Fostering social innovation in the European Union

Written by Nora Milotay and Giovanni Liva,

Word Cloud "Social Innovation"

© laufer / Fotolia

Strengthening the social dimensions of European Union policies, in general, and of the economic and monetary union, in particular is an increasingly important discourse across the Member States, particularly since the 2008 financial crisis. Social innovation, which is gaining increasing importance in the public, private and third (i.e. voluntary, non-profit) sectors, can greatly contribute to addressing the growing challenges, such as migration, poverty and global warming. The European Union particularly promotes social innovation through employment and social policies as well as policies on the single market.

The main initiatives explicitly target the governance and funding mechanism of social innovation, including its regulatory environment, powering public-sector innovation, the social economy, as well as providing policy guidance and fostering new policy practices. Due to the complexity of the concept and ecosystem of social innovation and its very diverse contexts in the Member States, European Union policies have varied impact: regulations can have controversial effects in terms of visibility of initiatives, and many organisations still cannot access sufficient funding. To make these initiatives more effective it is important to know more about the impact of social innovation, including its social and environmental value and the importance of these for the economy.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Fostering social innovation in the European Union‘.

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With a unified approach, the EU could boost its global role – EPRS conference

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

EPRS Economic Governance

EPRS – EP-EUI Policy Roundtable: Global Economic governance: what role for the EU ?

Economic decisions taken at inter- and supranational level have recently come under fire from populists and protectionists. However, with better coordination between Member States, the European Union could play a stronger role in representing the needs of its citizens in global economic governance. Concerted pressure from EU and euro area countries acting together in fora such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or the G20, would help to make the world’s economic decision-making system more transparent and accountable, according to politicians and analysts speaking at a conference organised by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS). The event, entitled ‘Global economic governance: what role for the EU?’, took place in the European Parliament Library Reading Room on 12 January 2017.

The damaging financial crunch of 2008 and the ensuing recession have forced the IMF, the G20 informal group of the world’s biggest economies, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Basel Committee of central banks, and other institutions, to act urgently to try to restore economic growth and ward off any repetition of such economic disaster. But the crisis, which has destroyed tens of millions of jobs and thrown millions into poverty, has undermined popular trust in traditional elites. The conference heard that public opinion has turned against globalisation and in favour of trade protectionism.

EPRS Economic Governance

EPRS – EP-EUI Policy Roundtable: Global Economic governance: what role for the EU ?

Sylvie Goulard, member of the EP’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, said citizen’s growing distrust in the economic governance system has been exacerbated by its confusing and complicated nature. ‘I was not in a position to tell my voters: who decides on the economy, who is really taking a decision. Is it parliament or is the financial industry itself that frames the activity? Many citizens in the EU and elsewhere feel that they do not choose the people who are making decisions.’ Sylvie Goulard added that the IMF, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Basel Committee, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) all have a different status, based on different governance powers – while the G20 is not very democratic. ‘When the system is complicated, it should at least be transparent.’

According to many analysts, some of these global institutions could be more effective if reformed, notably to reflect the growing role of emerging markets, such as China or India, in the world economy. However, Elena Flores, Director for International economic and financial relations and global governance at the European Commission, pointed out that some EU and euro zone countries are sceptical of such reforms. The Member States also often fail to act together, weakening Europe’s hand in international negotiations. ‘The EU could really play a much stronger role than the one it plays today if it were more unified,’ Flores said. The Commission has long advocated a single representation for the euro area on the IMF board, but without success to date. Flores remarked that the euro area’s global role could also be boosted if internal reform led to the completion of economic and monetary union. Flores added that, when the EU and euro zone countries act together, they are more successful in promoting their ideas, such as economic policy coordination, economic peer review or combatting macroeconomic imbalances at the international fora.

Difficulties in global decision-making may grow after the inauguration of Donald Trump, an advocate of economic protectionism, as US President in January, remarked Bernard Hoekman, Robert Schuman Chair at the European University Institute in Florence. Hoekman noted that ‘we are heading towards an administration in the US, which is much less inclined to pursue (…) multilateral cooperation’. Hoekman added that populism and protectionism are also fuelled by the pressure that technological change and innovation is putting on many traditional jobs.

