Main news from Brussels this week
Clean energy for all Europeans – unlocking Europe's growth potential
The Commission presented on 30 November a package of measures to keep the European Union competitive as the global clean energy transition is changing energy markets. The proposals have three main goals: putting energy efficiency first, achieving global leadership in renewable energies and providing a fair deal for consumers. The Commission's “Clean Energy for All Europeans” proposals are designed to show that the clean energy transition is the growth sector of the future. Clean energies in 2015 attracted global investment of over €300 billion. The EU is well placed to use its research, development and innovation policies to turn this transition into a concrete industrial opportunity. By mobilising up to €177 billion of public and private investment per year from 2021, this package can generate up to 1% increase in GDP over the next decade and create 900,000 new jobs.
Commission proposes new tax rules to support e-commerce and online businesses in the EU
On 1 December, the European Commission unveiled a series of measures to improve the Value Added Tax (VAT) environment for e-commerce businesses in the EU. The proposals will allow consumers and companies, in particular start-ups and SMEs, to buy and sell goods and services more easily online. By introducing an EU wide portal for online VAT payments (the 'One Stop Shop'), VAT compliance expenses will be significantly reduced, saving businesses across the EU €2.3 billion a year. The new rules will also ensure that VAT is paid in the member state of the final consumer, leading to a fairer distribution of tax revenues amongst EU countries. The proposals would help member states to recoup the current estimated €5 billion of lost VAT on online sales every year. Finally, the Commission is delivering on its pledge to enable member states to reduce VAT rates for e-publications such as e-books and online newspapers.
European defence action plan
On 30 November, European Commissioners adopted the European defence action plan, which proposes to create a European defence fund and includes a number of other actions to support member states' more efficient spending in joint defence capabilities, strengthen European citizens' security and foster a competitive and innovative industrial base. The Commission proposes to setup a European defence fund to support investment in joint research and the joint development of defence equipment and technologies, foster investments in SMEs, start-ups, mid-caps and other suppliers to the defence, and strengthen the Single Market for defence.
Major win for the EU in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute on Boeing
The United States' massive support for production of the Boeing 777X is in breach of international trade rules, according to a WTO panel report. This week, the WTO confirmed that the US 2013 decision to extend tax breaks for Boeing until the year 2040 goes against previous WTO rulings. By making these tax breaks depend on the use of domestically produced wings, the US also discriminated against foreign suppliers.
This is the second ruling concerning the US subsidies to Boeing. The American measures considered under this case alone amount to $5.7 billion, and have now been recognised by the WTO panel as subsidies that are illegal. This is the first time in the history of Airbus/Boeing litigation that a WTO panel finds that one of the disputing parties has granted such outright prohibited subsidies that discriminate against foreign producers. In the spring of 2017, the WTO is expected to issue a report on another long-standing case, which will confirm the extent of the US WTO-incompatible subsidies to Boeing.
All this week's key European Commission announcements can be found here
EU and the UK
Chester gets EU award for enhancing disabled people access to tourist sites
The UK city of Chester is this year's winner of the Access City Award – an EU accolade that recognises the work and achievements of cities across Europe in improving access and opportunities for people with disabilities. Chester won in competition with forty-two other cities from twenty-one EU countries and was distinguished primarily for ensuring access to tourist sites.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities: EU air passenger rights
The rights of air passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility are being highlighted by the UK European Consumer Centre as the international community marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December. Despite EU law establishing substantial rights, the UK centre still receives reports from those travellers who face serious problems when travelling by air.
What does leave mean?
The UK in a Changing Europe, a research initiative, organised an event on 28 November where Matthew Elliott, former CEO of Vote Leave, outlined the 12 reasons why he thought Leave won. In his opinion, the reasons included the Government's purdah defeat, David Cameron's EU deal, Boris Johnson and The Sun declaring for Leave and outgoing US President Barack Obama's intervention saying the UK would be "back of the queue" for trade talks. Mr Elliott suggested the UK could pay a fee to participate in programmes such as Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme and Erasmus+.
Professor John Curtice, University of Strathclyde, explained how people's attitude [in this case on Brexit] depends considerably on how the choice is framed. Most post-referendum polls frame it as a choice between free trade and immigration but Mr Curtice doesn’t believe this is how the public actually sees things. He touched upon different polls and concluded that Leave voters are "harder" than "Remain" voters in relation to the terms of Brexit but implied that they still appear inclined to a soft Brexit overall. He also mentioned that although Remain voters were "less keen" on a hard Brexit, a majority of them supported limiting freedom of movement.
