European Commission’s Work Programme 2017: “Delivering a Europe that protects, empowers and defends”

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Youth unemployment, refugee crisis, terrorism, UK referendum on EU exit: With its new work programme the European Commission wants answers to the major challenges and to deliver protection against threats. Whether the EU emerges from 2017 strengthened depends not least on the concrete form given to the announced initiatives as well as the creative strength of Council and European Parliament.

With its annual work programme, the European Commission fashions Commission President Juncker's ten growth-relevant priorities into concrete measures. Under the leadership of Vice President Frans Timmermans, the Commission has drawn up an agenda comprising 21 new initiatives, 18 proposals for verifying the quality of existing legislative provisions (so-called REFIT proposals) and 35 existing proposals that need to be fast-tracked. An additional component of the work programme is the "REFIT Scoreboard 2016" in which pointers for the presentation of further proposals can be found.

Concentration on implementation of existing initiatives

The European Commission rightly places the focus on adoption and implementation of existing initiatives. Whereas the work programmes in the previous legislature period 2009-2014 contained an annual average of 130 measures, just 21 key initiatives are still planned for 2017. Among other things, mid-term reviews of the migration agenda, the digital single market strategy or the action plan for a capital market union can be found at the forefront. Together with the announced strategic concept for enforcement of EU law, German business associates the hope that single market rules - not least in the environmental sphere - will in future be enforced and complied with more effectively in all Member States. But it is also clear: among the 21 key initiatives, there are numerous policy measures which will feed into many individual proposals. In particular in EU social policy, the Commission plans to present a proposal for the creation of a European pillar of social rights accompanied by initiatives for managing challenges linked to work-life balance for working people with family, access to social protection and enforcement of the working time directive.

No clear commitment to re-industrialisation of Europe

The work programme lacks a clear industrial policy focus. Despite clear calls from European Parliament and Member States for a stronger EU industrial policy, the Commission announces no industrial policy communication for 2017. While the energy and climate policy objectives for 2030 have already been decided, the re-industrialisation of Europe is increasingly being lost from sight. This means that the Commission is progressively moving away from a balanced policy mix and from its own ambition to strengthen the industrial basis in Europe.

In the next step, European Commission, Council and Parliament want to reach agreement on a joint declaration on priority legislative proposals. Inter alia, the Commission proposes to push the initiatives on geo-blocking and online sales law through the legislative process using the fast-track procedure. It remains to be seen whether the legislator bends to the will of the Commission on these politically sensitive themes and refrains from an in-depth political discussion.