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Dr2 Consultants’ Breakfast Meetings: Key Takeaways

Cities have an important role to play in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and in reaching the goals of the European Green Deal. In its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, the European Commission calls on cities to be at the forefront of the transition towards more sustainability, and it sets itself the goal of achieving 100 European climate-neutral cities by 2030. In this context, Dr2 Consultants organized a series of 30-minute breakfast meetings on sustainable and smart mobility in European cities. During these sessions, Dr2 Consultants has been engaged in lively one-on-ones with several European and business stakeholders to discuss topical subjects in EU urban mobility, especially focusing on the challenges that cities need to overcome to become climate neutral and stimulate automated and shared mobility.

General takeaways

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major challenge for everyone, and will likely impact the way people live, and in turn mobility trends. During lockdowns, people have witnessed less congested and less polluted cities, and will want the benefits to remain in the post-COVID period as well. On the other hand, many urban inhabitants have felt smothered in cities during lockdown and are now looking to move away, especially with the increase of teleworking allowing them to live further away from work. This also has the potential to impact mobility trends.

Zuzana Pucikova – Head of EU Public Affairs at Uber

On the industry side, there is a role to play in offering solutions for smarter and more sustainable mobility in cities, and especially in offering alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles. In this sense, the European Commission’s approach in the European Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy recognizing ride-hailing as key, safe and sustainable mobility solutions as well as clarifying legal status of ride-hailing platforms offers the right framework for the development of ride-sharing companies, such as Uber.

The work of transit agencies has been especially important, shifting from a role of transport provider to mobility manager. The pandemic is an opportunity to integrate and complement transit networks with services such as Uber, with authorities now taking a holistic approach to making transport more accessible, equitable and efficient. This enables them to be much more ‘nimble’, and address the challenges of today and tomorrow;

Given the urgent need to reduce transport emissions and to drive green recovery, Uber committed to becoming climate neutral by 2030 across the US, Europe and Canada, and by 2040 for the rest of the world. Across seven key European cities it aims to become 50% electric already by 2025. However, in order for transport to become more sustainable, we need to reduce the reliance of households on private cars.

Tom Berendsen – Member of European Parliament for CDA/EPP

In order to boost the uptake of smart and sustainable mobility solutions within cities, the EU should provide the right set of regulations and a framework for businesses, establishing product standards. The EU level is also where best practices should be shared.

The most efficient way to stimulate sustainable and smart mobility within cities is to adopt a bottom-up approach, focusing on city planning. Indeed, cities are best placed to know the needs of their inhabitants. Therefore, when preparing regulations, the EU should listen to cities’ experiences and ideas. Moreover, traditional modes of transport will need to cohabit with new “smart” systems of mobility. To ensure a smooth cohabitation, there is a need for test areas that can only be implemented within cities, to learn from the problems raised there and take the appropriate measures at European level.

To ensure the mass uptake of more sustainable mobility by citizens, for example of electric vehicles, it is necessary to provide affordable and easily accessible infrastructures (e.g. sufficient charging points). The development of such infrastructures are projects of common European interest, as we need to ensure that the knowledge and skills needed exist within the EU, and that we are not dependent of foreign actors.

Isabelle Vandoorne – Deputy Head of Unit B.3 at DG MOVE

The European Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy has the double objective of contributing to the objectives of the European Green Deal through the greening of the transport sector, and of digitalizing mobility. The Strategy adopts a holistic approach, considering not only urban mobility but also peri-urban and rural areas and how to connect them. Especially considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the future of work, which will see telework more widely accepted, and office areas maybe displaced from inner cities to peripheries. In order to improve commuting, proper infrastructures are needed, including functioning multimodal hubs.

In ten years’ time, cities will be more livable. The decrease in number of cars and traffic will leave more space for inhabitants and for other modes of transport.

Regarding the uptake of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), the Commission will organize a forum, in a format similar to the Digital Transport and Logistic Forum (DTLF), to bring all stakeholders to the table.

As mentioned in previous meetings, urban planning is at the core of sustainable and smart mobility. That is why the Commission is in the process of revising its 2013 Urban Mobility Package, to enhance its scope. The Urban Mobility Package includes guidelines from experts on the overall development of urban plans for mobility, as well topical guidelines of relevant arising topics, such as MaaS.

