Category Archives: Blog

Summer recess – what’s next?

As EU leaders agreed on a new proposal for the new Multiannual Financial Framework and the Recovery Plan on 21 July, the European Parliament was given good food for thought over its summer recess. However, the new long-term budget is not the only priority on the EU agenda. The Commission is already chewing on a series of proposals to be expected later this year and in 2021. In fact, now is the moment to deliver input on some key, planned legislative proposals, as the Commission launched a series of public consultations that are open until after summer. Let’s have a look what is next after the 2020 summer recess.

Transport: smarter and greener

The green and digital transition as the twin priorities of the Von der Leyen Commission are also reflected in the upcoming transport initiatives. To deliver the ambitious European Green Deal climate neutrality objective, the mobility sector needs a 90% emission reduction by 2050. The Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility, expected towards the end of the year, will be the overarching strategy for the delivery of the twin transitions in this area. Stakeholders can contribute to the public consultation until 23 September.

Expectedly, the strategy will include the integration of alternative fuels, in line with the recently published hydrogen strategy that already outlines a pathway for the deployment until 2050 in all modes. The strategy is also complemented by the upcoming FuelEU initiatives for the maritime and aviation sector. The FuelEU Maritime initiative, aimed at boosing alternative fuels in shipping specifically, is open for feedback until 10 September. The public consultation on ReFuelEU Aviation, initially planned for the first quarter of 2020, is still to be expected ahead of the Commission proposal this year.

Sustainability: a bigger role for tax

Taxation will become a more important instrument for the Commission to align consumer choices and business investments with its climate targets. On 23 July, public consultations on both the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive and the creation of a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism were launched. Having been unchanged since its adoption in 2003, the Energy Taxation Directive will be subject to a thorough review. The exact changes are yet to be determined based on the consultation outcome, however, what is clear is that it will include a correction of the minimum taxation rates for electricity, gas, and coal, as well as a tax exemption reduction for fossil fuels. The proposal, which is part of the European Green Deal, is scheduled for June 2021. The consultation is open for feedback until 14 October.

In addition, the Commission proposes a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism to prevent ‘carbon leakage’. This ‘CO2-tax’ internalizes emissions in the price of a product, so production does not shift to countries with lower climate ambitions. The exact instrument is still to be determined, and could take the form of an EU-wide import tax or an extension of the Emmission Trading System (ETS). The latter has already seen critical responses, as this may not be in line with WTO rules. The Commission plans to scrutinize the issue and present a proposal later this year. The revenues would directly contribute to the ‘own resources’ of the EU budget for the next seven years that would help finance the new €750 billion recovery plan. Stakeholders can deliver their contribution to the plan until 28 October.

Digital: fit for the COVID-19 reality

Following its pledge to make Europe ‘fit for the digital age’, the Digital Education Action Plan and the Digital Services Act are also high on the Commission’s agenda. The Digital Education Action Plan, due to be published in September this year, will be part of the Next Generation EU program. The COVID-19 crisis has seen schools and universities close their doors and increasingly turn to remote, digital teaching. The Action Plan aims to promote high-quality and inclusive education and training in the post-COVID digital reality. Feedback on the proposal can be delivered until 4 September.

Part of the Next Generation EU financing is the digital tax element of the Digital Services Act, to be presented by the end of 2020. The Digital Services Act is an attempt to regulate online platforms when it comes to illegal goods, product safety, political advertising and offensive content. The initiative may face intense debates before its approval, as previous attempts to implement an EU-wide Digital Taxation mechanism have so far been unsuccessful. The consultation remains open until 8 September.

Next steps

The Commission’s proposals on the above initiatives are expected before the end of 2020, except for the Energy Taxation Directive which is due in June next year. From the above-mentioned public consultations, it is evident that the European Commission is gearing up for a busy end-of-year period. Early (proactive) action is desirable for stakeholders that aim to represent their interests on these files, which will also be closely examined by the European Parliament and Council of the EU in 2021 (and later).

Want to know more about the upcoming initiatives, COVID-19, or other files that might affect your business? Please contact Dr2 Consultants to see what we can do for you.

The novelties of the new EU budget

On Tuesday, after almost five days of negotiations, the 27 Member States of the EU reached an agreement on a €1,074 trillion Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), as well as a €750 billion Recovery Fund (Next Generation EU, or ‘NGEU’) for the period of 2021-2027.

