Commission discusses Italy's fiscal measures, Brexit, Poland and reports on EU Visa policy and EU-U.S. privacy shield
Italy's draft budget plan
The European Commission has today sent a letter to the Italian government regarding the fiscal measures set out by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Finance Minister Giovanni Tria in their letter of 18 December. On 21 November, the Commission adopted an Opinion on the revised draft budgetary plan of Italy, confirming a "particularly serious non-compliance" with the recommendation made by the Council of the European Union to Italy on 13 July. This was followed by a report under Article 126(3) of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, concluding that an Excessive Deficit Procedure for non-compliance with the debt criterion was warranted. This conclusion was shared by the Eurogroup of 3 December, which also supported the ongoing dialogue between the Commission and the Italian authorities. Today's letter takes note of the new fiscal measures presented by the Italian government and indicates that if they are voted by the Italian parliament before the end of the year, this would allow the European Commission not to recommend the opening of an Excessive Deficit Procedure at this stage
The Commission reported on its assessment of the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation benchmarks by the Western Balkan countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia as well as the Eastern Partnership countries: Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. This annual report shows that the visa liberalisation requirements for the concerned countries continue to be met but that action – in some cases immediate – is required for a number of countries in specific areas to ensure this continues to be the case.
The Commission reported on progress made in the past 12 months towards achieving visa-reciprocity with the United States, as the only remaining case of non-reciprocity. Visa reciprocity is a fundamental principle of the European Union's common visa policy, and the Commission remains fully committed to achieving visa free travel to the United States for all EU Member States as a matter of priority. To this end, the Commission will continue to engage with the United States, in coordination with the five Member States whose citizens still need a visa to travel to the United States, in a result-oriented process.
EU-U.S. Privacy Shield
The Commission published its report on the second annual review of the functioning of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield. This year's report shows that the U.S. continues to ensure an adequate level of protection for personal data transferred under the Privacy Shield from the EU to participating companies in the U.S. The steps taken by the U.S. authorities to implement the recommendations made by the Commission in last year's report have improved the functioning of the framework.
However, the Commission does expect the US authorities to nominate a permanent Ombudsperson by 28 February 2019 to replace the one that is currently acting. The Ombudsperson is an important mechanism that ensures complaints concerning access to personal data by U.S. authorities are addressed.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans debriefed the College on the infringement cases launched by the Commission against Poland, in particular following the Court order issued by the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice two days ago. Poland has until 17 January to report to the European Commission what measures it has taken in order to comply with the order. In the meantime the Commission will analyse the new law adopted by Poland to comply with the order and monitor its implementation. The First Vice-President also addressed the disciplinary measures taken against some judges who had referred preliminary rulings to the European Court of justice. He has also informed his colleagues of the outcome of the third hearing of Poland in the framework of Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union, which took place at the General Affairs Council on 11 December.
United Nations Climate Change conference
Vice-President Maros Šefčovič and Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete debriefed the College on the outcome of the United Nations Climate Change conference, in Katowice and Michel Barnier, the European Commission Chief Negotiator for Article 50 negotiations, presented to Commissioners the current situation in the United Kingdom.
Given the continued uncertainty in the UK surrounding the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, as agreed between the EU and the UK on 25 November 2018 – and as announced by President Juncker following last week's call by the European Council (Article 50) to intensify preparedness work at all levels and for all outcomes – the European Commission has today started implementing its “no-deal” Contingency Action Plan. This delivers on the Commission's commitment to adopt all necessary “no-deal” proposals by the end of the year, as outlined in its second preparedness Communication of 13 November 2018.
Today's package includes 14 measures in a limited number of areas where a "no-deal" scenario would create major disruption for citizens and businesses in the EU27. These areas include financial services, air transport, customs, and climate policy, amongst others.
The Commission considers it is essential and urgent to adopt these measures today to ensure that the necessary contingency measures can enter into application on 30 March 2019 in order to limit the most significant damage caused by a "no-deal" scenario in these areas.
Senior Management appointments
The European Commission has today decided to appoint Mr Klaus-Dieter Borchardt to the position of Deputy Director-General in its department for Energy (DG ENER) and Mr Klaus Wiedner to the position of Director “Financial system surveillance and crisis management” in its department for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union (DG FISMA). Mr Klaus-Dieter Borchardt, a German national, has extensive management experience in the Commission, notably in the areas of energy and agriculture. He joined the Commission in 1987. Between 1990 and 1995 he worked in the Court of Justice of the European Union before coming back to the Commission's Legal Service. He has been on management jobs since 2001, when he became a Head of Unit in the Commission's department for agriculture (DG AGRI) to deal with agricultural law. Between 2004 and 2010, Mr Borchardt worked in the private office of Commissioner Fischer Boel responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development. He has been working as a Director since 2010, first in DG AGRI and, as of 2013, in DG ENER. Mr Wiedner, an Austrian national, joined the Commission from the Austrian civil service in 1996 to consecutively work in the areas of competition and internal market. He took up his first Head of Unit job in 2009 and has held middle management positions since then. Mr Wiedner is currently a Head of Unit of DG FISMA's Bank Regulation and Supervision team.
Report on the fulfilment of visa-free requirements: Questions and Answers
Questions and Answers: EU visa reciprocity mechanism
EU-US Privacy Shield including Guide for Citizens
19 December 2018