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CES/02/56 Brussels, 22 July 2002

EESC plenary session (17-18 July): New opinions on services of general interest and a single European sky, plus ideas on how to integrate disabled people and suggestions to improve cohesion policy in the run-up to enlargement

- Commissioner Diamantopoulou requests the EESC's ideas on the effectiveness of European works councils

Addressing the EESC on 17 July on the subject of EU employment and social policy, Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou noted the "great results that the Commission and the EESC had achieved through (their) cooperation". She thanked the Committee for its useful work in a range of areas in her portfolio, ranging from the social indicators and the social policy agenda to the EESC's ideas on how to make the urban environment more child-friendly. She concluded by asking the Committee to draw up an exploratory opinion on the effeciveness of the European works council directive a request immediately welcomed by the EESC president Mr Göke Frerichs.

- Danish Employment minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen a guest at the EESC

Danish Employment minister Frederiksen addressed the Committee's plenary session on 18 July. He set out the work programme of the Danish EU presidency, detailing the Danish governments plans in such matters as food safety and sustainable development. It was, however, the issue of immigration that elicited most comments from Committee members in the ensuing general discussion. Several members expressed the view that there was a risk that the Danish presidency would place too much emphasis on police cooperation (and other such "defensive" aspects), rather than concentrating on working towards the integration of immigrants and seeing the issue of immigration as in the words of one EESC member a "source of opportunity and enrichment". N.B.: The Committee is holding a major conference on immigration, and in particular the role of civil society in promoting integration, on 9 and 10 September. For more information, please see the press page of our website (eesc.europa.eu).

- Not for profit services should be exempt from competition rules, says EESC

Services of general interest play a vital role in the daily lives of citizens and are one of the values underlying the European social model. However, if the process of political and economic integration within the European Union is to move forward, a series of measures is needed. This is the principal finding of an exploratory opinion (entitled Services of general interest), adopted by a large majority by the EESC on 17 July (rapporteur: Mr Hernández Bataller, Various Interests, Spain).

The Committee believes there is a need for the Commission to present a proposal for a framework Directive consolidating the political principles governing services of general economic interest and giving Member States the flexibility they need in this area.

The proposal for a Directive should consider the reasons for setting up a service of general interest, which can be both economic and social. The Committee is in favour of maintaining the financial and economic balance in service provision and believes that public authority funding to compensate undertakings entrusted with the operation of these services for costs incurred under public service obligations must be compatible with Community legislation in the proposal for a framework Directive. Furthermore, the Committee believes it is a good idea to set up an observatory for services of general interest to assess the conditions under which services are provided in the Member States.

Moreover, the European ESC believes that services associated with national education systems and the mandatory membership of a basic social security scheme, and services provided by not-for-profit social, charitable and cultural entities, must be exempt from competition rules and provisions relating to the internal market. The Committee believes that a specific focus needs to be given to the provision and financing of public broadcasting services in order to safeguard the protection of fundamental rights, democratic principles and pluralism, which may be affected by certain processes of concentration.

- Ideas to improve Europe's air transport service

On 17 July the EESC adopted by a very large majority an opinion on the Single European Sky. The rapporteur was Mr Tosh (Employers, UK).

Europe enjoys a very high level of aviation safety. However, the constant increase in air traffic has consequences in terms of delays. Europeans are now demanding a better quality of air transport service, especially in terms of punctuality. The proposal to create a single European Sky by 31 December 2004 is supported in principle by the EESC but there remains much detail to be worked out, particularly regarding the precise operation of the new framework, consultation arrangements and the setting and monitoring of targets. Moreover, supplementary action to develop additional runway capacity and other landside infrastructure, minimizing local environmental impacts, is essential if airspace capacity is to be optimised.

Furthermore, the charging regime to airspace users must be transparent to ensure that the right incentives are given for matching investments to user demand. It will be important that the framework gives the right incentives for investment in new technology and capacity. The EESC would like to see evidence that the charging regime for air space users is comparable with the cost regimes for other transport modes such as railways, and that internalised external costs are clearly identified.

Elsewhere, it remains a concern that large areas of airspace reserved for military users may not be used effectively and consideration must be given to release of more air space for civilian use. Finally, the European Regulator must ensure that the payments regime recognises and rewards the investors' impact wherever it occurs in the chain. There needs to be regulatory clarity to ensure that investment can be remunerated and that the investor, whether public or private, can secure an appropriate return.