The MFF sets out the EU budget for the coming seven years, setting funding priorities and dividing money amongst the different instruments. The long-term budget will, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, be accompanied by the so-called Recovery Fund called ‘Next Generation EU’. The NGEU will in part add additional funds to the existing European funding instruments, but also provide direct loans and grants to those Member States hardest hit by the pandemic.

Member States must leave behind their reservations on taxes and common debts

As was the case in previous EU budgets, Member States contribute a percentage of their gross national income (GNI) to the MFF. The funding of NGEU will, however, be unprecedented in the history of the EU, as it will be funded by the Union as a whole assuming loans on the capital markets. The EU-27 will borrow, through the European Commission, money from the capital markets. This means low interest rates, as all 27 Member States guarantee the loan.

Additionally, the loans will be repaid in part by raising the ‘own resources’ of the EU. These own resources will range from income from an EU-wide plastics tax to the introduction of a digital or financial transaction tax, a novelty in European tax policy where Member States traditionally firmly hold the reins.

Digital high on the agenda, or not?

The digital transition will remain one of the focal points of the EU budget. As such, important funding instruments such as Horizon Europe and Digital Europe are set to receive more funding compared to the current (2014-2020) budget, but less compared to the Commission proposal from May this year. The Digital Europe program, which finances the EU’s cyber defense and artificial intelligence development, will receive €6.80 billion during the coming seven years, a major increase compared to the millions it received in the previous financial framework. However, the proposed fund by the European Council is lower than the program was set to receive in the Commission proposal. Member States aim to streamline existing instruments into the InvestEU program. However, the new agreement downsizes the InvestEU budget to €8.40 billion compared to earlier proposals from the European Commission.

While the digital transition remains high on the agenda, the new EU budget does not draw exact parallels to the EU’s ambitiousness. While the current foreseen budget is higher compared to the current MFF, it lacks the firepower foreseen in the Commission proposal from May to push the EU to become a frontrunner in this area.

Sustainability as a main catalyst

The European Green Deal will also remain one of the main pillars of the EU budget in the European Council’s agreement. According to the new proposal, at least 30% of the total EU expenditure will have to contribute to climate objectives. The question remains exactly how the institutions will enforce the climate funding objective since the European Council remains very vague on the subject, a worry which is shared by the European Parliament.

In this context, the European Council invites the Commission to put forwards proposals for:

  • A carbon border adjustment mechanism, which will prevent the transfer of the production of goods to non-EU countries who happen to have less strict emission rules and ambitions;
  • A levy on non-recycled plastic waste, to be introduced in January 2021, of €0.80 per kilogram to discourage the generation of non-recycled plastic waste;
  • The revision of the Emission Trading System (ETS), to include a smaller amount of emission allowances in order to further boost carbon cuts and a possible extension to the maritime sectors.

Contrarily, the budget suffered several significant cuts during the negotiations in the sustainability policy area compared to the original proposal. For example, the flagship Just Transition Fund, intended to support carbon-intensive regions in the transition to a sustainable economy model, was heavily downsized from €40 billion to €17.5 billion.

Next steps

In order have the new EU budget operational by 1 January 2021, both the European Parliament as well as the national parliaments of the Member States need to approve the European Council’s proposal. However, both have voiced their skepticism towards the compromise that was reached. In the Member States, especially the national parliaments of the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are expected to take a critical stance. Starting September, we expect to have more clarity on the shape of next year’s budget. In an extraordinary plenary session on 23 July, the European Parliament passed a resolution voicing criticism of the EU budget deal in its current form.

Want to know more about the EU budget negotiations, COVID-19, or other dossiers that might affect your business? Please contact Dr2 Consultants to see what we can do for you.

Europe’s hydrogen revolution: the outlook for transport

On 8 July, the European Commission unveiled its long-anticipated Hydrogen Strategy, laying out a roadmap to make the EU the global leader in the hydrogen economy. The Hydrogen Strategy aims to foster the energy transition and act on the ambition of achieving climate-neutrality by 2050. The Commission aims to grow the share of hydrogen in the EU’s energy mix from the current 2% to 13-14% by 2050.

The momentum for hydrogen has grown in recent months. Market demand has significantly increased and the costs of renewable energy have decreased. Moreover, several Member States already published national hydrogen initiatives (e.g. Germany, France, the Netherlands). According to the Commission, a coordinated approach at EU level is necessary to scale up fast and streamline investment needs.

