Tuesday 23 September 2014

Currently browsing 'EU Priorities 2020'

What should the EU’s overall priorities be? Or those of the next Presidency? And what should the EU Council really be talking about when they next meet.

 

The Formation of the Juncker Commission and its impact on the Western Balkans

Posted by on 21/09/14

It has been a very politically engaging end of summer this year, with a brand new institutional reshuffling in Brussels. Following the May parliamentary elections, the EU appointed its new leadership for the next 5 years. After the latest events of this summer – the spread of violence, insecurity and political turmoil in Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq/Syria – all eyes are now again on the EU and its capacity to face these geopolitical challenges. One of the biggest changes brought by the newly announced Juncker Commission is the way it has restructured the foreign policy component. Before the official announcement, when a leaked document containing a provisionary version of the Commission was circulating in the press, many were speaking about the possibility of the enlargement portfolio to be dropped completely. In reality it was not, but the message is still not very encouraging for the Western Balkans.

On 15 July 2014 Jean-Claude Juncker was elected to become the next President of the European Commission by a strong majority of 422 votes in the European Parliament. On that occasion, Juncker noted his straight-forward goal: “The EU needs to take a break from enlargement”. He argued further that “during my Presidency of the Commission, ongoing negotiations will continue, and notably the Western Balkans will need to keep a European perspective”.  Such a stance is both strong and ambiguous. This approach leaves open the question of whether new negotiations will be started and whether the EU will undertake an effort to resolve the issues precluding countries from moving towards accession talks. After that statement, some feared that he might even completely drop the Enlargement portfolio in the Commission, which sparked a debate about what the perspectives of the Western Balkans would be in this context. This prophecy was not fulfilled, or at least not entirely. On 10 September we found out that Enlargement will not be given a stand-alone portfolio in the new European Commission. Johannes Hahn from Austria (EPP) will be in charge of the restructured portfolio called ‘European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations’. So we can cool off; enlargement has not disappeared. But the second part of the title sends a handful of political messages.  For many this may be seen as a downgrading, or even as a sign that Europe considers its expansion plans and the Western Balkan region itself (where, after all, most of the candidate and potential candidates are) to be of lesser importance.

I personally believe that we should avoid the extreme opinion stating that from now on the enlargement process is completely frozen. It’s true, there is no more single portfolio focused on enlargement per se, but enlargement negotiations have remained in focus. This clearly shows that the process must go on. But the question is how. The enlargement process will in all likelihood continue, the Commission will still monitor the progress annually and the main road maps for each country will remain in place. What will definitely change, however, is the impetus given to the process, which will directly affect the cost-benefit calculations of already weakened EU-oriented Balkan reformists.  I believe that there is no need for alarmist tones, which might suggest that the enlargement process not being at the top of the EU’s foreign policy agenda will lead to an outburst of tensions and possibly a new eruption of violence and war. These fears are unrealistic and miscalculate both the EU’s and the Western Balkans’ reactions.

The possible implications of neglecting the Western Balkans

In the midst of this debate, we should be reminded that the enlargement process is conducted not just by politics, but also by EU conditionality and the adoption of EU norms; it’s fundamentally a very complex web of multi-level governance structures representing both EU and candidate and potential candidate countries. Both sides are responsible for the results and for delaying integration. I don’t agree with people who blame the EU for its enlargement fatigue and disengagement from the Balkans, but neither do I agree with the ‘Balkan sceptics’ who put the entire blame on the corrupt political class and persistent ethno-nationalist bargaining that did not consider EU accession as a priority. I would plead for a more realistic picture that highlights both the EU Member-states ‘enlargement fatigue’ and the Balkans’ ‘accession fatigue’.  And such a Gordian knot needed a change. The Stability and Association Agreements took years to be implemented and in most of the cases they were delayed and politicized by both potential and candidate countries. But some Member states contributed to this process as well by vetoing the continuation of the process (the example of Macedonia and the name issue with Greece stands as the most striking example). We must also admit that an internally divided EU has proven to be powerless to make real changes to Balkan political dynamics of polarization, zero-sum games, and toxic nationalism.