- Need for EU directive to eradicate discrimination against disabled people

During its July plenary session the Committee adopted an own-initiative opinion on the Integration of disabled people into society. The rapporteur was Mr Cabra de Luna, a Spanish member of the EESC's Various Interests Group. No votes were cast against this opinion.

There are 37 million disabled people in the European Union and that there will be about 50 million disabled people in the EU once the accession countries have joined. To contribute to the elimination of current barriers - and the prevention of new ones - an EU directive based on Article 13 should be drawn up to make it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in all spheres of life, including education and access to goods and services which are available to the public, including housing.

In order to increase the employment levels of disabled people, EU Member States should ensure the swift and adequate implementation of the EU directive on equal treatment in the workplace; the European Commission should propose to strengthen current guideline 7 in the Employment Guidelines that refers to disabled people; the

social partners at EU level should consider to make use of the EU social dialogue mechanisms to propose new initiatives for the employment of disabled people; the EU directives on public procurement should be modified to allow for public authorities to include the employment of disabled people as an award criteria; national and EU networks of employers and trade unions involved in the employment of disabled people could be established and, finally, the EU Labour Force Survey should include permanently information on the situation of disabled people in the labour market.

Moreover, the new open method of coordination in the field of education should include disabled children and young people as one of the main target groups and all actions and indicators should consider them. New technologies can also play a vital role in overcoming some of the barriers disabled people face.

- Suggestions for the EU's economic and social cohesion strategy… and the future of cohesion policy in the context of enlargement

Two new opinions on cohesion policy were adopted at the Committee's July plenary. The Committee intends its opinion on the EU's economic and social cohesion strategy* to be a contribution to the debate on the future of cohesion policy. The Committee points out the challenges confronting the EU (enlargement, globalisation, worsening of core-periphery imbalances, macroeconomic stability etc.) and goes on to sketch out the steps which in its view should be taken, in particular: maintenance of Objective 1 support after 2006; measures to overcome the negative statistical impact of enlargement on the average per capita GDP; raising the ceiling of 0.45% of GDP for the Structural Funds; establishing a budget instrument for stabilising regional income in the event of unforeseen economic shocks; strengthening the programme of Community initiatives; adopting an open method of coordination to tackle Objective 2 regions' problems of economic and social cohesion; and giving priority to investments in disadvantaged areas.

In a separate opinion on the Future of cohesion policy in the context of enlargement and the learning society**, meanwhile, the Committee calls for a far-reaching reform of the cohesion policy's principles, general conditions, structure and arrangements in the run-up to the accession of the CEECs to the EU. Given the need for streamlining, the Committee recommends establishing a single Fund, with sufficient flexibility, which would help in achieving more simple, and hence more transparent, procedures.

*Rapporteur: Mr Christie (Workers, UK)

**Rapporteur: Mr Malosse (Employers, France)

- Some criticism of the Commission's ideas on transport policy

In its opinion on a European transport policy for 2010 (rapporteur: Mr García Alonso, Employers, Spain) adopted on 18 July, the Committee supports many of the ideas put forward in the Commission's White Paper. However, there are a couple of points on which the Committee does not agree with the Commission. In the opinion of the EESC, the main problem with the White Paper is the excessively uniform treatment of the problems discussed and the solutions proposed, both on a territorial and on an economic, social, environmental and cultural level. The 15-member EU not to mention the future Union of 27 members is not a homogenous area. Situations and circumstances vary across the fifteen Member States, and different approaches are thus required wherever possible. The EESC shares the view that public authorities, both at national and Community levels, have adequate legal powers to organise and regulate the market to the benefit of operators and consumers, and to monitor both its operation and compliance with competition rules.

Also, in addition to citizens' right to travel, the EESC also emphasises the strategic importance of goods transport both in terms of development and in supplying mountainous, isolated or very remote regions or areas with lower economic potential. With regard to the mobility of persons, attempts must be made to promote alternative means of transport to private road transport, rather than penalising either private road transport or buses as a means of public passenger transport. Moreover, the White Paper commits the common error of identifying the external effects of transport with the negative effects it produces, while ignoring the benefits obtained.

