Signed, sealed, delivered: Important files closed by Romania

Romania's presidency curtain call came on 30 June 2019. [Photo: European Council]

This article is part of our special report Romania’s EU presidency: A glance back.

Romania’s EU presidency was partly defined by factors beyond its control, such as the European elections and the ongoing Brexit issue. But the first-time Council chair still managed to do its job: broker agreements on EU legislation. Here are some of the most notable hits.

In the first 100 days of its presidency, before the EU elections campaigning started to draw attention in earnest, the Romanian presidency pushed forward 90 pieces of legislation. That included 10 agreements on the complex long-term budget talks.

During a statement by Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă at the European Parliament’s plenary session on Tuesday (16 July), MEPs acknowledged the progress made by the presidency on issues like environment and finance.

“It was important to demonstrate to citizens that the EU institutions work for them and produce results,” Dăncilă told the Strasbourg assembly. “I am happy to be able to reassert that Romania has done just that.”

The prime minister added that “Romania proved its capacity to add value to the European Union, and that is reflected in the substantial stock take we can demonstrate: 90 legislative files concluded, 2,500 meetings organised.”

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič summed up that “bringing 90 files to the finish line in 100 days was a political sprint, a testament to dedication”.

The files in question ranged from economic policy, coast guard protection and better work-life-balance to information-sharing and gas markets. 

Cleaning up heavy transport

One of the main climate-related files left over by the Austrian presidency was the Commission’s first foray into trying to regulate emissions from heavy vehicles.

The Austrians had already brokered an agreement on updating rules for light vehicles right at the end of their presidential shift, finalising a deal that defied expectations.

Given earlier failures to strike a compromise between western and eastern countries, it was expected that Romania would have to deal with both files. But in the end, they were able to focus efforts on the heavy vehicles rules.

Under the pact signed in February, truck emissions will have to be slashed by 30% by 2030, with a 15% benchmark as a stepping stone in 2025. Manufacturers that fail to meet the goals will be hit with an “emissions premium” penalty.

EU climate laws completed as truck rules get green light

European Union negotiators hauled the first ever set of rules for heavy vehicle CO2 emissions across the line early on Tuesday morning (19 February), rounding off the current generation of climate laws.

Negotiators ultimately compromised on the Commission’s initial proposal of 15% and 30%. MEPs had wanted CO2 targets of 20% and 35%, while the EU member states backed the Commission’s figures with added tweaks.

Dragging the truck rules over the line actually completed the bloc’s long list of climate-focused legislation, after deals were struck on legislation aimed at boosting renewable energy capacity and improving energy efficiency.

“The European Parliament and Council have reached an ambitious and balanced agreement. The new targets and incentives will help tackle emissions, as well as bring fuel savings to transport operators and cleaner air for all Europeans,” said EU climate chief Miguel Arias Cañete.

After the Parliament and Council gave the agreement their final stamps of approval in April and June, the next milestone is the end of 2019, which will be used as a baseline for future emission cut calculations.

EU’s 'long overdue' first foray into truck rules revealed

CO2 emissions from trucks will be regulated under EU law for the first time as part of a package of new rules that also aims to increase efficiency and improve road safety.

Gas manoeuvring

In terms of energy and climate policy, the presidency also successfully shepherded an agreement on new gas pipeline rules into the completion zone.

The revised EU gas directive is meant to ensure that bloc rules apply to all gas pipelines to and from third countries, according to the Commission. This includes rules on third-party access, tariff regulation, ownership unbundling and transparency.

When the February deal was reached, Cañete said a “loophole” had been closed, as the EU starts to think in earnest about how to cut its dependence on foreign energy imports.

The amendment was given a final stamp of approval by the Council in April. An exemption clause for existing pipelines, as well as clear procedures for negotiating deals with third-parties.

“We worked hard to find a compromise that would be acceptable to everyone, and I think we now have a good solution which will guarantee that we have a fair and competitive European gas market,” said Romanian energy minister Anton Anton.

