Brussels is back — back to what it does best.
Forget the politics of the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. This fall many EU policymakers will be hustling to tick a pile of policy decisions off their to-do lists, as they get back to the bureaucracy of doing business in Brussels (even if it’s a hybrid version).
There are a host of issues ripening as both the European Parliament and the von der Leyen Commission enter their third year in office.
Here’s POLITICO’s guide to what you need to know.
Brussels this fall plans to implement the final Basel III capital reforms for banks and review the Solvency II capital framework for insurers, taking action on two major pieces of financial services legislation. The Basel proposal in particular is already getting political, with the European Commission under pressure from industry and governments including France and Germanyto water down the rules. The EU executive will need to meet international commitments to apply the reforms faithfully while at the same time avoiding a large capital increase for the bloc’s lenders. An increase could have an adverse knock-on effect on the fledgling post-pandemic economic recovery.
Key date: October 5, when the Commission is tentatively scheduled to make its plans public.
EU deficit rules
Economic policymakers in the EU capital must resume a tense debate over reforming the bloc’s deficit rules, which set the financial boundaries for eurozone countries to balance their books. The complex rules have been on ice so that countries could respond to the coronavirus pandemic without fear of reproach, and so too has talk of change. But that will reignite after September’s German election. Southern capitals argue that change is vital, as the rules need to adapt to post-pandemic high debt levels and accelerating climate change. Northern countries are calling for fiscal discipline. Germany’s support will be pivotal to one side or the other: Advocates for reform will be hoping the Greens get into a future coalition in Berlin. If they don’t, the South will face a near insurmountable task to win Northern countries over.
Key date: September 26, when Germans head to the polls.
Fund managers fear Britain’s departure from the EU may lead to tighter rules this fall on the outsourcing of investment decisions and other services to companies outside the bloc. The European Commission could bring in limits on so-called delegation as part of its review of the rules for alternative fund managers due in October. It’s a Brexit flash point: the EU’s securities regulator wants restrictions to prevent letter-box companies from outsourcing too much to London, but the industry is fiercely resistant and views the practice as fundamental to its setup.
Key date: October 27, when the Commission is scheduled to announce its plans.
Despite hopes in some quarters that the pandemic might help Brussels gain powers over health care, the Commission’s 2020 proposals for a “European Health Union” only cemented its role as a cheerleader. That hasn’t prevented pushback from EU countries. This fall will see policymakers battle over plans to boost existing EU agencies and give Brussels the power to declare a pandemic without the World Health Organization doing so. The EU executive needs to get capitals on board by the end of the year, just as it proposes what could be its most ambitious idea: a new Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Agency or HERA (to be modeled on its U.S. equivalent, BARDA) that could invest big money into promising medical research in an emergency. It will only launch if EU countries get on board.
Key dates: September 14, when the proposal for HERA is due; end of the year, by when the Commission wants agreement on its other health proposals.
The Commission is working up legislation on a much-anticipated initiative to make it easier to share health data, whether that’s for research or direct patient benefit including digital health services. But it’s a delicate topic — when the U.K. in June drafted its own strategy, critics soon expressed fears about possible privacy breaches. The idea that health data could be sold to the highest bidder and used by private companies underlies many concerns about wider access to incredibly valuable information. After a consultation closed late July, the Commission is trawling through suggestions and concerns from companies, lobby groups and privacy campaigners. For the final proposal to avoid major pushback it will need to create a structure that balances rules for easier sharing with guarantees that patients retain control.
Key date: End of the year, by which time the Commission is set to present its proposal.
The coronavirus pandemic and Brexit have thrown the precarity of supply chains into stark focus. The Commission asked regulators, industry representatives and NGOs to think about how to make Europe’s drug supplies more reliable, culminating in a crucial meeting planned for mid-September to discuss the findings. That will inform a Commission report due this year to include concrete proposals on strengthening drug supplies and avoiding shortages — a touchy subject that is likely to wade into sensitive relations between generic and branded drugmakers, among others. Also relevant is the unveiling of the EU’s new agency HERA (see above) — the planned agency will have among its responsibilities “supply chain risk mapping.”
Key dates: September 14, when the HERA proposal is due; September 15, the tentative date of the Commission-sponsored meeting.
