framework on the protection of minorities needs to be fully ensured, notably in the areas of education, use of language, and access to media and religious services in minority languages;

I.  whereas Serbia’s Chairmanship-in-Office (CiO) of the OSCE in 2015 comes at a time of lasting conflict in eastern Ukraine and when the OSCE is celebrating 40 years since the adoption of the Helsinki Final Act;

1.  Welcomes the formal beginning of accession talks that took place on 21 January 2014 at the first EU-Serbia IGC and the high level of preparedness and engagement in the screening process of the EU acquis demonstrated by the Serbian Government;

2.  Welcomes the conduct of the early parliamentary elections, which were assessed positively by the international observers; calls on the authorities to address fully the recommendations of the last and previous OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions;

3.  Underlines the progress in and the importance of improving the implementation of the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA); stresses that the SAA provides the general framework for Serbia and the EU to intensify their cooperation;

4.  Welcomes the commitment shown by the new Serbian Government to the European integration process, and calls on Serbia to tackle decisively and head-on the systemic and socio-economic reforms; underlines that the thorough implementation of legislation and policies remain a key indicator of a successful integration process; calls on Serbia to improve the planning, coordination and monitoring of implementation of new legislation and policies; underlines the need to improve the inclusiveness and transparency of the accession process; stresses that Serbia has to make further progress on its reform priority, the rule of law;

5.  Encourages that the opening of the negotiating chapters should take into consideration developments on the technical level, but also the political context of relations between Serbia and the EU; stresses that Chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) should be tackled early in the negotiations; insists that Chapter 35 of the EU acquis, concerning relations with Kosovo, should be clearly defined; underlines that the negotiating framework provides a yardstick for establishing whether progress under one chapter is significantly lagging behind the progress in negotiations overall, thus enabling the Commission to recommend the delayed opening or closure of other negotiating chapters;

6.  Notes that the recently published report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) has found that the funding from the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), along with other forms of support, has helped Serbia to implement social and economic reforms and to improve its public finance management; notes, however, that the reform of the judicial sector is significantly lagging behind; calls on Serbia to align with the EU acquis in the area of state aid; welcomes the overall effective use of EU financial and non-financial assistance, as noted by the ECA, and encourages the authorities to build on good governance practices and address remaining weaknesses in project design, implementation and sustainability; calls on the Commission to continue its assistance to Serbia within the framework of the IPA in an effective and transparent way;

7.  Is concerned at the fact that the majority of laws are adopted under the urgency procedure, which does not always allow for sufficient consultation of stakeholders and the wider public;

8.  Notes that the floods of May 2014 in Serbia have gravely affected the population and have had a negative impact on the economy; extends its condolences to the families of the victims; welcomes the fact that the EU as well as individual Member States provided immediate and substantial rescue and relief efforts on the request of Serbia, organising a donors’ conference in July 2014; stresses that the Commission has invited Serbia to join the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and welcomes the fact that on 16 October 2014 Serbia expressed its interest in doing so;

9.  Welcomes the First Agreement on the Principles of Normalisation of Relations reached in the high-level dialogue between the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo on 19 April 2013; welcomes Serbia’s engagement in the normalisation process with Kosovo, and strongly encourages the Serbian authorities to play a constructive role in this process, as well as in the development of good neighbourly relations which can serve the interests of both Serbia and Kosovo; notes that the pace of the overall negotiations has slowed down, due, inter alia to the holding of early elections in both Serbia and Kosovo; welcomes the formation of a new government in Kosovo, which is an important step for the resumption of the high-level dialogue of 9 February 2015 that led up to the agreement on the judiciary in Mitrovica, and also welcomes, in this respect, the constructive role of the Serbian Government in encouraging the elected representatives of the Serbian minority to participate and assume their responsibilities within the new coalition government in Pristina; calls on Serbia and Kosovo to move forward with the full implementation of all the already-reached agreements, in good faith and in a timely manner, and on the EU to carry out an evaluation of the performance of the parties in fulfilling their obligations; encourages the Serbian and Kosovo authorities to further normalise their relations; calls for continuous efforts by both sides to bring ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities closer together; underlines that the negotiating framework requires progress in the process of normalising relations with Kosovo under Chapter 35 to be made in parallel with progress in negotiations overall; stresses that Chapter 35 should be opened early in the negotiations; considers that full normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo would facilitate Serbia’s accession to the EU;

10.  Calls on the Serbian and Kosovo authorities to step up cooperation to clamp down and dismantle the criminal networks that are controlling, exploiting and smuggling irregular migrants from Kosovo to some EU Member States through Serbia;

11.  Calls on Serbia to make stronger efforts in aligning its foreign and security policy to that of the EU, including policy on Russia; regrets that Serbia did not align itself, when invited, with the Council decisions introducing restrictive measures against Russia, keeping in mind, however, the traditionally strong economic, social and cultural ties that exist between the two countries; believes that Serbia can play a key role in EU-Russia relations; welcomes Serbia’s active participation in international peacekeeping operations; notes that Serbia has hosted with honours some persons falling under the EU’s visa ban and organises military drills with the Russian army;

12.  Welcomes Serbia’s Chairmanship-in-Office (CiO) of the OSCE in 2015 and its priorities; notes that Serbia as CiO of the OSCE is willing to support all means to step up efforts to resolve existing conflicts in the OSCE area in a peaceful manner; encourages Serbia to take advantage of this Chairmanship to contribute to stabilising the situation in eastern Ukraine, acting as a mediator; furthermore acknowledges Serbia’s readiness to further promote regional cooperation; calls on Serbia as current OSCE Chair-in-Office to help restore the OSCE as a comprehensive platform for tackling security issues in Europe;

13.  Encourages Serbia to further cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), to strengthen domestic war crimes trials and continue to strengthen its efforts regarding regional cooperation to end impunity and bring justice to the victims of war crimes and their families; highlights the urgent need to adopt comprehensive legislation and policy for the protection of witnesses and to provide the victims and their families with the right to reparations; reiterates its support for the REKOM initiative;

14.  Calls on Serbia in the spirit of reconciliation and good-neighbourly relations to consider its Law on Organisation and Competence of State Authorities in War Crimes Proceedings in cooperation with its neighbours and with the Commission;

15.  Calls on Serbia to intensify its cooperation with neighbouring countries and to strengthen its efforts in the search for missing persons, and to fully share all relevant data; urges the Serbian authorities, in this regard, to open up the archives of the Yugoslav People’s Army in order to establish the truth of past tragic events and obtain information; furthermore urges the authorities to open up and facilitate transparent access to those archives that concern former republics of Yugoslavia and to the documents of the former intelligence agency (UDBA), including by providing them to the respective governments;

16.  Welcomes the signing, under the auspices of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), of the Declaration on the Role of the State in Addressing the Issue of Persons Missing as a Consequence of Armed Conflict and Human Rights Abuses; highlights the need to strengthen efforts to find and identify missing persons and locate mass graves from the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, as well as to ensure the right of victims’ families to know the fate of their missing family members;

17.  Appreciates the constructive approach of the Serbian Government to relations with neighbouring countries, since this has enabled substantial progress in both regional cooperation and closer relations with the EU; encourages Serbia to work even more closely with neighbouring countries and to initiate further steps for trans-border cooperation, in order to improve, inter alia, the economic development of border regions and areas populated by minorities; emphasises the importance of promoting policies of exchange and contact among young people in the framework of reconciliation; welcomes generally the compliance of Serbia with its international obligations and the fact that it has further developed bilateral relations with its neighbours; reiterates the crucial importance of reconciliation; encourages Serbia to fully implement bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries and to address its open bilateral issues with a pragmatic approach; welcomes the meeting between the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Albania on 10 November 2014 in Belgrade; encourages Serbia to actively support and constructively contribute to the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards European integration; equally welcomes the fact that Serbia has continued to participate actively in regional initiatives, such as the South-East Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP);

18.  Stresses the essential role of the Serbian Parliament as well as of civil society in the accession negotiations process; welcomes Parliament’s adoption on 4 June 2014 of the Decision regulating the procedure of consideration of negotiating position proposals during the accession negotiations; welcomes the adoption of guidelines for the inclusion of civil society organisations in the regulation adoption process on 26 August 2014, and calls on greater involvement of civil society in the integration process; invites the government to refrain from anti-EU rhetoric and to conduct regular dialogues and public consultations with all relevant stakeholders so as to ensure full transparency of the negotiations and to provide all information for a constructive debate regarding the functioning of the EU and its membership and to facilitate their broad participation in this process;

19.  Commends the work of independent regulatory bodies and their contribution to improving the legal framework and accountability of state institutions; underlines that state institutions must act in a transparent and accountable manner; supports the work of independent state authorities such as the Ombudsman, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, and others; calls on the state authorities to protect the independence of these offices and fully cooperate with them when they exercise their powers; considers that the authorities should provide them with all financial and administrative resources necessary for their work; stresses that their recommendations need to receive proper follow-up and their independence needs to be fully respected;

20.  Condemns the ungrounded public denunciation of the Ombudsman by government ministers, stresses that the role of the Ombudsman is central to the system of checks and balances of the government and calls on the authorities to ensure that the independence and integrity of the Ombudsman are preserved; calls on the authorities to provide the Ombudsman with full political and administrative support for his work and to safeguard his right to request official documents in line with the Law on Public Information;

21.  Underlines the fact that Serbia has ratified the major labour rights conventions of the ILO as well as the revised European Social Charter; draws attention to the fact that labour and trade union rights still remain limited despite constitutional guarantees, and calls on Serbia to further enhance these rights; notes that additional procedures governing trade unions and the right to strike are required in order to ensure clarity; notes that there are only a few sectorial collective agreements, while several have expired and are in need of being renewed; is concerned that the social dialogue remains weak and the consultation of social partners irregular; calls for further steps to be taken to strengthen the social dialogue and these actors’ consultative role in lawmaking;

22.  Reiterates the importance of promoting, protecting and implementing human rights and fundamental freedoms at all levels of Serbian society, with no discrimination in any form and in accordance with European and international standards; notes that an action plan for the implementation of the anti-discrimination strategy was adopted on 2 October 2014, calling for respect for women, persons with disabilities, LGBT persons, and all minorities, national, ethnic or sexual, and for the securing of their rights; encourages the Serbian authorities to make further efforts to guarantee equal representation of women in political and public life; notes that administrative capacity in the field of gender equality remains weak, and urges the Serbian authorities to increase their efforts to this end; welcomes the decision by the Government of Serbia to allow the organisation of the Pride Parade, which took place in Belgrade on 28 September 2014 without major incidents, and commends the government for their support and also the police for the facilitation thereof;

23.  Commends the establishment of the National Council for Child Rights, and encourages this body to make full use of its mandate in order to make sure that children’s rights priorities are fully reflected in the Action Plans that the Government of Serbia is developing as part of the accession process;

24.  Notes that steps were taken in the implementation of the Strategy and the Action Plan on judicial reform for the period 2013-2018; welcomes the adoption of rules for evaluation of the work of the judges and prosecutors; stresses the vital importance of an independent judiciary, and highlights the need for the reform of the judiciary to be completed so as to ensure the full independence and impartiality of judges and prosecutors; calls on the authorities not to delay the adoption of the draft law on legal aid while ensuring that the most vulnerable citizens are not excluded from accessing free legal aid services; stresses the importance of resolving the issue of cases of abuse of office, and expresses its concern at the reclassification en masse of these cases; stresses that constitutional reforms are needed to ensure the independence of the judiciary;

25.  Welcomes the strong political impetus to fight corruption, and the further implementation of the recommendations of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO); welcomes the adoption by the Serbian Parliament on 25 November 2014 of the law on whistle-blower protection; welcomes the fact that several investigations into high-level cases are being conducted and that efforts have been made to improve coordination; underlines that significant efforts are needed to enhance and fully enforce the legal framework for the fight against corruption, and to back reforms with appropriate resources; stresses that leaks to the media about ongoing investigations, in breach of the presumption of innocence, are an issue of serious concern and should be investigated, processed and eliminated in line with the law; condemns also the pressure exerted by media or political parties on independent anti-corruption bodies, and in this regard considers that the powers of and resources for the Anti-Corruption Agency should be strengthened; notes that such practices may significantly slow the progress of the accession negotiations; calls for further action to protect the independence and integrity of the judicial system and access to justice;

26.  Notes that corruption and organised crime are widespread in the region and also represent an obstacle to Serbia’s democratic, social and economic development; considers that a regional strategy and enhanced cooperation between all the countries in the region are essential to tackle these issues more effectively;

27.  Notes with concern the lack of transparency in the financing of political parties and election campaigns, and, therefore, the high risks of corruption; stresses that the funding of political parties needs to be transparent and in accordance with the highest international standards;

28.  Welcomes the adoption of the Law on Public Information and Media, the Law on Electronic Media and the Law on Public Service Broadcasting, and calls for their immediate implementation; underlines that when implementing the new media package the sustainability of public broadcasting in minority languages should also be ensured, as well as the sustainability and financial stability of the public services and of regional and local media; expresses its concern at deteriorating conditions for the full exercise of freedom of expression in Serbia, and emphasises the need for complete transparency in media ownership; expresses its concern about the pressure being put on and threats being made against journalists, which also leads to increased self-censorship, and urges the Serbian authorities to take action in order to bring the perpetrators to justice; notes with concern that political pressure undermines media independence; reiterates the importance of freedom of the media as one of the core EU values; calls on the Serbian authorities to create a media-friendly environment supporting freedom of expression and of the media;

29.  Calls on the Serbian Government to implement the Law on Rehabilitation in a full and non-discriminatory manner; also suggests that it make further amendments to the Law on Restitution in order to remove all procedural obstacles and legal impediments concerning restitution in kind;

30.  Welcomes the elections to the National Minority Councils of 26 October 2014; underlines the importance of National Minority Councils in their role of implementation of rights of national minorities, and calls on Serbia to ensure that the level of acquired rights and competences is retained in the process of their legal alignment with the decision of the Constitutional Court of Serbia, as well as for their adequate and ascertainable financing; calls on Serbia to ensure consistent implementation across the country of legislation on protection of minorities, including in relation to education, use of languages, and access to the media and religious services in minority languages, and adequate representation of national minorities in public administration, local and regional bodies, as well as in the national parliament; encourages Serbia’s commitment in drafting a specific action plan on the position of national minorities in the framework of the Action Plan for Chapter 23; encourages the Serbian authorities to take further measures to improve the situation of the Roma, particularly when it comes to education, housing and employment; urges the government to increase awareness of civil rights among the Roma population and also to offer equal safety protection for the Roma; stresses the importance of encouraging the Roma to take part in public life; calls on the Serbian authorities to improve the planning, coordination and monitoring of implementation of Roma inclusion policies and actions at national and local level;

31.  Underlines the importance of the restitution of property confiscated from minority churches and religious communities under the communist regime; emphasises the role of the state in creating an impartial policy towards historic churches in the country, including those belonging to minorities; stresses that religious freedom cannot be guaranteed in the absence of such restitution;

32.  Notes that Vojvodina’s cultural diversity also contributes to Serbia’s identity and that protecting and supporting its minorities and maintaining and promoting the diversity of nationalities which has functioned well for centuries there is therefore of fundamental concern; calls for multilingualism and cultural diversity to be maintained; stresses, furthermore, that the autonomy of Vojvodina should not be weakened, and reminds the Government to submit the law on the competences and financing of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina without any further delay;

33.  In connection to the importance of European Groupings for Territorial Cooperation (EGTCs) for the further development of cross-border cooperation between EU Member States and their neighbours, calls on the Serbian Government to provide the necessary legal background that would allow Serbian participation in EGTCs;

34.  Welcomes the new public administration reform strategy, the creation of a dedicated Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, and the increased focus on policy planning and coordination following the establishment of the Secretariat for Public Policies, as positive steps towards a more efficient public administration; expresses its concern at the lack of transparency in recruitment of public administration employees and administrative and management capacity at the local level; urges the authorities to ensure a transparent and merit-based process of appointment and promotion of civil servants and public officials;

35.  Encourages the Serbian authorities to undertake structural economic reforms so as to support growth, improve the business and investment climate throughout Serbia, and ensure balanced social and economic development across all regions, combat the high levels of unemployment and poverty, carry out fiscal consolidation, and fight corruption, which remains the major threat to the business environment; notes with concern the high youth unemployment figures, and urges the government to address the issue by providing adequate opportunities for young people and education geared to the needs of the labour market; underlines the need to ensure an accessible education system with work and training opportunities for young people and access to European study programmes such as Erasmus; welcomes the adoption of the labour law, the bankruptcy law, the privatisation law and the law on planning and construction, which represent the legislative framework for both structural reforms and the improvement of the business climate;

36.  Calls for the improvement of the business environment by implementing the planned structural reforms in this area, strengthening the legal system and ensuring the even implementation of the law; insists on the urgent need to abolish administrative barriers to doing business, particularly with regard to small- and medium-sized enterprises, and points to the importance of the necessary restructuring of public companies while respecting the rights of workers and the significance of public-sector employment for Serbian citizens and their wellbeing, as well as their reliance on essential public services;

37.  Takes note of the work on amending the Criminal Code; notes, however, that legal uncertainty persists in the private sector following the adopted amendments; reiterates its concern at the provisions of the new Article 234 on abuse of responsible positions, which still leaves room for arbitrary interpretation; notes that most of the former cases concerning abuse of office appear to have been reclassified en masse without proper review under the heading of ‘abuse of responsible position’, and calls, therefore, for an independent and thorough review of the reclassified cases so that long-standing unjust prosecutions can be dropped immediately;

38.  Congratulates Serbia on organising the China / Central and Eastern Europe summit in Belgrade; welcomes the plans for enhanced cooperation and hopes it will be in line with European standards; notes the initial agreements on projects concerning energy and infrastructure agreed at the summit, and reminds Serbia and other countries of the region that the projects should take into consideration the long-term objectives of EU policies;

39.  Notes that preparations in the area of energy are moderately advanced; stresses that Serbia needs to step up its efforts to align with the acquis in the field of energy, particularly in the fields of meeting energy efficiency and renewable energy targets and preventing state aid for the lignite sector, and to achieve unbundling in the gas sector and the restructuring of the public gas company, as a matter of priority; calls on the Commission to support the Serbian Government in its efforts to reduce the country’s dependence on energy imports by increasing the diversity of energy sources; encourages Serbia to initiate a revision of its proposed energy strategy; calls on the government to strengthen its efforts in the field of renewable energy, in particular with regard to the Renewable Energy Directive, as this is a necessary step towards achieving energy security and meeting the Europe 2020 goals for renewables;

40.  Regrets that too little progress has been made in the areas of the environment and climate change, and calls on the Serbian authorities to adopt quickly a comprehensive countrywide climate policy and strategy in line with EU targets;

41.  Is concerned that academic institutions, together with state authorities and public officials, have failed to deal with accusations of plagiarism in universities;

42.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the Government and Parliament of Serbia.