- Merger control: response to the Commission's green paper

Main points of the EESC's opinion*: Merger control should be considered within the context of the global economy, in order to take account of the steadily rising international competitive pressure on European companies. The Committee would stress the need to assess acquisitions on the basis of an in-depth global market analysis and hence not to focus only on European conditions. The Committee has repeatedly maintained that markets must not be defined in too narrow terms and that the Commission must take greater account of the fact that markets are constantly changing and expanding. The Committee is aware of the multifaceted socio-economic issues that arise in connection with restructuring. It should be pointed out, however, that restructuring is necessary in order to ensure a sustainable business sector in the long term, and hence to avoid widescale unemployment

*Title of opinion: Merger Control; Rapporteur: Mr Lagerholm (Employers, Sweden)

- Environmental liability: need for a new Community initiative

On 18 July the Committee adopted an opinion entitled Environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage (Rapporteur: Mrs Sánchez Miguel, Workers, Spain). In this document the EESC welcomes the objective system of environmental liability proposed by the Commission, which seeks to prevent damage and restore nature to its former state in accordance with the "polluter pays" principle. However, it raises a number of ideas to improve the content of the proposal. The Committee considers that it is important to point out that rules on environmental liability based on the existence of international treaties are not applied and also that many sectoral treaties have either not entered into force or have not been ratified by the majority of EU Member States. The Commission should consider the need to supplement international laws, where they have proved inefficient in tackling environmental damage in the EU, with a Community initiative, which could be incorporated into this proposal for a directive.

As repair of damage may be hindered by operator insolvency, the Commission should define more precisely the risks involved so that insurance companies can write the necessary policies. In parallel, the creation of national or regional funds financed by the financial penalties applicable for failure to comply with the directives listed in Annex I would be appropriate. In this way, the penalties would fulfil their intended aim of repairing environmental damage.

- Geographical indications for agricultural products

Main points of the EESC opinion: In a document* adopted on 17 July without any dissenting votes, the Committee supports the tightening-up of PDO and PGI systems as an effective way of protecting the rights of the consumer and meeting the consumer's legitimate wish for safe, high-quality food. The Committee considers that action must be taken to stamp out fraudulent use of a designation, and calls on the Commission and Council to tighten up monitoring provisions. The Committee warns against "globalisation" without proper rules to protect quality products. The Committee therefore calls on the Commission to devise an aggressive strategy to improve protection of PDO and PGI under the TRIPS agreements. The Committee considers that Annex II of Regulation 2081/92 could easily be extended to other agricultural products.

The Committee supports the amendments proposed by the Commission as a way of protecting EU designations at world level. The Committee thinks that a policy of reciprocity is a logical step, with the possibility of allowing third-country products to be registered on the Community market if this means equal protection for EU products in those countries.

*Full title of opinion: Protection of geographical indications for agricultural products. The rapporteur was Mr de las Heras Cabañas (Various Interests, Spain).

- Direct company taxation: EESC stresses tax code transparency

The Committee's July plenary session saw adoption of an own-initiative opinion on Direct company taxation, with 127 votes in favour, none against and a single abstention*.

The EESC supports the European Commission's proposals aimed at speeding up measures to avoid double taxation, particularly the proposal to set up a Joint EU Forum on transfer pricing. The EESC approves the aim of having an internal market free from tax barriers. These common principles should also encourage simplification, competitiveness and job creation. The EESC feels it is essential to create tax code transparency in the EU prior to establishing conditions for fair competition. With this in mind, the fourth option proposed by the Commission, that of a harmonised basis of assessment, is the only option to meet this aim. The EESC thinks the process for having a harmonised tax base should be tried by companies that have opted for a European statute, on the understanding that they will have no tax privileges compared with other companies. To help them, a consolidated tax base could be proposed in accordance with the European Commission's second option, which would simplify matters for companies with transnational activities.

*Rapporteur: Mr Malosse (Employers, France)

Co-rapporteur: Mrs Sánchez Miguel (Workers, Spain)

- New strategy for health and safety at work: Where is the action plan on implementation of the strategy?

Main points of the Committee's opinion*: Safety and health at work now constitutes one of the European Union's most concentrated and most important social policy sectors. The main problems in occupational health and safety are addressed here; what is clearly missing is an action plan on implementation of the strategy. Specifically, the Committee thinks that the main problem with the VDU-Directive is in its implementation in practice. The Committee agrees with the Commission that promoting well-being at work is a matter of mainstreaming. The Commission should make a bigger effort with respect to measures to adjust the working environment to (re)integrate disabled people in the labour market. Meanwhile, the Committee is somewhat disappointed about the relative lack of attention paid to the small and medium-sized enterprises. As regards the Bilbao Agency, the Committee would like to support the Commission's idea to set up a "risk observatory". The Committee also strongly recommends that the Commission ensures that its own public procurement policy contain a health and safety paragraph.

