Open Europe Blog

Further to our previous post on the Government’s Balance of Competences report on free movement, below we pick out some of the key points from the other reports published today:

The report on the services stated that:

“Incomplete and ineffective implementation of existing services legislation has hindered the development of the free movement of services, but full implementation of existing legislation within the current level of EU competence may have implications for Member States’ ability to make decisions in this area.”

The report also echoes Open Europe’s recommendation that if further liberalisation cannot be achieved at the EU28 level, a group of like-minded member states should push ahead using the so-called ‘enchanced co-operation’ mechanism.

“There is scope to go further on services liberalisation, extending the application of the country of origin principle, either within specific sectors or across the piece, and either at EU-level or within a smaller group of Member States through enhanced co-operation. Further liberalisation could also be achieved through a sectoral approach, focusing firstly on those sectors of greatest economic importance.”

The report on financial services noted the risks to non-euro member states from deeper eurozone integration – something Open Europe warned about back in December 2011 in our Continental Shift report:

“There were significant concerns that the advent of the banking union could have an unfair or damaging effect on Member States outside the euro area [such as] EU-wide regulation that is appropriate for the euro area but is not suitable for all Member States; the practice of caucusing and the development of a common euro area position on financial services issues which are at odds with a single market that is open internationally, dynamic, innovative and globally competitive; the fragmentation of the Single Market with barriers erected between its euro area and non-euro area constituents; the undermining of economic benefits associated with liberalised capital markets; and the marginalisation of non-euro area interests.”

The report warned that:

“The risk of discrimination against non-euro area Member States has already crystallised with the ECB location policy that euro-denominated financial instruments should be cleared only by a clearing house physically located in a euro area Member State.”

And recommended that:

“The creation of the banking union underlines the fact that the EU has become so large and diverse that ‘variable geometry’ is necessary.”

The report on the EU budget noted that:

“The value of expenditure in the budget, where in particular… on research and innovation, was seen as a priority for a greater share of the budget, although views were also heard in support of structural and cohesion funds, particularly in poorer Member States. The value for money of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was questioned by a large proportion of respondents, with particular concerns about the value of Pillar One of the CAP.”

The report on cohesion (regional) policy picked up on many of the points raised by Open Europe’s seminal ‘Off Target’ report – which recommended limiting the structural funds to less developed member states – arguing that:

“support for the general principles of cohesion policy and the need to provide support particularly for poorer Member States, was shared by many respondents… The evidence as a whole is inconclusive but where significant positive impacts have been identified, they tend to have been in the poorer regions or Member States.”

But adding that:

“A key question is whether structural funds should be used in richer regions of Member States, given the alternative sources of funding available, the more limited additionality and the goal of reducing disparities. This was sometimes expressed in terms of concerns about paying money into the EU only to get it back with conditions attached. Many respondents recognised that the UK might be better off financially if it did not contribute to cohesion policy in rich Member States or regions.”

“Finally, it is important that funds available for cohesion policy are well managed. However, the complexity of rules and the perceived burdens of applying for, reporting on and auditing projects are potential barriers to the effectiveness of the structural and cohesion funds.”

The report on agriculture also picked up on Open Europe’s criticisms of the CAP, noting that:

“respondents put forward evidence that, notwithstanding the reforms, the CAP’s objectives remained unclear and that the criteria for allocation of funding were irrational and disconnected from what the policy should be aiming to achieve. The majority of respondents argued that the CAP remains misdirected, cumbersome, costly and bureaucratic.”

“There was mixed evidence on the case law of the ECJ; while some considered that the ECJ has simply upheld fundamental rights, others considered that some of its judgments have undermined national sovereignty and the EU’s legislative institutions… in comparison to other human rights protections in domestic law, fundamental rights can have a wider scope and can result in the disapplication of primary legislation. Therefore, with an increasing domestic awareness of EU fundamental rights, the evidence suggests that their impact will increase.”

Compared to the first two stages of the BoC which were rather underwhelming, this third tranche of reports has at least been more explicit in identifying some of the most pressing challenges that need to be addressed while – for the most part – steering clear of setting out solutions.

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