With the Hydrogen Strategy, the Commission charts the path towards ‘green’ hydrogen, based on renewable electricity (e.g. solar and wind energy). However, as green hydrogen is not yet cost-competitive against fossil-based hydrogen, the Commission acknowledges the potential of low-carbon hydrogen (e.g. Carbon Capture Storage) as a facilitator to scale up production and stimulate the market demand for hydrogen.

Hydrogen as enabler of emissions-free transport

The Hydrogen Strategy presents opportunities for the transport industry to act on the ambition of decarbonization and reducing CO2 emissions. Although electrification seems to be the most viable option on the short term, hydrogen is dubbed as the energy source for the future of transport. According to the Commission, the application of hydrogen in the transport industry is likely to develop through a gradual trajectory.

  • In the first phase (2020-2024), the objective is to produce up to 1 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen and to facilitate the take up of hydrogen consumption in commercial fleets (e.g. taxi’s) and specific parts of the railway network. Moreover, it could also be applied to heavy-duty transport, such as buses, lorries, coaches – currently responsible for about 6% of total EU CO2 emissions.
  • In the second phase (2025-2030), the objective is to make hydrogen an intrinsic part of an integrated energy system and to produce up to 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen. In this phase, green hydrogen should be cost-competitive with other forms of hydrogen production, but demand-boosting policies will be needed for the application of hydrogen in the railway sector and maritime transport (e.g. short-sea shipping and inland waterborne transport).
  • In the last phase towards maturity (2030-2050), renewable hydrogen and hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels could be applied to several hard-to-decarbonize modes of transport, such as aviation and deep-sea shipping, although the Commission acknowledges more research and innovation efforts are required to realize these ambitions.

In order to realize the hydrogen ecosystem and trajectory for transport, the Commission opts for an integrated value chain approach. In doing so, the Commission incorporates several aspects which are necessary to facilitate the hydrogen transition, ranging from infrastructure (e.g. the deployment of hydrogen refueling networks for the different modes of transport) to production techniques and market regulation (e.g. EU incentives to stimulate demand-side support policies).

The Commission is still exploring further renewable hydrogen appliances in the transport industry. This broader uptake of green hydrogen in the transport sector will be reflected in the Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility, which is due for publication in the fourth quarter of 2020, and for which the public consultation has recently opened

Stimuli for the Hydrogen revolution

The Clean Hydrogen Alliance, a Commission-led coalition that brings together industry, governments and civil society, will identify a robust pipeline of projects to accelerate the upscaling of hydrogen production. The Alliance will be strongly anchored in the hydrogen value chain, covering green and low-carbon hydrogen from production via transmission to mobility, industry, energy and heating applications.

Financial instruments such as InvestEU, the Horizon partnership for clean hydrogen and the Cohesion Fund, which will expectedly be topped up by financial resources from the €750 billion Next Generation EU Recovery Fund, will help drive clean hydrogen past its tipping point.

All eyes on Berlin as Germany starts the Council Presidency

On 1 July, Germany took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU from Croatia, for the second half of 2020, which is already dubbed the ‘Corona-Presidency’. The upcoming six months will bring historic challenges as the management of the recovery from the current health crisis will coincide with some fundamental political choices in the EU, and the outcome will determine the future direction of European integration.

As one of the most powerful Member States of the EU takes over at this crucial moment in time, it will have to play multiple roles at the same time.

Crisis management

First and foremost, the German Presidency will have to play its role as ‘crisis manager’ in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on epidemiological developments and assessments, the German Presidency will seek to increase coordination in Europe to gradually return to a fully functioning Schengen Area. Furthermore, Germany is expected to lead the politically complicated negotiations on potentially expanding the list of third countries from which travel to the EU is allowed. These priorities will be central during the whole German Presidency mandate.

EU budget negotiations

Germany will also take an active part in managing the negotiations on the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 and the Next Generation EU Recovery Fund during the summer months. The main challenge will be to find common ground between the hard-hit Member States, such as Italy, Spain and France on the one hand, and the ‘frugal four’ – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – on the other hand, with the latter group being against grants as part of the Recovery Fund. Germany will be directly responsible for the legislative work on the different sector programs within the MFF (e.g. Horizon Europe, Just Transition Fund and InvestEU) and the Recovery Fund, and will lead the trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament on the financial framework, once there is political agreement on the general features of the future budget. France and Germany expressed their ambition for a quick agreement by end of July, as European leaders are set to meet face-to-face on 17 and 18 July.

