Macroeconomic dialogue with the social partners, 6 November 2017

The Council presidency, the European Central Bank and the European Commission met with European social partners on 6 November 2017 to discuss the macroeconomic outlook and the further development of the EU’s economic and monetary union(EMU).

In his opening statement, Toomas Tõniste, minister for finance of Estonia and president of the Council said: “Today’s discussion with the social partners was constructive and fruitful. The dialogue is valuable, in particular in the light of the current economic outlook which is positive but at the same time poses challenges, such as continued high levels of youth unemployment. Our continued cooperation is necessary to reach our common goal: a strong European financial architecture that fosters economic growth.”

Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Economic activity in the EU and the euro area is surpassing expectations. But we still have persistent economic and social divergences and the recovery is not felt equally by all European citizens. We are working towards sustainable and inclusive growth and to restart real convergence, where the social partners have an important role to play.”

European Trade Union Confederation  (ETUC) general secretary Luca Visentini commented: “We welcome tentative improvements in employment rates but there is still nevertheless not enough work to go around, as shown by the significant slack in labour markets. Strong measures are still needed to boost a recovery which is rich in terms of quality job creation. The role of the macroeconomic dialogue is to consider the recent positive developments in the EU/EMU economic situation, but at the same time to take into account the lack of improvement in terms of full-time equivalent employment rates and labour market participation. More equality and social rebalancing have to be included in the ‘Deepening the EMU’ package to be published in December, and new tools for investment and social justice have to be foreseen in the European Semester and economic governance.”

Speaking on behalf of the Confederation of European Business, BusinessEurope, director general Markus J. Beyrer commented: “Businesses across the EU are benefiting from a strengthening EU economy. Our latest forecast for EU growth of 2.3% in 2017 is 0.4 percentage points higher than we expected in the spring, with 2.1% growth expected in 2018. However, with the recovery supported by temporary factors, further reforms at both national and EU level are required to raise long-term growth.”

For the CEEP, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services, general secretary Valeria Ronzitti said: “The European economy needs a strong impetus. After years of crisis we finally see positive signs of stabilisation for growth and on the employment front. However, this is not enough as we need to reinforce the architecture of the economic and monetary union. The first priority remains the banking union, the flagship initiative to deepen the EMU for which we call for swift adoption by the co-legislators. Then we need to ensure that our institutions are ready to enable upward convergence and structural reforms that are both economically and socially fair. The European Semester, empowered by the pillar of social rights, and a real dedication to investment in social infrastructures are the main tools to accomplish our common objectives.”

Speaking on behalf of Europe’s SMEs, European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises  (UEAPME) secretary general Veronique Willems agreed with the need for a further deepening of the monetary union and asked “for a better involvement of social partners in the governance process to create ownership of reforms”. On fiscal rules she asks “for a quality approach, which supports structural reforms and investment in future growth and not only focusing on quantitative data” . Finally, on a financial stabilisation function, Ms Willems doubts “that such a project will get the political support before reaching more convergence between member states” and insisted “that such an instrument has to be conditional on the implementation of jointly agreed reforms in order to avoid moral hazard”.

For the future Bulgarian presidency (January to June 2018), minister for finance Vladislav Goranov remarked: “The European economy has continued its recovery which is expected to continue at a largely steady pace in the next year. However, policy uncertainty remains high and some imbalances and vulnerabilities persist. Therefore, more ambitious implementation of structural reforms is needed to complement the impact of fiscal initiatives in order to ensure that growth strengthens in a sustainable and inclusive way. The benign economic and political circumstances provide a favourable window of opportunity to take steps necessary for deepening and completing the economic and monetary union. All EU member states and beyond will benefit from a reformed and more stable euro area that can endure crises and that generates healthy economic growth.”

For the future Austrian presidency (July to December 2018), minister for finance Hans Jörg Schelling remarked: “The macroeconomic dialogue is an important forum for exchanging views between those responsible for monetary, fiscal and wage policies with the aim of fostering a common understanding of current challenges and adequate policy reactions – not least for laying the ground for high growth and employment. As conditions are favourable right now, we have to push our economies towards more resilient and forward-looking structures via bold structural reforms and sustainable public finance. That would drive convergence and automatically feed into a better-functioning EMU. Against this background, implementing the agreed rules and switching from cleaning up to an ambitious ‘reform mode’ is essential. For this, we do not need a fiscal capacity at European level. For this, we need political commitment and adequate incentives to reform.”

The next macroeconomic dialogue will be organised under the Bulgarian presidency.

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First e-signing of an EU legislative act

The first electronic signing of an EU legislative act took place on Wednesday 25 October in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. EP President Antonio Tajani  and Matti Maasikas, of the Estonian Presidency of the Council, signed electronically the legally-binding texts of the revised regulation on “Security of gas supply”, paving the way for its entry into force. 

This ceremony marks the first public step at the EU level of the e-signing process. It shows that the EU institutions are working together to make digital transformation a reality and to offer efficient and secure digital solutions in the public sphere.

It demonstrates the EU’s commitment to implementing “eIDAS”, the EU-wide regulation which provides for a predictable regulatory environment to enable secure and seamless electronic interactions between businesses, citizens and public authorities.

“I am happy that today we can sign such an important Regulation electronically. Estonia is at the forefront of the digitalization process. We should use the momentum of the Estonian Presidency to promote more digital solutions. The European Parliament in its report on e-government in May this year asked the EU institutions to set an example in the area of e-government. Today we are acting on our own call. This signature is a demonstration on how digital solutions can work in practice.” 