EPRS Economic Governance

Joachim Koops, Dean of Vesalius College Brussels and Director of the Global Governance Institute

Speaking on the EU’s track record in economic decision-making, Joachim Koops, Dean of Vesalius College Brussels and Director of the Global Governance Institute, said the Union, along with the IMF, should critically examine its role in imposing reforms on crisis-stricken Greece. ‘For the first time, the global and regional organisations worked together in an unprecedented way … They had divergent views on how to handle the economic crisis and rebuild the Greek economy,’ he said. ‘That has had an impact on populist movements and knock-on effects on elites in other countries. Many discussions in the previously pro-EU elites in Britain referred to Greece as one element in their shift in opinion in favour of Brexit’, he added.


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Plastic bags: EU’s response to reducing consumption

Citizens want to know what the EU is doing to reduce the consumption of plastic bags given the negative impact on marine wildlife and the environment.

In the EU, plastic carrier bags are considered as packaging under Directive 94/62/EC. The use of plastic carrier bags result in littering and an inefficient use of resources. Moreover, the unmanaged disposal of these bags leads to environmental pollution and aggravates the widespread problem of litter in water bodies, threatening aquatic eco-systems worldwide.

Legal framework

Plastic pollution problem: carrier bag discarded in sea threatens turtles

Richard Carey / Fotolia

The Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packing waste, and the successive amendments, aim to harmonise national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste in order, on the one hand, to prevent any impact thereof on the environment of all Member States as well as of third countries or to reduce such impact, thus providing a high level of environmental protection, and, on the other hand, to ensure the functioning of the internal market and to avoid obstacles to trade and distortion and restriction of competition within the Community.

Directive (EU) 2015/720 amending Directive 94/62/EC, defines measures to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags, including imposing charges or setting national maximum consumption targets.

Objective of EU directive on lightweight plastic bags

Directive 2015/720 entered into force on 26 May 2015 and deadline for transposition in Member States was by 27 November 2016.

The objective of the directive on lightweight plastic bags is to limit negative impacts on the environment, in particular in terms of littering, to encourage waste prevention and a more efficient use of resources, while limiting negative socio-economic impacts. More specifically, the proposal aims at reducing the consumption of plastic carrier bags with a thickness of below 50 microns (0.05 millimetres) in the European Union. There is an exemption for very light bags, intended for the protection of fresh produce.

The measures must include either one or both of the following:

  1. defining a maximum annual consumption level of:

    • 90 lightweight plastic carrier bags per person by the end of 2019 (a 50 % reduction compared to 2010) and
    • 40 lightweight plastic carrier bags per person by the end of 2025 (an 80 % reduction compared to 2010)
  2. ensuring that, by the end of 2018, lightweight plastic carrier bags are not provided free of charge at the point of sale of goods or products.

By 27 May 2017, the Commission should present a report to the European Parliament and to the Council, examining the impact of the use of ‘oxo-degradable’ plastic carrier bags on the environment and present a legislative proposal, if appropriate.

Parliamentary questions

MEPs have put several parliamentary written questions to the Commission on plastic bags. In its answer of 16 June 2015, the Commission stated that the ‘directive requires Member States to implement a predefined maximum national consumption objective and/or to put in place instruments ensuring that lightweight plastic carrier bags are not provided free of charge. The measures adopted by Member States have to be proportionate, non-discriminatory and non-protectionist.’

In its answer of 13 June 2016, the Commission sets out that it ‘is preparing an implementing act laying down the specifications for labelling or marking home-compostable lightweight plastic carrier bags. Furthermore, studies are being carried out on behalf of the Commission on the impact of the use of oxo-degradable plastic carrier bags on the environment and on the life cycle impacts of alternatives to very lightweight plastic carrier bags. Results are expected in the second half of 2016’.

