The European Commission’s 2017 Work Programme was presented by its First Vice-President Frans Timmermans on Tuesday 25 October 2016 and he began his presentation by stating thatthere were “no surprises” in the Programme. Mr Timmermans did, however, confirm that the Work Programme adequately reflected the Commission’s commitment to its 10 policy priorities, agreed upon with the Parliament, and that it was ambitious in meeting the challenges of the European Union today.

 

Amid a still nascent economic recovery, the migration crisis, and the threat of terror, Mr Timmermans said that “Europe cannot be the answer to all the problems” at hand. He continued by stating that Europe did need to be part of the solution however, which means defending what mattered most to EU citizens: their security, their quality of life, and their job prospects.

In line then with its modest aims, The European Commission’s Work Programme for 2017 was launched with remarkably little fanfare, and even less reaction. Despite the Programme’s ability to capture the imagination, the document does set out the legislative agenda for the next 12 months and moves forward the Commission’s work in areas such as the Single Market Strategy and a Pillar of Social Rights.Along with the new proposals, the Commission also sets out the legislation that it intends to withdraw or repeal, plus a list of revisions under the REFIT programme.

The agenda has been kept short as the Commission stresses that it is regulating better, and does this by only focusing on the important things. The level of focus the Commission will provide these matters remains to be seen though, as most of the 21 ‘key initiatives’ set out below contain several legislative and non-legislative actions.

Amongst the Commissions 21 new initiatives are everything from a Data Protection Package to an EU Stragegy for Syria and on first glance it is noteworthy that half of the initiatives begin with the word ‘implementation’, which could provide some insight to the Commission’s aim of working further on the basis of existing legislative framework.

The Programme’s far-sighted approach therefore allows the Commission to advance the aims set out in the Unions and gives priority to the fledgling  Capital Markets Union and Energy Union.

For the Capital Markets Union the Commission is aiming to build a deeper and fairer internal market and making proposals for fairer taxation of companies and the Energy Union’s goal is to work on low-emission vehicles and mobility, generally decarbonising the transport of Europe.

The Commission has also confirmed its desire to pursue completion of the Security Union in order to fight terrorism and will align the rules on the protection of personal data and privacy. Meanwhile the Single Market Strategy is set for a boost, with half a dozen different legislative proposals due to be tabled in the next year, on issues from the Single Digital Gateway for business to competition authorities.

A bit part player in previous Work Programmes, the Social Pillar rears its head once more, with several proposals planned for next year. This includes a new Youth Initiative, as the Commission aims to boost the uptake of apprenticeships, and tackle the employment and social crisis afflicting Europe.

In other news, the Circular Economy strategy will see a new proposal for a Regulation on re-used water, and the Commission is planning new initiatives on the space and defence sectors. In forging ahead despite the near-embarrassment we saw with CETA this month, the Programme also foresees the opening of free trade talks with Australia, New Zealand and Chile in 2017.

Finally, bumped down the list to last place, are proposals on reforming the EU’s arcane ‘comitology’ procedures for adopting secondary legislation. There are also several measures planned to ensure that Member States properly enforce EU law. 

One could proffer on analysis of the 2017 CWP that the EU is very much in an institutional limbo, as it awaits realignment of its resources post-brexit. It is likely that, in light of the loss of a major Member State, the result will be some kind of institutional changes for the EU, but currently the Commission is steadying the ship, proposing nothing radically new, and focusing on what is already on the table.

Despite the muted reactions to the work Programme however, there has been some criticism of the document.  Philippe Lamberts MEP (Belgium, Greens/European Free Alliance) has stated that while the Commission is focusing on many of the right things, the measures proposed fall far short of what is needed, and João Pimenta Lopes MEP contested the “increasingly neoliberal, federalist and militarist pillars of the EU, seeking the concentration of economic and political power, making it gradually more evident that it is not possible to reform the EU.”  .

Frans Timmermans has responded to some criticism, stating “The Commission knows that Europe appears to be a source of insecurity, of globalization that takes away citizens’ rights and securities, and we need to change that paradigm”. Whether the EU will be able to fulfil its modest aims in the turbulent few months ahead will however, remain to be seen.