One of the key aspects to boost the digitalization of the transport sector is the creation of a European Mobility Data Space, whose components are described in the European Data Strategy. In order to deliver in time (2021-2022) on its commitments, DG MOVE has reorganized its internal digital task force to coordinate with all units within the DG, in order to adopt a common approach. Moreover, a special expert group has been created to reflect on the EU Mobility Data Space, which has the particularity of covering a variety of sub-mobility data spaces for all the different modes of transport. DG MOVE, in collaboration with DG CNECT, will elaborate interfaces to make these bubbles interact with each other.

Finally, the Commission, and especially Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, have always had the ambition to ensure that the skills and jobs needed to develop technologies exist within the EU, so that the bloc is not dependent on external actors. This is always taken into consideration by the Commission when proposing legislation. The Commission relies on the excellence of EU industries, notably through partnership programmes, such as Horizon Europe.

Daan van der Tas – Project Leader for Mobility-as-a-Service and Shared Mobility, City of Amsterdam

  • Amsterdam, who is evolving like an international city, is witnessing an important increase of activity in its narrow streets, with an ever-growing supply of different modes of transport. Rethinking mobility systems is relevant not only in terms of clean air but also considering the impact of mobility on public spaces. The main goal of the city of Amsterdam is to reclaim public spaces from cars and alleviate pressure on roadways, for example by expanding the use of its waterways, which are currently mostly used for leisure.
  • With regards to micromobility, Amsterdam is being very cautious, considering that when e-mobility solutions first appeared a few years ago, the city was completely overrun by e-bikes flooding the streets. Amsterdam has now re-introduced e-scooters and is slowly reintroducing e-bikes. In Amsterdam, this needs a special adaptation since most people already own a bike, if not several.
  • In cities of the future, there will be much less room for cars, private or shared, whether for circulation or parking, as we will see an increase of micromobility solutions. Transport systems will also be increasingly digitalized. Additionally, all mobility within Amsterdam will be CO2-neutral by 2030.

  • Shared mobility services raise several challenges, but they can be easily resolved. For example, Amsterdam is working on resolving the conflict between taxis and private ride-hailing platforms such as Uber by developing virtual queuing solutions. Additionally, although micromobility solutions raise certain criticism (safety issues, being discarded anywhere in the streets and taking up space on sidewalks), their advantages outweigh the disadvantages if they can prevent polluting cars or motorbikes being purchased and used.
  • As the mobility system will be increasingly digitalized, data-sharing will become increasingly important. Data will also be needed to understand how mobility systems are running. A mutual understanding will need to be found with industry partners to encourage them to share their data. If an understanding can’t be found, cities will have to rely on legislation, including legislation passed at EU level.
  • Amsterdam is at the forefront of developing Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), and has started several pilot projects in the city, notably the MaaS Amsterdam Zuidas, which allows people to reach Amsterdam’s large financial and business district south of the city with MaaS solutions. The city is also investigating a country-wide permit for ride-sharing companies so they can offer rides across cities.

What can Dr2 Consultants do for you?

Over the last years, Dr2 Consultants has built up a track record in advising a broad range of transport clients in navigating the EU ecosystem. Would you like to know more about how your organization can make the most out of the upcoming regulations included in the European Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy? Feel free to reach out and discuss opportunities over a (virtual) coffee.

You might also be interested in:

Smart mobility within cities: benefits and challenges

The future of the EU transport sector (2021-2024) – four trends

Key takeaways of the first Dr2 Consultant’s Breakfast Meeting with Uber

Key takeaways of the first Dr2 Consultant’s Breakfast Meeting with Uber

Main takeaways

Cities have an important role to play in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and in reaching the goals of the European Green Deal. In its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, the European Commission calls on cities to be at the forefront of the transition towards more sustainability, and it sets itself the goal of achieving 100 European climate-neutral cities by 2030. In this context, Dr2 Consultants organized a series of 30-minute breakfast meetings on sustainable and smart mobility in European cities. During these sessions, Dr2 Consultants engages in lively one-on-ones with several European and business stakeholders to discuss topical subjects in EU urban mobility, especially focusing on the challenges that cities need to overcome to become climate neutral and stimulate automated and shared mobility. During the first Breakfast Meeting, we discussed the role of automated and shared mobility in the green and digital transformation of the transport sector with Zuzana Púčiková, head of EU Public Policy at Uber.

