CEEP Opinion on the EU State Aid Modernisation Agenda – PDF
- European state aid rules are of great relevance for the quality and affordability of Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI) in Europe. In particular they can be a significant source of administrative burden and legal uncertainty for public authorities in their task of fulfilling missions of general interest.
- Building on the State Aid Modernisation Agenda, CEEP encourages the European Commission to pursue its efforts towards more administrative simplification, including through a comprehensive assessment and review of the Almunia package as called for by the Committee of the Regions1.
- CEEP took note of the Notice on the Notion of State Aid. Clarifications over the European Commission’s line on local services and financing of infrastructure are particularly relevant for public services’ providers. However, CEEP is generally concerned that the exercise in itself contains a risk of a biased approach and may add rigidity in the Commission’s approach.
- The existing State Aid Framework Rules for Services of General Economic Interest (so-called ‘Almunia package’) plays a fundamental role in the provision of public services. The European Commission should seize the evaluation of the Almunia package by the 31th of January 2017 as an opportunity to enhance and further simplify existing rules.
- Next to specific state aid rules for SGEIs, the GBER is certainly the second most important state aid framework for SGEIs’ providers. CEEP welcomes the on-going initiative to broaden its scope and calls on the Commission to pursue this exercise.
- Regarding sectoral state aid guidelines, CEEP would especially like to stress the need to make EU state aid broadband guidelines fit for purpose to support achieving EU broadband development targets, as recommended by the REFIT Platform.
EU Member States representatives and European social partners (employers and trade unions – CEEP, ETUC, BusinessEurope and UEAPME) agreed on an Opinion of the Advisory Committee on vocational training (ACVT) on A Shared Vision for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships and Work-based Learning, which will be addressed to the European Commission. You can consult the opinion on the following page.
CEEP Opinion on the EU VAT Action Plan – PDF
- The VAT Directive foresees a specific and balanced regime for public bodies and activities in the public interest which reflects their key role in the social market economy as recognized by the Treaty and respects the diversity of their forms of organisation across Member States. Existing possibilities to exempt and apply reduced VAT rates are crucial to guarantee quality and affordability of public services, even more in times of fiscal consolidation.
- Hence, CEEP welcomes the gradual and pragmatic approach proposed by the European Commission on reduced VAT rates in the VAT Action Plan and welcomes the status quo regarding existing reduced rates. However, a one-size-fits-all approach, i.e. a single European list, does not seem appropriate considering the diversity of tax policies across Member States.
- CEEP has been following attentively discussions in the European Parliament on the VAT Action Plan, notably concerning VAT exemptions some SGEI providers are granted under existing EU VAT rules. CEEP believes that the current regime is balanced and should be maintained as it benefits citizens as end-users and achieving social policy goals.
- In addition, there is room for clarifying at EU level the non-taxation of goods and services provided through public-public cooperation in order to avoid uncertainty arising from divergent national interpretations. In this regard, VAT rules should be more clearly aligned with EU public procurement rules which exempt certain forms of public-public cooperation.
- Regarding the upcoming SME VAT package, CEEP emphasizes the need to define SMEs according to the fiscal rationale instead of implementing the current competition-based EU definition under recommendation 2003/361. The use of this definition would exclude SMEs with a public ownership of above 25% from benefiting from simplification measures, and thus many local public services enterprises.
CEEP Opinion “A strategic approach to pollution in the context of the upcoming evaluation of EU Water Legislation” – PDF
- Precaution is the fundamental principle of drinking water legislation: The current Drinking Water Directive (DWD) is centered on a health-based understanding of water quality as opposed to a mere technical assessment of parametric values and based on precaution as the leading regulatory principle. Any revision needs to maintain and strengthen this focus to preserve the high level of quality currently provided to citizens and preserve raw water resources for future generations.
- Polluters need to be held responsible for the damage they cause: Currently, the responsibility to ascertain low pollution of drinking water and the necessary resources lies almost exclusively with the water and sewage utilities. This “end-of-pipe” arrangement is both counter-productive and unsustainable: It leads to an externalization of the cost of pollution while the polluter is not taken into account, disincentivising any efforts to improve the situation. A stringent application of the “polluter pays” – principle throughout the value chain, including financial contributions by polluters as well as preventive and other measures is thus crucial to ensure a fair retribution of costs and the long-term sustainability of water services
- EU-water legislation should provide comprehensive protection from the source onwards: The existing legislative framework encompasses a series of distinct directives designed to archive the same ends, thus offering a great potential for a comprehensive protection of “later-to be” drinking water at the source. Yet they are often not complementary, making a coherent implementation difficult. Improving overall coherence between the different elements of EU water legislation should thus be a priority during the upcoming or ongoing evaluation exercises, including but not limited to an alignment of relevant thresholds and taking into account not only individual pollutants, but also specific combinations thereof.