TRADE, AGRICULTURE AND SUSTAINABILITY
Policing supply chains
Expect a flurry of Commission infighting and external lobbying this fall as Brussels gears up to propose a law policing EU-based companies’ global supply chains and forcing them to take sustainability into account in business decisions. The proposal is tentatively scheduled for October but an initial assessment on the impacts of the law received a red light from Commission officials, meaning it is yet to be resubmitted for internal scrutiny. That could mean the release date is pushed back yet again. Meanwhile, countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria are plowing ahead with national legislation. They’re vying to influence the EU directive from home as Brussels continues to fight over what the scope, depth and liability levels should be.
Key date: October 27, the tentative date for the law’s publication.
Changing food protections
The Commission has promised that by the end of 2021 it will find ways to bolster its system for protecting gourmet food and drink names — like Champagne or Parma ham — through so-called geographical indications. The EU presses trade partners to recognize these food names when it negotiates new deals, meaning non-EU food-makers can’t use those terms — and Brussels’ goal is to make these protections even more robust to deter copycats and prevent fraud, especially online. The Commission has said it may consider a new EU-level system to protect non-agricultural handicrafts tied to certain locations, like Murano glass or Donegal tweed. Meanwhile in the U.K., the British government is pushing for new geographical indications as it negotiates trade deals after Brexit — and is under pressure to deliver after making them a big selling point in deals with Japan, Mexico and others. In August, Welsh lamb became the first food recognized.
Key date: End of the year, by when the Commission has said it will revise the rules.
Pesticides and farming emissions
With policymakers under pressure to figure out how to make European agriculture better for the environment, the Commission will in the fall start churning out the legislative initiatives promised in its Farm to Fork strategy that tackle some sensitive issues. The flurry of laws will include tweaks to improve the content of animal feed so that cows and other animals burp out less climate-damaging methane. The Commission also wants to change the bloc’s fiendishly complex pesticides rules to allow more environmentally friendly products onto the market, ahead of legislation on reducing synthetic chemical pesticides due early next year. EU countries also have to make a decision on whether to reauthorize or effectively ban the controversial herbicide glyphosate by the end of the year, as the chemical’s five-year license expires in December. There will also be a fresh EU soil strategy, and one on carbon farming — paying farmers to keep carbon in the ground and letting polluting companies buy credits from them — that could be a watershed moment.
Key dates: September 9 or 10, the date of the next Parliament agriculture committee meeting when MEPs could vote on their input to the Farm to Fork strategy; December 22, the tentative date for the soil strategy.
CLIMATE, ENVIRONMENT AND MOBILITY
EU climate legislation
After gorging itself on climate legislation in July, Brussels now needs to start working off the flab of the Fit for 55 package. Expect a long autumn of working groups and progress reports as countries and lawmakers digest the laws intended to turn the bloc’s lofty green goals into reality. Capitals will also be receiving their recovery fund money, and green-minded Eurocrats and NGOs watching to ensure that they live up to (or even go beyond) the EU mandate to spend 37 percent of the cash on climate measures. Meanwhile, a fight continues over whether the EU will include gas and nuclear projects as part of its sustainable finance regime. Expect new legislation from the Commission sometime this fall.
Key dates: November 1, when the U.N. COP26 climate talks start. Aesthetes should also watch on September 14 for more detail on Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s pet New European Bauhaus project.
It’s a crunch period for the future of the planet. After setting its Biodiversity Strategy until 2030 last year, the European Commission will be busy this fall preparing new legislation to set binding nature restoration targets. It’s also plotting a law to ban products that drive deforestation from being sold in the EU, and a proposal to toughen up on environmental crimes. Away from Brussels, the EU and its member countries are also expected to push for strong language in a new global agreement to reverse biodiversity loss by mid-century but will face strong opposition from Brazil, Argentina and China. Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius signaled in July he wasn’t happy with the draft deal. After being delayed three times because of the pandemic, the U.N. biodiversity COP15 will take place in two parts: One hybrid event in October in China and a second in spring 2022 to finalize the deal.
Car emissions rules
Brussels is bracing for a fierce fight over proposals to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2035. That comes as the European Commission prepares to draft Euro 7 emission standards to tackle other pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and particulate matter from brakes and tires. The two pieces of legislation are critical to greening transport but are likely to receive significant pushback from big carmaking countries that worry an end to the internal combustion engine will mean millions of lost jobs, and slimmer profits for auto majors. Expect serious lobbying and public debate as the proposals move through the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.
Key dates: The lead negotiators on the first emissions proposals should be chosen in the coming weeks, while there’s no fixed date for the Euro 7 proposal to land. It was initially expected in November but could be delayed.
Google vs. Vestager
Search giant Google faces a number of fateful court encounters with EU competition czar Margrethe Vestager this fall. Billions in antitrust fines, as well as Vestager’s reputation, hang in the balance.