(1) OJ L 80, 19.3.2008, p. 46.
(2) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0039.
(3) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2014)0065.


The European integration process of Kosovo
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on the European integration process of Kosovo (2014/2950(RSP))
P8_TA(2015)0066B8-0214/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Presidency conclusions of the Thessaloniki European Council of 19 and 20 June 2003 concerning the prospect of the Western Balkan countries joining the European Union,

–  having regard to the First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations, signed by Prime Ministers Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic on 19 April 2013, and the Implementation Action Plan of 22 May 2013,

–  having regard to the European Council Conclusions of 28 June 2013 adopting the Decision authorising the opening of negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo,

–  having regard to the Council decision of 22 October 2012 authorising the Commission to open negotiations on a framework agreement with Kosovo on participation in Union programmes,

–  having regard to the reports of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the ongoing activities of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo and developments relating thereto, including the latest report released on 31 October 2014,

–  having regard to Council Decision 2014/349/CFSP of 12 June 2014 amending Joint Action 2008/124/CFSP on the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX KOSOVO,

–  having regard to the conclusions of the General Affairs Council meetings of 7 December 2009, 14 December 2010 and 5 December 2011, which stressed and reaffirmed, respectively, that Kosovo, without prejudice to the Member States’ position on its status, should also benefit from the prospect of eventual visa liberalisation once all the conditions had been met,

–  having regard to the launch of a visa dialogue in January 2012, to the visa liberalisation roadmap of June 2012, and to the second Commission report of 24 July 2014 on progress by Kosovo in fulfilling the requirements of the visa liberalisation roadmap (COM(2014)0488),

–  having regard to the third meeting of the Structured Dialogue on the Rule of Law of 16 January 2014,

–  having regard to UN Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion of 22 July 2010 on the accordance with international law of the unilateral declaration of independence in respect of Kosovo, and to UN General Assembly resolution 64/298 of 9 September 2010, which acknowledged the content of the ICJ opinion and welcomed the EU’s readiness to facilitate dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina,

–  having regard to the decision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of 11 June 2014 to grant Kosovo membership of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe; having regard to the appointment of two experts from Kosovo to the Venice Commission in September 2014,

–  having regard to the joint statements of the EP-Kosovo interparliamentary meetings of 28-29 May 2008, 6-7 April 2009, 22-23 June 2010, 20 May 2011, 14-15 March 2012 and 30-31 October 2013,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 16 October 2013 on the Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2013-2014 (COM(2013)0700),

–  having regard to the conclusions of the General Affairs Council of 16 December 2014 on the Enlargement and Stabilisation and Association Process,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions,

–  having regard to the work of Ulrike Lunacek as the Foreign Affairs Committee’s standing rapporteur on Kosovo,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas 110 of the 193 UN member states, including 23 of the 28 EU Member States, recognise Kosovo’s independence;

B.  whereas negotiations for the EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) were completed in May 2014 and the SAA was initialled in July 2014;

C.  whereas each (potential) candidate country will be judged on its own merits and the speed and quality of the necessary reforms determine the timetable for accession;

D.  whereas the EU Election Observation Mission assessed the early legislative elections of 25 May and 8 June 2014 as transparent and well-organised, consolidating the progress made in the 2013 municipal elections; whereas the constituent meeting of the Kosovo Assembly was concluded only on 8 December 2014 and the government was voted in on 9 December 2014;

E.  whereas progress in the conduct of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) requires, inter alia, the willingness to scrutinise past performance and draw appropriate lessons from identified problems, including in the management of field missions; whereas EULEX is the largest mission deployed and has been in operation for more than six years;

1.  Welcomes the end of the six-month political stalemate that followed the elections, with the constitution of the Assembly and the appointment of the new government; is concerned about the appointment of non-consensual persons whose background might be questioned; regrets the unnecessarily large number of ministers and deputy ministers in the new government, with the budget implications thereof, and the small number of women among the ministers; notes that an increase in the number women among the ministers could be used as a progressive incentive for society as a whole; stresses that it is of the utmost urgency for the new government to pursue the necessary reforms with commitment and determination; stresses that the performance of the leadership of Kosovo can best be measured by the concrete results delivered to Kosovo citizens and to European and international partners; encourages the elected representatives of the Serbian minority in Kosovo to participate in and assume their responsibilities within the new coalition government in Pristina;

2.  Encourages the new government to continue its European course and stresses that it has undertaken to pursue vigorously, including through legislation, a number of priority issues, including steps to strengthen and affirm the rule of law, to establish a model for the judiciary based on the principles of independence, professionalism and effectiveness, and systematically and effectively to fight corruption and organised crime at all levels; calls on the authorities to systematically and effectively fight unemployment, foster structural economic reforms and sustainable development by establishing a regulatory framework and incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises and pursue the much-needed reform of the social protection system to address persistently high poverty rates, including unacceptable levels of child poverty; underlines the fact that the implementation of reforms is key; stresses that the establishment and functioning of the Special Court, and cooperation with it, should be a priority, and will help Kosovo to resolve and overcome problems rooted in its past; stresses that legislative and policy plans need to reflect realistically the resources required, and recommends that they be implemented in a more transparent manner;

3.  Highlights the need to strengthen the oversight role of the Assembly and particularly the EU Integration Committee in the Kosovo integration process; urges the Assembly to adopt swiftly new rules of procedure that are in line with European best practice and that reflect the gender equality dimension;

4.  Stresses the need to step up actions aimed at fighting the criminal groups that are making irregular migration possible; stresses furthermore that socio-economic developments and the creation of new jobs are necessary to end the trend of irregular migration and restore citizens’ hope and faith that they can build their future in their country; insists on the need to address the root causes of irregular migration, using all EU policy and assistance instruments;

5.  Welcomes the gradual strengthening of and increased coordination between civil society organisations, particularly those dealing with women and LGBTI people; also emphasises the need to find a solution to the threats and attacks against activists trying to strengthen the rights of LGBTI people; calls for the Kosovo authorities to strengthen their mechanisms for consultation of civil society, which has so far been conducted on an ad hoc basis, in particular by providing the Joint Advisory Council with all the necessary resources; considers that, with a view to ensuring that government is open and transparent, representative civil society organisations should be included in legislative consultations; calls also for the donor community, particularly the EU, to continue involving and consulting civil society in its programming;

6.  Notes that there has been some progress in the legislation governing the judiciary and its organisation, particularly with regard to steps to adapt structures to the new EULEX mandate and the mixed panels; notes, however, that strong concerns remain regarding the independence, accountability, impartiality and efficiency of judges and prosecutors and the functioning of the Kosovo Judicial Council, the prison system and the overall performance of the rule of law sector; stresses that further work should be carried out to prepare for the full transfer of responsibilities from EULEX to Kosovo; calls on the political authorities to clearly demonstrate their full support for the independence of judges and prosecutors who continue to be targeted in attempts to influence ongoing investigations and judicial proceedings;

7.  Expresses concern at the lack of any significant progress in fighting high-level corruption and organised crime, a significant obstacle in the way of Kosovo’s democratic, social and economic development; stresses the need for a clear signal from the government that Kosovo is systematically tackling corruption at all levels and fighting organised crime; calls for further steps to prevent any possible link between organised crime and people within the public administration; is also concerned about widespread illegal ownership of firearms and calls on the Kosovar Government to implement effectively the existing programmes to collect such firearms, in particular the national strategy and action plan on the control and collection of small arms and light weapons (SALW) for the 2013-2016 period; calls on Kosovo to cooperate with the EU expert group on arms trafficking and with neighbouring countries in taking preventive action, and calls for the EU to provide every form of technical assistance required for that purpose;

8.  Welcomes the participation of Kosovo in the coalition to fight terrorism, the amendments to Kosovo’s criminal law aimed at cracking down on foreign fighters and the action taken by authorities to bring to justice those involved in recruiting young people to join extremist groups; notes with concern reports on growing radicalisation among young people in Kosovo, with some of them joining terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq; asks for the EU to help address the social issues that are part of the reason why radical groups are able to recruit young people in Kosovo;

9.  Notes that one of the priorities of the new government is the creation of the Armed Forces of Kosovo, which will operate in line with the Constitution and under full civilian control; understands the principle of territorial defence as an aspect of national sovereignty, but calls for the armed forces to be EU-compatible, and takes the view that more efforts should be aimed at providing the Kosovo police with more resources with a view to increasing the effectiveness of their performance with immediate effect;

10.  Notes the lack of progress in the implementation of the strategic framework for public administration reform and the action plan; calls on Kosovo to complete the legislative framework for the civil service, ensuring depoliticisation of the service and including performance appraisals;

11.  Calls on the authorities to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation promptly and to focus also on prevention and awareness-raising measures; welcomes the fact that the first Pride Parade took place on 17 May 2014 and the establishment of the Advisory and Coordination Group for the Rights of the LGBT Community;

12.  Welcomes the progress achieved on women’s rights and gender equality, such as the amended legislation to recognise survivors of conflict-related violence such as war rape; stresses that challenges still remain, particularly in the field of domestic violence and gender-based violence, property rights and representation of women in leadership positions;

13.  Calls for measures to strongly address the challenges and problems regarding domestic violence and gender-based violence; stresses the need for comprehensive data collection regarding the extent of domestic violence and gender-based violence;

14.  Calls on Kosovo to adopt an effective and comprehensive legislative and institutional framework on the media, and, above all, to implement existing laws more effectively, in order to guarantee freedom of expression; remains concerned about threats and attacks on journalists and a lack of transparency in the media; reiterates the importance of media freedom and independence as one of the core EU values and a cornerstone of any democracy, which contributes to strengthening the rule of law; calls on the authorities to swiftly fill the systematic gaps in legislation ensuring media freedom, particularly with a view to transparency of media ownership and with regard to the issue of defamation, and to guarantee the independence and sustainability of public broadcasters and avoid any political interference, following a thorough and comprehensive public consultation process; encourages the Kosovo authorities to take further action to prevent and combat hate speech, threats and calls for violence;

15.  Reiterates that the implementation of legislation on the protection of ethnic minorities and cultural rights remains a challenge in Kosovo, despite some progress having been made; underscores the continuing need for serious efforts with regard to the full implementation of the law which includes provisions on the rights of ethnic minorities, with a view to preventing direct and indirect discrimination; notes that the Roma, Egyptian and Ashkali communities, in particular, continue to face challenges in the socioeconomic, education and healthcare fields; looks forward to the new government’s new framework for improving the situation of the Roma, Egyptians and Ashkali, particularly by establishing equal safety and health protection; emphasises the importance of making it easier for Roma, Egyptians and Ashkali to return; recommends that the rights of the Gorani in the Zhupa and Gora regions be enshrined in law and ensured in practice;

16.  Calls on the authorities at national and local level to fully implement adapted legislation and thus contribute to the further development of a fully fledged multi-ethnic society, in particular regarding the issues of education and employment; recommends that practical measures be taken to increasingly involve representatives of the ethnic minorities in national and local government bodies;

17.  Reminds the Kosovo authorities of their responsibility to respect, conserve and protect Serbian, as well as all other, cultural and religious monuments, which form part of the common European cultural and historical heritage; welcomes the measures taken in this regard;

18.  Urges Kosovo to consult the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, of which it became a member in June, for its opinion and support in drafting new legislation;

19.  Welcomes the initialling of the SAA in July 2014, which provides for enhanced political dialogue, closer trade integration and new forms of cooperation; calls on the Council to adopt as soon as possible, and no later than mid-2015, the decision to sign and conclude the SAA as this will provide a powerful incentive for the implementation and institutionalisation of reforms and new possibilities for Kosovo to strengthen relations with its neighbours and contribute to the stabilisation of the region; calls on the Council, furthermore, to adopt the decision to sign and conclude the framework agreement on Kosovo’s participation in EU programmes, which will strengthen cooperation between Kosovo and the EU in a variety of sectors, and believes that these programmes should be focused on specific areas that correspond to the obligations taken up by Kosovo on its European path and should be implemented with transparency and without delay;

20.  Encourages the remaining five Member States to proceed with the recognition of Kosovo; stresses that this would further facilitate the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina; calls on all EU Member States to do their utmost to facilitate economic, people-to-people contacts, and social and political relations between their citizens and those of Kosovo;

21.  Commends the work of the Special Investigative Task Force (SITF) which, in its investigative findings issued in July 2014, found compelling evidence against certain former senior officials of the KLA, but not against the KLA as a whole; welcomes the fact that the request to set up a Special Court, operating within the Kosovo justice system but with a chamber in the Netherlands, has been submitted to and accepted by the Dutch Government; calls on the Kosovo Assembly to adopt the necessary legislative package at the earliest possible date; and calls on the Kosovo authorities to continue to cooperate with the SITF;

22.  Welcomes the progress made by Kosovo in establishing its own Witness Protection Unit and supporting legal and administrative frameworks, and the progress made in entering agreements for cooperation with EU Member States, but stresses that additional support is required to facilitate the relocation of future witnesses to third countries;

23.  Is seriously concerned about the recent allegations of corruption within EULEX; believes that EULEX has played, and still should and could play, an important role in Kosovo, and thus welcomes the prompt reaction of VP/HR Federica Mogherini in appointing an independent expert to probe into the handling of such allegations in depth; calls for full transparency in this investigation and urges all those concerned to cooperate fully so that the investigation can be swiftly concluded; stresses the importance of ensuring that the expert can pursue a comprehensive investigation covering all aspects of the case; is concerned at the fact that sensitive documents on the corruption allegations within EULEX have gone missing; calls for a thorough and comprehensive investigation; stresses that it is of utmost importance to restore the credibility of the EU in Kosovo and abroad and to consider the lessons learned for future missions; notes that both the Ombudsperson and OLAF decided to start independent investigations on the alleged EULEX misconduct and calls on all investigators to effectively coordinate their actions and exchange information; considers, however, that a broad and deep analysis is needed, in order to assess the overall effectiveness of EULEX and the adequacy of its performance, updating the report published in October 2012 by the European Court of Auditors;

24.  Calls on EULEX to perform its mandate with reinvigorated effort; stresses the vital importance of complete transparency and accountability and increased efficiency in its work, demonstrating more concrete and high-level results and communicating regularly and comprehensively about its activities and decisions; underlines EULEX’s importance in reaching out to local authorities and encouraging them to meet their commitments regarding rule of law reforms, ownership and the introduction of legislative amendments for the establishment of relocated judicial proceedings; calls on the Kosovo authorities to continue to respect EULEX’s mandate and to support the exercise of its executive mandate;

25.  Notes the progress made by Kosovo in fulfilling the requirements of the visa liberalisation roadmap; calls on the authorities to make further efforts and to prove their commitment to implementing the recommendations, including by adopting the four outstanding pieces of legislation; urges the Commission to make the utmost effort to accelerate the visa liberalisation process for Kosovo as the last country in the region with visa obligations; expresses strong concern about the recent upsurge in the number of citizens leaving Kosovo for EU countries, including Roma, Ashkali and Albanians; calls on the Pristina authorities to take effective action against the criminal networks involved in the trafficking of human beings and, with the help of the European Union Office in Pristina, to explain clearly to the general public that there is little chance of asylum applications being accepted; stresses the need to address the underlying causes for citizens leaving Kosovo, including by investing in quality education, especially for minority and marginalised communities;

26.  Calls on the Serbian and Kosovo authorities to set up cooperation arrangements in order to clamp down on and dismantle the criminal networks that are controlling, exploiting and smuggling irregular migrants from Kosovo to some EU Member States through Serbia;

27.  Calls on the Kosovo authorities to adopt the new strategy and plan of action on children’s rights, and stresses the importance of investing in education, health and nutrition, particularly for minority and marginalised communities; stresses the importance of the Child Protection Law, with a view to putting in place a functional child protection system; stresses the importance of strengthening the accountability of institutions at central and local level with a view to monitoring the implementation of children’s rights;