- Poor implementation and enforcement hinders good policy outcome: Incomplete or delayed implementation at Member State level is one of the major causes of pollution. Correct implementation and stringent enforcement at all levels of government should thus be made a priority by Member States. In case of non-compliance the EU-Commission should make more frequent use of disciplinary measures, especially if violation of duties under EU legislation continues over longer periods of time.
CEEP Opinion on EU Trade Agreements, adopted by CEEP General Assembly on 08 June 2016 – PDF
- CEEP wants to support a coherent implementation of the EU’s trade strategy and sees free trade agreements as an opportunity to set worldwide well-designed standards to support sustainable development, including by safeguarding subsidiarity and the essential role played by services of general interest (SGIs) and the social economy. Therefore:
- More legal certainty is needed over the safeguard of the provision of SGIs in international trade agreements. Hence, CEEP calls European institutions, and notably the European Commission, to engage into a constructive debate on the possibility to include standard clauses to fully preserve the discretionary power of national, regional and local authorities in how to provide, organise, finance and commission SGIs, and notably services of general economic interest (SGEIs) subject to trade agreement rules.
- The EU should pursue effectively the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 in its trade policy. Binding and enforceable provisions to promote high environmental and labour standards need to be included in all future FTAs negotiated by the EU and any attempt of social and environmental dumping should be prevented. Furthermore, EU Trade agreements need to ensure a better coherence between development goals and trade interests.
- CEEP calls the European Commission and Member states to continue their efforts towards a more evidenced-based, inclusive and transparent trade policy. Furthermore, in a democratic system, competent authorities should not find it difficult to enact any standards because of fearing to be challenged by corporate claims.
- Trade agreements need to be fit for the digital age. Cross-border data flows, if addressed, shall be in compliance with data protection and security rules in force in the country of residence of the data subject. New services should not be automatically included in EU market access commitments without re-negotiation. In addition, the “digital dimension” of products and services shall be negotiated in the context of their respective original classifications.
- The current European legal definition (Recommendation 2003/361/EC of 6 May 2003) for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) does not encompass the majority of local public services enterprises (LPSEs) from its scope because it excludes enterprises with a public ownership of more than 25%.
- The SME definition is widely used both in European and national legislation, as well as in EU financing programmes, in response to the EU policy priorities and more recently the Better regulation agenda.
- However, it appears that the EU SME Definition unnecessarily discriminates against LPSEs for the very nature of their ownership structure. This is notably contrary to article 345 TFEU which states that “The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership”.
- As a consequence, LPSEs cannot take part in a number of funding and financial schemes. They are also constrained by unnecessary and especially disproportionate regulatory burden from which other SMEs covered by the definition are exempted because of disproportionate costs, and therefore may suffer a disadvantage, especially in areas where they are in competition with private enterprises.
- Hence, an amendment to the European SME definition is required in order to guarantee equal treatment to all types of SMEs irrespectively of their type of ownership. Should this not be possible or not desired, future reference to the SME definition should exclude Article 3, Paragraph 4 of the Annex to the aforementioned Commission Recommendation.
CEEP Opinion “Gender Equality: “Progressing to 2020””, adopted by CEEP General Assembly on 08 June 2016 – PDF
- CEEP and its members are committed to promoting gender equality both in their role as employers and as service providers.
- CEEP emphasizes how important it is for the Commission to acknowledge the role of CEEP and the social partners’ and their work on gender quality. We also stress the importance of safeguarding and strengthening our autonomy at both European and national level.
- A balanced way forward to meet the gender equality challenges would be to take a holistic approach and focus on supportive and encouraging measures.
- To achieve gender equality in the labour market there must be a range of effective and well-funded public services in place such as child- and elderly care, transport, education etc.
- The interconnection between work-life conditions greatly influence women’s and men’s situation at the labour market as well as their private life.
- CEEP wants to stress the important role played by social partners in tackling the gender pay gap and promoting equal pay through collective bargaining.
- The need for increased awareness of the consequences that different kinds of leave and flexible working have on income and subsequently pensions
- The business case for gender equality needs to be developed and shared widely.
- The current European legislative framework on gender equality is robust and provides protection. There is no need, therefore, to amend the current European legislation or to introduce new instruments. It is better to focus on the implementation on existing regulations.
- CEEP believes that it is important to have a multiannual European strategy for Gender Equality in place in order to keep these issues high on the European agenda.
CEEP Opinion “Harnessing the Digital Transformation of Public Services”, adopted by CEEP General Assembly on 16 May 2016 – PDF
- It is essential that policy-makers adopt a broad concept of industry and recognise the importance of public services, beyond e-government, to ensure a successful digital transformation of the European economy in which all players in the digital value chain are empowered to innovate and diffuse the benefits of their investment the whole society.
- Public services have to deliver services to all citizens. An inclusive digital transformation requires the right policy responses to deepen the penetration of digital infrastructure in rural areas and increase the digital skills of more segments of the population. Furthermore, policy choices should leave flexibility and be technologically neutral, allowing public services’ providers to find cost-effective solutions to adapt services to citizens’ needs.