As Austria’s Johannes Hahn got the redefined neighbourhood portfolio, this field has assumed geostrategic importance in the light of the Ukraine crisis and it has evidently superseded the enlargement package. This leaves out any prospect of high-speed accession that has animated reforms in most of the former Yugoslav republics in the last 10 years. There are some serious reasons for this: first, there is Juncker’s own anti-enlargement conviction, which points to economic reasons for ‘deepening’ the 28-EU, rather than expanding it; second, there has been the harsh rhetoric of political forces within EU member states that have associated enlargement with the negative trends of greater migration and insecurity of labour markets, which struck a populist chord as we have seen during the latest European elections; third, there was also the stagnation of the integration process and the lack of progress in several countries where the reforms seemed to deteriorate.

When taking these arguments into consideration, the Juncker formula for leaving enlargement behind is not a surprise. But one should not overlook the possible negative effects. These are the main points that one should keep in mind when considering neglecting the Balkans:

(1) The EU has a symbolic meaning for the Balkans. It should not give up on its Europeanization vocation in the Western Balkans as it may lose a large amount of effort and money it has already invested. Even in the midst of its own internal crisis and the worsening global crises from Ukraine to Iraq, Europe cannot afford to neglect the one region in which the EU has assumed full leadership as a foreign and security policy actor. We should not forget that the conflicts that devastated the Balkans during the 90’s provided the catalyst for the idea of an EU with security responsibilities (as comprised in the European Security Strategy in 2003 and which contributed to the new Common Security and Defense Policy). This should not just be a symbolic and demagogic ambition merely for marketing purposes, but rather an assumed long-term project for crisis management based on EU soft power. Even though EU’s transformative power in the region has been limited, the massive EU presence in the Balkans has a geopolitical stabilizing purpose and that should not be forgotten.  We should be aware of the fact that negative developments in the Balkans could reverse all the valuable gains in the region, increase instability in other countries on the EU’s immediate borders, and further weaken Europe’s credibility and cohesion.

(2) An important lesson that we can draw from the past is not to discuss Balkan problems only when they become absolutely impossible to ignore. The profound problems that keep fragmenting societies in the Western Balkans are not going to solve themselves overnight. Keeping them out the spotlight might be very dangerous, as unresolved issues may come to the surface in the upcoming period. And as Russia continues to use its levers in the region, the crisis in Ukraine could have spill-over effects that could damage European interests where it hurts most.

(3) The situation in both Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRoM) is deteriorating, with both countries facing challenges from dysfunctional power-sharing frameworks that elites use to block the path towards the EU. We already had some signals in February, when violent protests broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this summer in FYRoM, too. In Serbia and Kosovo, the progress made in recent years is at risk of being reversed. Last year’s EU-brokered First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Serbia and Kosovo was at the time hailed as the biggest success of EU’s foreign policy, after the creation of the EEAS. At the moment its implementation is largely frozen, with both Prishtina and Belgrade blaming each other of a lack of responsibility and engagement. As the EU is distracted by its own transition, new elections are slated for Kosovo, which is in the midst of its biggest political crisis since independence, and Serbia strengthens its relation with Russia.

To conclude, I would like to argue that the EU needs to achieve policy success in a European region that is striving for EU membership. As such, it cannot afford a failure in the Balkans, especially after its delayed and unsuccessful intervention during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Looking at the massive drawbacks in the last years, it seems that the Balkans will unfortunately require more rather than less European diplomacy and international statecraft. This engagement will need to be taken seriously in order to tackle challenges such as real democratization and reconciliation. In this context, whether Juncker’s solution of redesigning portfolios was the best solution remains to be seen. But the impact of this decision on the Balkan region is not to be underestimated.

About the Author: Miruna Troncota is a postdoc researcher at the National University for Political Science and Public Administration in Bucharest with a focus on Postconflict Europeanization in the Western Balkans. She has recently completed her PhD in International Relations at the National School for Political Science and Public Administration in Bucharest. She held research fellowships at Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies, at the University of Ljubljana and was an intern at the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She is involved in promoting European integration through cultural diplomacy in the Western Balkans. Miruna joined FutureLab Europe in 2013.

