EU to review European Financial Benchmarks

As a result of the manipulation of two prominent benchmarks – the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) and the Euro Interbank Offered Rate (EURIBOR) – the EU adopted the Benchmark Regulation (BMR) on indices used in financial instruments and contracts or to measure the performance of investment funds in January 2018. The European Commission has initiated a consultation on the review of the BMR, two years after its entry into force to collect stakeholders’ opinions on benchmarks’ efficiency.

The European Commission will review the regime for critical benchmarks and the effectiveness of the mechanism for authorisation and registration of administrators. It will equally evaluate the categorisation of benchmarks and the rules for third countries. The review of the EU Benchmark Regulation will reinforce the accuracy and integrity of indices, which will determine the strength of market confidence. The review of the BMR may introduce new compliance requirements for benchmark administrators, contributors and users with regard to interest rate, foreign exchange, and commodity.

EU guidelines on International Procurement Instrument

The European Commission released a new communication, guiding the participation of third country bidders and goods in the EU procurement market. The document aims to foment competition in public tenders and provide information to public buyers in Member States. The document advises on quality standards, how to assess abnormally low-priced offers and compliance with social and environmental obligations.

The EU’s open procurement market is the largest in the world, with an estimated value of €2 trillion yearly. However, many EU trading partners apply restrictive practices in their markets against EU companies; with more than half of the worldwide procurement market (totalling €8 trillion), closed to European businesses. These restrictions affect competitive EU sectors such as construction, transport, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. The Commission’s recent communication coupled with the sustained asymmetric market access has reignited the call for the adoption of the International Procurement Instrument (IPI) before the end of 2019.

The Commission is expected to call on the Parliament and Council to approve the IPI by 2020. The IPI will promote reciprocity, tackle protectionism and open up procurement opportunities for EU companies in third countries.

Alber & Geiger ranked among top lobbying firms in Europe

Alber & Geiger has been recognised for the fourth consecutive year as one of the top lobbying firms in Europe. The firm was shortlisted in four categories, including Lobbying the European Parliament, Consultancy Campaign of the Year and Consultancy of the Year by the Public Affairs Awards Europe 2018. Alber & Geiger picked up the award for the second year in a row in the Lobbying Member States category for its ability to generate Member State support at the EU level as well as work at national and local level in particular Member States.

Alber & Geiger’s team has decades of experience in representing clients in Europe through a broad range of activity. Our team is involved in many EU policy issues and regulatory matters, as well as active before all EU institutions and agencies, in addition to special national and local officials at the Member State level in Europe. Many of Alber & Geiger’s practitioners have a deep understanding of EU legislative and administrative procedures.

EU to regulate endocrine disruptors

On 7 November 2018, the European Commission adopted a Communication on endocrine disruptors. The Communication lays the groundwork for potential, new regulatory measures that will address endocrine disruptors across different areas in the EU, and beyond.

Currently, the EU legal framework on endocrine disruptors is incoherent. First, different approaches apply to different sectors. Second, different regulatory approaches exist in different pieces of EU legislation that regulate endocrine disruptors. Against this backdrop, the EU will launch a process to assess whether existing EU legislation on endocrine disruptors delivers its overall objectives. In addition, it will set a common definition for the identification of endocrine disruptors. The review and expected new legislation shall provide more coherence.

The European Commission will consult with all stakeholders as it reviews and prepares to revamp the rules on endocrine disruptors. It will also rely on output from stakeholders as it sets out to include endocrine disruptors in the existing international system for classification of chemicals.

EU moves on Artificial Intelligence

In April this year, the European Commission put forward an EU approach to artificial intelligence and robotics. The EU’s plans include funding to encourage the uptake between public and private sectors. Moreover, the EU’s approach foresees support to education and labour to prepare for the deployment of AI. Last, while the EU is determined to stay at the front of this technological development, it will also work on ensuring a proper legal and ethical framework.

More recently, the European Union followed on the above Communication with a plan for AI made in Europe. The plan will foresee concrete measures that will be put forward by the European Commission and the Member States in 2019 and 2020. These will include AI ethics guidelines and a guidance on the Product Liability Directive. In addition, the regulatory framework on Digital Single Market will have to be completed to make AI a success. Completion of legislative proposals in the area of cybersecurity, open data and upcoming EU budgets, will be important to secure the legal framework and the funding opportunities for investment, research and innovation.

For the abovementioned reasons, all potential users, including small and medium-sized enterprises, companies from non-tech sectors and public administrations should engage in the process to shape the rules in order to take advantage of the opportunities.

