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European Commission Press Releases

Security Union: Commission welcomes adoption of new measures denying terrorists and criminals the means and space to act

Vlad Poptamas

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Photo source: blog.stealthbits.com
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Today, the European Parliament adopted two important Security Union legislative initiatives proposed by the Commission on interoperability and explosive precursors. These new measures will allow EU information systems for security, migration and border management to work together more intelligently and will strengthen EU rules on explosive precursors.

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “The Security Union is steadily taking shape with a whole range of tools, actions and rules being put in place to protect our citizens on all fronts. I welcome that the European Parliament has given its final green light today to ensure that all our information systems can talk to one another and that terrorists and criminals can no longer get their hands on dangerous chemicals to produce homemade bombs. This is Europe at its best. This is Europe that protects.”

Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King said: “Today’s adoptions mark another important milestone in our work towards an effective and genuine Security Union. Interoperability will help those working in the frontline to keep EU citizens safe – ensuring police and border guards have efficient access to the information they need, including to fight identity fraud, enables them to do their jobs properly. And the new rules on explosive precursors are an important element of our work in closing down the space in which terrorists operate, preventing them from gaining access to the means they use to cause harm.”

Better protecting European citizens has been a political priority since the beginning of the Juncker Commission’s mandate – from President Juncker’s Political Guidelines of July 2014 to the latest State of the Union Address on 12 September 2018. The adopted measures will expedite the ongoing efforts at EU level to improve internal security and close down the space in which criminals and terrorists operate.

The interoperability framework will:

  • Crosscheck existing data with one click through a European search portal: Border guards and police will, on a single screen, be able to carry out and cross-check identity documents against all the relevant EU information systems, in line with their existing access rights;
  • Better detect identity fraud: Border guards and police will soon be able to identify dangerous criminals more easily through a shared biometric matching service that will use fingerprints and facial images to search across existing information systems, and through a common identity repository which will store biographical data of non-EU citizens. In addition, a multiple-identity detector will cross-check and immediately flag anyone who is using fraudulent or multiple identities;
  • Protect fundamental rights: Interoperability does not change the rules on access and purpose limitation relating to the EU’s information systems. Fundamental rights thus remain protected.

While the EU already has strict rules in place on access to chemical precursors that can be used to produce homemade explosives, the strengthened regulation will:

  • Ban additional chemicals: The list of restricted substances has been updated to include sulphuric acid, an ingredient in the explosives used in the attack at the airport and the subway of Brussels in March 2016, as well as ammonium nitrate.
  • Strengthen licensing and screening: Before issuing a license to a member of the general public for buying restricted substances, each Member State will need to check the legitimacy of such a request and perform a careful security screening, including a criminal background check.

Next steps

The Council will now have to adopt the texts of the two new Regulations establishing the framework for the interoperability of EU information systems for security, border and migration management, as well as the strengthened Regulation on the marketing and use of explosives precursors. The texts will then be co-signed by the President of the European Parliament and the rotating Presidency of the Council, published in the Official Journal and will enter into force twenty days later.

The Regulation on explosives precursors will become applicable immediately. The Regulations on interoperability will enable eu-LISA to start developing and rolling-out the technical components for the relevant IT systems. These include the reinforced Schengen Information System (SIS), the existing Visa Information System (VIS), the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS-TCN), the EU Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). The work is expected to be complete by 2023.

Background

The Juncker Commission has prioritised security from day one. The European Agenda on Security guides the Commission’s work in this area, setting out the main actions to ensure an effective EU response to terrorism and security threats, including countering radicalisation, boosting cybersecurity, denying terrorists the means to act as well as improving information exchange. Since the adoption of the Agenda, significant progress has been made in its implementation, paving the way towards an effective and genuine Security Union.

In April 2016, the Commission presented a Communication on stronger and smarter information systems for borders and security, starting a discussion on how to make EU information systems work better in order to enhance border management and internal security.In May 2017, the Commission proposed a new approach to achieve full interoperability of EU information systems for security, border and migration management by 2020 and followed up with legislative proposals in December 2017. The European Parliament and the Council reached political agreement on the Commission’s proposals in February 2019.