 

France and the EU: there is no “exception française”

Posted by on 18/09/14
By Ernst Stetter In a speech earlier this week, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, “it is France and France alone that decides what the country has to do”, stipulating that there should be a serious talk with Germany, which has to assume its responsibilities for Europe. Helpful? Not so much...

Turkish Coffee Briefings: Public Private Partnerships & Innovation Economy?

Posted by on 18/09/14
How Can Public Private Partnerships Stimulate Innovation Economy? What Can be the Role of the Industry?   Guest speaker Sinan Tumer : Senior Director SAP Co-Innovation Lab Sinan Tumer is the Senior Director of SAP Co-Innovation Lab in the East Coast region of USA. He is responsible for establishing an open innovation process by harnessing SAP’s partner ecosystem [...]

The pharmaceutical industry against patients, doctors and pharmacists

Posted by on 18/09/14

Joint letters with like-minded organisations are never easy to write, even among friends. Each organisation wants to add its own nuance.Different organisations may have different rules for sign-off on final drafts, and amendments can ping-pong from one to the other. I’ve been there.

Sometimes, however, an issue is so important and clear that a joint position is agreed and action taken in a very short time – as in the case of the 30 health-care organisations that have written to Mr Juncker to oppose the proposal to transfer responsibility for medicines, medical devices and health technology from DG Sanco to DG Enterprise.

And not just any organisations: the signatories include the European representative associations of national organisations of doctors, pharmacists, hospital physicians, hospital pharmacists, health mutuals and health insurance funds, hospital associations, social security funds, cancer leagues, heart foundations, medical bulletins, patients, the elderly, consumers and many others. Offhand, I cannot think of any major European healthcare representative voice that has not signed up – well, the pharmaceutical industry, perhaps, but they have their own agenda.

The editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, Fiona Godlee, has also written a joint letter with the review Prescrire, in the same sense.

I don’t think I have ever seen such a wide and immediate agreement between such a diverse range of professionals, patients and consumers on one issue. This is the united voice of the European healthcare sector. Will Mr Juncker listen?

The decision to make the transfer from health to the industry DG seems to have been at the demand of the European pharmaceutical industry. According to an article in Scrip on 12th September:
EFPIA said that commission president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker had “taken on our views and put together all units that are relevant for our business in Europe”. These, it said, were previously spread over three directorates general, SANCO (health), MARKT (internal market) and ENTR.

So now we know. We have the industry on one side on this issue and on the other side the entire health care sector – doctors, pharmacists, patients, hospitals, mutualities, sickness and social security funds, consumers etc. The industry claims to play an important role in healthcare and indeed it does but that role is not always positive. END

German fingerprints on Juncker’s Digital Agenda?

Posted by on 16/09/14
The 'digital agenda' was a key plank of Jean-Claude Juncker's 'campaign' to become European Commission President and will be one of the top priorities for the next five years. Indeed, his new look Commission has its own dedicated 'digital single market' cluster, which incorporates a large number of the Commission departments:


The Vice-President overseeing all this is Estonia's Andrus Ansip, a former Prime Minister of the country which styles itself as a 'digital society', with e-elections and online tax returns completed in five minutes. Former Energy Commissioner, Germany's Günther Oettinger, will take on a new role as Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, which much of the German press saw as an embarrassment, particularly given the high-profile roles secured by France and the UK.

However, with online privacy and data protection such big issues in Germany, particularly following the NSA scandal, his appointment could be significant - not least because he is likely to have very different priorities to Ansip. Oettinger, along with the Czech Justice Commissioner Vĕra Jourová, will be responsible for ensuring passage of new data protection regulations and a revamp of the EU's e-Privacy Directive. He will also work on copyright. In turn, many of these issues will be integral to the US-EU free trade (TTIP) talks currently under way, another area of intense debate in Germany.

