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This week, the European Commission released its 2016 work plan [press release] [FAQs], appropriately entitled, “No time for business as usual.” Given the ongoing economic stagnation across the EU—coupled with macro issues including the migration crisis, energy insecurity, and an increasingly unstable neighborhood—Brussels needs a bold plan to get Europe moving forward. The Commission needs near term wins if it is to regain any political credibility with an increasingly restive electorate.
In many ways, the 2016 work plan is a status report and modest update to its 2015 “Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness, and Democratic Change,” President Juncker’s inaugural mission statement for his new Commission. Pledging close cooperation with the European Parliament and Council, the Commission aims to make significant progress across all 10 policy priorities over the course of the upcoming year.
The major tenets of the plan remain the same:
- Create an integrated Digital Single Market
- Build an Energy Union across the member states
- Develop a Capital Markets Union to help take investment opportunities to scale
- Reenergize Europe’s international trade strategy, including conclusion of a “reasonable and balanced” TTIP agreement.
Other priorities include a unified approach to the migration crisis, strengthening the financial architecture underpinning the Euro, a renewed focus on energy policy and sustainable development, and attempting to address corporate taxation at the EU level.
Following are a few key issue areas that bear careful monitoring.
On the Digital Single Market, the Commission aims to have proposals on all key areas by the end of 2016 as they strive to put a functional DSM in place by the end of its mandate in 2019. Focus areas for the next year will include: copyright issues, geo-blocking, the free flow of data across EU borders, access to cloud computing services, and VAT reforms for e-commerce. Importantly, the Commission aims to finally conclude and implement its Data Protection Regulation and Directive and Network and Information Security Directive by the end of next year. In particular, the Chamber will focus its attention on the Data Protection issue, as well as any proposed regulations of internet “platforms” which could threaten industry interests or make the flow of data across the Atlantic even more constrained in a post-Safe Harbor ruling world.
The Capital Markets Union gets a brief mention as part of the Commission’s overall plan to boost growth and strengthen the single market. The Commission views CMU as part of a “stimulus package” to help SMEs grow and increase their access to capital from traditional sources as well as venture capital. The U.S. venture capital system and culture of rewarding risk and entrepreneurship is a clear inspiration here.
On Energy and Climate, the Commission will focus on integrating national energy markets, promoting energy efficiency, and promoting research and price competitiveness across the EU. Ahead of the Paris climate conference later this year, the EU is setting ambitious goals for energy security, renewables, and efficiency.
On tax issues, the EU is withdrawing its previous proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), and replacing it with a proposal to stage implementation starting with agreement on a mandatory tax base (Common Corporate Tax Base, or CCTB). VAT reforms are also envisioned in order to simplify payments and calculations for SMEs.
Trade remains high on the Commission’s agenda and yet TTIP apparently merits only a passing mention in this year’s work plan. The Commission once again used the work plan to reaffirm its commitment to a flawed investment protection reform proposal. Other trade priorities include finishing its free trade agreement negotiations with Japan, investment talks with China, and launching new FTA discussions with Australia and New Zealand. The work plan also underlines the Commission’s new Trade and Investment Strategy emphasizing trade in services, e-commerce, access to natural resources and energy, and innovation—with a particular eye towards benefitting SMEs.
Finally, on Justice and Fundamental Rights, the work plan envisions a finalized Data Protection Regulation and Directive being in place by the end of 2016, alongside a “solid” agreement with the U.S. on the transfer of personal data for law enforcement purposes. Once Congress finalizes the Judicial Redress Act, the U.S. and EU could officially conclude the so-called Umbrella Agreement on personal data transfers. Unfortunately the Commission work plan fails to address the urgent need for clarity on the transfer of data for commercial purposes in the aftermath of the ECJ’s Safe Harbor ruling earlier this month. Ensuring the seamless flow of data across the Atlantic is vitally important to both economies, and is certainly an issue that the U.S. Chamber will remain active on throughout 2016, as most recently evidenced by Senior Vice President John Murphy's testimony on Safe Harbor on Capitol Hill on November 3.