28.  Notes with concern the high unemployment rates, particularly among young people, and gender discrimination on the labour market; notes that progress on property rights remains slow and that this poses an obstacle to long-term economic growth; takes note of the significant decline in foreign direct investments in the third quarter of 2014; calls on the Kosovo Government to work on improving the business environment, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, and to create a secure environment that will attract more foreign direct investments for the benefit of everyone in Kosovo; calls on the Commission to provide assistance to young entrepreneurs as part of IPA funding, including measures to facilitate links with entrepreneurs from EU Member States;

29.  Notes with concern that the implementation of the Law on Labour remains unsatisfactory, as does that of the Law on Strikes; notes that the unemployment rate in Kosovo is around 30 % and especially affects women’s participation in labour;

30.  Regrets that, due to the election events in both countries, the pace of high-level negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia has slowed down; welcomes the resumption of the meetings between Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels on 9 February 2015; notes, however, that meetings have been taking place at a technical level and that some progress has been made, including on freedom of movement; regrets that most of the agreements signed by the two sides have not been fully implemented and calls on Serbia and Kosovo to proceed with the full implementation of the agreements already reached with renewed determination; stresses the importance of explaining to the population the significance and implications of these agreements; stresses that the development of good neighbourly relations can serve the interests of both countries;

31.  Reiterates the importance of ensuring that Kosovo is assigned an international telephone code of its own as soon as possible, as this will help give Kosovo added international visibility;

32.  Warmly welcomes the ratification of the decision by the International Olympic Committee to grant full recognition to the National Olympic Committee of Kosovo and urges other sports federations to act accordingly, thus allowing Kosovar sportswomen and sportsmen to participate in European and international sporting competitions as citizens of their country;

33.  Underlines the fact that joining international and regional organisations and mechanisms should be a priority for Kosovo; calls for Kosovo’s relations and representation within regional organisations, international agencies and bodies such as the Council of Europe and cultural and heritage institutions to be upgraded to full membership and for its representation in European and international media organisations also to be upgraded with a view to enabling Kosovar artists to take part in all international cultural events, including the Eurovision Song Contest; recalls in this context the importance of complying with the agreement reached on regional cooperation;

34.  Calls on the Kosovo law enforcement agencies and police forces to work actively and to cooperate with their European counterparts to achieve better coordination on counterterrorism and in combating drug trafficking and trafficking in human beings, and stresses in this context the importance of Kosovo’s full membership of Europol and Interpol;

35.  Notes that some progress has been made regarding the North, particularly with the election of mayors through Kosovo-wide elections and the increased number of EU-funded projects in the North; stresses, however, the need to proceed with the establishment of the Association of Serbian Municipalities, which should further lessen the need for parallel structures; notes at the same time that further continuous efforts will be needed to bring the ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities closer together; calls for a joint solution to the problem of the Mitrovica bridge, which is currently hindering the free movement of people;

36.  Reiterates the need for complete transparency in communicating the outcome of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and for parliaments and civil societies to be involved in the implementation process;

37.  Calls on the Serbian authorities to provide full assistance in repatriating the bodies of Kosovar missing persons found in Serbia, and to continue excavation work in the identified areas or in areas in which there are alleged to be mass graves and in which missing persons are presumed to be buried;

38.  Supports the continued prosecution of war crimes at national level, and points to the importance of prosecuting war rape;

39.  Calls on the Vice-President/High Representative and the Member States to extend the mandate of the EU Special Representative for Kosovo beyond 28 February 2015;

40.  Notes with concern that the explosion of 6 June 2014 at the Kosovo A plant is proof of the fragility of the system and urges again that the plant be decommissioned by 2017 at the latest; is convinced that the Kosovar Government should design a clear and viable energy policy as this will be essential to its economic development; stresses the need to promote energy efficiency and to conduct energy needs assessment studies before commissioning new power plants;

41.  Welcomes the efforts to diversify energy sources and develop renewables, in particular with regard to the launch of construction work on three new hydro-electric plants; stresses, in this regard, the importance of adopting and applying in full EU environmental standards; reminds the authorities again of the importance of consistently complying with environmental standards when elaborating the country’s development strategy;

42.  Expresses concern at the large amount of radioactive residues in solid and liquid form that are still to be found in municipalities throughout Kosovo without safe protection; calls on the Commission to provide assistance and work closely with the Kosovo authorities with a view to finding a permanent solution to this problem;

43.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the European External Action Service and the Government and National Assembly of Kosovo.


European Semester for economic policy coordination: Annual Growth Survey 2015
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: Annual Growth Survey 2015 (2014/2221(INI))
P8_TA(2015)0067A8-0037/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and in particular Articles 121(2) and 136 thereof,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1175/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2011 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1466/97 on the strengthening of the surveillance of budgetary positions and the surveillance and coordination of economic policies(1),

–  having regard to Council Directive 2011/85/EU of 8 November 2011 on requirements for budgetary frameworks of the Member States(2),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1174/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2011 on enforcement measures to correct excessive macroeconomic imbalances in the euro area(3),

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EU) No 1177/2011 of 8 November 2011 amending Regulation (EC) No 1467/97 on speeding up and clarifying the implementation of the excessive deficit procedure(4),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1176/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2011 on the prevention and correction of macroeconomic imbalances(5),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1173/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2011 on the effective enforcement of budgetary surveillance in the euro area(6),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 473/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on common provisions for monitoring and assessing draft budgetary plans and ensuring the correction of excessive deficit of the Member States in the euro area(7),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 472/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on the strengthening of economic and budgetary surveillance of Member States in the euro area experiencing or threatened with serious difficulties with respect to their financial stability(8),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 2 June 2014 on country-specific recommendations 2014 (COM(2014)0400),

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 February 2014 on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: Employment and Social Aspects in the Annual Growth Survey 2014(9),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 28 November 2014 on the Annual Growth Survey 2015 (COM(2014)0902),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 13 January 2015 on making the best use of the flexibility within the existing rules of the stability and growth pact (COM(2015)0012),

–  having regard to the debate with representatives of national parliaments on the implementation of the 2015 priorities of the European Semester,

–  having regard to its resolution of 5 February 2013 on improving access to finance for SMEs(10),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (A8-0037/2015),

A.  whereas the economic recovery in the EU slowed down considerably in the course of 2014 but, according to the Commission, has a prospect of catching up in 2015 and of doing even better in 2016; whereas six years after the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, the euro area is still facing record unemployment levels of almost 12 %; whereas weak growth has compounded disinflationary trends; whereas in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the euro area in particular stands out as an area of unsatisfactory growth while a number of countries are recovering faster; whereas, despite deflationary pressure, the Commission predicts that inflation should increase as of mid-2015 and in the course of 2016;

B.  whereas the investment level has fallen by EUR 470 billion since the peak of the crisis, and the investment gap is estimated at around EUR 230-370 billion compared to its long-term trends; whereas the response to the euro sovereign debt crisis and the revealed inefficiency of the European institutional framework has been substantial, but not sufficient to give the euro area economy a strong enough momentum to return to a rapid growth path;

1.  Is of the opinion that the euro area is still struggling with the consequences of an exceptionally long economic downturn after 2008; points out that the recovery is still fragile and should be enhanced if it is to deliver substantially more growth and jobs in the medium term; notes, however, that growth in 2014 is more broadly based; notes that the challenge today is to address both cyclical short-term as well as structural long-term problems; underlines that short-run pressures can lead to measures of a transitory nature which could undermine the long-term capacity for growth; underlines the need to ensure that short and long-term policies reinforce one another;

2.  Takes note of the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey 2015, which endeavours to promote a return to higher growth levels and to strengthen the recovery; supports the three main pillars approach (boosting investment, accelerating structural reforms and pursuing responsible growth-friendly fiscal consolidation) as the right way to achieve these goals; considers that this approach should be fully incorporated into the upcoming country-specific recommendations (CSRs); supports the Commission’s suggestions for improving the European Semester by streamlining existing procedures, including its timetable, and increasing the involvement of national parliaments with a view to strengthening national ownership, considering that only around 9 % of the CSRs were fully implemented by the Member States in 2013; calls on the Commission to come forward rapidly with robust data for the implementation of CSRs in 2014; in this context, highlights the need to streamline the existing procedures of the European Semester, including its timetable, and to increase the involvement of national parliaments, with a view to strengthening national ownership of structural reforms;

3.  Highlights the importance and added value of the Single Market Integration reports in the previous years, contributing to the overall priorities set in the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey and the identification of country-specific recommendations in the context of the European Semester; finds it, therefore, most deplorable that the Single Market Integration report has been omitted for 2015;

4.  Underlines the fact that the European Semester, introduced in 2010, is establishing an annual cycle of economic policy coordination involving a detailed analysis of Member States’ plans for budgetary, macroeconomic and structural reforms;

5.  Expresses concern that most Member States are still losing market shares globally; believes that the EU economy as a whole needs to boost its competitiveness further in the global economy, particularly by increasing competition in the product and services markets in order to enhance innovation-driven efficiency; insists that labour costs should remain in line with productivity, and that wages should contribute to sustained social security systems; stresses that Member States, when having to manage their expenditure according to the requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), should reduce current expenditure rather than reducing investment commitments, even though the rules do not take into account the fact that investment expenditure and current expenditure have a different impact on growth; takes note of the Commission communication on making the best use of the flexibility within the existing rules of the Stability and Growth Pact (COM(2015)0012), as it clarifies the procedure and explains the link between structural reforms, investment and fiscal responsibility whilst making the best use of the flexibility which exists within its rules; welcomes the proposal by the Commission to streamline the European Semester; points out that one-size-fits-all approaches in preparing CSRs should be avoided;

Investment

6.  Believes that the lack of investment is caused by low confidence, subdued expectations of demand, high indebtedness, risk-aversion of the private sector, absence of measures to encourage productive public investments, fragmentation of the financial markets, slow deleveraging, subdued expectations of demand aggravated by austerity measures seeking to correct overspending, lack of appropriate financing capacity and the fact that in many cases the Member States and the EU fail to take proper action to cope with these factors; underlines that the investment gap can be bridged by targeted public investments and significantly higher levels of investments in private companies and in European businesses; calls for reforms facilitating a new entrepreneurial climate stimulating new business, new investments and innovations, with the possible returns on investments as a crucial factor for attracting financial capital to the European economy; stresses that increased financing of investments calls for a well-functioning financial system where increased stability and existing cross-border institutions can facilitate liquidity and market making, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises;

7.  Welcomes the Investment Plan for Europe, which is an important instrument for increasing private and public investment; notes that the plan is meant to trigger additional investment, develop new projects, attract investors and restore confidence; considers, however, that it is far too early to meaningfully assess the actual impact of the plan; notes that boosting investment should not be seen as an alternative but rather a complement to reforms; insists that the resources of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) should be used to spend money on projects with economic return or with a positive social cost-benefit effect; emphasises that the EFSI should not merely substitute co-financed European projects for nationally financed ones; stresses that the European funds should lead to additional investment, not just replace national investment funds that would go to consumption; believes that the Investment Plan for Europe should focus in the first place on projects with a European added value which are not yet eligible for banking finance; emphasises the importance of the regulatory components of the Investment Plan in terms of improving the environment for investment; notes that the implementation of the Commission’s Investment Plan is key in order for it to carry the desired added value; emphasises that the investment projects need to be carefully selected to avoid the plan failing to deliver sustainable growth and jobs in Europe; recalls that the results of the Commission’s Investment Plan should be rigorously assessed, especially on how projects were selected and prioritised, and also to avoid privatising profits or socialising losses; stresses the interdependence between the lever of the Investment Plan and the actual projects being undertaken; underlines that the aim of achieving a high lever should not come at the expense of sound project selection, which should also take into account the projects’ geographic locations; underlines the need to ensure a high quality governance and selection process; notes that the Member States in the adjustment programme expect the Investment Plan to significantly enhance and to facilitate grants and loans for small and medium-sized businesses, which have borne the brunt of the crisis;

8.  Calls on the Member States actively to support the Investment Plan, and to contribute to the EFSI, supplementing the amounts provided through the EU budget and by the EIB, in order to guide and encourage the private sector to invest;

9.  Stresses that there should be a special regime for SMEs under the Investment Plan in order to create a level playing field, as SMEs are easily put at a disadvantage due to their size and market position;

10.  Stresses that a lack of access to finance, particularly for SMEs, is one of the greatest obstacles to growth in the EU; is concerned that bank credit is continuously difficult to obtain for SMEs; believes that alternatives to bank financing are needed, in particular by improving the business environment for venture capital, peer-to-peer funds and promotion of credit unions, but also, more broadly, by creating the conditions for an efficient allocation of capital through capital markets; considers that more integrated capital markets and better supervision over financial institutions are fundamental in order to achieve these objectives in the short and medium term; stresses that SMEs should have privileged access to the Investment Plan;

11.  Acknowledges that energy is an important factor for economic competitiveness; stresses the need to eliminate barriers to the single energy market by, inter alia, promoting energy independence; calls on the Commission to assess progress in this domain at both EU and national level, supporting measures to tackle fragmentation and implementation difficulties;

12.  Is still concerned about the lack of progress in reducing excessive private debt levels; points out that this is not only a concern for financial stability, as it also limits the EU’s growth potential and makes the ECB’s monetary policy less effective; calls on the Commission to make further proposals for the preparation of effective procedures for private sector deleveraging, including bankruptcy and insolvency procedures, while fostering a fair and transparent burden-sharing of costs, as the huge debt burden weighing on companies and households is one of the key factors limiting private investment;

Structural reforms

13.  Notes that structural reforms are still necessary in a number of countries; also notes the fact that those Member States that have successfully implemented adjustment programmes or financial sector programmes have been able to return to the capital markets, where they now access capital at low interest rates; points out that the reasons behind this return were, inter alia, the actions taken by the European Central Bank (ECB); encourages the Member States in the rest of the euro area to be no less ambitious in modernising their economies; notes that due regard should be given to the social and employment impact of reforms; emphasises that a more relaxed ECB monetary policy should be complemented by ambitious and socially sustainable structural reforms by the Member States;

14.  Calls on the Member States to make their labour markets more efficient, to develop more active labour market policies aimed at creating well-paid jobs, to modernise the social protection systems, including the pension systems, while safeguarding inclusiveness, sustainability and fairness, and to improve and streamline the legal and administrative environment for business investment; stresses that structural reforms need to lead to real and sustainable growth, higher employment, strengthened competitiveness and increasing convergence, and should be complemented by well-targeted, longer-term investments in education, research and development, innovation, infrastructure, industry, ICT, sustainable energy and human resources;

15.  Calls on the Member States to safeguard and enhance the inclusiveness, sustainability and fairness of social protection, in particular for those most in need, and to improve and streamline the legal and administrative environment for business investment; stresses that jobs must be of quality, to counteract in-work poverty, and should address the gender pay gap; underlines that economic reforms need to be complemented by well-targeted, longer-term investments in education, research and development, innovation, infrastructure, ICT and sustainable energy;

16.  Stresses that reducing the EU’s dependence on external energy sources must form part of its growth strategy; reiterates, therefore, the need to diversify external energy supplies, to upgrade the EU’s energy infrastructure and to complete the EU internal energy market as key priorities of the EU energy security strategy;

17.  Stresses that the EU cannot compete on costs alone, but needs to increase productivity through sustainable investment in research and development, education and skills, and resource efficiency, at national as well as European level; calls on the Commission and on governments to give these areas priority in their budgets; underlines that the Member States should pay particular attention to youth unemployment when devising reforms, in order not to deprive young people of their opportunities from the start; urges Member States in this regard to use the available financial means, including those under the Youth Guarantee, more rapidly and efficiently;

18.  Urges the Commission and the Member States to incorporate financial assistance and the ad hoc system of the Troika into an improved legal structure compliant with the EU economic governance framework and EU law, thereby guaranteeing democratic accountability; stresses the importance of ensuring the follow-up of the Troika reports adopted in March 2014 by Parliament; calls on the Commission to implement the conclusions of these reports; points out that EU financial assistance to certain Member States, provided on terms combining solidarity with conditionality, is most successful when there is a strong national ownership and commitment to reform; reminds the Commission and the Member States that they need to carry out a comprehensive impact assessment of financial assistance programmes;

19.  Calls for urgent action to be taken by the Commission to fight tax fraud and tax evasion; calls for a tax system that is simple and transparent; calls on the Member States to reach an agreement on the proposal on a common consolidated corporate tax basis as an important instrument in that fight, and believes that its position of 19 April 2012 on the proposal for a Council Directive on a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB)(11) shall serve as a basis for a reasonable compromise; reiterates its call on the Member States to shift taxes from labour; notes that the measures to fight tax fraud and tax evasion should not undermine the prerogatives of the Member States; welcomes, however, effective cooperation on tax arrangements at European level;

20.  Highlights the need for reforms in educational systems to enable future generations to prepare for the needs of the growing labour markets of the future;

21.  Believes that the Member States and the Commission have not yet delivered on their commitment to complete the single market, especially the single market for services and the digital economy;

22.  Reiterates its call on the Commission to improve the governance of the single market; urges the Commission to align the aims of the Single Market with those of the European Semester and to ensure consistency between the monitoring mechanisms of both; believes that a separate analytical tool, composed of indicators measuring the implementation of the single market, can provide useful guidance in relation to country-specific recommendations and the Annual Growth Survey; highlights the importance and added value of the Single Market Integration reports in the previous years, contributing to the overall priorities set in the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey and the identification of country-specific recommendations in the context of the European Semester; finds it, therefore, deplorable that the Single Market Integration report has been omitted for 2015; calls on the Commission to make full use of all existing measures provided for in EU law to enforce the implementation of the European Semester;