Brexit negotiations

With the Brexit transition period ending on the 31 December 2020 and the United Kingdom declining the opportunity to extend this deadline, the German Presidency will have yet another prospective challenge. Once an agreement has been reached at European Commission level, the Member States will have to give their consent. German EU ambassador Michael Clauss stressed that Germany will be exclusively focusing on “brokering agreements between the 27”.

The German Presidency program expresses the Presidency’s ambition for a comprehensive partnership between the EU and the UK. However, it also reads that the Member States will not accept an agreement that would distort fair competition within the Single Market. If there is an acceptable agreement before the end of the year, the German Presidency is expected to align Member States in its role as ‘Brexit-Broker’.

Work program

The work program sets out, in broad terms, the policy priorities for the second half of 2020. In general, Germany will prioritize the digital and green transitions throughout all of its activities. The German Presidency is committed to an innovative Europe based on three pillars: expanding the EU’s digital sovereignty, enhancing competitiveness and a sustainable and stable financial architecture. It will also ensure that the Green Deal’s implementation will contribute to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe.

The German Presidency will have an extremely challenging task of fostering European unity in the budget negotiations in the face of existing difficulties such as the COVID-19 crisis and Brexit. For more information on the German Presidency’s sector-specific priorities, please read our analyses of the German priorities in the fields of digital & tech, sustainability and transport:

Climate ambitions of Flanders and the European Green Deal

On 21 June, in an interview on Flemish news television VRT, First Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, called on Flanders to be more ambitious in the fight against climate neutrality. However, he also said, he was optimistic that Flanders would do its part being a wealthy region, which already has industrial pioneers on board for the European objectives. But what exactly are the Flemish climate objectives, and how are they aligned with the EU plans?

Greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 35%

The Flemish climate policy plan sets out the guidelines for the climate policy for the period 2021-2030. In line with the objective imposed by the EU for Belgium, the plan puts forward the objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Flanders by 35% by 2030 compared to 2005. However, the EU is setting this goal at a reduction level of 50-55% by 2030. The required effort is identified per sector and, where necessary, the greenhouse gas reduction target is converted into sub-targets. In addition, the plan also contains the main measures required to achieve this objective and puts Flanders on the path towards a low-carbon future.

Energy efficiency

Another priority for Flanders is to increase energy efficiency for all sectors. The three largest energy consumption sectors in Flanders are industry, residential and transport sectors. In addition to improving energy efficiency, simultaneous efforts must be made to achieve the strong development of renewable energy. Energy services and technologies will be digitally controlled and intelligently linked. However, this is a huge challenge for Flanders. In the period 2005-2018, emissions decreased by only 5%. The Flemish Government, therefore, intends to focus more on increasing innovation, the persistence of circular economy, parallel federal policies and additional EU instruments (legislative and financial).

Transforming buildings will also play an important role in increasing the energy efficiency in densely populated Flanders. The climate policy plan encourages the renovation of residential buildings, rebuilding after demolition and making the heating installation more sustainable. This is in line with the EU’s ‘Renovation Wave’ initiative, part of the European Green Deal, with the goal to double the annual renovation rate of the existing building stock. The European Commission will publish communication on this in September 2020.

How can Dr2 Consultants advise you

The EU’s ambition is to lead the way towards a more sustainable future. Contrary to the fear that the COVID-19 pandemic would jeopardize the green agenda for the coming years, the Commission has shown its commitment to accelerate the green transition during the recovery phase. This green transition will pose challenges but will also provide opportunities to businesses, like front runners who can introduce their new and innovative approaches in Flanders. With the Dr2 Consultants’ European Green Deal Impact Scan, we will provide you with a comprehensive analysis of how the European Green Deal will affect your business, identifying the opportunities and challenges and highlighting moments to positively influence the policies and legislation. In addition, we are able to provide you with high-end intelligence on the developments in Flanders that allows for a comprehensive overview of relevant files for your business.

From Green Deal to Green Recovery

While the COVID-19 crisis has seen unprecedented challenges for the European transport sector, it also demonstrated the crucial role transport plays to ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods and services across Europe. Although the recovery of the sector is of vital importance of Europe’s economy, the recovery from the crisis also provides a momentum for the industry to act on the ambition of decarbonization and reaching climate neutrality by 2050. As put forward in the Commission’s EU Recovery Plan, the COVID-19 recovery phase should be used to pave the way towards not only a resilient and reliable transport sector, but also a sustainable one that is at the heart of the European Green Deal.

