EU and the UK
Joint statement on behalf of President Juncker and Prime Minister May
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and UK Prime Minister Theresa May met for talks in Brussels on 20 February and issued the following joint statement:
President Juncker and Prime Minister May met today to take stock of their efforts to deliver the UK's orderly withdrawal from the EU, in line with the process launched by them on 7 February.
Their discussions covered:
- which guarantees could be given with regard to the backstop that underlines once again its temporary nature and give the appropriate legal assurance to both sides. Both reconfirmed their commitment to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and to respect the integrity of the EU's internal market and of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister acknowledged the EU's position and notably the letter sent by President Tusk and President Juncker on 14 January. She welcomed the continued engagement of Task Force 50 with her team;
- the role alternative arrangements could play in replacing the backstop in future, where they tasked the Commission's Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and Secretary of State Stephen Barclay with considering the process the European Commission and the UK will follow; and
- whether additions or changes to the Political Declaration can be made that are consistent with the EU and UK Government positions and increase confidence in the focus and ambition of both sides in delivering the future partnership envisaged as soon as possible. The Commission's Chief Negotiator and the Secretary of State will follow up.
The two leaders agreed that talks had been constructive, and they urged their respective teams to continue to explore the options in a positive spirit. They will review progress again in the coming days, seized of the tight timescale and the historic significance of setting the EU and the UK on a path to a deep and unique future partnership.
President Juncker and Prime Minister May agreed to talk again before the end of the month.
The statement online
European Commission intensifies “no-deal” Brexit preparedness with customs information campaign to EU businesses
On 18 February the European Commission launched an outreach campaign on customs and indirect taxation, such as VAT, aimed at EU businesses, especially SMEs, wishing to continue trading with the UK in the event of a "no deal" scenario on 30 March. Whilst the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement continues to be the objective and priority of the Commission, the information campaign is part of the Commission's ongoing efforts to best prepare for the UK's departure without the Withdrawal Agreement being ratified.
More information and campaign materials
European Commission takes stock of the progress made on Brexit “no-deal” contingency legislation
The College of Commissioners was briefed on 20 February on progress of the Commission's contingency proposals in the undesirable but possible situation of a “no deal” Brexit. To date the Commission has tabled 19 legislative proposals on which good progress has been made in the European Parliament and the Council. Seven proposals have been adopted or agreed by the Parliament and the Council. Twelve proposals are still to be finalised by the co-legislators, but are advancing well. In addition, several non-legislative acts have been adopted, including 10 delegated acts, six implementing acts, as well as three Commission decisions. All texts are available here. As outlined in the Commission's previous Brexit Preparedness Communications, the EU's contingency measures will not – and cannot – mitigate the overall impact of a "no-deal" scenario, nor do they in any way compensate for the lack of preparedness or replicate the full benefits of EU membership or the favourable terms of any transition period, as provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement. The proposals are temporary in nature, limited in scope and will be adopted unilaterally by the EU. They are not “mini-deals” and have not been negotiated with the UK. In addition to this legislative work, the Commission has also intensified its work on proactively informing the public about the importance of preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit. The Commission has published 88 preparedness notices, along with three detailed Brexit Preparedness Communications. The Commission continues to hold technical discussions with the EU27 member states both on general issues of preparedness and contingency work and on specific sectorial, legal and administrative preparedness issues.
More on Brexit preparedness
Political agreement on contingency measures for basic air connectivity in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit
On 19 February the European Parliament and the Council of the EU reached a provisional agreement on the Commission's proposal to ensure basic air connectivity in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit. Under the proposal, cargo routes with third countries will be allowed for a limited period of five months so that the airlines concerned can wind down operations and re-route traffic as necessary. EU airlines partly owned by UK nationals will also be given six months to do what is necessary to achieve EU majority ownership and control.
More on Brexit preparedness
Wales' native plum gets EU protection
The European Commission approved on 19 February ‘The Vale of Clwyd Denbigh Plum' in the EU's register of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The Denbigh plum is the only plum variety native to Wales and becomes the 72nd British food product to get EU protection from fake produce. Historically, this fertile region of North Wales has had a tradition and reputation for producing an array of soft fruit including plums, all of which would have been exhibited at the Vale of Clwyd Horticultural shows, which were famous annual events since the 1850s. The new denomination will be added to the list of EU 1,440 products already protected.
More information on quality products
European Commission opens in-depth investigation into British Capacity Market scheme
On 21 February the European Commission opened an in-depth investigation to determine whether the British Capacity Market scheme to safeguard security of electricity supply is in line with EU state aid rules. This follows the EU General Court's annulment of a previous Commission decision approving the scheme.
