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10th Dec 2018

Commission tasks itself with 23 initiatives for 2016

The European Commission presented on Tuesday (27 October) its Work Programme for 2016, with an emphasis on migration, economy and social issues, and energy and sustainability.

In a list of 23 key initiatives, the Commission announced an overhaul of the Dublin asylum system and the creation of a European border and coast guard.

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Other measures include the creation of a pillar of social rights, a circular economy package, a corporate tax package, a European bank deposit insurance and a new skills agenda to adapt the workforce to the digital economy.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans presented the work programme to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, saying that it is "part of a bigger answer we need to give to the challenges" facing Europe.

"Action is highly needed," he said, adding that the EU is faced with "one if the few moments when the project itself is being challenged in an existential way".

"It's like a perfect storm," he said, citing the economic, refugee and climate crisis as well as international threats. "The European project should be an answer to that."

'Full responsibility'

The work programme, based on the ten priorities set by Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for his 5-year mandate, was first outlined by Juncker in September and finalised after talks with the Parliament and the Council of the EU.

"We have convinced other institutions that this Commission is working differently, focusing on the main issues, putting on the table and in the work programme things we think we can actually do in the year ahead," Timmermans told press.

"Some initiatives are the continuation of what we have been doing," he said. Legislative proposals will be put forward for long-term projects like energy union, the single market strategy or the digital single market.

To the MEPs the commissioner said that although the Commission "takes full responsibility of the choice it makes", it will not be able to "deliver results without sufficient ownership of the co-legislators"

Dublin overhaul

On migration, which Timmermans said is the main priority, the Commission intends to open two processes that are sure to be fiercely debated with member states and MEPs.

The first is "proposals for a European Border and Coast Guard, building on a significant strengthening of Frontex". Some member states have so far been reluctant to accept this new step in the sharing of national competences and sovereignty.

The second process is the "overhaul [of] our common asylum system to correct the gaps and weaknesses exposed in the Dublin system and to strengthen the role of the European Asylum Support Office".

"To meet Europe's future demographic and labour market needs", the Commission will also present "a renewed approach on legal migration, including measures to improve the Blue Card Directive."

'Social progress'

A second priority singled out by Timmermans is job creation and social protection.

2016 should be "the year of real social progress," he told MEPs.

A European pillar of social rights will be proposed, with the aim of "modernising and addressing the gaps in existing social policy legislation … and identifying social benchmarks, notably as concerns the flexicurity concept, built on best practices in the member states."

To help create jobs, the Commission wants to push forward the EU digital single market and promises "€250 billion of additional growth in Europe" before the end of its mandate in 2019.

New plans on copyright will come in December, followed next year by proposals on copyright, geo-blocking, free flow of data, the cloud, and VAT for electronic commerce.

On climate and environment, the EU executive says that "implementation of the 2030 energy and climate package will be a key priority".

The much vaunted circular economy package should start to be implemented next year to "create a single market for the re-use of materials and resources, supporting the move away from a linear economy."

"I don't think it is right to say that the Commission is using better regulation to backpedal on its ambitions on environment or the social dimension," Timmermans told reporters when asked about regular criticism towards the Commission's priorities.

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