23.  Is concerned about protectionist tendencies in certain Member States; points out that the Treaty does not provide for the restriction of the free movement of people, services or capital, and recalls that the Commission must safeguard and enforce these freedoms;

24.  Underlines the fact that the absence of a well-functioning internal labour market and of a balanced approach to immigration is hampering growth in the EU; is concerned about protectionist tendencies in certain Member States; points out that the Treaty does not provide for the restriction of the free movement of people, goods, services or capital, and recalls that the Commission must safeguard and enforce these freedoms;

25.  Reiterates the importance of ensuring labour mobility (both cross-border and cross-sectoral), enhanced labour productivity (connected with skills training to improve employability), job quality and labour market flexibility, while preserving the necessary scope of work security, limiting the use of precarious work and ensuring proper scope for collective bargaining; stresses that improved matching of skills supply and demand, as well as job and career guidance, will be of great importance in the future; believes that more mobility may help to reduce the high levels of unfilled job vacancies that persist alongside high unemployment; underlines the importance of investing in the employability of female workers and young people, especially in the context of emerging technologies and new sectors, given that these sectors hold the potential for job creation;

26.  Welcomes measures that make the European Semester process more effective and democratic; acknowledges that the implementation record is better in the area of public finance, in which surveillance tools are stronger; calls for the balanced integration of employment and socioeconomic indicators;

Fiscal responsibility

27.  Welcomes the strong decrease in the number of countries under the excessive deficit procedure – down to 11 in 2014 from 24 in 2011; notes that due to this fiscal improvement the fiscal stance in the EU is now expected to remain broadly neutral in 2015; asks the Commission to assess whether the EU fiscal stance is compatible with the need to increase investment; expresses its concern, however, about growing inequalities, decrease in purchasing power, high long-term unemployment and youth unemployment, and the still very high public and private indebtedness of a number of Member States in the euro area, a circumstance that not only hinders growth but also constitutes a substantial risk in case of possible future shocks; calls on the Commission to adopt a prudent and conservative interpretation of the growth indicators and to review the quality of economic forecasts, as previous Commission forecasts have too often been revised downwards;

28.  Agrees with the Commission that most Member States need to continue to pursue growth-friendly fiscal consolidation; invites Member States with sufficient fiscal space to consider reducing taxes and social security contributions with a view to stimulating private investment and job creation; calls on the Commission to come up with concrete recommendations to the Member States, including those still under the economic adjustment programmes, so that they support economic growth with sustainable and socially balanced structural reforms that lead to quality employment creation, strengthened competitiveness and increasing convergence;

29.  Notes the Commission assessment of the Member States’ draft budgetary plans; stresses that the examination of draft budgetary plans should aim at sustainable finance; insists on the importance of applying fiscal rules and on respect for the equal treatment principle;

30.  Notes that only five Member States were found to be fully compliant with the provisions of the SGP; insists that the SGP was developed by consensus among the Member States; underlines that a high proportion of expenditure spent on servicing public debt reduces resources that can be spent on public services and investments; accepts, therefore, that deficit reduction in highly indebted countries remains necessary, but considers that such fiscal consolidation should take place in a way that protects vulnerable users of public services, protects public investment and raises revenue in an equitable way through increased growth;

Strengthened coordination of national policies

31.  Welcomes the Alert Mechanism Report; welcomes the gradual reduction of internal imbalances in the Member States; draws attention to the external imbalances of several Member States, including the large trade surpluses; notes a loss of global market shares for the EU as a whole;

32.  Points out that the objective of the macroeconomic imbalance procedure is not only meant to avoid strong negative effects on growth and employment inside a country, but also to prevent the effects of ill-designed national policies from spilling over into other Member States in the euro area; notes the announcement of the December 2014 European Council to move the debate on closer coordination of economic policies in the EMU forward in 2015, through the Four Presidents’ Report;

33.  Reiterates its view that the current economic governance framework is lacking sufficient democratic accountability in the application of its rules and of the institutions and bodies involved; calls on the Commission to make the necessary proposals to address the lack of proper democratic accountability in EU economic governance;

34.  Notes that consideration should be given to the effects of the significant fall in oil prices and to whether this windfall should be passed on entirely to consumers of fossil fuels or shared, with governments increasing taxes on fossil fuels in order to diminish their deficits, finance investments, avoid undermining climate change policies and lessen disinflationary effects;

EU budget

35.  Emphasises that the principle of budgetary accuracy in public accounts shall govern the drawing up of national budgets and the EU budget so as to ensure convergence and stability in the EU; is convinced that such accuracy is one factor in the response to the crisis of confidence existing between the Member States and between the Member States and the citizens of the European Union, a loss of confidence which has increased since the recent financial crisis struck;

36.  Calls accordingly for the economic assumptions employed in drawing up national budgets to be harmonised; considers in particular that there should be a common assessment of factors in the international economic situation;

37.  Calls for greater uniformity in the presentation of public accounts so as to facilitate comparisons and prevent excessive macroeconomic imbalances; calls in particular for the way in which Member States enter their contributions to the EU budget in their accounts to be standardised;

38.  Calls on the Commission to offset any democratic deficit in the semester by means of the package of measures announced for 2015 on deepening economic and monetary union;

39.  Considers it vital that the European Parliament and the national parliaments collaborate more closely in the context of the European Semester on economic and budgetary governance; undertakes to deepen its relations with the national parliaments in a spirit of constructive partnership;

40.  Deplores the fact that the amount of unpaid bills in the EU budget undermines the credibility of the EU and is in contradiction to the goals set at the highest political level for growth and employment – notably youth employment – and support for small and medium-sized undertakings, and fears that this will deepen the gulf between the Union and its citizens;

41.  Calls for the post-electoral revision of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) to analyse and therefore enhance the value added by EU funding to the goals of competitiveness, growth, employment and energy transition set by the Union; calls on the Commission to adopt a clearer methodology for better tracing EU funds and expenditure related to the Europe 2020 goals in order to allow improved impact assessments;

42.  Calls, furthermore, on the Commission to report on the potential negative impact that the delayed payments issue would have on the commitments made by Member States in the context of the European Semester;

43.  Notes that in many Member States public administration has to date not been made more efficient, even though improvements in that area would serve to achieve savings by rationalising organisation and cutting red tape for businesses and citizens;

44.  Welcomes the fact that the Commission has, in its Annual Growth Survey 2015, underlined the economic significance of the European Structural and Investment Funds (including the youth employment initiative); recalls that these funds represent 10 % of total public investment on average in the EU but that the situation varies across countries and that in some Member States they can amount to as much as 80 % of public investment; emphasises that the Structural and Investment Funds constitute a good example of the synergy between the European budget and the national budgets on the basis of commonly agreed objectives enshrined in partnership agreements on growth and investment in line with the Europe 2020 strategy; supports all efforts in the direction of an intelligent pooling of European and national budgetary means in order to achieve efficiency gains, economic stimulation and lower national deficits by means of a positive effect of shared resources;

45.  Highlights the urgent need to effectively tackle the tax fraud which is potentially depriving the EU budget of substantial resources;

46.  Calls on the Commission to submit an analysis of the possible impact of redeploying funds from EU programmes such as the Connecting Europe Facility and Horizon 2020;

47.  Calls on the Member States to top up the Investment Plan which seeks to maximise the impact of public spending and attract private investment;

o
o   o

48.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the European Council, the Council, the Commission, the governments of the Member States, the national parliaments and the European Central Bank.

(1) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 12.
(2) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 41.
(3) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 8.
(4) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 33.
(5) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 25.
(6) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 1.
(7) OJ L 140, 27.5.2013, p. 11.
(8) OJ L 140, 27.5.2013, p. 1.
(9) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0129.
(10) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2013)0036.
(11) OJ C 258 E, 7.9.2013, p. 134.


European Semester for economic policy coordination: employment and social aspects in the Annual Growth Survey 2015
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on European Semester for economic policy coordination: Employment and Social Aspects in the Annual Growth Survey 2015 (2014/2222(INI))
P8_TA(2015)0068A8-0043/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Article 9 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to Articles 145, 148, 152 and 153(5) TFEU,

–  having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, in particular to its Title IV (Solidarity),

–  having regard to Article 349 TFEU concerning specific measures for the Outermost Regions,

–  having regard to the revised European Social Charter, in particular its Article 30 on the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion,

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 February 2014 on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: employment and social aspects(1),

–  having regard to its resolution of 22 October 2014 on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2014 priorities(2),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 28 November 2014 entitled ‘Annual Growth Survey 2015’ (COM(2014)0902), and to the draft Joint Employment Report annexed thereto,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 26 November 2014 entitled ‘An Investment Plan for Europe’ (COM(2014)0903),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 13 January 2015 entitled ‘Making the best use of the flexibility within the existing rules of the Stability and Growth Pact’ (COM(2015)0012),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 2 October 2013 entitled ‘Strengthening the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union’ (COM(2013)0690),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 3 March 2010 entitled ‘Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ (COM(2010)2020),

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 November 2014 on employment and social aspects of the Europe 2020 strategy(3),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 18 April 2012 entitled ‘Towards a job-rich recovery’ (COM(2012)0173),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 16 December 2010 entitled ‘The European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion: A European framework for social and territorial cohesion’ (COM(2010)0758), and to Parliament’s resolution of 15 November 2011 thereon(4),

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘Youth Opportunities Initiative’ (COM(2011)0933),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 20 February 2013 entitled ‘Towards Social Investment for Growth and Cohesion – including implementing the European Social Fund 2014-2020’ (COM(2013)0083),

–  having regard to its resolution of 13 March 2014 on employment and social aspects of the role and operations of the Troika (ECB, Commission and IMF) with regard to euro-area programme countries(5),

–  having regard to its resolution of 11 June 2013 on social housing in the European Union(6),

–  having regard to its resolution of 15 April 2014 on ‘How can the European Union contribute to creating a hospitable environment for enterprises, businesses and start-ups to create jobs?’(7),

–  having regard to its resolution of 17 July 2014 on youth employment(8),

–  having regard to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) ‘Global Wage Report 2014/2015’ of 5 December 2014,

–  having regard to the OECD working paper ‘Trends in Income Inequality and its Impact on Economic Growth’ of 9 December 2014,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 7 July 2014 entitled ‘Green Employment Initiative: Tapping into the job creation potential of the green economy’ (COM(2014)0446),

–  having regard to its resolutions of 14 September 2011(9) and of 16 January 2014(10) on an EU Homelessness Strategy,

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (A8-0043/2015),

A.  whereas Europe must be committed to the model of the social market economy, ensuring sustainable growth in order to provide the next generation with jobs instead of debts;

B.  whereas the economic and social context in the EU continues to be bleak, and whereas, according to the Commission’s 2014 autumn economic forecast, the economic recovery remains fragile; whereas despite the negative growth rates in the eurozone for the past two years, eurozone growth is expected to reach 0,8 % in 2014 and 1,1 % in 2015; whereas only a few Member States have better forecasts, and whereas the Commission has systematically revised downwards its own forecasts during the last years; whereas despite the fact that the forecasted overall deficit in the EU28 has been reduced to 3 % for 2014, it remains high in some Member States, demonstrating the need for further fiscal consolidation that is compatible with growth and better and sustainable employment, since recovery is neither robust nor underpinned;

C.  whereas the quick path of fiscal consolidation adopted during the economic crisis has hindered Member States from reaching the Europe 2020 targets, demonstrating that fiscal policies should be differentiated and adapted to the specific situation of each Member State; whereas the sharp fall in oil prices can provide an additional boost to the economy of many Member States, especially if it is translated quickly into reduced energy costs for families and businesses;

D.  whereas the EU needs to continue to improve its economic and social policies with the aim of reaching the Europa 2020 targets as soon as possible, while overcoming the risks of secular stagnation and deflation, and whereas for this to happen it is necessary to continue efforts to promote investments and structural reforms that increase economic competitiveness in a socially responsible way; whereas an ecological transformation is needed to ensure a shift towards a resource-efficient economy and sustainable development; whereas, worryingly, the EU’s standing in the world economy is declining as a result of the crisis, the loss of its industrial base and the lack of trust of investors and entrepreneurs, while other countries are showing solid signs of recovery; whereas in October 2014 the IMF estimated that the probability of a recession in the eurozone had increased and would reach 35-40 % at year’s end;

E.  whereas the Member States have the primary role in delivering employment policies, including youth employment policies, and that such measures are best delivered at the national level;

F.  whereas the EU has to tackle the rapid ageing of its population as soon as possible;

G.  whereas, in spite of some improvements (for the first time since 2011 there has been a small increase in full-time contracts), the unemployment rate remains historically high, with nearly 25 million people out of work in the EU; whereas long-term unemployment is worryingly high, and 12 million people have been unemployed for more than a year (up 4 % over the previous year); whereas youth unemployment rates have not decreased significantly (they have only been reduced by 1,9 % compared to 2013), reaching an EU average of 21,2 %; whereas 75 % of the long-term unemployed in the EU are under 35 years old; whereas the labour market situation is particularly critical for young people, except in some Member States, regardless of their level of education;

H.  whereas the European Social Fund, with the Youth Guarantee, and the Youth Employment Initiative have to be used fully and correctly to finance sustainable projects in order to fight unemployment, in particular youth unemployment;

I.  whereas the share of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) has remained high, and whereas young Roma are over-represented in this group;

J.  whereas several factors – including the failure to create a positive environment to boost investment and growth, the reduction of market incomes and the weakening of the impact of social transfers over time(11), and efforts by some Member States to restore their economic balance by reducing spending on social protection – have led to significant reductions in household gross disposable incomes, contributing to an increase in the number of European families at risk of exclusion, and to an alarming increase in inequalities, including gender inequalities; whereas one in four Europeans are at risk of poverty; whereas underemployment and precariousness has peaked and, for 50 % of all job seekers, securing employment is not enough to lift them out of poverty;

K.  whereas the figures for 2013, the latest on record, portray long-term unemployment at a historically high level of 5,1 % of the labour force in EU-28; whereas long-term unemployment not only has crucial consequences for individuals throughout their lives, but can turn into structural unemployment in the EU;

L.  whereas 25,1 % of the EU population is currently at risk of poverty or social exclusion; whereas the average growth rate of child poverty is higher than the average growth rate of poverty overall, and whereas one in three children live below the poverty line in some Member States;

M.  whereas older workers are the most likely group to be long-term unemployed; whereas only half of the workers aged 55-65 were working in 2012; whereas older people suffer more from reductions in public expenditure on social services, health services and social benefits; whereas some categories of older people, such as people over 80, older women, older migrants and older members of ethnic minorities, are especially at risk of falling into poverty;

N.  whereas in order to tackle the crisis, certain Member States have made severe cuts in public expenditures at the same time as demand for social protection has increased in response to the rise in unemployment; whereas national budget allocations for social security cover have been further stretched as contributions have fallen in the wake of large-scale job or wage cuts, thus seriously jeopardising the European social model; whereas the reforms called for fail to meet citizens' needs and expectations as regards employment and the social sphere;

O.  whereas poverty reduction is not just one of the main goals of the Europe 2020 strategy, but also a social responsibility of the Member States, and decent and sustainable employment is the best way out of poverty; whereas efforts must therefore be focused on facilitating access to jobs, in particular to those furthest away from the labour market; whereas the labour market is still marked by significant inequalities in employment conditions, and whereas past the age of 55, women run a greater risk than men of living in poverty or social exclusion;

P.  whereas socioeconomic imbalances between Member States have deepened further, while the reverse is true with regard to the goal of regional convergence; whereas the core-periphery gap in unemployment has increased from 3,5 % in 2000 to 10 % in 2013; whereas this divergence increases the risk of fragmentation and threatens EU economic stability and social cohesion; whereas the Sixth Cohesion Report highlights the role that structural funds play in overcoming inequality especially during the crisis;

Q.  whereas Article 174 TFUE provides that “In order to promote its overall harmonious development, the Union shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the strengthening of its economic, social and territorial cohesion. In particular, rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and islands, cross-border and mountain regions”;

R.  whereas regions suffering from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps usually have higher unemployment rates, less economic growth and a lack of significant investments aimed at improving their potential;

S.  whereas Parliament has for the past two years warned of the social risks of deflation in a context of low growth, high unemployment and downward pressure on wages; whereas the European Central Bank (ECB) has forecast low inflation in the long run, and has warned of the consequences of this on internal demand, growth and employment; whereas deflation has become a reality since August 2014 in eight Member States (of which six are in the eurozone); whereas demand and job creation in the EU is heavily constrained by the prevailing weakness of credit provision to SMEs and the need to reduce excessive public and private debt with special regards to mortgage loans; whereas the drop in inflation rates significantly increases these difficulties, by raising real interest rates and the real debt burden, and could lead to a vicious circle of economic depression; whereas the ECB reacted to all these aspects on 22 January 2015 by implementing an expanded asset purchase programme, with combined monthly asset purchases amounting to EUR 60 billion, to be carried out until at least September 2016;

T.  whereas an expansionary monetary policy can be used to foster exports as a way to improve the EU economy in the short term;

U.  whereas low interest rates can be used to boost investments in the EU;

V.  whereas fiscal consolidation has increased, and new headline targets – focusing more on structural than on cyclical deficits – have been introduced; whereas, in spite of this, the size of fiscal multipliers in the current context is still very high; whereas there is a need to accomplish the medium-term objective and the debt objective to create an environment that will foster economic growth and job creation; whereas there is a need systematically to assess the social, environmental and gender impact of these measures;