In an answer of 1 July 2016, the Commission also explains that ‘Measures to be taken may involve the use of economic instruments and marketing restrictions. Measures may vary depending on the environmental impact of the lightweight plastic carrier bags when they are recovered or disposed of, their composting properties, durability or specific intended use’.

Further information

More details on packaging and packaging waste is available from the European Commission. The European Parliamentary Research Service keysource product highlights links to the views of stakeholders entitled ‘Plastic Bags, Forever?’.

Do you have any questions on this issue or another EP-related concern? Please use our web form. You write, we answer.

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The incoming US Congress’s powers to overturn regulations of the previous administration

Written by Micaela Del Monte,

The Capitol - Washington DC United States

© Orhan Çam / Fotolia

During the election campaign, President-elect Donald Trump stated his intention to repeal or amend regulations issued by the Obama administration. Following the 2016 elections in the USA, as well as the White House the Republicans will hold the majority in both chambers of the 115th Congress. It is thus likely that the legislative branch will work closely with the executive to achieve common objectives. Congress can always introduce and pass legislation that modifies regulations made by agencies. However, passing new legislation can be a cumbersome process, and there are tactics for the opposition to delay action, such as making points of order and tabling certain motions. As an alternative, under certain circumstances and within a specific timeframe, Congress could use an expedited procedure, laid down in the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996, to overturn federal regulations passed in the closing months of the outgoing administration.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA): what it is and how it works

The CRA was passed in 1996 as part of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) with the aim of reasserting Congressional authority over the administration. While Members of Congress were willing to delegate administrative authority, equally they considered that the unelected administration could not operate without being politically accountable. The idea behind this was that Congress would grant rulemaking authority to the executive but it would keep the option to disapprove regulations that depart from the original intent of Congress.

With this in mind, the CRA introduced, primarily in the Senate, an expedited procedure, or ‘fast-track’ mechanism, to over-ride regulations introduced by the administration, within 60 legislative (in the House) or session (in the Senate) days of their submission to Congress and publication in the Federal Register. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires agencies to publish a notice of proposed rules in the Federal Register so that interested parties can comment. A rule is considered submitted to Congress on the later date of its receipt by the Speaker of the House or its referral to Senate. For the purpose of the CRA, every day counts, including weekends and holidays, unless one or both Chambers pause for more than three days, in accordance with an adjournment resolution.

The expedited procedure is applicable to final rules, as broadly defined by the APA. A rule is defined as ‘the whole or a part of an agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect, designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy’. In the specific case of ‘major rules’, the CRA grants Congress additional time to consider whether to overturn it or not. For the purpose of the CRA, a rule is major when the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) considers it likely to have an economic impact of more than US$100 million; or to generate a substantive increase of prices for consumers, businesses or the government; or to have a significantly negative impact on employment, productivity, innovation or competition. In the case of major rules, the Comptroller General submits to the relevant committee a report assessing whether or not the agency has followed the required procedural steps, including a cost-benefit analysis.

Any Member of Congress may introduce a disapproval resolution, which has to be approved by both chambers with a simple majority and with identical text. There is no need for both chambers to pass ‘companion’ disapproval resolutions. Indeed if the Senate receives a disapproval resolution passed by the House, it can discuss its own resolution but then vote on the resolution received from the other chamber. This system enables both chambers to pass exactly the same text, and avoid a need for discussions to overcome differences between two texts.

Once adopted, the resolution is sent to the President for signature. Should the President decide to veto it, to override the veto Congress needs a two-thirds vote in both chambers. Once the disapproval resolution has been enacted, the rule concerned is nullified and its effects cease retroactively. Also, the agency is precluded from issuing the same rule or any rule ‘that is substantially’ the same, unless authorised by Congress. The act does not clarify the criteria upon which a judgement would be made to determine whether a rule should be considered substantially the same, nor does it clarify who would do so.

