RECOMMENDATION FOR SECOND READING on the Council position at first reading with a view to the adoption of a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the quality of water intended for human consumption (recast) – A9-0241/2020

Source: European Parliament

DRAFT EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTION

on the Council position at first reading with a view to the adoption of a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the quality of water intended for human consumption (recast)

(06230/3/2020 – C9‑0354/2020 – 2017/0332(COD))

(Ordinary legislative procedure: second reading)

The European Parliament,

 having regard to the Council position at first reading (06230/3/2020 – C9‑0354/2020),

 having regard to the reasoned opinions submitted, within the framework of Protocol No 2 on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, by the Czech Chamber of Deputies, the Irish Houses of the Oireachtas, the Austrian Federal Council and the United Kingdom House of Commons, asserting that the draft legislative act does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity,

 having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 12 July 2018[1],

 having regard to the opinion of the Committee of the Regions of 16 May 2018[2],

 having regard to its position at first reading[3] on the Commission proposal to Parliament and the Council (COM(2017)0753),

 having regard to Article 294(7) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

 having regard to the provisional agreement approved by the committee responsible under Rule 74(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

 having regard to Rule 67 of its Rules of Procedure,

 having regard to the recommendation for second reading of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (A9-0241/2020),

1. Approves the Council position at first reading;

2. Takes note of the Commission statements annexed to this resolution;

3. Notes that the act is adopted in accordance with the Council position;

4. Instructs its President to sign the act with the President of the Council, in accordance with Article 297(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;

5. Instructs its Secretary-General to sign the act, once it has been verified that all the procedures have been duly completed, and, in agreement with the Secretary-General of the Council, to arrange for its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union;

6. Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

 

ANNEX TO THE LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTION

DECLARATION BY THE COMMISSION ON DELEGATED ACTS IN THE DRINKING WATER DIRECTIVE

 

The Commission regrets the decision of the co-legislators to limit its empowerment to modify the annexes of the revised Drinking Water Directive to Annex III, whereas the Commission had sought an empowerment to modify Annexes I to IV in its original proposal[4].

 

The Commission specifically regrets that the co-legislators did not agree on an empowerment to amend Annex II, which is particularly necessary in light of the need to update the monitoring requirements set out in Annex II to scientific and technical progress.

 

 

DECLARATION BY THE COMMISSION ON THE PROCEDURE OF ADOPTION OF IMPLEMENTING ACTS

 

The Commission underlines that it is contrary to the letter and to the spirit of Regulation (EU) No 182/2011[5] to invoke point (b) of the second subparagraph of Article 5(4), without proper justification. Recourse to this provision must respond to a specific need to depart from the rule of principle, which is that the Commission may adopt a draft implementing act when no opinion is delivered. Given that it is an exception to the general rule established in Article 5(4), it cannot be simply seen as a “discretionary power” of the Legislator, but must be interpreted in a restrictive manner and thus must be justified.

SHORT JUSTIFICATION

The Council position at first reading reflects the agreement reached between the Parliament and the Council in interinstitutional negotiations at early second reading stage, after legal-linguistic verification. Since the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), at its vote of 18 February 2020, already confirmed the outcome of those interinstitutional negotiations, as your rapporteur I am proposing that ENVI recommend that the plenary confirm the position of the Council at first reading, without amending it.

PROCEDURE – COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

Title

Quality of water intended for human consumption (recast)

References

06230/3/2020 – C9-0354/2020 – 2017/0332(COD)

Date of Parliament’s first reading – P number

28.3.2019 T8-0320/2019

Commission proposal

COM(2017)0753 – C8-0019/2018

Receipt of Council position at first reading announced in plenary

13.11.2020

Committee responsible

 Date announced in plenary

ENVI

13.11.2020

 

 

 

Rapporteurs

 Date appointed

Christophe Hansen

18.7.2019

 

 

 

Discussed in committee

21.10.2019

6.11.2019

2.12.2019

20.1.2020

Date adopted

1.12.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

73

2

5

Members present for the final vote

Nikos Androulakis, Margrete Auken, Simona Baldassarre, Marek Paweł Balt, Traian Băsescu, Aurelia Beigneux, Monika Beňová, Sergio Berlato, Alexander Bernhuber, Malin Björk, Simona Bonafè, Delara Burkhardt, Pascal Canfin, Sara Cerdas, Mohammed Chahim, Tudor Ciuhodaru, Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé, Esther de Lange, Christian Doleschal, Marco Dreosto, Bas Eickhout, Cyrus Engerer, Eleonora Evi, Agnès Evren, Pietro Fiocchi, Andreas Glück, Catherine Griset, Jytte Guteland, Teuvo Hakkarainen, Anja Hazekamp, Martin Hojsík, Pär Holmgren, Jan Huitema, Yannick Jadot, Adam Jarubas, Petros Kokkalis, Athanasios Konstantinou, Ewa Kopacz, Joanna Kopcińska, Peter Liese, Sylvia Limmer, Javi López, César Luena, Fulvio Martusciello, Liudas Mažylis, Joëlle Mélin, Tilly Metz, Silvia Modig, Dolors Montserrat, Alessandra Moretti, Dan-Ştefan Motreanu, Ville Niinistö, Ljudmila Novak, Grace O’Sullivan, Stanislav Polčák, Jessica Polfjärd, Luisa Regimenti, Frédérique Ries, Sándor Rónai, Rob Rooken, Silvia Sardone, Christine Schneider, Günther Sidl, Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, Linea Søgaard-Lidell, Nicolae Ştefănuță, Nils Torvalds, Edina Tóth, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, Petar Vitanov, Alexandr Vondra, Mick Wallace, Pernille Weiss, Michal Wiezik, Tiemo Wölken, Anna Zalewska

Substitutes present for the final vote

Sven Giegold, Karin Karlsbro, Ulrike Müller, Andrey Slabakov

Date tabled

3.12.2020

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

73

+

EPP

Traian Băsescu, Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé, Christian Doleschal, Agnès Evren, Adam Jarubas, Ewa Kopacz, Esther de Lange, Peter Liese, Fulvio Martusciello, Liudas Mažylis, Dolors Montserrat, Dan-Ştefan Motreanu, Ljudmila Novak, Stanislav Polčák, Jessica Polfjärd, Christine Schneider, Edina Tóth, Pernille Weiss, Michal Wiezik

S&D

Nikos Androulakis, Marek Paweł Balt, Monika Beňová, Simona Bonafè, Delara Burkhardt, Sara Cerdas, Mohammed Chahim, Tudor Ciuhodaru, Cyrus Engerer, Jytte Guteland, Javi López, César Luena, Alessandra Moretti, Sándor Rónai, Günther Sidl, Petar Vitanov, Tiemo Wölken

RENEW

Pascal Canfin, Andreas Glück, Martin Hojsík, Jan Huitema, Karin Karlsbro, Ulrike Müller, Frédérique Ries, Nicolae Ştefănuță, Linea Søgaard-Lidell, Nils Torvalds, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir

ID

Simona Baldassarre, Aurelia Beigneux, Marco Dreosto, Catherine Griset, Joëlle Mélin, Luisa Regimenti, Silvia Sardone

GREENS/EFA

Margrete Auken, Bas Eickhout, Sven Giegold, Pär Holmgren, Yannick Jadot, Tilly Metz, Ville Niinistö, Grace O’Sullivan

ECR

Sergio Berlato, Pietro Fiocchi, Joanna Kopcińska, Rob Rooken, Andrey Slabakov, Alexandr Vondra, Anna Zalewska

GUE/NGL

Anja Hazekamp

NI

Eleonora Evi, Athanasios Konstantinou, Ivan Vilibor Sinčić

 

2

ID

Sylvia Limmer

GUE/NGL

Mick Wallace

 

5

0

EPP

Alexander Bernhuber

ID

Teuvo Hakkarainen

GUE/NGL

Malin Björk, Petros Kokkalis, Silvia Modig

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

[1] OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 107.

[2] OJ C 361, 5.10.2018, p. 46.

[5] OJ L 55, 28.2.2011, p. 13.

RECOMMENDATION FOR SECOND READING on the Council position at first reading with a view to the adoption of a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a framework for the recovery and resolution of central counterparties and amending Regulations (EU) No 1095/2010, (EU) No 648/2012, (EU) No 600/2014, (EU) No 806/2014 and (EU) 2015/2365 and Directives 2002/47/EC, 2004/25/EC, 2007/36/EC, 2014/59/EU and (EU) 2017/1132 – A9-0242/2020

Source: European Parliament

RECOMMENDATION FOR SECOND READING on the Council position at first reading with a view to the adoption of a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a framework for the recovery and resolution of central counterparties and amending Regulations (EU) No 1095/2010, (EU) No 648/2012, (EU) No 600/2014, (EU) No 806/2014 and (EU) 2015/2365 and Directives 2002/47/EC, 2004/25/EC, 2007/36/EC, 2014/59/EU and (EU) 2017/1132

REPORT on sustainable corporate governance – A9-0240/2020

Source: European Parliament

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on sustainable corporate governance

(2020/2137(INI))

The European Parliament,

 having regard to the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs)[1],

 having regard to the UN Sustainable Development Goals[2],

 having regard to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises[3],

 having regard to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct[4] and for Responsible Business Conduct for Institutional Investors[5],

 having regard to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy[6],

 having regard to the Paris Agreement, adopted on 12 December 2015[7],

 having regard to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC[8],

 having regard to the Commission proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 March 2020 establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 (European Climate Law) (COM(2020)0080),

 having regard to Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 on fluorinated greenhouse gases and repealing Regulation (EC) No 842/2006[9],

 having regard to the EU Action Plan: Financing Sustainable Growth (COM(2018)0097),

 having regard to the European Green Deal (COM(2019)0640),

 having regard to the adjusted Commission Work Programme for 2020 (COM(2020)0440),

 having regard to Directive 2013/34/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on the annual financial statements, consolidated financial statements and related reports of certain types of undertakings, amending Directive 2006/43/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Council Directives 78/660/EEC and 83/349/EEC[10] (‘the Accounting Directive’),

 having regard to Directive 2014/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2014 amending Directive 2013/34/EU as regards disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large undertakings and groups[11] (‘the Non-Financial Reporting Directive’ – NFRD),

 having regard to Directive (EU) 2016/943 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2016 on the protection of undisclosed know-how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure[12],

 having regard to Directive (EU) 2017/828 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 amending Directive 2007/36/EC as regards the encouragement of long-term shareholder engagement[13] (‘the Shareholders’ Rights Directive’),

 having regard to Directive (EU) 2019/1937 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2019 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law[14],

 having regard to Regulation (EU) 2019/2088 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 November 2019 on sustainability‐related disclosures in the financial services sector[15] (‘the Disclosure Regulation’),

 having regard to Regulation (EU) 2020/852 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2020 on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment, and amending Regulation (EU) 2019/2088[16] (‘the Taxonomy Regulation’),

 having regard to the Commission Guidelines on non-financial reporting (methodology for reporting non-financial information)[17] and to the Commission Guidelines on non-financial reporting: Supplement on reporting climate-related information[18],

 having regard to the Final Report of the High Level Forum on the Capital Markets Union entitled ‘A new vision for Europe’s capital markets’[19],

 having regard to the study drawn up for the Commission in July 2020 on directors’ duties and sustainable corporate governance,

 having regard to the UN’s Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework for Business and Human Rights of 2008[20],

 having regard to the study drawn up for the Commission in May 2020 entitled ‘Improving financial security in the context of the Environmental Liability Directive’[21],

 having regard to the Oslo Principles on Global Obligations to Reduce Climate Change[22],

 having regard to the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures of June 2017,

 having regard to Rule 54 of its Rules of Procedure,

 having regard to the opinions of the Committee on International Trade and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety,

 having regard to the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs (A9-0240/2020),

A. whereas the European Union is founded on the values stated in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union and whereas its environmental policy is based on the precautionary principle, as stated in Article 191(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;

B. whereas in a corporate context, a sustainability approach implies that companies take due consideration of general societal and environmental concerns, such as the rights of their employees and respect for planetary boundaries, in order to address the most pressing risks posed to these by their activities;

C. whereas the multiple international initiatives promoting sustainable corporate governance are voluntary, instruments of soft law only and have largely proven to be ineffective in changing corporate behaviour towards sustainability; whereas the study drawn up for the Commission on directors’ duties and sustainable corporate governance pursuant to the Sustainable Finance Action Plan underlines the benefits of clarifying directors’ obligations vis-à-vis sustainability and long-term considerations; highlights the problems associated with short-termism and recalls the need for companies to incorporate long-term interests to keep the EU on track to meeting its own sustainability commitments; whereas the study clearly points to the need for the adoption of EU legislation in this regard;

D. whereas during the last legislative term, the EU undertook a number of initiatives in an effort to foster transparency and long-termism in financial and economic activities, such as the Shareholders’ Rights Directive, the Action Plan for Financing Sustainable Growth, the Disclosure Regulation and the Taxonomy Regulation; whereas this trend had started, inter alia, with the adoption of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD); whereas the disclosure of non-financial information is necessary to measure, monitor and manage undertakings’ performances and their long-term impact on society and the environment;

E. whereas the NFRD is intertwined with sustainable corporate governance and has been a significant step forward in promoting non-financial reporting in the EU; whereas it nonetheless presents serious shortcomings that need to be addressed in order to make it more useful to investors and stakeholders;

F. whereas according to the European Green Deal, companies and financial institutions need to step up their disclosure of climate and environmental data so that investors are fully informed about the sustainability of their investments; whereas the Commission has committed to reviewing the NFRD to this end; whereas according to its adjusted Work Programme for 2020, the Commission intends to put forward a proposal reviewing the NFRD in the first trimester of 2021;

G. whereas stakeholders have often expressed the view that the non-financial information provided by companies pursuant to the NFRD is insufficient, unreliable and not comparable; whereas those tasked with preparing this information have expressed confusion at the plethora of voluntary reporting frameworks and have called for legal clarification and standardisation; whereas the disclosure of more complete and reliable information is necessary in order to reduce any potential adverse impacts on the climate, environment and society; whereas improvements in non-financial reporting could increase companies’ accountability and enhance trust in them; whereas these improvements should not create unfair competitive imbalances; whereas disclosure obligations should therefore take into account administrative costs and should be proportionate to the size of the company and consistent with other legislation applicable to business activities, such as the respect for trade secrets and the protection of whistleblowers;

H. whereas the study drawn up for the Commission on directors’ duties and sustainable corporate governance demonstrates the increasing tendency of publicly listed companies in the EU to focus on the short-term interests of their shareholders; whereas the study proposes several legislative options at EU level that would significantly improve corporate sustainability; whereas there is a need to adopt a legislative framework for European companies, while fully respecting the principle of proportionality and avoiding an excessive administrative burden for European companies; whereas this framework must ensure compliance with and improve legal certainty in the internal market and should not create competitive disadvantages;

I. whereas a sustainability approach to corporate governance comprises both human rights and environmental protection; whereas a legal requirement to disclose information related to environmental, social and employee issues and human rights, bribery and corruption should be considered an aspect of the ‘corporate responsibility to respect’ as defined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;

J. whereas the Paris Agreement aims to contain the rise in the average temperature of the planet well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels;

K. whereas the growing global competition for access to natural resources often results in unsustainable corporate exploitation of the natural and human environment;

L. whereas corporate governance has a key role to play in delivering the EU’s commitments to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement;

M. whereas climate change poses serious risks to food security, namely to the availability, accessibility and utilisation of food and the stability of food systems; whereas women farmers currently account for 45-80 % of all food production in developing countries, which are disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental degradation;

N. whereas the Aarhus Convention establishes a number of environmental rights for the public and for associations, including the right to access environmental information, the right to participate in environmental decision-making and access to justice;

O. whereas in 2017 the UN Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee found the EU in violation of the Aarhus Convention for not allowing members of the public to challenge decisions of the EU institutions before the EU courts;

P. whereas the Commission has raised ambitions for the 2019-2024 period by setting out an agenda for the European Green Deal, affirming that ‘Europe must lead the transition to a healthy planet’;

Q. whereas company directors have the legal and statutory duty to act in the interest of their company; whereas this duty has been the subject of different interpretations in different jurisdictions and the interest of the company has often been equated with the financial interests of the shareholder; whereas what is considered to be the interest of the company should also incorporate the interests of relevant stakeholders, including employees, and wider societal interests; whereas a narrow interpretation of this duty with an excessive focus on short-term profit maximisation is detrimental to the company’s long-term performance and sustainability, and hence the long-term interests of its shareholders;

R. whereas the consistency of EU legislation on sustainable corporate governance should be achieved through the establishment of concrete obligations and incentives to act and not only to report information; whereas an additional framework defining company boards’ duties in terms of sustainability is therefore necessary;

S. whereas in order to make corporate governance in the EU more sustainable, transparent and accountable, the Commission should, in addition to the proposals to review the NFRD, introduce new legislation on due diligence and directors’ duties; whereas if due diligence obligations and directors’ duties are to be covered by a single legislative instrument, they should be clearly separated in two different parts; whereas those obligations and duties are complementary but not interchangeable, nor is one subordinate to the other;

Non-financial reporting obligations

1. Calls on the Commission, when proposing new action in the field of company law and corporate governance, to strike the proper balance between, on the one hand, the need to ease short-term pressure on corporate directors and promoting the integration of sustainability concerns into corporate decision-making, and, on the other hand, the need for sufficient flexibility, while ensuring harmonisation; stresses the importance of strengthening the role of directors in pursuing the long-term interests of companies in future action at EU level and of engendering a culture within companies’ governing bodies that takes into account and implements sustainable corporate governance;

2. Welcomes the Commission’s commitment to reviewing the NFRD; highlights that such revision should be fully consistent with the requirements imposed by the Disclosure Regulation and the Taxonomy Regulation; calls on the Commission to take into account the recommendations included in this resolution;

3. Reiterates its call for an enlargement of the scope of the NFRD to cover all listed and non-listed large undertakings established in EU territory, as defined in Article 3(4) of the Accounting Directive; stresses that in order to provide a level playing field, non-financial reporting obligations should also apply to non-EU companies operating in the EU market; invites the Commission to identify high-risk sectors of economic activity with a significant impact on sustainability matters that could justify the inclusion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in those sectors within the scope of the NFRD; considers, to this end, that the Commission should draw on external independent expertise to provide an indicative, non-exhaustive and regularly updated list of conflict-affected and high-risk areas as well as specific guidance for SMEs; considers, in particular, that investments and sectors often linked to illegal business activities, such as environmental crimes, illegal wildlife trade, corruption or financial crime, should be specifically targeted; stresses that a review of the NFRD is also needed to give financial market participants access to the relevant data in order to carry out the obligations of the Disclosure Regulation;

4. Emphasises that sustainable corporate governance constitutes an important pillar, which allows the EU to achieve an economy that is both resilient and sustainable, to enhance the level playing field in order to maintain and boost EU companies’ international competitiveness and protect EU workers and businesses from unfair competition from third countries, and can therefore be beneficial to EU trade and investment policy, if it is adequately measured and proportionate;

5. Notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains, and has shown that the voluntary rules alone are not enough, as witnessed, for instance in the garment sector where production was disrupted during the crisis, leading to negative effects throughout the supply chain; notes that businesses with better defined environmental, social and governance practices and risk mitigation processes are weathering the crisis better; recognises that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has stated[23] that companies taking proactive steps to address the risks related to the COVID-19 crisis in a way that mitigates adverse impacts on workers and supply chains are likely to build more long-term value and resilience and to improve their viability in the short term and their prospects for recovery in the medium to long term;

6. Notes that the Taxonomy Regulation establishes a series of environmental objectives, namely on climate change, the use and protection of water and marine resources, the transition to a circular economy, pollution prevention and control, and on biodiversity and ecosystems; considers that the concept of environmental matters in the NFRD should be interpreted in line with the Taxonomy Regulation and include all forms of pollution; invites the Commission to take the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures into account and promote the development of innovative accounting techniques that reflect the value of ecosystems; considers it equally important to define with precision the other sustainability matters to which the NFRD refers, such as the concepts of social and employee matters, respect for human rights, and anti-corruption and bribery; believes that employee matters could encompass the disclosure of companies’ salary policies, which could include showing wages by decile and gender pay gaps;

7. Considers that sustainable corporate governance is key to the long-term direction of undertakings to align their activities to the achievement of the EU’s overall environmental objectives as laid down in the European Green Deal, as well as the EU’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as it moves towards the 2050 climate neutrality target; underlines that all sectors should contribute to reaching that target;

8. Considers that the definition of materiality should refer to any relevant environmental, human rights and governance impacts on society as a whole, beyond value creation and matters relating to the pure financial performance of companies; calls for this definition to be revised in line with the double materiality principle introduced by the NFRD and further explained in the Commission Guidelines on reporting climate-related information; considers that materiality should be assessed in a process involving relevant stakeholders;

9. Observes that the NFRD gives companies within its scope significant flexibility to disclose relevant information in the way they consider most useful; notes that companies may currently rely, at their discretion, on a number of different frameworks; observes that they are still uncertain about how best to comply with their disclosure obligations; considers it necessary to set up a comprehensive EU framework, with due regard for the principle of proportionality, to cover the full gamut of sustainability issues relevant to comprehensive non-financial reporting; highlights, in this regard, that the EU legislative framework should ensure that the disclosures are clear, balanced, understandable, comparable among companies within a sector, verifiable and objective, and include time-bound sustainability targets; stresses that this framework should also include mandatory standards, both general and sector-specific; welcomes, in this regard, the Commission’s commitment to supporting a process to develop EU non-financial reporting standards; stresses that specific mandatory reporting obligations and standards should be set in the NFRD review, with the appropriate involvement of all stakeholders concerned, such as civil society, environmental organisations and social partners;

10. Considers that non-financial statements should be set out in the annual management report in order to avoid additional burdens for companies; welcomes the commitment undertaken by the Commission in its Capital Markets Union Action Plan (COM(2020)0590) to putting forward a legislative proposal by the third quarter of 2021 for a publicly accessible, EU-wide online digital platform that provides free access to both the financial and non-financial information reported by companies; considers that this platform should allow users to compare the data disclosed by companies, by including categories such as themes, sectors, countries, turnover and number of employees;

11. Notes that the NFRD excludes non-financial statements from the requirement of content assurance to which financial statements of companies are otherwise subject; considers that non-financial statements should be subject to a mandatory audit, depending on the size and field of activity of the company concerned; considers that the assurance service provider, subject to requirements of objectivity and independence, should conduct its audit in accordance with the future EU framework; stresses, in the light of the foregoing, the need to address the inherent wrong incentives in statutory auditing by reviewing the Statutory Audit Directive[24]; affirms that this would also be an opportunity to address the quasi-monopoly of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy companies, which typically audit the largest listed companies;

12. Highlights that workers’ representatives should be involved in defining the process for reporting non-financial information and in verifying information, in particular regarding social sustainability goals and issues related to the supply production chain, including outsourcing and subcontracting;

13. Highlights the importance of introducing an obligation requiring certain EU companies to produce, on an annual basis, a country-by-country report for each tax jurisdiction in which they operate; calls on the Council to adopt its general approach as soon as possible in order to start negotiations with Parliament on the Commission’s proposal for a directive amending Directive 2013/34/EC as regards disclosure of income tax information by certain undertakings and branches (COM(2016)0198);

14. Believes that the EU should make every effort to ensure that the free trade agreements they negotiate include clauses requiring the partner states to lay down comparable obligations for their companies, with a view to avoiding any new means of distorting competition;

Directors’ duty of care and additional measures to make corporate governance more sustainability-oriented

15. Stresses the importance of diversity and inclusiveness in companies, which leads to better business performance; calls on the Council to adopt its general approach as soon as possible in order to start negotiations with Parliament on the Women on Boards Proposal[25], which sets out to put an end to the pervasive imbalance between women and men at the highest levels of company decision-making; calls on the Commission to examine additional proposals to improve gender balance among senior managers and those holding influential positions in companies;

16. Underlines the need for greater employee involvement in company decision-making processes in order to better integrate the long-term objectives and impacts of their companies; invites the Commission to look into the possibility of revising the European Works Council Directive[26] and establishing a new framework on employees’ information, consultation and involvement in European companies;

17. Stresses that the ecological transition and the rise of digitalisation will have profound repercussions on the labour force; considers, therefore, that any sustainable corporate governance should recognise and guarantee effectively the right of employees to continuing vocational training and lifelong education during their working hours;

18. Notes that companies are not abstract entities detached from today’s environmental and social challenges; considers that companies should make a more active contribution to sustainability as their long-term performance, resilience and even their survival may depend on the adequacy of their response to environmental and social matters; stresses, in this regard, that the duty of care of directors towards their company should be defined not only in relation to short-term profit maximisation by way of shares, but also sustainability concerns; notes the major role of executive directors in defining a company’s strategy and overseeing its operations; considers that executive directors’ legal duties to act in the interest of their company should be understood as a duty to integrate long-term interests and sustainability risks, impacts, opportunities and dependencies into their company’s overall strategy; stresses that this duty of prioritisation could entail a shift towards sustainable investments from non-sustainable investments;

19. Calls on the Commission to present a legislative proposal to ensure that directors’ duties cannot be misconstrued as amounting solely to the short-term maximisation of shareholder value, but must instead include the long-term interest of the company and wider societal interests, as well as that of employees and other relevant stakeholders; believes, in addition, that such a proposal should ensure that members of the administrative, management and supervisory bodies, acting within the competences assigned to them by national law, have the legal duty to define, disclose and monitor a corporate sustainability strategy;

20. Stresses, with regard to the ongoing revision of the Environmental Liability Directive[27], that companies should possess financial securities for environmental liability for environmental harm inflicted on individuals and ecosystems;

21. Considers that companies’ sustainability strategies should identify and address, in accordance with their due diligence obligations, on the one hand, material issues in line with the non-financial reporting requirements, and, on the other hand, the significant impacts that those companies could have on environmental, climate, social and employee matters, and the implications for human rights, bribery and corruption arising from their business models, operations and supply chains, including outside the EU; considers that the duty of care that directors owe to their company also requires abiding by the duty not to harm ecosystems and to protect the interests of relevant stakeholders, including employees, who may be adversely impacted by the company’s activities;

22. Believes that the scope of the future legislation should cover all listed and non-listed large undertakings established in EU territory, as defined in Article 3(4) of the Accounting Directive; stresses that in order to provide a level playing field, this legislation should also apply to non-EU companies operating in the EU market; invites the Commission to identify high-risk sectors of economic activity with a significant impact on sustainability matters that could justify applying it to SMEs in those sectors; further considers that, following the impact assessment the Commission is currently undertaking, the sustainability strategies should include measurable, specific, time-bound and science-based targets as well as transition plans aligned with the EU’s international commitments on the environment and climate change, in particular the Paris Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity and international agreements addressing deforestation; believes that the strategies could also include an internal policy on a fair salary based on living wage per country, a policy on gender equality, and a policy ensuring employees’ rights are better integrated in business activities; underlines that the content of these internal policies should be determined by the companies themselves, with due consideration for and in consultation with their employees; considers that these policies should take into account sector-specific and/or geographical matters and the rights of persons belonging to particularly vulnerable groups or communities; considers that linking the variable part of the remuneration of executive directors to the achievement of the measurable targets set in the strategy would serve to align directors’ interests with the long-term interests of their companies; calls on the Commission to further promote such remuneration schemes for top management positions;

23. Notes that some Member States have introduced the concept of ‘loyalty shares’ in their legislation, whereby long-term shareholding is rewarded through voting rights and tax advantages; calls on the Commission to consider the introduction of new mechanisms to promote sustainable returns and the long-term performances of companies; highlights that retained earnings can contribute to building adequate reserves;

24. Considers that the Shareholders’ Rights Directive should also be amended in order to incentivise ‘patient’ shareholder behaviour, in particular by rewarding long-term shareholding through voting rights and tax advantages;

25. Expresses concern that certain international investment agreements such as the Energy Charter Treaty place the financial interests of multinational corporations above environmental and climate priorities; urges the Commission to take swift action to ensure that existing and future trade investment agreements are fully aligned with EU environmental and climate objectives and to come forward with proposals to counteract corporate land grabbing and deforestation in the upcoming review of the NFRD;

26. Considers that, in the process of defining and monitoring their sustainability strategies, companies should have the duty to inform and consult relevant stakeholders; believes that the concept of a stakeholder should be interpreted broadly and include all persons whose rights and interests may be affected by the decisions of the company, such as employees, trade unions, local communities, indigenous peoples, citizens’ associations, shareholders, civil society and environmental organisations; considers it essential, moreover, to consult national and local public authorities dealing with the sustainability of economic affairs, in particular those responsible for employment and environmental public policies;

27. Considers that this engagement should take place, depending on the size and field of activity of the company concerned, by means of advisory committees comprising stakeholders’ representatives or spokespersons, including employees as well as independent experts, with the overall aim of providing advice on the content and implementation of the company’s sustainability strategy; considers that these advisory committees could be chaired by non-executive directors and should have the right to request, if approved by a large majority, an independent audit should reasonable concerns be raised over the proper implementation of the sustainability strategy;

28. Believes that companies that receive State aid, EU funding, or other public money or companies that carry out redundancy plans should aim to retain their workers’ jobs and offer them protection, adjust the remuneration of their directors accordingly, pay their fair share of taxes, implement their sustainability strategy in line with the objective of reducing their carbon footprint, and refrain from paying out dividends or offering share buy-back schemes aimed at remunerating shareholders;

°

° °

29. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

 

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

In the corporate context, a sustainability approach implies that the interest of different stakeholders in the company, including general societal and environmental concerns are duly taken into consideration. Currently, several international initiatives promote sustainable corporate governance, notably the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights of 2011, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. While these tools are valuable in terms of encouraging responsible business conduct in a globalised environment, they remain soft law only.