W.  whereas public and private investment in the EU has decreased alarmingly and is now close to 20 % below pre-crisis levels, which is lower than among its main economic partners elsewhere in the world; whereas investment in better and sustainable jobs, human capital, research and innovation (including smaller-scale projects), a resource-efficient energy union, the Digital Single Market, the promotion of entrepreneurship and a better business environment for SMEs must be among the main priorities for both the Commission and the Member States, as investments in these areas are essential not only for ensuring a recovery but also for expanding the EU’s economic potential to grow and create prosperity;

X.  whereas insufficient involvement in the EU Semester Process at EU and national level on the part of national parliaments, the European Parliament, local and regional authorities, civil society organisations and social partners has limited the ownership of reforms by the Member States, and the development of inclusive, social and sustainable solutions, and has reduced citizens’ confidence in the EU project;

Y.  whereas the setting of wages is the competence of the Member States;

Ambitious economic policies for growth, quality job creation and fighting deflation

1.  Welcomes the Commission’s integrated approach to growth, founded on three main pillars: an Investment Plan for Europe, structural reforms and fiscal responsibility; calls for an ambitious, expansionary economic and fiscal policy, within the existing rules of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), to boost smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and to create better and sustainable jobs; underlines that solidarity is the core value on which the European Union is built; calls on the Commission to support Member States’ efforts by providing concrete recommendations that are helpful to them and to the EU as a whole, so that they not only address fiscal consolidation but also structural reforms in a socially balanced and economically efficient and sustainable way; stresses that low inflation is already increasing real interest rates as well as real public and private debt, which together with high, long-term youth unemployment depresses growth and increases poverty;

2.  Is aware of the links between fiscal responsibility and the need to boost investments and structural reforms in the Member States, in the context of the SGP; welcomes, in this sense, the Commission’s communication entitled “Making the best use of the flexibility within the existing rules of the flexibility of the Stability and Growth Pact”; calls on the partners to implement the reforms using the flexibility already built into the rules and agreements, should a Member State face excessive macroeconomic imbalances, so as to guarantee that fiscal responsibility is compatible with economic growth, employment creation and the welfare state;

3.  Underlines the need for structural reforms in the Member States; notes that while some Member States that have implemented reforms have been successful in regaining competitiveness in the global market, these reforms should be compatible with smart, sustainable and inclusive growth as well as with decent job creation; calls, for these goals to be achieved, for the focus of these reforms to be expanded to include areas such as the Digital Single Market, the Energy Union or fiscal reforms; considers that the reforms promoted in the labour market must also introduce the flexibility and the security needed to end segmentation and ensure decent wages;

4.  Welcomes the fact that the new policy mix adds investment to the previous priorities of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms; considers, nevertheless, that the Annual Growth Survey (AGS) should pay greater concern to aggregate demand and its connection to wage increases and social inequalities; underlines that the top priority when it comes to reducing macro-imbalances should not be to increase current account surpluses, but rather to raise the growth, investment and employment rates, and to reduce the poverty rate;

5.  Is concerned that investments in the EU have fallen significantly in recent years and are now close to 20 % below the pre-crisis level; warns that the decline has been even greater in peripheral Member States where fiscal consolidation was more acute; highlights again the job potential of the green economy which, according to Commission estimates, could create five million jobs by 2020 in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors alone, provided that ambitious climate and energy policies are put in place; calls on the Member States to ensure sufficient levels of investment in these sectors and to anticipate the future skills of workers;

6.  Welcomes the fact that one of the three main pillars of the Commission’s strategy for 2015 is investment, and calls for the plan to be implemented without delay; takes note of the fact that Member State contributions to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) will not be counted when defining the fiscal adjustment under either the preventive or the corrective arm of the SGP;

7.  Considers that the three main pillars of the Commission´s strategy for 2015 must be implemented jointly in order to boost investments, in a responsible way, in those areas that have a real impact on growth and job creation, such as the digital economy, green sectors and health care;

8.  Takes note of the fact that the EFSI will be based on existing EU resources and will not raise public ‘fresh’ money, apart from an extra EUR 5 billion from the European Investment Bank (EIB); stresses the risks of an insufficient fund based on overly optimistic assumptions about the likelihood of attracting the bulk of the financing needed from private investors; calls on the EIB to consider changing its orientation from purely commercial banking to pursuing a project risk assessment model based on defined criteria and transparency; calls on the Commission to explore ways of using the EU budget and other, new resources to ensure that the EFSI will not fail to deliver;

9.  Calls on the Commission and the EIB to assess the effects of the economic crisis on the banking system and for the final recipients of EIB funding, with particular attention to SMEs, the social economy sector and public companies;

10.  Stresses the fact that the EFSI must be focused on creating new investments in areas where investor appetite is subdued rather than on substituting investments that would have been produced elsewhere (crowding out), or on focusing on highly profitable investments that would have occurred in any case (deadweight); calls on the Commission also to include and promote social investments that not only generate financial returns but promote positive social spillovers, such as investments in human capital, investments with high impact on better and sustainable job creation or social inclusion and poverty reduction, such as social protection systems and social services, or investments in the social economy; reiterates its call for the implementation of the Social Investment Package (SIP);

11.  Calls on the Commission to ensure investments in economically weaker regions suffering from high unemployment, and in SMEs in such regions, given their very limited access to financing, in order to ensure that these efforts have a meaningful impact where they are most needed, with choices made with due regard to the investments’ economic features; shares the Commission’s view that there is a need for a skilled work force in growing sectors such as the digital economy, green sectors and health care;

12.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to tackle specific enhanced mechanisms to implement investment programmes in the outermost regions, whose remoteness, geographical fragmentation, fragile economies and natural constraints lead to heightened inequalities in accessing job opportunities, goods and services;

13.  Call on the Commission to take into account regions suffering from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps when programming the European Investment Plan, in particular as regards access to broadband;

14.  Calls on the Commission to review in depth, and to improve, the EU-EIB Project Bond Initiative, launched as a pilot project in 2012 to sum up the European Investment Plan, with a view of giving it a greater role in promoting employment; calls also, in this context, for a detailed review of the social impact bonds included in the SIP;

Responsible policy refocused on investment, quality job creation and growth

15.  Notes that the European Investment Plan is a necessary complement to efforts to boost sustainable economic growth and job creation, which need to be supported by private and public resources to succeed; welcomes the fact that the AGS 2015 continues to call for more efforts from countries with fiscal margins of manoeuvre as a means of encouraging European demand and investment;

16.  Welcomes the extension of the pace of fiscal consolidation, and the introduction of new headline targets – focusing more on structural than on cyclical deficits – that should have a positive effect on employment and sustainable growth; notes, however, that the size of fiscal multipliers in the current context is nevertheless still very high and that this will have a negative impact on economic growth and job creation as well as on the sustainability of the social protection systems; calls on the Commission to facilitate the usage of the maximum flexibility within the existing rules of the SGP;

17.  Calls on the development of a European framework to assure that all investments under the European Investment Plan have a significant impact in terms of stimulating sustainable growth, creating quality jobs and fostering social progress; calls on the Commission to monitor and control the investments under the Plan and, furthermore, to audit and measure the economic and social impact of the investments in real terms; calls on the Commission to include specialists on social policies in the expert committee of the new EFSI that will approve projects to be funded, and to ensure that positive social impact is one of the major criteria in this selection;

18.  Stresses the importance of flexibility which can be used within the existing SGP in order to ensure room of manoeuvre for social investments, namely social investments in people, providing them with the necessary skills and supporting conditions for productive and fulfilling participation in the economy and society throughout their lives; stresses, in this context, the potential role of the social economy in the creation of sustainable, inclusive and quality jobs;

SMEs restored financing to boost private investment and job creation

19.  Stresses that while SMEs constitute the backbone of job creation in the EU, they continue to face major difficulties in gaining access to financing, and are worryingly over-indebted; welcomes, therefore, the Commission’s new recommendations on SME’s access to finance, involving a new approach to insolvency and business failure; calls for further efforts by Member States to improve debt-restructuring schemes as a means to this end; calls on the Commission to foster, when necessary, the implementation at national level of the principles set out in its Recommendation of 12 March 2014 through country-specific recommendations (CSRs); underlines that women-led entrepreneurships and SMEs face more difficulties in gaining access to financing; calls on the Commission to analyse the causes for this situation and to propose measures to resolve it;

20.  Stresses the importance of creating a culture of entrepreneurship in the European Union by reducing barriers for self-employment and business foundation; points out that this can be supported by an intelligent mix of financial support such as the microfinance and social entrepreneurship axis of the Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) programme, or through one-stop-shop solutions in public administrations for registering new business;

21.  Is concerned that financial fragmentation in the eurozone is, in some cases, jeopardising SME growth and sustainability; calls for a restoration of the economy’s lending capacity, thus allowing SMEs to invest and create jobs, as well as for easing access to entrepreneurship and the access of SMEs to programs such as COSME or Horizon 2020;

22.  Calls on the Member States to eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens and bureaucracy for the self-employed and for micro-enterprises and SMEs, and to facilitate conditions for start-ups;

23.  Welcomes the joint Commission-EIB SME lending scheme using structural funds to streamline investment in these companies so as to boost better and sustainable employment creation; calls on the ECB to complement this policy action, and to explore means of purchasing SME assets and support SME development within the framework of quantitative easing programmes based on good practices in other economic regions, or to serve as a guarantor for SME sources of financing, which generate up to 80 % of employment in many Member States;

24.  Takes note of the ECB’s expanded asset purchase programme which goes, once again, to the banking system; calls, therefore, on the ECB to optimise its potential to improve the real economy by providing credit in order to boost growth and tackle unemployment in the EU;

25.  Welcomes the measures announced by the Commission to boost job creation in SMEs by unlocking alternatives to bank loans, and to improve the regulatory and fiscal framework in order to enhance long-term investment in SMEs; calls for these measures to be implemented without delay; calls on the Commission also to support smaller-scale projects; calls on the Commission and the Member States to consider financial cooperatives for funding SMEs (credit unions) as alternative funding instruments, and to enable better access for SMEs to public procurement and funding at EU and national levels;

26.  Stresses the importance of the intermediary bodies linked to SMEs, such as chambers of commerce, as engines with a multiplier impact in the implementation of the EU policies related to SMEs, and calls on the Commission to launch a partnership dialogue with these bodies on how EU policies related to SMEs could be better implemented so as to boost quality job creation;

A more efficient use of funds

27.  Stresses that growth and jobs policies have differentiated territorial impacts, depending on the specific situation in each EU region, and that regional disparities have been widening since the beginning of the crisis; stresses that the CSRs should take into account territorial differentiations within Member States to boost growth and jobs while preserving territorial cohesion;

28.  Considers that cohesion policy measures have an essential role to play in reducing internal competitive disparities and structural imbalances in regions that need it most; calls on the Commission to consider appropriate solutions for those Member States that, though facing very high unemployment, are obliged to return EU funds owing to co-financing problems; calls on the Commission to consider pre-financing in order to facilitate the full use of funds by these Member States in the 2014-2020 period, while always ensuring that the principle of budgetary accountability is upheld;

29.  Calls on the Commission to take urgent action to fight tax dumping, tax fraud and tax evasion, and calls for the adoption at Council level of an ambitious financial transaction tax;

30.  Strongly believes that EU funding, particularly under the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) and the European Social Fund (ESF), should not be used to subsidise national approaches, but rather to provide additional support in a way that complements and enhances national programmes as decided by the Member States;

31.  Calls on the Commission, the Member States and the regions to ensure full implementation of EU funds for 2007-2013, and to closely align the ESF and other European Structural Funds with the Europa 2020 strategy; calls on the Commission to ensure strict monitoring of the 20 % ring-fencing of ESF for poverty; calls on the Commission to introduce in the next AGS, and in the CSRs, a chapter related to the implementation of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD);

32.  Calls on the Commission to develop structural reforms in energy markets to achieve a resilient Energy Union, less dependent on external sources, and diversifying the sources of supply (e.g. Algerian gas);

Reforms to expand growth potential, human capital and productivity

33.  Notes that decisive investment plans for sustainable growth and better and sustainable job creation, as well as measures taken by the ECB, can only be successful if they are coupled with national reforms that enhance quality labour participation, boost activity and productivity, develop human capital in all age groups, including the most vulnerable groups, and support strong social and social protection systems; points out that the decision of Parliament and of the Council to enhance cooperation in the network of Public Employment Services (PES) is a key element in the effort to improve labour markets; believes that structural labour market reforms should introduce internal flexibility measures aimed at maintaining employment in times of economic disruption, ensure job quality and security in employment transitions, and provide unemployment benefit schemes that are based on realistic activation requirements, ensure adequate support for redundant workers and are linked to reintegration policies;

34.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to consider innovative ways to encourage investment in the EU; highlights the recent trend of companies returning production and services to the EU and the opportunities this brings for job creation, particularly for young people; believes that the economies of the EU have a unique opportunity to accelerate this trend of re‑shoring jobs;

35.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to design tailor-made policies to support quality job creation for the long-term unemployed, senior unemployed people, women and other priority groups hit especially hard by the crisis, such as immigrants, the Roma community and people with disabilities, including measures to promote anti-discrimination policies on the workplace, work-life balance, lifelong learning and training, and to combat the low level of education that affects some of these groups, many of whom are at risk of social exclusion; calls for gender pay and pension gaps reduction to be addressed systemically in the CSRs; urges the Commission to demand that each Member State institute a national job plan for job creation in conformity with what they had agreed at the 2012 Spring Council;

36.  Calls on the Commission to launch a new initiative aimed at promoting employment opportunities in the Member States for Roma, with measures to promote skills and qualifications, and to fight discrimination and promote job creation, for example through self-employment and entrepreneurship and by using innovative financial instruments;

37.  Calls on the Member States to make it a priority to bridge the gender gaps in employment, particularly by addressing the gender pay gap and by implementing measures to facilitate the reconciliation of work and family life, inter alia through increasing the availability of childcare facilities;

38.  Regrets that the European Semester has not been well enough aligned with the Europe 2020 strategy; calls on the Commission and the Member States to bring economic measures implemented in the course of the European Semester in line with the social and employment targets of the Europe 2020 strategy and the social principles set out in the Treaties; calls for more determined efforts to guide and coordinate EU policies to boost smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and create better and sustainable jobs; calls on the Commission to present the Europe 2020 Mid Term review without delay, taking into account the urgent need to make more progress towards the poverty reduction and other social targets, and the need for improvement in meaningful stakeholder involvement;

Education and active labour policies to expand human capital

39.  Believes that growing international competition driven by increasingly skilled workforces has left the EU with serious skill shortages and mismatches that are acting as a brake on economic growth; believes that if Member States are to have a realistic chance of reaching the Europa 2020 employment targets, they must focus on creating the right environment for job creation;

40.  Reiterates its call on the Council, the Commission and the Member States to incorporate a gender pillar in the Europe 2020 framework;

41.  Points out that the strategy to regain competitiveness should not only focus on labour costs but also on raising productivity via investments in human capital and structural reforms;

42.  Calls on the Member States to restore investment in human capital to pre-crisis level, in particular to smoothen the transition between education and work for young people, and to invest in vocational training and lifelong learning programmes;

43.  Welcomes the fact that in the AGS 2015 the Commission calls on the Member States to protect or promote longer-term investments in education, research and innovation; notes, however, that Member States with already-constrained budgets do not have sufficient means to accomplish that goal;

44.  Stresses the importance of active labour policies for some Member States in the current context; calls on those Member States to increase the coverage and effectiveness of active labour market policies;

Quality jobs and wages as engines of productivity and growth

45.  Calls on the Member States to pay special attention to high unemployment rates among disadvantaged groups, giving priority to access to, and integration into, the labour market and the mainstreaming of accession and integration policies, as employment is the key to successful integration;

46.  Recalls that decent wages are important not only for social cohesion, but also for maintaining a strong recovery and a productive economy; calls on the Commission to investigate the impact of Member States introducing minimum wages in the context of reducing wage inequalities; calls on the Commission to organise a conference on a European framework for minimum wages;

47.  Is concerned that labour market reforms in many Member States have not managed to decrease the level of precarious jobs; observes that 50 % of jobs created in 2014 were temporary jobs; notes that, according to the Commission, in-work poverty persists, and that for 50 % of all job seekers, securing employment is not enough to lift them out of poverty, nor does it raise productivity; calls on the Member States to make job quality a priority and to address labour market segmentation; calls on the Member States to ensure that labour market reforms are aimed at – as well as promoting better and sustainable employment creation – reducing segmentation, advancing the inclusion of vulnerable groups in the labour market, promoting gender equality, reducing in-work poverty and ensuring adequate social protection to all workers, including those who are self-employed;

48.  Believes that Member States can only create jobs if the market allows for it, if they can rely on a qualified workforce, if labour markets are sufficiently flexible, if labour costs including wages are in line with productivity, if social protection systems make work more attractive and if regulation is proportionate and evidence based;

49.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to reinforce their efforts to tackle social dumping in the EU, which causes significant harm to the workers affected and to Member State welfare systems; calls, furthermore, for the social partners to be included at all levels in these efforts;

50.  Welcomes the initiative regarding a European platform on undeclared work; reiterates its call on the Member States to ensure that people with precarious contracts, or who are self-employed, enjoy a core set of rights and adequate social protection, especially with regards to family and work-life reconciliation; calls on the Commission to make dedicated efforts to address the additional problems caused by involuntary part-time and temporary employment, and by bogus self-employment;