Pros and cons of the CRA

In theory, the President and Congress can work together through the regular legislative procedure to undo regulations introduced by the previous administration. However, the CRA has a number of procedural advantages in the Senate, including prohibiting filibusters and amendments, and limiting floor debating time to 10 hours. At committee level, if 30 Senators submit a discharge petition, the resolution of disapproval is automatically placed on the Senate floor. The CRA also promotes increased transparency over agency rulemaking activity too.

Since it is very unlikely that a President would sign a resolution of disapproval to withdraw rules put forward by their own administration, and with a super majority of two-thirds in both chambers required to over-ride a presidential veto, the Congressional Review Act is most relevant in times of transition. And after elections, when the same political party will control both the White House and Congress, CRA can be a powerful Congressional oversight instrument. It can act to dissuade a rush of last-minute regulations (or ‘midnight regulations’) that an outgoing administration commonly tries to adopt before the new administration steps in. The term ‘midnight regulation’ dates back to the 1980s, when the volume of rules in the last three months of the Carter administration increased by 40 % compared to non-election years.

There is a tendency for outgoing administrations to increase regulatory activity towards the end of their mandate, with a consequent reaction by the upcoming administration. On average, in a post-presidential-election quarter (November to January), regulatory activity increases by 17 % compared to the same period in a non-election year. Rulemaking remains an area of great interest for the incoming president: suffice to mention that one of the first acts of the Obama, Clinton and Bush administrations was to issue memoranda aimed at stopping last-minute regulations until the officials appointed by the new president were approved.

As pointed out in a recent CRS report, however, the CRA has some drawbacks too. Disadvantages include the fact that the CRA does not provide a streamlined procedure for the House of Representatives, also because a rule can only be overturned and not amended, the possibility for Congress to find alternative solutions through amendments is limited. The regular legislative process allows the legislator to instruct the administration to re-evaluate, modify or repeal the rule.

State of play and likely scenario under the 115th Congress

The CRA provides that if a rule is submitted to Congress fewer than 60 legislative or session days before it adjourns its final session sine die, a new 60-day period for congressional review starts for the incoming Congress. A recent CRS Memorandum has attempted to identify those major rules that could be subject to CRA under the new administration and Congress in January 2017. Based on the legislative calendar for the remainder of the current Congress, the 60-day timeframe could stretch back to the end of May 2016. Others estimate that it could go further back, to 16 or 23 May. The list of rules includes, amongst others, Medicare programmes, a requirement for federal contractors to provide paid sick leave for their workers; a national school-lunch programme; and food labelling rules.

Whether or not the 115th Congress will take the opportunity to review one or more rules is not certain and is a matter of political judgement. However, some elements are worth noting. Since its enactment, the CRA has been used successfully only once; in 2001, when the then-Republican Congress used it to eliminate a rule on ergonomics standards adopted months earlier by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Clinton administration. To date, because the CRA prevents the agency from issuing a substantially similar regulation, ergonomic standards in the workplace have gone unregulated. Five CRA joint resolutions were approved by the 114th Congress but all of them were vetoed by President Obama.

Download this publication on ‘The incoming US Congress’s powers to overturn regulations of the previous administration‘ in PDF.

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Public country-by-country reporting by multinational enterprises [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Cécile Remeur (1st edition),

Puzzle Earth

© BrunoWeltmann / Fotolia

Tax transparency has gained particular importance as a tool in the fight against tax avoidance and tax evasion, particularly in the field of corporate income tax and aggressive tax planning. Cooperation between tax authorities aims at allowing them to obtain information covering the global business of multinational enterprises (MNEs), and progress has already been made in this area.

A further step in tax transparency would be to broaden it by providing publicly available information relating to tax paid at the place where profits are actually made. Public country-by-country reporting (CBCR) is the publication of a defined set of facts and figures by large MNEs, thereby providing the public with a global picture of the taxes MNEs pay on their corporate income.