 The main takeaways from the webinar are:

  • The COVID-19 health emergency is a major challenge for everyone, including Uber whose business was significantly reduced. However, the pandemic also gave us a glimpse of what less congested and polluted cities could look like, and how Uber can play its role to build back better;
  • The work of transit agencies has been especially important, shifting from a role of transport provider to mobility manager. The pandemic was an opportunity to integrate and complement transit networks with services such as Uber, with authorities now taking a holistic approach to making transport more accessible, equitable and efficient. This enables them to be much more ‘nimble’, and address the challenges of today and tomorrow;
  • Given the urgent need to reduce transport emissions and to drive green recovery, Uber committed to becoming climate neutral by 2040, and by 2030 across US, Europe and Canada. Across seven key European cities it aims to become 50% electric already by 2025. However, in order for transport to become more sustainable, we need to reduce the reliance of households on private cars;
  • In combination with transit, shared mobility can be a solution. Uber applauds the Commission’s forward-looking approach to shared mobility, such as the recognition of ride-hailing as key, safe and sustainable mobility solution, as well as clarifying legal status of ride-hailing platforms, addressing fragmented national rules and assessing the possibility to create a single market for ride-hailing services in the EU.

Dr2 Consultants’ Breakfast Meetings

Curious how European cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders intend to overcome the challenges of making the transformation to smart cities a success? Join Dr2 Consultants’ series of breakfast meetings on 17 February and 3 March 2021, during which we will engage in a dialogue with stakeholders to discuss the identified challenges.

Update on Belgian federal government negotiations

Towards a “Vivaldi-coalition”

In early September, and for the first time in months, there were positive signs that a majority could be found in Belgium willing to form a federal government. After several attempts over the summer that mainly focused on a “purple-yellow” coalition (consisting of the traditional parties, the socialists, liberals and Christian democrats and the Flemish nationalist party N-VA) and a “Vivaldi” coalition (consisting of the traditional parties and the green parties), it was clear that the latter was the more likely to succeed. However, in nearing the end of September, and after several “informateurs”, “koninklijke opdrachthouders/Chargés de mission royale” and “preformateurs”, every possible coalition remains fragile. This has been especially clear since the weekend of 19 and 20 September.

Already a fragile coalition

The first test for the current Vivaldi group, which started negotiations in August, was the collective expression of support by the chairs of the Vivaldi parties for the current Wilmès II government on 17 September, in absence of a new government. In normal circumstances, the Wilmès II government should have resigned by 21 September, or at least sought a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives, as the current minority government only received support for a limited time of 6 months to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Due to the support of the Vivaldi coalition parties, Wilmès II will govern an additional two weeks, until 1 October.

So far so good, and therefore the weekend of 19 and 20 was crucial to finally launch the Vivaldi coalition, most notably with the introduction of a new Prime Minister. The very first conversation on this topic already proved to be divisive as several parties claimed the position of Prime Minister based on different arguments, such as who is the biggest political family or who is the biggest party in Flanders, as there were already two consecutive Walloon Prime Ministers the past legislatures. That this would be a hard nut to crack was already known, but the president of the Walloon liberals (MR), George-Louis Bouchez, really made the bomb burst as he stated in an interview on 20 September that he was certain that the current Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmès (MR) would stay on. Once again Bouchez provoked his colleagues with personal interviews and tweets. Especially the Flemish socialists (sp.a) were upset and reacted on 21 September that they do not want to continue the coalition talks with the MR.

Despite these difficulties, “preformateurs” Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) and Conner Rousseau (sp.a) spent a whole afternoon on 21 September trying to save the Vivaldi coalition. Because that did not work, the “preformateurs” decided to go to King Philippe to offer their resignation. However, the King refused that resignation, which is rather an exception. It seems that by refusing this resignation, King Philippe wants to force a new government, but this is only a short-lived tactic. Lachaert and Rousseau will report again by Wednesday 23 September at the latest.

Time is running out

The question is if the remaining days are enough to boost the viability of a possible Vivaldi coalition. Timewise it is getting very difficult to have a new government in place by 1 October, when the Wilmès II Government must resign. This would mean that by the end of this week or latest the beginning of next week the basis of the new government agreement must be approved. The different party congresses could follow after that and the new Prime Minister can make the government statement by 1 October. A vote of confidence in the new government could follow by 3 October.