*A new strategy for health and safety at work, rapporteur: Mr Etty (Workers, Netherlands)

- Family reunification

New opinion on the Right to family reunification; main points: The Commission's text shows considerable signs of some of the difficulties that emerged in two years of debate in the Council among the Member States. The Committee, for its part, is opposed to these important proposed changes to the 1999 text. Moreover, the EESC points out that the Laeken European Council, and previously the Tampere European Council, confirmed that the setting of common rules on family reunification is an important aspect of a true common immigration policy.

The European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights is a reference point and a source of guidance for European and national legislation. The Committee hopes that a solution to this issue will contribute to the process of social integration, which must accompany the migratory flows now affecting all the states of the European Union. The rapporteur was Mr Mengozzi, an Italian member of the Committee's Various Interests Group.

- Guidelines for trans-European energy networks

Main points of the EESC's opinion (title as above): The Committee broadly welcomes the proposal for a series of guidelines for trans-European energy networks. Member States and the Community have a duty to safeguard a stable regulatory framework, which facilitates cost-effective line construction and thus also provides investment incentives. The Member States and the Community can and should establish a favourable investment climate. For that to happen, companies need a reliable regulatory framework for investment decisions that reflects the specific economic conditions on the market in which they operate. Rapporteur: Mr von Schwerin (Workers - Germany)

- The following opinions were also adopted in the course of the session

European contract law

Rapporteur: Mr Reutureau (Workers - France)

Strategy for the Internal Market (2002)

Rapporteur: Mr Walker (Employers - UK)

Participation rules RTD/Euratom

Rapporteur-general: Mr Malosse (Employers - France)

Action programme for customs in the Community (Customs 2007)

Rapporteur: Mr Simpson (Varoius Interests - UK)

Research requirements for the security and safety of energy supplies

Rapporteur: Mr Wolf (Various Interests - Germany)

Compensation and assistance to air passengers in the event of denied boarding

Rapporteur: Mr Green (Employers - Germany)

Safety of third countries' aircraft using Community airports

Rapporteur: Mr Santillan Cabeza (Workers - Spain)

Community financial assistance to improve the environmental performance of the freight transport system (Marco Polo)

Rapporteur: Mr Levaux (Employers - France)

Control of high activity sealed radioactive sources

Rapporteur: Mr Wolf (Various Interests - Germany)

Export and import of dangerous chemicals

Rapporteur: Mr Sklavounos (Various Interests - Greece)

Crossborder movements of GMOs

Rapporteur: Mr Espuny Moyano (Employers - Spain)

Seed of oil and fibre plants

Rapporteur: Mr Sabin (Various Interests - France)

Improving the operation of taxation systems in the internal market (Fiscalis 2007)

Rapporteur: Mr Bento Gonçalves (Various Interests - Portugal)

Special VAT scheme for travel agents

Rapporteur: Mr Walker (Employers - UK)

SOCRATES (amendments)

Rapporteur: Mr Bernabei (Employers - Italy)

Social agenda

Rapporteur: Mr Bloch-Laine (Various Interests - France)

Co-rapporteur: Mr Koryfidis (Workers - Greece)

Health and safety self-employed persons

Rapporteur: Mrs Schweng (Employers - Austria)

State aid for employment

Rapporteur-general: Mr Zöhrer (Workers - Austria)

Romania on the road to accession

Rapporteur: Mr Bedossa (Various Interests - France)

Slovenia on the road to accession

Rapporteur: Mr Confalonieri (Various Interests - Italy)

Provisions relating to committees which assist the Commission

Rapporteur-general: Mr Hernández Bataller (Various Interests - Spain)

Draft rules of procedure of the EESC

Rapporteur-general: Mr de Paul de Barchifontaine (Various Interests - Belgium)

Co-rapporteur: Mr Little (Employers - UK)

Journalists interested in attending the session or in finding out more about the role and activities of the European ESC are asked to contact Nick Foster, press officer, on tel. 32 2 546 9207, e-mail: press@eesc.europa.eu


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