A&G Newsletter Q4 2023

1. Commission Proposes Initiatives to Curb Microplastic Pollution from Plastic Pellets

For the first time, the European Commission is proposing measures to combat microplastic pollution caused by unintentional plastic pellet releases. Annually, 52 to 184 thousand tonnes of pellets are inadvertently released into the environment, often due to mishandling across the supply chain. The new proposal mandates that all EU operators handling pellets adopt preventive measures, aiming to slash pellet release by up to 74%. This significant reduction is expected to lead to cleaner ecosystems, contribute to plastic-free rivers and oceans, and minimize health risks.

The Commission suggests a three-step approach: prevent spills, contain any accidental releases, and clean up post-spill.

Key Aspects of the Proposal:

  • Implementation of Best Practices: Operators are required to follow best handling practices, already in use by industry leaders, scaled according to the size of the operation or transport activity.
  • Mandatory Certification and Self-Declarations: Larger companies must acquire certification from independent third parties, while smaller businesses should self-declare their compliance, aiding authorities in enforcing regulations.
  • Harmonized Loss Estimation Methodology: A standardized method, developed by standardization bodies, will be introduced to monitor losses. This methodology aims to improve environmental and health awareness and accountability.
  • Simplified Requirements for SMEs: Recognizing the substantial presence of SMEs in the pellet supply chain, the proposal includes more manageable requirements for micro and small operators.

Next Steps:

The proposed Regulation on preventing pellet losses will be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council. It requires all operators, including non-EU entities, to adhere to these regulations within 18 months of their enactment.

In its ongoing efforts to curb microplastics pollution, the Commission will continue to develop and implement relevant legislation concerning products and waste. It also remains committed to leading international efforts in ending plastic pollution.

Alber & Geiger can assist to get an advantage in negotiations goals with a proven track record.


2.  EU Proposes Blueprint for Critical Infrastructure to Enhance Response to Cross-Border Disruptions

The European Commission has put forward a Council Recommendation for a Critical Infrastructure Blueprint, aiming to strengthen the EU’s coordinated response to threats and disruptions targeting critical infrastructure. This proposal comes amid a highly volatile geopolitical climate, highlighted by Russia’s war against Ukraine, increased hybrid attacks, and the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines. Critical infrastructure is essential in the EU, as it underpins vital societal functions and ensures the seamless provision of crucial services.

The EU has already implemented measures to safeguard critical infrastructure and minimize the impact of service disruptions. Following the Nord Stream pipeline incident, the Commission recommended accelerating protective measures and enhancing incident response coordination through this Blueprint. The EU-NATO Task Force on infrastructure resilience, established in March 2023, also contributed by identifying current security challenges and offering recommendations to strengthen resilience. This proposal builds on those initiatives, complementing existing EU crisis management tools, cybersecurity measures, and protocols against hybrid threats.

Objectives of the Critical Infrastructure Blueprint:

The Blueprint provides a structured approach for managing significant critical infrastructure incidents, focusing on three primary goals:
Enhanced Situational Awareness: To better understand the nature, origin, and potential impacts of significant incidents on both operational and strategic/political levels across Member States.
Coordinated Public Communication: To ensure consistent messaging post-incident, which is crucial for countering misinformation and maintaining public trust.
Effective Response: By reinforcing Member States’ responses and promoting cooperation within the EU, the Blueprint seeks to mitigate incident effects and swiftly restore essential services.

Application and Actions:

The Blueprint is activated under two scenarios:

  • When an incident significantly disrupts six or more Member States.
  • When an incident in at least two Member States requires urgent EU-level policy coordination due to its extensive and significant technical or political impact.

The response includes information exchange, organizing expert meetings, situational reports, coordinating public communication and responses, and, if requested, technical support from other Member States or EU bodies. It involves setting up contact points for all stakeholders and sharing incident information with the Council Presidency and the Commission.

Next Steps:

The Council will discuss this proposal, marking a crucial step in strengthening the EU’s ability to protect and respond to disruptions in its critical infrastructure.

Our experienced team can help influence opinions and agendas.


3. New Measures in Place to Counter Threats from Civil Drones

Both drone and counter drone technologies are ‘exploding’. Yet flying one in the European Union can pose security threats even with the safety measures in place. Existing drone rules as well as certification and registration requirements have made it difficult to use such devices for malicious purposes in the EU. Despite that, their capabilities, which make them an ideal tool to carry out intricate malevolent attacks, represent growing security risks. There have been cases of drones used for criminal activities, including smuggling and spying on critical infrastructure, as well as privacy and safety concerns in residential areas.

Against this backdrop, the European Commission adopted a communication to tackle threats posed by the illegal and perilous use of civil drones.