 

The European Union undertook multiple steps with the aim of fostering transparency and long-termism in financial and economic activities, such as the revision of the Shareholder’s Rights Directive, the Action Plan for Financing Sustainable Growth, the Disclosure Regulation and the Taxonomy Regulation. The adoption of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive in 2014 was also a major step forward in promoting transparency in order to measure, monitor and manage undertakings’ performance and their long-term impact on society and the environment. However, the shortcomings identified during its implementation show that there is a need to enhance non-financial reporting information in the Union. The rapporteur is convinced that transparency is of key importance to ensure accountability. He welcomes, therefore, the engagement of the Commission to review the current Directive.

 

In addition, a consistent European approach on sustainable corporate governance should be achieved through the establishment of concrete obligations to do and not only to report information. The Rapporteur considers that it is necessary to establish a new framework defining company boards’ duties in terms of sustainability.

 

Non-financial reporting obligations

 

In its resolution of 29 May 2018 on Sustainable finance, the European Parliament called for the consideration of an enlargement of the scope of application of the NFRD. The Rapporteur would like to reiterate this call, while specifying which companies need to comply with the obligation of reporting non-financial information. He is of the opinion that the current scope appears to be too narrow and not in line with the definitions laid down in the Accounting Directive.

 

The definition of materiality should be also reviewed and aligned with issues that affect long-term value creation and include matters beyond the purely financial performance of companies.

 

The significant flexibility offered by the NFRD results in companies reporting information is often deemed insufficient, unreliable and not comparable. The non-binding guidelines issued by the European Commission did not remedy this problem. The rapporteur believes that it is, therefore, necessary to put in place a standardised framework, which will allow for clear, balanced, understandable, comparable among companies within a sector, verifiable and objective disclosures.

 

Another recurrent difficulty that the stakeholders are faced with is related to the location of the report, for which the current framework provides also considerable flexibility. Harmonising this aspect seems, therefore, necessary. In any circumstances, the information should be easily accessible, for example on the company’s website or by means of a publicly accessible and free of charge EU-wide digital platform.

 

A crucial part of the review should be the content assurance requirement, which is not part of the currently applicable rules on non-financial information. The rapporteur considers that the statements should be subject to a mandatory audit performed by an impartial and independent assurance service provider.

 

It is extremely important to ask the Council to urgently resume negotiations with Parliament on the Commission’s proposal for a directive amending Directive 2013/34/EC as regards disclosure of income tax information by certain undertakings and branches.

 

Directors’ duty of care and additional measures to make corporate governance more sustainability-oriented

 

Companies are not abstract entities disconnected of today’s environment and social challenges. They should more actively contribute to sustainability as their long-term performance, resilience, and even survival may depend on their adequate response to environment and social matters. In this regard, directors’ duty of care towards the company should be defined not only in relation to short-term profit maximisation of shares, but also in relation to sustainability concerns. Given the major role of directors in defining companies’ strategy and overseeing its operations, they should have a duty to integrate long-term interests and sustainability risks, impacts, opportunities, and dependencies in the overall strategy of the company.

 

The rapporteur sees the need for a new framework ensuring that the members of the administrative, management and supervisory bodies of undertakings have the collective responsibility of defining, disclosing and monitoring a corporate sustainability strategy. This duty should require taking into consideration also the interest of stakeholders who may be adversely impacted by the company’s activities. The Rapporteur is of the opinion that the sustainability strategy should include measurable, specific, time-bound and science-based targets aligned with the Union’s commitments at international level. It should also include policies on better integration of employee’s rights in the business activities and a definition of a fair salary policy, as well as sector-specific and/or geographical matters.

 

The process of defining and monitoring the sustainability strategy should include all relevant stakeholders, such as shareholders, employee’s representatives and external stakeholder affected by the company’s activities. Depending on the size of the company, an obligation to establish advisory committees for this purpose should be considered.

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE (25.10.2020)

for the Committee on Legal Affairs

on sustainable corporate governance

(2020/2137(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: Heidi Hautala

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on International Trade calls on the Committee on Legal Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1. Stresses that, while it is the sole responsibility of states and governments to safeguard human rights in their countries, sustainable corporate governance encompasses the ‘corporate responsibility to respect human rights’, as defined in the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights; recalls that the EU’s economy is facing the biggest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, with companies all over Europe hit especially hard; stresses that, at this time, any new legislative initiative should bear in mind its impact on administrative burden for micro and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular, and its impact on employment in EU companies and in their engagement in international markets; recalls the importance of transitional periods in order to create legal certainty and good legislation;

2. Calls for three distinct, yet mutually reinforcing, legislative proposals on directors’ duties and sustainable corporate governance, on corporate human rights and environmental due diligence, and on the reform of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive[28];

3. Reiterates that global supply chains are the key feature of the global economy, but that their complex nature and lack of corporate accountability may lead to a higher risk of human and labour rights violations and impunity for environmental crimes, and that trade policy must contribute to a transparent corporate governance, in line with the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, as it affects supply chains, including subcontracting chains, and demonstrate compliance with environmental, human rights, social and safety standards in line with the Paris Agreement and promotes the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals;

4. Emphasises that sustainable corporate governance constitutes an important pillar, which allows the EU to achieve an economy that is both resilient and sustainable, to enhance the level playing field in order to maintain and boost EU companies’ international competitiveness and protect EU workers and businesses from unfair competition from third countries, and can therefore be beneficial to EU trade and investment policy, if it is adequately measured and proportionate;

5. Notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains, and has shown that the voluntary rules alone are not enough, as witnessed, for instance in the garment sector where production was disrupted during the crisis, leading to negative effects throughout the supply chain; notes that businesses with better defined environmental, social and governance practices and risk mitigation processes are weathering the crisis better; recognises that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has stated[29] that companies taking proactive steps to address the risks related to the COVID-19 crisis in a way that mitigates adverse impacts on workers and supply chains are likely to build more long-term value and resilience and to improve their viability in the short term and their prospects for recovery in the medium to long term;

6. Notes with concern that recent research[30] on the implementation of the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive has revealed that more than three quarters of companies do not provide information about their supply chains, even in high-risk sectors, except for the apparel sector where a significant number of companies provide either a general or detailed list of their suppliers; notes that publicly listed companies, unlisted public companies and private companies registered in the EU may have different obligations under national law as regards sustainable corporate governance; recalls the importance of levelling the playing field vis-a-vis companies registered outside of the EU who do not always follow sustainable corporate governance principles, which have a negative impact on EU enterprises and their employees; stresses that sustainable corporate governance should apply to all EU and non-EU companies operating in the single market; calls on the Commission to use the review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive as an opportunity to enhance reporting requirements and the enforceability of reporting and ensure compliance with environmental, social and human rights standards;

7. Recognises that the findings of the recent Commission study on directors’ duties and sustainable corporate governance, carried over the 1992-2018 period, have confirmed that there is a trend for most EU companies to favour short termism over long termism and sustainability, and; underlines that the impact of such corporate short termism on EU business trading practices in third countries is unsustainable; stresses that directors’ duties should encompass the obligation to integrate long-term sustainability aspects into their business strategy with sustainability targets beyond current shareholder value primacy, and to disclose appropriate information, while taking into account competition policy and legitimate interests to protect internal business know-how; stresses that the development of such strategies should be based on international social, environmental and human rights standards, and should include consulting with local communities where appropriate; notes that a balanced composition of the domestic advisory groups (DAGs) and the lessons learnt from their experience as an inclusive structured dialogue could be used as a model for EU corporate structures that take civil society into account; notes that adjustments to the composition of a board of directors, such as through the appointment of a member with knowledge of sustainable corporate governance, could increase compliance with these obligations; considers that the question of the extent of the applicability of such measures should be determined on the basis of the potential risk of harm; notes that all efforts should be in line with the principle of proportionality;

8. Calls upon the Commission to review the impact of sustainable corporate governance obligations on financial institutions providing trade finance;

9. Stresses the requirement to disclose information on how environmental, social and employee matters, respect for human rights, and bribery and corruption affect a company and how it affects society and the environment (i.e. the ‘double materiality standard) should include the sharing of all relevant information on the supply chain; notes that sharing this information pursuant to the rules laid down in the Non-Financial Reporting Directive; stresses that any new EU requirements must be in accordance with the various international reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and the International Integrated Reporting Council so as to ensure a level playing field for European companies; notes the importance of providing comprehensive guidelines and indications on what information on value chains needs to be shared;

10. Underlines the importance of the new taxonomy regulation and its significance for supply chains; stresses that tackling tax avoidance is a fundamental part of sustainable corporate governance;

11. Acknowledges the Commission’s proposal to prepare legislation on sustainable corporate governance and due diligence on the basis of OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the accompanying OECD Due Diligence Guidance on Responsible Business Conduct, the standards set in core International Labour Organization conventions and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; calls on the Commission to explore the possibility of EU-level certification schemes for supply chains as a complementary initiative to its legislative proposal on due diligence; calls on the Commission to assess which existing legislation could be updated or streamlined;

12. Underlines that sustainable corporate governance should not be understood narrowly as mere due diligence legislation but also trade policy plays a vital role in the smart mix of measures that foster business respect for human rights and mitigate environmental damage; stresses the importance of coherence between corporate governance structures of EU businesses and EU efforts in dialogue with third countries on responsible business conduct through Trade and Sustainable Development chapters in Free Trade Agreements; stresses that both the sustainable corporate governance and corporate due diligence should be considered in the ongoing Trade Policy Review.

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

27.10.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

34

3

6

Members present for the final vote

Barry Andrews, Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou, Tiziana Beghin, Geert Bourgeois, Saskia Bricmont, Udo Bullmann, Jordi Cañas, Daniel Caspary, Miroslav Číž, Arnaud Danjean, Paolo De Castro, Emmanouil Fragkos, Raphaël Glucksmann, Markéta Gregorová, Enikő Győri, Roman Haider, Christophe Hansen, Heidi Hautala, Danuta Maria Hübner, Herve Juvin, Maximilian Krah, Danilo Oscar Lancini, Bernd Lange, Margarida Marques, Gabriel Mato, Sara Matthieu, Emmanuel Maurel, Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó, Samira Rafaela, Inma Rodríguez-Piñero, Massimiliano Salini, Helmut Scholz, Liesje Schreinemacher, Sven Simon, Dominik Tarczyński, Mihai Tudose, Kathleen Van Brempt, Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, Jörgen Warborn, Iuliu Winkler, Jan Zahradil

Substitutes present for the final vote

Svenja Hahn, Jean-Lin Lacapelle

 

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

34

+

ECR

Emmanouil Fragkos

ID

Danilo Oscar Lancini

GUE/NGL

Emmanuel Maurel, Helmut Scholz

NI

Tiziana Beghin, Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó

PPE

Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou, Daniel Caspary, Arnaud Danjean, Christophe Hansen, Danuta Maria Hübner, Gabriel Mato, Massimiliano Salini, Sven Simon, Iuliu Winkler

RENEW

Barry Andrews, Jordi Cañas, Svenja Hahn, Samira Rafaela, Liesje Schreinemacher, Marie-Pierre Vedrenne

S&D

Udo Bullmann, Miroslav Číž, Paolo De Castro, Raphaël Glucksmann, Bernd Lange, Margarida Marques, Inma Rodríguez-Piñero, Mihai Tudose, Kathleen Van Brempt

VERTS/ALE

Saskia Bricmont, Markéta Gregorová, Heidi Hautala, Sara Matthieu

 

3

ID

Herve Juvin, Maximilian Krah

PPE

Jörgen Warborn

 

6

0

ECR

Geert Bourgeois, Dominik Tarczyński, Jan Zahradil

ID

Roman Haider, Jean‑Lin Lacapelle

PPE

Enikő Győri

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety calls on the Committee on Legal Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

A. whereas the Paris Agreement aims to contain the rise in the average temperature of the planet well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels;

B. whereas COVID-19 has illustrated the profound interconnections between human health, animal health and environmental health; whereas sustainable development should not be limited only to environmental and climate protection, but should also seek to ensure the highest level of protection and development for people, living beings and ecosystems; whereas the UN Sustainable Development Goals address multiple cross-cutting issues, including full and productive employment and decent work for all; whereas sustainable corporate governance holds great potential for ensuring that companies contribute to the realisation of all of these goals;

C. whereas the European Union is founded on the values stated in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union and whereas its environmental policy is based on the precautionary principle, as stated in Article 191(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;

D. whereas the rapidly changing global economy necessitates a corporate governance model that will address the most pressing challenges ranging from climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters to growing global inequalities; whereas the EU and humanity as a whole are currently breaching four of the nine planetary boundaries;

E. whereas the growing global competition for access to natural resources often results in unsustainable corporate exploitation of the natural and human environment;

F. whereas corporate governance has a key role to play in delivering the EU’s commitments to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement;

G. whereas climate change poses serious risks to food security, namely to the availability, accessibility and utilisation of food and the stability of food systems; whereas women farmers currently account for 45-80 % of all food production in developing countries, which are disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental degradation;

H. whereas on average, deforestation is responsible for 20 % of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions; whereas deforestation in Brazil and the overexploitation of the high seas are two powerful reminders that we urgently need better sustainable governance of the environment on a global scale;

I. whereas more and more countries and public authorities are granting legal status to ecosystems; whereas Ecuador has enshrined the Rights of Nature in its Constitution, thereby recognising the inalienable right of ecosystems to exist and flourish, and has vested individuals, peoples, communities and even other nations with the right to enforce the Rights of Nature and to apply preventative and restrictive measures on activities that could lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems or the permanent alteration of natural cycles;

J. whereas the Aarhus Convention establishes a number of environmental rights for the public and for associations, including the right to access environmental information, the right to participate in environmental decision-making and access to justice;

K. whereas in 2017 the UN Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee found the EU in violation of the Aarhus Convention for not allowing members of the public to challenge decisions of the EU institutions before the EU courts;

L. whereas the Commission has raised ambitions for the 2019-2024 period by setting out an agenda for the European Green Deal, affirming that ‘Europe must lead the transition to a healthy planet’;

1. Considers that sustainable corporate governance is key to the long-term direction of undertakings to align their activities to the achievement of the EU’s overall environmental objectives as laid down in the European Green Deal, as well as the EU’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as it moves towards the 2050 climate neutrality target; underlines that all sectors should contribute to reaching that target;

2. Expresses concern that certain international investment agreements such as the Energy Charter Treaty place the financial interests of multinational corporations above environmental and climate priorities; urges the Commission to take swift action to ensure that existing and future trade investment agreements are fully aligned with EU environmental and climate objectives and to come forward with proposals to counteract corporate land grabbing and deforestation in the upcoming review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD);

3. Stresses that the ecological transition and the rise of digitalisation will have profound repercussions on the labour force; considers, therefore, that any sustainable corporate governance should recognise and guarantee effectively the right of employees to continuing vocational training and lifelong education during their working hours;

4. Considers that the current approach of having Commission guidelines on non-financial reporting by companies is insufficient on its own to bring about the desired outcome of comparable, reliable and consistent reporting by undertakings;

5. Calls in this regard for the adoption of EU standards with well-defined requirements in terms of the content and accessibility of non-financial information that should apply to at least all listed and non-listed large undertakings operating in the EU; points out that new European standards need to be based on an impact assessment and adapted to the capabilities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); calls for the introduction of specific mechanisms for SMEs to facilitate and ensure the implementation of these standards, including language support tools to help them access online platforms;

6. Calls on the Commission to commit to developing such standards during the upcoming NFRD review; considers that these standards should not pose an undue burden on SMEs;

7.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to adhere to and promote the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct in order to prevent, reduce and remedy harm to the environment and biodiversity, while taking due account of obligations and commitments to ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment;

8. Considers that the EU framework should help and assist companies, in particular SMEs, by ensuring that disclosures are clear, balanced, understandable and comparable among companies within a sector;

9. Further considers that consistency of EU legislation on sustainable corporate governance should be achieved not only through the obligation to report information, but also through the introduction of concrete, proportionate and enforceable obligations and quantified objectives, based on an impact assessment; calls on the Commission to ensure that the revision of the NFRD is in line with the EU Taxonomy Regulation for sustainable activities and to define the minimum standards to be applied to companies in a mandatory and binding way; further considers that incentives should also be introduced on how to implement these measures, in particular for smaller companies;

10. Considers that corporate sustainability strategies should prioritise long-term interests in order to facilitate a mandatory shift away from unsustainable investments and corporate practices and towards more sustainable operations that promote environmental and climate objectives such as renewable energy production, waste reduction and the promotion of a truly circular economy;

11. Recalls that the sustainable character of companies depends on whether their management fully abides by their environmental and social obligations; stresses that strong and independent inspection services are necessary to ensure full respect for these obligations;

12. Calls in this regard for the adoption of an EU legislative framework requiring undertakings to establish, implement, regularly assess and update a corporate sustainability strategy in consultation with all relevant stakeholders; believes that this strategy should address in particular the companies’ environmental impacts such as loss of biodiversity and deforestation, as well as mid- and long-term planning towards achieving climate neutrality by 2050;

13. Recognises that while women are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, they are also effective agents of change in relation to mitigation and adaption; calls on the Commission and the Member States to include gender mainstreaming in their environmental analyses, policymaking, action plans and any other measures applicable to sustainable development and climate change in order to command greater attention for gender perspectives.

 

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

29.10.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

66

11

3

Members present for the final vote

Nikos Androulakis, Bartosz Arłukowicz, Margrete Auken, Simona Baldassarre, Marek Paweł Balt, Traian Băsescu, Aurelia Beigneux, Monika Beňová, Sergio Berlato, Alexander Bernhuber, Malin Björk, Simona Bonafè, Delara Burkhardt, Pascal Canfin, Sara Cerdas, Mohammed Chahim, Tudor Ciuhodaru, Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé, Esther de Lange, Christian Doleschal, Marco Dreosto, Eleonora Evi, Agnès Evren, Fredrick Federley, Pietro Fiocchi, Catherine Griset, Jytte Guteland, Anja Hazekamp, Martin Hojsík, Pär Holmgren, Jan Huitema, Yannick Jadot, Adam Jarubas, Petros Kokkalis, Athanasios Konstantinou, Joanna Kopcińska, Sylvia Limmer, Javi López, Fulvio Martusciello, Liudas Mažylis, Joëlle Mélin, Tilly Metz, Dolors Montserrat, Alessandra Moretti, Dan-Ştefan Motreanu, Ville Niinistö, Ljudmila Novak, Grace O’Sullivan, Jutta Paulus, Jessica Polfjärd, Luisa Regimenti, Frédérique Ries, María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos, Sándor Rónai, Rob Rooken, Silvia Sardone, Christine Schneider, Günther Sidl, Linea Søgaard-Lidell, Nicolae Ştefănuță, Nils Torvalds, Edina Tóth, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, Alexandr Vondra, Mick Wallace, Pernille Weiss, Michal Wiezik, Tiemo Wölken, Anna Zalewska

Substitutes present for the final vote

Maria Arena, Manuel Bompard, Antoni Comín i Oliveres, Margarita de la Pisa Carrión, Sven Giegold, Jens Gieseke, Nicolás González Casares, Christophe Hansen, Laura Huhtasaari, Ondřej Knotek, Róża Thun und Hohenstein

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

66

+

EPP

Bartosz Arłukowicz, Traian Băsescu, Alexander Bernhuber, Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé, Esther de Lange, Christian Doleschal, Agnès Evren, Jens Gieseke, Christophe Hansen, Adam Jarubas, Fulvio Martusciello, Liudas Mažylis, Dolors Montserrat, Dan-Ştefan Motreanu, Ljudmila Novak, Christine Schneider, Róża Thun und Hohenstein, Edina Tóth, Michal Wiezik

S&D

Nikos Androulakis, Maria Arena, Marek Paweł Balt, Monika Beňová, Simona Bonafè, Delara Burkhardt, Sara Cerdas, Mohammed Chahim, Tudor Ciuhodaru, Nicolás González Casares, Jytte Guteland, Javi López, Alessandra Moretti, Sándor Rónai, Günther Sidl, Tiemo Wölken

RENEW

Pascal Canfin, Fredrick Federley, Martin Hojsík, Jan Huitema, Ondřej Knotek, Frédérique Ries, María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos, Nicolae Ştefănuță, Nils Torvalds, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir

GREENS/EFA

Margrete Auken, Sven Giegold, Pär Holmgren, Yannick Jadot, Tilly Metz, Ville Niinistö, Grace O’Sullivan, Jutta Paulus

ECR

Sergio Berlato, Pietro Fiocchi, Joanna Kopcińska, Alexandr Vondra, Anna Zalewska

GUE/NGL

Malin Björk, Manuel Bompard, Anja Hazekamp, Petros Kokkalis, Mick Wallace

NI

Antoni Comín i Oliveres, Eleonora Evi, Athanasios Konstantinou

 

11

EPP

Jessica Polfjärd

ID

Simona Baldassarre, Aurelia Beigneux, Marco Dreosto, Catherine Griset, Laura Huhtasaari, Sylvia Limmer, Joëlle Mélin, Luisa Regimenti, Silvia Sardone

ECR

Rob Rooken

 

3

0

EPP

Pernille Weiss

RENEW

Linea Søgaard-Lidell

ECR

Margarita de la Pisa Carrión

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

[9] OJ L 150, 20.5.2014, p. 195.

[10] OJ L 182, 29.6.2013, p. 19.

[11] OJ L 330, 15.11.2014, p. 1.

[12] OJ L 157, 15.6.2016, p. 1.

[13] OJ L 132, 20.5.2017, p. 1.

[14] OJ L 305, 26.11.2019, p. 17.

[15] OJ L 317, 9.12. 2019, p. 1.

[16] OJ L 198, 22.6.2020, p. 13.

[17] OJ C 215, 5.7.2017, p. 1.

[18] OJ C 209, 20.6.2019, p. 1.

[24] OJ L 158, 27.5.2014, p. 196.

[25] Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2012 on improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchange and related measures (COM(2012)0614).

[26] OJ L 122, 16.5.2009, p. 28.

[27] OJ L 143, 30.4.2004, p. 56.

[28] OJ L 330, 15.11.2014, p. 1.

[29] http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/covid-19-and-responsible-business-conduct-02150b06/#:~:text=A%20responsible%20business%20conduct%20(RBC,both%20government%20and%20business%20response

REPORT on a new strategy for European SMEs – A9-0237/2020

Source: European Parliament

PR_INI

CONTENTS

Page

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON EMPLOYMENT AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON THE INTERNAL MARKET AND CONSUMER PROTECTION

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORT AND TOURISM

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON CULTURE AND EDUCATION

LETTER OF THE COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AFFAIRS

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

 

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on a new strategy for European SMEs

(2020/2131(INI))

The European Parliament,

 having regard to Article 3(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which refers to internal market, sustainable development and the social market economy,

 having regard to the Commission recommendation 2003/361/EC of 6 May 2003 concerning the definition of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises[1],

 having regard to Directive 2011/7/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 2011 on combating late payment in commercial transactions (Late Payment Directive)[2],

 having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1287/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 establishing a Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (COSME) (2014 – 2020) and repealing Decision No 1639/2006/EC[3],

 having regard to its resolution of 23 October 2012 on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs): competitiveness and business opportunities[4],

 having regard to its resolution of 8 September 2015 on family businesses in Europe[5],

 having regard to its resolution of 17 April 2020 on EU coordinated action to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences[6],

 having regard to its resolution of 15 May 2020 on the new multiannual financial framework, own resources and the recovery plan[7],

 having regard to its resolution of 23 July 2020 on the conclusions of the extraordinary European Council meeting of 17-21 July 2020[8],

 having regard to the Commission communication of 23 February 2011 entitled ‘Review of the “Small Business Act” for Europe’ (COM(2011)0078), and to Parliament’s resolution thereon of 12 May 2011[9],

 having regard to the Commission communication of 7 December 2011 entitled ‘An action plan to improve access to finance for SMEs’ (COM(2011)0870),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 7 March 2013 entitled ‘Smart regulation – Responding to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises’ (COM(2013)0122),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 22 November 2016 entitled ‘Europe’s next leaders: the Start-up and Scale-up Initiative’ (COM(2016)0733),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 11 December 2019 on the European Green Deal (COM(2019)0640),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 19 February 2020 entitled ‘Shaping Europe’s digital future’ (COM(2020)0067),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 10 March 2020 entitled ‘An SME Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe’ (COM(2020)0103),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 10 March 2020 entitled ‘A New Industrial Strategy for Europe’ (COM(2020)0102),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 11 March 2020 entitled ‘A new Circular Economy Action Plan. For a cleaner and more competitive Europe’ (COM(2020)0098),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 27 May 2020 entitled ‘Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation’ (COM(2020)0456),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 27 May 2020 entitled ‘Adjusted Commission Work Programme 2020’ (COM(2020)0440),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 1 July 2020 entitled ‘European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience’ (COM(2020)0274),

 having regard to the Annual Report on European SMEs 2018/2019 of November 2019,

 having regard to the Commission’s 2020 Spring Economic Forecast,

 having regard to the European Court of Auditors’ Special Report 02/2020 of 22 January 2020, entitled ‘The SME Instrument in action: an effective and innovative programme facing challenges’,

 having regard to the findings of the Digital Economy and Society Index 2020, published on 11 June 2020,

 having regard to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report of June 2020,

 having regard to the OECD report of 10 December 2019 entitled ‘The Missing Entrepreneurs 2019’,

 having regard to Rule 54 of its Rules of Procedure,

 having regard to the opinions of the Committee on International Trade, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, the Committee on The Internal Market and Consumer Protection, the Committee on Transport and Tourism, the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and the Committee on Culture and Education,

 having regard to the letter from the Committee on Legal Affairs,

 having regard to the report of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (A9-0237/2020),

A. whereas the Commission communication entitled ‘An SME Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe’ was published on 10 March 2020, while on 11 March 2020, the WHO issued the COVID-19 pandemic alert[10], impacting significantly the economic, social and political environment in which SMEs operate and making a revision of the strategy necessary, owing to the changes in many economic, social and political conditions; whereas the Commission’s strategy presented in March still proposes solutions to address the structural economic, social and environmental challenges SMEs were facing prior to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as upcoming challenges related to the digital and green transitions; whereas the Commission should present an updated version of its communication on an SME strategy, reflecting the points raised in this resolution; whereas European competitiveness is lagging behind that of other developed economies, threatening Europe’s potential to generate wealth and prosperity;

B. whereas the 24 million SMEs in the EU-27 are the backbone of the economy and, before the pandemic, they generated more than half of the EU’s GDP while employing about 100 million workers; whereas 98.9 % of enterprises in the EU’s non-financial business economy are small enterprises with fewer than 49 workers;[11] whereas micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), both at national and EU level, are very complex and heterogeneous given their size and the great diversity of sectors of activity they cover; whereas SMEs are vital for the development and resilience of European industrial value chains and contribute significantly to local, regional and national economies;

C. whereas SMEs should be at the centre of the European Green Deal and digital strategy, and be properly supported by tailored financial instruments and an SME-friendly legislative environment in order be enabled to play an important role in the growth of the European economy, as well as in the broader strategic objectives of the Union, including the environmental objectives by 2050;  whereas in its resolution on EU coordinated action to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, Parliament stressed that the European Green Deal and digital transformation should facilitate the post-COVID recovery and reconstruction strategies; whereas SMEs must be actively involved and supported in the EU’s digital strategy and the European Green Deal in order to improve their competitiveness and unlock their potential for digitalisation, deployment of innovative solutions and tackling pressing environmental and societal concerns; whereas the contribution of SMEs will be crucial to the success of these strategies;

D. whereas the economic crisis and the grim economic outlook triggered by the pandemic have brought a considerable and indeterminate number of SMEs and start-ups to the verge of insolvency; whereas in 2018 only 40 % of companies were paid on time; whereas the liquidity crunch from which many SMEs are suffering will not only have negative repercussions on their day-to-day operations, but also on their future growth perspectives, preventing them from properly planning long-term investments;

E. whereas the emergency asset purchases by the European Central Bank (ECB) in response to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic mainly help larger companies, as they rely more on the commercial debt market, but do not improve financial conditions for SMEs; whereas the EU and the Member States should act boldly and swiftly to minimise the economic, social and strategic risks associated with the disappearance of these companies; recognises that bank lending is traditionally the main source of external financing for SMEs in the Union, accounting for more than three quarters of SME financing, which makes SMEs particularly vulnerable to bank lending contractions; whereas SMEs do not have the tools to face a protracted crisis and national measures should not negatively affect the EU internal market;