In 2013, the EU put in place rules to restrict access to explosive precursors that could be used to make home-made explosives. However, the security threat has been constantly evolving with terrorists using new tactics, and developing new recipes and bomb-making techniques. This is why the Commission proposed to tighten those rules further in April 2018, as part of a wider set of security measures to deny terrorists the means to act. The European Parliament and the Council reached a provisional agreement on the Commission’s proposal on 4 February.

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European Commission Press Releases

EU budget 2021-2027: Commission calls on leaders to set out a roadmap towards an autumn agreement

Vlad Poptamas

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Photo source: theverge.com
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Ahead of the European Council meeting on 20 and 21 June, the European Commission is calling on leaders to make a push in advancing the negotiations on the EU’s next long-term budget 2021-2027 so that an agreement can be reached by autumn. An agreement is within reach – but much work remains too while a lot is at stake.

In a Communication published today, the Commission looks at what has been achieved so far and identifies the main open issues that need to be addressed, paving the way for a swift agreement. Time is running and delays to the future EU budget are costly. Not having an agreement in time would affect students, farmers and researchers, as well as everybody else who benefits from the EU budget. The EU’s current long-term budget 2014-2020 was adopted six months too late having negative consequences formany citizens, in our Member States and beyond (see Annex).

To avoid a similar scenario, the Commission calls today on the European Council to set out a roadmap to achieving an agreement on the EU’s long-term budget in the autumn and to invite the Council to take the work forward as a matter of priority.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “A lot of work has already been done in moving forward the Commission’s proposal for the EU’s future long-term budget. I congratulate the European Parliament and Member States in the Council for their hard work and commitment. Now is the time to move up a gear. With the highest turnout in European elections for 20 years and a campaign more focused on European issues than ever before, 2019 is a year of renewal for our Union. Agreeing on our future budget is not a number-crunching exercise but it is about matching our ambitions and priorities with the right budgetary means. The stakes are high but with courage and political will, there is a chance to reach agreement by autumn.”

European Commissioner in charge of Budget and Human Resources, Günther H. Oettinger said: “Thanks to the good work of three consecutive Council Presidencies, we have already reached partial agreement on 12 sectoral files, while negotiations can start on further 16. Most importantly, an agreement on the overall framework is needed. And we need to reach it as quickly as possible – in the name of our students, farmers and researchers, among many others who count on the EU budget.”

In May and June 2018, the Commission put forward a proposal for a new and modern long-term budget, tightly geared to the Union’s priorities, including the legislative proposals for the 37 sectoral programmes. On that basis, a lot of work has already been done in both the European Parliament and the Council. Progress has been made on the overall framework; many of the sectoral proposals have been at least partially closed.

During the negotiations, many of the elements that the European Commission initially proposed have already received broad support from the European Parliament and the Council. These include:

  • the strong focus on European added value;
  • the streamlined and more transparent structure of the future budget;
  • the reduction in the number of programmes and the creation of new integrated programmes in areas like investing in people, the single market, strategic investments and rights and values;
  • the increased focus on synergies between instruments;
  • the simplification of funding rules;
  • the greater flexibility to ensure rapid reaction in a fast-changing world.

Progress is also being made in the discussions of the following proposals:

  • The budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness for the euro area;
  • The new mechanism to ensure that generalised deficiencies in the rule of law do not put at risk the EU budget;
  • The Commission’s proposals to modernise the revenue side of the EU budget.

At the same time, key political issues – and the financial aspects in particular – are still up for discussion. The time to address them is now. The June European Council should launch a new phase of political negotiations with an increasing focus on financial and other strategic issues. This is the only way to ensure that a timely agreement can be reached and that the new programmes are up and running by 1 January 2021.