It has been noted by some that the CEO of Axel Springer, the owner of German tabloid Bild, publicly backed Juncker's candidacy (heaping pressure on Chancellor Merkel to do the same) and has a long-running beef with US internet giant Google. Whether this was a purely altruistic move we will leave up to you to decide...although we would note that one of Oettinger's first moves after the announcement of his appointment was to warn Google over its market power - a stark change in tone and approach from the previous administration, whatever the motivation.

In short, while Oettinger's appointment may not have been greeted by spontaneous cheers on the streets of Berlin, those in the corridors of power are likely to be quietly pleased. How 'German' the European Commission will be in this area will be interesting to watch.

Juncker’s digital crack team: Connecting the dots

Posted by on 16/09/14

How many European Commissioners does it take to get grandma online? 28. Now don’t expect a punchline – this is not a joke.

The publication of the names and portfolios of the proposed Juncker Commission this Wednesday ended weeks of speculation. While the Commissioners-designate will have a few more hurdles to overcome as the European Parliament scrutinises and finally votes on Juncker’s candidates, we now have a digital roadmap.

The shape and structure of the new College outlined by President-elect Juncker gives a clear indication of how he intends to achieve a connected digital single market. Much to our delight, it matches Huawei’s vision of digital policy-making. A few months ago, I posted about hardwiring digital into all policy-making activities: the new Commission organigram is translating this idea into portfolios and project teams.

To take a closer look at how this will trigger concrete results, let’s get back to the idea of getting grandma online – or, to elaborate on this idea, to enable people of all ages, men and women alike, to easily access high-speed internet, wherever they may live; to provide them with the skills they need to make full use of it; and to ensure that the services they need are available online.

Achieving this requires, of course, decisive action by the future Commission Vice-President in charge of the digital single market. But he cannot succeed without his ‘project team’.

Creating mobile applications that provide health care services for the elderly, for instance, requires progress in a broad range of areas. It requires research into new solutions and technologies. Skilled developers and ICT job opportunities for men and women. Working environments that foster innovation and new ways of thinking. A business environment that enables firms to take their activities online and across borders, safely and at reasonable cost. High-speed mobile connectivity reaching into the most remote rural areas. And learning opportunities for those not born into the digital age.

The competence for driving progress in these areas will be spread over the portfolios of the Commissioners in charge of research & innovation, education, employment & skills, gender equality, the digital economy, health & safety, industry & entrepreneurship, and of regional policy.

Even portfolios outside Juncker’s project team for a connected digital single market have a digital edge: a company like Huawei could not make such a substantial contribution to ICT in Europe without appropriate international agreements and trade policies. The ICT industry has a major impact on the future development of transport and the environment. And so on.

At Huawei, our strategy for building a better connected Europe mirrors this integrated approach. We conduct cutting-edge research to develop solutions that fit the needs of tomorrow’s Europe. We work with our European partners to bring the benefits of next generation mobile technologies such as 5G to Europeans. We seek deep engagement with the local business environment. Our Telecom Seeds programme enables young Europeans to hone the skills they need to succeed in a globalised, technology-driven marketplace. And finally, we work to ensure that the progress we achieve together is sustainable.

According to Mr Juncker, we can generate up to €250 billion of additional growth in Europe by 2019 by creating a digital single market. At Huawei’s Brussels Office, we are excited to start working with the new teams to turn these ambitious plans into reality.

- Tony Graziano, Vice-President of Huawei’s EU Public Affairs Office

What leaders have been chosen by Europe in 2014?

Posted by on 15/09/14
Scientific experts are attempting to explain the EU’s communications paradoxes. In 2009, Prof. Peter Van Aelst analyzed the election campaign of the first President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, stressing that the basic rules of political campaigning were not applied. On the contrary, we have witnessed the opposite of the logic of campaigning. [...]

The Juncker Commission: New orientation should have been different

Posted by on 11/09/14
By Ernst Stetter The day after the official presentation of the new European commission by the President-designate Jean-Claude Juncker, the press remains ambiguous in its analyses. Of course, it is not easy to fulfil the wishes of all – but one can wonder, whose desires this Commission reflects. Even from a distance, it seems to fall short in terms of responding to the citizens’ wish for change – as expressed during the European elections.