Following the publication of the Commission’s plan for recovery – dubbed as ‘Next Generation EU’ – as well as its updated Work Program for 2020, we have a clearer picture how the greening of the sector will unfold in the coming years. Dr2 Consultants’ transport team presents four take-aways for sustainable transport that will dominate the EU’s policy agenda in the years to come.

1. Alternative fuels, sustainable vehicles

Alternative fuels are a key priority for the Commission to cut emissions and create jobs. The EU’s executive arm aims to accelerate the production of low-emission fuels and the deployment of sustainable vehicles and vessels. In order to finance this, public investment should come with a commitment from the industry to invest in cleaner and more sustainable mobility.

The roadmaps for the further deployment of different fuel types are expected to be part of the highly-anticipated FuelEU proposals – to be published later this year – that will aim at increasing the use of alternative fuels in the maritime and aviation sector. Furthermore, in early 2021, the Commission will put forward the revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, which will ensure the development of the necessary infrastructure across Member States to stimulate the uptake of sustainable fuels for all transport modes. 

2. The convergence of the energy and mobility systems

In order to decarbonize the transport sector, no stone is currently left unturned. Although electrification seems to be the most viable option on the short term, hydrogen is dubbed as the energy source for the future. The Commission’s flagship instrument for research and innovation, Horizon Europe, will be instrumental to kick-start the clean hydrogen revolution. The Commission has increased its budget in the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) with €13.5 billion, bringing Horizon Europe’s new budget to a total of €94.4 billion.

Later this month, the Commission will launch the Clean Hydrogen Alliance to stimulate the upscaling of clean hydrogen production in Europe. Also, the work of the European Battery Alliance will be accelerated. On 24 June, the Hydrogen Strategy is expected to be published.

3. Cities at the heart of sustainable mobility

With over 70% of EU citizens currently living in urban areas, achieving sustainability in cities across Europe is one of the main challenges of the recovery period. As a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis, noise pollution and air quality figures have dropped to an unprecedented level. Moreover, cities reinvented the way citizens move around, e.g. by giving priorities to pedestrians, introducing speed limits for vehicles and implementing new cycling lanes. The shift towards smart and more livable cities, therefore, places a big responsibility on the transport sector.

The Commission aims to increase the support for zero and low-emission mobility in cities by investing significantly in clean urban mobility. Funding calls in the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and InvestEU programs will focus on clean fleet renewals by cities, the deployment of charging points and mobility-as-a-service solutions.

4. Taxation, anyone?

In the Next Generation EU, the Commission proposes to generate additional own resources by new taxes. Although the Commission still must draw up the specifics, it floated the option of extending the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to the maritime sector, thereby raising up to €10 billion annually that will feed into the EU’s budget. In addition, the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism is likely to be introduced, putting a carbon levy on non-EU imports.

Raising these kinds of ‘European’ taxes is unprecedented. As Member States have diverging views on this matter, it remains to be seen whether we can expect a breakthrough on these new own resources any time soon.

Next steps

The Commission aims to have the new MFF and recovery fund operational by 1 January 2021. EU leaders are expected to start the negotiations on the budget proposal during the European Council Summit on 19 June and will have multiple rounds of very difficult talks until a compromise is made. This ultimately means that the budget as proposed now for transport-related funding instruments can still change. The budget negotiations are expected to accelerate when Germany takes over the rotating six-months Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July 2020.

Europe’s green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

On 27 May, the European Commission’s published its historic proposal for the ‘Next Generation EU’ recovery fund worth €750 billion, topping the renewed proposal for a €1.1 trillion Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027. This proposal for unprecedented investment in the European economy is set to dominate the political agenda of the European institutions for the upcoming months. However, as the European Green Deal was put on the top of the agenda only recently, the current situation begs the question how Green Deal initiatives are incorporated into the Commission’s recovery plans.

