On January 1st 2019, the Austrian Presidency passed on the torch to the Romanian government. After “A Europe that protects”, the aim is now to focus on “Cohesion, a Common European Value”. However, this very first Romanian Presidency only has until May to take care of the many urgent problems of the European Union.
The Romanian Presidency places cohesion policy, competition and digitalisation at the centre of its term. The aim is to achieve a sustainable and fair development for all Citizens and Member States. It hopes to achieve this by increased competition, social progress, the promotion of digitalisation and by closing gaps in the development of Member States. In addition, it wants to strengthen Europe’s role as a global player. Just like the Austrian Presidency, the Romanian Presidency also intends to pursue the mission of a “secure” Europe. However, whether this also includes Europe’s social safety nets, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, solidarity issues and the fight against discrimination as well as the inclusion of European citizens shall also play a role.
In respect of social policy, the Romanian Presidency emphasises the mobility of workers as the driving force for competition in the European Single Market. Unfortunately, however, the plans of the Romanian Presidency concerning social issues are not very ambitious: only with regard to the European Labour Authority (ELA) Romania stands by the target to conclude the negotiations. From the point of view of the Chamber of Labour, it is crucial that two other important dossiers (Directive on transparent and predictable working conditions, 3rd Tranche on amending the carcinogens Directive), which are also already being negotiated at the trilogue stage, are finalised prior to the European Parliament elections: however, these dossiers are not even mentioned in the Presidency programme; negotiations shall only be continued. Romania is also not willing to conclude Regulation 883 on the coordination of social Security systems; the intention is just to continue negotiations and to develop a procedure for its implementation.
As one of its priority targets, the Presidency attempts to guarantee the same opportunities for women in the labour market. It wants to achieve this among other by narrowing the “gender pay gap”. Thereby measures - in particular those relating to labour market policy - to align the pay of women and men shall play an important role. On the other hand, it also wants to promote entrepreneurship among women. From the worker’s perspective it is vital that the discussions on the “work-life-balance” Directive are concluded. The Presidency intends to emphasise work-life balance issues and questions of gender equality at work and has announced some important events.
Similar to social policy, the programme is not very ambitions in respect of tax issues. Just one page has been devoted to modernising the VAT system - in particular with regard to e-commerce. Concerning the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, one only intends to hold constructive discussions. As to the digital tax, the intention is to take up the solution of the Austrian Presidency, which will only tax advertising revenues, instead of making an attempt to get the Commission proposal on taxing total annual revenues through Council.
Within the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the Romanian Presidency only regards the Common Agricultural Policy and cohesion policy as an important priority; all other initiatives shall only be further negotiated. In general, one no longer pursues the target to finalise negotiations on the MFF by the end of the legislative period in May 2019.
From a worker’s perspective one cannot fail to notice that the Romanian Presidency only aims at very low targets: there does not appear to be any interest in concluding tax-related or social policy dossiers. According to the Romanian Presidency programme, the negotiations on the “New Deal for Consumers” shall only also be continued; again not a single word in favour of finalisation. However, in this case Parliament has already taken action: following the positive vote in the Committee on Legal Affairs in December on collective redress , this week, the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection has also voted on the so-called Omnibus Directive. From the AK’s point of view one can only hope that progress will be made and that maybe negotiations will be finalised with regard to the European Labour Authority, but also in respect to other important dossiers on social and consumer policy issues. Also desirable would be the determination of the location of the Labour Authority - the AK supports Vienna as the home of ELA.
One would have wished a far more ambitious programme for European workers. Many dossiers, which were not touched under the Austrian Presidency, continue to wait for their conclusion and time is running out. Europe elects a new Parliament from 23rd to 26th May 2019 and the Commission will subsequently newly assemble. Hence, now is the last chance to tackle some of the European Union’s most urgent problems.