Portrait: Frans Timmermans vs geopolitics

Posted by on 11/09/14
Guest blogpost by Heinrich Matthee, director of research of INEGMA-EU in Brussels. During the summer of 2014 the claws of geopolitics have also touched Europeans. It is a time of punctuated equilibrium, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. During the summer, pro-Russian rebels shot down the civilian airliner MH-17 over Ukraine. The [...]

What to expect from the Commission’s new economics team

Posted by on 11/09/14
Will France's Moscovici (left) be effectively shackled by
Finland's Katainen (centre) and Latvia's Dombrovskis (right)?
The new European Commission (EC) also sees the overhaul of its approach to the Eurozone. While Pierre Moscovici holds the Economic and Financial Affairs post (essentially Olli Rehn’s successor), he will be overseen by the Vice Presidents (VPs) for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and the Euro and Social Dialogue – Jyrki Katainen and Valdis Dombrovskis respectively.

An edge has been added to all this with quick German criticism of the decision to give former French Finance Minister Moscovici such a prominent economic post.

We have already pointed out in our full response to the new Commission that, contrary to popular belief (at least in some quarters in Germany), this does not necessarily change much – a lot of Eurozone rules are already set in stone. However, it is important to delve a bit more into who has what powers or controls which areas?

Katainen’s key responsibilities:
  • Helping bring together an investment package to mobilise €300bn in additional public and private investment via the European Investment Bank within the next three months – expected to be discussed at tomorrow’s eurogroup meeting and unveiled soon.
  • Coordinating the mid-term review of Europe 2020 strategy and long-term EU budget.
  • Pushing economic policy coordination in line with view of “social market economy” while also pursuing a strong structural reform agenda.
Dombrovskis:
  • Steering the ongoing reform of the Economic and Monetary Union and, importantly, in charge of pursuing the work of the four Presidents' report on creating a 'deep and genuine' EMU. This suggests he will play a significant role in the bid to create a sounder eurozone and finding a way to marry the existing currency union with greater political union. It's important to note that this will bring him into regular contact with Lord Hill who is responsible for banking union in the new Commission - exactly how the financial stability aspect and the eurozone prosperity aspect will fit together here will be interesting to watch.
  • Formal oversight of the European semester – the mechanism through which budget rules are enforced in the eurozone. Also tasked with reviewing the mechanisms for achieving structural reform.
Moscovici:
  • As might be expected there is significant overlap with those above. He has also been tasked with handling the European semester. It is expected he will handle the day to day evaluation and, in cooperation with others, will sign off on national budgets and reform plans.
  • The language around the Stability and Growth Pact is also in line with previous thinking, tasking Moscovici with making “best possible use of the flexibility that is built into” the rules.
  • The focus of this role seems to be on the macroeconomics and fiscal coordination of the eurozone. With that in mind, its expected Moscovici will attend eurogroup meetings on behalf of the Commission.
Overall then, while France may have got what it wished for, Moscovici looks firmly shackled to two fiscal conservatives. None of his tasks relating to the Eurozone are separated from these two VPs. More broadly, as the FT has pointed out, Moscovici (a French socialist) is also severely ideologically outnumbered not only within the broader Commission but specifically in the economic and financial posts.

Furthermore, the language used in the text of the letters remains quite Germanic and in line with the thinking of the current Commission:
“Combining growth-friendly fiscal consolidation, structural reforms and targeted support to investment will be key to a sustainable and strong recovery.”

“Sustainable growth cannot be built on ever-growing mountains of debt. We also know well that it is mainly companies that create jobs, not governments or EU institutions.”
There are also numerous mentions of “sound public finances” and the “social market economy” both core elements of the prevailing German economic thinking.

What to expect from the new Commission in terms of eurozone economic policy?

Finally, there are a couple of hints of what key proposals may be coming in the future. We have already mentioned the reference to a new investment package and the desire to push ahead with reviewing the current surveillance system. A further development seems to be for all those involved to try to engage a “broader range of actors at national level”, make the measures taken to improve the Eurozone more “socially legitimate” and find a more democratic alternative to the EU/IMF/ECB Troika. This suggests fostering national support for the likely continuation of significant structural reform and fiscal consolidation will be a key task for these Commissioners.