51.  Regrets the fact that there is hardly any mention of the quality or the sustainability of the jobs that have been created, especially as regards the employment of women, who are over-represented in part-time work owing to difficulties in reconciling professional and private life;

52.  Considers the achievement of reindustrialisation targets paramount for the competitiveness of the EU and believes that the relaunching of a genuine European industrial policy could foster growth and create new high-quality jobs;

53.  Regrets the fact that when reference is made to unemployment rates, due consideration is not given to other factors, such as the increasing rates of inactive people, mobility and migration;

Youth unemployment and labour mobility

54.  Welcomes the reduction in youth unemployment rates, but points out that they are still alarming and not necessarily based on net employment creation; stresses that job insecurity and underemployment have also risen, and that 43 % of the young find themselves working under precarious conditions, on involuntary part-time contracts or as falsely self-employed;

55.  Calls on the Commission to propose a European framework for introducing minimum standards for the implementation of Youth Guarantees and for concrete measures to raise public awareness; calls on the Member States to use the available budget efficiently, to implement the Youth Guarantees without delay and to make sure that they also reach young people from disadvantaged social backgrounds; calls for an adequate budget in the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework in accordance with ILO recommendations; notes that the ILO estimates that EUR 21 billion are necessary to resolve the problem of youth unemployment;

56.  Urges the Commission to go above and beyond the March 2014 Council recommendation on a quality framework for traineeships, and to propose a new Quality Framework with a view to preventing discrimination and exploitation of young workers;

57.  Calls on the Member States to make labour markets more inclusive for those who have family duties such as raising children and caring for family members who need care; calls, therefore, for measures favouring the reconciliation of work and family life as part of the labour market reforms promoted through the European Semester;

58.  Reiterates its call on the Member States to invest in opportunities for lifelong learning, vocational training and on-the-job training; calls for national lifelong learning systems to be assessed as part of the European Semester’s strategies for labour market reform;

59.  Stresses that, according to the Commission, despite high unemployment rates there are two million job vacancies in the EU, and that in 2013 only 3,3 % of the active population works in another Member State, indicating a level of mobility that remains low in comparison with levels in the United States and Japan; recalls that divergences in labour mobility rates points –which in the case of the Member States hardest hit by the crisis can range up to ten percentage points – can be affected positively using the tool of the EURES platform; expresses its continuous support for the principle of free movement;

60.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure the proper functioning of PES to facilitate and stimulate job seeking abroad;

61.  Given the number of workers, particularly young people, who are now leaving their countries of origin for other Member States in search of employment opportunities, there is an urgent need to develop appropriate measures to guarantee that no worker is left uncovered by social and labour rights protection; calls, in this regard, on the Commission and the Member States to improve further EU labour mobility through instruments like EURES while upholding the principle of equal treatment and safeguarding wages and social standards; calls on each Member State to establish social and employment policies ensuring equal rights and equal pay at the same place of work in line with the principles underpinning the freedom of movement of workers, in particular from a gender perspective;

62.  Recalls the EU objectives in gender matter, notably the targets of reaching 75 % employment for women and men by 2020 and of reducing by 20 million the number of people in or at risk of poverty;

63.  Urges the Commission to present a proposal on parental leave that contributes to ensuring equal working conditions for women and men, not least in light of the fact that the EU is ageing rapidly, placing at risk Member States’ future ability to maintain necessary social services; calls on the Commission and the Member States to implement more policies that contribute to the EU’s demographic growth by stimulating either birth rates or immigration;

64.  Regrets that the austerity measures imposed by the EU aimed at restoring investor confidence have led to a worsening of employment and social conditions, resulting in higher unemployment, poverty and inequality levels;

65.  Calls on the Member States to improve cooperation between businesses and the education sector at all levels;

A decisive call for the EU Social Dimension and for Convergence

66.  Reiterates its warning of the socioeconomic challenges facing the Union, especially in some Member States, and of the risks to its sustainability and stable growth potential posed by a reversal in regional convergence; recalls that more than 122 million EU citizens are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, including in-work poverty and child poverty; points out that 19 % of children in the EU are currently estimated to be at risk of poverty, and insists that these levels are unacceptable and need to be reduced immediately; calls on the Commission to continue developing the social dimension in the EU; acknowledges the Commission’s work on the social pillar of the Economic and Monetary Union, as part of the process of integrating the social dimension into the current structure of the economic governance mechanisms, and calls for the continuation on this path with the aim to advance with the fulfilling of the Europa 2020 strategy;

67.  Regrets that there are no indicators on, or clear definitions of, absolute poverty, an issue of concern to many Member States;

68.  Reminds the Commission that, under Article 9 TFEU, employment and social policies to promote the European social acquis should govern all EU policies; asks the Commission to fulfil its obligation to link the European Semester with the objectives of the Europa 2020 strategy;

69.  Points out that social protection and social policy – in particular unemployment benefits, minimum income support and progressive taxation – initially helped to reduce the depth of the recession and stabilised labour markets and consumption; stresses, however, that social stabilisers have been widely used as adjustment factors by those EMU members experiencing negative economic shocks; stresses that social protection and social policies are the competence of the Member States;

Social stabilisers

70.  Observes that, in its 2013 annual report on the EU employment and social situation, the Commission highlighted the importance of social protection expenditure as a safeguard against social risks; recalls the importance of automatic stabilisers in dealing with asymmetrical shocks, avoiding excessive depletion of national welfare states and thus strengthening the sustainability of EMU as a whole; calls on the Commission to include in its CSRs the importance of preserving strong automatic stabilisers in the Member States, in view of their outstanding role in maintaining social cohesion as well as in stimulating internal demand and economic growth; reiterates its call on the Commission to produce a Green Paper on automatic stabilisers in the eurozone;

71.  Notes the Commission objective ‘to make EU law lighter, simpler and less costly for the benefit of citizens and enterprises’; stresses that this removal of regulatory barriers should undermine neither the European social acquis in fields such as occupational health and safety, information and consultation of workers, the ILO core conventions nor the European Social Charter, and should respect the autonomy of the social partners as foreseen in the Treaty; urges the Commission to make credible efforts to ensure the protection of pregnant workers and workers that have recently given birth;

Social indicators

72.  Welcomes the fact that the Joint Employment Report annexed to the AGS includes a scoreboard for employment and social policies; calls on the Commission to study if these indicators are sufficient so as to do a thorough analysis of the socioeconomic situation in the Member States; highlights the importance of understanding the dynamics and consequences of household income developments and rising income inequalities; regrets that much of the data presented in this year’s edition of the scoreboard is outdated; asks the Commission to make greater use of this scoreboard in policy formulation; calls for a detailed overview of Member States’ choices in different policy fields and the corresponding results; calls on the Commission to assess and improve its scope and effectiveness to ensure that they are taken fully into account when developing country specific recommendations;

73.  Stresses that employment and social considerations should be put on a par with macroeconomic considerations in the procedure of the European Semester;

74.  Calls for the identification of the major macro-economic and macro-social imbalances within the EU and eurozone economies, and for CSRs prepared in the context of the European Semester to be formulated on that basis, including steps towards convergence on labour and social standards;

Poverty and social exclusion

75.  Regrets that the Annual Growth Survey and the Joint Employment Report do not contain any measure or policy framework to meet the Europe 2020 strategy objective on poverty reduction; calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that this objective is reflected in a better way in the European Semester;

76.  Underlines the need to enforce the social acquis, the horizontal social clause and the protocol on services of general interest;

77.  Welcomes the appeal by the President of the Commission to the Member States to introduce a minimum income with the aim of reducing poverty in the EU; calls on the Commission to propose an initiative to promote the introduction of minimum incomes in the Member States; stresses that it is up to each Member State to set minimum income levels and that these should be commensurate to the specific socioeconomic situation in the country in question;

78.  Regrets the fact that the Commission approach aimed at tackling gender inequalities mainly treats the reconciliation of professional and family life as a women’s issue; notes that measures aimed at promoting reconciliation for both men and women are crucial for the creation of jobs and have a direct influence in the quality of jobs created; notes that access to affordable and quality childcare services is still a major barrier to such reconciliation, and calls, therefore, on the Commission to pay attention to this indicator when analysing the scoreboard of key employment and social indicators;

79.  Calls on the Commission to work with the Member States to tackle immediately the alarming increase in child poverty throughout the EU through long-term and holistic measures based on the good practices of some Member States, in particular measures to increase state support for school feeding, and to implement the three-pillared Commission recommendation ‘Investing in Children’ included in the Social Investment Package;

80.  Points out that emerging new forms of poverty aggravated by the debt crisis – such as in-work poverty compounding difficulties such as, e.g., paying mortgages, or high utility prices creating energy poverty – have resulted in an increase in the number of evictions, foreclosures and homeless people; calls on the Commission and the Member States to implement integrated policies favouring social and affordable housing, effective prevention policies aimed at reducing the number of evictions, and policies tackling energy poverty based on good practices by Member States, and to stop the criminalisation of homeless people that has come to light in some Member States; calls on the Commission to launch immediately an EU action plan on homelessness, as requested by Parliament on several occasions and called for as well by other EU bodies, in order to help Member States tackle the urgent and rapidly growing problem of homelessness;

81.  Ask the Commission to develop a strategy that would support Member States to tackle homelessness through integrated policies and appropriate social investment;

82.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to take urgent action to address homelessness; points out that this extreme manifestation of poverty and social exclusion violates fundamental rights and has increased in a large majority of Member States; calls on the Commission to propose concrete mechanisms to monitor and support Member States’ efforts to confront homelessness, as called for in its resolutions of 14 September 2011 and 16 January 2014 on an EU homelessness strategy;

83.  Calls on the Commission to evaluate whether it is possible to increment the FEAD during the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework;

Sustainable pensions and health

84.  Calls for affordable and quality public services in the field of child and dependent people care that will permit women in particular to return to employment and facilitate the reconciliation of work and private life;

85.  Reminds the Commission that in order to ensure both the sustainability, safety and adequacy of pensions, pension reforms need to be accompanied by policies that: develop employment opportunities for older and young workers in order to contribute to a sustainable pensions system; limit incentives to early retirement schemes and other early exit pathways; provide for the compensation of times spent caring for children or dependent family members; develop employment opportunities for older workers; guarantee access to lifelong learning for both employed and unemployed people of all ages; enhance healthy ageing at the workplace, considering physical and psycho-social risks to health and safety; introduce tax benefit policies offering incentives to stay in work longer; and support active healthy ageing; stresses that pension reforms require national political and social cohesion, and should be negotiated with the social partners and representatives of younger and elder generations as the directly affected population groups in order to be successful; calls on the Member States to take into full account Parliament’s position on the Green and White Papers on pensions;

86.  Takes note of the Commission’s recommendation to reform healthcare systems so that they meet their objectives of providing universal access to high-quality care – including affordable access to medicines, especially those that are life-saving – and to secure respect for the rights of health staff; observes that, as a consequence of the crisis, some Member States haven’t been able to ensure full coverage of public health; calls on the Commission to issue concrete recommendations to correct this situation; calls for further reform efforts to ensure that the quality and financial accessibility of health infrastructure is not put at risk;

87.  Notes the Commission’s recognition that the health and social care sectors hold significant potential for growth and represent crucial areas for investment in pursuit of sustainable economies; invites the Commission to report on progress in developing initiatives, as part of the Europe 2020 strategy, for investment in the health and social care sectors with regards to quality employment;

88.  Calls for effective health prevention measures such as “lifetime healthy ageing” to be strengthened and developed with a view to increasing life quality while, at the same time, reducing costs to national health systems of the medical treatments and pharmaceuticals needed late in life;

Fairer labour taxation systems

89.  Stresses that the tax wedge has bigger impact for low-wage and second-income earners, and that this remains an issue; calls on the Commission to take note of the IMF’s October 2013 tax report, which points out that there is scope for better and more progressive forms of taxation;

90.  Notes the importance of reducing taxation on labour, especially by low-paid and low-skilled workers, the long-term unemployed and other vulnerable groups, while ensuring the long-range sustainability of public pension systems; calls on the Member States to shift taxes from labour to consumption, capital and environmental taxes, while paying due regard to potential redistributive effects;

Strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the European Semester

91.  Expresses its deep concern over the limited role that it, the national parliaments as well as social partners and civil society organisations have to play in the formulation, monitoring and implementation of economic and social priorities in the European Semester; reiterates its call for increased and structured involvement of civil society and social partners at EU as well as national level so as to improve the legitimacy of the European Semester process by developing concrete guidelines;

92.  Calls for the involvement of subnational parliaments and local and regional authorities in the design and implementation of the National Reform Programmes, including through multi-level governance arrangements;

93.  Urges the Commission to involve social partners more closely in the preparation of the AGS and, more generally, to formalise the role of social partners in the European Semester process;

94.  Reiterates its call for an interinstitutional agreement to involve Parliament in the drafting and approval of the AGS and the Economic Policy and Employment Guidelines;

o
o   o

95.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0129.
(2) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2014)0038.
(3) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2014)0060.
(4) OJ C 153 E, 31.5.2013, p. 57.
(5) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0240.
(6) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2013)0246.
(7) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0394.
(8) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2014)0010.
(9) OJ C 51 E, 22.2.2013, p. 101.
(10) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0043.
(11) ‘Draft Joint Employment Report from the Commission and the Council accompanying the Communication from the Commission on the Annual Growth Survey 2015’ (COM(2014)0906), page 44. See also OECD Employment Outlook 2014, http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/employment/oecd-employment-outlook-2014_empl_outlook-2014-en#page1.


Single market governance within the European Semester 2015
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on Single Market governance within the European Semester 2015 (2014/2212(INI))
P8_TA(2015)0069A8-0018/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 28 November 2014 entitled ‘Annual Growth Survey 2015’ (COM(2014)0902),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 13 November 2013 entitled ‘Annual Growth Survey 2014’ (COM(2013)0800) and the Commission report of 13 November 2013 entitled ‘A Single Market for growth and jobs: An analysis of progress made and remaining obstacles in the Member States – Contribution to the Annual Growth Survey 2014’ (COM(2013)0785),

–  having regard to the Commission report of 28 November 2012 entitled ‘State of the Single Market Integration 2013 – Contribution to the Annual Growth Survey 2013’ (COM(2012)0752),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 8 June 2012 entitled ‘Better Governance for the Single Market’ (COM(2012)0259),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 3 March 2010 entitled ‘Europe 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ (COM(2010)2020),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 19 March 2014 entitled ‘Taking stock of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ (COM(2014)0130),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 2 June 2014 entitled ‘2014 European Semester: Country-specific recommendations – Building Growth’ (COM(2014)0400),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 3 October 2012 entitled ‘Single Market Act II – Together for new growth’ (COM(2012)0573),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 13 April 2011 entitled ‘Single Market Act – Twelve levers to boost growth and strengthen confidence – “Working together to create new growth”’ (COM(2011)0206),

–  having regard to the report of 9 May 2010 by Mario Monti to the President of the European Commission entitled ‘A new strategy for the single market. At the service of Europe’s economy and society’,

–  having regard to the study of September 2014 entitled ‘The Cost of Non-Europe in the Single Market’ commissioned by the IMCO Committee,

–  having regard to the study of September 2014 entitled ‘Indicators for Measuring the Performance of the Single Market – Building the Single Market Pillar of the European Semester’ commissioned by the IMCO Committee,

–  having regard to the study of September 2014 entitled ‘Contribution of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection to Growth’ commissioned by the IMCO Committee,

–  having regard to the July 2014 edition of the online Single Market Scoreboard,

–  having regard to the European Council conclusions of 26-27 June 2014,

–  having regard to the European Council conclusions of 20-21 March 2014,

–  having regard to the deliberations of the Competitiveness Council of 25‑26 September 2014 on the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs,

–  having regard to its resolution of 7 February 2013 with recommendations to the Commission on the governance of the Single Market(1), and to the Commission’s follow‑up thereon adopted on 8 May 2013,

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 February 2014 on Single Market governance within the European Semester 2014(2), and to the Commission’s follow-up thereon adopted on 28 May 2014,

–  having regard to its resolution of 22 October 2014 on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2014 priorities(3),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (A8-0018/2015),

A.  whereas in the context of the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy, the Single Market and the Digital Single Market (DSM) should be considered two key tools for reigniting economic growth and creating quality employment in the EU, at the same time as ensuring complementarity with the more traditional drivers of growth, such as boosting investment in RDI, training and education, while paying particular attention to the needs of SMEs;

B.  whereas the Single Market strategy requires a holistic approach taking into account citizens’, consumers’ and SMEs’ concerns and projecting Single Market priorities into all policy areas, so as to ensure the completion of a viable Single Market serving as a catalyst for economic recovery and sustainable growth;

C.  whereas there is a need to strengthen the governance of the Single Market within the European Semester as a horizontal priority of the Union’s different policies, preserving the necessary balance between the economic, social and environmental dimensions, and to improve the quality of the transposition, implementation and enforcement of the rules which govern the Single Market so that they function in both practical and economic terms, also significantly reducing the duration of infringement proceedings;

D.  whereas a very positive process has been launched by the Single Market Governance within the European Semester and the corresponding country-specific recommendations (CSRs) for a more competitive Europe which generates quality jobs with an equitable growth better attracting investors;

E.  whereas, more than 20 years after its official creation, the Single Market has not yet been fully completed, primarily because Member States have not fully transposed or implemented Union legislation;