F. whereas the impact of the capital shortfall as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis will differ across sectors, company types and Member States, leading to divergences in the internal market; whereas it is important to maintain a level playing field in order to minimise distortions to competition within the internal market, while the differential in the growth performance between Member States is one of the causes of uneven economic development within the EU; whereas SMEs suffer even more from overwhelming and often deregulated global competition;

G. whereas the OECD Economic Outlook does not rule out, in the event of another serious wave of COVID-19, that the loss of income by the end of 2021 will exceed that of any previous recession in the last 100 years[12]; whereas, following the COVID-19 outbreak, State aid should not lead to distortions of competition on the internal market between SMEs from different countries; whereas the pandemic has shown that the digital transition is of the utmost importance and has highlighted the need for digitalising the economy to ensure better resilience in the future, while environmental challenges persist and need to be addressed; whereas the EU is facing tough competition from global players; whereas innovation represents an effective way for SMEs to build long-term and sustainable growth;

H. whereas the adoption of environmentally sustainable practices, innovations and technologies is expected to create new jobs and business opportunities for SMEs while improving their competitiveness and reducing their costs, provided that the right administrative, regulatory and technical conditions are in place; whereas many SMEs wish to improve their environmental performance, resource and energy efficiency, use of digital technologies and deployment of innovative solutions, all of which will be crucial for supporting their long-term and sustainable growth and competitiveness, as well as enabling them to play a key role in directly delivering eco-innovations; whereas to this end, better access to funding and technical support should be provided;

I. whereas, according to the Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index 2020,[13] many SMEs still lack full access to digitalisation and are lagging behind large firms both in terms of digital skills and the digitalisation of their operations, owing in part to unfair competition from multinational companies; whereas the same rules should apply both in the digital and non-digital single markets in order to ensure a level playing field while avoiding negative impacts on labour and social rights; whereas  the use of data can lead to a competitive advantage and allow SMEs to reap the benefits of the digital transition, while the focus on digital literacy and skills should go hand in hand with the enhancement of EU investment in digital infrastructure as well as with the improvement of data access for SMEs and fair commercial and regulatory frameworks in all types of market settings, i.e. business to business, business to consumer and business to government;

J. whereas one of the main challenges in unlocking the potential of digitalisation is to find skilled employees; whereas the Commission, the Member States and local governments should act to improve the business environment in order to ensure the competitiveness of SMEs as well as the sustainable and long-term economic growth of the Union; whereas the Union’s SME strategy represents an opportunity to foster the entrepreneurial culture of under-represented groups and to enable them to fully harness opportunities stemming from the digital and green transitions;

K. whereas the enhancement of an entrepreneurial culture can enable SMEs to fully contribute to and benefit from the twin transition and increase job creation and thus the impact of SMEs on in the labour market; whereas women make up 52 % of the total EU population but constitute only 34.4 % of the self-employed and 30 % of start-up entrepreneurs in the EU[14]; whereas women’s creativity and entrepreneurial potential remain untapped and should be further developed;

L. whereas regulatory burdens should be reduced, such as the financial and ‘hassle’ costs of compliance created by over-regulation and overly complex administrative procedures, including the challenges related to patent litigation, for example in the field of intellectual property protection but also with reference to funding opportunities; whereas innovation is not associated with regulation, but is propelled by collaborative efforts in which businesses interact to exchange knowledge and information and to combine ideas and financing with partners as part of broader innovation systems; whereas grants are typically more likely than tax credits to reach SMEs or activities in which SMEs are more likely to be involved;

M. whereas the EU’s definition of SMEs is referred to in over 100 EU legal acts covering a wide range of policies; whereas the Commission will further examine the current definition and report on specific issues raised in the most recent public consultation, such as complex ownership structures or possible ‘lock-in effects’; whereas the Commission still needs to comply with the judgment of the European Court of Justice of 15 September 2016 requiring the clarification on the criteria of ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’;

N. whereas micro-enterprises represent a significant proportion of European SMEs and very often have difficulties in accessing finance as well as in gaining knowledge of the opportunities that are available at the European and national levels; whereas this category of businesses has also been hit very hard by the COVID-19 crisis and, without prejudice to the current definition of SMEs, deserves to receive more assistance and be better promoted;

O. whereas mid-caps contribute significantly to employment and growth, especially in some Member States; whereas the Commission should, as part of the REFIT initiative, assess the need for a separate mid-cap definition in order to enable targeted measures, while ensuring that this does not broaden the existing SME definition nor compromise SME support in any way;

Structural challenges prior to the COVID-19 crisis

1. Welcomes the Commission’s SME strategy and shares its view that SMEs are essential to the European economy; highlights the need to update the SME strategy in the light of the COVID-19 crisis while keeping the focus on advancing the transition toward a socially, economically and environmentally resilient society and a competitive economy, and calls therefore for the SME strategy to be aligned with the industrial strategy, the European data strategy[15] and the European Green Deal, in order to actively involve and support all SMEs in the twin transition, with the view of achieving better competitiveness, long-term growth and better resilience;

2. Calls, furthermore, for measures to improve the environment for business creation and to strengthen the entrepreneurial spirit, including through the reduction of administrative burdens on SMEs; calls in this regard for the adoption of an SME action plan with clear objectives, milestones and timeline, accompanied by regular monitoring, reporting and evaluations; stresses in this context the need to enhance the entrepreneurial spirit within the Union and to provide the conditions that will enable new businesses and existing SMEs to thrive and innovate, and thereby contribute to the Union’s economic, social and environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness;

3. Acknowledges that an excess of administrative and regulatory burdens is hindering the ability of SMEs to thrive as they lack the necessary resources to meet complex bureaucratic requirements;

4. Welcomes therefore the Commission’s commitment to introduce a ‘one in-one out’ principle, but recalls that this merely maintains the status quo in legislation, which is not a sufficient ambition, and stresses the need for Member States to avoid gold-plating as a first step towards stemming the tide of new regulation; recalls that public administration, both at the European and the national levels, has a key role to play in ensuring the ease of doing business and, for example, in promoting investments aimed at boosting economic competitiveness, while safeguarding the highest standards of transparency, workers’ health, rights and safety and environmental protection;

5. Calls therefore on the Member States and the Commission to acknowledge the need for better regulation and simplification and to adopt a roadmap with concrete and binding targets and indicators as an important prerequisite for our economy’s ability to recover and innovate, and for the safeguarding of EU companies’ competitiveness; notes that several Member States have set quantitative targets of up to 30 %[16] for the reduction of administrative burden and calls on the Commission to set ambitious and binding quantitative and qualitative targets at EU level for the reduction of administrative burdens, as soon as possible after conducting an impact assessment and in any case no later than June 2021, and in advance of the Commission communication;

6. Notes that this roadmap should identify the areas where the administrative and regulatory burden for SMEs should be substantially reduced in order to cut compliance costs including red tape, and support Member States in achieving a swift reduction in the number of rules while ensuring workers’ rights, social and health standards and environmental protection; underlines that, in order to monitor the effectiveness of the reduction of red tape, it is also important to assess such measures ex-post, taking into account the SMEs’ perspective and not undermining workers’ rights;

7. Calls for improved regulatory alignment to be accompanied by smart digitalisation, increased user-friendliness, more streamlined procedures and more secure and private data procedures; demands, in this respect, increased and more targeted national and EU-level technical and administrative assistance, exchange of best practices and training opportunities for SMEs; calls on the Commission to manage a true single digital entry point for all enquiries on EU financing opportunities for SMEs and ensure that EU support schemes, including those addressing the COVID-19 aftermath, contain  a strong SME component;

8. Welcomes the achievements of the application of the Better Regulation principles so far; notes that further progress needs to be reached in particular in the realm of simplification and standardisation of forms and procedures, with the consistent implementation of the ‘once only’ and ‘digital by default’ principles, both at EU and Member State levels, and the reduction of administrative burdens in general;

9. Calls on the Commission to analyse carefully the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on SMEs and to take into account SMEs’ concerns resulting from the COVID-19 crisis when conducting impact assessments ahead of proposing legislation;

10. Calls, therefore, for a binding test that is able to assess, with regard to SMEs, the costs and benefits of legislative proposals, including their economic impact and their impact on SME employees; expects the results of the SME test to be fully taken into account in all legislative proposals and to clearly demonstrate how simplification would be attained and, where possible, formulate additional recommendations to avoid unnecessary administrative or regulatory burdens for SMEs; recalls that the main focus during the EU’s legislative process should be on the quality of impact assessments rather than on speed at which initiatives are completed; calls on the Member States to collect and promote best practices and develop guidelines for the systematic implementation of SME tests also at national level;

11. Calls on the Commission to ensure the effectiveness and good functioning of the Regulatory Scrutiny Board (RSB) by ensuring it has a majority of external experts and support from the Joint Research Centre; reiterates that the independence, transparency and objectiveness of the RSB and its work must be ensured and that the members of the Board should not be subjected to any political control, conflict of interest or bias; calls on the Commission to guarantee a balanced representation of large and small companies in all relevant bodies and committees associated with EU policymaking, including on the RSB; considers the current requirement to have only one SME representative on the RSB, representing all SMEs across all sectors, as insufficient, considering the great variety of SMEs in Europe;

12. Calls for a revived implementation of the small business act (SBA); underlines the need for the consistent application of the ‘think small first’ principle and the strengthening of the principle of being ‘big on big things, small on small things’ in order to ensure proper focus on SMEs in EU and national legislation and as the basis for a new interinstitutional commitment to reducing administrative burdens;

13. Takes note of the Commission’s plan to appoint a dedicated EU SME envoy to bring more visibility to SMEs’ concerns and furthermore calls on the Commission to place the SME envoy in a central unit under the President of the Commission in order to enable oversight over SME issues in all Directorates-General; calls on the Commission to build on the existing SME performance review process and engage in an annual debate on the ‘State of the SMEs Union’ to be held at a Parliament plenary sitting; underlines the opportunity to strengthen cooperation between the SME envoy network and the national and local organisations representing SMEs;

14. Considers that the EU objectives in the areas of sustainability and digitisation should be fully matched by financial and other resources to enable Member States to promote SME transition within both areas, this being of particular importance in the less developed regions; stresses that such objectives cannot be contradictory and must, on the contrary, be mutually reinforcing and accompanied by measures to safeguard employment with rights and improved working conditions;

15. Regrets that SMEs have experienced more difficulties than larger companies in  accessing finance, owing among other reasons to various monetary measures and the regulatory framework; suggests in this regard that actions be taken to strengthen access to credit for SMEs, including micro-enterprises and start-ups; recalls that SMEs usually do not have sufficient financial and human resources to participate on an equal footing with other stakeholders, in particular multinational corporations, in the process of accessing financial instruments;

16. Expresses concern regarding the difficulties in accessing EIB funding lines faced by most SMEs, particularly those with limited capitalisation, and calls for conditions of access to take into account the need for a stronger involvement of SMEs; regrets that many SMEs, including micro-enterprises and start-ups, are unable to access EU funding because they lack awareness of what is available, but also because of the slowness and excessive complexity of the relevant procedures and eligibility criteria; calls on the Commission to remove such barriers by simplifying procedures, ensuring online access to information and further supporting tailored incentives for SMEs and micro-enterprises;

17. Reminds the Member States and the Commission, in this regard, that there is an immediate need to restore the liquidity of SMEs to ensure their basic functioning and warns that the post-COVID-19 survival of SMEs, in particular of micro-enterprises, given their structural weaknesses in comparison to larger businesses, will depend on swift decision-making, adequate funding and the quick availability of liquidity;

18. Encourages the Commission and Member States to make the best use of the forthcoming EU instruments under the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) according to the specific needs of the local communities and taking into consideration, whenever possible, existing sectoral and national specificities; recalls that they are expected, among other things, to funnel investments towards SMEs;

19. Expresses its regret that the Recovery Plan dedicated little focus to SMEs and calls for measures to ensure easy access for SMEs;

20. Urges the Commission to better customise EU funding to attract more participation from non-digital, high-tech and innovative SMEs and calls, furthermore, for the design of new EU instruments to take into consideration whether funding can reasonably be used by SMEs and is suited to their needs, and to ensure that SMEs are able to benefit as much as all the other partners involved in the value chain, to the benefit of Europe’s global competitiveness; recalls that, in order to help start-ups thrive, it is crucial to ensure a supply of ‘patient capital’ that aims to capture benefits specific to long-term investments and whose providers are able to maintain their investment even in the face of adverse short-term conditions;

21. Emphasises the need for EU bodies to proactively approach SME networks and organisations at local, regional and national levels in order to provide timely information and guidance for making use of available and planned EU funding possibilities; reminds the Commission to use all means of communication available as well as competitions for students and young entrepreneurs;

22. Urges Member States to guarantee non-discriminatory access to bank lending for SMEs, including those whose business model focuses on intangible assets; recalls that access to finance is a key enabler of growth, sustainable transformation and innovation and calls for further support for innovative business models; deplores the gap in credit conditions for SMEs located in different EU countries and calls on the Member States to work together with the financial and banking sectors with regard to their obligation to ensure full and fair access to bank loans for SMEs;

23. Stresses that financing through capital markets alone will not be sufficient to provide appropriate solutions for SMEs and believes that the financial services sector must be stable and offer SMEs, micro-enterprises and self-employed entrepreneurs a wide range of tailor-made financing options in a cost-effective manner; stresses in this regard the importance of traditional banking models, including small regional banks and savings cooperatives; invites the EIB to work more closely with its financial intermediaries in the Member States to disseminate relevant information to SMEs in order to improve their access to finance;

New challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic

24. Recalls that liquidity must be swiftly provided to SMEs, while measures for SME re-capitalisation should also be reinforced; urges Member States and the Commission to address the problem of late payments, which continue to create significant liquidity challenges for SMEs, and urges Member States that still have not done so to implement the Late Payment Directive, in particular with regard to public administrations and to business-to-business relations;

25. Urges the Commission to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of the Late Payment Directive and assess the need for its revision, so as to ensure that prompt payments are the norm across the internal market both for business-to-business transactions, in particular from bigger to smaller businesses, and for government-to-business transactions; calls on authorities at the European, national, regional and local levels to set the right example by always paying SMEs on time and, in this context, encourages an active use of infringement procedures in cases where the directive is not properly implemented;

26. Recognises the need for a temporary relaxation of State aid rules and an acknowledgement that they have led to the uneven implementation of measures across the Union; calls on the Commission and the Council to take swift action to ensure a competitive level playing field among Member States;

27. Notes that any future evaluation and revision of the State aid rules should take into due account the specificities and geographical disadvantages affecting those SMEs located in the most peripheral territories, including islands, outermost regions and mountainous areas, as well as in other areas, including non-peripheral areas, that are affected by unprecedented natural calamities;

28. Is deeply concerned that sectors such as tourism, hospitality, culture, the creative industries, transport, trade fairs and events, which are largely composed of SMEs, have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis; underlines the importance of continuous, swift measures aimed at restoring and retaining trust among travellers and operators; underlines the need to relieve these sectors from administrative burdens and cost-driving regulation, identify the way forward for the sectors’ recovery and ensure protection for the rights of workers in the affected sectors; recalls the importance of improving access to digital technologies and supporting programmes for SMEs in the cultural and creative sectors, as the COVID-19 crisis has shown their crucial role in our economy and social lives;

29. Urges Member States to acknowledge as top political priorities the protection of employment and the survival of SMEs and start-ups by putting forward concrete measures to support economically viable SMEs and start-ups at risk of insolvency, in particular in light of the cancellation of the Solvency Support Instrument suggested by the European Council; notes the Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) initiative aimed at covering the cost of national short-time work schemes; calls on the Commission to actively support Member States in transposing the Directive on restructuring and insolvency[17] to ensure a real second chance to SMEs in difficulty;

30. Notes that the COVID-19 crisis has pushed SMEs towards innovative technologies, new ways of organising their work and digital business models such as e-commerce, the sharing economy and remote working; points out that many SMEs have struggled to adapt to the new circumstances and calls on the Commission, in this regard, to ensure that research and innovation (R&I) investment is geared towards SME participation while striking a balance between the enforcement of intellectual property rights and the push for innovation; calls furthermore for the respect of workers’ rights throughout this process;

31. Recalls that innovation in SMEs is a key driver of productivity and sustainable growth, as it can help solve global and societal challenges and offer better working conditions; recalls that technological development and digitalisation are increasing the opportunities for SMEs to innovate and prosper, accelerating the spread of knowledge and the emergence of new business models, and increasing their ability to scale up more quickly;

32. Stresses that investments in innovation should prioritise ecosystems that are inclusive of SMEs and that strengthen co-creation, maturation and transfer of excellent technology to industry as well as the uptake of new technologies; underlines, therefore, the importance of targeted public policies to support horizontal needs related to the digital transformation processes in micro-enterprises and SMEs, such as the simplification of reporting obligations, and calls on Member States to develop pilot initiatives to accelerate SMEs’ uptake of e-commerce solutions, for example through training and advisory activities, technical assistance, best practices or integration of the knowledge triangle (education, research and innovation), and with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders and local authorities

33. Welcomes the inclusion of SMEs in the European Space Programme, including in the development of many downstream services and applications; recognises the key role that SMEs play in defence supply chains in Europe;

34. Welcomes the Commission’s promise to open fast-track training through digital crash courses to enable the employees of micro-enterprises and SMEs to become proficient in areas such as AI, cybersecurity and distributed ledger technologies; highlights that digital crash courses for SMEs in the framework of the digital Europe programme should be preceded by subsidised programmes to allow SME owners and managers to identify their digital needs and opportunities; points out that a skilled workforce is essential to make SMEs thrive and enable them to successfully cope not only with the environmental and digital transitions, but also with the traditional challenges these enterprises face;

35. Regrets that only 17 % of SMEs have so far successfully integrated digital technology into their businesses; calls for the action aimed at tackling skills mismatches and shortages to be strengthened and at equipping SMEs with digital literacy and skills, as well as improving skills in relation to public procurement and financial education, in addition to credit and supply chain management skills for rapidly changing labour markets, also in the light of the acceleration induced by the COVID-19 crisis;

36. Stresses the need to promote investments in further vocational training and apprenticeship programmes in SMEs; calls in this regard for the development of a tailored approach to digital skills for micro-enterprises; stresses the role that the Commission’s skills agenda can play to this end and points out that, in order to bridge the gap in the digital and innovation fields, it is necessary to increase the share of graduates in STEM subjects and to address the gap that women are facing in both fields; welcomes, in this regard, the European skills agenda;

37. Take note of the Commission’s white paper on artificial intelligence (COM(2020)0065) and its view that each Member State should have at least one digital innovation hub with a high degree of specialisation in AI

38. Encourages the Commission to support SMEs’ effort to, inter alia, upgrade obsolete equipment, enhance knowledge transfer and identify the most effective uses of technologies, such as industrial AI, and, upskill the workforce with the immediately necessary skills to allow remote asset control, production monitoring and employee collaboration, as well as environmentally sustainable business models, circular economy approaches, and energy and resource efficiency, where digital know-how is often crucial and allows SMEs to stay competitive; calls on the Commission also to consider the creation of an SME voucher programme to support the above;

39. Urges action to tackle SME knowledge and skills gaps in relation to environmentally sustainable technologies, practices and business models, particularly for sectors in which EU sustainable energy and environmental objectives require fundamental change;

40. Recalls the importance of instruments such as the Enterprise Europe Network and European Digital Innovation Hubs, which can foster SMEs’ internationalisation, digitalisation and pursuit of innovation at the local level, including in the environmental field, and help ensure they are fit for purpose; calls on the Commission to perform a thorough mid-term and ex post evaluation of these instruments by consulting SME representatives throughout the evaluation process to ensure that these networks effectively reach SMEs;

41. Highlights the vital role of non-personal data and transfer of technologies from academia to SMEs, and underlines the importance of establishing European data spaces for non-discriminatory, trusted and secure non-personal data sharing to ramp up data flows between businesses and with governments, using an open data model;

42. Calls for the adoption of a parallel and stronger policy to improve internet infrastructure and connectivity conditions to the benefit of SMEs in remote areas, as a basic condition to improve digitalisation and embrace an effective transformation; calls on the Commission to consider binding targets for connectivity;

Recovery strategy

43. Insists that Horizon Europe is a priority and needs robust overall funding; calls for a substantial part of it to be made available for SMEs including for the SME components of the European Innovation Council, and calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that, whenever possible, R&I instruments such as the EIC Accelerator offer fast-track opportunities to SMEs and start-ups that are developing innovative technologies;

44. Calls for pervasive EU research and innovation policies and instruments to be kept as sector-neutral as possible and to provide more support not only to those SMEs and micro-enterprises that are already active in innovation efforts, but also, according to their needs, to those lagging behind, particularly in traditional manufacturing; calls for more European-level R&I financing to be dedicated to non-digital SMEs and SMEs that wish to improve their environmental performance and resource efficiency;

45. Highlights that collaboration and cooperation are crucial dimensions to improving the performance of SMEs; notes, to this end, that clusters and partnerships with all actors in the knowledge triangle (education, research and innovation), shall be better promoted and encouraged by reducing administrative burdens, simplifying procedures and establishing shared services facilities for SME cluster participation; calls on the Commission furthermore to ensure that Horizon Europe’s partnerships and missions are transparent and inclusive throughout their implementation, in particular as regards SME participation and the setting of their strategic research agenda and annual work programmes; emphasises further the need to ensure fair arrangements on the sharing of findings and final results, in accordance with the principle of being ‘as open as possible, as closed as necessary’;

46. Underlines further the potential of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and its Knowledge and Innovation Communities, as they represent an effective way to enhance collaboration between SMEs, research centres and universities with the scope to promote local entrepreneurship and address the most urgent societal challenges of our age;

47. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to invest, inter alia, in the data economy, artificial intelligence, smart production, the Internet of Things (IoT) and quantum computing and to ensure a strong SME component in these fields; deplores the fact that most SMEs do not have access to the data they create; welcomes in this respect the European data strategy, geared towards creating a genuine market for data, where SMEs will have easy access to and use of data in all types of market settings, i.e. business-to-consumer, business-to-business and business-to-government;

48. Calls on the Member States to ensure that SMEs have the support to innovation opportunities they need and to maximise synergies with EU programmes in their national innovation strategies; stresses in this regard the role of innovative SMEs specialising in pioneering technologies;

49. Emphasises the need to increase awareness among SME owners and managers, SME associations and support organisations about financing possibilities for technologies with better environmental performance, about contracting services (e.g. consultancy, coaching and training) related to eco-design and efficient resource usage and management, and about green entrepreneurship and green technologies, products and services;

50. Emphasises that investments in new as well as environmentally friendly technologies can turn the European Green Deal into a new growth strategy through which SMEs can benefit and enhance their innovation potential;

51. Acknowledges that, while many SMEs are willing to invest in energy-efficient, circular and environmentally friendly processes, products and services, there are significant barriers, in particular financial ones, preventing them from doing so; calls on the Commission and the Member States while lowering the regulatory burden to remove such barriers by putting in place an enabling regulatory framework and technical and financial support schemes, including through private investment, to allow SMEs to successfully and swiftly take up green practices, products, processes and services; is of the opinion that reinforced targeted technical and financial assistance will be essential in promoting green opportunities among those SMEs, including micro-enterprises; stresses that such assistance should enable SMEs and micro-enterprises to take full advantage of the opportunities arising from the Green Deal, taking into account their structure, business model and, more generally, their needs, since there is no one-size-fits-all approach; stresses in this regard the need to actively involve representatives from SME organisations;

52. Welcomes the initiatives which offer the greatest employment and competitiveness opportunities to SMEs, such as the implementation of the circular economy action plan, creating local jobs and providing major business and innovation opportunities for SMEs;  takes note of the opportunities provided by the initiatives of the so-called ‘renovation wave’  including urban regeneration projects; points out that the right to repair, while beneficial to consumers, can also push SMEs into entering the reparation market segment and that policies aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of buildings not only help SMEs in the construction sector, but all SMEs in promoting energy efficiency, and thus contribute to reducing their operational costs; calls for the development of a more competitive market for energy service companies (ESCOs);

53. Stresses that public procurement is a strategic tool to boost sustainable production and consumption patterns; believes that this tool, with the right support and assistance, can also provide great opportunities for local, innovative SMEs; notes the similar role of green and circular public procurement and recalls in this regard that its implementation at the national level should be accompanied by training and support for public bodies and SMEs;

54. Notes that a balanced intellectual property (IP) rights framework has long been known as an important step in improving the functioning of the internal market; calls on the Commission, therefore, to prioritise the announced intellectual property action plan in order to ensure EU-level protection of copyrighted goods and patented inventions and strengthen the ability of European companies, and in particular SMEs, to innovate on the basis of strong and balanced IP regimes, which will benefit the global competitiveness of innovative SMEs as well as minimising the costs and complexities of administrative procedures, while also addressing the challenges related to patent litigation and providing open source and open data models for future innovation;

55. Recalls the role of vocational training and life-long learning, which are essential for tackling the mismatch between skilled labour demand and supply, encourages the integration of entrepreneurial skills in the early stages of education and the promotion of reskilling and upskilling of unemployed workers to enable their inclusion into the labour market and ensure that SMEs can count on properly trained staff;

56. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to accelerate and expand initiatives to identify the skills needs and to address the gaps in the labour market through education, professional training strategies and skills development programmes targeted at SMEs, and regrets that the gap in entrepreneurship and access to finance for micro-enterprises and SMEs led by women still persists; calls on Member States to assess the barriers that still prevent women from becoming company founders and managers; underlines that the use of gender-disaggregated data will help make this assessment more thorough and will improve the overall quality of the decision-making process; calls for educational and upskilling initiatives for women to help them improve their entrepreneurial skills and self-confidence; believes, furthermore, that e-government tools and digital skills should be promoted within the public sector in order to make public administration more business- and citizen-friendly and calls on Member States to ensure the exchange of national and regional best practices in the field, also with reference to cooperation between public administration and the private sector, in order to boost economic competitiveness;

57. Recalls that the SME strategy needs to cover different sizes and types of SMEs, whether they operate in traditional, social to high-tech sectors; considers SMEs involved in traditional handicrafts, tourism, cultural and creative sectors and the social economy to be particularly vulnerable segments of the SME network; acknowledges their historic, cultural, economic and social value and calls on Member States to ensure the sectors’ competitiveness, including by promoting generational transition and self-entrepreneurship, by promoting access to information about innovation opportunities and by supporting the protection and enhancement of these sectors;

58. Calls on the Commission, in the context of the EU’s SME support programmes, in particular the single market programme, to also pay particular attention to social economy enterprises, as they are locally rooted, provide a wide range of products and services across the EU single market and generate high quality jobs and promote social innovation;

59. Calls on the Commission to present and commit to a roadmap for the reduction of administrative burdens, including a timeline for actions and mid-term checkpoints, and on the implementation of the SME strategy to be presented at an annual plenary debate on the ‘State of the SMEs Union’; notes that following the WHO’s pandemic alert and the implementation of measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19, many European companies were forced to stop or slow down production due to trade restrictions, supply chain disruptions and shortages of raw materials and components from third countries, demonstrating once again the need for European industry to gain strategic autonomy and decrease its dependency on non-EU countries and to ensure that key parts of strategic value chains, including in the manufacturing industry, are better located within its borders; calls on the Commission, furthermore, to ensure that companies supplying medical supplies will not face again the same difficulties that arose within the internal market and to learn from problems that occurred during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis;

60. Calls for strengthening competition rules to improve the competitiveness of SMEs and to protect them from unfair practices that could result in social dumping and labour deregulation; calls on the Commission to ensure the effective enforcement of the Union’s competition law, without prejudice to workers’ rights; recalls, in this regard, the importance of promoting social dialogue in designing and implementing SME policies and guaranteeing a level playing field for SMEs to make sure that they benefit from the internal market on a fair basis and are able to harness opportunities to scale up;

61. Calls on the Commission to ensure that SMEs will thrive in the context of the ecosystems guaranteeing an inclusive approach and bringing together all actors operating in a value chain, in order to promote European leadership in strategic sectors and competitiveness on the global stage;

62. Considers that the EU strategy for SMEs should, at all times, take full account of their national specificities, thereby ensuring due regard for the broad national autonomy of Member States in a general Union framework;

63. Regrets the fact that no more than 600 000 SMEs are currently exporting outside the EU; recalls that those SMEs seeking to access the global market will improve their competitiveness only if supported both at the local and international levels by a structured and predictable regulatory and enabling framework, structured networks, solid information resources and access to investment opportunities and a skilled workforce; stresses the importance of increasing SMEs’ awareness of both the internal and the international markets and their rules and tools, also by simplifying the reference framework and improving communication on tailored opportunities; recalls in this regard the role of SME umbrella organisations and networks and chambers of commerce in Member States and internationally, as well as of the EU delegations;

64. Calls on the Commission, therefore, to introduce tools such as a single digital entry point to easily identify opportunities for SMEs stemming from international trade agreements; welcomes in this respect the launch of the new Commission portal named ‘Access2Markets’ on customs procedures and formalities and urges the Commission to ensure multilingual access to this tool;

65. Recalls the need to actively involve SMEs in international trade agreements and push for reciprocity to ensure their access to public procurement in third countries; calls therefore for the inclusion in trade agreements of a standalone SME chapter that signposts micro-enterprise and SME-friendly provisions from other chapters and provides a fast means for microenterprise and SME owners to identify relevant and beneficial aspects of the agreement;

66. Urges the Commission to pursue a level playing field and a regulatory environment in which SMEs can thrive and compete globally and to consider the deployment of trade defence instruments (TDIs) in order to reduce unfair competition resulting from illegal or unfair trade practices of third countries, including trade defence measures unfairly blocking EU businesses from enjoying free access to their markets;

67. Considers that national and European public administrations should lead by example and facilitate and increase the participation of SMEs and micro-enterprises in public procurement, by simplifying access to information regarding calls for tenders and procedures, while avoiding disproportionate requirements and discriminatory practices such as tendering criteria that set demands or qualifications beyond the fundamental elements of the service or goods purchased, and thereby contribute to the shortening and diversification of supply chains;

68. Calls for more guidance to be provided to public authorities and SMEs on existing flexibilities and the adaptation of public procurement rules to this end;

69. Notes that the division of larger contracts into smaller lots could contribute to the shortening and diversification of supply chains, offering better incentives for local SMEs including by facilitating SMEs’ participation in innovation procurements and pre-commercial procurements, which are generally accessible only to larger groups;

70. Calls for the valuing of ‘Km 0 contracts’ by providing for premium criteria for local businesses, by borrowing in this regard from the European agricultural legislation and shorter supply chains; calls for the possibility for public policy makers to favour contracts with local SMEs to a certain extent;

71. Underlines the importance of working in partnership with national administrators to create a European public procurement market which is based on moderate-sized tenders that allow SMEs to participate in the procurement process, including through the division of larger contracts into smaller lots, and where real and fair competition between market actors can take place, and highlights the need to make the European single procurement document (ESPD) more accessible to SMEs;

°

° °

72. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

 

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

The Commission communication “An SME strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe” was published the day before the WHO acknowledged the Covid-19 emergency as a pandemic. The main purpose of the rapporteur is therefore to update the Communication’s original contents according to the economic and social changes brought forward by the pandemic, analysing through a pragmatic and inclusive approach the new challenges that are now affecting the 25 million European SMEs currently operating in the internal market. At the same time, the rapporteur intends to stress the essential role that SMEs still have to play, in the medium and long-term, as fundamental pillars for the post-pandemic economic recovery of the continent.