EU to review air quality rules

The public consultations on the robustness of the EU air quality legislations, comprised of the two Ambient Air Quality Directives as well as of the Implementing Decision and the Commission Directive have recently been finalized.

The Directives had established European standards for a series of pollutants and aimed on ensuring their comprehensive and harmonized implementation in all member states. The review of the Directives is building upon the implementation experience in the EU Member States aiming to consolidate the EU legislative and regulatory framework. In addition to the entry into force of the new National Emission Ceiling Directive the EU is making decisive steps to achieve its 2030 emission reduction commitments.

The new legislation is expected to enshrine the stringency of the policy’s health objectives to reduce the impacts of atmospheric pollution to public health and reflect the cost of pollution to public budgets. While a debate on the rationalization of national public health budgets is expected to be triggered thereof, the effects of the stringent regulations are expected to be felt mainly on the EU agriculture, transport, shipping and energy production, especially in units that are beyond the urban limits. The above sectors are expected to bear the burden of timely and accurate compliance to the reviewed legislation.

EU to strengthen rule of law compliance

In 2014, following threats to the rule of law in several Member States, the European Commission decided to launch a framework to address such systemic threats through dialogue with the concerned countries. Until now the process consists of an assessment of the problems, followed by concrete recommendations and a monitoring mechanism.

Building on the existing framework, the European Commission has set out to strengthening the capacity of the EU to ensure effective and equal protection of the rule of law in all Member States. It is expected that a panel of experts would assess the rule of law situation in each Member State and make a public summary of the findings. The strengthened requirement for rule of law compliance raise the risk of concerned countries being stripped of EU funding through suspension or reduction of payments.

Member States, and all countries that rely on EU funding, must pay close attention to how they are meeting their rule of law commitments and communicate this effectively to the European institutions.

EU to focus on water policies

tobaccoThe European Commission has recently launched the debate on the fitness check of the backbone of its legislation on water protection and management. Therefore, the Water Framework Directive as well as the closely related Groundwater Directive, the Environmental Quality Standards Directive as well as the Flood Directive are currently under review.

The main purpose of the review is to ensure the protection and sustainable management of the water in the EU via an integrated approach. Notwithstanding that the consultations are still ongoing, from the
analysis so far of stakeholders’ input, it clearly emerges that under the agricultural, chemical and pharmaceutical sectors are already under the Commission’s cross-chair. Certain incidents and practices of the above sectors in the EU have triggered controversy and had initiated the relevant
debate in 2016.

With the debate ongoing until March 2019 and the EU trying to strike an acceptable balance between the need for sustainable water management and the viability of its industry, all parties are expected to try to secure a favorable outcome in the consultations.

EU to finalize Union strategy on chemicals

The Council of the European Union adopted conclusions on the development of a sustainable EU chemicals policy strategy in June 2019. These conclusions fall within the current 7th Environment Action Plan (EAP), adopted in 2013, which mandated the European Commission to develop a Union strategy for a non-toxic environment that is conducive to innovation.

The recent conclusions address particular topics of REACH, endocrine disruptors, nanomaterials and pharmaceuticals. The conclusions are expected to guide a new Union strategy for coordinating the protection of vulnerable groups by introducing risk management requirements into relevant EU legislation on chemicals of concern. The Council of the European Union has urged the European Commission to include in its proposal an 8th Environment Action Programme to implement the measures to the strategy.

The European Commission is set to finalize a Union strategy for a non-toxic environment by the end of the year. The proposed strategy is expected to deliver a regulation for water use, as well as the creation and implementation of an early warning system for chemical risks. Given the relevance of the upcoming EAP and chemicals Union strategy for the environmental and medical sector, it will be necessary to monitor the negotiations, which are set to start in the following months.

EU to cut steel import quotas

The European Commission released a statement in August 2019, affirming that while steel safeguard measures have overall been successful during the first year of implementation, they require further adjustments.

The safeguard measures were initially introduced provisionally in July 2018, to prevent harm to the EU steel industry, which was being affected by US tariffs. The EU steel industry was hit by a 12% increase in imports of finished steel products in 2018. As a result, the measures were later definitively introduced in February 2019.

The European Commission outlined three proposals in the communication, cutting an increase in import quotas to 3% from 5%, adjusting the functioning of the quota for some products, and updating the list of exclusions for developing countries. The proposal is expected to be discussed with affected World Trade Organization members and be submitted to EU Member States for approval ahead of the October implementation. The measures are expected to become effective by October 1, 2019.