The 2019 EU Trade Policy Review was recently published by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The trade policy review process takes place every two years for major economies and is an important transparency tool. The country under review produces a policy report summarising major trade policy developments since the last review. A second report is written independently by the WTO Secretariat. These reports are then discussed by the full membership in the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Body. Indeed, the EU received more than 1,600 written questions from other WTO members on these reports to which it has provided written answers (unfortunately, the latter files are restricted and not publicly available on the WTO website).
In my previous post I discussed the challenges facing European Council President Charles Michel as he took over responsibility from the Finnish Presidency to prepare the draft conclusions on the Multi-annual Financial Framework for the coming meeting of the European Council on 20 February next.
The Finnish Presidency proposal had been attacked on all sides as unsatisfactory. Yet, in that previous post, I speculated that Mr Michel was unlikely to hear anything very different to what the Finnish Presidency had heard when charged with forwarding the ‘negotiating box with figures’ to the December 2019 meeting of the European Council.
During the past few weeks, the President of the European Council Charles Michel has been meeting national sherpas to sound out Member State positions regarding the Commission’s proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027. In the next few weeks he will be meeting national leaders face-to-face.
He has called a special European Council meeting which, ominously for national leaders who value their beauty sleep, is scheduled to start on 20 February but which notably has no termination date or time. Mr Michel may plan to take a leaf out of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s playbook who famously kept the rich elite of Saudi Arabia under lock and key in a luxury hotel until they agreed to part with some of their money.
Climate mainstreaming of the EU budget was introduced in the Commission’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) proposal for the period 2014-2020 which first put forward the idea that “the optimal achievement of objectives in some policy areas – including climate action, environment, consumer policy, health and fundamental rights – depends on the mainstreaming of priorities into a range of instruments in other policy areas” (COM(2011)500). The Commission advocated in particular that the EU budget could play an important role in catalysing the specific investments needed to meet the EU’s climate targets and to ensure climate resilience.
The policy fiche on climate action in the Annex to the 2011 MFF proposal included the idea that the proportion of EU budget spending contributing to the EU’s transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society should be increased to at least 20%, subject to impact assessment evidence.
The Commission published its Communication on the European Green Deal in mid-December 2019. Previously flagged in Commission President von der Leyen’s Political Guidelines for the new Commission, it defines the key political objectives of the new Commission for the next five years.
The headline commitment is to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 (while conflating the EU with Europe may seem like over-reach by the Commission, it should be remembered that other European countries, most recently Switzerland, either participate in or are linked to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the UK government’s preference is that it will remain associated after Brexit).
The EU has signed up to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. Among these are Goal 13 to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and Goal 15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
The incoming Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen set out in her Political Guidelines for the new Commission her ambition that the EU should raise its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) in 2030 from 40% to 50% immediately and to 55% in the first half of the next decade compared to 1990.
Eurostat has now published preliminary estimates of 2019 agricultural output and income. The value of agricultural output in current prices shows a small further increase in 2019 as compared to 2018. Compared to the previous peak in 2013, agricultural output value has grown by just under 4% in the past six years. This is mainly due to an increase in the value of crop output, with the increase in the value of livestock output lagging behind. However, because of greater spending on intermediate consumption, gross value added in agriculture remains just below the record 2017 level.
Operating surplus (the return to land, capital and family labour) also increased compared to 2018 but is still well below the record 2017 level.
The UK election has resulted in a resounding victory for the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson with its manifesto call to ‘get Brexit done’. The Conservatives won 365 seats, Labour 203, Scottish National Party 48, Liberal Democrats 11, the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party 8, and other parties 15 seats giving the Conservative Party a thumping 80-seat majority.
One interpretation of the result is that a majority in the UK has now voted for Brexit. However, counting the votes cast instead of seats won shows a slight majority (52-48) voted in favour of parties that were opposed to Brexit or wanted a second referendum.
We are pleased to welcome this post which has been written by Jabier Ruiz, who is Senior Policy Officer, Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems at the European Policy Office of WWF in Brussels.
Internal convergence: a multi-faceted obligation
In recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy, and of the Multiannual Financial Framework, the (external) convergence of decoupled direct payments across EU member states is always a very sensitive political topic. This issue has been covered extensively in this blog (for example, here and here). There is much less awareness and discussion on the topic of internal convergence, another obligation existing in the current (and future) CAP and which aims to progressively equalise the value of decoupled direct payment entitlements (€ per hectare) within each Member State or region.
As I discussed in this post, the Finnish Presidency has been tasked with presenting a first draft of the MFF ‘negotiating box’ with numbers prior to the next European Council meeting 12-13 December 2019. This will be no mean feat given the wide differences of opinion between the ‘frugal five’ Member States – Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden – that want overall a smaller budget than what the Commission has proposed, and other Member States that want to reverse some of the Commission’s cuts in cohesion and agricultural spending (Politico’s Lily Bayer goes through the different alliances in this article published today).