With that in mind, there is one final interesting line which is found in both Moscovici’s and Dombrovskis’ letter, they are tasked with forming:
“Proposals to encourage further structural reforms, possibly supported by financial incentives and a targeted fiscal capacity at Euro zone level”
This sounds eerily like a revival of the reform contracts, which Germany has been pushing for some time. The idea has been gaining ground once again after ECB President Mario Draghi suggested that structural reform should have similar oversight to that currently seen for national budgets. The latter part is also interesting, albeit very cryptic and vague. It could refer to the creation of a eurozone budget, possibly focused on tackling unemployment and related costs. Equally, it could refer to something along the lines of a wider assessment of the eurozone’s fiscal capacity and using it where there is scope to do so – meaning some kind of fiscal expansion in Germany (and other strong states) to offset fiscal contraction elsewhere.

Expect movement on these issues in coming months.

Jean-Claude GSOH*

Posted by on 10/09/14
By Andrew Duff One knew, of course, that Jean-Claude Juncker is well possessed with a dry sense of humour. How delightfully on display is his sharp wit in the disposition of portfolios to his new college of Commissioners.

Lord Hill is the EU’s new financial services Commissioner – but what is his remit and who does he report to?

Posted by on 10/09/14
With the future of the UK seemingly hanging by a thread it is understandable that events north of the border are dominating attention, but today's announcement of the new European Commission also has far-reaching consequences for the future of the UK's EU membership and the EU itself.

As we set out in our flash analysis, the appointment of Lord Hill to the key financial services portfolio (pending approval by MEPs) is a win for the UK, and the general reformist outlook of the Commission, with other crucial posts (Internal Market and Competition) held by liberal, pro-free trade, non-eurozone countries, provides grounds for cautious optimism.

What will Lord Hill's portfolio include?
  • Overseeing the creation of the banking union – a crucial policy for the eurozone but also one which threatens to split the EU into euro-ins and outs. In his new role, Lord Hill can ensure this does not happen. That being said, this is a very tricky role to manage (with numerous competing interests), especially for a non-eurozone country.
  • Power to review the role of the European supervisory authorities, institutions which have been controversial in the UK since their creation.
  • Responsibility for a 'Capital Markets Union'. While this remains vague it could be a good initiative for the UK since London is already the centre of European capital markets. Lord Hill can base the union around the single market rather than the eurozone.
As the charts below show, the Commission has also been re-organised with a series of policy clusters, with the UK being at the heart of all the major decisions relating to the single market, jobs and growth and the Eurozone. Each 'cluster' will be headed by a Vice-President, previously a largely meaningless role but now with additional agenda setting powers and the ability to stop legislative proposals from other Commissioners.



Lord Hill will 'report' to two Vice Presidents who will "steer and co-ordinate" depending on the issue at hand - the new "Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness" VP Jyrki Katainen and the "Euro and Social Dialogue" VP Valdis Dombrovskis (both of whom are former PMs). In terms of the two VPs, Dombrovskis is likely to supervise the banking union aspects of Lord Hill's post while Katainen will oversee the more single market aspects, although even here, there is plenty of scope for overlap.

Lord Hill's portfolio also has some overlap (and therefore potential conflict) with France's new Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici .The potential for Anglo-French clashes within the Commission is relatively limited since Moscovici will be primarily tasked with macroeconomic eurozone policies rather than financial markets, but one potentially fraught area could the be Financial Transaction Tax or a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base. Juncker has asked Moscovici to finalise negotiations over both.

It remains to be seen how the relationship between VPs and different clusters will work in practice, especially as Juncker himself has insisted that "In the new Commission, there are no first or second-class Commissioners", and since decisions in the College of Commissioners have traditionally been taken by a majority of all Commissioners in a secret vote. However, Juncker also made clear that the Vice-Presidents “can stop any initiative, including legislative initiatives” of other commissioners – effectively acting as “a filter”.