Alternative?

It is not clear if the Vivaldi group will survive this week. The parties have definitely made it very difficult for themselves by setting a deadline on 1 October. N-VA chairman Bart De Wever expects the Vivaldi parties will continue their attempt to form a government. De Wever made clear that he and his party are ready for opposition as he stated on 21 September: “We will destroy them from the opposition.”

An alternative coalition is of course still possible, but the relationships between a lot of parties have become bitter, especially between the N-VA and the liberal parties. However, a workable alternative could be a Vivaldi coalition without the MR and the Walloon Christian democrats from cdH instead. However, Lachaert has not been prepared to drop his Walloon counterpart so far.

If this is not possible, then there is still the possibility of new elections. As there is still a health crisis ongoing and new elections will not magically bring the solution (especially because populist parties like Vlaams Belang (extreme-right Flemish party) and PVDA/PTB (extreme-left party in Wallonia) will gain new seats according to the latest polls and the other parties do not want to cooperate with them), this remains very unlikely. However, after 486 days of having no federal government with a majority in the House of Representatives, pressure is growing.

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.

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:

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.

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.

EU consultation on Artificial Intelligence: seizing the business opportunity

With its new ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’ Strategy, the European Data Strategy and a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, all published on the same day (19 February 2020), the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen is fully committed to digitalizing our society. Zeroing in on the AI White Paper, it is clear that the Commission tries to find a delicate balance between building both an ecosystem of excellence that supports the development and uptake of AI and an ecosystem of trust where AI is also regulated and safe for everyone. The European Commission has already undertaken quite some work in defining its approach to AI and in consulting stakeholders. It is now proceeding with an official written consultation, seeking feedback on the White paper through a questionnaire.

While the European Commission has the prerogative to initiate the above ideas and strategies, the European Parliament has not stood still in the past couple of months and has proactively, and extensively, positioned itself and defined its priorities. Most notably, the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) is working on multiple AI reports, focused on the technology’s ethical aspect, its civil liability regime and intellectual property rights for the development of AI technologies. Furthermore, also the Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee (CULT) is working on its own report on AI applications in education, culture and the audiovisual sector, and a EP Resolution has been drafted on automated decision-making processes and ensuring consumer protection and free movement of goods and services.

 

While the discussion around AI at EU level seemed to have stemmed exclusively from the new Commission’s strong will to act on this issue, since then feedbacks from civil society, NGOs, companies and others, have been highly requested to shape further the future framework.

The latest opportunity for stakeholders to contribute to the discussion is the Commission’s Consultation on the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, closing on 14 June.

The questionnaire explores certain aspects of the White Paper, including specific actions to build an ecosystem of excellence, options for a regulatory framework for AI and further consultation on the question of safety and liability aspect of AI.

To zoom in on a specific and rather important aspect of the questionnaire for businesses, the Commission is seeking feedback on whether the introduction of new compulsory requirements should be limited to high-risk applications, and whether the current definition and criteria for this risk-based approach is the right way forward. New requirements and standards would regulate aspects such as training data, human oversight and so on. In addition, the European Commission is seeking feedback voluntary labelling for any other AI-powered services that could be qualified as “low-risk”. The intention and content of such voluntary labelling scheme is still fully open for discussion.

There are two key opportunities for businesses here through this process, that should not be overlooked:

First, this should be seen as the perfect opportunity to question, understand, assess and if necessary, improve companies’ practices when developing or using AI in their daily activities. The Commission and Expert Groups have developed various tools such as the White Paper, but also the  assessment list of the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI., that can guide this type of exercise. Do we allow for human oversight? Does the data we use could lead to biased decisions? Would we benefit for a voluntary label or other form of self-regulation? Those are some of the questions that companies operating in the EU could ask themselves to stay relevant in the market.

Second, share companies should share their experience with policymakers to ensure that a new EU legal framework does not hinder business activities or innovation beyond what is necessary to protect consumer and fundamental rights, and to ensure that any new legal framework does not create legal uncertainty or unnecessary red tape. Referring once again to the risk-based approached, the possible evolution of the qualification and criteria for “high-risk” use can have a significant impact on companies. Stakeholders have an opportunity to shape rules that could ensure the EU remains an open, competitive, and innovative market.