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The Juncker Commission’s ten priorities: State of play at the start of 2017

Written by Étienne Bassot and Wolfgang Hiller,


© European Union, 2015 – Source EP

More than two years since Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker took office on 1 November 2014, having presented the ten priority areas that would serve as his Commission’s guiding lines for the following five years, the European Commission is now approaching the midway point of its mandate. Building on the findings of previous editions, this publication provides an overview of the progress made and the work accomplished during the current Commission’s first two full years in each of the ten priority areas. It assesses what has been delivered against what has been announced, both quantitatively and qualitatively, taking stock of what has been achieved on the path of ‘getting Europe back to work’, and identifying those areas where difficulties have been experienced or further efforts are still required. For each of the ten priorities, the most important developments are highlighted, while a graphic provides a snapshot of the number of initiatives announced, ongoing or finalised. These snapshots are regularly updated on the legislative trains application on the European Parliament’s website.

The new interinstitutional agreement on better law-making, adopted in April 2016, contains specific provisions formalising the increased involvement of Parliament in the annual programming exercise, and in particular on the content and follow-up of its initiatives. At the same time, however, the rather general nature of the annual work programme itself, and synergies between priorities, can complicate the task of scrutinising its delivery. This makes it all the more important to examine in depth the nature of the outcome in practice and across all the policy areas concerned.

During its first year in office, the Juncker Commission adopted strategic documents on all ten of its stated priorities. The 2016 work programme promised a continuation of that initial thrust, with a large number of legislative and non-legislative initiatives envisaged and policy packages responding, to a varying extent, and sometimes differing levels of ambition, to Parliament’s concerns. In some of the priority areas, almost all of the originally promised initiatives have already been delivered. In others, gaps still remain. The rate of progress on those that have been delivered also differs considerably. While some have already been adopted and others are under consideration in Parliament, or are subject to ongoing negotiations between Parliament and Council, progress on some of those identified by the Commission as a priority is often solely dependent on the Council, Parliament having already adopted its position on the matter, in some cases as long ago as 2013. It remains to be seen whether, and to what extent, these aspects will be addressed through the implementation of the 2017 work programme, adopted by the Commission in October 2016.

Read the complete in-depth analysis on ‘The Juncker Commission’s ten priorities: State of play at the start of 2017‘.

The Juncker Commission's ten priorities

The Juncker Commission’s ten priorities

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Capital Markets Union [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

Since the 2008 financial crunch and the ensuing recession, the European Union has been overhauling its regulation of financial markets to try to avoid any repetition of the crisis and to shore up economic growth. The current European Commission has prioritised the creation of Capital Markets Union, which would encourage companies to invest and create jobs by making it easier for them to raise funds on stock and bond markets. The Commission’s Action Plan on Building a Capital Markets Union includes 33 actions and related measures, which aim to put in place the building-blocks of an integrated capital market within the EU by 2019.

This note offers links to a selection of recent commentaries, studies and reports, from some of the major international think tanks and research institutes, which discuss the Capital Markets Union and related reforms.  Some older papers on the topic can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think tanks are Thinking.’

magnifier with charts in the back

© Eisenhans / Fotolia

Future of the Capital Markets Union after Brexit
Jacques Delors Institute – Berlin, December 2016

European insurance union and how to get there
Bruegel, December 2016

The EU’s Capital Markets Union: Unlocking investment through gradual integration
Atlantic Council, November 2016

Quelle place pour les marchés financiers en Europe
Bruegel, November 2016

Towards the right policy mix for a thriving European Capital Market
Centre for European Policy Studies, November 2016

Stealing London’s financial crown would bring both benefits and responsibilities
Bruegel, November 2016

Towards a better European securitisation market
European Capital Markets Institute, Centre for European Policy Studies, November 2016

Eliminating the cost of non-Europe in capital markets
European Capital Markets Institute, Centre for European Policy Studies, November 2016

Financial market fragmentation in the euro area: State of play
Jacques Delors Institute – Berlin, November 2016

How to deal with the resolution of financial market infrastructures
Centre for European Policy Studies, October 2016

The state of the Capital Markets Union: Has it delivered on sustainability?
E3G, October 2016

