European Commission 2016 plan: lots for us to do, but a sting in the tail for Cameron
The European Commission publishes an annual plan (less pageant than a UK government’s Queen’s speech, and less focused on legislation) and the 2016 plan came out this week. Apart from the over-dramatic title (‘No time for business as usual’) there is some good, some bad, and a lot to argue about in the plan.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans spun the plan as a positive agenda for change that progressives could welcome, saying:
“Over the coming year we will propose additional measures to manage the refugee crisis, boost jobs and growth and strengthen the single market, deepen the Economic and Monetary Union, ensure tax fairness, high social standards and promote economic, social and environmental sustainability. This is no time for business as usual: citizens will judge the EU on whether it delivers results on the major challenges facing our societies today.”
However, new ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini gave a more cautious assessment, saying:
“2016 is the year President Junker has to deliver on his promise for a triple A social Europe. The years of crisis and cuts have been very damaging for working families. We will negotiate with the European institutions and employers to get the best possible deal for working people from this Work Programme. It is far from clear what is concretely proposed, but some of the commitments are at least encouraging.”
On the bad side, there is nothing on reversing austerity, on the youth guarantee and precarious work, and as well as annexes listing new initiatives, there are also annexes listing the areas where the Commission is stopping work, and there’s a separate annexe on the infamously deregulatory REFIT agenda (Hugh has already set out our concerns from a health and safety perspective) and clearly some eurosceptics would like the Commission’s agenda to be about what it won’t do or will stop doing. Vice President Timmermans is in charge of the REFIT agenda, so we are unconvinced by his positive spin on the plan as a whole. And the work plan stresses the work being done to negotiate the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, which the TUC opposes.
But the new initiatives promised in the plan do contain several where we’d like to see progress made, for instance a new skills agenda, new provisions for working parents to improve work-life balance and women’s participation in the labour market, and action on corporate tax based on the principle of payment where profits are made.
There is also the promise of a ‘new social pillar’ for economic and monetary union. That was a key pledge when Jean-Claude Juncker became Commission President last year, and the ETUC will be pressing for a greater social dimension to balance the economic neo-liberalism of the Commission, as well as specific measures to close loopholes in labour market regulation (exactly the sort of loopholes that Cameron wants to preserve for all time with his planned moratorium on social measures!)
As with the promise of more action on both migration into the EU (including asylum) and on labour mobility (where people move around Europe), the devil will definitely be in the detail. David Cameron would like the labour mobility package to restrict rights to benefit entitlement for people coming to the UK from Eastern and Southern Europe.
However, in the sole reference to the UK’s EU renegotiation plans, the Commission added a warning sting in the tail. In the penultimate paragraph of the Commission plan for 2016, it promises “a fair deal for the UK” but then makes that conditional by adding “within a European Union committed to the four freedoms of the single market” (which of course includes the free movement of labour) “and the values which all 28 Member States share” (emphasising the need for unanimity over any deal Cameron seeks.)