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Remarks by President Donald Tusk following the tripartite social summit

I cannot start our conference today without first paying tribute to the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in a car bomb in Malta on Monday. I am convinced that the Maltese authorities will do everything in their power to investigate and bring to light all the circumstances of this hideous crime. In this extraordinary moment, we remember all the journalists who have lost their lives realising their mission. I have been a journalist myself for many years and this is why I know what you feel today. Let us observe a minute’s silence for Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Turning to our work today. Yet again, our Tripartite Social Summit took place in the context of positive economic news. The European economy has finally woken up. GDP growth in the European Union is above 2 per cent, unemployment has fallen to below 8 per cent. The euro area is recording its fastest growth rate since 2011. In fact, the European recovery is no longer a recovery but a European economic expansion. In short, the economic success story of 2017.

It is our common task now to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared as widely as possible. And this is why in our meeting today we discussed, in very concrete terms, how the social partners can be better involved in national policy-making. I remain convinced that only by taking the views of social partners into account can we make real progress. This is especially important in today’s digital age, where citizens, young and old, need to be equipped with the right skills to prosper. This is what I discussed not only with the social partners today but also with the European leaders at the Digital Summit in Tallinn. And at the meeting of the European Council tomorrow, the spirit of Tallinn will drive our political decisions.

The leaders will also discuss migration. As you all know, the Italian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Gentiloni has effectively begun stemming the high flows on the Central Mediterranean we have witnessed since 2014. Thanks to Italy, the numbers of irregular migrants and deaths at sea are finally coming down. But we cannot only remain grateful to Italy. The European Union must now step up its efforts to help. Our Member States should be ready to commit more money to the Trust Fund for Africa. And the European Commission, which is managing this Fund, should make sure that the money is well targeted on stemming irregular migration. I will invite a frank and serious debate among the leaders, so that we sort out this problem once and for all.

On Friday, the European Council will be meeting at 27 to discuss Brexit. I have worked for a balanced message to come out of this meeting. There is clearly not the “sufficient progress” that we had hoped for. So we cannot yet proceed to the second phase of negotiations. However, while progress is not sufficient, there is promising progress, especially following the speech by Prime Minister May in Florence. I will therefore recommend the EU27 to begin internal preparations for talks on the transition and the future relationship.

Last night, I circulated to EU leaders a new agenda to guide the work of the European Union up to June 2019. This is the result of a full round of one-to-one consultations with leaders since our meeting in Tallinn a few weeks ago. From all quarters, there is now a new willingness to energise and enrich our work, draw on new ideas, maintain our unity and increase the dynamism of the EU. I will be calling on leaders to work together according to a strict timetable on the issues we have identified as the most pressing, from migration to EMU reform, where we are deadlocked and where the Gordian knot needs to be cut.

Unity is the objective of the Leaders’ Agenda. Because it is my firm belief that unity is a value in itself and that ambition should not be an excuse for division. So the starting point will always be EU27 or, where appropriate, EU28. However, unity cannot be a synonym for stagnation either.

The social dimension will be an important part of this new agenda. And already in a month from now, at the Göteborg Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, leaders will have the opportunity to discuss social issues. Today’s summit with the social partners was an excellent beginning in this regard. Thank you.

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New EU telecoms rules – Council ready to launch talks with Parliament

The Council today granted the Estonian presidency a general mandate to begin negotiations with the European Parliament on new rules for the electronic communications sector that will prepare Europe for the era of 5G by promoting investment, competition, consumer protection and the development of new services. Boosting investment is necessary to ensure that the EU is able to meet the ever-growing demand for gigabit connectivity, which is a vital part of the digital revolution.

Our future is digital, and these rules are key to creating a gigabit society throughout the EU,” said Urve Palo, Estonia’s Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology. “I am pleased that the Estonian presidency has obtained this first mandate earlier than we expected. We will now make every effort to achieve solid progress in talks with the Parliament by the end of the year. The unanimous support for our proposal shows the Council’s commitment to deliver on the digital single market.”

The minister added that work on this file reflects the importance the Estonian presidency attaches to connectivity and 5G. “In July, my colleagues and I signed the declaration on the adoption of 5G. At the Tallinn Digital Summit, European leaders also discussed how to promote 5G and connectivity. These steps will be reflected in the meetings of the European Council and the Telecoms Council later this month.”

The proposed rules, the European Electronic Communications Code, cover a wide range of areas, from consumer rights to operators’ access to networks and member states’ cooperation on spectrum management. The overhaul is intended to reflect changes in the market since the introduction of the current rules in 2009, and will provide a future-proof framework for a swift and extensive roll-out of 5G and other new generation technologies. These new technologies will facilitate the introduction and expansion of innovative digital services such as connected and autonomous cars, smart cities and smart energy grids. 

The Council mandate widens the scope of electronic communications services to take account of the growing importance of services provided over the internet (also known as ‘over-the-top services’, or ‘OTT’), which includes VoIP, messaging apps and email. This is a major change compared to the current rules, which cover only traditional services that are linked to a specific number, such as text messages and landline and mobile calls. Certain characteristics of the service, such as whether the user pays for the service, will determine which rules will apply. In addition, the mandate includes a review mechanism to ensure that end-user rights remain up to date in view of the quick pace of change in business models and consumer behaviour.

The mandate provides for increased cooperation among member states to make radio spectrum available to operators in a timely and predictable manner. However, the Council text acknowledges that the best way to use spectrum varies across the EU, for a number of reasons, including physical geography, population distribution, market conditions and borders with non-EU countries. It also takes into account the fact that member states may need flexibility to react to technological and market changes in their management of spectrum.

The Council’s position updates current rules on operators’ access to networks to encourage competition and make it easier for companies to invest in new infrastructure, including in more remote areas. The mandate allows authorities to reduce the level of regulation to some extent where markets are competitive but introduces safeguards where these are necessary to ensure that the effective regulation of the market is not undermined.

The Council retains the core regulatory approach based on ‘significant market power’ (SMP), which has proved its value over the years in opening up markets to new entrants. However, as market players are becoming increasingly complex, SMP regulation alone is not enough to ensure competition in all cases. SMP rules will therefore be complemented with symmetric regulation of all providers of electronic communications networks in certain situations. In addition, the Council mandate introduces some additional tools to allow national regulatory authorities to address issues that may arise in certain market circumstances, such as duopolistic situations.

The mandate was granted by member states’ ambassadors at a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper I).

An initial exploratory ‘trilogue’ meeting with the European Parliament is expected to take place by the end of October, if the Parliament confirms at its next plenary session that this is possible.

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Capital markets union: New venture capital rules adopted

On 9 October 2017, the Council adopted new venture capital rules aimed at boosting investment in start-ups and innovation.

The regulation is part of the EU’s plan to develop a fully functioning capital markets union. It will also help boost investment, in line with the EU’s ‘investment plan for Europe’.

“The new rules will help diversify the funding sources available for businesses and long-term projects in Europe”, said Toomas Tõniste, minister for finance of Estonia, which currently holds the Council presidency. “By making it easier for them to raise money on capital markets, the aim is that businesses should not rely exclusively on bank loans.”

The regulation was adopted at a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, without discussion.

The European Parliament gave its approval on 14 September 2017. This follows an agreement with Parliament representatives reached on 30 May 2017.