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With the European Parliament elections coming up this week, here are some highlights of the work the EU has done over the last five years. The results of the elections on 22 May will be crucial in deciding how all this will be pursued over the next five years.
Since 2009, Europe has, among other things:
1/ Taken tough measures to regulate the financial sector properly
2/ Given consumers a better deal
3/ Massively boosted research, innovation and science
4/ Cut red tape
5/ Taken big steps to tackle climate change and make the EU more energy efficient and independent
6/ Acted to protect the environment
7/ Given young people more chances to benefit directly from EU funds
8/ Protected animal welfare
9/ Modernised the EU budget and focused it on growth and jobs
10/ Reformed agriculture and fisheries policies
This is not an exhaustive list. Foreign affairs issues and trade and development issues, for example, are not included here.
We focus on things that are important to the British public and to British business and pick out mostly areas where the European Parliament, as well as the European Commission, has played a key role.
Fundamentally, all of these policies aim to create sustainable growth and jobs.
More information on all of the areas mentioned can be found via the onward links below.
1/Taken tough measures to regulate the financial sector properly
One of the main reasons for the crisis which began in 2007 and from which most of the EU is only now beginning to emerge was lax regulation of banking and financial services.
The EU has addressed this comprehensively with a far-reaching programme of reform, with over 40 new EU laws adopted, to encourage long-term investment and sensible lending and to prevent reckless risk-taking and future crises.
Other jurisdictions, particularly the United States, have also implemented radical reforms, following G20 commitments which the EU took a lead role in negotiating.
The UK has always been a strong supporter of the single market in financial services and has played a leading role in negotiating the reforms, based on proposals by the Commission and in agreement with the European Parliament, where the relevant committee has been chaired by a British MEP.
Last week, the Commission issued an overview of the progress made and of the macro-economic benefits expected from the measures taken: for example, reforms in the banking sector alone are estimated to boost EU GDP by about 0.6-1.1% per year (or about €75-140 billion per year, based on 2013 EU GDP).
2/Given consumers a better deal
The EU has forced further drastic cuts to cross-border mobile telephone and data (roaming) charges. Overall, the EU has slashed roaming costs by 50% for calls and 93% for data
Air passenger rights have been strengthened so that cancellations and endless delays without compensation are becoming a thing of the past. What is more, similar rights have been extended to other forms of transport.
Food safety measures have been reinforced, partly in response to the horsemeat scandal.
Electronic appliances are becoming greener and cheaper to run thanks to tough new eco-design standards and clearer labelling.
Consumer rights, notably for purchases made across borders, are also now stronger than five years ago. The Commission is currently running a campaign to inform businesses and consumers about their rights and obligations.
What is more, thanks to new EU wide provisions for Alternative Dispute Resolution, consumers will soon be able to solve any dispute with EU-based traders – including online traders – without going to court.
3/Massively boosted European research, innovation and science
Through stiff Europe-wide competition, EU research and innovation funding drives standards higher than national funding schemes alone ever could.
Most of the EU budget has been cut. But funding for research and innovation will go up by nearly 40% to EUR 80 billion under the new Horizon 2020 programme. Horizon 2020 has a clear focus on global challenges like cancer, climate change and the security of energy and food supplies.
There will be big boosts for the European Research Council, which funds cutting edge work by Europe’s leading established and up and coming researchers and for the European Institute of Technology and Innovation, which focuses on turning new ideas into the hi-tech products of tomorrow.
UK researchers, universities and businesses got about EUR 8 bn/£6.6 bn from the 2007-13 programme – that is set to increase to about EUR 12 bn/£10 bn under Horizon 2020, if the UK maintains the same level of performance.
Among other steps forward in the fields of science and innovation have been the adoption – at last – of a European patent that will boost incentives to innovate and save business billions.
Also noteworthy is the launch of the first satellites under the Galileo programme for global satellite navigation and the Copernicus European system for monitoring the Earth, which will help prevent and respond to natural disasters .
4/Cut red tape
The natural tendency of much EU regulation is to reduce red tape by replacing the need for businesses to comply with 28 different sets of regulation to operate EU-wide with the requirement to comply with just one set of rules
But the burden of regulation – whether EU or national – on businesses and citizens needs to be as light as is consistent with protecting the public interest.
So over the last five years, both the European Commission and the European Parliament have – often in cooperation with the UK government among others – made cutting red tape a top priority.