F.  whereas the EU Single Market strategy needs to be approached with coherence and determination and to be coordinated and based on a holistic approach and a pragmatic, comprehensive and wide-reaching agreement supported by all Member States and the EU institutions; whereas strong leadership, commitment and coordination on the part of all EU institutions, especially from the Presidents of the Commission and Council, as well as clear political ownership, cooperation and solidarity on the part of the Member States, are still required in order to fully implement and enforce Single Market-related rules and increase the credibility of and confidence in the Single Market and its management;

G.  whereas while many tools, chiefly specific indicators, exist to measure the economic performance of the Single Market within the European Semester, so far they have not yet triggered any clear impact on policy;

H.  whereas maximum effort should be made not only to ensure clarity, simplicity, operability and enforceability of legislation, but also to establish a predictable and stable framework for the assessment of how the legislation in the Single Market area works in practice;

I.  whereas a well-functioning and effective Single Market, based on a sustainable and highly innovative and competitive social market economy, is needed to boost sustainable growth and competitiveness, to attract investment, to promote social cohesion and to create jobs so as to revitalise the European economy; whereas a deeper and fairer Single Market with a strengthened industrial base ranks high in the priorities of the Commission Work Programme 2015; whereas the Member States and the EU should jointly draw up a European industrial policy, building on the work already undertaken in this area in recent years and focusing on strategic sectors, also with a view to achieving the objectives set in the work programme; whereas the Single Market is also needed to allow the needs of the citizens, consumers and business to be adequately taken into account and ensure that the policies proposed can provide added value for European citizens and other actors;

J.  whereas a stronger focus on the Single Market in the context of the European Semester is necessary in order to better exploit its growth and employment potential, place enhancement of the Single Market at the heart of the European industrial strategy, better communicate its positive effects and allow citizens and businesses to fully benefit from it;

K.  whereas the Member States have committed themselves to completing the internal energy market by 2014 and to integrating the ‘energy islands’ into the internal energy market by 2015;

L.  whereas a fully integrated internal energy market is indispensable for the Union’s overall objectives of energy security and sustainability, and is of crucial value for its global competitiveness, economic growth and the creation of new jobs, as recognised in the Single Market Act II and the Europe 2020 strategy;

I.  Building the Single Market pillar of the European Semester

1.  Reiterates its call on the Commission to improve governance of the Single Market by developing a set of analytical tools to more properly measure the economic and regulatory performance of the Single Market within the framework of the Single Market pillar of the European Semester; believes that such an analytical tool could provide useful input for the CSRs, the Annual Growth Survey (AGS), the European Council’s guidance to Member States, and the national action plans aimed at implementing the Single Market guidelines;

2.  Highlights the importance and added value of the Single Market integration reports of previous years, given their contribution to the overall priorities set in the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey and the identification of CSRs in the context of the European semester; finds it therefore most deplorable that the Single Market Integration report has been omitted for 2015;

3.  Further finds the omission of the Single Market integration report regrettable since it comes at a time when Parliament and the Commission have been engaging in developing specific indicators to assess internal market integration and all potential benefits of further targeted integration in key growth areas; calls, therefore, for the stepping-up of efforts to ensure better implementation and enforcement of the rules already in place;

4.  Calls on the Commission to clarify the restructuring of the Annual Growth Survey 2015, and to explain why it failed to publish a contribution study on the current state of play of Single Market integration with regard to the key areas with greatest growth potential; asks the Commission to publish at least the data gathered on the Single Market in order to complement this year’s AGS;

5.  Calls on the Commission to present, as early as possible in 2015, a report on the state of Single Market Integration so that such a report can set the course for the Single Market pillar of the European Semester 2015; stresses, however, that in the future the timing of the report will need to be reconsidered; is of the view that for maximum impact, also with regard to the CSRs, such a report should be published together with the AGS;

6.  Urges the Commission to present a mandatory report every year aimed at monitoring the functioning of the Single Market within the European semester process and presenting an analysis of the state of Single Market integration in key areas with the greatest growth potential; calls on the Commission to identify policy priorities in the context of the AGS which would contribute to unlocking the Single Market’s full growth potential, and to removing the remaining obstacles to further integration;

7.  Notes the support expressed in the Annual Growth Survey 2015 for an integrated Single Market which offers consumers the same possibilities as in their home markets, and emphasises that the rights given to consumers online should be no less than those offered in their own traditional markets;

8.  Highlights the acknowledgement in the Annual Growth Survey 2015 that in order to increase competitiveness in Europe unduly burdensome regulation, particularly for SMEs, must be avoided, access to finance improved. and the quality of investment in research and innovation ensured;

9.  Notes the potential benefits offered by modernising administration as outlined in the AGS and how this may help remove red tape and regulatory obstacles, thus aiding businesses and citizens by boosting competition, jobs and growth in Europe;

10.  Asks for a comprehensive overhaul of the framework for Single Market governance and strengthening of the monitoring and assessment of the correct, timely and effective implementation and application of Single Market rules; stresses the need to use the Single Market as the third pillar of the European Semester in order to cover a clear set of priorities related to the real economy, while fully respecting the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality within the EU;

11.  Calls on the Commission to take full account of the key growth and quality job-creation areas for building an EU Single Market fit for the 21st century, as previously identified by the Commission and further specified in the study of September 2014 entitled ‘The Cost of Non-Europe in the Single Market’ and including services, the Digital Single Market and in particular e-commerce, the consumer acquis, public procurement and concessions, the free movement of goods; also calls on the Commission to complete the Single Market in transport and energy;

12.  Considers that there is a need to define an integrated measurement system, combining different methodologies such as composite indicators, a systematic set of indicators and sectoral tools, so as to measure the performance of the Single Market for the purpose of embedding it in the European Semester; stresses that, in order both to measure and to provide an impetus for deepening the Single Market in key priority areas, a headline indicator and a target for this indicator as regards Single Market integration should be considered;

13.  Calls on the Commission to introduce a methodology for quantitative targets for the reduction of administrative burdens at European level; notes the positive experiences in some Member States of setting net reduction targets with the aim of lowering compliance costs; asks that this methodology be considered in the Commission’s new initiative on reducing administrative burdens;

14.  Notes that in the context of assessment of economic impacts on the Single Market within the European Semester, further efforts should be made to promote the provision of appropriate details on the methodology applied and the data used, in order to ensure the credibility and comparability of the results obtained, establish the relevant linkages with ex post assessments, and point to gaps in the data needed to conduct the assessments;

15.  Reiterates its call for the procedures to provide for appropriate involvement of the European Parliament in the economic governance cycle, setting forth the adoption, by Parliament and by the Council, of other measures necessary to strengthen Single Market governance, in particular measures addressing the areas where the Union regulatory framework has been established in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure laid down in Article 294 TFEU;

16.  Regrets that the CSRs have not been sufficiently aligned with the Europe 2020 targets; calls, therefore, for more determined efforts to guide and coordinate national and EU policies and for the continuation of the specific measures that are necessary to strengthen the Single Market and exploit its potential with the aim of boosting smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and competitiveness and creating jobs, particularly for young people;

17.  Believes that the ownership of the CSR by national parliaments needs to be strengthened; encourages the Member States to provide the possibility for the Commission to present the CSRs in the national parliaments before their adoption by the Council; calls, furthermore, on the Member States to demonstrate more commitment to the implementation of the CSRs and to rigorously transpose the EU targets into their own targets at national level; considers, therefore, that the Member States should report annually and thoroughly on the implementation of the CSRs on Single Market areas; reiterates, furthermore, its request that the Commission report to the competent committee of Parliament on the measures taken to ensure progress in the implementation of the CSRs and the progress achieved thus far; invites Member States to explain the reasons for significant variations regarding the CSRs to the competent committee of Parliament;

18.  Supports the emphasis placed in the CSRs for 2014 on the importance of removing unjustified restrictions and barriers to entry in the key sectors such as retail, e-commerce and business services; urges the Member States concerned to give those recommendations their utmost consideration and, as an immediate priority, to remove these obstacles to the growth of the Single Market;

19.  Requests that the forthcoming CSRs in the European Semester cycle should reflect the findings of the Single Market integration report in a much stronger and more stringent fashion than previously;

20.  Regrets the fact that the Commission has so far not considered promoting the Single Market as a priority in the framework of the European Semester; calls on the Commission to make Single Market governance, in particular with regard to measures focused on jobs, growth and competitiveness, a vital part of all subsequent phases of the European Semester process; reminds the Commission that a genuine Single Market in these areas would significantly boost economic growth and job creation in the EU; calls for the opportunity provided by this new framework to be taken up and for the key growth areas and the measures included in the Single Market Acts I and II to be developed to the fullest extent possible, drawing attention to the need to take account of citizens’ concerns and expectations;

21.  Stresses the need for an integrated approach by the EU, the Member States, the regions, municipalities, social partners and stakeholders in the implementation and development of policies in order to move the social market economy forward; 

22.  Calls on the Commission, the Member States and the regions to ensure the full implementation of EU funds for the period 2007-2013; notes the opportunity for Member States and the regions to shape their policies and investments in the period 2014-2020 towards sectors where more growth and jobs are generated, especially for young people, such as the Digital Single Market, energy, services and the green economy, while also investing in RDI on a genuine and quality-oriented basis so as to ensure access to network infrastructure for all citizens;

II.  Untapped potential of the Single Market in key growth areas

23.  Recalls that the Single Market is a key driver for growth and jobs and has an indispensable role to play in meeting the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth; notes, however, that this potential remains untapped in many respects;

24.  Recalls the three priorities set out in the Europe 2020 strategy:

   developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation;
   promoting a more resource-efficient, greener and more competitive economy;
   fostering a high-employment economy delivering a high level of social and territorial cohesion;

25.  Welcomes the new approach of the Commission in the AGS for 2015 of giving a coordinated boost to investment in the EU so as to increase domestic demand and foster a more competitive economy; strongly believes that, with a view to being as ambitious as possible, priority need to be given to investments encouraging the digital economy and to the creation of a more competitive internal market in cooperation with Member States;

26.  Is greatly concerned at falling levels of private investment in Europe and the lack of confidence of private investors, resulting in a reluctance to invest, in particular as a consequence of the lack of structural reforms, the lack of a pro-growth EU strategy, and the persisting barriers within the Single Market to growth in areas such as e-commerce; calls on the Member States to actively support the Investment Plan and to contribute to the European Fund for Strategic Investment, supplementing the amounts provided through the EU budget and by the EIB, in order to guide and encourage investment by the private sector;

27.  Calls on the Commission, the Member States, the regions and all the relevant stakeholders to focus on the real economy in designing and developing investment policies which will attract private investment in return; calls, furthermore, for investment in training for both individuals and companies for the digital era, including in the latest technologies in the energy sector, since this produces a leverage effect, ensuring a global digital network, supporting education and quality R+I and resulting in solid progress in achieving a Single Market in the transport sector, thus allowing us to compete on an equal footing with the major world powers;

28.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to improve the regulatory framework for SMEs, given its job creation capacity; calls for maximisation of the opportunities presented by the COSME programme in terms not only of fostering entrepreneurship in Europe, but also of improving SMEs’ access to finance and to both EU and global markets;

29.  Highlights the need to link investment with innovation and entrepreneurship, maximising the opportunities offered by the digital economy and society and developing a smart European industrial policy; notes that this investment should take particular account of SMEs, which face the most difficulties in accessing investment, and should include practical measures to support start-ups and social entrepreneurship and innovation as a source of jobs for the future for young people;

30.  Stresses the need to reignite the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe through practical measures, which means ensuring easy access to credit for SMEs, particularly those linked to key sectors; also calls for other forms of financing to be promoted as an alternative to bank financing;

31.  Calls on the Member States to be more decisive in gearing their economies towards innovation and growth, since this will prepare us for the tasks and demands of the future in the digital age; notes that this will also make our businesses more innovative and more able to react on the global market, particularly with the full integration of ICTs;

Digital Single Market

32.  Takes the view that, as identified in the Annual Growth Survey 2015, advancing the Digital Single Market is crucial to stimulating growth, creating quality jobs, keeping the European economy competitive globally and bringing benefits to both businesses and consumers; calls, therefore, on the Commission to draw up an ambitious European e-Government Action Plan 2016-2020 and thus continue supporting the Europe 2020 objectives;

33.  Notes the importance of investment, including in broadband networks, in achieving priority goals and objectives in the key area of the digital market; recommends devoting a substantial part of the future EUR 315 billion investment plan to targeted and strategic investments in the digital sector; points out further that the interlinking of elements such as high levels of network penetration and high levels of ICT skills in the population and businesses is a key factor in achieving a genuine Digital Single Market; appeals to the EU and the Member States to make digital network infrastructure and digital training for their businesses and citizens a priority for investment;

34.  Believes that fragmentation and a lack of legal certainty are primary concerns in this field and that the inconsistent enforcement of existing EU rules in Member States also needs to be addressed;

35.  Notes that the completion of the Digital Single Market could generate additional GDP growth of 0,4 % (or EUR 520 billion at 2014 prices) over the period up to 2020, with employment gains in the range of 0,1 %, equivalent to creating more than 223 000 jobs by 2020, according to data included in the study ‘The Cost of Non-Europe in the Single Market’; believes that addressing barriers to e-commerce, investment in broadband infrastructure and the deployment of new technologies such as 4G and 5G is crucial for the development of digital solutions as they rely on fast and effective connections; considers the adoption of the EU’s general data protection framework and the Network and Information Security Directive as essential for the completion of the Digital Single Market by 2015; calls for investment to remedy unequal access to broadband and 4G networks in the EU;

36.  Highlights the correlation between high levels of online sales and increases in per capita GDP, and therefore urges that progress be made in achieving genuine cross-border e-commerce and cloud computing; considers it essential to put an end to fragmentation into 28 digital markets, guarantee universal network access, and make net security and consumer trust the cornerstones of the DSM, since there can be no online market without trust;

37.  Stresses that according to the ‘Cost of Non-Europe’ report, making progress on e-government could generate savings of EUR 100 billion per annum; calls for Member States’ efforts to modernise their public administrations to be concentrated and intensified so that citizens and businesses can carry out more and more procedures electronically while making use of their rights in the Single Market, particularly at cross-border level;

38.  Underlines that there is a need for EU Single Market rules to be workable for the digital era, and that this entails implementation of Single Market rules for online payments, development of safe e-solutions Europe-wide (e.g. e-invoicing and digital signature), reform of intellectual property rights, and clarifying VAT requirements where appropriate, in order to generate trust in e-commerce, improve the quality of information provided to European consumers about their rights, and ensure that the same level of protection is available to consumers online as that which they are used to in their traditional markets;

39.  Emphasises that the review of the recent economic governance framework is a great opportunity to urge Member States to step up their efforts towards the Digital Single Market, meaning not only more growth and jobs, especially in the SME sector and among young people, but also a future-oriented and modern European Union;

40.  Believes that Member States have to step up their efforts to modernise their public administrations, providing more and better accessible digital services for citizens and businesses, reducing costs and enhancing efficiency, facilitating cross-border cooperation, and implementing interoperability frameworks for public administrations;

41.  Stresses the importance of electronic identification and trust services for increasing the volume and quality of electronic trade with a view to growth; calls, therefore, on the Member States to take all necessary measures to implement the regulation on electronic transactions in the internal market by 1 July 2016;

42.  Considers improving digital skills in the Union to be an absolute priority;

Free movement of goods

43.  Believes that the free movement of goods, capital, services and people still offers untapped potential for citizens and business, in terms of efficiency, growth and jobs creation;

44.  Reiterates its support for comprehensive trade and investment agreements that would support and be compatible with the creation of jobs for European workers, directly benefit European consumers, and open up new opportunities for EU companies, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) respecting EU social, environmental and consumer standards as a key to providing new growth opportunities; expresses the view that Parliament must be closely involved in negotiations on the Single Market acquis and that any modification of existing legislation or introduction of new legislation must fully respect the role of Parliament as co-legislator;

45.  Calls on the Member States to strengthen the value chain in cross-border production as a key factor for promoting competitiveness and growth, creating jobs and reducing existing trade barriers in sectors which are relatively extensive but are not sufficiently integrated to maximise the benefits offered by the Single Market;

46.  Calls for increased monitoring of barriers in the Single Market for goods;

Services

47.  Stresses that specific policy actions should be included in the Europe 2020 strategy, aiming at addressing barriers in the areas of the services sector covered by the Services Directive and in financial services, for example, and putting more explicit emphasis on the deepening of the Single Market;

48.  Stresses that significant untapped growth potential exist in the services sector, as is clear from the estimates in the report ‘The Cost of Non-Europe in the Single Market’ referring to potential gains of between EUR 337 billion and EUR 637 billion;

49.  Takes the view that, given that the services sector is one of the areas with the greatest growth potential in the EU, there is a need to strengthen measures aimed at improving competitiveness in the sector, including retail trade, and to simplify legislation for businesses, particularly SMEs; stresses the importance of guaranteeing universal access to public services for all consumers, families and businesses;

50.  Considers that consumer protection, choice and competition in the area of financial services should be strengthened, paying particular attention to the different needs of consumers, including the most vulnerable ones; considers that consumers’ financial awareness capabilities should be raised, given the significant confusion that can arise regarding financial products and the problems this can cause to individual consumers and the Single Market;