Capital markets union and the threat of the regulatory competition
Foundation for European Progressive Studies, September 2016

Securitisation to the rescue
Foundation for European Progressive Studies, September 2016

The IMF’s role in the euro-area crisis: Financial sector aspects
Bruegel, September 2016

SME financing in a Capital Markets Union
Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies, May 2016

SME financing in the EU: Moving beyond one-size-fits-all
Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln, April 2016

The United States dominate global investment banking: Does it matter for Europe?
Bruegel, March 2016

Inequality, financialisation and credit booms: A model of two crises
LUISS School of European Political Economy, February 2016

Which union for Europe’s capital markets?
European Capital Markets Institute, Centre for European Policy Studies, February 2016

Europe’s untapped capital market: Rethinking financial integration after the crisis
Centre for European Policy Studies, February 2016

The intended and unintended consequences of financial-market regulations: A general equilibrium analysis
Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe, January 2016

Capital Markets Union and STS Securitisation
Finance Watch, December 2015

Future-proofing the EU Capital Markets Union
E3G, October 2015

Capital Markets Union: A work in progress
Egmont, September 2015

The Capital Markets Union: Supporting the European project and the revival of investment
Fondation Robert Schuman, September 2015

A Capital Markets Union for Europe: The relevance of banks and markets
Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln, July 2015

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A new President for the European Parliament – January EP Plenary Session

Written by Clare Ferguson,

The agenda this session is dominated by the election of the new President of the European Parliament, with time allowed on Tuesday for multiple rounds of voting. Candidates wishing to stand have to have their name put forward before Monday evening, when the January Parliamentary session opens with an announcement of the final field. Eight Members’ names are in the frame for now, although last-minute changes may come on Monday. The winner will be Parliament’s 30th President – a position which has gained in both power and influence under outgoing President Martin Schulz’s tenure. Elections will also be held this plenary session for the Parliament’s 14 Vice-Presidents, as well as the five Quaestors who are responsible for administrative matters concerning MEPs. In addition to the usual concern for political equilibrium, these office-holders, who together make up Parliament’s Bureau, will be elected in full consideration of geographical representation and gender balance.

Once the new President opens the sitting, the key debate this session is a presentation of the Maltese Council Presidency programme on Wednesday morning. Parliament will also hear statements from the European Council and European Commission on the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 15 December 2016. It is clear that the ‘shocks and shifts’ of 2016 foreshadow serious challenges ahead – economic, migratory, social, and security – for the European Union and its citizens in 2017. The United Kingdom’s decision to ‘Brexit’, and the direction of the new Trump administration in the USA, are added complications to an agenda which already includes dealing with the continued effects of the economic crisis, the ongoing migration crisis, and emerging security issues such as terrorism and international tensions. During 2017, the EU has set itself additional targets to tackle rising inequality, achieve the EU’s ambitious environmental targets, and modernise some fundamental EU policies – the EU budget and the common agricultural policy. The new President and their team can expect interesting times ahead.

A short presentation is expected on Wednesday evening of a report on logistics in the EU and multimodal transport in the TEN-T corridors. Multimodal transport – that is, carrier transport that uses at least two different types of transport – relies on strong networks of transport options and could reduce emissions. Funded by the Connecting Europe Facility, trans-European transport network corridors should reduce barriers to integrated logistics solutions in Europe. With ambitious climate change targets to fulfil under the Paris Agreement, and continued pressure on energy security, combined transport modes are one solution to limiting the overall environmental impact of the huge EU market in goods distribution. As part of continuing efforts to shift up to 50 % of long-distance road freight to rail and inland waterways by 2050, Parliament’s own-initiative report calls on the Commission to do more to further investment and action on improving integrated logistics in Europe.