Time will tell how potential disputes play out or are resolved and to what extent the VPs can truly veto proposals. What is clear is that the relationship between these four men could be crucially important.

Education and Youth are not a ‘small thing’

Posted by on 10/09/14

Today the European Commission’s president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker announced his “winning team”, a commission in which portfolios are given “to people, not to countries”. AEGEE / European Students’ Forum sees some good developments in the attention given to Citizenship, Mobility and Employment, but has concerns about Education being overshadowed,the total absence of mentioning Non-Formal Education for skills development and employment and the gender composition of the team.

Education portfolio still pressured
As a stakeholder in the fields of Youth, Students and Education, AEGEE-Europe welcomes the establishment of the portfolio on Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship; particularly after the previous information published at the end of last week by EurActiv (link) on the lack of education portfolio in the new European Commission. However, we would still like to emphasise the importance of Education. With Juncker claiming that he wants the Commission “to be bigger on big things and modest on small things”, we urge that education should not be considered a ‘small thing’ in a Union that depends on knowledge-dependant end-products and in which access to education is stagnating [1].

Combining citizenship into the same portfolio could be a good decision, as it paves the way for better civic education for which we see a great need in Europe. Reaching out to Erasmus+ and ‘Europe for Citizens‘ beneficiaries as a means to strengthen EU understanding, as is mentioned in the mission letter (link) to Tibor Navracsics, is highly welcomed. However, we urge that the focus of citizenship should not only be part of education, and mentioned beneficiaries should not be the only vehicle, but the work on citizenship should also encompass the inclusion of all citizens in the decision-making processes and consultations, including, but not limited to, improving the European Citizens’ Initiatives and facilitating pan-European media attention on European issues.

Juncker and Navracsics. Source: Google

Unemployment tackled, mobility boosted, non-formal education ignored
Mr. Juncker has prominently highlighted jobs as one of his top priorities, recognizing that the crisis has taken its toll on employment, leaving more than 6 million people without work. In his mission letter to Marianne Thyssen (link) he acknowledges that “unemployment has reached unacceptably high levels in many parts of Europe, particularly among Europe’s youth”. To remedy this situation, he proposes to present a jobs, growth and investment package within the first three months of the Commission’s term, emphasizing the importance of funding towards projects that can help youth get back to work in decent jobs, as well as accelerating and broadening the implementation of the Youth Guarantee Scheme.

As youth employment is one of AEGEE’s priorities in the upcoming years as well, we are happy to see Mr. Juncker recognizing it as an issue to be dealt with. As a measure to fight unemployment we also welcome labour mobility as an own policy field of Commissioner Marianne Thyssen. In order to deepen the European integration it is essential to promote free movement of workers, and AEGEE-Europe sees access to mobility as one of the fundamental rights of all residents on the European continent (link). One of the key issues in order to achieve labour mobility is the mutual recognition of qualifications. Therefore we strongly support that qualifications obtained in different countries have to be recognised for all European citizens.

In the context of employment, AEGEE would like also like to see an emphasis on recognition and validation of non-formal education, especially when it comes to youth. As a youth NGO and a provider of non-formal education, we believe that non-formal education plays a crucial role in helping young people develop a variety of skills useful and relevant in a wide range of workplaces. Working to get non-formal education recognised is now not explicitly mentioned at all in the mission letters to Mr. Navracsics and Ms. Thyssen.

Furthermore, we hope that the Commission will seek out to engage citizens in improving the current situation regarding youth unemployment. Youth organisations provide young people with skills and competences that help in preparing them for the labour market. Therefore, our opinion is that youth organizations could bring added value in fighting youth unemployment, and should be consulted and involved in this matter.

Gender Balance
AEGEE-Europe is pleased to see that three out of seven Vice-President positions were given to female representatives. This is definitely a good step in the direction of achieving gender balance. However, we still hold the opinion that nine female Commissioners, compared to 19 male ones, is far from equality, and it is not a progress compared to the composition of the Commission of José Manuel Barroso. Given the fact that women constitute over a half of the 507 million population of the European Union (104.8 women per 100 men; Eurostat, 2013) and 60% of tertiary education graduates (Eurostat, 2013), we find it astonishing that EU Member States did not manage to find more female candidates for the position of Commissioners.