It is well understood that the growth pace of European SMEs was already lower on average than that of non-EU competitors even before the outbreak of the pandemic, because of multifaceted and deep-rooted structural challenges such as limited access to credit, undercapitalisation and severe delays in payments. Excessive administrative burdens have also long affected the growth potential of SMEs’ across the Union; according to the 2019 Business Survey by Eurochambres, administrative procedures do represent a major challenge for no less than 78 % of SMEs. Hyper-regulation reaches particularly alarming levels in some Member States, hindering SMEs’ competitiveness not only within the national business environment but also within the broader European internal market.

At the same time, SMEs’ competitiveness and even survival is increasingly threatened by multilateral forms of unfair competition practices, which arise from the globalised nature of European economy and primarily from the action of non-EU producers that keep relying on lower labour and environmental standards while exporting goods or services to the EU.

The gradual but yet steady exclusion of micro-, small and medium-size enterprises from the national markets of each Member State, as well as from the European internal market, had therefore reached emergency levels long before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, being responsible for the erosion of the prime tissue of European economy.

Taking these critical points in proper consideration, the Union should develop a modern and viable strategy, which must be capable of overcoming the above-mentioned structural challenges while dealing rapidly and effectively also with the new additional obstacles brought forward by the pandemic.

Such a strategy must pursue the primary objective of regaining competitiveness, both within the internal market and in trade relations with third countries. Urgent measures are especially needed to substantially reduce regulatory burdens (through the adoption of the “one-in, one-out” principle), to improve access to national and EU-level funding in the form of grants rather than loans, and to bridge the digital divide which still involves a worrying percentage of European micro-, small and medium-size enterprises.

Innovation and digitalisation should not privilege exclusively those enterprises whose primary field of work is directly related to innovation; rather, EU and national assistance and financial instruments should be readily accessible also to non-digital and non-innovative enterprises, including those operating in traditional handicrafts, in social services or in the creative industry, which are also in need of a digital upgrade to preserve their competitiveness.

Structural change aimed at making the Union’s legislative ecosystem friendlier towards micro-, small and medium-size enterprises can be achieved in the first place by setting the “Think small first” approach as a foundational principle in the drafting of future legislation, and by maintaining it as such throughout the legislative process (including through the impact-assessment stage).

Micro- and SME-friendly structural change means also protecting micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises from the unfair pressure of market giants, both within and without the Union. EU and national authorities need therefore to strengthen their efforts to protect micro-, small and medium-size enterprises from any abuse of dominant positions by larger groups. Member States should also take swift action to prevent the further destabilisation of the labour market which is already affecting European societies in terms of higher unemployment levels and lowering of labour rights’ standards.

In terms of protection of micro-, small and medium-size enterprises’ competitiveness within the global markets, EU institutions must make a realistic use of trade defence instruments (TDIs) in order to shield European producers and consumers from the de-regulated models of non-EU competitors, and speed-up in this regard the implementation of an effective carbon border mechanism.

Given the unprecedented difficulty of this specific stage in the history of the Union, the Green Deal must represent a sustainable opportunity for micro-, small and medium-size enterprises, both in terms of cost-effectiveness and implementation timetable, and it should take into account the existing asymmetries of the competitiveness gap that hinders European companies vis-a-vis third country competitors. In this regard, involvement of micro-, small and medium-size enterprises and their representatives in each stage of the legislative process will be essential, in order to ensure that the latter goes hand-in-hand with the economic and social needs as well as medium-to long-term competitiveness potential and capabilities of European enterprises.

With reference to the instruments featured in the Recovery Package, the Internal Market distortions triggered by the uneven use of State aid flexibility across Member States need to be given proper consideration, while any restrictions that may be placed on the use of such resources must not undermine the positive impact they are expected to bring forth. Grants must be favoured over loans, so that financial aid does not turn in further debt for states and businesses.

With reference to the next MFF, a careful assessment is necessary in order to prioritise the best performing programmes, bearing in mind that fundamental goals such as simplification, the reduction of bureaucratic obstacles and better communication can no longer be postponed if the Union intends to provide tangible support to European micro-, small and medium-size enterprises.

 

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE (24.9.2020)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on a new strategy for European SMEs

(2020/2131(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: Geert Bourgeois

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on International Trade calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1. Regrets the serious impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2008 global financial crisis and the further disruption that European businesses will experience following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, all of which impacts on the structure of global value chains, by interrupting them or even bringing them to a halt; calls on the Member States to properly implement the Late Payment Directive[18] in respect of all small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as they are among those worst affected by the COVID-19 crisis; calls on the Commission to properly monitor the implementation of the Late Payment Directive; calls for a consistent strategy for European SMEs, in line with the Commission’s European Green Deal, in order to transform our economies and strengthen their resilience through strategic investments to support SMEs; recalls that European SMEs need an open trade policy and requests, in this regard, that the Commission take steps to ensure that trade flows and sustained value chains, including trading routes for freight traffic across the EU, remain open and that long-term measures are implemented to strengthen the European industrial base in order to avoid disruptions to supply chains, maintain Europe’s competitiveness and defend sustainable European SMEs based on a framework of due diligence; welcomes the EU trade policy review – a key tool to overcome the challenges faced by SMEs in international trade; applauds the Commission for having adopted Decision (EU) 2020/1101 of 23 July 2020[19] in order to extend the validity period on relief from import duties and VAT exemption on importation granted for goods needed to combat the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, a decision that alleviates burdens for European SMEs; calls on the Commission to update its SME strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe of 10 March 2020 in order to adapt to the new circumstances;

2. Welcomes the aforementioned SME strategy and recalls that Europe’s 25 million SMEs are the backbone of the EU economy, as they employ around 100 million people, 13 million of whom work in exports, account for more than half of Europe’s GDP, make up 99 % of the EU’s businesses and 66 % of its employment, and comprise 87 % of all EU exporters, although only 25 % of EU-based SMEs export at all and an even smaller portion export beyond the EU; recalls that the proper functioning of the internal market, sustainability and carbon neutrality must remain among the core objectives of EU programmes in order to enable SMEs to take advantage of the green transition in terms of competitiveness, cost reduction and job creation; highlights that due regard should be given to the innovation cycle and market deployment of newly available technologies; stresses that the prosperity of the single market depends on the ability of European SMEs to adapt to the transformation in IT; recognises the role of micro-enterprises and start-ups in the deployment of new technologies; recognises the importance of maintaining strong, consistent and predictable legislation in general and on intellectual property rights in particular, while bearing in mind that just 9 % of SMEs in the EU actually protect their intellectual property rights; notes that only a small percentage of firms who export goods outside the EU are SMEs and that global markets are an important source of potential for SMEs to boost competitiveness, economic growth and innovation; notes that frictionless trade and freedom of movement via the single market provide SMEs with the necessary scale and experience to export beyond the EU and access further desirable markets; recalls that the purpose of the Small Business Act for Europe and the think small first principle is to increase competitiveness and support entrepreneurship;

3. Welcomes the particular focus the SME strategy attaches to the EU’s twin transitions to a sustainable and digital economy and to reducing the regulatory burden for SMEs and improving their market access and access to financing; believes that focusing on digital and innovative solutions will increase Europe’s global competitiveness as a whole;

4. Reiterates its strong support for the goal expressed in the Green Deal to introduce a Carbon Border Adjustment (CBA) mechanism; calls on the Commission to bring forward this initiative as part of its Work Programme for 2021; emphasises that the CBA mechanism should be a cornerstone for Europe to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and that, in order to actively integrate SMEs, must envisage measures specifically designed to cater to their needs;

5. Welcomes the Commission’s efforts to develop specific tools to facilitate SMEs’ access to third-country markets; calls on the Commission to fully support SMEs in overcoming all tariff and non-tariff barriers that prevent them from accessing third-country markets; recalls the importance of harmonised and simplified customs procedures to help micro-enterprises and SMEs (MSMEs) enter export markets, as these will enhance productivity by accelerating innovation and facilitating spillovers of technology and know-how; welcomes the Commission’s commitment to ensuring legal security for SMEs by including SME chapters in every free trade agreement (FTA), as evidenced by the EU-Japan agreement and the modernised agreement with Mexico, and stresses that these should also be included when existing FTAs come to be revised; reminds the Commission that all SME chapters in trade agreements should include common obstacles for European MSMEs; welcomes the recent appointment of the Commission’s first ever Chief Trade Enforcement Officer and highlights his important role in ensuring that SMEs derive maximum value from EU trade agreements; calls on the Commission to help reduce administrative and regulatory burdens for SMEs and cut red tape in view of the disproportionate impact of trade and investment barriers, administrative costs and bureaucracy on SMEs; calls on the Commission to support SMEs which focus on green technologies and innovations and are already exporting goods and services to third countries, and thereby foster the conditions for a level playing field; calls on the Commission to work together with the Member States to actively inform SMEs of trade opportunities;

6. Calls on the Commission to be more active in its support for national and regional export agencies and SME business organisations at EU, national and regional levels in order to allow SMEs to overcome the information gap and take better advantage of trade agreements; opines, in this respect, that the Commission could set up an SME internationalisation platform to monitor progress and provide technical assistance to SMEs in accessing new markets; notes that this platform could include circular economy proofing; recalls that the EU Delegations have a crucial role to play in supporting SMEs by addressing their queries and the practical difficulties they face owing to the implementation of FTAs;

7. Calls on the Commission to take account of the specificities of SMEs in all areas of trade and investment negotiations, including those geared towards public procurement chapters in trade agreements, which must facilitate the participation of SMEs; welcomes the Commission’s announcement that it will launch a new information portal to better inform SMEs of trade policies and provide detailed information on customs procedures and the formalities for exporting to third countries; asks the Commission to reach out to businesses at the earliest possible stage when setting up new information portals or improving existing ones to ensure that SMEs are equipped with highly practical information; calls on the Commission to deliver on its objective of launching a self-assessment tool for rules of origin and life cycle analysis, for which particular focus should be placed on risk assessment to help SMEs assess whether a product benefits from preferences under a given trade agreement and how they can take advantage of the strategic diversification of supply chains; reiterates, in this context, the importance of streamlined and simplified rules of origin; reiterates the importance, moreover, of clear rules on cross-border data flows in achieving the objectives of the EU’s digital strategy; highlights the significance of the ongoing multilateral WTO negotiations on e-commerce; calls for a comprehensive and ambitious set of rules to facilitate the free flow of data across borders while guaranteeing EU data protection standards, and to address digital trade barriers including data localisation requirements and ensure that businesses, especially SMEs, can compete globally on a level playing field; reiterates that SMEs will play a pivotal role in scaling up data-driven technologies and businesses; underlines the need to promote interoperability and access to data worldwide in order to optimise various processes in international trade; calls on the Commission to facilitate SMEs’ access to public tenders and to factor its public procurement policy into the goals outlined in the Green Deal, such as advancing a circular economy and increasing the resilience of supply chains for public goods;

8. Recalls that access to financing is essential for SMEs in view of the fact that it is harder to accessing finance in some Member States than others; calls on the Commission to address this financial access gap and ensure that SMEs compete on a level playing field; asks the European Investment Bank to pay particular attention to SMEs when defining its policies; draws particular attention to SMEs, which need funding, technical assistance and a less onerous regulatory burden to comply with the Green Deal and digitalisation objectives in order to remain competitive; draws attention to the need to make progress on the investment facilitation agreement and e-Commerce Directive[20] and to continue work on a multilateral services agreement; stresses that digitalisation offers a number of benefits to SMEs, such as providing new opportunities to offer digital services or products and greater market access, while underlining the fact that SMEs still need support to access funding, information, skills and technology; notes that the Commission needs to remove barriers to green growth and eco-innovation for SMEs to ensure that the Green Deal is an economic opportunity; calls for efforts to facilitate, as far as possible, SMEs’ access to finance, including easy access to research and development funding and the provision of enhanced technical support, with a view to accelerating and taking advantage of the green and digital transformation;

9. Calls on the Commission to implement the EU’s safeguard and trade defence instruments effectively in order to better protect European industry, in particular when it affects sectors with a majority of SMEs; recognises that the world is facing unprecedented and unforeseeable challenges, which necessitates an EU-wide plan for smart reshoring and certain strategic sectors, the diversification of supply lines and open strategic autonomy as part of the strategy for European SMEs; stresses the need for strong social safeguards and social inclusion in the SME strategy in the context of trade; underlines the need to focus on the implementation and enforcement of the EU’s trade agreements in order to guard against breaches of both market access and trade and sustainable development commitments and thus address market distortions effectively and ensure that SMEs are not put at a competitive disadvantage; urges the Commission, in this regard, to enhance the role of the SME Trade Defence Helpdesk to further increase support for SMEs in accessing trade defence instruments and enhance communication on the tools available for addressing unfairly traded imports; highlights the European Court of Auditors Special Report of July 2020[21], which pointed out that although trade defence investigations involve a substantial administrative burden for the parties concerned, they are a legal necessity; warns, however, that support for SMEs to access trade defence procedures has not been sufficient and that trade defence instruments are not promoted enough across all sectors of European industry; urges the Commission, in this context, to increase assistance and outreach for SMEs in particular; calls for the EU to take due heed of the interests of security and public order regarding incoming foreign direct investment and acquisitions and to combine these with a pan-EU screening coordination mechanism, especially for strategic sectors; urges the Commission to raise greater awareness among stakeholders about trade defence instruments and to increase its support for SMEs in facilitating their access thereto; asks, in this regard, that the Commission provide for a more accessible mechanism for SMEs to lodge their complaints in cases of unfair trade practices; calls for the Commission to impose measures as quickly as possible in investigations where SMEs are prominent;

10. Calls on the Commission to continue its efforts to support MSMEs, attaching specific focus to and introducing measures for those led by women; calls for the EU and its Member States to pay particular attention to the special circumstances of women-led MSMEs when establishing export helpdesks, to take advantage of the possibilities heralded by FTAs and to strengthen services, technologies and infrastructures (such as internet access), which are of particular importance to the economic empowerment of women and women-led MSMEs; calls on the Commission to help set up partnerships between female entrepreneurs in the EU and their counterparts in developing countries;

11. Welcomes the Commission’s commitment to introducing a one in, one out principle when creating new laws, which would be a first step to stem the tide of new regulation and cut red tape, but recalls that it merely maintains the status quo – an insufficient ambition; calls for greater clarity on how the Commission intends to integrate this principle in terms of trade policy;

12. Calls on the Commission to present a roadmap towards cutting at least 30 % of outdated rules and regulations that affect SMEs, in order to alleviate administrative burdens and cost pressure, promote competitiveness and make a genuine impact to enable SMEs to grow and prosper in the EU.

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

24.9.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

43

0

0

Members present for the final vote

Barry Andrews, Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou, Tiziana Beghin, Geert Bourgeois, Saskia Bricmont, Udo Bullmann, Jordi Cañas, Daniel Caspary, Anna Cavazzini, Miroslav Číž, Arnaud Danjean, Paolo De Castro, Emmanouil Fragkos, Raphaël Glucksmann, Markéta Gregorová, Enikő Győri, Roman Haider, Christophe Hansen, Danuta Maria Hübner, Herve Juvin, Maximilian Krah, Danilo Oscar Lancini, Bernd Lange, Gabriel Mato, Emmanuel Maurel, Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó, Samira Rafaela, Inma Rodríguez-Piñero, Massimiliano Salini, Helmut Scholz, Liesje Schreinemacher, Dominik Tarczyński, Mihai Tudose, Kathleen Van Brempt, Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, Jörgen Warborn, Jan Zahradil

Substitutes present for the final vote

Marek Belka, Markus Buchheit, Seán Kelly, Urmas Paet, Manuela Ripa, Angelika Winzig

 

 

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

 

 

43

+

ECR

Geert Bourgeois, Emmanouil Fragkos, Dominik Tarczynski, Jan Zahradil

GUE/NGL

Emmanuel Maurel, Helmut Scholz

ID

Markus Buchheit, Roman Haider, Herve Juvin, Maximilian Krah, Danilo Oscar Lancini

NI

Tiziana Beghin, Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó

PPE

Anna Michelle Asimakopoulou, Daniel Caspary, Arnaud Danjean, Enikő Győri, Christophe Hansen, Danuta Maria Hübner, Sean Kelly, Gabriel Mato, Massimiliano Salini, Jörgen Warborn, Angelika Winzig

RENEW

Barry Andrews, Jordi Cañas, Urmas Paet, Samira Rafaela, Liesje Schreinemacher, Marie-Pierre Vedrenne

S&D

Marek Belka, Udo Bullmann, Miroslav Číž, Paolo De Castro, Raphaël Glucksmann, Bernd Lange, Inma Rodríguez Piñero, Mihai Tudose, Kathleen Van Brempt

VERTS/ALE

Saskia Bricmont, Anna Cavazzini, Markéta Gregorova, Manuela Ripa

 

 

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON EMPLOYMENT AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS (6.10.2020)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on a new strategy for European SMEs

(2020/2131(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: Atidzhe Alieva‑Veli

 

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

A. whereas micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are defined in the Commission recommendation of 6 May 2003 (C(2003)1422);

B. whereas 99 % of European businesses are SMEs; whereas they account for 50 % of the EU’s GDP and employ around 100 million people[22], corresponding to two thirds of all jobs in the private sector, making them the backbone of the European economy and putting them among the key players in fostering the attractiveness of territories and the development of strategic industrial ecosystems;

C. whereas SMEs provide two out of three jobs, bring training opportunities across regions and sectors, including for low-skilled workers, and support society’s welfare, including in remote and rural areas[23];

D. whereas European SMEs face a huge lack of investment, estimated to range between EUR 20 and 35 billion, in spite of the support of the EU and its Member States;

E. whereas SMEs are facing tremendous challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and many of them are facing the risk of bankruptcy;

F. whereas the Commission put forward commitments in its strategy for small and medium-sized enterprises published in March 2020 (COM(2020)0103);

G. whereas complex administrative and legal procedures constitute a significant obstacle for SMEs in making their business more resource efficient;

H. whereas over 70 % of firms report access to talent as an obstacle to new investment across the EU-10[24]; whereas the availability of skilled staff and experienced managers has become the most pressing problem experienced by SMEs in the EU over the years[25]; whereas the skills shortage is particularly acute in relation to digitalisation and new technologies, as 35 % of the labour force have low or no digital skills;

1. Underlines the decisive contribution of SMEs, including family businesses, to innovation, including to social innovation, job creation, and to building an inclusive and resilient labour market, also in cross-border regions, boosting investments, competitiveness, entrepreneurship and sustainable growth; is extremely concerned about the rising unemployment rates in the EU and the risk of millions of people losing their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, especially within the most vulnerable social groups, and about the enormous difficulties SMEs are encountering due to this crisis; recognises that at present SMEs are faced with severe liquidity problems; highlights, in this context, the urgent need to facilitate access to funding and to take short- and long-term measures to support SMEs in the recovery; underlines further that this should allow sustainable and targeted finance to bridge the current investment gap and to reinforce SMEs’ resilience and ability to innovate and move towards more digital and sustainable, resource-efficient, circular and climate-neutral solutions, thereby facilitating the successful implementation of the digital agenda, the European Green Deal and the related just transition and securing Europe’s strategic industries and services, stimulating the economy, supporting employment, and ensuring that no one is left behind;

2. Stresses that SMEs play an important role in ensuring environmentally, socially and economically sustainable growth;

3. Considers that the development of the circular economy represents an opportunity for SMEs by creating jobs and new markets, as well as increased business efficiency;

4. Underlines that Union legislation must be SME-friendly; calls on the Commission for a strict application of the ‘SME test’, which would help in implementing the important ‘Think Small Principle’ to realise the full potential of the EU single market; supports the Commission’s plans to appoint an EU SME envoy to address and facilitate SME-related issues and solutions;

5. Welcomes the fact that the Commission’s SME strategy addresses the simplification efforts as one of three cornerstones of the EU’s work with SMEs; considers the reduction of red tape to be an important prerequisite for the ability of the economy to recover, innovate and to make the transition to, among other things, climate-smart production, as well as being a prerequisite for EU companies’ competitiveness;

6. Considers the removal of all unnecessary regulatory burdens, via a regular assessment of administrative requirements, and the simplification of the rules on access to finance for SMEs and genuinely self-employed persons to be a cornerstone of the new European SME strategy in view of the need to support a speedy economic recovery and enhanced job creation; highlights that the efficiency and stability of the regulatory environment is best achieved by the involvement of the social partners in the decision-making process;

7. Highlights that SMEs in the process of undergoing sustainable and digital transitions, will need special policy attention and accompanying measures; stresses that the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of digital solutions, particularly teleworking, as they offer numerous opportunities, among which are enhanced employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, reduced CO2 emissions related to the daily commute, flexible patterns of work organisation, better work-life balance and opportunities for SMEs to significantly improve their productivity, business management and resilience, while at the same time they give rise to concerns as regards privacy and occupational health and safety; calls on the Commission to propose a legislative framework laying down clear common minimum standards and conditions for remote work in the EU, in order to protect the health and safety of workers, and at the same time support European SMEs’ productivity and competitiveness;

8. Considers, furthermore, that an ambitious policy agenda with a clear timetable is needed to harmonise digital aspects of the single market and foster e-government solutions; calls for the standardisation and digitalisation of administrative procedures and forms, which will help SMEs in the long term;

9. Stresses that programmes crucial for SMEs’ competitiveness and development, which are included in the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), should be guaranteed a sufficient level of funding;

10. Considers that the EU recovery instruments and the relevant MFF programmes should be fully utilised to complement national schemes, supporting SMEs, particularly in the sectors and regions most affected by the pandemic, including SMEs that are active in border regions which have been severely affected by the closure of borders between Member States, in order to preserve jobs, income and know-how, and to strive to ensure the EU’s strategic industrial autonomy, innovation and technological leadership; recalls, furthermore, that these instruments must contribute to achieving the objectives of sustainable development and to the implementation of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Paris Agreement;

11. Calls on the Commission to ensure complementarity between the objectives of the European SME strategy, the new circular economy action plan, the updated skills agenda for Europe and the European industrial strategy; calls, furthermore, on the Commission and the Member States to better coordinate the different funding instruments for SMEs;

12. Recalls, in this context, the importance of technical assistance for SMEs and the self-employed, especially in the initial phase of implementation of European funds and programmes;

13. Highlights that the SME strategy should facilitate SMEs’ access to finance, even for very small projects and suitable tools for crowdfunding; in this context, calls on Member States to improve access to smaller-scale credits;

14. Underlines that SMEs need to have access to public procurement tenders, as public procurement will provide a lever to boost the recovery; stresses, in this context, that unfair selection criteria should be tackled;

15. Stresses that SME-related actions should be at the core of the EU’s policies and initiatives, particularly those relating to the economic recovery, and digital and green transitions, and should go hand in hand with measures to promote entrepreneurship and to protect all workers; stresses, in this regard, the need to ensure respect for the principle of equal treatment of workers and fair working and employment conditions for all, including mobile workers;

16. Stresses the need to further facilitate the access of SMEs and self-employed persons to the single market and to promote labour mobility; emphasises that good coordination between Member States and regions is crucial to ensure that SMEs and self-employed persons involved in cross-border activities, as well as cross-border, seasonal, frontier workers and posted workers, are protected; calls for guarantees that clear and transparent information is accessible to companies, the self-employed and workers regarding the rules they need to respect and the rights which they enjoy, including through one-stop-shop online portals;

17. Considers the improvement and implementation of EU rules on coordination of social security systems as essential for labour mobility and protecting workers, in particular those in precarious situations; underlines, in this regard, the need to find a swift and balanced agreement on the revision of Regulations (EC) No 883/2004 and (EC) No 987/2009 on the coordination of social security systems;

18. Calls on the Commission to introduce a European Social Security Number, to provide legal certainty for workers and facilitate the work of businesses, in particular SMEs, which provide cross-border services, while effectively controlling subcontracting practices and combating social fraud; in this context, urges Member States to ensure the proper implementation and enforcement of Union law to facilitate the free movement and social protection of workers, as well as the cross-border provision of services, thereby ensuring a level playing field in the single market;

19. Recalls that the free movement of workers is a fundamental right central to the single market; recalls, furthermore, the importance of fostering labour mobility across Europe; stresses that, while an important set of measures has been taken to support companies in reacting to the coronavirus outbreak, a specific focus must now be placed on mitigating the long-term effects of the crisis;

20. Recalls that all workers in the single market must have the right to enjoy the highest possible level of protection as regards health and safety at work, regardless of the size of the company which employs them, the place of employment or the underlying contract;

21. Calls for the systematic application of health and safety measures in the workplace, and welcomes the guidelines of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) as well as point 8 of the Commission Statement following the presentation of Commission Directive (EU) 2020/739in respect of the prevention and protection of the health and safety of workers that are or can be occupationally exposed to SARS-CoV-2[26]; considers that such guidelines, including written instructions, should be further developed and be based on regular consultations with the relevant stakeholders in order to provide a coordinated, up-to-date and efficient response in case of future cross-border threats to public health;

22. Encourages the Member States to raise awareness of occupational safety and health and to take all necessary actions to ensure the safety and health of workers, including through inspections, where and when necessary; considers also that SMEs employing seasonal and cross-border workers deserve special protection;

23. Stresses the need to ensure the efficient and rapid implementation of health protocols, as well as their application by workers in the various occupational sectors, in particular through on-the-job training;

24. Awaits the Commission’s proposal on the new occupational safety and healthy strategy for 2021-2027 that is to include the vision of zero fatal and severe work-related injuries and diseases; calls on the Commission to revise the Directive on Health and Safety at Work;

25. Acknowledges the specific situation of SMEs with regard to implementing statutory health and safety measures at company level; underlines that awareness-raising, the exchange of good practices, consultation, user-friendly guides and online platforms are of the utmost importance to help SMEs to comply with the regulatory requirements; welcomes the EU-OSHA’s online interactive risk assessment (OiRA), as well as other e-tools in the Member States that aim to promote compliance and a culture of prevention, in particular in micro and small enterprises;

26. Calls on the Commission to ensure that workers have the right to information, consultation and participation, and also to include this principle in the SME strategy; underlines the need for a meaningful involvement of workers and their representatives at company level, also with regard to decisions on decarbonisation and digitalisation; stresses the importance of an effective social dialogue and the need to strengthen the social partners, to extend collective bargaining coverage and to take measures to promote a high density of trade unions and employers’ associations in the context of the new SME strategy;