The new counter-drone policy aims at ensuring that fast-developing tech and the increased number of drones don’t result in unmanageable growth of threats in civil space

The plan, part of an EU Drone Policy, focuses on six key initiatives:

  1. Good practices and information sharing: This will be achieved by improving the coordination of current projects and establishing a specialized group of counter-drone experts within the Commission.
  2. Regulatory Review: The policy includes examining existing regulations to identify areas that need improvement. The goal is to standardize laws and procedures throughout the EU.
  3. Technology Guidance: The EU will assist Member States in selecting the most suitable commercial cyber and non-cyber counter-drone technologies. This support will be provided through expert advice from the counter-drone expert group and the Joint Research Centre (JRC).
  4. Operational Support and Training: Practical guidance and operational assistance will be extended to Member States. This includes broadening counter-drone training programs to encompass the private security sector and law enforcement agencies.
  5. Fostering Research and Innovation: The strategy supports research and innovation through budget programs like Horizon Europe.
  6. Increased Funding: There will be a boost in financial support with the launch of a call for proposals on counter-drone solutions. This initiative is part of the Internal Security Fund thematic facility work programs for 2026-2027.

Next steps:

This Communication details plans up to 2030, including a mid-term review in 2027 and a comprehensive overhaul of the EU’s counter-drone programme by 2030.

Alber & Geiger can help organizations voice their interests and concerns to EU policymakers.


4. EU Plans a Stronger Visa-free Travel Suspension Policy

The European Union is planning for stronger mechanisms to suspend visas, aiming to revamp the region’s challenging migration system effectively.

Visa-free travel has been a boon to the economy, society, and culture, significantly benefiting the travel and tourism sectors across the EU and its partner nations. As a key aspect of the EU’s external relations, visa policies play a vital role in fostering international partnerships.

However, the changing geopolitical landscape presents new challenges to visa-free travel. Issues such as the misuse of visa-free privileges, including irregular migration misalignments with EU visa policies, citizenship-for-investment programs in visa-exempt countries, and state-backed manipulation of migrant flows, have become pressing concerns.

To effectively tackle these issues, the European Commission is introducing a revised visa suspension mechanism. This move follows President von der Leyen’s commitment to strengthen the mechanism and monitor visa-free countries, as stated before the European Council on 20 March 2023. Accompanying this proposal is the sixth report under the existing Visa Suspension Mechanism.

The revision aims to:

  • Broaden Suspension Criteria: The mechanism will now include cases like insufficient alignment with EU visa policy, hybrid threats, and investor citizenship schemes.
  • Extend Procedure Duration: To allow more time for corrective actions. An urgent procedure will also be introduced for rapid response to significant threats or surges in arrivals.
  • Enhance Monitoring and Reporting: Strengthening the Commission’s oversight of countries where issues are detected.

The sixth report, covering countries in the Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership, and regions with investor citizenship schemes, urges these countries to better align with EU visa policies and address issues like unjustified asylum claims, irregular migration, organized crime, and corruption. It specifically points out the risks associated with investor citizenship schemes facilitating visa-free EU entry.

The Commission will maintain its comprehensive monitoring approach for all visa-exempt countries, as outlined in its May 2023 Communication. This includes annual reporting to the European Parliament and the Council, focusing on migration and security challenges in visa-free countries.

Next Steps:

The proposed changes to the Visa Suspension Mechanism will now be negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council. The Commission will also continue to include visa liberalization assessments in its annual enlargement package and, where applicable, EU accession negotiations.

Alber & Geiger can ensure interests are heard and considered.


5. EU Aims to Simplify Living, Working, and Traveling Across Member States for Europeans

The European Commission has unveiled a strategic Communication outlining concrete steps to digitize the coordination of social security systems across Europe. This initiative aims to simplify and expedite access to social security services for citizens and businesses by utilizing digital tools, ultimately reducing administrative burdens.

This digitization will enhance information exchange between national social security institutions, thereby speeding up the recognition and granting of eligible benefits across borders. It’s a move that promises to ease the process for Europeans living, working, and traveling abroad, assist companies in conducting business in other EU countries, and facilitate the cross-border coordination of social security by national administrations.

Despite previous efforts to streamline the cross-border flow of social security information, challenges persist. National institutions, healthcare providers, and labor inspectorates still struggle with accessing and sharing data due to the lack of interoperability between national systems. Additionally, costs are incurred in issuing and verifying entitlement documents.

This Communication reviews the current progress in digitalizing social security coordination, outlines ongoing initiatives, and proposes future actions to fully harness the benefits of digitalization.

Key Measures Proposed:

Accelerating EESSI Implementation: Member States are urged to fully operationalize the Electronic Exchange of Social Security Information (EESSI) by the end of 2024, transitioning from paper-based processes to digital exchanges.

Online Social Security Coordination: Enhancing online procedures for social security coordination, aligning with the Single Digital Gateway Regulation, for seamless cross-border movement and work, and faster access to benefits.

Participation in ESSPASS Pilot: Member States are encouraged to engage in the European Social Security Pass (ESSPASS) pilot, aimed at simplifying the issuance and verification of social security entitlements across borders.

Introduction of EU Digital Identity Wallets: Advancing the use of EU Digital Identity (EUDI) wallets to carry digital entitlement documents, like the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), for instant verification by relevant authorities.

