The Commission adopted yesterday (22 October) its work programme for the last year of mandate, which draws out an unprecedented framework to ensure respect for European values in member states.
The work programme, '2014: A year of delivery and implementation', sets the list of key priorities for the months leading up to the European Parliament elections in May 2014.
On the domestic front, the programme focuses strongly on growth and jobs, with a special concern for the “unacceptably high” levels youth unemployment, which “could have serious long-term implications”, which are at the heart of the programme.
The Commission also wants to do more for Europe’s competitiveness on the global stage by supporting research and innovation, completing the single market and boosting strategic economic sectors. Barroso’s team is also eager to “simplify” EU law, by making it “fit for purpose” through the Refit programme, which would benefit growth and jobs and help create a more business-friendly environment, the Commission says.
With Latvia soon to become the 18th member of the eurozone, the document stresses, the new work programme will put a strong focus on the economic and monetary union and reinforcement of economic governance by among other things finalising the banking union, reforming the banking sector and bringing more financial regulation fighting undeclared work, tax fraud and tax evasion.
Avoiding another “Hungarian scenario”
As part of the justice and security priorities, the EU executive appears to have drawn lessons from the Lampedusa migrant tragedy by calling for reinforced cooperation between member states and stronger measures to help people seeking international protection at sea, while at the same time securing EU borders and targeting human traffickers.
As announced in Barroso's State of the Union speech in September, the Commission will attempt to create a new framework that will allow for a consistent response to situations where the rule of law is being challenged. Such response would be activated only in situations where there is a systemic risk triggered by pre-defined benchmarks.
In his State of the Union speech, Barroso already shared the Commission’s concern that it can only either launch an infringement procedure or go for “the nuclear bomb of article 7”, suspending member state’s rights, something the EU had threatened to use in the 1990s against Austria when the country faced the rise of Jörg Haider’s far right party.
Many MEPs called for an activation of the article 7 in the past years against Hungary, whose government has been warned many times by EU institutions that it is violating the EU’s fundamental values.
'A year of delivery'
On the external front, the Commission intends to make progress in enlargement and continue working for democratisation in the Western Balkans after Croatia’s accession, the document says.
But the most important piece of work for the Commission internationally will be trade, especially the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) with the United States, as well as international negotiations on climate change and development.
"2014 will be a year of delivery and implementation," Barroso said, adding that “the Commission will actively help the European Parliament and the Council to complete work on all the important proposals that are still pending. We will work hard to accelerate implementation on the ground."
For the first time, the programme includes a list of priority items seen as sufficiently important and advanced to have a chance to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in the coming months, such as the Markets in Financial Services Directive (MIFID), free movement of workers, telecoms package, data protection package, Financial Transaction Tax, Tobacco Products Directive, and regulation on the statute and funding of European political parties and foundations, amongst others.
The political groups in the Parliament are carefully studying the 2014 work programme and will give their opinion when it is discussed in a plenary session next month. The European People's Party Group has told EURACTIV that “many of the proposals are of course supported by the EPP as they are in continuity with the works already launched to fix problems like youth unemployment issues, the banking union, the digital single market, etc”.