27. Calls on the Commission and Member States to urgently support businesses, especially SMEs, by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and by facilitating their access to liquidity; welcomes, in this respect, the instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) proposed by the Commission; calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that alternative financing options, such as credit unions and private equity investors, are available to SMEs; calls for the establishment of capacity-building programmes, within the Recovery plan, aimed at helping SMEs, particularly micro SMEs, to readjust their businesses to COVID-19 affected markets;

28. Welcomes the financial relief provided by the Commission in saving jobs via the SURE instrument and believes that a European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme could be a further tool to accompany the just transition to a circular, climate-neutral and digital economy, and contribute to the resilience of the European economy and European SMEs in particular; awaits the Commission’s proposal as announced by Commission President von der Leyen in this regard;

29. Stresses that policies targeting SMEs and start-ups must not provide opportunities for businesses to circumvent existing rules, lower the protection of workers and consumers, or increase the risk of corporate fraud, criminal activities and letter box companies; recalls that Parliament rejected the controversial Commission proposal on a European services e-card in this regard;

30. Stresses that fair competition is a fundamental principle of the single market; warns that a race to the bottom as regards employment, social security and taxation standards, including through artificial arrangements, is in sharp contrast to fair competition based on quality and sustainable development; underlines that social dumping is first and foremost at the expense of workers, consumers and law-abiding SMEs;

31. Highlights that unfair competition in the single market damages law-abiding companies, in particular SMEs; calls on the Commission and the Member States to take decisive measures to tackle unfair competition, which includes undeclared work; stresses, furthermore, that unfair competition in the digital economy should also be addressed;

32. Takes the view that tax policies for SMEs should favour sustainable development and the creation of quality jobs;

33. Underlines that advanced disruptive technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), cloud and high-performance computing (HPC), can boost the competitiveness of SMEs; stresses the need to raise awareness about the great potential of AI-based solutions and the risks they may pose; highlights the need for research into the societal changes caused by AI; calls on the EU to support the digital and green transitions by investing in AI guaranteeing the human-in-control principle, in lifelong learning, in reskilling and upskilling initiatives to foster digital literacy, focused on SMEs’ uptake of human, social and advanced digital skills and qualifications for the future occupations and sectors that will emerge from the transition to a sustainable, climate-neutral economy; highlights the need to modernise the system of vocational education and training, and to improve qualifications, in particular as regards digital skills; stresses, as a matter of priority, the need to address the mismatch between skills/qualifications and the needs of the labour market;

34. Calls, in this regard, on the Commission and the Member States to promote, reinforce and support apprenticeships in order to facilitate the sustainable integration of young people into the labour market; underlines that entrepreneurial education and training that enhances business knowledge and skills plays a key role in making SMEs fit for the single market; calls for the best use of the European Social Fund+ to address these challenges;

35. Emphasises, in this regard, the possibilities of overcoming the mismatch between skills and qualifications by making better use of the cross-border labour market;

36. Considers that the image of an SME as an attractive employer, based on good working and employment conditions, is an important competitive advantage for the recruitment of qualified staff; stresses the importance of in-company training and education;

37. Stresses that entrepreneurship is an important driver for smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth and competitiveness, and a powerful tool to promote social inclusion; calls on the Commission and the Member States to foster and support the development of the entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurial skills, and to facilitate the establishment of new business models for SMEs; calls, furthermore, on the Member States to make use of the future European Social Fund+ and of the new possibilities to invest European Regional Development Funds in developing skills for smart specialisation, industrial transition and entrepreneurship;

38. Underlines the importance of boosting entrepreneurship, including among women and young people; calls on the Commission and the Member States to encourage and actively support female entrepreneurship at European and national level, in particular through better access to finance or training, and by ensuring a better work-life balance, as women are one of the groups suffering most from the COVID-19 crisis;

39. Highlights that women remain under-represented across occupation and management levels[27] and welcomes the Commission’s initiatives with a particular focus on empowering women and improving the gender balance within the European SME ecosystem;

40. Calls for the elimination of any wage discrimination on the grounds of age or gender and for the Member States to ensure, in line with national law and practice, that all workers are entitled to decent wages either through collective agreements or through statutory minimum wages;

41. Stresses that SMEs must make their contribution to overcome the gender employment, pay and pension gap in the labour market, among other things, by providing or supporting childcare facilities, carers’ leave and flexible working hours for carers, as well as by ensuring equal pay for equal work and pay transparency;

42. Highlights the importance of the social and solidarity-based economy, which provides employment for more than 11 million people[28]; underlines, furthermore, the potential of social economy enterprises and social impact investment to facilitate labour market inclusion for persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups; insists on the need to support social and solidarity-based enterprises by creating a favourable environment for their development; calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote the establishment and the work of social and solidarity-based enterprises;

43. Calls on the Commission to recognise, promote and protect inclusive SMEs to create permanent employment for persons with disabilities in the labour market; stresses the potential of social economy enterprises and organisations to facilitate labour market inclusion for persons with disabilities; stresses further the importance of providing targeted support from the European Social Fund for the social economy; recalls that SMEs run by vulnerable groups have a harder time accessing finance and need targeted support;

44. Recommends strengthening the exchange of SME-focused initiatives, which have proven to be successful, and the exchange of best practices among the Member States; recommends, furthermore, the establishment of platforms for exchanges among SMEs that are developing innovative breakthrough technologies; welcomes, in this context, the Commission’s proposal to launch a programme for ‘digital volunteers’ to allow skilled young people and experienced older people to share their digital competence with traditional businesses; stresses the importance of fostering further cooperation between SMEs, research institutes, universities and the education sector to make sure that skills match the labour market’s needs;

45. Calls for the swift implementation of the European patent to promote SMEs’ innovation potential;

46. Considers that a new strategy for European SMEs can only succeed through integrated strategic planning, pooling the resources of European players, regional and local institutions, industrial clusters, the social partners, universities and research groups; highlights, in this context, the importance of support structures, such as SME networks, one-stop-shops and regional development agencies, innovation clusters and start-up counselling, for the creation of local and regional value chains;

47. Is of the opinion that preventing companies from going bankrupt is key to preserve jobs and ensure a sustainable economic recovery; considers that the EU should therefore develop and reinforce early warning mechanisms to identify companies in distress and help them avoid insolvency; considers that European funding and programmes should be redirected along these lines;

48. Recalls that microenterprises and the self-employed have been strongly affected by the COVID-19 crisis; stresses that SMEs, microenterprises and the self-employed often find it difficult to access the aid mechanisms put in place by the Member States, in particular the short-time work arrangements that are essential for job protection; welcomes, in this regard, the recent amendment of the State aid temporary framework enabling Member States to provide public support to all micro and small companies; expresses its concern, however, about the uneven distribution of State aid; recalls that State aid should not lead to distortion in the single market;

49. Calls on Member States to develop active labour market policies, foster research and innovation, and provide good quality public services and infrastructures, also in order to encourage private sector investment in SMEs;

50. Calls on the Commission to consider the need to establish a one-stop-shop aimed at supporting the internationalisation of SMEs, for example by providing information on funds and grants for technical feasibility studies of innovative business products and other relevant information on internationalisation;

51. Considers that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union has affected SMEs in the EU negatively, especially those doing daily business with the UK; stresses that the new partnership with the UK should pay special attention to the specific situation of SMEs and calls on the EU and the UK to work towards the simplification of requirements and formalities for customs procedures for SMEs in order to avoid any additional administrative burdens and encourages the Parties to set up SME contact points.

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

2.10.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

36

6

13

Members present for the final vote

Atidzhe Alieva-Veli, Abir Al-Sahlani, Marc Angel, Dominique Bilde, Gabriele Bischoff, Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, Andrea Bocskor, Milan Brglez, Sylvie Brunet, David Casa, Leila Chaibi, Margarita de la Pisa Carrión, Klára Dobrev, Jarosław Duda, Estrella Durá Ferrandis, Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, Rosa Estaràs Ferragut, Nicolaus Fest, Loucas Fourlas, Cindy Franssen, Heléne Fritzon, Helmut Geuking, Alicia Homs Ginel, France Jamet, Agnes Jongerius, Radan Kanev, Ádám Kósa, Stelios Kympouropoulos, Katrin Langensiepen, Miriam Lexmann, Elena Lizzi, Radka Maxová, Kira Marie Peter-Hansen, Dragoș Pîslaru, Manuel Pizarro, Dennis Radtke, Elżbieta Rafalska, Guido Reil, Daniela Rondinelli, Mounir Satouri, Monica Semedo, Beata Szydło, Eugen Tomac, Romana Tomc, Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, Marianne Vind, Maria Walsh, Stefania Zambelli, Tatjana Ždanoka

Substitutes present for the final vote

Konstantinos Arvanitis, Brando Benifei, Marc Botenga, Samira Rafaela, Eugenia Rodríguez Palop, Anne Sander

 

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

36

+

ECR

Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, Helmut Geuking, Elżbieta Rafalska, Beata Szydło, Margarita de la Pisa Carrión

ID

Dominique Bilde, France Jamet, Elena Lizzi, Stefania Zambelli

NI

Daniela Rondinelli

PPE

Andrea Bocskor, David Casa, Jarosław Duda, Rosa Estaràs Ferragut, Loucas Fourlas, Cindy Franssen, Radan Kanev, Ádám Kósa, Stelios Kympouropoulos, Miriam Lexmann, Dennis Radtke, Anne Sander, Eugen Tomac, Romana Tomc, Maria Walsh

Renew

Atidzhe Alieva‑Veli, Abir Al-Sahlani, Sylvie Brunet, Dragoș Pîslaru, Samira Rafaela, Monica Semedo, Marie‑Pierre Vedrenne

Verts/ALE

Katrin Langensiepen, Kira Marie Peter‑Hansen, Mounir Satouri, Tatjana Ždanoka

 

6

GUE/NGL

Konstantinos Arvanitis, Marc Botenga, Leila Chaibi, Eugenia Rodríguez Palop

ID

Nicolaus Fest, Guido Reil

 

13

0

Renew

Radka Maxová

S&D

Marc Angel, Brando Benifei, Gabriele Bischoff, Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, Milan Brglez, Klára Dobrev, Estrella Durá Ferrandis, Heléne Fritzon, Alicia Homs Ginel, Agnes Jongerius, Manuel Pizarro, Marianne Vind

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON THE INTERNAL MARKET AND CONSUMER PROTECTION (28.9.2020)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on a new strategy for European SMEs

(2020/2131(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: Liesje Schreinemacher

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

A. whereas SMEs are the backbone of the European economy and account for 99 % of EU companies;

B. whereas European SMEs are currently experiencing unprecedented challenges because of the COVID-19 crisis that threatens their very existence;

C. whereas only 17 % of SMEs have so far successfully integrated digital technology into their businesses and digitalisation is crucial for strong economic growth and job creation within the internal market;

1. Welcomes the SME strategy and shares the Commission’s view that SMEs are the backbone of the European economy and are absolutely essential to the EU’s prosperity;

2. Considers that the SME strategy should go hand in hand with the European Industrial Strategy, and calls on the Commission to take further action in light of the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis and of the Recovery Package in order to boost economic growth and job creation within the single market;

3. Encourages the Commission to further support European SMEs in addressing both the short-term consequences of the crisis and long-term challenges such as digitalisation and the transition to a more sustainable internal market;

4. Insists that sustainability needs to remain a core objective of relevant EU programmes so that SMEs can take full advantage of the sustainable transition in terms of competitiveness, cost reduction and job creation;

5. Stresses that the implementation of the SME strategy should focus on supporting SMEs to help them maintain their existence, as the COVID-19 crisis has delivered a massive shock to many SMEs and their role in the everyday life of Europeans; considers it appropriate, in this regard, for the strategy to be updated where necessary to take account of the impact of the pandemic;

6. Stresses that in times of crisis the free movement of essential goods and services must be guaranteed within the internal market; calls on the Commission to swiftly propose new tools to avoid any disruption of the internal market during future crises and to take account of SMEs’ specific needs;

7. Notes that maintaining the existence of SMEs is already the subject of Member States’ individual policies; urges, therefore, that the strategy and these policies complement each other in order to stimulate robust and long-lasting recovery on the part of SMEs;

8. Recalls that SMEs were already facing difficulties prior to the COVID-19 crisis, in particular as regards access to finance, including easy access to R&D funds, markets, technical support and information; calls, therefore, for enhanced support in these areas, such as in the form of reinforced one-stop shops and streamlined and easily accessible regulatory and administrative procedures; accordingly stresses the importance of adopting an ambitious strategy to ensure that SMEs can recover and thrive;

9. Underlines that action should also be taken to prevent shutdowns, assess and restore disrupted supply and value chains, support the scaling-up of SMEs, and enhance their cross-border activities in order to maximise the potential benefits of the single market;

10. Calls for the synchronisation of all financial tools aimed at supporting SMEs within the internal market; insists that programmes that are crucial for SMEs’ competitiveness, development and resilience in the face of the crisis must be strengthened in the next Multiannual Financial Framework to guarantee the necessary level of funding; calls on the European Investment Bank to continue its support for SMEs, in particular as part of the sustainable finance approach;

11. Points out the added value provided by the EU MFF in terms of supporting SMEs, in particular with regard to the Single Market Programme, InvestEU, Digital Europe, Horizon Europe and other programmes; considers that the SME window of the Single Market Programme should maintain the level of ambition of Parliament’s position, and therefore highlights the importance of the swift adoption of the MFF and of the Next Generation EU instrument;

12. Welcomes the inclusion among the actions identified by the Commission that regarding measures to create an environment that is friendly to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs); notes that fostering the generational transition in traditional craft enterprises, some of which are at risk of extinction, can not only be an effective way to encourage self-starting entrepreneurship, but is also a means to promote Europe’s heritage of craft-related knowledge, traditions and skills; points out that it would be useful to provide for incentives for cross-generational projects that can combine the artisanal crafts tradition with digitalisation, through the involvement of young people at the end of a training pathway;

13. Notes that MSMEs should be subject to obligations that are proportionate taking into account their specificities and sectoral characteristics; encourages the Commission to take strong enforcement action to limit market fragmentation, remove unjustified market barriers and ensure a level playing field, by making use of all available tools and bodies, such as the SME Envoy Network and the Regulatory Scrutiny Board, with the aim of lowering costs and strengthening SMEs’ activities;

14. Stresses that excessive regulation is particularly burdensome for SMEs; considers, therefore, that in order to achieve the goals of the SME strategy, greater emphasis must be placed on the proportionality of any new regulatory initiative;

15. Calls for a roadmap towards achieving a proportionate reduction in administrative burdens in order to boost SMEs’ potential for investment and speed up economic recovery in the EU, including the following elements:

– supporting SMEs in operating cross-border and thus fully reaping the benefits of the internal market;

– encouraging scale-up;

– making effective use of the SME test performed at an early stage of impact assessments to analyse the economic impact of legislative proposals, including compliance costs;

16. Insists that SMEs should receive targeted support – i.e. technical, administrative and skills support – when implementing the EU regulatory framework, in order to ensure compliance with single market rules;

17. Recognises the support provided by the State Aid Temporary Framework and welcomes its recent amendment enabling Member States to provide public support to all MSMEs; however, urges the Commission, in the interim, to ensure that the temporary frameworks approved for state aid do not distort competition in the medium and long term and in consequence adversely affect SMEs, which are the major beneficiaries;

18. Highlights the crucial role of data, as well as transfer of technology from academia to SMEs, as being the lifeblood of the digital economy; points out the existence of market imbalances and obstacles in access to data that affect SMEs’ competitiveness, and underlines that SMEs must receive a fair share of the added value of the data they generate, stressing that non-discriminatory access to data is key to ensuring a digital level playing field within the internal market; welcomes the European Data Strategy in this regard; supports the Commission in promoting interoperability and establishing European data spaces for trusted and secure non-personal data sharing in order to ramp up data flows between businesses, relevant stakeholders, and the public sector; stresses the importance of open data and knowledge sharing via open technologies for SMEs, in full compliance with the applicable legislation;

19. Points out that there is a need to facilitate SMEs’ access to and uptake of artificial intelligence (AI) in line with the future ethical and liability framework, by promoting the creation of SME cross-border ‘Alliances for AI’ in strategic value chains within the internal market, as well as promoting investment in the next generation of standards, tools and infrastructures to store and process data; points out that it is important to ensure SMEs’ access to and awareness of ICT standards in order to innovate and provide more tailored digital solutions;

20. Points out that SMEs face difficulties in protecting their intellectual property (IP) rights and protecting themselves from aggressive patent litigation, which can threaten their development; calls on the Commission to increase IP awareness, make more use of external advice and ensure appropriate enforcement;

21. Stresses that digitalisation offers many benefits to SMEs, such as providing new opportunities to offer digital services or products and expanding their market access; points out that SMEs are increasingly under pressure to adapt their business models accordingly and adopt the necessary digital technologies in order to remain competitive and attractive to customers;

22. Stresses that SMEs, and especially start-ups, have enormous potential to grow in new digital sectors such as AI, the Internet of Things (IOT) and robotics, but highlights that if they are to be successful in the digital transformation, SMEs must be adequately supported and must have access to sufficient financial resources and infrastructure;

23. Underlines the opportunities for SMEs to reach new customers and markets offered by e-commerce; highlights the added value of legislation in this regard such as the Platform-to-Business Regulation and calls for its swift implementation and enforcement;

24. Warns that a persistent risk of unfair competition exists in e-commerce, also due to the presence of non-compliant, illegal or unsafe products in online marketplaces targeting EU consumers;

25. Stresses that equal access to investment for SMEs remains a challenge in the EU, considering the greater difficulties of access to finance in some Member States, thus leading to discrepancies in competitiveness between SMEs in the single market; calls on the Commission to address this financial access gap, without undermining the relevance of prudential requirements, so as to ensure that SMEs compete on an increasingly level playing field;

26. Encourages Member States to implement the single digital gateway in an SME-friendly way by cooperating closely with regional and local authorities as well as with the other Member States, and by providing easy digital access to information, procedures, assistance and services linked to doing business across borders, including advice on public procurement and funding sources;

27. Points out that urgent measures in this regard, such as those relating to the extended digitalisation of the relationship between government departments and enterprises, and to the interoperability of government databases, can no longer be postponed;

28. Welcomes the SME Envoy Network, which makes it possible to take better account of the end-user in future legislation; suggests, however, a critical assessment of its appointment process and functioning in order to address potential weaknesses and ensure that it works efficiently in all Member States, in continuous coordination with the relevant business associations and stakeholders;

29. Stresses the need to utilise the European Public Procurement GovTech Platform (EU GovTech) to carefully monitor the state of SME engagement in procurement challenges across the EU, guiding the subsequent formulation of good practices and higher legislative standards;

30. Calls on the Commission to launch as soon as possible the European GovTech Initiative to promote best practices in creating a synergy effect between the government and start-ups and digital SMEs, and to facilitate the use among several Member States of a cross-border tool promoting equal market access for European digital SMEs;

31. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to simplify procurement tendering processes by using the flexibility of the Commission’s new guidance within the current EU public procurement framework, and to enhance opportunities for SMEs in the single market, such as the possibility of subdividing procurement into smaller lots and the streamlining of administrative procedures, as well as by using digital tools and platforms to expand national and cross-border procurement;

32. Stresses that sustainable public procurement can contribute as a strategic tool to boosting sustainable production and consumption patterns; encourages in that regard the use of economic, social and environmental criteria in the procurement process in full compliance with the applicable legislation, and stresses that SMEs need the right support to bring forward this transition;

33. Notes that with total procurement spending within the EU reaching 14 % of the combined GDP of the Member States, increasing the participation rate of SMEs in tenders represents a significant funding opportunity for them; stresses that achieving this aim requires the utilisation of new procurement methodologies and tools to put them into practice, making the best use of the current EU public procurement legislation and of the flexibility already provided within this framework;

34. Underlines the importance of making the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) more accessible to SMEs; calls for the creation of digital tools such as platforms for enhancing access to relevant public procurement information for SMEs;

35. Underlines the fact that late payments account for a quarter of all SME bankruptcies in the EU; urges the Commission to swiftly equip the Late Payment Directive[29] with strong monitoring and enforcement tools and to take appropriate binding measures to reinforce the current framework, so as to ensure and promote prompt payments as a norm, in particular for government-to-business transactions, across the single market; calls on authorities at European, national, regional and local level to set the right example by paying SMEs on time; encourages in this context an active use of infringement procedures in cases where the directive is not properly implemented.

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

28.9.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

40

1

4

Members present for the final vote

Alex Agius Saliba, Andrus Ansip, Pablo Arias Echeverría, Alessandra Basso, Brando Benifei, Adam Bielan, Hynek Blaško, Biljana Borzan, Vlad-Marius Botoş, Markus Buchheit, Dita Charanzová, Deirdre Clune, David Cormand, Carlo Fidanza, Evelyne Gebhardt, Alexandra Geese, Sandro Gozi, Maria Grapini, Svenja Hahn, Virginie Joron, Eugen Jurzyca, Arba Kokalari, Marcel Kolaja, Kateřina Konečná, Jean-Lin Lacapelle, Maria-Manuel Leitão-Marques, Morten Løkkegaard, Adriana Maldonado López, Antonius Manders, Beata Mazurek, Leszek Miller, Dan-Ștefan Motreanu, Kris Peeters, Anne-Sophie Pelletier, Miroslav Radačovský, Christel Schaldemose, Andreas Schwab, Tomislav Sokol, Ivan Štefanec, Kim Van Sparrentak, Marco Zullo

Substitutes present for the final vote

Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou, Maria da Graça Carvalho, Anna Cavazzini, Edina Tóth

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

40

+

ECR

EPP

EUL/NGL

GREENS/EFA

ID

NI

RENEW

S&D

Adam Bielan, Carlo Fidanza, Beata Mazurek

Pablo Arias Echeverría, Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou, Maria da Graça Carvalho, Deirdre Clune, Arba Kokalari, Antonius Manders, Dan-Ștefan Motreanu, Kris Peeters, Andreas Schwab, Tomislav Sokol, Ivan Štefanec, Edina Tóth

Kateřina Konečná

Anna Cavazzini, David Cormand, Alexandra Geese, Marcel Kolaja, Kim Van Sparrentak

Virginie Joron, Jean-Lin Lacapelle

Miroslav Radačovský, Marco Zullo

Andrus Ansip, Vlad-Marius Botoş, Dita Charanzová, Sandro Gozi, Svenja Hahn, Morten Løkkegaard

Alex Agius Saliba, Brando Benifei, Biljana Borzan, Evelyne Gebhardt, Maria Grapini, Maria-Manuel Leitão-Marques, Adriana Maldonado López, Leszek Miller, Christel Schaldemose

 

1

ID

Hynek Blaško

 

4

0

ECR

EUL/NGL

ID

Eugen Jurzyca

Anne-Sophie Pelletier

Alessandra Basso, Markus Buchheit

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORT AND TOURISM (13.10.2020)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on a new strategy for European SMEs

(2020/2131(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: João Ferreira

 

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Transport and Tourism calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

A. whereas micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and start-ups in the transport and tourism sectors are being most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, with a considerable number of these enterprises on the verge of insolvency, owing to the enforcement of mobility restrictions, the health protocols in hospitality establishments and the consequent drop in demand for passenger transport; whereas the current context also gives grounds for a European tourism policy, supported by a budget line in the next multiannual financial framework and for urgent and innovative measures that put transport in the centre of a rapid restart of the economic recovery; whereas transport and tourism are sectors which have an impact on the state of the environment; whereas SMEs and start-ups will play a crucial role in the transition towards sustainable transport and tourism;

B. whereas MSMEs, both at national and EU level, are simultaneously very complex and heterogeneous given their size and the very diverse sectors of activity they cover, each with their own – and at times very different – dynamics, particularly the economic, financial, social or even political dynamics that characterise them; whereas a fair level playing field should be maintained for SMEs in the transport and the tourism sectors;

C. whereas the number of SMEs operating in the transport and tourism sectors has increased to one and two million, respectively, and they are directly responsible for a total of more than 16 million jobs; whereas SMEs make up the vast majority of businesses in the transport sector and thus possess the greatest potential to create jobs and stimulate economic progress;

D. whereas the transport sector is strategic for the development of the Member States and the EU, for their economic, social and territorial cohesion, for the functioning of their economy and for the mobility of their populations; whereas SMEs in these sectors face several constraints to their operation, ranging from tolls or a lack of support infrastructure, among other things; whereas it would be important to ensure the reduction of bureaucracy for micro enterprises and SMEs and the assessment of the implementation of all new EU legislation with a negative impact on or which disproportionally hinders micro and SME operators on the internal transport market;

E. whereas the tourism sector is central to the economy of several Member States; whereas this sector has a seasonal profile and could benefit from a common EU approach and policy;

F. whereas, following the COVID-19 outbreak, Member States have to provide the necessary support they are able to give to their SMEs, especially by taking advantage of the flexibility of State aid rules, without exacerbating existing competition distortions between SMEs from different countries in the single market; whereas the complexities of administrative procedures and overregulation could be a drag on SMEs;

G. whereas the overwhelming majority of SMEs depend on the banking sector for their financing; whereas there is a need in the banking sector for streamlined customer requirements so that SMEs can have easier access to finance; whereas, despite differences among Member States, in general, European competitiveness is lagging behind other developed economies, threatening Europe’s potential to generate wealth and prosperity; whereas the majority of SMEs live from and on national markets;

H. whereas many SMEs in the transport sectors, such as those providing active urban mobility, passenger transport and tourism services, have been seriously affected by a limited number of digital platforms dominating the market; whereas digitalisation and online platforms present both a great challenge and an opportunity for European SMEs, and are relevant to their commercial success by creating employment and growth opportunities, improving operational efficiency, assuring data security and better reaching consumers;

1. Notes that the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance for the economy and for business of SMEs operating in the transport sector, bearing in mind that uninterrupted freight transport has been essential to ensure the swift and smooth functioning of supply chains for various types of goods, as has the transport of workers in key sectors; stresses that SMEs in the tourism sector are facing unprecedented difficulties including a serious liquidity crisis due to an unsustainable cash flow, the revenue situation and passengers’ behaviours following the COVID-19 outbreak; calls on the Commission to adopt a revised strategy for European SMEs, taking into account the impact of COVID-19, the constantly changing health and safety requirements, the functioning of the internal market, and local, regional and national needs, while strengthening and stimulating enterprises; acknowledges the contribution of a new industrial policy to the reindustrialisation of the Member States; welcomes the Commission’s commitment to introduce a ‘one in, one out’ principle as a first step to stem the tide of new regulation, but recalls that it merely maintains the status quo, which is not a sufficient ambition;

2. Stresses the importance of Member States’ and EU support to shore up SMEs in difficulty, ensuring the continuation of their activity, job retention and creation, and the protection of earnings, while respecting workers’ rights; calls for a roadmap towards the reduction of the administrative costs and burdens, by at least 30 %, and for the facilitation of their access to finance, fostering investments in strategic value chains; calls on the Commission, Member States and local governments to make the business climate and competitiveness paramount priorities on their political agenda; underlines the need to step up support for SMEs in these sectors at EU level; calls on the Commission to put forward concrete initiatives for recovery; further encourages the Commission to consider the co-financing, together with Member States, cities or regional authorities, of schemes, for example the provision of vouchers or discounts for the benefit of tourists with the aim of increasing tourism spending in smaller, local businesses in tourism-dependent regions; calls on the Commission to monitor developments and assess the possibility of emergency and sector-specific support in addition to measures already announced, including funding and capitalisation, until tourist and transport flows have returned to their pre-pandemic levels; considers that this support should also focus on and foster the mid-term modernisation of their activities, with the aim of aligning them with the most recent EU climate and environmental objectives among other standards, such as working conditions; calls for the creation of an action plan to guarantee the functioning of transport activities focused on responding to future crises that might hit the transport and tourist sectors, creating legal certainty for businesses and citizens, increasing sustainability and competiveness, and taking into account the added value they bring to the economy in the EU;

3. Draws attention to the inaccessibility of the new EU recovery plan for many SMEs suffering the consequences of the pandemic; asks for a greater role for the EU in terms of financing to support the solvency of SMEs, as well as jobs, wages and workers’ rights, and limiting the harmful effects of excessive indebtedness; considers that Member States should explore possible measures, such as tax relief, the temporary deferral of bank loan repayments and solutions to cover the risks incurred by service providers until tourism and transport flows resume;

4. Considers that the reconversion and smooth functioning of SMEs and start-ups in the fields of sustainable transport and sustainable tourism sectors will represent a boost to recovery and resilience in post-COVID-19 times, namely through the creation of permanent quality jobs and through the exchange and coordination of the best practices of the Member States; calls for this transition to be brought into line with the climate and environmental objectives of the EU;

5. Considers that the objectives of the ‘SME Strategy for a Sustainable and Digital Europe’ should not only focus on SME participation in ‘important projects of common European interest’, but should also consider co-financing local or regional schemes in the policy making process applying the ‘think small first’ principle and with the full application of the SME Test in the impact assessments, also flagging up when political proposals might lead to the outsourcing of production, while acknowledging national autonomy; considers further that objectives should be achieved through long-term and growth-oriented policies promoting the competitiveness of European SMEs and should be fully matched by direct financial support and other resources to enable Member States to promote SME transition towards sustainability and digitalisation, which is of particular importance for the least developed countries and regions, including outermost, island and remote regions, in the context of the new multiannual financial framework, and especially cohesion policy; insists on the importance of providing support to SMEs for upskilling the sector’s workforce, with a specific focus on digital skills, financial education and innovative technologies, and also addressing the gap women are facing in this field; highlights the need to secure better access to public procurement by the simplification of procedures; expresses concern regarding the difficulties in accessing European Investment Bank (EIB) funding lines faced by most SMEs, particularly those with limited capitalisation, and calls for an adaptation of the conditions of access to EIB funding to the reality of SMEs in the different Member States; stresses, furthermore, the importance of ensuring synergies and complementarities between the existing funding solutions, and highlights the need for the simplification of procedures and the need to reduce administrative burden and costs for beneficiaries;

6. Stresses that the objectives of the EU SME strategy should be coherent with their real proportion within economies and their structural weaknesses, and with decent employment and working conditions in the various sectors of activity; highlights the need to put in place measures to safeguard competitiveness in a circular economy, the environmental goals laid down in the European Green Deal and in the Paris Agreement; asks that a level playing field for SMEs be ensured, especially in relation to large enterprises with a significant market position, also taking into account the bargaining power of big companies as the suppliers and/or customers of SMEs;

7. Calls for the incentivising of financial institutions, including public and private banks, and for the reinforcement of public authorities’ capacity at local, regional, national or EU level to support SMEs; considers, especially for micro enterprises, that these public bodies should contribute, inter alia, to designing and implementing training programmes for managers and staff in the fields of organisational, technological and commercial management; asks that good representation of SMEs in the public consultation process be ensured in order to make sure that their views are properly and adequately collected, analysed and represented in the impact assessments; calls for improvements to the effectiveness of tools intended to help SMEs deal with unfair or discriminatory rules and decisions, and to increase the awareness of SMEs of the availability of such problem-solving mechanisms; points out that awareness-raising in particular must be increased substantially, as in some EU countries, surveys show that only 15 % of businesses are aware of SOLVIT, and far fewer have decided to use it;

8. Notes that the so-called digital platforms are being regulated at national, regional and local level; underlines the need to prevent unfair competition and ensure legal certainty for businesses and customers, as well as respect for workers’ rights and user safety; welcomes the public consultation recently launched by the Commission on the Digital Services Act; looks forward to the publishing of the ongoing Commission study on the impact of short-term rentals; underlines the need for specific measures to modernise public transport services (e.g. the taxi or bus sectors), and to move towards smart and sustainable urban mobility;

9. Considers that the use of data will play a relevant role in the transport sector by facilitating data sharing, improving data quality and promoting interoperability of data, thereby boosting innovation in the sector and enhancing its competitiveness globally; calls for appropriate financing to match the investment needs of SMEs in this regard;

10. Notes the potential of digitalisation and online platforms for creating better and more attractive opportunities for women; asks for an action plan to unlock the full potential of women’s entrepreneurship and boost female employment in tourism and transport SMEs;

11. Highlights the efforts of certain European cities to deal with the negative impact of short-term rentals in the context of the right to housing and looks forward to the findings of the study currently being undertaken by the Commission, in the hope of reconciling business activity with the public interest, particularly in the case of SMEs.