The Commission will support these actions through technical assistance and EU funding, involving instruments like the Digital Europe Programme and InvestEU. The European Labour Authority will contribute by sharing best practices and facilitating exchanges among national authorities.

Next Steps:

The Commission invites the European Parliament and the Council to endorse this approach and calls for collaborative efforts among Member States and stakeholders for implementation. Annual meetings will be held to monitor progress.

This digitalization is also crucial in the context of ongoing negotiations on revising EU social security coordination rules. The Commission urges a swift agreement on this revision to modernize the legal framework and pledges continued support to co-legislators in achieving this goal.

Alber & Geiger can get your message to the appropriate audience.


6. The 2024 Commission Work Programme to focus on simpler rules for citizens and businesses

The 2024 Commission Work Programme, emphasizes the simplification of regulations for EU citizens and businesses.

The Programme reviews past achievements and introduces new proposals and initiatives focused on reducing bureaucratic complexities. Already, 15 proposals have been introduced since March 2023, with 26 more rationalization proposals announced today, detailed in a dedicated annex alongside evaluations and fitness checks.

With the 2024 European elections approaching, the Commission’s new initiatives are carefully chosen to fulfill its commitments and address new challenges. These initiatives resonate with President von der Leyen’s 2023 State of the Union address and letter of intent, aiming to streamline operations without compromising on social, safety, consumer protection, environmental, or economic standards.

With less than a year until the 2024 European elections, the Commission will put forward 18 new policy proposals to tackle emerging challenges and follow through on its commitments from 2019. They include:

  • the launch of a dialogue on the future of agriculture in the EU
  • an initiative to give AI start-ups access to EU high-performance computers
  • a European space law
  • a focus on economic challenges related to labour and skill shortages, education, social dialogue, inflation and ease of doing business
  • stronger cooperation to fight the smuggling of migrants

Key to this strategy is the reduction of burdensome reporting requirements by 25%. Notable steps include reforming the Union Customs Code, projected to save traders around €2 billion, and revising statistical survey rules to save approximately €450 million, particularly benefiting SMEs.

The Work Programme introduces simplifications across various policy areas, such as consolidating overlapping obligations, reducing business impact, and enhancing digitalization.

The Commission has fulfilled over 90% of its 2019 Political Guidelines commitments. In 2024, collaboration with the European Parliament and Council will be crucial to finalize outstanding proposals, ensuring that Europe’s citizens and businesses fully benefit from EU policies.

The Commission remains committed to the European Green Deal, ensuring a fair, smart, and inclusive green transition. This includes citizen and industry dialogues, support for vulnerable groups through the Social Climate Fund, strategic dialogues on EU agriculture’s future, and digital age initiatives like AI start-ups access to high-performance computers and a European space law proposal.

Challenges like labor and skill shortages, education, inflation, and ease of business will be addressed in 2024. Support for Ukraine against Russia’s aggression, partnerships with Africa, fair trade, defense capability development, fighting migrant smuggling, and preparing for an enlarged Union are also top priorities.

Our team enjoys long-lasting relationships and understands the complexities to help shape decisions.


7. Commission Proposes EU-Wide Disability and Parking Card

The European Commission has put forward a legislative proposal to enhance freedom of movement for individuals with disabilities. This initiative aims to ensure that they can equally access special conditions, preferential treatments, and parking rights in other EU Member States. The proposal introduces a universal European Disability Card and upgrades the existing European Parking Card for those with disabilities, both of which will be recognized across the EU.

European Disability Card:

Currently, the lack of international recognition of disability status hinders individuals from accessing certain benefits while traveling in the EU. The proposed European Disability Card will provide verified proof of disability throughout the EU, ensuring equal access to special conditions and preferential treatments in various sectors such as transport, cultural events, museums, and leisure facilities. This card will be issued by national authorities and will complement existing national cards or certificates.

Enhancing the European Parking Card:

Recognizing the importance of private car transport for many with disabilities, the Commission proposes enhancements to the European Parking Card. This updated card will grant equal parking rights in any EU Member State and will come in a standardized format, replacing national versions and ensuring EU-wide recognition.

  • Accessibility and Compliance
  • To ensure the cards are user-friendly and to minimize administrative burdens, the proposal requires Member States to:
    Issue both physical and digital versions of the cards.
  • Publicly disclose the issuance and withdrawal rules in accessible formats.
  • Ensure service providers inform about the specific conditions and advantages available to individuals with disabilities in accessible formats.
  • Member States are also mandated to enable actions under national law by individuals with disabilities, their representative organizations, and relevant public bodies to ensure compliance. Upon the Directive’s adoption into national law, Member States will be expected to enforce fines and corrective measures for any violations.

Next Steps:

This proposal by the Commission is set for discussion in the European Parliament and the Council. Once adopted, Member States will have 18 months to integrate the Directive’s provisions into their national laws. This move marks a significant step towards ensuring more inclusive and accessible travel for individuals with disabilities across the EU.

Alber & Geiger – Ensuring your voice is heard