Main takeaways                

  •  The European Green Deal will be central in Next Generation EU, public recovery investments should follow EU energy and climate priorities;
  • Additional funding of €30 billion for the Just Transition Fund, bringing the total up to €40 billion;
  • The CAP budget will fall by around €34 billion, but farmers will receive funds for the green transition;
  • The Commission will increase its own resources via an extension of the Emission Trading System (ETS) to the maritime and aviation sectors and a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

Accelerated investments in the green transition

Within the recovery fund, the Commission proposes to set up a Solvency Support Instrument to mobilize private investment and thereby kick-start the economy. The Solvency Support Instrument will have a budget of €31 billion and will unlock up to €300 billion in support that will be linked to the green and digital ambitions of the EU. Apart from that, a new Strategic Investment Facility will be built into InvestEU, generating investment up to €150 billion in boosting the resilience of strategic sectors, notably linked to the green and digital transition.

To kick-start the green transition in times of crisis, the European Commission will come up with a Communication to start a European ‘renovation wave’ in the third quarter of 2020. This massive renovation wave of buildings will improve energy efficiency and promote the circular economy, whilst creating local jobs in the coming years.

On top of the renovation wave, the Commission will focus on rolling out renewable energy projects, especially wind and solar. To this end, the Commission will publish an offshore renewable energy strategy later this year. Moreover, the EU will reinforce its efforts to develop a clean hydrogen economy in Europe, something that is currently mainly promoted by Germany and the Netherlands.

When it comes to clean transport and logistics, the Commission aims to accelerate the production and deployment of sustainable vehicles and vessels as well as alternative fuels. This ambition includes the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles and a boost for rail travel and clean mobility in European cities and regions.

The Next Generation EU recovery fund also adds €30 billion to the Just Transition Mechanism, bringing its allocated budget 2021-2027 up to €40 billion. As part of the Just Transition Mechanism, the Just Transition Fund will be reinforced to support re-skilling and to help businesses create new economic opportunities in the regions of the EU that are most affected by the green transition.

EU ‘green’ levies to finance recovery

How will this sustainable recovery be financed? The Next Generation EU will raise money by temporarily lifting the own resources ceiling to 2.00% of EU Gross National Income, allowing the Commission to use its strong credit rating to borrow €750 billion on the financial markets. To repay these loans in a fair and shared way, the Commission proposes a number of new own resources. The Commission will for example increase its own resources via an extension of the Emission Trading System (ETS) to the maritime and aviation sectors and a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

Next steps

German chancellor Angela Merkel, shortly before the start of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, expressed the ambition to reach a compromise on the future EU budget and recovery fund by fall 2020. The proposal of the Commission, as well as the plans put forward by the Franco-German axis and the Frugal Four (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden), have kept the green transition high on the agenda and one can therefore reasonably expect the EU’s great leap forward in green technologies to materialize in the upcoming years.

The EU Budget proposal and its impact on the digital sector

On 27 May, the European Commission put forward its proposal for a major recovery plan. The plan includes not only a proposal for the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 – The EU budget powering the recovery plan for Europe, but the European Commission also proposes to create a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU.

Next Generation EU, with a budget of €750 billion, together with targeted reinforcements to the 2021-2027 EU budget with a proposed budget of €1.1 trillion, will bring the total financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion. Including other schemes such as Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (Commission’s safety net for workers), the European Stability Mechanism Pandemic Crisis Support (Eurozone’s enhanced credit line) and the European Investment Bank Guarantee Fund for Workers and Businesses (focused primarily on small and medium-sized companies), with a combined budget of €540 billion, significant funds will be available for European recovery.

Next Generation EU will raise money by temporarily lifting the European Commission’s own resources ceiling to 2.00% of EU Gross National Income, allowing the Commission to use its strong credit rating to borrow €750 billion on the financial markets. To help do this in a fair and shared way, the Commission proposes a number of new own resources among which extension of the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) to include maritime and aviation sectors, a carbon border adjustment mechanism, a digital tax and a tax on large enterprises.

Finally, the Commission has published an update of its 2020 Work Program, which will prioritize the actions needed to propel Europe’s recovery and resilience.

The future is digital

The outbreak of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digitization across all areas of the economy and society. New technologies have helped businesses and public services to keep functioning and have made sure that international trade could continue. It is expected that, in the long run, the pandemic will have triggered permanent social and economic changes: more remote working, e-learning, e-commerce, e-government. It has, therefore, become imperative for businesses and governments to invest in digitalization.

The twin transitions to a green and digital Europe remain the defining challenges of this generation. This is reflected throughout the Commission’s proposals, which stress that investing in digital infrastructure and skills will help boost competitiveness and technological sovereignty.