Professor Matthew Goodwin, University of Kent, outlined the importance of the level of an individual's education on the way they voted on Brexit. He stated that less socially mobile people were more likely to support Leave. He said those against gender equality and same sex couples and in favour of stiffer sentences and the death penalty were much more likely to vote Leave than Remain. He argued that a geographical divide interacted with a social divide and that people were more polarised along educational and regional lines than along income or other lines. Though in those generally disadvantaged areas where Leave won easily, even more highly educated sections of the population often voted that way. In London and other regions with prosperous economies, in contrast, less educated and less advantaged individuals were more likely than elsewhere to have voted Remain.
Nicky Morgan MP, former Education Secretary conceded that Remain suffered from less clear messaging and less unity. She emphasised the great divide between young people and older individuals and how they view life in general "incredibly differently". On next steps, Ms Morgan argued that a short Article 50 bill was needed and it would go through parliament quickly.
Will the EU survive?
The London School of Economics organised an event on 1 December where five different speakers gave a summary on where their countries stand on the EU. There was a strong consensus that despite its many challenges, the EU would, indeed, survive From the Netherlands, Michiel Van Hulten, LSE, felt the EU would survive but emphasised national governments should stop "bashing" Brussels. Philippe Marlière, UCL, made clear that French President François Hollande's support was very low and he would probably not run (which in the meantime President Hollande has confirmed). Bojan Pancevski, Sunday Times, said he thought Angela Merkel, German chancellor, would be re-elected but emphasised that she would no longer have the strength of leadership she once had and another coalition government was likely. Agata Gostynska-Jakubowska, Centre for European Reform, stated she thought Warsaw would be very disappointed to see the UK leave, that it had shared its vision of Europe and has sat with the same political groups. She said that some Poles think if the EU pushes ahead with reforms, the UK may not leave. Finally, Anand Menon, King's College London and Director of UK in a Changing Europe, outlined that the UK was not the top concern of other European countries and that five months of the two years for negotiation after the triggering of Article 50, would be "lost" if the Prime Minister set the process running in March, as other European countries would have elections.
European Commission hosted technical seminar on Article 50 negotiations
On 29 November, the European Commission hosted a half-day technical seminar on Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom. Mr. Michel Barnier, Chief negotiator for the Article 50 negotiations with the UK, chaired the meeting, which included senior officials from member states, the European Parliament and the Secretariat of the Council of the EU. The aim of this seminar was to outline the issues at stake for the EU27. It should contribute to building a common understanding of the process to come. President Juncker and Michel Barnier are working hand-in-hand with the President of the European Council in forging a united position among the EU27.
For upcoming events, please have a look at our newsletter
EU in the media this week
Every week, we pick out one of the week's most interesting stories or comment pieces….which does not mean we agree with everything it says:
Brexit's bitter-sweet meaning for chocolate lovers - and Ivory Coast by Didi Akinyelure in BBC News
EU fact of the week
MEDIA – which this year marks 25 years since its launch - invested £55.3 million in the United Kingdom between 2007 and 2015. In the past, movies such as The King's Speech and The Iron Lady have also been supported by the MEDIA programme. The Iron Lady received €1.5 million (£1.3m) in distribution support to encourage cinemas to screen the film outside the country where it was made.
In 2014, the European cinema releases of 62 UK films were supported with €7.8 million (£6.6m), including nearly €1 million (£848,150) for Pride and €600,000 (£508,890) for Two Faces of January.
In 2015, 67 UK films received €4.7 million (£4m) for the same, including €600,000 (£508,890) for Florence Fosters Jenkins and €400,000 (£339,260) for Paddington.
On average some 60-70 UK films receive over €6 million (£5m) a year to support their cinema distribution in Europe (outside of the UK).
The MEDIA programme supports the audiovisual sector during a time of transformation by digital technology. The programme funds initiatives that can generate a real impact across Europe, including individual works, initiatives that promote new skills, and initiatives that promote and facilitate international cooperation. It helps distribute films and television productions across the EU, widening access to them and increasing audiences. This helps movies – frequently British ones – which are successful nationally to become successful across Europe.
Tweets of the week
Quote of the week
“To guarantee our collective security, we must invest in the common development of technologies and equipment of strategic importance – from land, air, sea and space capabilities to cyber security. It requires more cooperation between member states and greater pooling of national resources. If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us. A strong, competitive and innovative defence industrial base is what will give us strategic autonomy," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Picture of the week
The Berlaymont – European Commission's main building in Brussels – was lit in orange, supporting the United Nation's OrangeTheWorld campaign to end violence against women