After publication in the official journal, the member states are in the middle of a nine-month-long transposition period.

EU strikes deal on rules to govern Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline

The European Union reached a deal on Tuesday (12 February) on new rules governing import gas pipelines including Russia’s planned Nord Stream 2, but added a special loophole to make sure the German-backed project can go ahead.

Copyright showdown

Following nearly two years of talks, negotiators managed to strike a deal on copyright reform in February, after what the Romanian presidency called “intense” negotiations.

The updated legislation is meant to “make the rules fit-for-purpose in today’s digital environment”, according to the Council and “ensure adequate protection for authors and artists”. 

Under the agreement, online platforms like Google and Facebook will have to negotiate licensing deals with rights holders for the re-publishing of their work. YouTube videos will have to be vetted to ensure copyright has not been infringed.

At the March plenary session, MEPs gave their blessing to the reform effort, although controversial parts of the text almost failed to pass with a majority. In April, the Council announced that it would be published in the official EU journal.

Copyright debate nearing end as MEPs rubber stamp plans

EU copyright rules are on the brink of a radical overhaul after lawmakers in the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee provisionally backed plans on Wednesday (26 February) recently agreed with EU ministers.

Food for thought

Also in February, the presidency oversaw an agreement on updating the EU’s General Food Law (GFL).

The legislation “lays down general principles, requirements and procedures that underpin decision making in matters of food and feed safety, covering all stages of food and feed production and distribution”, according to the Commission.

After an in-depth audit in 2014 into the law’s effectiveness, the EU executive proposed its update to the GFL in April 2018.

Following complex negotiations within the Parliament, all it took was three inter-institutional meetings in under a month to reach a final agreement.

Food safety: Midnight deal for revised General Food Law

All it took was three inter-institutional meetings and less than one month of negotiations to reach a deal on new European Food Safety Agency transparency rules, as EU co-legislators kicked into high gear in order to wrap up the file before the end of the mandate.

The new law grants EU citizens greater access to information submitted to the European Food Safety Agency and boosts transparency. It is set to have a large impact not only on pesticides but on all agri-food supply chain authorisations.

EU health boss Vytenis Andriukaitis hailed the deal, saying that with “political will and determination, we can do wonders addressing citizens’ concerns”.

“We heard the call, notably expressed via a European Citizens Initiative on pesticides, for greater transparency, at an early stage of the risk assessment process, on studies submitted as part of an application for an authorisation,” the Lithuanian Commissioner added.

The Council formally adopted the updated law in early June. It is expected to be published in the Official Journal on 6 September 2019 and come into force by the end of March 2021.

Erasmus +

A number of the files addressed by the Romanian presidency also focused on Brexit, especially given the fact the UK was supposed to leave the bloc on 29 March. It was ultimately granted an extension until Halloween night on 31 October.

One of the issues addressed was Brexit-proofing the EU’s flagship educational and cultural exchange programme, Erasmus +.

Erasmus architect fears for project's future in native Wales

If the Brexit negotiations do not secure the United Kingdom’s participation in the hugely popular Erasmus programme, the effect on Wales “would be massive” in particular, according to the former EU official credited with helping get the scheme off the ground in 1987.

In mid-March, the Council adopted a regulation that would ensure the scheme is not negatively impacted by the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place.

As part of its so-called no-deal planning, the Parliament approved the proposal on 13 March. Estimates at the time suggested that 14,000 students from the other EU27 countries were in the UK at the time, with 7,000 British counterparts in educational schemes across the bloc.

The agreement means that any students caught up in a potential no-deal scenario would not lose their academic credits and would not be obliged to repeat any years of study.

“We are making sure that young people from EU-27 and the UK will be able to complete their studies after Brexit. This regulation will guarantee that the ongoing learning activities in which they are involved will continue to be eligible for grants,” said Ecaterina Andronescu, Romania’s minister of national education.

Romania’s preparation could still come into play, given that the 31 October deadline is fast approaching and the UK’s likely new leadership are more inclined to push for a no-deal exit.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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