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

12.10.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

47

0

0

Members present for the final vote

Andris Ameriks, José Ramón Bauzá Díaz, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Marco Campomenosi, Ciarán Cuffe, Jakop G. Dalunde, Johan Danielsson, Andor Deli, Karima Delli, Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, Ismail Ertug, Gheorghe Falcă, Giuseppe Ferrandino, Mario Furore, Søren Gade, Isabel García Muñoz, Elsi Katainen, Kateřina Konečná, Elena Kountoura, Julie Lechanteux, Bogusław Liberadzki, Benoît Lutgen, Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska, Marian-Jean Marinescu, Tilly Metz, Giuseppe Milazzo, Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar, Caroline Nagtegaal, Jan-Christoph Oetjen, Philippe Olivier, Rovana Plumb, Dominique Riquet, Dorien Rookmaker, Massimiliano Salini, Barbara Thaler, István Ujhelyi, Petar Vitanov, Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi, Lucia Vuolo, Roberts Zīle

Substitutes present for the final vote

Angel Dzhambazki, Markus Ferber, Tomasz Frankowski, Roman Haider, Anne-Sophie Pelletier, Markus Pieper, Marianne Vind

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

47

+

PPE

Andor Deli, Gheorghe Falcă, Markus Ferber, Tomasz Frankowski, Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska, Benoît Lutgen, Marian‑Jean Marinescu, Giuseppe Milazzo, Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar, Markus Pieper, Massimiliano Salini, Barbara Thaler, Elissavet Vozemberg‑Vrionidi

S&D

Andris Ameriks, Johan Danielsson, Ismail Ertug, Giuseppe Ferrandino, Isabel García Muñoz, Bogusław Liberadzki, Rovana Plumb, István Ujhelyi, Marianne Vind, Petar Vitanov

Renew

José Ramón Bauzá Díaz, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Søren Gade, Elsi Katainen, Caroline Nagtegaal, Jan‑Christoph Oetjen, Dominique Riquet

ECR

Angel Dzhambazki, Roberts Zīle

Verts/ALE

Ciarán Cuffe, Jakop G. Dalunde, Karima Delli, Anna Deparnay‑Grunenberg, Tilly Metz

GUE/NGL

Kateřina Konečná, Elena Kountoura, Anne‑Sophie Pelletier

ID

Marco Campomenosi, Roman Haider, Julie Lechanteux, Philippe Olivier, Lucia Vuolo

NI

Mario Furore, Dorien Rookmaker

 

 

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT (24.9.2020)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on a new strategy for European SMEs

(2020/2131(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: Pina Picierno

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

 having regard to the Commission communication of 10 March 2020 entitled ‘An SME Strategy for a sustainable and digital Europe’ (COM(2020)0103),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 20 May 2020 entitled ‘A Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system’ (COM(2020)0381),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 20 May 2020 entitled ‘EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030’ (COM(2020)0380),

A. whereas Europe’s 25 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) employ around 100 million people and account for more than half of Europe’s GDP; whereas they are among the social and economic mainstays of Europe, for example in terms of regional enhancement, planning and cohesion in rural areas and elsewhere;

B. whereas, according to Commission data, in 2017 there were 22 000 agri-cooperatives and 289 000 food and drink companies in Europe, 90 % of which were SMEs and many of which were operating in rural areas; whereas these companies play a vital role in the rural economy;

C. whereas the European Green Deal involves a wide range of deeply transformative policies for farmers and other operators in rural areas, including the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, as well as biodiversity strategies, whose successful implementation will depend to a large extent on the coherence of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and of the Member States’ Strategic Plans with the strategies’ respective goals; whereas SMEs have a key role to play in the achievement of Green Deal targets;

D. whereas the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the precarious financial situation of SMEs, many of which will not recover as a result of the confinement measures, which had the strongest impact on sales to the HoReCa sector and to third countries;

E. whereas SMEs were hardest hit by the impact of the health crisis, which forced many of them out of business;

F. whereas the EU has traditionally supported family farms, which are typically SMEs, and wants to continue to support them; whereas the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy is also aimed at such farms;

1. Welcomes the fact that the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy takes into account the diversity of SMEs in terms of business models, size, age and entrepreneurial profiles; stresses that the strategy should take into account their economic and social impact on the areas or sectors in which they operate;

2. Recalls that food production and processing is an essential sector in which SMEs play a very large role and that this sector will be crucial in the COVID-19 recovery period; highlights that a recovery based on the European Green Deal and the digital transition is an opportunity to accelerate and take advantage of the green and digital transformations; considers that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the need for enterprises in the social economy such as small-scale food distributors and for support for those active in the health and transport sector; believes that the pandemic has also highlighted the need to pay special attention to supporting agri-tourism activities carried out by SMEs through a specific allocation in the recovery plan in order to assist and support agri-tourism enterprises in overcoming the impact of the crisis; emphasises, in this regard, the capacity of SMEs in the agricultural sector to adapt to market needs; points out the deficiencies in the functioning of green lanes during the confinement period, due to the lack of harmonisation of procedures between Member States, and the resulting negative impact on agri-food SMEs, and stresses the need to prevent disruptions in the single market in order to guarantee the supply of goods; recalls that it is essential to guarantee free movement for seasonal workers in this sector in order to avoid any future labour shortages;

3. Highlights that SMEs are key elements of economic development and employment in rural areas, where they account for about 75 % of total employment[30]; stresses that agriculture is and must remain an essential and systemically important sector for the EU, which, as a primary industry in which employment is strongly linked to the land and being unsuited to delocalisation, supplies high-quality raw materials for the secondary sector and the food industry in the interests of European consumers; considers that microenterprises and SMEs, alongside rural enterprises and farms, play a key role in sustainable regional development through the deployment of their resources into food production and other goods and services, including environmental services; stresses that promoting diversification, for example through agri-tourism, direct marketing, social services or other farm-based activities, forms an important entrepreneurial basis that complements farm income, and highlights the need to boost entrepreneurship support via training, innovation, accessible investment and R&D for SMEs in the food supply chain;

4. Welcomes the Commission’s intention to tailor solutions to help SME food processors and small retail and food service operators to develop new skills and business models, while avoiding additional administrative and cost burdens, and to provide advisory services through the Enterprise Europe Network, within the framework of the new ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy;

5. Welcomes the Commission’s temporary framework on State aid in the context of the severe consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will increase the State aid limits, allowing Member States to grant up to EUR 100 000 per individual farm and up to EUR 800 000 for food processing and marketing companies; welcomes the new temporary measure set out under the Rural Development Regulation[31], allowing EU Member States to offer support of up to EUR 7 000 per farmer and EUR 50 000 per SME;

6. Points out that agricultural production is characterised by fluctuating demand for labour and is seasonal in nature; stresses the need for a thorough understanding of employment and costs in agriculture in order to respond to unexpected fluctuations;

7. Highlights that women represent only 30 % of EU farm managers and often have significantly smaller farms than men; stresses the need to promote and support female entrepreneurship in agriculture through targeted measures and to support diversity in SMEs, in the context of a shortage of skilled employees and the underrepresentation of women in entrepreneurship; considers that enhanced access to continuous education, training and further training, including in managerial skills and expertise, is critical for SMEs, should include appropriate mentoring, coaching, skilling and up-skilling schemes, with a special focus on potential female entrepreneurs, and is essential for seizing technological and innovation opportunities and continuously optimising productivity in the agricultural sector within a sustainable economy; calls, furthermore, for support for entrepreneurial initiatives, skills and competences and for the continuous and targeted promotion of vocational education and training for women in rural areas;

8. Considers that free trade agreements concluded between the EU and its global partners should not put at risk sensitive EU agricultural industries but should rather be an opportunity for SMEs in the agricultural sector; considers it extremely important for the Commission to avoid measures which may hamper SME competitiveness or the free market principle and to focus on removing barriers within the single market in order to strengthen and diversify short supply chains in the agri-food sector; considers that efforts to enhance SMEs’ market share and develop new market outlets in third countries, including through dialogue, the exchange of good practices with trade partners and a new information portal, may be made where they do not hamper the food security of the parties concerned and are consistent with existing climate commitments; insists on the future continuation of European product promotion campaigns in third countries; underlines that a coherent trade policy is crucial in order to avoid unfair competition from products imported from third countries which do not meet European standards;

9. Believes that decades of globalisation have resulted in de-industrialisation and the relocation of strategic sectors such as food and health in the EU and worldwide; underlines the important lessons of the COVID-19 crisis, namely the need to rethink the way the economy functions and the implications of this for EU policy-making; stresses the particular need to reform and align EU policies; points out that the CAP and trade policy must be adapted to step up food security in the EU, for example through the relocation of sustainable agricultural and food production throughout the EU;

10. Notes that animal diseases such as African swine fever, peste des petits ruminants, lumpy skin disease and others have had and/or are still having a very negative impact on SMEs in the agri-food sector and have caused businesses to close, which has had serious socio-economic consequences for local economies; calls on the administrations responsible to ensure equal treatment and provide a rapid and fair response and support to the businesses affected;

11. Points out that the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy will affect most farmers, whose operations are often small family businesses operating on low margins; believes that all types of agriculture can benefit from this strategy; stresses that the strategy can create opportunities for local value chains composed of small farmers and food companies; welcomes, in this context, the Commission’s intention to scale up and promote circular business models to provide new entrepreneurial opportunities, including by making use of food waste, and supports specific measures tailored to agri-food SMEs; calls for sufficient and adequate support for the transition to sustainable practices, including through financial instruments (in particular in the framework of the CAP, cohesion policy and the recovery plan), and stresses that special attention should be paid to small and medium-sized farms and SMEs in the agricultural and food sector in order to support them in investing in regionalised organic supply chains and so that they are not disadvantaged or administratively overburdened by the implementation of the strategy; considers it important to reinforce support for innovative investments made by SMEs to assist them in making the ecological transition while enhancing their economic resilience;

12. Recalls that the digital transition is a major issue for SMEs in the agri-food sector and elsewhere; stresses the need to promote digital training and upskilling as well as for support and advice for SMEs in terms of sustainability and digitalisation; highlights the need to increase access to and the availability of broadband in all rural areas and peripheral regions in order to facilitate the establishment of SMEs and to promote innovative production methods such as precision farming, given that the competitiveness of SMEs is increasingly linked to the reliable functioning of digital infrastructure and services; considers, furthermore, that within the SME strategy, priority must be given to the provision of basic digital skills to all non-digital SMEs, including information on their rights and obligations within digitalisation, and that this need is particularly acute in sectors which have a high proportion of SMEs and in which digitalisation is not yet developed; calls, therefore, for targeted measures to support innovative SMEs in delivering sustainable and green-tech innovations and highlights the importance of developing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies tailored to the agri-food sector;

13. Supports the Commission’s call for Member States and contracting authorities to divide large public procurement contracts into smaller lots, given the potential of this approach to facilitate the participation of agri-food SMEs in public procurement and thereby contribute to shortening and diversifying supply chains, in line with the goals of the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy; calls for more guidance for public authorities and SMEs on existing flexibilities and the adaptation of public procurement rules to this end;

14. Stresses that SMEs in rural areas, especially those located in peripheral rural areas, often face distinctive and more challenging operating conditions, such as small local markets and long distances to major markets, fewer transport connections, poor digital connectivity and fewer training opportunities; emphasises the need for appropriate policy design and support with respect to market development, exports and marketing for rural SMEs;

15. Considers that the next CAP reform should strongly pursue the simplification of administrative procedures, as red tape puts small and medium-sized holdings at a considerable disadvantage in comparison with larger ones;

16. Is of the opinion that the CAP reform should deliver more balanced support for small and medium-sized farms and that EU support should prioritise the family farm model;

17. Calls for a strong CAP budget that meets the new Green Deal challenges and asks that the Next Generation EU allocation to the CAP prioritise support to small and medium-sized enterprises;

18. Notes the high level of fragmentation in primary agricultural production compared to other food chain operators, to the detriment of the bargaining power of small farmers, and considers it necessary to reinforce derogations from and adaptations of EU competition rules in the agricultural sector to establish a better balance between the different operators; welcomes the new legislation on unfair trading practices[32] and recognises it as a first important step in the direction of harmonising the rules at EU level, which would benefit the bargaining power of SMEs in the agri-food sector, but regrets that sales at a loss are not covered by the directive; emphasises that EU and national authorities must strengthen their efforts to protect SMEs from unfair market practices that can result from the abuse of dominant market positions, whether by large suppliers, processors or customers, calls for stricter application of the Late Payment Directive[33], and urges the Commission to improve monitoring and enforcement;

19. Strongly supports the application of the ‘Think Small First’ principle/SME test across all legislative proposals, and in particular in tailoring the measures relevant to rural SMEs in the new ‘Farm to Fork’ and biodiversity strategies, and therefore asks the Commission to conduct proper impact assessments;

20. Considers that support under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) is very important for farms and SMEs in the agri-food sector and could be targeted towards farms and other businesses in rural areas, which may include SMEs, to ensure long-term development, diversification and sustainability throughout the company lifecycle; welcomes the decision to earmark 2 % of unspent EAFRD appropriations for crisis measures that could save the SMEs hardest hit by the pandemic fallout;

21. Points out that many EU rural areas are also zones where high-quality agricultural products and foodstuffs are produced; underlines the importance of cooperatives in agri-food sectors and their social added value for rural areas; stresses the importance of SMEs in the agri-tourism sector and their role in ensuring vibrant rural areas by providing employment; asks, therefore, for support to those SMEs, which are often family businesses, and in particular for broadband access and connectivity to aid the promotion of their products in the single market and, where appropriate, in addressing trade barriers in third countries; calls for the development of an EU e-label, where applicable, to provide online consumers with a modern and digital list of ingredients and nutritional information; stresses that promoting the concept of diversification, for example through agri-tourism, direct marketing, social services or other activities on the farm, is an important entrepreneurial basis and can help to ensure a sufficient income for agricultural enterprises;

22. Calls on the Commission to ensure full and homogenous enforcement of the Late Payment Directive and the Directive on Unfair Trading Practices in order to improve the functioning of the entire food supply chain within the EU single market and strengthen the bargaining position of farms, cooperatives and agri-food SMEs;

23. Urges local, regional and national authorities to support and encourage the use of EU and/or national and regional agri-food quality schemes, especially among SMEs, as a means to create jobs and preserve traditional production practices and culinary heritage;

24. Regrets that the new provisions proposed by the Commission in the context of the Rural Development Regulation to help farmers overcome the crisis are discriminatory towards countries that do not have funds left at the end of the programming period and that this unbalanced situation may end up distorting competition between Member States;

25. Recalls that some sectors such as beekeeping are managed mostly by micro- or SMEs which do not have the same financial liquidity as larger enterprises, which in turn makes it harder to get loans or other similar financial instruments in order to grow or develop; notes that factors such as price pressure and uncontrolled use or overuse of plant protection products in some regions have had devastating economic effects on beekeepers and SMEs, whose business hinges upon them;

26. Considers that improved quality of services and facilities in the general interest is as important in rural areas as in urban areas; stresses that everyday services such as childcare, care for the elderly, healthcare and schools lead to improved living standards in rural areas and minimise rural depopulation;

27. Points out that only 11 % of EU farms, mostly SMEs, are run by people under 40; commends the existing measures to support young farmers, such as the Young Farmer Payment (YFP); notes, nonetheless, that poor information flows and administrative burdens may lead to young farmers missing out on EU subsidies; calls, therefore, for additional targeted measures for young farmers; urges support for improved knowledge transfer between generations of farmers and for generational renewal in agriculture;

28. Calls for support for work-life balance initiatives in order to take account of the needs of farming families and to ensure appropriate measures such as parental leave and the provision of replacement workers in the event of illness;

29. Notes that the development of effective bioenergy competence centres is crucial in adequately addressing the need for solutions to climate change and could therefore enable the shift towards carbon-neutral agriculture by 2050 to become one of the pillars of the Green Deal;

30. Stresses that bioenergy from agriculture and forestry for mobile and stationary use is already the fastest and cheapest possible development in the mobility and heating sector and can be rapidly expanded in the future, within reasonable sustainable limits, with maximum CO2 efficiency; points out that it would further contribute to regional added value creation and a significant reduction in CO2;

31. Calls on the Commission to support entrepreneurship by improving the business environment in rural areas through measures to promote sustainable growth, rapid access to flexible small-scale funding (including solidarity savings) and broadband internet access throughout the EU;

32. Considers that provisions should be included in public procurement procedures that enable SMEs, particularly local SMEs, to participate in calls for tender, thus supporting low- and zero-mile products;

33. Stresses the importance of providing diversified SME funding in the farming sector.

 

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

22.9.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

44

1

2

Members present for the final vote

Mazaly Aguilar, Clara Aguilera, Atidzhe Alieva-Veli, Álvaro Amaro, Attila Ara-Kovács, Carmen Avram, Adrian-Dragoş Benea, Benoît Biteau, Mara Bizzotto, Daniel Buda, Isabel Carvalhais, Asger Christensen, Angelo Ciocca, Ivan David, Paolo De Castro, Jérémy Decerle, Salvatore De Meo, Herbert Dorfmann, Luke Ming Flanagan, Cristian Ghinea, Francisco Guerreiro, Martin Häusling, Martin Hlaváček, Krzysztof Jurgiel, Jarosław Kalinowski, Elsi Katainen, Gilles Lebreton, Norbert Lins, Chris MacManus, Marlene Mortler, Ulrike Müller, Maria Noichl, Juozas Olekas, Pina Picierno, Maxette Pirbakas, Eugenia Rodríguez Palop, Bronis Ropė, Bert-Jan Ruissen, Anne Sander, Petri Sarvamaa, Simone Schmiedtbauer, Annie Schreijer-Pierik, Veronika Vrecionová, Juan Ignacio Zoido Álvarez

Substitutes present for the final vote

Claude Gruffat, Michaela Šojdrová, Marc Tarabella

 

 

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

44

+

EPP

Álvaro Amaro, Daniel Buda, Salvatore De Meo, Herbert Dorfmann, Jarosław Kalinowski, Norbert Lins, Marlene Mortler, Anne Sander, Petri Sarvamaa, Simone Schmiedtbauer, Annie Schreijer‑Pierik, Juan Ignacio Zoido Álvarez, Michaela Šojdrová

S&D

Clara Aguilera, Attila Ara‑Kovács, Carmen Avram, Adrian‑Dragoş Benea, Isabel Carvalhais, Paolo De Castro, Maria Noichl, Juozas Olekas, Pina Picierno, Marc Tarabella

RENEW

Atidzhe Alieva‑Veli, Asger Christensen, Jérémy Decerle, Cristian Ghinea, Martin Hlaváček, Elsi Katainen, Ulrike Müller

ID

Mara Bizzotto, Angelo Ciocca, Ivan David, Gilles Lebreton, Maxette Pirbakas

GREENS/EFA

Benoît Biteau, Claude Gruffat, Francisco Guerreiro, Martin Häusling, Bronis Ropė

ECR

Mazaly Aguilar, Krzysztof Jurgiel, Bert‑Jan Ruissen, Veronika Vrecionová

 

1

EUL/NGL

Luke Ming Flanagan

 

2

0

EUL/NGL

Chris MacManus, Eugenia Rodríguez Palop

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON CULTURE AND EDUCATION (5.10.2020)

for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

on a new strategy for European SMEs

(2020/2131(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: Victor Negrescu

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Culture and Education calls on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1. Reiterates the importance of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as the backbone of the EU economy, including in smaller Member States; notes that SMEs are particularly vulnerable to economic shocks due to their limited liquidity reserves and high labour intensity; underlines that the COVID-19 crisis has had an unprecedented socio-economic impact on SMEs, especially in the cultural and creative sectors and industries (CCSIs), education, youth, sports and media; stresses that, due to the specificities of these sectors, the European cultural and creative sectors and industries are in the grip of the biggest crisis they have ever faced; calls on the Commission to revise its SME strategy for sustainable and digital Europe, focusing its support on SMEs to help them survive the crisis and to play a key role in the sustainable recovery of our European economy, ensuring that funds allocated to European SMEs are widely and readily accessible across Member States in order to enable them to address current challenges, maintain high levels of quality employment and put job retention schemes in place;

2. Stresses the importance of SMEs in the CCSIs in terms of employment and economic growth, as the CCSIs alone contribute more than 8.7 million full-time jobs, of which many are in SMEs (3.8 % of the EU’s workforce); recalls the specificity of the CCSIs, which are mainly based on SME ecosystems; underlines that many SMEs in the CCSIs have higher risk profiles, therefore highlights the importance of providing support for project development and capacity building for these SMEs; emphasises that within the CCSIs, the live sector was hit the hardest by the COVID-19 crisis, with live venues for music and performing arts, including festivals, being the first ones to be closed and the last ones to reopen, which is why the live sector needs particular support; stresses the need to draw lessons from the current crisis and create a common EU-coordinated ready-to-go plan to lessen the impact of future crises on SMEs; recommends the inclusion of tailor-made crisis support schemes to address the challenges faced by the different sectors affected;

3. Reiterates the importance of accessible funding for SMEs across Europe, especially in the CCSIs, and in the educational, youth, media and sports sectors; calls on the Council to increase funding and on the Commission to increase the accessibility of funding, including public funding, in particular in the upcoming InvestEU programme, and to provide equal financial opportunities in all EU Member States;

4. Highlights that cultural tourism accounts for 40 % of all European tourism; stresses the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 on the tourism and travel sector; calls, therefore, for the development of a Crisis Management Mechanism with concrete measures in order to respond to the needs of the SMEs in cultural tourism;

5. Welcomes the deployment of the European instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) and calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure sufficient financial support for SMEs in the cultural and creative sector, especially in the hardest hit regions;

6. Strongly condemns the lack of ambition of the revised proposal on the next MFF concerning sufficient funding for the CCSIs, and the lack of specific financial support for these sectors in the new Recovery Plan; considers the current proposals unacceptable and believes that they will have a negative impact on the sector; reiterates the need for increased financial support as a foundation for the next generation to build a sustainable future; considers, in this context, that these objectives can be successfully achieved only if the Commission and Member States increase the budget of some of the most successful Union programmes; recalls, in this respect, Parliament’s mandate for the future MFF programmes to triple the Erasmus+ budget, to double the Creative Europe budget and to restore the amount proposed by the Commission for the European Solidarity Corps; considers that these figures have become more relevant than ever to combat the current crisis; considering that the CCSIs account for 8.7 million jobs and 4 % of the EU’s GDP, calls on the Commission and the Member States to earmark, according to their specific needs, at least 2 % of the Recovery and Resilience Facility for the recovery of the CCSIs; highlights that this percentage should reflect the importance of the industry; reiterates the need for precise programming and financial plans designed to ensure the continuity of the CCSIs’ activities and to offer predictability to the people active in the field;

7. Reiterates the importance of accessible funding for SMEs across Europe, especially in the cultural, creative, educational, youth, media and sports sectors; recognises that the intangible nature of activities in these sectors can limit their access to financial support; welcomes the recent enhancements to the Cultural and Creative Sectors Guarantee Facility (CCSGF),which, during the last budget period from 2014 to 2020 benefited SMEs by securing loans for initiatives in the CCSIs; calls on the Commission to ensure that the CCSGF is included under the InvestEU Programme to improve access to finance for several enterprises operating in the CCSIs during the COVID-19 crisis and calls for an extension of the CCSGF with increased flexibility for repayment arrangements for SMEs; calls on the Commission to ensure that the CCSIs are adequately included in all programmes for entrepreneurship such as the EU programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs (COSME) and Horizon Europe;

8. Emphasises the important role of Horizon Europe in helping the CCSIs to innovate and develop new technologies that can have a positive impact on open and pluralistic cultural creative participation; welcomes, in this context, the creation of a CCI Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) under the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) strategy; underlines the need to simplify the procedures for SMEs in CCIs when applying for funds and calls for a one-stop-shop solution for SMEs applying for funds under Union programmes;

9. Highlights the need for appropriate and effective rules for the implementation and utilisation of cohesion policies for SMEs in the CCSIs; emphasises the importance of synergy between different initiatives and the funding available for SMEs, and notes that SMEs still struggle with adequate access to funds, particularly for long-term and innovative projects;

10. Notes the increased demand for digital cultural content, especially during different confinement phases; points out that a low level of digitalisation will hinder economic convergence and growth prospects in many sectors; underlines, therefore, the need for further investment in digitalisation of European SMEs across sectors; acknowledges the increased opportunities created by digitalisation in general and in the CCSIs in particular; calls for additional support for SMEs, which will promote greater accessibility of digital cultural and educational content; urges that a digital level playing field be built, taking into account the challenges of SMEs in the CCSIs, such as interoperability in the EU, the digital divide, as well as equal internet access; emphasises the need for further investment in skills, in particular digital and entrepreneurial skills, which need to be one of the central themes of the curricula within all stages of education, as well as being included as basic skills in the training plans for workers and the unemployed, all coordinated in the digital education action plan in order to ensure a comprehensive and sustainable digital transformation process, thereby protecting employment and enhancing social inclusion; calls for a European initiative on entrepreneurial education in order to prepare the next generation of European SMEs, especially in the CCSIs, and also to provide guidance and support to existing SMEs in adapting to current challenges through programmes including lifelong learning; reiterates the importance of Erasmus+ apprenticeship and entrepreneur exchanges, and calls for more, similar initiatives using new formats and tools; calls for an improved platform providing information on European assistance to young entrepreneurs, start-ups, scale-ups and existing SMEs;

11. Calls on the Commission to develop an integrated support plan for SMEs using cross-financing mechanisms available at European level, as well as synergies with the national and local initiatives, in order to support SMEs facing major challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide the financial means for the establishment of new entrepreneurial initiatives; underlines that ensuring diversity among SMEs in the CCSIs will safeguard cultural diversity, help counteract authoritarianism and thus protect our European values; emphasises the importance of improving regulation, as SMEs in particular suffer the consequences of inefficient regulation and unnecessary administrative burdens; highlights that deeper integration within the single market is also crucial for the competitiveness and existence of SMEs;

12. Stresses the need for the involvement of young people in entrepreneurial activities; recognises and values entrepreneurial efforts in the education sector, especially in the case of SMEs and cooperatives that allow diversification in the education system and in the models offered to families so that they can choose freely; calls on the Commission and the Member States to foster entrepreneurial education and create tailor-made support measures enabling access to entrepreneurship and self-employed activities for all Europeans with a special focus on people with fewer opportunities;

13. Calls on the Commission, in close cooperation with the Member States, local authorities and social partners, to establish a European initiative aimed at creating more than one million new start-ups in the EU offering entrepreneurship opportunities across Europe;

14. Stresses the key role of SMEs in the sports sector in ensuring and promoting healthy lifestyles, intercultural dialogue and educational and professional opportunities for all; calls, therefore, for greater attention to be paid to the sports dimension under the Erasmus+ programme.

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

1.10.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

28

1

1

Members present for the final vote

Asim Ademov, Isabella Adinolfi, Christine Anderson, Andrea Bocskor, Vlad-Marius Botoş, Ilana Cicurel, Gilbert Collard, Gianantonio Da Re, Laurence Farreng, Tomasz Frankowski, Hannes Heide, Irena Joveva, Petra Kammerevert, Niyazi Kizilyürek, Predrag Fred Matić, Dace Melbārde, Victor Negrescu, Niklas Nienaß, Marcos Ros Sempere, Domènec Ruiz Devesa, Andrey Slabakov, Michaela Šojdrová, Sabine Verheyen, Salima Yenbou, Milan Zver

Substitutes present for the final vote

Pernando Barrena Arza, Łukasz Kohut, Marcel Kolaja, Elżbieta Kruk, Željana Zovko

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

28

+

PPE

Asim Ademov, Andrea Bocskor, Tomasz Frankowski, Michaela Šojdrová, Sabine Verheyen, Željana Zovko, Milan Zver

S&D

Hannes Heide, Petra Kammerevert, Lukasz Kohut, Predrag Fred Matić, Victor Negrescu, Marcos Ros Sempere, Domènec Ruiz Devesa

RENEW

Vlad-Marius Botoş, Ilana Cicurel, Laurence Farreng, Irena Joveva

ID

Gilbert Collard

VERTS/ALE

Marcel Kolaja, Niklas Nienaß, Salima Yenbou

ECR

Elżbieta Kruk, Dace Melbārde, Andrey Slabakov

GUE/NGL

Pernando Barrena Arza, Niyazi Kizilyürek

NI

Isabella Adinolfi

 

1

ID

Christine Anderson

 

1

0

ID

Gianantonio Da Re

 

 

 

LETTER OF THE COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AFFAIRS

Mr Cristian‑Silviu Buşoi

Chair

Committee on Industry, Research and Energy

BRUSSELS

Dear Mr Chair,

The Committee on Legal Affairs has been authorised on 2 September 2020. to submit an opinion to your committee under the above-mentioned procedure. Mr Gilles Lebreton was appointed rapporteur for the opinion. Given the regrettably short period given to opinion giving committees to adopt their opinions in the timeframe set by your committee, the Committee on Legal Affairs eventually decided to send the opinion in the form of a letter.

The opinion below was adopted at the committee meeting on 1 October 2020[34]. The Committee on Legal Affairs decided to call on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution.

I trust that this will make a useful contribution into the report drafted by your Committee.

Yours sincerely,

Adrián Vázquez Lázara

 

SUGGESTIONS

1. Underlines that operating environment for SMEs needs to improve and that the EU legislation has to produce benefits without imposing unnecessary burdens on citizens and businesses, as SMEs are in particular affected by costs created by legislation -, given their limited human and financial resources; reiterates in this regard the importance of the principle ‘think small first’ and the systematic application of the SME test for EU legislation as well as the Commission’s commitment towards the one-in, one-out principle for new legislation.

 

2. Underlines that European SMEs have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, considers that the latter has highlighted some weaknesses in European industrial policy, in particular its dependence vis-à-vis third countries and should prompt the European Union to improve independent European production chains; therefore the EU should better defend its strategic interests by improving the protection and promotion of SMEs in order to help them fully grasp the opportunities and respond robustly to the challenges they and our society are facing these days; stresses that the new strategy should have a long-term vision, with a focus on the local level to avoid the breaking up of supply chains;

 

3. Welcomes the enhanced role that the InvestEU programme and the SME window therein will play in the recovery plan, which should serve as the main financial tool to consolidate their business models and to help them invest into corporate governance projects, which will boost competitiveness and market-based innovation;

 

4. Stresses that it is of crucial importance to encourage the relocation of strategic industries and favour and develop short circuits wherever possible in order to create jobs in Europe and to bring SME ecosystems closer to consumers;

 

5. Urges the Commission to present an ambitious and efficient legal framework at EU level, based on due diligence obligations, to ensure sustainable supply chains for the European Union, therefore defending sustainable European SMEs;

 

6. Urges the Commission to fight more effectively against unfair competition impacting the consumers and weakening primarily the SMEs, based on products coming from third countries which do not comply with the technical, environmental, health, social or intellectual property standards of the European Union, among others through an introduction obligation of the recently introduced but so far only optional ‘Import One Stop Shop’ for VAT collection;

 

7. Welcomes the new VAT scheme for small businesses, which should reduce red tape and administrative burdens for SMEs and create a level playing field for businesses;

 

8. Welcomes the “SME programme”, launched in 2020 by EUIPO, which aims enabling SMEs to exploit the full potential of legal guarantees arising from intellectual property law;

 

9. Stresses the need to give special attention to growth-oriented sectors in the Single Market such as the sharing economy, which attracts innovative start-ups, and to allow creative business models to use regulatory sandboxes at EU level to reduce the cost of innovation for start-ups and work on ways to eliminate barriers to entry itself;

 

10. Stresses the need of sustainable finance to overcome the current investment gap and to reinforce the leading role that European SMEs already play in developing innovations that address the aims of the Green Deal and the Just Transition Fund (JTF);

 

11. Recalls the need to ensure that SMEs really benefit from Directive 2011/7/EU against late payment in commercial transactions, and to encourage Member States to use the possibility provided for in Article 12.3 of the Directive to adopt provisions that are even more favourable to SMEs;

 

12. Welcomes the Solvency Support Instrument that the Commission presented as part of its Next Generation EU package, which will provide much needed support for the solvency of SMEs in the post-COVID recovery, whereby this instrument needs to ensure that SMEs receive support with efficient processes and should be operational as soon as possible to complement actions by Member States;

 

13. Calls on the Commission to have an active role in supporting Member States in transposing Directive (EU) 2019/1023 on preventive restructuring frameworks and on procedures concerning restructuring insolvency and discharge of debt in order notably for small and medium sized companies to avoid bankruptcy;

 

14. Considers necessary to grant European SMEs’ and start-ups a preferential access to public procurements and venture capital, to reduce the administrative burdens and to develop a policy of ease and support for innovation which may lead to the filing of patents;

 

15. Encourages the introduction of policies which facilitate self-employed people’s access to social protection systems, particularly women entrepreneurs; calls on the Commission to increase financing opportunities for women entrepreneurs and improve access to existing funds.

 

16. Encourages the introduction of criteria to favour regional products and services in public procurement and suggests to increase thresholds for public tenders where appropriate in order to strengthen SMEs;

 

17. Stresses the need to better protect SMEs and start-ups and to encourage public authorities and civil society to invest in research regarding Artificial Intelligence and other future-oriented technologies such as robotics, Big Data, smart good and services or block chain, in full compliance with the legal and ethical standards to be set up at EU level, many European SMEs being prepared to enhance their efforts in that field;

 

18. Considers that a major challenge for ensuring SMEs competitiveness in the coming years will be to develop a fast, secure and reliable 5G internet network throughout the European Union and to ensure Europe’s digital independence, particularly in terms of networks and data storage;

 

19. Recalls the need to ensure that SMEs are aware of their rights and the various support possibilities that are available; therefore stresses the need for a strengthened information exchange between SMES and Member States;

 

20. Calls on the Commission to ensure a balanced EU data policy providing legal certainty for the use and a framework for the availability of data for digital innovations in services, products and to improve business models, especially for SMEs;

 

21. Calls on the Commission to conduct a study on the various stock option schemes for SMEs and startups’ across Europe as attractive stock options would allow European founders to compete with their worldwide counterparts by selling a share in their idea to high-skilled employees.

 

 

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

Date adopted

12.11.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

69

4

0

Members present for the final vote

François Alfonsi, Nicola Beer, Hildegard Bentele, Tom Berendsen, Vasile Blaga, Michael Bloss, Manuel Bompard, Paolo Borchia, Marc Botenga, Markus Buchheit, Cristian-Silviu Buşoi, Jerzy Buzek, Carlo Calenda, Maria da Graça Carvalho, Ignazio Corrao, Ciarán Cuffe, Josianne Cutajar, Nicola Danti, Pilar del Castillo Vera, Martina Dlabajová, Christian Ehler, Valter Flego, Niels Fuglsang, Lina Gálvez Muñoz, Claudia Gamon, Nicolás González Casares, Bart Groothuis, Christophe Grudler, András Gyürk, Henrike Hahn, Robert Hajšel, Ivo Hristov, Ivars Ijabs, Romana Jerković, Eva Kaili, Seán Kelly, Izabela-Helena Kloc, Łukasz Kohut, Andrius Kubilius, Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Thierry Mariani, Eva Maydell, Joëlle Mélin, Iskra Mihaylova, Dan Nica, Angelika Niebler, Ville Niinistö, Aldo Patriciello, Mauri Pekkarinen, Tsvetelina Penkova, Morten Petersen, Markus Pieper, Clara Ponsatí Obiols, Sira Rego, Manuela Ripa, Jérôme Rivière, Robert Roos, Maria Spyraki, Jessica Stegrud, Beata Szydło, Grzegorz Tobiszowski, Patrizia Toia, Evžen Tošenovský, Marie Toussaint, Isabella Tovaglieri, Henna Virkkunen, Pernille Weiss, Carlos Zorrinho

Substitutes present for the final vote

Jens Gieseke, Elena Lizzi, Marian-Jean Marinescu, Sandra Pereira, Massimiliano Salini

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

69

+

EPP

Hildegard Bentele, Tom Berendsen, Vasile Blaga, Cristian-Silviu Buşoi, Jerzy Buzek, Maria Da Graça Carvalho, Pilar Del Castillo Vera, Christian Ehler, Jens Gieseke, András Gyürk, Seán Kelly, Andrius Kubilius, Marian-Jean Marinescu, Eva Maydell, Angelika Niebler, Aldo Patriciello, Markus Pieper, Massimiliano Salini, Maria Spyraki, Henna Virkkunen, Pernille Weiss

S&D

Carlo Calenda, Josianne Cutajar, Niels Fuglsang, Lina Gálvez Muñoz, Nicolás González Casares, Robert Hajšel, Ivo Hristov, Romana Jerković, Eva Kaili, Łukasz Kohut, Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Dan Nica, Tsvetelina Penkova, Patrizia Toia, Carlos Zorrinho

RENEW

Nicola Beer, Nicola Danti, Martina Dlabajová, Valter Flego, Claudia Gamon, Bart Groothuis, Christophe Grudler, Ivars Ijabs, Iskra Mihaylova, Mauri Pekkarinen, Morten Petersen

ID

Paolo Borchia, Markus Buchheit, Elena Lizzi, Thierry Mariani, Joëlle Mélin, Jérôme Rivière, Isabella Tovaglieri

Greens

François Alfonsi, Michael Bloss, Ciarán Cuffe, Henrike Hahn, Ville Niinistö, Manuela Ripa, Marie Toussaint

ECR

Izabela-Helena Kloc, Robert Roos, Jessica Stegrud, Beata Szydło, Grzegorz Tobiszowski, Evžen Tošenovský

NI

Ignazio Corrao, Clara Ponsatí Obiols

 

4

GUE

Manuel Bompard, Marc Botenga, Sandra Pereira, Sira Rego

 

 

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

[1] OJ L 124, 20.5.2003, p. 36.

[2] OJ L 48, 23.2.2011, p. 1.

[3] OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 33.

[4] OJ C 68E, 7.3.2014, p. 40.

[5] OJ C 316, 22.9.2017, p. 57.

[9] OJ C 377 E, 7.12.2012, p. 102.

[10] WHO Director General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19, 11 March 2020.

[12] OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2020, Issue I

[14] Report prepared for the European Commission and the European Investment Bank by Innovation Finance Advisory, Funding women entrepreneurs – How to empower growth, June 2020.

[15] Commission communication of 19 February 2020 on a European strategy for data (COM(2020)0066).

[16] Report for the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy presented by the Centre for European Policy Studies, Feasibility Study: Introducing ‘one-in-one-out’ in the European Commission, , 5 December 2019.

[17] Directive (EU) 2019/1023 of 20 June 2019 on preventive restructuring frameworks, on discharge of debt and disqualifications, and on measures to increase the efficiency of procedures concerning restructuring, insolvency and discharge of debt, and amending Directive (EU) 2017/1132. OJ L 172, 26.6.2019, p. 18.

[18] OJ L 48, 23.2.2011, p. 1.

[19] OJ L 241, 27.7.2020, p. 36.

[20] OJ L 178, 17.7.2000, p. 1.

[21] Special Report No 17/2020 entitled ‘Trade defence instruments: system for protecting EU businesses from dumped and subsidised imports functions well’.

[26] OJ C 212, 26.6.2020, p. 8.

[29] Directive 2011/7/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 2011 on combating late payment in commercial transactions, OJ L 48, 23.2.2011, p.1.

[30] European Spatial Planning Observation Network (ESPON) report of 31 January 2018 on small and medium-sized enterprises in European regions and cities.

 

[31] Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 (OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 487).

[32] Directive (EU) 2019/633 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 on unfair trading practices in business-to-business relationships in the agricultural and food supply chain (OJ L 111, 25.4.2019, p. 59).

[33] Directive 2011/7/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 2011 on combating late payment in commercial transactions (OJ L 48, 23.2.2011, p. 1).

[34] The following were present for the final vote: Adrián Vázquez Lázara (Chair), Ibán García Del Blanco, Sergey Lagodinsky, Raffaele Stancanelli (Vice-Chair), Manon Aubry, Gunnar Beck, Patrick Breyer, Geoffroy Didier, Pascal Durand, Angel Dzhambazki, Jean‑Paul Garraud, Evelyne Gebhardt, Esteban González Pons, Mislav Kolakušić, Gilles Lebreton, Karen Melchior, Jiří Pospíšil, Franco Roberti, Marcos Ros Sempere, Liesje Schreinemacher, József Szájer, Stéphane Séjourné, Marie Toussaint, Axel Voss, Bettina Vollath, Tiemo Wölken, Lara Wolters, Javier Zarzalejos, Kosma Złotowski, Tomasz Frankowski.

REPORT on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down management, conservation, and control measures applicable in the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Convention area and amending Council Regulation (EU) N°520/2007 – A9-0231/2020

Source: European Parliament 2

DRAFT EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTION

on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down management, conservation, and control measures applicable in the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Convention area and amending Council Regulation (EU) N°520/2007 (COM(2020)0308 – C9‑0203/2020 – 2020/0139(COD))

 

(Ordinary legislative procedure: first reading)

The European Parliament,

 having regard to the Commission proposal to Parliament and the Council (COM(2020)0308),

 having regard to Article 294(2) and Article 43(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, pursuant to which the Commission submitted the proposal to Parliament (C9‑0203/2020),

 having regard to Article 294(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

 having regard to Rules 59 and 52(1) of its Rules of Procedure,

 having regard to the report of the Committee on Fisheries (A9-0231/2020),

1. Adopts its position at first reading, taking over the Commission proposal;

2. Calls on the Commission to refer the matter to Parliament again if it replaces, substantially amends or intends to substantially amend its proposal;

3. Instructs its President to forward its position to the Council, the Commission and the national parliaments.

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

Purpose and content of the proposal

The purpose of this proposal is to transpose into EU law the control, conservation and management measures adopted by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

This proposal for amendment of Council Regulation (EC) No 520/2007 lays down management, conservation and control measures relating to fishing in the IATTC area and for stocks of tuna and tuna-like species, other species of fish caught by vessels fishing for tuna and tuna-like species and species belonging to the same ecosystem. The Regulation shall apply to EU vessels fishing in the IATTC Convention area.

Note that the EU has an average of three purse-seiners and thirty-some long-liners operating on in the IATTC Convention area and the main stocks targeted by the EU fleet are tropical tunas and swordfish.

The provisions of some IATTC Resolutions were last transposed through Title IV of Council Regulation (EC) No 520/2007 of 7 May 2007 laying down technical measures for the conservation of certain stocks of highly migratory species. This proposal aims to take into account changes that have occurred since the adoption of that Regulation but which have not yet been covered by EU law. Art. 3(5) of the Treaty on European Union stipulates that the EU must abide strictly by international law, which includes compliance with IATTC Resolutions.

The proposed Regulation

– contains provisions on the proposal’s subject matter, scope and objective as well as definitions (chapter I);

– deals with conservation and management measures, including provisions relevant to purse-seine vessels fishing for tropical tuna, prohibition of fishing on data buoys, provisions concerning fishing in the vicinity of Fish Aggregating Devices, their deployment, design and set of rules for transhipment in port (chapter II);

– sets out measures designed to protect certain marine species present in the area covered by the IATTC Convention, such as oceanic white-tip, silky, and hammerhead sharks and mobulid rays. These measures include data provision and release duties, as well as measures related to the protection of sea turtles and seabirds (chapter III);

– contains provisions for the IATTC observer scheme (chapter IV);

– sets vessel requirements, including those related to the IATTC Regional Vessel Register, to reporting duties and to the protocol for the sealing of wells (chapter V);

– contains information on the reporting duties related to the data statistical programme, and requirements for the bigeye tuna document programme (chapter VI);

– provides for delegated powers granted to the Commission to cater for amendments to measures which are expected to be frequent and to make sure that Union fishing vessels are put on equal footing with vessels of other Contracting Parties to the IATTC (chapter VII).

Position of the Rapporteur

The Rapporteur takes note of this Commission proposal and proposes the adoption of this legislative proposal without amendments, according to Rule 52(1) of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament.

PROCEDURE – COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

Title

Proposal for a Regulation laying down management, conservation and control measures applicable in the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Convention area and amending Council Regulation (EU) No 520/2007

References

COM(2020)0308 – C9-0203/2020 – 2020/0139(COD)

Date submitted to Parliament

14.7.2020

 

 

 

Committee responsible

 Date announced in plenary

PECH

23.7.2020

 

 

 

Committees asked for opinions

 Date announced in plenary

ENVI

23.7.2020

 

 

 

Not delivering opinions

 Date of decision

ENVI

10.9.2020

 

 

 

Rapporteurs

 Date appointed

João Ferreira

15.9.2020

 

 

 

Simplified procedure – date of decision

12.10.2020

Discussed in committee

22.9.2020

 

 

 

Date adopted

16.11.2020

 

 

 

Date tabled

23.11.2020

 

 

REPORT on the gender perspective in the COVID-19 crisis and post-crisis period – A9-0229/2020

Source: European Parliament 2

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on the gender perspective in the COVID-19 crisis and post-crisis period

(2020/2121(INI))

The European Parliament,

 having regard to Articles 2 and 3(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), and Articles 6, 8 and 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

 having regard to Article 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

 having regard to the European Pillar of Social Rights and, in particular, its principles 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 16 and 20,

 having regard to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’, and, in particular, Goal 1 which seeks to end poverty, Goal 3 which seeks to ensure people can live healthy lives, Goal 5 which seeks to achieve gender equality and improve living conditions for women, and Goal 8 which seeks to achieve sustainable and economic growth,

 having regard to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) of 18 December 1979,

 having regard to Article 6 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) of 3 May 2008,

 having regard to the EU directives from 1975 onwards on various aspects of equal treatment for women and men (Directive 79/7/EEC[1], Directive 86/613/EEC[2], Directive 92/85/EEC[3], Directive 2004/113/EC[4], Directive 2006/54/EC[5], Directive 2010/18/EU[6] and Directive 2010/41/EU[7]),

 having regard to Directive (EU) 2019/1158 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on work-life balance for parents and carers and repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU[8],

 having regard to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (‘Istanbul Convention’),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 5 March 2020 entitled ‘A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025’ (COM(2020)0152),

 having regard to the Joint Staff Working Document of 21 September 2015 entitled Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-2020’ (SWD(2015)0182),

 having regard to the proposal for a Council decision of 4 March 2016 on the conclusion, by the European Union, of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (COM(2016)0109),

 having regard to its resolution of 13 February 2020 on the EU priorities for the 64th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women[9],

 having regard to its resolution of 30 January 2020 on the gender pay gap[10],

 having regard to its resolution of 13 February 2019 on experiencing a backlash in women’s rights and gender equality in the EU[11],

 having regard to its resolution of 28 November 2019 on the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention and other measures to combat gender-based violence[12],

  having regard to its resolution of 15 November 2018 on care services in the EU for improved gender equality[13],

 having regard to its resolution of 29 November 2018 on the situation of women with disabilities[14],

 having regard to its resolution of 17 April 2018 on empowering women and girls through the digital sector[15],

 having regard to its resolution of 16 January 2018 on women, gender equality and climate justice[16],

 having regard to its resolution of 3 October 2017 on women’s economic empowerment in the private and public sectors in the EU[17],

 having regard to its resolution of 14 June 2017 on the need for an EU strategy to end and prevent the gender pension gap[18],

 having regard to its resolution of 14 March 2017 on equality between women and men in the European Union in 2014-2015[19],

 having regard to its resolution of 4 April 2017 on women and their roles in rural areas[20],

 having regard to its resolution of 14 February 2017 on promoting gender equality in mental health and clinical research[41], which have become virus hotspots in many countries due to, inter alia, a lack of sufficient resources and knowledge to guarantee the safety and protection of residents; calls on the Commission to analyse the different settings of formal, long-term care provision and their level of resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic; calls on the Member States to examine the provision of care for older persons in both residential care facilities and community-based care settings, including through the provision of 24-hour home care or live-in care, and to ensure the wellbeing of older women, including access to care and healthcare services and economic independence; calls on the Council to establish targets for the provision of accessible, affordable and quality long-term care that are equivalent to the Barcelona objectives;

41. Regrets that many women with disabilities, including those who depend on others for everyday care, and particularly those living in institutions and other closed settings and with high support needs, were significantly impacted by the pandemic, but were unable to access their usual support networks or maintain physical distancing, and had difficulties accessing services and goods; calls on the Member States to ensure that these support networks are deemed essential services and are adequately adapted to the circumstances, and that provision for the specific needs of people with disabilities, in particular women and girls, is made in future crisis and emergency planning measures; calls on the EU and the Member States to ensure the rights of all women and girls with disabilities as enshrined in the CRPD, including their right to independent living and access to education, work and employment;

42. Invites the Member States to ensure support for migrant women and men is provided through access to critical healthcare during the crisis; highlights the need for refugee and reception centres to take due account of women’s and girls’ needs and risks in view of the known challenges of social distancing and maintaining hygiene, as well as their vulnerability to gender-based violence, and to provide adequate funds to alleviate these risks;

43. Highlights the unique circumstances of women experiencing homelessness and women in prostitution and their increased vulnerability to gender-based violence, as well as a lack of access to hygiene and healthcare facilities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent emergency measures; calls on the Member States to ensure services and adequate support is extended to those in precarious situations, including women at risk of or in poverty, and women who are homeless or vulnerable to social exclusion; welcomes the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, which provides additional resources to tackle material deprivation and social assistance; highlights the need for homeless and undocumented women to have access to healthcare; calls on the Commission to address their situation in the next Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion; calls on the Member States to appropriately consider women experiencing homelessness in their pandemic response plans;

44. Highlights the additional needs of minority groups, such as women with a Romani background, who face entrenched discrimination and ongoing violations of their rights due to a lack of access to basic infrastructure, services and information, especially during confinement;

45. Emphasises the essential nature of support services for LGBTQI+ persons, including mental health support, peer support groups and support services for victims of gender-based violence;

46. Deplores instances of xenophobic and racial discrimination, which increased in the light of the crisis, and urges the Commission and the Member States to take a zero-tolerance approach to racist attacks and to adopt an intersectional approach in their responses that addresses the needs of marginalised population groups, including racial and ethnic minorities;

47. Urges the Member States to approve and implement the Anti-Discrimination Directive and guarantee that multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination are eradicated in all EU Member States;

48. Stresses the need for Member States to secure children’s continued access to education, with due attention paid to groups from marginalised socio-economic backgrounds, vulnerable children and girls at risk of or in poverty, who are at greater risk of early or forced marriage; underlines the need to ensure that distance learning is fully accessible to all; highlights the needs of all young people to have the necessary resources and support during school closures and to facilitate their re-entry into the education system once the crisis is over;

External Action

49. Emphasises that the global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic requires a global response; highlights the vulnerable position of women and girls in many parts of the world – especially in fragile and conflict-affected states – in relation to COVID-19, for example due to lack of access to healthcare, including SRHR, vulnerability to gender-based violence, including FGM and early or forced marriage, employment status, lack of access to education and extreme poverty and hunger; notes that in many partner countries women are employed in feminised sectors such as the garment industry and food production which have been hardest hit, with knock-on impacts for their families’ and communities’ poverty levels and the economic independence and health and safety of women and girls; calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that financial support given to partner countries to cope with the crisis is also allocated to support women and girls; calls for strengthened support for women’s human rights defenders and women’s rights organisations and their participation in all levels of decision-making; emphasises that all possible efforts must be made to ensure that a future vaccine will be available to all;

50. Welcomes the Team Europe package put forward by the Commission to support partner countries in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences and stresses the need for a gender-sensitive approach and earmarked gender equality spending in the allocation of these funds; emphasises the need for a gender-sensitive response to COVID-19 in the implementation of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and the Instrument for Pre-Accession III to take account of the unique circumstances of women and girls and to stimulate post-crisis opportunities; encourages the continuation and prioritisation of education in emergencies during this time; calls on the EU and its Member States to prioritise global solidarity by maintaining a sufficient level of official development assistance funding and by supporting partner countries’ responses to the crisis in a comprehensive manner; calls on the EU to focus on strengthening access to healthcare, including SRHR, in its humanitarian and development response to the COVID-19 pandemic, international development, and the new Gender Action Plan III; emphasises that gender mainstreaming and budgeting principles should be followed across all of the NDICI geographic and thematic programmes;

51. Calls on the Commission to put in place a values-based EU trade policy that ensures a high level of protection for labour and environmental rights and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, including gender equality; recalls that all EU trade and investment agreements must be gender-mainstreamed and include an ambitious and enforceable chapter on trade and sustainable development; recalls that the negotiation of trade agreements could represent an important tool for advancing gender equality and empowering women in third countries; calls for the promotion of and support for the inclusion of specific gender chapters in EU trade and investment agreements on the basis of their added value, building on existing international examples;

52. Calls on the Commission to put women and girls at the heart of its global response and to fully involve them, listen to their voices and empower them to be an active part of the response to the pandemic;

Gender and the recovery

53. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to fully assess the gender-specific impacts of and needs arising from the crisis and its socio-economic consequences; calls on the Commission and the Member States to allocate extra and targeted budgetary resources to help women recover from the crisis, including in the implementation of the recovery package, particularly in the fields of employment, violence and SRHR, as well as to monitor this spending and gender mainstream all budgetary, policy and legislative proposals, in line with its commitments in the Gender Equality Strategy; calls on the Commission to strengthen the connection between climate change policies, digital policies and gender equality in its upcoming proposals; emphasises that preparatory action is the best way to build resilience in all areas for future crises;

54. Calls for the inclusion of gender equality as one of the policy priorities to be tackled in the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe and for the EU to ensure gender balance in its bodies and involve women’s rights organisations and women organisations in its work to ensure women’s needs are taken into account after the COVID-19 pandemic;

55. Calls on the EU and the Member States to maintain a supportive environment for civil society organisations, notably through political support and a sufficient level of funding;

°

° °

56. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

REPORT on the outcome of the Committee on Petitions’ deliberations during 2019 – A9-0230/2020

Source: European Parliament 2

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on the outcome of the Committee on Petitions’ deliberations during 2019

(2020/2044(INI))