Implications for the digital sector

A new instrument, the Solvency Support instrument would be primarily aimed at countries hit hardest by the crisis and unable to provide state aid to their most vulnerable sectors. The distribution of this ‘immediate and temporary’[1] tool will also aim to prioritize green investment according to the Commission. While welcomed by poorer countries the instrument might not have the desired effect unless agreed upon and deployed quickly by the Member States.

The Strategic Investment Facility will be used to promote the green and digital transitions by investing in 5G, artificial intelligence, the industrial internet of things, low CO2 emission industry and cybersecurity. Since such investments might become significantly riskier in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Commission stands behind a common European approach to provide the crucial long-term investments for companies implementing projects of strategic importance. The Strategic Investment Facility will take a more forward-looking approach by focusing on ‘projects relevant for achieving strategic autonomy in key value chains in the single market.

The Digital Europe Programme will be used for the development of EU-wide electronic identities and for the building of strategic data capabilities, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, secured communication, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, supercomputers, quantum and blockchain. The Commission has managed to withstand the significant pressure from Member States to reduce the funding of the Programme and the digital transition remains one of its key priorities.

In terms of financial inputs, the digital sector would be affected by two of the newly proposed taxes, aimed at funding the Commission’s so called ‘own resources’ used to repay the recovery package. The new digital tax would come into play at EU level if no global solution could be reached at OECD level. If the tax is applied to companies with an annual turnover higher than €750 million, it could generate up to €1.3 billion per year for the EU budget. The other relevant provision is the new corporate revenue tax, which if applied according to the same principle as the digital tax at a rate of 0.1 percent could generate up to €10 billion annually.

The Commission tried to introduce a European digital tax last year but its proposal was blocked by several Member States. The chance of such a proposal being accepted at this date appear slim as unanimity is required and Ireland, amongst others, has been adamantly against it. However, with the departure of the UK who had previously provided strong backing for Ireland’s opposition, some form of digital taxation being accepted remains a possibility. The new corporate tax was also previously unsuccessfully introduced by the Commission in 2016 and would be aimed at ‘companies that draw huge benefits from the EU single market and will survive the crisis.’[2] The chances of the proposal being accepted are also relatively low with countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands strongly opposing it. The proposal might also provoke a ‘race to the bottom’ phenomenon where companies relocate to countries willing to provide them with the most favorable business conditions. While both taxes are facing strong opposition from some Member States, the alternative of increased national contributions might convince leaders that accepting a form of these levies would be the more politically savvy option.

In conclusion, the new EU budget proposal creates new opportunities and challenges for the digital sector with the potential application of new pan-European taxes but also with additional funding devoted to digitalization, increased connectivity and sustainable value chains. The Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the increasing importance of digitalisation for the daily functioning of the economy and the Commission’s proposal reflects that through a series of digital political priorities. Increased connectivity, investment in strategic digital capacities (artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, blockchain and more) building a real data economy and legislative efforts on data sharing (a EU-wide Data Act), as well as a thorough reform of the single market for digital services (Digital Services Act expected in late 2020). The combination of budgetary provisions and policy priorities makes the moment beneficial for a transition to online business models, a trend which has appeared during the pandemic but is expected to remain for the next few years.

[1] Annex to the Commission Budget Communication, p 6.

[2] Commission Budget Communication, p 15.

Why now is the time to embed European affairs in your organization?

Author:

Margreet Lommerts

Managing Partner at Dr2 Consultants

More than ever, it is important to have a focused and effective European Affairs Strategy and structure in place to effectively contribute to the (re)shaping of the European economy for the next decades. Now is the time for organizations to see EU affairs no longer in isolation but as an integral part of their Corporate Affairs Strategy.

Soon after the start of the new European Commission at the end of 2019, we could already see the outline of the agenda of Commissioner President von der Leyen. The Commission’s Green Deal – published on 13 December – presents an overarching growth strategy to achieve a green transformation and climate neutrality of the economy.

Before the realization of tangible proposals for the green and digital transformations of the EU economy, COVID-19 turned the Commission into full crisis mode. Priorities shifted and the Commission and Council of the EU dedicated their work on drafting a comprehensive recovery plan from the health and economic crisis. It will not come as a surprise that a green recovery and the digital transformation will continue to be prioritized and play a central role in relaunching and modernizing the EU economy. According to the Commission, the trillions of euros for the recovery should be spent in a clean, competitive, resilient, and inclusive economy for the 21st century, into a new economy.