Latest news on the Article 50 negotiations can be found here
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Main news from Brussels this week
European Commission increases national support to farmers up to £21,800
The European Commission adopted on 22 February revised rules on state aid in the agriculture sector (the so-called de minimis aid), increasing the maximum amount that national authorities can use to support farmers (ie notably in times of crisis or to help eradicate animal diseases as soon as an outbreak occurs) without the need for prior approval from the Commission. This decision will allow EU countries to increase support for farmers without distorting the market, while reducing the administrative burden for national authorities. The maximum aid amount that can be distributed per farm over three years will rise from €15,000 (£13,000) to €20,000 (£17,500). In order to avoid any potential distortion of competition, each EU country has a maximum national amount which they cannot exceed. Each national ceiling will be set at 1.25% of the country's annual agricultural output over the same three-year period (up from 1% in the current rules). This is an increase in the national ceiling of 25%. If a country does not spend more than 50% of its total national aid envelope on one particular agricultural sector, it may increase even further the de minimis aid per farm to €25,000 (£21,800), and the national maximum to 1.5% of the annual output. This represents a 66% increase in the ceiling per farmer and a 50% increase in the national ceiling. The increased ceilings come into force on 14 March and can apply retroactively to aids fulfilling all the conditions.
Changes to the calculation of financial sanctions in cases of infringements of EU law
The European Commission announced on 20 February it will adapt the method for calculating proposed financial sanctions when member states are referred to the Court of Justice for having infringed EU law, In future the Commission will use the number of MEP seats in the European Parliament allocated to each member state as opposed to the current vote weighting in the Council of Ministers to take into account a recent Court of Justice judgement to better reflect the institutional weight. The new method will lead to amounts that do not create unjustified differences between Member States and stay as close as possible to the amounts resulting from the current calculation method, which are both proportionate and sufficiently deterring. The Commission will apply the adapted calculation method from the date the communication is published in the Official Journal. Once the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU becomes legally effective, and irrespective of whether the Withdrawal Agreement enters into force or not, the Commission will recalculate the relevant averages and will adjust the figures accordingly.
Since the Commission believes that, in addition to relying on the Member States' GDP, the institutional weight should continue to be taken into account, a new method of reflecting that weight was needed.
EU governments agree to strengthen EU visa rules
EU member states endorsed on 20 February the agreement reached by MEPs and EU government ministers on the Commission's proposal to modernise the EU's common visa policy, adapting the rules to evolving security concerns, challenges linked to migration and new opportunities offered by technological developments. The agreed changes will make it easier for legitimate travellers to obtain a visa to come to Europe, facilitating tourism, trade and business, whilst strengthening security and reducing irregular migration risks.
EU institutions reach provisional agreement on the future European Defence Fund
On 20 February the EU institutions reached a partial political agreement on the European Defence Fund, which will foster an innovative and competitive defence industrial base and contribute to the EU's strategic autonomy. The agreement is subject to further formal approval by the European Parliament and Council. The European Defence Fund, proposed by the Commission in June 2018 as part of the EU-long-term budget for the years 2021-2027, is an initiative to bolster the EU's ability to protect its citizens.
All this week's key European Commission announcements can be found here
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:
Almost 1.3 million hectares (ha) of land in the European Union (EU) were covered with fruit trees in 2017. A little over one third of this total was accounted for by apple orchards (473,500 ha, 37%), and another one fifth by orange groves (255 500 ha, 20%). Of the remainder, peach orchards covered 190,500 ha (15%), small citrus fruit trees producing satsumas and clementines in particular covered 139,600 ha (11%), pear trees covered 100,400 ha (8%), apricots covered 75,700 ha (6%) and lemon groves a further 60 100 ha (5%). The area planted with fruit trees accounted for around 1% of utilised agriculture area (173 million ha in 2016). Spain was the leading EU member state in terms of the production area of fruit in 2017 (422, 800 ha, or 33% of the EU total), followed by Italy (279,300 ha, or 22%) and Poland (167,300 ha, or 13%).
“Online shopping provides many opportunities for consumers. However, more than half of the websites show irregularities, in particular on how prices and discounts are advertised. This must stop as the consumers are often led to confusion and higher price than intended. I am appalled by the high number of the websites that have these problems – I hope they are unintended. Online traders need to fully respect EU consumer rules. National consumer authorities, with the assistance of the Commission, will now take the necessary steps to stop such unfair business practices", Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality comments on the results of an EU-wide screening of 560 e-commerce sites, published on 22 February.