European Council: focus on the digital economy
At their meeting on 24-25 October 2013, EU leaders discussed the digital economy, economic and social policy, the Economic and Monetary Union, the Eastern Partnership and migration flows. They also issued a statement on recent developments concerning possible intelligence issues.
Digital economy, innovation and services
In a dedicated thematic session, EU leaders discussed the need for the EU's digital economy to regain momentum as well as the importance of digital innovation for growth and competitiveness.
They highlighted the need for new investments in digital infrastructure and the accelerated deployment of new technologies, as well as the importance of progress on related tax issues.
EU leaders also confirmed their commitment to completing a consumer and business-friendly Digital Single Market by 2015. They stressed the relevance of progress on e-identification and e-invoicing legislation and of modernising public administration as well as the importance of adapting Europe's copyright regime. Leaders also called for the timely adoption of the telecoms package and data protection framework.
As regards the need to fill IT skilled vacancies , leaders proposed concrete steps to improve digital skills, such as using part of the EU Structural and Investment Funds (2014-2020) for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) education and training, among other things.
In addition, leaders underlined the need to make the most of the EU's intellectual and scientific potential in order to close the commercialisation gap. They highlighted the importance of systemic innovation and of completing the European Research Area by the end of 2014.
On the subject of services and trade, the European Council called on the member states to improve their implementation of the Services Directive to speed up the opening of services markets. Leaders reiterated the importance of trade for growth and jobs and welcomed the political agreement on the key elements of an economic and trade agreement with Canada.
Economic and social policy
The European Council stressed that the fight against youth unemployment remains a key objective and that the Youth Employment Initiative needs to be fully operational by January 2014.
Financing of the economy
The leaders confirmed that all efforts should continue to restore normal lending to the economy and facilitate financing of investment, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The European Structural and Investment Funds should be used to significantly increase the overall EU support from these funds to leverage-based financial instruments for SMEs, while at least doubling support in countries where conditions remain tight.
The leaders also welcomed the agreement on COSME and Horizon 2020 programmes, which should increase the competitiveness of EU's SMEs. Their implementation is considered to be a priority.
Regulatory fitness - making EU regulation lighter
The leaders welcomed steps identified in the Commission's REFIT communication, aiming at making the regulatory framework lighter and fit for purpose. They called on the Commission to submit further proposals and look forward to agreeing further steps in this direction.
Economic and Monetary Union
Strengthening economic policy coordination
The European Council acknowledged the progress achieved in recent years, notably via the 'European Semester'. It also considers that to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth in the euro area, coordination of economic policies needs to be strengthened further by increasing the level of commitment, ownership and implementation of economic reforms in the euro area.
As a first step, the leaders agreed to conduct a shared analysis of the economic situation in the member states and in the euro area as such. To this end, they will discuss the Commission's yearly Annual Growth Survey and the Alert Mechanism Report in December in order to agree on the main areas for coordination of economic policies.
The Commission will also provide a first overview of how the member states implement country-specific recommendations. This will form the basis for monitoring their implementation.
Social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union
The leaders welcomed the Commission's communication on the social dimension of the EMU. They considered that the Commission's proposals to use an employment and social scoreboard in the Joint Employment Report and the relevant indicators in the policy coordination process should be pursued.
The objective is to start using these new instruments as early as 2014.
The leaders confirmed that coordination of economic, employment and social policies will be enhanced, whilst fully respecting national competences.
The European Council also underlined the importance of social dialogue at both member state and European level to enhance ownership of the conclusions and recommendations of the European Semester.
The leaders welcomed the final adoption by the Council of the rules on the single supervisory mechanism (SSM). They highlighted that completing the banking union is a matter of urgency.
The leaders reconfirmed the agreed voting arrangements in the regulation on the European Banking Authority (EBA), which reflect the principle of non-discrimination between member states regarding banking supervision and provide an appropriate balance between participating and non-participating member states.
The European Central Bank (ECB) will soon launch a comprehensive assessment of credit institutions in those states participating in the single supervisory mechanism. Those member states are expected to develop a coordinated European approach and make the necessary arrangements at national level. The assessment will be followed by bank stress tests across the EU.
The leaders considered that this is an important step towards reinforcing confidence in the EU banking sector and restoring normal lending conditions to firms and households.
They called on the Eurogroup to finalise the guidelines necessary for the European Stability Mechanism to be able to recapitalise banks directly.
Another element of the banking union is the single resolution mechanism. The leaders called for the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive and the Deposit Guarantee Directive to be adopted by the end of this year. The Council is expected to reach a general approach on the proposal for a Single Resolution Mechanism by the end of the year, so that it can be adopted before the end of the current legislative period.
The European Council looks ahead at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 28 and 29 November. The EU hopes to be able to take important steps, such as, in particular,the signing of the Association Agreement with Ukraine, provided there is determined action and tangible progress on the EU's benchmarks. The EU is also ready to initial similar agreements with the Republic of Moldova and Georgia.
Against the background of the recent human tragedies in the Mediterranean, the leaders discussed how to avoid that such tragedies happen again.
"The three principles, three values, which we stressed together today – prevention, protection, solidarity – will guide all our work. All leaders agree to shared responsibility with the member states most affected by migration flows", said Herman Van Rompuy.
The following instruments were outlined:
- enhanced cooperation with the countries of origin and transit of migrants
- cooperation with international organisations such as the UNHCR and the IOM
- stronger measures to combat human trafficking and smuggling
- swift implementation of the new European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR).
The newly established Task Force for the Mediterranean will identify prioritity actions for a more efficient use of European policies and tools and will report to the JHA Council in December with a view to taking operational decisions.
The European Council will return to asylum and migration issues in June 2014.
The European heads of state and government made a statement on recent developments concerning possible intelligence concerns. While underlining the close relationship, it was said that the partnership between Europe and the USA must be based on respect and trust, also when it comes to cooperation between secret services.
France and Germany intend to seek bilateral talks with the USA in order to come to an understanding on mutual relations in that field. Other EU countries are welcome to join the initiative.