As the Commission is formulating its economic and green recovery plan, there is an enormous momentum for organizations to engage with EU institutions in Brussels and to play a role in the shaping of the new economy which will have a huge impact on all businesses.

Looking at the transport sector, it is clear that the demand for mobility and individual transport is changing due to the COVID-19 crisis. The European transport sector faces the great challenge of regaining consumer confidence while stimulating economic growth. According to the Commission, green and digital transitions are at the center of the recovery to create new jobs, remain internationally competitive and bring the sector in line with European climate goals. The Commission aims to better coordinate modes of transport and to encourage the use of sustainable fuels.

In addition, the European energy market will be heavily impacted by the EU’s climate ambitions. The European solar and wind energy market is expected to shrink by about 30% because of disruptions in the logistics chain, delays in projects and stricter financing conditions. As a result, the realization of the EU’s climate targets for 2030 are in jeopardy. This means that acceleration must take place to achieve the EU’s green ambition. The Commission is expected to make additional funding available for sustainable industrial projects and technologies (e.g. carbon capture and storage, relaxation of state aid rules, and alignment of energy taxation with climate ambitions with the aim of getting innovative projects off the ground and scaled up.

As an effect of the COVID-19 crisis, the digital transformation of more “traditional” businesses has definitely accelerated, like brick-and-mortar shops, some of which probably had no online presence whatsoever, maybe not even a Facebook or Google page, before the outbreak. In order to continue operating in a full lockdown situation, these businesses have had to quickly “go online”, either individually or in cooperation with other similar businesses or by relying on the services of online platforms such as e-commerce marketplaces.

As the Commission, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and Member States are actively reaching out for industry input, it is important for these businesses to get involved and make their voices heard at EU level, so that they can contribute to the shaping of EU policies that can actually benefit them.

Even though advocacy in these challenging times may not seem top priority and will take more time, the EU institutions are calling for input and involvement from industry which is a prerequisite for future-proof legislation.

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Brexit: impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the latest negotiatons rounds

During the last two months, the world has come to a stop because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Trade negotiations have not been exempted, and the EU-UK negotiations have been severely affected. As the virus broke out in Europe, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tested positive for the coronavirus and only a day later the UK chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost self-isolated, together with other key members of the negotiation teams. This obviously casted a shadow of doubt on the future of the negotiations, when expectations were already quite limited concerning what could be achieved in such a short amount of time.

Despite the major disruption, and the delay taken in the negotiations, the EU and the UK resumed the Brexit discussions on 15 April. During that call they agreed on negotiating rounds lasting a full week during the weeks of 20 April, 11 May and 1 June.

After the negotiations round of 20 April, Michel Barnier immediately expressed his disappointment regarding the progress of the talks, specifically on key issues such level playing field and fisheries. The UK, too, recognized the lack of progress on governance and level playing field and stressed that there cannot be any deal until the EU drops its insistence on imposing conditions on the UK which are not found in any other EU trade agreements.

Unfolding a blaming game between the UK and the EU, where Britain accuses the EU of treating the UK as “unworthy” partner in the negotiations, Michel Barnier blaming the UK for not being realistic and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan adding that the UK would be ready to accept a no-deal, while blaming the failure to reach a deal on the impact of COVID-19 on the negotiations

However, according to Frost, a comprehensive free-trade agreement is within reach, alongside individual agreements on issues such as law enforcement, nuclear energy, and aviation. On 19 May the UK Government published 12 legal texts on several of the above mentioned issues which will be the basis of the last negotiations rounds in June, following the EU’s publication its own draft trade deal earlier this year.This new UK text appears to be both surpringly ambitious in certain areas (for example, equivalence provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade) and less surprinsingly, lacking ambition on regulatory cooperation and level playing field.

Extension of Brexit?

As stated above, there will be only one additional negotiation round before the agreed high-level stock-taking conference, where the UK and the EU are supposed to determine whether enough progress has been made or if an extension to the transition period is required in order to reach an agreement.

Such an extension would have to be requested by the UK Government, and agreed by the European Council before 1 July. However, the UK has consistently made clear that it will not ask to extend the transition period as it would only prolong the negotiations, business uncertainty, and delay the moment at which the UK can take back control of its sovereignty.

With the lack of progress, how the events will unfold in the coming two months remain extremely uncertain, while pressure on both sides of the channel grow in favor of an extension.