On Thursday morning, as is customary, Members will consider human rights issues. Before turning to the plight of refugees and migrants in European camps, Parliament will consider a report on the planned European Pillar of Social Rights, aimed at tackling growing economic and social inequality between European citizens. The European Parliament has long supported measures in favour of a more ‘social’ Europe, and the debate is likely to focus on stronger protection of vulnerable citizens, updating current legislation to reflect today’s society, and promoting respect for common social rights and minimum employment standards. The Commission is expected to make a final proposal in March 2017.

Finally, it is no secret that even some signatories to the main human rights treaties have less than spotless records on respecting basic human rights in areas such as children’s rights and labour laws. Taking a diplomatic approach is one way to encourage these countries to comply, but there are others – and trade incentives are among the most successful. In line with the EU’s rights-based focus in foreign relations, the EU has developed a generalised system of preferences (GSP) scheme, which grants preferential trade access to the EU market to developing countries who comply with human rights conventions. Should these countries violate human rights norms or counter basic labour rights, these preferences can be rescinded. The EU however prefers the ‘carrot’ – dialogue and negotiation with its partners – to the ‘stick’ of withdrawing preferences. The EU likewise legislates to ban imports of goods produced using child labour, as well as those which violate human rights, such as conflict minerals or torture and execution items.

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Human rights in EU trade policy [Plenary Podcast]

Written by Ionel Zamfir,

Seamstress in a chinese textile factory

© Kzenon / Fotolia

Protection of human rights is one of the EU’s overarching objectives in its external action, in line with the Treaty on European Union. One of the EU’s main tools to promote human rights in third countries is the generalised system of preferences (GSP), granting certain developing countries preferential trade access to the EU market. Covering 90 third countries, the scheme includes explicit human rights conditionality, providing that preferences can be withdrawn in case of massive and systematic violations of core human rights or labour rights norms.

A special incentive arrangement grants further tariff concessions to countries that ratify and implement a series of international conventions. Based on systematic monitoring by the European Commission, this is the most comprehensive and detailed human rights mechanism established in the framework of EU common commercial policy. In practice, the EU has privileged a strategy of incentivising gradual progress through dialogue and monitoring, rather than withdrawing preferences.

Suspension of preferences under GSP is rarely applied and, when it is, it does not have an immediate and clear impact.

The EU’s unilateral trade measures to protect human rights are not limited to the GSP. The EU has taken steps to prohibit or limit trade in items that could cause human rights violations, such as torture and execution items, or dual use goods. New legislation is being considered on conflict minerals, and the European Parliament has asked for a proposal for legislation to ban the import of goods produced using child labour.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Human rights in EU trade policy: Unilateral measures‘.


Main beneficiaries of the three GSP strands (Standard, EBA, GSP+) in 2014

Main beneficiaries of the three GSP strands (Standard, EBA, GSP+) in 2014

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ACP-EU relations after 2020: The end of an era [Policy Podcast]

Written by Eric Pichon with Christian Dietrich (Maps) and Eulalia Claros (Graphics),

30th Session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary

30th Session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

One of the main building blocks of EU external relations, the Cotonou Partnership Agreement between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), is set to expire in 2020. Due to EU institutional evolution and changes in the global balance of powers, a renewal ‘as is’ of the agreement is not an option. There is a need
to streamline ACP-EU relations, with new EU strategies in the regions concerned, and to adapt to the ACP countries’ new ambitions. The issue of financing is also on the table.

Stakeholders have started discussions, focusing on the overlaps with other frameworks and the assets that should be kept or reformed. The main challenge for the EU is to keep its leverage in the region while remaining faithful to the values the EU Treaties promote. The EU’s new relationship with the ACP countries will have to be consistent with recent strategic changes in its foreign policy, such as the EU global strategy.

Formal negotiations between the parties need to start in August 2018 at the latest. Further to a joint evaluation, the European Commission and the High Representative have put forward their preferred option: an umbrella agreement with tailored regional partnerships. To date, other stakeholders have not yet taken formal positions, but some discernible patterns are emerging.

Read the complete briefing on ‘ACP-EU relations after 2020: The end of an era‘.

This briefing develops and updates an At a glancenote of September 2016.

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