EP President Antonio Tajani

“I am convinced that this is the way we will soon sign all our legal acts, simply because it makes sense. E-signature saves paper, time and money.”

Matti Maasikas, Estonian Presidency of the Council

The Estonian presidency of the Council, the General Secretariat of the Council and the European Parliament worked together to prepare the pilot solution for the electronic signature of this legislative act. Parliament and the Council Secretariat will continue work on developing the process. In Europe, a qualified e-signature has the same legal validity as a handwritten signature in conducting business, executing procedures or expressing a commitment.

Council adopts three sets of rules to make travelling by sea safer

The Council today reinforced EU passenger ship safety by adopting three directives which revise  passenger ship safety rules and standards, digitalise the registration of ship passengers and create a clear framework for the inspection of ro-ro ferries and high-speed passenger craft. An informal agreement with the European Parliament on these proposals was reached in June this year. 

“These new rules will improve the safety of people travelling on our seas. But they will also simplify and speed up procedures for shipping companies, including through digitalisation, and this is good news for businesses and our economy as a whole,” said Kadri Simson, the Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure. “I would like to thank the Maltese presidency and the European Parliament for all their work on these files.” 

The ‘general’ directive on passenger ship safety rules and standards contains the most extensive rules on passenger ship safety in the EU, applicable to vessels travelling on domestic routes. The text sets out detailed technical requirements for ships with regard to areas such as construction, stability and fire protection. 

The directive on the registration of persons on board passenger ships requires shipping companies to digitalise the registration of ship passengers, so that the exact number of passengers and other information will be immediately available for search and rescue services in the event of an accident. 

The third directive – a revised inspection regime for ro-ro ferries and high-speed passenger craft – eliminates overlaps and closes regulatory gaps arising from the application by member states of different inspection regimes for these vessels. 

The three directives are part of a comprehensive review of passenger ship safety which aims to improve the safety of sea travel while simplifying the current rules and cutting administrative costs. 

Today’s final vote by the Council concludes the procedure at first reading for all three dossiers. The European Parliament voted on 4 October 2017. The legal acts will be signed by both institutions in November and published in the EU Official Journal a few weeks later. They will enter into force 20 days after publication, and member states will then have two years to incorporate the new rules into their national law.

Remarks by President Donald Tusk following the tripartite social summit

I cannot start our conference today without first paying tribute to the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in a car bomb in Malta on Monday. I am convinced that the Maltese authorities will do everything in their power to investigate and bring to light all the circumstances of this hideous crime. In this extraordinary moment, we remember all the journalists who have lost their lives realising their mission. I have been a journalist myself for many years and this is why I know what you feel today. Let us observe a minute’s silence for Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Turning to our work today. Yet again, our Tripartite Social Summit took place in the context of positive economic news. The European economy has finally woken up. GDP growth in the European Union is above 2 per cent, unemployment has fallen to below 8 per cent. The euro area is recording its fastest growth rate since 2011. In fact, the European recovery is no longer a recovery but a European economic expansion. In short, the economic success story of 2017.

It is our common task now to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared as widely as possible. And this is why in our meeting today we discussed, in very concrete terms, how the social partners can be better involved in national policy-making. I remain convinced that only by taking the views of social partners into account can we make real progress. This is especially important in today’s digital age, where citizens, young and old, need to be equipped with the right skills to prosper. This is what I discussed not only with the social partners today but also with the European leaders at the Digital Summit in Tallinn. And at the meeting of the European Council tomorrow, the spirit of Tallinn will drive our political decisions.

The leaders will also discuss migration. As you all know, the Italian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Gentiloni has effectively begun stemming the high flows on the Central Mediterranean we have witnessed since 2014. Thanks to Italy, the numbers of irregular migrants and deaths at sea are finally coming down. But we cannot only remain grateful to Italy. The European Union must now step up its efforts to help. Our Member States should be ready to commit more money to the Trust Fund for Africa. And the European Commission, which is managing this Fund, should make sure that the money is well targeted on stemming irregular migration. I will invite a frank and serious debate among the leaders, so that we sort out this problem once and for all.

On Friday, the European Council will be meeting at 27 to discuss Brexit. I have worked for a balanced message to come out of this meeting. There is clearly not the “sufficient progress” that we had hoped for. So we cannot yet proceed to the second phase of negotiations. However, while progress is not sufficient, there is promising progress, especially following the speech by Prime Minister May in Florence. I will therefore recommend the EU27 to begin internal preparations for talks on the transition and the future relationship.

Last night, I circulated to EU leaders a new agenda to guide the work of the European Union up to June 2019. This is the result of a full round of one-to-one consultations with leaders since our meeting in Tallinn a few weeks ago. From all quarters, there is now a new willingness to energise and enrich our work, draw on new ideas, maintain our unity and increase the dynamism of the EU. I will be calling on leaders to work together according to a strict timetable on the issues we have identified as the most pressing, from migration to EMU reform, where we are deadlocked and where the Gordian knot needs to be cut.

Unity is the objective of the Leaders’ Agenda. Because it is my firm belief that unity is a value in itself and that ambition should not be an excuse for division. So the starting point will always be EU27 or, where appropriate, EU28. However, unity cannot be a synonym for stagnation either.

The social dimension will be an important part of this new agenda. And already in a month from now, at the Göteborg Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, leaders will have the opportunity to discuss social issues. Today’s summit with the social partners was an excellent beginning in this regard. Thank you.