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European Commission London Office weekly news round-up
Main news from Brussels this week
Informal meeting of the Heads of State and Government in Sibiu
EU leaders focused on strategic plans for the Union in the coming years, including the next strategic agenda for the period 2019-2024. They exchanged views on the challenges and priorities for the EU based on the Leaders' Agenda note prepared by President Tusk with discussions divided in two parts: external and internal dimensions. The European Council is expected to adopt the EU's priorities for the next five years at a summit in June. The current agenda was agreed in June 2014 and has five priority areas: jobs, growth and competitiveness; empowering and protecting citizens; energy and climate policies; freedom, security and justice and the EU as a strong global actor.
In the context of the upcoming European Parliament elections, EU leaders decided to meet on 28 May 2019 in Brussels to discuss the results as well as start the nomination process for the heads of the EU institutions. President Tusk stressed he would like the European Council to nominate the new leaders of the EU institutions (President of the European Council, President of the European Commission and President of the European Central Bank) in June 2019.
As the summit took place on Europe Day, the heads of state or government adopted the Sibiu Declaration as a sign of their unity and confidence in the future of the EU.
Spring 2019 Economic Forecast: growth continues at a more moderate pace
The European economy is forecast to continue expanding for the seventh year in a row in 2019, with real GDP expected to grow in all EU member states. As global trade and growth are expected to remain weaker this year and next compared to the brisk pace seen in 2017, economic growth in Europe will rely entirely on domestic activity. More Europeans are now in work than ever and employment growth is expected to continue, albeit at a slower pace. This, together with rising wages, muted inflation, favourable financing conditions and supportive fiscal measures in some member states, is expected to buoy domestic demand. All in all, GDP is forecast to grow by 1.4% in the EU this year and 1.2% in the euro area. In 2020, adverse domestic factors are expected to fade and economic activity outside the EU to rebound, supported by easing global financial conditions and policy stimulus in some emerging economies. GDP growth next year is forecast to strengthen slightly to 1.6% in the EU and 1.5% in the euro area. Downside threats to the outlook include the risk of worldwide protectionist measures and the current slowdown in world GDP growth and trade which could turn out to be more persistent than expected, particularly if growth in China disappoints. In Europe, risks include that of a ‘no-deal' Brexit and the possibility that temporary disruptions currently weighing on manufacturing could prove more enduring.
Hong Kong and Macao: 2018 annual reports
On 8 May the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy adopted their annual reports on political and economic developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and in the Macao Special Administrative Region. The reports emphasise the EU's adherence to its 'one China' policy and support to the 'one country, two systems' principle and its implementation in both Hong Kong and in Macao. For Hong Kong SAR, the report notes that the 'one country, two systems' principle came under increased pressure during 2018, giving rise to concerns about its erosion and calling into question whether Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and its attractiveness as an international business centre will continue to be upheld in the long term. Three noteworthy incidents relate to restrictions of the right to stand for election, the banning of a political party and the refusal to renew the work visa of a foreign journalist. Freedom of expression faced unprecedented challenges and the report notes an increasing self-censorship. Generally, however, the rule of law prevailed and the judiciary continued to demonstrate its independence and its consistent adherence to due process. The report for the Macao SAR specifies that in 2018, the ‘one country, two systems' principle continued in general to work well, although political opposition is limited and civil society not very vocal.
Report on Hong Kong
Report on Macao
European Commission launches digital tool to strengthen the EU's fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
The European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella launched the Commission's first IT tool to streamline checks on seafood products entering the EU market. The tool – called CATCH – digitalises the existing paper certification scheme and will provide a single database with real-time monitoring of import controls. CATCH will help member states detect fraud and abuse, it will simplify and speed up the controls at the EU border and ensure that what is rejected at one entry point cannot enter the EU from another.
The Commission adopted common methodology to measure food waste across the EU
On 6 May, the Commission adopted a common food waste measurement methodology based on a common definition to ensure coherent monitoring of food waste levels across the EU. This follows revised waste legislation adopted in May 2018 which introduced specific measures on food waste prevention, including national programmes to reduce food waste at each stage of the supply chain and the requirement for member states to monitor and report food waste levels. Ultimately the aim is to meet one of the Sustainable Development Goals – to halve food waste per capita in the retail sector and by consumers by 2030. Member states are expected to put in place a monitoring framework based on the new methodology so that 2020 is the first reporting year and the first new data on food waste levels is submitted to the Commission by mid-2022.
All this week's key European Commission announcements can be found here
EU and the UK
Greater Manchester gets EU grant for a job quality improvement scheme
The Greater Manchester region is set to receive a €300,000 grant (£258,000) for a scheme to improve productivity, job quality and pay in the regional labour market with a particular emphasis on low pay, low productivity firms and sectors such as social care and retail.
Latest news on the Article 50 negotiations can be found here
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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:
Why we must not let Europe break apart? Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian
EU fact of the week
CO2 emissions decreased in the EU between 2017 and 2018
Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, estimates that in 2018 carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion decreased by 2.5% in the European Union compared with the previous year. CO2 emissions fell in a majority of EU member states, with the highest decrease being recorded in Portugal (-9.0%), followed by Bulgaria (-8.1%), Ireland (-6.8%), Germany (-5.4%), the Netherlands (-4.6%) and Croatia (-4.3%). A small decrease was also registered for the UK. Increases were registered in eight member states: Latvia (+8.5%), ahead of Malta (+6.7%), Estonia (+4.5%), Luxembourg (+3.7%), Poland (+3.5%), Slovakia (+2.4%), Finland (+1.9%) and Lithuania (+0.6%).
Tweet of the week
Quote of the week
We will stay united, through thick and thin. We will show each other solidarity in times of need and we will always stand together. We can and we will speak with one voice.
Sibiu declaration of EU Heads of state and government
Picture of the week
Europe Day, 9 May, marks the anniversary of the Schuman declaration. This is a typed manuscript with hand-written annotations of this speech by the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman.