I. COMMISSION TAKES ACTION ON 11 MEMBER STATES CONCERNING SINGLE-USE PLASTICS
Transition to a circular economy that replaces conventional business models and products with innovative and sustainable ones goes through a single-use plastics purge in the EU. Still, not all member countries have been keeping the same pace on transposing the Single-Use Plastic Directive into their national laws.
As a consequence, the Commission took legal steps against Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Finland. Those countries have not communicated to the Commission the necessary measures to guarantee the full transposition of the Directive.
The latter aims to avert and reduce the impact of single-use plastic products on the environment in general, and on the marine environment and human health in particular. The Directive is a key element of the Commission’s Plastic Strategy and the Circular Economy Action Plan.
To this end, the legislation includes several measures that reduce consumption of specific plastic products that are used once and for short periods, limit placing certain products on market, and other specific product requirements.
Under the Green Deal, Europe needs to meet its environmental objectives.
The aforementioned countries failed to fully transpose the Directive by the deadline. Therefore, the Commission sent them a letter of formal notice and a reasoned opinion to each of them.
France and Denmark were given two months to respond and address the shortcomings raised by the Commission. Meanwhile, the other nine countries that had received a letter of formal notice in January 2022, have not communicated the measures to ensure the transposition of the directive. They were given two months to respond and take measures. If not, the Commission may decide to refer the cases to the Court of Justice.
Alber & Geiger can help you represent your business interests and ensure your voice is heard by legislators.
II. EU ADOPTS MEDIA FREEDOM ACT
Disinformation, propaganda and state-controlled media are real threats to media pluralism and independence, especially in the digital age. Stressing the need for a free press, the Commission decided to tackle all forms of control and pressure over media with the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). The novel set of rules, both rights, and duties of media players will protect journalists and editorial independence in private and public media services. Further on, it will ensure that media can operate without political interference and spyware while achieving public transparency on ownership of media outlets.
Besides the regulation, the EMFA comprises a Recommendation, which is not a binding legislative act. The Recommendation provides a toolbox of voluntary measures for media companies on editorial independence.
Moreover, the Commission proposed to set up a European watchdog, which will replace the existing one established under the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. The new watchdog will consist of a board of representatives of national regulatory authorities. The Board will have various tasks to wit: promoting a consistent application of the EU media law framework, issuing an opinion on national measures and decisions affecting media markets, coordinating national regulatory rules on non-EU media that pose a risk to public security, etc.
Next, European legislators, the EU Parliament, the Council, and the Commission will negotiate the text of the regulation. Media stakeholders should observe closely this legislation, as it will have a substantial impact on the EU media landscape.
Our experienced team can help you maximize the impact of your position in the European decision-making process and represent your interests in ensuing legislative process.
III. EU PREPARES RULES ON LIABILITY FOR AI
For Artificial Intelligence to thrive in the European Union, citizens must trust digital innovations.
The Commission adopted for the first time a proposal on AI liability rules that would set out a framework for excellence and trust in AI. Based on the new rules, victims of AI-related damage (be it individuals or businesses) will be eligible for the same standards of protection as they would if harm was caused under any other circumstances. Thus they will have the right to seek compensation for damages caused by AI systems.
The AI liability rules were adopted along with another proposal on updating the existing Product Liability Directive. Both proposals aim at modernizing EU liability rules conforming to the digital age, circular economy, and the impact of value chains. They include changes to existing rules and new sets of rules on strict liability, damages, and compensations.
As noted by the Commission, the purpose of the AI Liability Directive is to lay down uniform rules for access to information and alleviation of the burden of proof concerning damages caused by AI systems, establishing broader protection for victims, and fostering the AI sector by increasing guarantees.
Further on, the AI directive will harmonize certain rules for claims outside of the scope of the Product Liability Directive in cases of damage due to wrongful behavior such as breaches of privacy or damages caused by safety issues.
The Commission highlighted that the new rules strike a balance between protecting consumers and fostering innovation, removing additional barriers for victims to access compensation, while laying down guarantees for the AI sector by introducing, for instance, the right to fight a liability claim based on a presumption of causality.
Next, the proposal will need adoption by the European Parliament and Council.
Our team of experts can aid in benefiting from rule-changes and navigate the new legislative environment with ease.
IV. COMMISSION ACTS ON ASBESTOS-FREE FUTURE
Asbestos is not a problem of the past, and the Commission is acting to completely avoid it in the future. The dangerous substance was banned in the EU in 2005, yet it remains a threat to the health of workers and people exposed to asbestos products that were used in older buildings. The Commission noted that around 78 percent of occupational cancers recognized in the Member States are related to asbestos.
In October 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a European strategy for the removal of all asbestos.
Now the Commission drafted a comprehensive package on better protecting people from asbestos and ensuring an asbestos-free future.
The package includes a Communication on a European lifecycle approach to asbestos. It focuses on the protection of human health and the environment, in particular in implementing the European Green Deal and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. It spans the action needed to identify asbestos present in buildings, register the information, and safe removal or treatment of asbestos-containing waste while maximizing the protection of workers.
Moreover, the Communication focuses on improving the diagnosis and treatment of asbestos-related diseases.
The second component of the package is a proposal to amend the Asbestos at Work Directive to lower the occupational exposure limit value to asbestos; upgrade guidelines to support the Member States, employers, and workers in implementing the new directive; launch an awareness raising campaign on the safe removal of asbestos.
Next, the proposal will be discussed by the European Parliament, and the Member States with the Commission calling for swift approval. Once adopted. Member States will have two years to transpose the directive into national law.
Alber & Geiger can utilize its extensive European network to represent your business interests and propose legislative amendments on your behalf.
V. Commission Proposes Emergency Interventions in Energy Markets
Gas and electricity prices have reached record levels in 2022 and hit all-time highs following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In response to the worsening situation in the energy market, the Commission published a proposal for exceptional electricity demand reduction measures as well as measures to redistribute the energy sector’s surplus revenues to final customers. The proposal aims at reducing the cost of electricity for consumers and ensuring supply during winter. Four measures are expected to achieve those goals: reduction of electricity demand, a temporary revenue cap on ‘inframarginal’ electricity producers, temporary solidarity contribution on excess profits generated from activities in the oil, gas, coal, and refinery sectors, and regulated prices to also cover small and medium-sized enterprises.
Moreover, the Commission stated that it will deepen its discussion with the Member States about the best ways to reduce gas prices, also analyzing various ideas for price caps and enhancing the role of the EU Energy Platform in facilitating lower price agreements with suppliers through voluntary joint purchasing.
Our team can assist you in getting ahead of concrete provisions of EU regulations to tailor them to your business interests to the highest possible extent.
VI. CEU APPROVES FIRST CAP STRATEGIC PLANS
The new Common Agricultural Policy is due to begin in 2023 and the Commission took an important step for the implementation of the policy by adopting the first package of CAP strategic plans for seven countries. Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, and Spain are the first that got their strategic plans approved, while the Commission stated that it is committed to quick approval of the 21 remaining plans. The seven plans represent a budget of over €120 billion, including over €34 billion dedicated exclusively to environmental and climate objectives and eco-schemes.
The new CAP policy is designed to shape the transition to a resilient, sustainable, and modern European agricultural sector. It will integrate a more effective way of working. It will provide that funding is distributed to medium and small-sided family farms, as well as to young farmers. They will be supported to take up innovations. Moreover, the CAP policy will allow for increased flexibility for the Member Countries to adapt measures to local conditions.
As noted by the Commission, the new CAP can be the cornerstone for food security and farming communities in the European Union.
The Plans will be in line with EU legislation and should contribute to the EU’s climate and environmental goals, including on animal welfare, as set out in the Commission’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.
The CAP can also promote afforestation, fire prevention, restoration, and adaptation of forests. Farmers participating in eco-schemes may be rewarded, inter alia, for banning or limiting the use of pesticides and limiting soil erosion. Between 86% and 97% of the national utilized agricultural area will be farmed under good agricultural and environmental conditions.
Common Agricultural Policy 2023-2027: the Commission approves the first CAP strategic plans
VII. EU REGISTERS NEW INITIATIVE ON TOBACCO
The Commission registered a European Citizens’ Initiative that calls for rules that end the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to citizens born in 2010 onwards as well as measures on cigarette butt-free free beaches and national parks, extended outdoor vapor-free spaces, tobacco advertising, and its presence on audiovisual productions and social media, especially addressing covert advertising through influencers and product placement.
The European Citizens’ Initiative is entitled ‘Call to achieve a tobacco-free environment and the first European tobacco-free generation by 2030′. It aims at protecting younger generations from tobacco addiction and taking action against smoking and tobacco-related environmental damage.
The Commission considered the initiative legally admissible as it fulfilled all the formal conditions.
However, registration does not prejudge the final legal and political conclusions of the Commission on this initiative and the action it will intend to take, if any, in case the initiative obtains the necessary support.
The organizers have six months to open the signature collection. The Commission will have to act if the initiative receives 1 million statements of support within 1 year, from at least 7 different Member States.
VIII. EU EASED ENVIRONMENTAL RULES TO INCREASE CEREAL PRODUCTION
The Commission proposed a short-term suspension of EU crop rotation rules to increase cereal production and address strong risks related to food security following the impacts of the war in Ukraine.
The request that came from several Member States is estimated to put 1.5 million hectares of land back into production. Normally, those farmland areas would be left aside for soil quality preservation and improvement of biodiversity.
The derogation is limited and will apply only in 2023 and is restricted to what is strictly necessary to address global food security concerns. Thus, plants used for feeding animals like maize and soya are excluded.
“Every tonne of cereals produced in the EU will help to increase food security worldwide,” the Commission statement pointed out.
Moreover, it is added that the proposal was a result of careful balancing between global food availability and affordability on one hand, and the protection of biodiversity and soil health on the other. The Commission stressed that the transition to a resilient and sustainable agricultural sector in line with the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, and the Nature Restoration Law must continue despite the situation.
IX. EU PROPOSES NEW RULES ON SUBSTANCES OF HUMAN ORIGIN
The European regulatory framework on standards of quality and safety for substances of human origin (SoHO) intended for human application will align with developments in the sector over the last 20 years. Even though the current legislation adopted in 2002 and 2004 has improved the safety and quality standards related to SoHO, shortcomings, and gaps have been identified.
Thus, the Commission published a proposal that will repeal the Blood Directive and the Tissues and cells Directive.
As noted by the Commission, with the new regulation citizens will be safer in donating or receiving vital substances of human origin (SoHO). The latter includes blood, cells, tissues, and other substances such as breast milk or microbiota. Meanwhile, solid organs will remain regulated under the Organs Directive.
The new regulation will aim at facilitating the cross-border circulation of SoHO, reinforcing solidarity between health authorities, ensuring a supply of critical substances, implementing digital-ready policies, and promoting innovation and high standards of safety and quality.
Next, the proposal will be discussed in parallel by the Council and the European Parliament until the final text is agreed upon. Upon adoption and publication, most provisions will come into force after a transition period of two years, while a three-year transition period will apply for particular provisions.