In its review of cuts to EU red tape in late 2013, the Commission identified a decrease of 26% of administrative burden for businesses between 2008 and 2012, equivalent to savings of about EUR 32bn/£26 bn per year.
Some examples of the steps taken are listed here. They include among many other things reform of public procurement, exempting micro-enterprises from much EU law, VAT and customs reforms and changes making it easier for people to get their professional qualifications recognised in other Member States
The EU has also introduced a new financial regulation making it much easier to apply for EU funds and manage them if awarded.
5/Taken big steps to tackle climate change and make the EU more energy efficient and independent
EU energy policy over the last five years has aimed to boost energy efficiency, increase use of renewable energy (thus also cutting dependence on imported fossil fuels from Russia and the Middle East) , cut emissions and build a true single market in energy that will help ensure security of supply and keep energy costs lower than they otherwise would be.
The European Commission put forward in December 2013 a new energy and climate change package with targets for 2030, including 40% cut in emissions compared to 1990 and getting the share of renewable energy in the EU energy mix up to 27%.
The new European Parliament will by early next year consider the Commission’s review of the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive, which will be key to achieving both the 2030 targets and the existing targets for 2020.
6/Acted to protect the environment
The EU is tackling diesel and other air pollution which costs 29 000 lives per year in the UK alone, according to government data.
The number of zones where limits on health-damaging particles are being exceeded dropped by about 25% between 2008 and 2012. But air pollution remains far too high in many places. The Commission is taking legal action against the UK and other Member States to ensure compliance with rules they and the European Parliament agreed several years ago.
Largely as a result of EU action, the proportion of rubbish being recycled or composted across the EU has doubled from 21% in 2001 to 42% in 2012. Less is therefore going to landfill sites which can pollute the water table and cause other environmental problems. But more work on this is necessary if targets for each Member State to reach 50% by 2020 are to be reached.
The EU has adopted a far-reaching Environmental Action Programme for 2014-2020. It aims to protect nature and strengthen ecological resilience, boost resource-efficient, low-carbon growth, and reduce threats to human health and wellbeing. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States will all have a key role in delivering it and updating it.
7/Given young people more chances to benefit directly from EU funds
The new Erasmus+ programme brings together and simplifies a series of earlier schemes, introduces new strands and greatly expands opportunities not only for students to study in EU countries other than their own, but also for teachers, school pupils, apprentices, volunteers, young entrepreneurs and others to benefit from training, exchanging best practice and networking across the EU.
The seven year programme will have a budget of €14.7 billion, a 40% increase compared to current spending levels. Four million people are expected to take part.
Along with research and innovation, this is one of the very few areas to see an increase in EU budget for 2014-2020.
8/Protected animal welfare
Among the EU-level progress made over the last five years to improve animal welfare has been the implementation – though further efforts are still necessary in some Member States -of bans on cruel treatment of laying hens and of pigs and an end to sales in the EU of cosmetics tested on animals.
The Commission has also put forward an animal welfare strategy which will cover the beginning of the next mandate and asks the European Parliament and Member States to take further decisions.
9/Modernised the EU budget and focused it on growth and jobs
The EU budget amounts to only about 1% of GDP and about 2% of public spending in the EU. But it is economically, politically and strategically important for Europe’s future.
So there were many months of tough discussions between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States over the EU budgetary framework for 2014-2020.
These resulted in an overall cut to the budget compared to the previous seven years.
Less widely covered in the media was the major reform to the composition of the budget to focus it much more clearly on creating growth and jobs –all the EU institutions agreed on the need for that, even if the detail took a lot of hammering out! The result sees funding boosts for infrastructure projects, research and innovation and education (see above), while the share spent on agriculture (see below) will go down.
10/Reformed agriculture and fisheries policies
For 2014-2020, the EU has radically redesigned both the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
The CAP is now much more efficient, greener and more equitable. Over the next seven years, the new CAP will invest almost EUR 25 billion in the UK farming sector and in rural areas. The budget for direct payments to farmers in the UK will remain stable despite a reduction of 3.2% at EU level. 30% of direct payments will be linked to environmentally-friendly farming practices.
Millions of fish will no longer be thrown back dead in to the sea thanks to the changes to the CFP.
The UK played a key role in these agriculture and fisheries reforms, alongside the Commission and Parliament
For a more complete picture of progress over the last five years, please see this recent round up by the European Commission.