Delivering the future budget on time means concrete results for all Europeans: It would create tens of thousands of research jobs already in 2021 and many more in the wider economy, it would make sure that over 100,000 Cohesion Policy projects start on time, enable 1,000,000 young people to benefit from an Erasmus exchange and allow 40,000 young people to engage in solidarity action across Europe in 2021. It would support start-ups and small and medium-sized companies to realise their investments, would significantly step up defence investments and capabilities and would help protecting the Union’s borders against trafficking, smuggling and fraud.

Completing work on the future framework and the spending programmes in time to allow their full implementation by 1 January 2021 will be challenging, but it is achievable – provided that the European Council leads the way.

Background

On 2 May 2018, the Commission put forward a proposal for a modern, balanced and fair budget to deliver on Europe’s priorities as set out by Leaders in Bratislava in 2016 and in Rome in 2017. That proposal was immediately followed by legislative proposals for the 37 sectoral programmes forming part of the future long-term budget. On that solid basis, the Commission has worked hand in hand with the Bulgarian, Austrian and Romanian Presidencies to take the negotiations forward.

When it comes to timing, from the very beginning, the Commission has been supportive of an ambitious timeline. The European Council in its conclusions of December 2018 called for an agreement in the European Council in autumn 2019. The Commission will continue working very closely with the current and future Presidencies, and in close collaboration with the European Parliament, towards this objective.

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European Commission Press Releases

Data Protection Regulation one year on: 73% of Europeans have heard of at least one of their rights

Vlad Poptamas

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Photo source: gep.com
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Today, at the occasion of a stock-taking event to mark the first year of application of the EU General Data Protection Regulation, the European Commission is publishing the results of a special Eurobarometer survey on data protection. The results show that Europeans are relatively well aware of the new data protection rules, their rights and the existence of national data protection authorities, to whom they can turn for help when their rights are violated.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market said: “European citizens have become more aware of their digital rights and this is encouraging news. However, only three in ten Europeans have heard of all their new data rights. For companies, their customers’ trust is hard currency and this trust starts with the customers’ understanding of, and confidence in, privacy settings. Being aware is a precondition to being able to exercise your rights. Both sides can only win from clearer and simpler application of data protection rules.”

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality added: “Helping Europeans regain control over their personal data is one of our biggest priorities. But, of the 60% Europeans who read their privacy statements, only 13% read them fully. This is because the statements are too long or too difficult to understand. I once again urge all online companies to provide privacy statements that are concise, transparent and easily understandable by all users. I also encourage all Europeans to use their data protection rights and to optimise their privacy settings”.

Based on the views of 27,000 Europeans, the Eurobarometer results show that 73% of respondents have heard of at least one of the six tested rights guaranteed by the General Data Protection Regulation. The highest levels of awareness among citizens are recorded for the right to access their own data (65%), the right to correct the data if they are wrong (61%), the right to object to receiving direct marketing (59%) and the right to have their own data deleted (57%).

In addition, 67% of respondents know about the General Data Protection Regulation and 57% of respondents know about their national data protection authorities. The results also show that data protection is a concern, as 62% of respondents are concerned that they do not have complete control over the personal data provided online.

Also today, the European Commission organises an event bringing together national and EU authorities and businesses to mark the first year of implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation, in the presence of Commissioner Jourová.

Next steps

The Commission is launching today an awareness raising campaign to encourage citizens to read privacy statements and to optimise their privacy settings so that they only share the data they are willing to share.

The Commission will also report on the application of General Data Protection Regulation in 2020.

Background

The General Data Protection Regulation is a single set of rules with a common EU approach to the protection of personal data, directly applicable in the Member States. It reinforces trust by putting individuals back in control of their personal data and at the same time guarantees the free flow of personal data between EU Member States. The protection of personal data is a fundamental right in the European Union.

The GDPR has been applicable since 25 May 2018. Since then, nearly all Member States have adapted their national laws in the light of GDPR. The national Data Protection Authorities are in charge of enforcing the new rules and are better coordinating their actions thanks to the new cooperation mechanisms and the European Data Protection Board. They are issuing guidelines on key aspects of the GDPR to support the implementation of the new rules.

