EU commission sets out kitchen sink agenda
By Eric Maurice
The European Commission will focus on implementing existing laws rather than new proposals next year, according to its 2017 work programme, out on Tuesday (25 October).
The 21 new initiatives outlined in the document are mainly about economic and social issues, the single market, migration, defence, and external policy.
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The commission also pledged to continue reform of EU law-making.
The programme is down from 23 initiatives in 2015 and 2016 each to 21 next year "reflecting the priority focus this year on agreeing and implementing the proposals already on the table from previous years," it said in statement.
"It's a focused agenda, centred on the big things," the commission's first vice-president Frans Timmermans told MEPs in Strasbourg.
The context is different compared to previous years, with the commission under pressure due to Brexit, its failed asylum seeker relocation plan, and its failed Canada trade deal.
Calls by some EU leaders in Bratislava last month to take powers back from Brussels in response to Brexit have also weakened Timmermans’ hand.
Commissioners have often complained in recent months that their proposals were not adopted or implemented quickly enough.
"I'd say let's just get on with it together and concentrate on 10 priorities and implementing what we've decided before," Timmermans told journalists, referring to the priorities set by the commission at the start of its mandate in 2014.
He called on the European Parliament and EU Council, where member states sit, "to come to swift agreement on many existing proposals."
He said that the 2017 programme was about "protecting, empowering and defending Europeans across the continent," and that the commission had listened to people's concerns about "jobs, inequality in a still nascent economic recovery that has yet to deliver for all."
The commission promises to "deliver on the European agenda on migration", "implement the energy union strategy with work on low-emission vehicles and mobility" and "carry out a mid-term review of the digital single market".
It says it will also implement the single market strategy, a space strategy for Europe, a capital markets union plan, and make proposals for "fairer taxation of companies".
Among the new projects focused on economic and social challenges facing the EU, the commission aims to launch a youth initiative and present a so-called European "pillar" of social rights - a new set of EU law.
The youth initiative would include a European solidarity corps - as was announced by the commission's president Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the Union speech in September - as well as measures to help young people doing apprenticeships.
The idea of a social pillar was in last year's programme and was put to public consultation.
The commission now wants to set it up, with measures on work-life balance or access to social protection.
While doubts are growing about the EU's trade policy, amid oppositions to TTIP, the EU-US free-trade deal, and amid Wallonia's blocking of the signature of Ceta, the EU-Canada deal, the commission says it will continue its "trade for all strategy".
It says it wants "a reasonable and balanced" deal with the US, to complete talks with Japan, and to open new ones with Australia, Chile and New Zealand.
In line with the recent EU summit, it also says it will reinforce the EU's trade defence instruments.
Along the 21 initiatives the commission presented 18 points that aimed at improving existing laws. They include revisions of directives on combined transport, excise duty on alcohol, and road infrastructure safety.
The commission also wants to reform the so-called delegated and implementing acts, the secondary EU legislation that has often come under attack for its lack of transparency.