There have been certain voices calling for a reassessment of the Commission’s plans in relation to AI under the new circumstances created by the COVID19 outbreak, which could shed new light on the costs of not using AI-powered solutions. The Commission has however clearly insisted on the fact the questionnaire would be the perfect opportunity to reflect further on what a future regulation should look like to ensure that AI fulfill its promises for society.

Dr2 Consultants hosts webinar on competitiveness of transport sector post COVID-19

Main takeaways

The COVID-19 outbreak has seen an unprecedented impact on the transport sector in the EU. Due to national containment measures, travel restrictions and the closure of border crossings, passenger transport is at a standstill and trade flows are severely impacted. In order to help EU citizens and businesses, the Commission has issued several contingency measures to support the transport sector, e.g. by identifying green freight lanes, issuing guidelines on passenger rights and allowing financial relief under the temporary state aid framework.

In this context, Dr2 Consultants organized a dedicated transport webinar on 7 May 2020, focusing on the question how to reinstate the EU’s transport industry in a post COVID-19 era, in order to ensure the transport sector can enable economic growth, secure jobs, increase global competitiveness and allow people and goods to move across Europe and beyond. Mr. Daniel Mes, Member of the Cabinet of Executive Vice-President on the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, responsible for the transport portfolio, and Mr. Jan-Christoph Oetjen, Member of the European Parliament (Renew Europe) and Vice-Chair of the Committee for Transport and Tourism took part in the panel discussion and shared their views on the subject.

 

The main takeaways from the webinar are:

  • The Commission is working on a coordinated exit strategy in which all modes of transport are covered, including practical advice on how to restart operations while ensuring the safety of the passengers;
  • It is crucial that the transport sector returns to its old strength and becomes even more resilient. It is a joint effort by the EU and its Member States to ensure the European transport sector remains competitive on a global level;
  • Mr. Mes highlighted the need for political guidance when national measures are taken to ensure consistency in sectoral investments. The transport sector will be dependent on both public as well as private investments, which the Commission will aim to mobilize;
  • Both speakers highlighted that transport will be one of the main pillars in the green recovery of the European economy. Mr. Oetjen emphasized the need for using a mix of transport modes based on their characteristics and respective advantages. Mr. Mes stated that it is key to ensure that the recovery of the transport sector is green recovery, and conditions can be attached to financial aid received by the sector.

As the webinar was recorded, please find the playback link here.

As a next step, the Commission is expected to publish a follow-up to its ‘European roadmap towards lifting coronavirus containment measures on Wednesday 13 May, which will entail a broad package of recommendations aimed at reinstating connectivity and tourism. The package will include a Communication on tourism, protocols on health and safety for main tourism locations, guidance on safe and healthy resumption of passenger transport and guidance on lifting of international borders. The package is also expected to include an assessment of the application of the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU.

COVID-19 services

The fight against the spread of COVID-19 has unprecedented consequences for the daily life of almost everyone and puts pressure on the global economy. The crisis leads to questions and uncertainty, while companies try to anticipate and mitigate the impact on their daily business operations. Dr2 Consultants offers clarity to companies during the COVID-19 crisis. Please check out our webpage to explore the possibilities for your company.

Jasper Nagtegaal Managing Partner at Dr2 Consultants

Dr2 Consultants is pleased to announce Jasper Nagtegaal (1985) as new Managing Partner. Nagtegaal has a professional background in maritime and logistics, he has fulfilled several pivotal roles predominantly related to Public Affairs and Business Development.

Jasper Nagtegaal will succeed Marlene ten Ham, who will return with her family to the Netherlands. Ten Ham – who contributed to the impressive growth of Dr2 Consultants over the previous ten years – will continue to work for organisations in (re)shaping their corporate and external affairs. Ten Ham will remain involved as Dr2 Associate Partner.

At Dr2 Consultants, alongside Managing Partner Margreet Lommerts, Nagtegaal will manage the international team of twenty colleagues and work for a wide range of clients including corporations, NGOs and European associations. Nagtegaal is looking forward to contributing to the further expansion of Dr2 Consultants in Brussels.