The EU General Court is scheduled to hold a hearing on the company’s appeal of the Google Android case, after Vestager in 2018 imposed a €4.34 billion fine for illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators. The court is also set to rule on the search giant’s challenge against a €2.4 billion fine in the Google Shopping case, levied in 2017 for Google’s abuse of power by unfairly promoting its shopping service at the top of search results. The company is also appealing a €1.49 billion fine from 2019 over online search advertising in the Google AdSense case. In the meantime, the EU in June opened a fourth antitrust investigation into the company, this one over potential abusive use of user data in online advertising services.
Key dates: September 27 to October 1, when the EU General Court will hear Google’s appeal in the Android case. November 10, when the General Court may publish its Google Shopping judgment.
Public spending controls
Two crucial sets of rules are being reviewed to potentially reform how countries can spend public money to help meet both green and digital aims. That includes the revised Climate, Energy and Environmental Aid Guidelines, which will apply as of January 1 and for which a consultation closed August 2. New “vertical” competition rules — governing the relations between companies at different levels of the supply chain — are also under review and will apply from June 1, 2022. That’s subject to huge lobbying because of the implications for how online companies and retailers operate.
Key date: September 17, when the consultation on the draft vertical rules ends.
How to police mergers
Competition lawyers will enter uncharted waters in a battle with gene-sequencing company Illumina over the acquisition of Grail, a cancer-test startup. Illumina is contesting the EU’s jurisdiction to vet the deal, which Brussels is doing via an untested application of the merger regulation. Meanwhile, Illumina has gone ahead and finalized the deal, citing the threat of drawn-out regulatory proceedings but prompting another investigation from EU regulators. The company’s unorthodox defense is that the deal will save lives, but if that fails to gain legal traction it could end up with a significant fine.
Key dates: The EU General Court could hold a hearing in September and issue a judgment as soon as November.
TECHNOLOGY AND CYBERSECURITY
New data law
With the Data Act, a proposal that will land this fall, the EU hopes to boost the Continent’s digital economy by getting countries and companies to share more data with each other — and be less dependent on foreign companies to handle that data in the process. The Commission could force companies to share some of their private data with governments and other companies. Foreign cloud companies handling European industrial data could also face new restrictions — but the EU’s executive body will have to fight fierce opposition from companies extremely reluctant to open themselves up to meddling in a hugely lucrative industry.
Key date: December 1, when the Commission is tentatively scheduled to publish it.
Regulating online content
European lawmakers will up the pressure on social media companies to better police their platforms for illegal content. This fall, Parliament and Council will be chiseling at the Digital Services Act, a bill meant to crack down on illegal online speech and products. But unwilling to wait for the EU, several countries including France, Germany and Poland have already started regulating the content domestically, clashing with the Commission in the process. The Commission will also be publishing a delayed law that could force tech companies to search for and report child abuse content on their platforms amid worries from privacy hawks that it could be overly intrusive.
Key dates: December 1, when the Commission is scheduled to announce its legislation on child sexual abuse material. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the Digital Services Act in December. If the Council finds a common position by then, final negotiations on the law could start in 2022.
France’s stance on Big Tech
France’s competition authority is expected to wrap up three closely watched cases involving Silicon Valley companies by the end of the year. In September, the watchdog will assess Facebook’s commitments in a complaint initiated by French adtech champion Criteo. Antitrust chief Isabelle de Silva said her teams will decide in the coming months whether Apple is engaging in self-preferencing by imposing stricter privacy requirements for third parties. And the authority is also expected to evaluate by December whether Google has abused its dominant position toward press publishers. Meanwhile the watchdog will in September start assessing a high-profile merger between TV companies TF1 and M6. They pitched the deal as a way to compete with U.S. streaming giants such as Netflix and Disney, but de Silva’s teams will assess whether the merger will confer them excessive dominance in the market.
Key date: The month of September, when the competition authority will send out questionnaires to inform its work on the TF1/M6 merger. That’s also when it will decide whether to close the Facebook/Criteo case.
By Sarah Anne Aarup, Emma Anderson, Hannah Brenton, Paul Dallison, Jillian Deutsch, Ashleigh Furlong, Clothilde Goujard, Laura Greenhalgh, Louise Guillot, Jones Hayden, Kelsey Hayes, Laura Kayali, Graham Lanktree, Carlo Martuscelli, Karl Mathiesen, Joshua Posaner, James Randerson, Bjarke Smith-Meyer, Simon Van Dorpe and Eddy Wax.