Representation of women in the Commission. Source: European Commission

If there were truly equal opportunities, the probability of having more than 9 female Commissioners would be more than 95%. However, at the same time, we appreciate the efforts of Jean-Claude Juncker calling for more women representatives in the EC in the previous months and the inclusion of the gender equality portfolio in the DG Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

Despite the mentioned concerns, AEGEE-Europe sees potential in the change Mr. Juncker wants to make, and hope to see a positive effect. We wish for a fruitful cooperation with Commissioner Tibor Navracsics of Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship and Marianne Thyssen of Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility. Lastly, we look forward to the efforts of the Commissioner V?ra Jourová in taking measures to achieve gender equality.

[1 http://euobserver.com/news/125536

A bad start for the New Commission

Posted by on 10/09/14

Some years ago, DG Sanco, the health directorate for public health, took over the lead role for medicines and medical devices from DG Enterprise the industry DG, which was responsible for promoting industry, including the pharmaceutical industry. The change was a good one, enabling a clearer focus within the Commission on medicines as an essential element of health policy.

Now in his line-up for the new Commission, Mr Juncker has announced that the units dealing with medicines, medical devices, and health technology will be moved back to DG Enterprise!

In the new Commission, DG Enterprise will be responsible for promoting the European pharmaceutical industry and for Commission policy on medicines and medical devices. Other DGs will have a say, of course, but DG Enterprise will take the lead and will be the main interlocutor with the industry on medicines and medical devices. This is a good day for the pharmaceutical industry, but a bad day for public health. The industry has great influence across a wide range of government policies but typically rather more influence on industry departments – and this is not to imply any impropriety on the part of DG Enterprise.

One DG should not combine the lead role for medicines policy with the lead role for the promotion of the pharmaceutical industry. This is not the way to achieve clarity in public health policy. The difficult task of balancing the interests of public health and the (legitimate) interests of the pharmaceutical industry should not take place within the one DG (and should not be well hidden from public scrutiny) .

There is also the difficulty of ensuring the right mix of skills within the one unit or DG – combining specialists on public health with expertise on industrial promotion.

This was how the change was announced:

Units SANCO B2 (Health Technology and Cosmetics), SANCO D5 (Medicinal Products – Authorisations, European Medicines Agency) and SANCO D6 (Medical Products – Quality, Safety and Efficacy) move from DG Health and Consumers (SANCO) to DG ENTR.

You can see the full announcement here.

The Commissioner–designate for Health and Food Safety is Vytenis Andriukaitis a former Minister for Health in Lithuania – and a surgeon, but he will not have responsibility for medicines, medical devices or health technology. That will be the task of Elżbieta Bieńkowska, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Poland, who is the Commissioner–designate for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, to give her full title.

The new Commission-designate must be approved by the European Parliament and I hope there will be strong voices there who think that medicines should be seen first and foremost as a matter of public health policy.

There is still time for the Commission to re-think this appalling decision. END

Merging energy and climate change services under one Commissioner is an overdue change

Posted by on 10/09/14

The division of Commission services into one dealing with energy policy and another one with climate change policy has always been an artificial one: to influence climate change policy makers have to rely on energy policy.

It is therefore positive to recombine the two sides of the coin under a single command and put an end to internal disputes and overlapping created during the past 10 years.

European energy policy must serve foremost the interest of European citizens with energy security and sustainability of supply being the overwhelming targets.

But in a global and long-term perspective, European energy policy must also take climate developments into account. That is why it makes sense to aim at abolishing C02 emissions by the middle of century, which implies phasing out fossil energies, enhancing energy efficiency and switching to renewable energies and completing the network of long-distance power transmission and low-cost power storage .

A single command structure should therefore make the EU more effective. It will become operational just in time for the two main issues the EU will be confronted with very shortly: reducing the dependency on Russia as the single most important supplier of energy and contributing to a successful outcome of the climate conference in Paris in late 2015.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 10/9/2014

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