- Increasing transparency, trust and security in the digital economy is a core concern to public services providers which have a strong expertise in dealing with sensitive data and securing essential infrastructure. The elaboration of clear and effective guidance following the approval of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) requires the inclusion of all stakeholders in the discussions. Furthermore, public services’ providers are committed to contributing to the discussions on data ownership and liability.
- The future of public services lies in horizontal integration. Important synergies between infrastructures could be created within one organisation and beyond, for instance in the context of smart cities. It is essential to develop effective ICT standards which enable interoperability between different domains, in strong partnership with end-users.
- Managing the impacts of the digital revolution on the workforce will be a major challenge for public services. It will require retraining and attracting employees and management able to master the digital world. Hence it is essential that initiatives such as the Grand coalition for jobs take a holistic approach including all sectors.
- Public services’ employers will have to deal with the impacts of the digital transformation on the labour market. In order to create a fair digital economy for enterprises of all sizes and sectors and for workers, the European Commission needs to work hand in hand with the social partners to assess the impacts of digitalisation on the labour market.
CEEP Opinion on the State of the Energy Union 2015, adopted by CEEP General Assembly on 16 May 2016 – PDF
- CEEP welcomes the First State of the Energy Union as a clear step towards more reliability of European energy and climate policies. CEEP therefore supports the Commission’s attempt to realise reliable national energy and climate plans. They should ensure a more coherent approach towards the achievement of the objectives of the EU’s 2030 Climate and Energy Framework, while avoiding to limit Member States in the choice for their way towards decarbonisation.
- CEEP encourages the European Commission to involve social partners even more in the whole process and to keep citizens and customers at the heart of the transition of the European energy system. More than ever, public acceptance is indispensable for the successful implementation of energy and climate policies. In this context, a stronger focus on the local and regional dimension of the Energy Union, with the inclusion of citizens beyond their sole capacity as consumers, would also be helpful.
- As heating and cooling account for half of Europe’s final energy demand, CEEP very much welcomes that the Heating and Cooling Strategy sends out a clear sign in favour of efficient and sustainable solutions. We very much welcome that this has already been announced by the State of the Energy Union, among others by underlining the good example of high-efficiency combined heat and power (CHP).
- A fully-integrated internal energy market should indeed be at the heart of the Energy Union project, among others through the full implementation of the Third Energy Package and a market based approach to renewables. As in the medium to long run the energy-only market will not be sufficient to ensure security of supply, a new market design that values the provision of firm capacity should be developed.
- CEEP very much welcomes the holistic approach that the State of the Energy Union announces for upcoming Commission initiatives and is particularly delighted by the recognition of the crucial role of transport. The decarbonisation of this sector has to be tackled more than in the past through concrete action at EU level.
- CEEP members need the right conditions to actively anticipate and manage the energy transition and therefore welcome that this crucial issue is highlighted in the State of the Energy Union, among others in view of its skills dimension.
CEEP Opinion on the Commission’s Proposal for a Circular Economy Strategy and Reviewed Waste Legislation, appoved by CEEP General Assembly on 16 May 2016 –PDF
- CEEP welcomes the European Commission’s Circular Economy Strategy and the legislative proposals on waste for their holistic approach, taking into account the whole value chain. They are an important step towards a more circular economy in which resource efficiency becomes the key driver for both economic growth and environmental protection.
- CEEP agrees that waste prevention has rightly been placed at the top of the waste hierarchy. This includes in particular improved product design, influencing the whole product lifecycle and durability of a product and thus optimising its future reuse and recycling. EU legislation needs to be further adapted in order to support this ambition.
- CEEP supports the Commission’s proposal to introduce clear definitions into waste legislation and welcomes that the definition of municipal waste is closely aligned with the one given by the European Waste Catalogue and the OECD. However, CEEP pleads that the definitions of both municipal waste and bio-waste should refer solely to their nature, property and composition, and not their quantity.
- CEEP underlines that the proposed recycling targets for municipal waste are very ambitious. Recycling measures should be further boosted in the European Union. This should be done as long as recovery of secondary raw material is less expensive and resource intensive than primary raw material extraction. It should also be kept in mind that primary and secondary raw materials need to be treated equally in a way that same environmental requirements should apply to both.
- CEEP welcomes the introduction of minimum requirements for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes while leaving it in the remit of the Member States to decide on the use of this instrument. Nevertheless, more clarification is needed in order to avoid misinterpretations, in particular regarding cost recovery and the relation between organisations in charge of the implementation of EPR schemes and public waste management operators.
- CEEP asks for a quick landfill ban for biodegradable waste as well as for waste that can be recycled or thermally recovered. Such a ban needs to be introduced in all Member States as this would be the most effective way to support waste prevention, reuse, recycling and other efficient ways of recovery.