51.  Reiterates the need for renewed efforts to combat fraud and tax avoidance and evasion, and therefore calls for more emphasis to be placed on good tax governance in both private and public sectors in the EU; stresses that the ‘Cost of Non-Europe’ report indicates that savings of EUR 9 billion per year could be generated through measures such as the standardisation of electronic invoices and coordination of cross-border tax systems; welcomes the Commission President’s announcement of an automatic exchange of information on national fiscal policy decisions; stresses the need to strengthen and improve tax coordination so as to prevent unfair competition and market distortions and ensure equal opportunities in the Single Market;

52.  Welcomes the statement made by the Commission in its AGS report 2015 that ‘addressing tax fraud and tax evasion is essential to ensure fairness and allows Member States to collect the tax revenues due to them’;

53.  Reaffirms its position that the overall level and quality of investment in research and development should be increased in order to stimulate innovation, highlighting the different levels of investment in the Member States; reminds the Commission of the need to create a genuine Single Market in knowledge, research and innovation and for the completion of the European Research Area; stresses that 85 % of the funds earmarked for innovation are currently used exclusively on a national basis, without cross-border cooperation, which makes it impossible to fully exploit added value on a European scale;

Public procurement and concessions

54.  Welcomes the adoption in 2014 of the directives on public procurement procedures and the award of concession contracts, which modernised public procurement in the EU, promoting the sustainability of public contracts; emphasises the added value of the directive on the award of concession contracts, particularly in terms of facilitating the procedures and making them more transparent and of offering more opportunities for SMEs, thus making it possible to overcome the problems in these contracts, ensure legal certainty, flexibility and transparency, and support the development of economic infrastructure and high-quality public services;

55.  Points out that the EU legislation on public procurement and concessions needs to be applied fully and speedily in order to improve the quality, effectiveness and transparency of investment and public spending;

56.  Stresses the need for the proper and timely transposition of the legislation on public procurement and concessions; highlights the importance of public procurement and the value of innovation partnerships as a key driver of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, particularly for SMEs, which need to be supported through specific measures that will foster competition and innovation;

Consumer acquis

57.  Finds it regrettable that the fragmented implementation of EU consumer protection legislation by the Member States results in differences in the protection of consumers and in the severity and timing of any enforcement measures taken; considers that this limits the consistency and coherence of legislative provisions in the same sectors or between different sales channels;

58.  Calls on the Commission to ensure the swift implementation and enforcement of legislation such as the Consumer Rights Directive and the provisions on Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution, while ensuring the reduction of administrative burdens; calls for consumers to be given adequate protection in line with their traditional market in cross-border sales and for enhanced data protection in the digital age, since this will help boost consumer trust in online purchases; points out the importance of effective enforcement of the rights of online consumers and the need for affordable and effective means of redress in the event of a dispute;

59.  Calls for action to be taken to encourage sustainable consumption, particularly in relation to a product’s useful life, and to combat practices aimed at deliberately reducing that useful life; hopes in this regard that the Commission will draw up a coherent action plan;

60.  Stresses that the Consumer Rights Directive marked an important step forward in terms of increasing legal certainty for consumers and businesses in online transactions, and today constitutes the main consumer protection instrument for online services;

61.  Notes that further gains can be made from improvements to the functioning of the Single Market, such as putting in place the online dispute resolution (ODR) system for consumer disputes, which could generate savings in the region of EUR 22 billion;

Energy

62.  Calls on the Commission to ensure a functioning internal market in energy with non-discriminatory market access and a high level of consumer protection, as well as adequate levels of interconnection capacity and system adequacy;

63.  Reiterates the need to increase Europe’s energy security by diversification of sources and routes of energy, and stresses the need, as a priority, to complete the internal energy market and to end the isolation of energy islands inside the Union;

64.  Considers that, in order to enhance the completion of the internal market, the integration of renewable energy sources and the security of supply, the Member States need to achieve a minimum target of 10 % of electricity interconnection capacity as a matter of urgency, and ideally to reach a level of 30 %;

65.  Considers that the liberalisation of the gas and electricity markets is fundamental for empowering consumers, and calls on the Commission to put consumers at the centre of its EU internal energy market policy;

III.  Instruments for the assessment of Single Market integration and governance tools

66.  Acknowledges that the Single Market Scoreboard can be considered a best practice for monitoring and evaluating the compliance of Member States with Single Market obligations, given that it can trigger improvements and catch-up processes among countries; stresses, however, that this scoreboard makes no provision for quality assessment tools; stresses the importance of improving dialogue with and between Member States in order to identify and address the complexities they are experiencing in implementing the Single Market legislation; in this regard, calls on the Commission to better assist Member States, when they so request, with the implementation of complex Single Market legislation;

67.  Considers, with respect to the regulatory performance of the Single Market, that a composite indicator could be developed to measure the ‘Single Market gap’, i.e. the additional burden borne by citizens and companies in cross-border activities because of the lack of rules governing the Single Market; insists that such an indicator should facilitate the development of conclusions which could result in policy recommendations for the EU institutions and Member States;

68.  Takes account of the Digital Agenda Scoreboard as an important tool to evaluate the progress made by Member States in this field; believes that the composite index to measure the Single Market gap should incorporate that scoreboard;

69.  Calls on the Commission to consider including in the body of its proposals for legal instruments in the Single Market area the obligation to carry out a systematic review of transposition, compliance, effectiveness and fitness for purpose of the legal instruments, including a methodology and criteria for such a review; believes that such methodology and criteria would allow for better assessment of whether the legal instruments are properly transposed, implemented and enforced, and also of whether and to what extent they contribute to attaining their objectives and how far they are fit for their purpose;

70.  Supports the creation of a sustainable Single Market based on the development of an inclusive, resource-efficient, knowledge-based economy, including measures to further innovation of whatever kind in sustainable technologies, balance consumer and business interests, and make improvements in respect of an informal problem-solving mechanism for the Single Market such as SOLVIT, whilst also enhancing public knowledge of points of single contact so that the public can become more aware of the opportunities available to generate growth and jobs in the Single Market;

71.  Acknowledges the continuous increase in the use of the Your Europe and Your Europe Advice portals, which should be able to provide the necessary information to anyone living, working or studying in or moving between Member States in the EU;

72.  Welcomes the fact that the average transposition deficit in Member States has fallen below the 1 % limit agreed by the European Council, reaching 0,6 %, which represents the best result registered since the creation of the Single Market Scoreboard; stresses that the zero-tolerance principle as regards the transposition of EU regulations must be a fundamental rule for both the Member States and the Union;

73.  Notes that proper implementation and enforcement of EU legislation is crucial for the completion of the Single Market; therefore calls on the Commission to make determined use of all its powers to reach this goal, and urges the Member States and the Commission to step up their efforts to enforce Single Market legislation and to monitor this enforcement, inter alia through regular inspection sweeps, while also continually reflecting on problems regarding implementation and making sure that legislation is more efficient and that ex post assessment is used more extensively and effectively; calls for increased monitoring of the effectiveness of consumer rights in the digital environment, particularly given the speed with which breaches of consumer legislation can spread in that environment;

74.  Recalls, however, that the infringement proceedings process has revealed a number of limitations as regards swiftly addressing and correcting the implementation and application deficiencies in Single Market provisions; calls on the Member States to work more effectively with the Commission in resolving cases more swiftly;

75.  Recognises that a failure to implement can be the result of complexities in the initial drafting; therefore stresses the need for both primary and secondary legislation to follow better regulation principles throughout, employing proper consultation, impact assessments and post-implementation reviews;

76.  Insists, furthermore, that every effort should be made to ensure the more effective use of infringement proceedings for breaches of Union law in the field of the Single Market, and that the Member States and the European Council should continue the further development of infringement proceedings in the framework of future revisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; takes the view, nevertheless, that infringement proceedings should always be the last resort and should be opened only after several attempts at coordination and rectification have been made;

o
o   o

77.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the Council, the European Council and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

(1) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2013)0054.
(2) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0130.
(3) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2014)0038.


Fight against child sexual abuse on the Internet
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European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2015 on child sexual abuse online (2015/2564(RSP))
P8_TA(2015)0070RC-B8-0217/2015

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of 20 November 1989, and the protocols thereto,

–  having regard to Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union,

–  having regard to Articles 7, 8, 47, 48 and 52 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, of 23 November 2001,

–  having regard to the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, of 25 October 2007,

–  having regard to Directive 2011/93/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA(1),

–  having regard to the Europol report of 2014 on the Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (iOACTA),

–  having regard to General Comment No 14 (2013) of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration,

–  having regard to the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child, adopted in February 2011,

–  having regard to its resolution of 27 November 2014 on the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child(2),

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘A special place for children in EU external action’ (COM(2008)0055),

–  having regard to the EU Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child,

–  having regard to the EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016, in particular the provisions on financing the development of guidelines on child protection systems and on the exchange of best practices,

–  having regard to its plenary debate of 12 February 2015 on the fight against child sexual abuse on the internet,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) and (4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, including child abuse images, constitute serious violations of fundamental rights, in particular of the right of children to the protection and care necessary for their well-being, as provided for by the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union;

B.  whereas the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration when carrying out any measures to combat these offences, in accordance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;

C.  whereas serious criminal offences such as the sexual exploitation of children and child abuse images require a comprehensive approach covering the investigation of offences, the prosecution of offenders, the protection of child victims and the prevention of this phenomenon;

D.  whereas the internet can expose children to specific risks, through them being able to gain access, or being subjected, to child sexual exploitation material, or being subjected to cyber predators, the exchange of material on violence, intimidation, bullying or grooming; whereas this exposure of children to such risks is exacerbated by the widespread use of and access to mobile technology and the internet;

E.  whereas the fight against child abuse on the internet should be integrated into a wider strategy addressing the overall phenomenon of child sexual abuse and exploitation, which still relates mainly to offline offences perpetrated through networks and individuals deliberately acting outside the internet area;

F.  whereas in the online environment sexual exploitation may take various forms, with young people being persuaded, or forced, to send or post sexually explicit images of themselves, to take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone, or to have sexual conversations by text or online, meaning that abusers and cyber predators can threaten to send images, videos or copies of conversations to the young person’s friends and family unless they take part in further sexual activity; whereas images and/or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped and remain freely available for anyone to view online, thus maintaining a constant risk of the victims beings re-victimised and stigmatised;

G.  whereas the measures taken by Member States to prevent illegal online content have not always been effective enough;

H.  whereas the investigative tools made available to those responsible for the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse online should take into account, inter alia, the principle of proportionality and the nature and seriousness of the offences under investigation, in line with EU and Member State law;

I.  whereas the protection of minors in the digital world must also be addressed through the industry taking initiatives in order to assume its shared responsibility, including through education and training for children, parents and teachers with a view to preventing minors from accessing illegal content;

J.  whereas, by reason of their international nature, child exploitation and child sexual exploitation online, which span hundreds of countries and their legal jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies, constitute an international problem which requires an international solution; whereas concerns must be raised over human traffickers using children without a legal identity, who are ‘invisible’ to the authorities, for sexual abuse online;

K.  whereas, owing to the nature of the crime and the age of the victims, most areas of child sexual exploitation and abuse – to a greater extent than other forms of crime – suffer from chronic underreporting to law enforcement authorities; whereas, therefore, the available data on the number of crimes committed do not accurately reflect the extent of the problem; whereas, according to information provided by NGOs concerning web pages containing child abuse material, more than 80 % of the victims are aged younger than 10; whereas data from the International Association of Internet Hotlines show an increase in the number of infant victims of sexual abuse and in abuse of an extreme and sadistic nature;

L.  whereas a large number of offenders use the Darknet, where they have established anonymous communities using hidden forums, website services, social networking platforms and storage providers dedicated to child abuse material, thereby enabling and facilitating practically untraceable sexual exploitation of children;

M.  whereas many criminals use defensive measures such as encryption and other tools to secure their activities, posing a serious challenge to law enforcement investigations;

N.  whereas NGOs reveal that just eight top-level distributors were responsible for 513 commercial child abuse material distribution brands in 2012, and that the 10 most prolific brands recorded in 2012 were all associated with a single top-level distributor;

O.  whereas Directive 2011/93/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography was due to be transposed by Member States by 18 December 2013, and whereas fewer than half of the Member States have fully implemented it so far;

1.  Strongly emphasises that protecting children and ensuring a safe environment for their development is one of the primary objectives of the European Union and its Member States;

2.  Stresses in the strongest terms that the rights and protection of children online must be safeguarded, and that steps must be taken to ensure that any illicit content is promptly removed and reported to law enforcement authorities, and that there are sufficient legal instruments for investigating and prosecuting offenders;

3.  Considers that children’s personal data online must be duly protected and that children need to be informed in an easy and child-friendly way of the risks and consequences of using their personal data online; underlines the important changes the data protection reform will bring in order to further protect the rights of children online;

4.  Stresses the need for a comprehensive and coordinated European approach in order to ensure consistency in policymaking and the resulting action, encompassing the fight against crime together with fundamental rights, privacy, data protection, cybersecurity, consumer protection and e-commerce;

5.  Considers that further steps must be taken to combat cyber grooming, and that the Commission, together with national governments, civil society, social media companies, parents, teachers, social workers, child protection officers, paediatricians, and youth and children’s organisations must play an active role in raising awareness of this issue through defined guidelines, the exchange of best practices, the creation of social platforms for cooperation and the exchange of information on this subject with a view to identifying potential risks and threats to children;

6.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to launch an awareness campaign, involving all relevant actors, to empower children and support parents and educators in understanding and handling online risks and protecting children’s safety online, to support Member States in setting up online sexual abuse prevention programmes, to promote awareness-raising campaigns on responsible behaviour in the social media, and to encourage major search engines and social media networks to take a proactive approach to protecting child safety online;

7.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to take appropriate measures to improve and enhance children’s reporting of abuse, as well as the action taken in response to such reporting, and to consider setting up systematic direct reporting mechanisms; supports the development of hotlines for children where they can denounce abuse anonymously;

8.  Stresses the need to improve international cooperation and transnational investigations in this area through cooperation agreements, and to strengthen cooperation among law enforcement authorities, including through Europol and the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), with a view to investigating, dismantling and prosecuting child sex offender networks more effectively, while prioritising the rights and safety of the children involved;

9.  Welcomes, in this connection, the joint initiative by the EU and 55 countries around the world – coming together in the Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online – aimed at rescuing more victims, ensuring more effective prosecution, increasing awareness and achieving an overall reduction in the amount of child sexual abuse material available online; calls on the Commission to report more regularly on the progress made through this Alliance; calls on the Member States to implement these recommendations at national level;

10.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to foster and strengthen the resources dedicated to victim identification and victim-centred services, and calls for the setting‑up of related platforms as a matter of urgency and for the strengthening of existing platforms within Europol;

11.  Calls on the Member States to implement Directive 2012/29/EU on establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime;

12.  Believes it is essential to use the correct terminology for crimes against children, including the description of images of sexual abuse of children, and to use the appropriate term ‘child sexual abuse material’ rather than ‘child pornography’;

13.  Encourages the Member States to properly resource the national contact points in order to enable them to report criminal and harmful online content and conduct, as provided for in Directive 2011/93/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography;

14.  Recalls that Member States are required to take the necessary measures to ensure that people who fear they might commit any of the offences related to sexual abuse and sexual exploitation have access, where appropriate, to effective intervention programmes or measures designed to evaluate and prevent the risk of such offences being committed;

15.  Asks that the Member States’ law enforcement authorities and Europol be provided with the necessary funds, human resources, investigative powers and technical capabilities to seriously and effectively pursue, investigate and prosecute the offenders, including appropriate training to build capacity in the judiciary and police units and to develop new high-tech capabilities to address the challenges of analysing vast amounts of child abuse imagery, including material hidden on the ‘dark web’, in order to trace and prosecute the offenders so as to protect the safety and rights of children;

16.  Notes with concern the development and expanding trends of commercial sexual exploitation of children online, including new means of distribution and transaction for child abuse materials, notably through the Deep Web and the Darknet, and in particular the phenomenon of live streaming of abuse for payment; calls on the Commission and the Member States, therefore, to further engage with representatives of alternative payment systems in order to identify opportunities for better cooperation with law enforcement authorities, including common training on better identification of payment processes linked to the commercial distribution of child abuse material;

17.  Calls for an effective partnership approach and lawful information exchange between law enforcement agencies, judicial authorities, the ICT industry, internet service providers (ISPs), internet host providers (IHPs), social media companies, the banking sector and NGOs, including youth and children’s organisations, with a view to ensuring that the rights and protection of children online are safeguarded and that any illicit content is promptly removed and reported to law enforcement authorities, which should regularly report on their investigations and prosecutions based on this relevant information, where appropriate; welcomes, in this connection, the CEO coalition for making the internet a better place for kids, as well as the work of the European Financial Coalition against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Online (EFC);

18.  Stresses that illegal online content should be removed immediately on the basis of due legal process; highlights the role of ICT, ISPs and IHPs in ensuring the fast and efficient removal of illegal online content at the request of the responsible law enforcement authority;

19.  Strongly urges those Member States that have not yet done so to transpose Directive 2011/93/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography; calls on the Commission, therefore, to strictly monitor its full and effective implementation, and to report back to Parliament, and its committee responsible, on its findings in a timely manner;

20.  Instructs its Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to further monitor the implementation of Directive 2011/93/EU and to carry out an in-depth analysis of the current policy framework for the fight against child sexual abuse, in the form of an implementation report on Directive 2011/93/EU, and to report back to the plenary;

21.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the Council and the parliaments of the Member States.

(1) OJ L 335, 17.12.2011, p. 1.
(2) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2014)0070.

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