Today’s stock-taking event will consist of three panel discussions:

  • Panel 1 – How effective is enforcement?
  • Panel 2 – Data protection as a business opportunity
  • Panel 3 – How do individuals use their new rights?
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European Commission Press Releases

Banking Union: Non-performing loans in the EU continue to decline

Vlad Poptamas

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Photo source: europarl.europa.eu
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Efforts to reduce risks in the EU banking sector are bearing fruit, according to new figures released by the European Commission today.

In its fourth progress report on the reduction of non-performing loans (NPLs), the Commission today confirms that NPL levels are continuing their downward trajectory towards pre-crisis levels. The ratio of NPLs in EU banks has come down by more than half since 2014, declining to 3.3% in the third quarter of 2018 and down by 1.2 percentage points year-on-year.

Building on the December 2018 Euro Summit conclusions, today’s report will inform discussions on the completion of the Banking Union at the next meeting of EU finance ministers on 14 June, not least on the steps that need to be taken towards a European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS).

Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President responsible for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Unionsaid: “Working out the remaining stocks of non-performing loans is part of our ongoing efforts to make the banking sector even stronger. Our banks are now better capitalised and better prepared to withstand economic shocks. We’ve recently agreed on more robust framework to regulate and supervise banks. Given this progress in reducing risks, I call on EU Finance Ministers to move forward with other measures to complete the Banking Union.”

In a separate Communication on the Deepening of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union released today, the Commission invites EU leaders to finalise the changes to the Treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism and to make a renewed effort to advance towards the completion of the Banking Union. Together with the completion of the Banking Union, this is essential for the development of Economic and Monetary Union, and strengthening the international role of the euro.

Despite clear improvements, high ratios of NPLs do remain a challenge in some Member States and deserve continued attention. Today’s Communication calls on Member States and the European Parliament to accelerate work on the outstanding proposals to complement the EU’s action to tackle this issue. Important strides have already been made towards full implementation of the EU’s Action Plan to tackle the high stocks of NPLs. However, the Commission calls on co-legislators to quickly agree on its proposed measures around the benchmarking of national loan enforcement and insolvency frameworks, and to develop a sharper focus on insolvency in the European Semester process.

Background

Together, the Banking Union and the Capital Markets Union promote a more integrated and stable EU financial system. They increase the resilience of the Economic and Monetary Union against adverse shocks by substantially facilitating private risk sharing across borders, while at the same time reducing the need for public risk sharing.

One of the key areas for reducing risk in the European banking sector is the further decline in NPLs. The financial crisis and subsequent recessions led to a more widespread inability of borrowers to pay back their loans, as more people and companies faced continued payment difficulties and even bankruptcy. This was particularly so in Member States that faced long or deep recessions. Consequently, many banks saw a build-up of NPLs on their books. High NPL ratios remain an important challenge in some banks in particular and can considerably weigh on their performance.

The Commission has been working together with Member States concerned to address the high level of NPLs, including through the European Semester and the setting up of ad hoc and system-wide impaired assets measures, compatible with state aid rules. Member States’ supervisors and banks have themselves also made considerable progress in cleaning up bank balance sheets since the crisis.

In March 2018, the Commission put forward a comprehensive package of measures as part of the EU Action Plan to tackle non-performing loans. The package contains policy actions in four areas: (i) bank supervision and regulation, (ii) further reforms of national restructuring, insolvency and debt recovery frameworks, (iii) developing secondary markets for distressed assets, and (iv) fostering, as appropriate and necessary, restructuring of banks.

Furthermore, the Commission has been working with Member States to enable case-specific solutions for banks within the framework of EU State aid and banking rules, with a clear objective of limiting costs to taxpayers whilst making sure depositors remained fully protected at all times. This enabled transactions that removed some €133 billion of gross NPLs from the balance sheets of banks over the last three years (around €103 billion in Italy; around €24 billion in Portugal; around €6 billion in Cyprus).

Today’s fourth progress report responds to the Council’s expectation to complete a regular stocktake of NPLs in the EU.

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