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3rd Dec 2022

EU commission to target growth with new laws in 2012

The European Commission's to-do list for 2012 is dominated by measures to restore economic growth. But the current dispute over a proposed financial transaction tax shows that EU countries might not play ball.

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso unveiled his work programme for next year at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday (15 November), calling it a "blueprint for stability and growth."

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  • Barroso: 'In the face of difficulties in states it's not so popular to speak about this [environmental protection]' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Out of the list of 129 separate projects for new EU laws and assorted non-binding strategy papers and recommendations, he highlighted the publication of a commission Annual Growth Strategy; measures to put an end to tax havens and a "quick reaction mechanism" against VAT fraud; as well as laws to end fiddles in the disbursement of EU funds.

He also pointed to initiatives aimed at the single market, including new legal protection for cross-border investors; a law making it easier for people to transfer pensions when moving jobs; EU-wide licensing for digital music sales; a regime for electronic signatures of legal documents; a system for helping young people to look for work abroad; and full liberalisation of the railway sector.

According to commission papers, the tax-haven document, due in autumn 2012, will not be legally binding. But it will aim to "develop a reinforced strategy to protect the EU against the challenges of unco-operative jurisdictions outside the EU."

The executive will propose minimum but "substantive" EU-wide criminal penalties for people who fiddle EU funds or counterfeit the euro.

The digital music bill, due in spring 2012, will cover "a general level of governance and transparency to apply to all [royalties] collecting societies and ... specific rules aimed at licensing of online music."

People aged between 13 and 30 who reside in the EU are to be given a new Youth on the Move card, guaranteeing benefits such as cheaper travel and accommodation when they switch countries.

Barroso and his commissioner for administrative affairs, Maros Sefcovic, told MEPs on Tuesday that quick implementation of the proposals by EU countries will be key to restoring confidence in the union's ability to handle the financial crisis.

Sefcovic said the current dispute between the UK and Germany over London's threat to veto a tax on financial transactions exemplifies the problem.

"What we are looking for is the fair contribution of the financial industry back to society. If we look at how much society helped the sector in terms of of credit guarantees - the governments had to offer €4.6 trillion - should we tax labour, should we tax consumption, should we again transfer the burden to citizens? We in the commission don't think so," he said.

Barroso added the crisis should not be used to shirk responsibility on environmental protection. "I know that now in the face of difficulties in states it's not so popular to speak about this," he noted.

The basket of environmental actions for 2012 includes: a law in autumn limiting CO2 emissions form cars and vans; a bill in summer on pan-EU safety standards for nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster; a law in late 2012 on protecting freshwater resources; and two bills to prevent outbreaks of animal and plant diseases such as bird flu or e.coli.

Amid the current debate on deeper EU integration, the to-do list also contains potentially controversial steps in the area of justice and home affairs.

EU countries will next year be asked to create a pan-EU "framework" for freezing the funds of people involved in terrorist activity; build a joint electronic register to screen financial transactions for terrorist groups on the model of the US Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme; set up a European Criminal Records Information System for monitoring of non-EU citizens with criminal backgrounds who enter the union; harmonise legal penalties for drugs traffickers and awards of financial compensation for victims of crime.

Two novel projects stand out in the field of foreign relations and EU elections.

The commission is to propose a binding code on exports of "goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or certain cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" to non-EU countries.

It will also aim "to create a European legal status for political parties at European level" and rules governing their funding in a bid to help MEPs campaign for election across the European Union and to raise the dismal voter turnout seen in 2009.

France threatens Switzerland on tax evasion

French leader Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to make Switzerland into an international pariah unless it stops helping EU tax payers hide money. But EU countries have a poor track record of cracking down on high-level cheats.

EU and US heading towards trade war over airplane emissions

The US is heading towards a trade war with the EU over greenhouse gas charges for airlines flying into Europe, after the House of Representatives rejected the obligation for American carriers to comply with EU law.

Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Ukraine and a looming economic recession is set to dominate the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, which takes over at the start of next year. Sweden's ambassador to the EU, Lars Danielsson, laid out some of its priorities.

French official accused of conflict over EU fish lobby job

A senior French official is being accused of conflicts of interest for spearheading a leading role in Europeche, a fishing-industry lobby group based in Brussels. The hire comes as the EU Commission threatens a lawsuit against France over fishing.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

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