The European Parliament,

 having regard to its previous resolutions on the outcome of the Committee on Petitions’ deliberations,

 having regard to Articles 10 and 11 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU),

 having regard to Articles 24 and 227 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which reflect the importance the Treaty attaches to the right of EU citizens and residents to bring their concerns to the attention of Parliament,

 having regard to Article 228 of the TFEU on the role and functions of the European Ombudsman,

 having regard to Article 44 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union concerning the right to petition the European Parliament,

 having regard to the provisions of the TFEU relating to the infringement procedure and, in particular, to Articles 258 and 260 thereof,

 having regard to Rules 54 and 227(7) of its Rules of Procedure,

 having regard to the report of the Committee on Petitions (A9-0230/2020),

A. whereas following the European elections which took place from 23 to 26 May 2019 and the constitution of the new Parliament on 2 July 2019, the Committee on Petitions held its constitutive meeting on 10 July 2019;

B. whereas in 2019 Parliament received 1 357 petitions, which represents an increase of 11.23 % on the 1 220 petitions submitted in 2018 and reveals that despite the European election recess period, EU citizens and residents continued to exercise their right to petition;

C. whereas in 2019 the number of users supporting one or more petitions on Parliament’s Petitions Web Portal increased as compared to 2018 and reached a total of 28 075; whereas the number of clicks in support of petitions was 31 679;

D. whereas of the petitions submitted in 2019, 41 were co-signed by one or more citizens, 8 by more than 100 citizens and 3 by more than 10 000 citizens;

E. whereas the number of petitions remained modest in relation to the total population of the EU; whereas the overall number of petitions received indicates that greater efforts and appropriate measures are necessary to raise citizens’ awareness on the right to petition; whereas citizens in exercising the right to petition expect that the EU institutions will provide added value in finding a solution to their problems;

F. whereas of the 1 357 petitions submitted in 2019, 938 were declared admissible, 406 were declared inadmissible and 13 were withdrawn; whereas the relatively high percentage (30 %) of inadmissible petitions in 2019 reveals that there is still a widespread lack of clarity about the EU’s fields of activity; whereas in this sense, it is necessary to address this problem with information campaigns dedicated to clarifying the competences of the Union as well as the procedure for submitting petitions to the European Parliament;

G. whereas the criteria for the admissibility of petitions are laid down in Article 227 of the TFEU and Rule 226 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, which require that petitions must be submitted by EU citizens or residents directly affected by matters falling within the European Union’s fields of activity;

H. whereas the right to petition the European Parliament is one of the fundamental rights of EU citizens; whereas the right to petition offers EU citizens and residents an open, democratic and transparent mechanism for addressing their elected representatives directly, and is therefore an important element of active citizens’ participation in the EU’s fields of activity;

I. whereas democratic governance based on transparency, effective protection of fundamental rights and the inclusion of EU citizens’ requests in the EU political agenda are needed in order to increase citizens’ direct participation and to improve the quality of the EU decision-making process; whereas a democratic and transparent governance should be also considered a cornerstone for enhancing the effectiveness and citizen-friendliness of the work of the Committee on Petitions;

J. whereas the right to petition should enhance Parliament’s responsiveness to complaints and concerns relating to respect for EU fundamental rights and compliance with EU legislation in the Member States; whereas petitions are, among other things, a very useful source of information on instances of misapplication or breaches of EU law; whereas petitions enable Parliament and other EU institutions to assess the transposition and application of EU law and its impact on EU citizens and residents, and to detect shortcomings and inconsistencies of EU law undermining the goal of ensuring full protection of citizens’ fundamental rights;

K. whereas citizens usually turn to the Committee on Petitions as a last resort when other bodies and institutions are deemed to be unable to resolve their concerns;

L. whereas Parliament has long been at the forefront of the development of the petitions process internationally and has the most open and transparent petitions process in Europe, allowing petitioners to participate in its activities;

M. whereas each petition is carefully examined by the Committee on Petitions; whereas each petitioner has the right to receive a reply and information on the decision on admissibility and follow-up actions taken by the committee, within a reasonable period of time and in their own language or in the language used in the petition;

N. whereas the activities of the Committee on Petitions are based on the input and contributions received from petitioners; whereas the information provided by the petitioners along with the expertise delivered by the Commission, the Member States and other bodies are essential for the work of the committee; whereas admissible petitions often provide valuable input for the work of other parliamentary committees and intergroups;

O. whereas a considerable number of petitions are discussed publicly in meetings of the Committee on Petitions; whereas petitioners are frequently invited to present their petitions and play a full part in the discussion, thereby contributing actively to the work of the committee; whereas in 2019, the Committee on Petitions held 9 ordinary committee meetings, where 250 petitions were discussed with 239 petitioners present, while 126 petitioners participated actively by taking the floor; whereas the role of the committee in empowering European citizens is an important contribution to reinforcing the image and authority of Parliament;

P. whereas the main subjects of concern raised in petitions submitted in 2019 pertained to environmental matters (in particular, issues concerning pollution, protection and preservation and waste management), fundamental rights (notably the rights of the child, voting rights and EU citizens’ rights, in particular in the context of Brexit), constitutional affairs (in particular questions related to the European elections and to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU), health (in particular issues relating to healthcare and to the impact of hazards and toxic substances), transport (notably air and rail passengers’ rights, cross-national connections and seasonal time changes), the internal market (in particular questions relating to consumers’ rights and freedom of movement of persons), employment (in particular access to the job market and precarious contracts), and culture and education (in particular access to education for children with disabilities and harassment at school), in addition to many other areas of activity;

Q. whereas 73.9 % of the petitions received (1 003 petitions) in 2019 were submitted via Parliament’s Petitions Web Portal, as compared to 70.7 % (863 petitions) in 2018;

R. whereas in 2019 the Petitions Web Portal was further developed into a responsive web design version, compliant with the new ‘look and feel’ of the European Parliament’s website (Europarl); whereas it has therefore become more user-friendly and accessible for citizens, who can now use it on any device, optimised to apply the European standard EN 301 549; whereas it is also partially compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 level AA standard; whereas the new privacy statement has been uploaded in all language versions in the email templates and on the registration page, and audio Captcha for registration of user accounts has been enabled; whereas the Petitions Web Portal and ePetition have been further integrated by improving their synchronisation mechanism; whereas a large number of individual support requests have been handled successfully;

S. whereas it should be noted that owing to the European election recess period, no fact-finding visits took place for petitions for which an inquiry was ongoing during 2019; whereas the committee carried out the follow-up assessments of a number of previous fact-finding visits and adopted the reports on two which took place in 2018; whereas a number of fact-finding visits have been scheduled for 2020;

T. whereas the Committee on Petitions considers the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to be an important instrument of participatory democracy, which enables citizens to become actively involved in shaping the Union’s policies and legislation; whereas there has been a lack of effective communication concerning the ECI;

U. whereas the media play a key role in any democratic system and provide more transparency to the process of the Committee on Petitions; whereas a quality press is an essential element for the whole European Union; whereas there is confusion in some European media as regards the role and powers of the Committee on Petitions;

V. whereas under the Rules of Procedure, the Committee on Petitions is responsible for relations with the European Ombudsman, who investigates complaints of maladministration within the institutions and bodies of the European Union; whereas in 2019 the Committee on Petitions played a key role in the organisation of the election of the European Ombudsman by holding a public hearing of the candidates under Rule 231 of the Rules of Procedure; whereas on 18 December 2019 Emily O’Reilly was re-elected European Ombudsman for the 2019-2024 parliamentary term;

W. whereas the resolution of Parliament of 17 January 2019 on the Ombudsman’s strategic inquiry OI/2/2017 on the transparency of legislative discussions in the preparatory bodies of the Council of the EU[1] expressed support for the Ombudsman in her inquiry and called on the Council to take all measures necessary to implement as swiftly as possible the recommendations of the Ombudsman; whereas the Council has not responded either to the Ombudsman or to Parliament’s resolution, and has not taken any steps towards implementation;

X. whereas in 2019 the relations between the Committee on Petitions and the European Ombudsman were further strengthened, as demonstrated by the active participation of the Ombudsman in the meetings of the committee; whereas following Parliament’s resolution of 12 February 2019 on the revision of the Statute of the European Ombudsman[2], Emily O’Reilly took part in the committee’s meeting of 2 April 2019 for an exchange of views on her proposed new prerogatives, and presented her Annual Report for 2018 to the Committee on Petitions at its meeting on 4 September 2019;

Y. whereas the Committee on Petitions is a member of the European Network of Ombudsmen, which also includes the European Ombudsman, national and regional ombudsmen and similar bodies of the Member States, the candidate countries, and other European Economic Area countries, and which aims to promote the exchange of information about EU law and policy and to share best practices;

Z. whereas the activities of the Petitions Network should be improved by ensuring a more effective cooperation among committees dealing with petitions; whereas the Petitions Network should strengthen the dialogue and collaboration with the Commission and other EU institutions aiming at guaranteeing that issues raised by citizens in petitions are adequately addressed and resolved;

AA. whereas in her political guidelines for the European Commission 2019-2024, President von der Leyen committed to respond with a legislative act to resolutions of Parliament based on Article 225 TFEU, with a view to giving Parliament a stronger role in initiating EU legislation; whereas the Committee on Petitions should play a strategic role in creating a direct connection between Parliament’s right of legislative initiative and the issues raised by citizens through petitions;

1. Recalls that the Committee on Petitions, as the only committee directly communicating with the citizens, must enhance its key role in defending and promoting the rights of EU citizens and residents within the committee’s competences, ensuring that petitioners’ concerns and complaints are examined in timely fashion and resolved, through an open, democratic, agile and transparent petition process and a strengthened cooperation and dialogue with other EU institutions and national, regional and local authorities, and by avoiding a biased or politicised response to the petitioners;

2. Regrets that petitioners are still not sufficiently informed about the grounds for declaring a petition inadmissible; emphasises the importance of a continuous information campaign and public debate on the Union’s fields of activity aimed at raising public awareness of the right to petition the European Parliament, providing clearer and more detailed information about the powers of the EU; stresses the need to adopt, as a matter of urgency, all necessary measures in order to implement a democratic EU governance based on transparency, enhanced protection of fundamental rights, and direct citizens’ inclusion in the EU decision-making processes; considers it essential to find a way of better promoting the right to petition and making citizens aware of this right; proposes that information campaigns in the European Union be stepped up in order to ensure that EU citizens have better knowledge of the EU’s competences and clarify the perception of the role of the Committee on Petitions in public opinion;

3. Calls for a more active press and communications service and a more active social media presence, in order to enhance the visibility of the work of the committee as well as to increase its responsiveness to public concerns and EU debates, by also highlighting those cases and success stories in which an issue raised by a petitioner was resolved with the support of the Committee on Petitions;

4. Proposes to carry out campaigns and outreach events targeting journalists and the media in order to prevent vague information and thus improve the relationship between the Committee on Petitions and the media; underlines that the media play a key role in reaching out to European citizens concerning the day-to-day work of the Committee on Petitions and can contribute through their activities to improving European citizens’ knowledge of the work of the Committee on Petitions; stresses that it is the EU’s task to encourage the provision to European citizens of accurate information;

5. Points out that petitions offer the opportunity to the European Parliament and other EU institutions to maintain a direct dialogue with EU citizens and legal residents who are affected by misapplication or breaches of EU law or by inconsistencies in EU legislation, and to fix problems which have been detected; welcomes, therefore, the fact that petitions are the entrance door of citizens in the European institutions; stresses the need for enhanced cooperation between the Committee on Petitions and lead committees, the EU institutions and national, regional and local authorities, on inquiries or proposals regarding implementation of and compliance with EU law;

6. Considers that in order to ensure that petitions are passed to the relevant and competent authorities, it is necessary to improve cooperation with national parliaments, Member State governments, relevant national institutions and Ombudsmen;

7. Recalls that petitions provide a valuable contribution to the Commission’s role as guardian of the Treaties; reiterates that good cooperation between the Committee on Petitions and the Commission is crucial and that faster answers from the Commission are essential in the process of handling petitions; welcomes, in this regard, the commitment made by the Commission Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, Maroš Šefčovič, during his hearing as commissioner-designate, to further improve the Commission’s handling of petitions and to ensure the submission of accurate answers within the three-month deadline; reiterates its call on the Commission to ensure transparency and access to documents in the framework of the EU Pilot procedures in relation to petitions received, and of the EU Pilot and infringement procedures that have already been concluded;

8. Calls on the Commission to commit to a more active involvement with the Committee on Petitions in order to ensure that petitioners receive a precise response to their requests and complaints regarding the implementation of EU law;

9. Considers that the Commission should not place the responsibility to act on a petitioner alone when there is a problem detected with the application or breach of EU law; believes that the Commission must check whether national authorities are taking steps to solve the problem mentioned in the petition and must be ready to intervene in case of inefficiency of actions of national authorities;

10. Stresses that transparency and public access to the documents of all EU institutions, including the Council, should be the rule in order to ensure the highest level of protection of the democratic rights of citizens; points out that the current Regulation 1049/2001[3] no longer reflects the actual situation; calls on the Commission to submit a proposal for a recast of the 2001 Regulation, with a view to enhancing transparency and accountability by promoting good administrative practice;

11. Notes that the Committee on Petitions frequently receives complaints about rule of law violations by certain authorities; recalls that ensuring the effective, equal and uniform application of EU law is crucial for upholding the rule of law, which is one of the founding values of the Union and its Member States, pursuant to Article 2 of the TEU; while respecting the subsidiarity principle, calls on the Commission to respect the commitments made in its communication of 17 July 2019 entitled ‘Strengthening the rule of law within the Union: A blueprint for action’ (COM(2019)0343), in order to promote a culture of respect for the rule of law, reinforce cooperation with national authorities, and ensure an effective common response to actual threats within the Union;

12. Urges the Commission to take steps to ensure that the interpretation of the scope of Article 51 is as coherent and broad as possible; recalls that the expectations of most petitioners in relation to the rights conferred on them by the Charter are high and go beyond their current scope of application;

13. Believes that cooperation with other committees of Parliament is essential for the comprehensive treatment of petitions; notes that in 2019, 65 petitions were sent to other committees for opinion and 351 for information, and that 38 opinions and 9 acknowledgements of taking petitions into consideration in their work were received from other committees; also notes that in 2018, 47 petitions were sent to other committees for opinion and 660 for information, and that 30 opinions and 38 acknowledgements of taking petitions into consideration in their work were received from other committees; recalls that petitioners are informed of decisions to request opinions from other committees for the treatment of their petitions; therefore underlines the importance of the contribution of other committees in enabling Parliament to respond more swiftly and efficiently to citizens’ concerns;

14. Trusts that the petitions network is a useful tool for raising awareness of the issues brought up in petitions and facilitating the treatment of petitions in other committees to which they are sent for opinion or for information; notes that there is a need for ensuring an adequate follow-up of petitions in parliamentary and legislative work; stresses that the petitions network could be considered as a strategic tool to foster the right of legislative initiative of the European Parliament enshrined in Article 225 TFEU, thus addressing the shortcomings and inconsistencies of EU law highlighted in petitions in order to ensure full protection of citizens’ rights; believes that regular meetings of the petitions network are key for enhancing cooperation between parliamentary committees through exchange of information and sharing of best practices among the network members; stresses that a closer liaison between the committees may also improve efficiency as regards planning hearings and parliamentary studies on the same subjects; advocates drafting a mechanism to enable the Committee on Petitions to be directly involved in the legislative process;

15. Draws attention to the key annual reports adopted by the Committee on Petitions in 2019, notably the Annual Report on the Committee on Petitions’ activities in 2018[4] and the Annual Report on the European Ombudsman’s work in 2018[5];

16. Notes that the Committee on Petitions has expressed its opinion on important issues raised in petitions by contributing to parliamentary and legislative reports, notably on the implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in the EU institutional framework[6] and on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on discontinuing seasonal changes of time and repealing Directive 2000/84/EC[7];

17. Underlines that many petitions have led to legislative or political action, whether in the form of reports or motions for resolutions, or of preliminary rulings or infringement procedures;

18. Takes note that the environment was the main area of concern for petitioners in 2019; points in this regard to the motion for a resolution pursuant to Rule 227(2) on waste management, adopted on 21 March 2019 by the Committee on Petitions and on 4 April 2019 in plenary[8]; stresses that waste management is one of the main global socio-economic and environmental challenges, and reiterates its call to maximise prevention, reuse, separate collection and recycling with a view to boosting the transition towards a circular economy; reiterates its call on the Commission to use the full potential of the early warning system as laid down in the revised waste directives; draws attention to the final report of the fact-finding visit to Valledora (Italy), adopted on 11 April 2019, and calls on the competent national, regional and local authorities to ensure the full and consistent implementation of all recommendations contained therein;

19. Draws attention to the hearing on ‘Climate Change Denial’ which the Committee on Petitions held on 21 March 2019 jointly with the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety; believes that the Committee on Petitions must continue to counter climate denialism, including by promoting the adoption of effective and dissuasive sanctions against interest groups lobbying the EU institutions whose activities are directly or indirectly related to climate change denial; stresses that it is of paramount importance to ensure that the future work of the Committee on Petitions guarantees a specific focus on climate change with a view to strengthening the overall activities of the EU institutions aimed at consistently implementing the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement;

20. Points to the studies on ‘Cross-border nuclear safety, liability and cooperation in the European Union’ and ‘Endocrine Disruptors: From Scientific Evidence to Human Health Protection’, which the Committee on Petitions commissioned as a follow-up to a significant number of petitions raising concerns over these matters and which were presented at its meetings on 20 February 2019 and on 2 April 2019; regrets the fact that environmental rules are not always correctly implemented in the Member States, as described in numerous petitions; stresses the importance of delivering on EU citizens’ expectations on the protection of the environment, and therefore urges the Commission, together with the Member States, to ensure the correct implementation of EU legislation in this field; is convinced that the Commission must step up its activities to make sure that environmental assessments conducted by Member States for the authorisation of infrastructure projects concerning which petitioners have highlighted serious risks for human health and the environment are based on accurate and comprehensive analyses in full compliance with EU law;

21. Is seriously concerned about the severe health damage suffered by citizens – the highest negative impact being registered among children – who live in areas where huge amounts of carcinogenic substances are produced; strongly believes that the Commission must make full use of and consistently implement the provisions of Annex XIV to Regulation No 1907/2006 (REACH) regarding substances subject to authorisation as being carcinogenic, persistent and bio-accumulative, ensuring their substitution by non-toxic alternative substances, including by promoting industrial processes with this in view;

22. Draws attention to the large number of petitions on Brexit submitted in 2019, mostly calling for the protection of EU citizens’ rights before and after Brexit; welcomes the excellent work done by the Committee on Petitions, which by giving voice to the concerns raised by these petitioners contributed to ensuring that citizens’ rights remained one of Parliament’s main priorities in the Brexit negotiations; stresses that there are many citizens – both in the EU and in the United Kingdom – who, in view of the uncertainty of a no-deal Brexit, have turned to the Committee on Petitions because of the fear of seeing their rights endangered due to the lack of agreement; points out that in order to preserve the rights enjoyed by EU citizens resident in a Member State other than their own, it can be helpful to have appropriate legislation in case the Member State changes its status vis-à-vis the EU;

23. Recalls the specific role of protection played by the Committee on Petitions within the EU in the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; points to the committee’s important ongoing work in connection with petitions concerning issues relating to disabilities; notes that the number of petitions on disability decreased in 2019 in comparison with the previous year; notes however, that accessibility and discrimination remain among the main challenges faced by persons with disabilities; recalls that in 2019 the Committee on Petitions paid specific attention to the discussion of petitions on inclusive education for disabled children; calls for a new skills agenda, to be positioned at the very heart of Europe, and for concrete proposals on how to foster inclusiveness and facilitate the recognition and portability of skills within Europe;

24. Welcomes the fact that in 2019 the Committee on Petitions dealt with citizens’ concerns regarding transparency and accountability of the EU institutions, as raised in several petitions; recalls in this regard that at its meeting of 2 April 2019 the committee hosted a workshop on ‘Conflicts of Interest – Integrity, Accountability and Transparency in the EU institutions and agencies’, which examined the achievements reached in relation to conflicts of interest, integrity, accountability, transparency, codes of conduct and revolving doors in the EU institutions and agencies; points to the important contribution made to the debate by the European Ombudsman, who gave a keynote speech on achievements and challenges for EU institutions;

25. Calls for the swift adoption of legal reforms aimed at dealing with lack of transparency of the EU decision-making process, conflicts of interest, and all ethical issues at EU level that affect the legislative process in relation to matters raised by citizens through petitions;

26. Draws attention to the majority support that the plenary of Parliament gave to the resolution of 17 January 2019 on the strategic investigation OI/2/2017 of the European Ombudsman on the transparency of legislative discussions in the preparatory bodies of the Council of the European Union[9]; recalls that the Council, as co-legislator, is an indispensable institution for the citizens of the Union; regrets the fact that numerous Council discussions and meetings still take place behind closed doors; invites the Council to implement a policy of greater transparency in order to improve citizens’ trust in public institutions; encourages the Council to publicise certain meetings and documents more widely in order to achieve a better communication with European citizens and with national parliaments;

27. Acknowledges the outcome of the public hearing held by the Committee on Petitions on 12 November 2019 on the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and its extraterritorial impact on EU citizens; deplores the fact that the Commission and Council seem to value international relations with the US more than the rights and interests of EU citizens, particularly in the case of FATCA, and calls on them to assume their responsibility and take immediate and meaningful action in support of the citizens concerned, as called for by Parliament in its resolution of 5 July 2018 on the adverse effects of the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act on EU citizens

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT
INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

Date adopted

10.11.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

33

0

0

Members present for the final vote

Alex Agius Saliba, Andris Ameriks, Marc Angel, Andrus Ansip, Margrete Auken, Jordan Bardella, Alexander Bernhuber, Markus Buchheit, Eleonora Evi, Agnès Evren, Gheorghe Falcă, Emmanouil Fragkos, Mario Furore, Gianna Gancia, Ibán García Del Blanco, Radan Kanev, Stelios Kympouropoulos, Cristina Maestre Martín De Almagro, Dolors Montserrat, Ulrike Müller, Sira Rego, Frédérique Ries, Alfred Sant, Monica Semedo, Yana Toom, Loránt Vincze, Stefania Zambelli, Tatjana Ždanoka, Kosma Złotowski

Substitutes present for the final vote

Pernando Barrena Arza, Ioan-Rareş Bogdan, Diana Riba i Giner, Rainer Wieland

 

REPORT on a strong social Europe for Just Transitions – A9-0233/2020

Source: European Parliament 2

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on a strong social Europe for Just Transitions

(2020/2084(INI))

The European Parliament,

 having regard to Articles 3 and 5 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU),

 having regard to Articles 9, 151, 152, 153, 156, 157, 162 and 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

 having regard to Protocols 1, 8 and 28 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

 having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and in particular Title IV (Solidarity) thereof,

 having regard to the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), proclaimed by the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission in November 2017,

 having regard to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,

 having regard to the Paris Agreement reached at COP21 in 2015, and specifically its preamble ‘urging Parties, in implementing their policies and measures, to promote a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities and strategies’,

 having regard to the ILO conventions and recommendations, in particular the Labour Inspection Convention of 1947 (No 81), the ILO Centenary Declaration (2019) and the ILO Guidelines of February 2016 for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all,

 having regard to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10 and 13,

 having regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and its entry into force in the EU on 21 January 2011, in accordance with Council Decision 2010/48/EC of 26 November 2009 on the conclusion by the European Community of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

  having regard to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,

  having regard to Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (Employment Equality Directive)[1],

 having regard to Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin[2],

 having regard to the Commission proposal for a Council directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (COM(2008)0426) and Parliament’s position thereon of 2 April 2009[3],

 having regard to the Commission communication of 14 January 2020 entitled ‘A strong and social Europe for just transitions’ (COM(2020)0014),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 11 December 2019 on the European Green Deal (COM(2019)0640),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 27 May 2020 entitled ‘Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation’ (COM(2020)0456),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 27 May 2020 entitled ‘The EU budget powering the recovery plan for Europe (COM(2020)0442),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 27 May 2020 entitled ‘Adjusted Commission Work Programme 2020’ (COM(2020)0440),

 having regard to the Commission proposal of 28 May 2020 for a Council regulation establishing a European Union Recovery Instrument to support the recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic (COM(2020)0441),

 having regard to its resolution of 19 June 2020 on European protection of cross-border and seasonal workers in the context of the COVID-19 crisis[4],

 having regard to the Commission report of 17 June 2020 on the impact of demographic change (COM(2020)0241),

 having regard to the opinion of the European Committee of the Regions of 18 January 2017 entitled ‘The EU response to the demographic challenge’ (2017/C017/08),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 19 February 2020 entitled ‘Shaping Europe’s digital future’(COM(2020)0067),

 having regard to the Commission proposal of 1 July 2020 for a Council recommendation on vocational education and training (VET) for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience (COM(2020)0275),

 having regard to the Commission staff working document of 1 July 2020 accompanying the proposal for a Council recommendation on ‘A Bridge to Jobs – reinforcing the Youth Guarantee’ (SWD(2020)0124),

 having regard to its legislative resolution of 10 July 2020 on the proposal for a Council decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States[5],

 having regard to its legislative resolution of 8 July 2020 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 as regards the resources for the specific allocation for the Youth Employment Initiative[6],

 having regard to its resolution of 10 October 2019 on employment and social policies of the euro area[7],

 having regard to its legislative resolution of 4 April 2019 on the proposal for a Council decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States[8],

 having regard to the report of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: employment and social aspects in the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy 2020,

 having regard to the Commission communication of 17 December 2019 on the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy 2020 (COM(2019)0650),

 having regard to the proposal for a joint employment report from the Commission and the Council of 17 December 2019 accompanying the communication on the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy 2020,

 having regard to Council Decision (EU) 2019/1181 of 8 July 2019 on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member Stateshaving regard to its resolution of 13 March 2019 on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: employment and social aspects in the Annual Growth Survey 2019[16] and strengthening the portability of rights; calls for further promotion of the digitalisation of social security systems; calls on the Member States and the Commission to ensure the protection of all affected workers in cases of transfers of undertakings, and to assess the need for a revision of the Directive on Transfer of Undertakings;

56. Underlines that the practices of establishing subsidiaries or creating subcontracting chains with the aim of reducing social security, avoiding employers’ obligations and contributions without creating effective social insurance coverage in practice, are detrimental to both the protection of workers and the sustainability of welfare systems and have to be addressed by the Commission and the Member States; calls on the Commission and the Member States, with a view to fairness in the internal market, to take legislative measures to end abusive subcontracting, as well as to ensure general joint and several liability throughout the whole subcontracting chain in order to protect workers’ rights and their claims over issues such as wage arrears, non-payment of social contributions, bankruptcy, disappearances and ‘letterbox subcontractors’ who do not pay as agreed;

57. Calls on the Commission to strongly enforce the social clause of the existing EU public procurement directive and to examine the need to revise that directive in order to strengthen social clauses in public contracts, requiring economic operators and subcontractors to fully respect workers’ right to collective bargaining, and to set conditions for the full implementation of the applicable sectorial collective agreements and the working conditions described therein, while at the same time respecting national labour market traditions and models; calls for this revision to exempt all social and welfare services from the procurement obligations and establish a European exclusion mechanism to exclude primary contractors and subcontractors who repeatedly engage in unfair competition and tax fraud; calls on the Member States to ensure compliance, monitoring and enforcement;

58. Is concerned about the large amounts of tax revenue foregone due to large-scale tax avoidance; calls on the Council to speed up the negotiations on legislation regarding public country-by-country reporting and a common consolidated corporate tax base, and to revise the criteria for both the Code of Conduct Group for business taxation and the EU list of non-cooperative jurisdictions;

59. Welcomes the establishment of the European Labour Authority (ELA); calls for the ELA to be fully operational as soon as possible; calls on it to undertake the continuous exchange of information on best practices with the respective labour authorities of the Member States and enforcement of tentative inspections; stresses that in order for the ELA to be effective in combating illegal practices and the exploitation and abuse of workers, it should be facilitated to carry out controls and impose penalties on non-compliant companies; underlines that this also necessitates a broadened mandate of the Authority, covering EU legislative acts such as, for example, the 2008/104 Temporary Work Agency Directive, the 2014/36 Seasonal Workers Directive and the 2009/52 Employer Sanction Directive, as well as the relevant legislation on occupational safety and health; believes the ELA and national inspectorates should be required to conduct a joint or concerted inspection when cases of abuse are brought to its attention by a national social partner; urges the Commission, therefore, to include these aspects in the evaluation of the ELA’s mandate foreseen for 2024 and to involve stakeholders with profound knowledge of different labour market models in the work and evaluations of the ELA; considers furthermore that the management of the ELA should follow the same tripartite structure as other agencies and thus allow for increased representation, including voting rights, of social partners in the Management Board;

60. Invites the Commission to put forward, following a proper impact assessment, a proposal for a digital EU social security number, as it announced in 2018, in order to foster and protect workers’ mobility, also having the potential of establishing a control mechanism for both individuals and relevant authorities to ensure that workers are covered and social security is paid in accordance with obligations, such as a personal labour card, and that EU rules on labour mobility and social security coordination are enforced in a fair and effective way; believes moreover that workers and their representatives and inspectorates must have up-to-date access to information about their employers and their wage entitlements and labour and social rights, in accordance with the sectorial collective agreement or national legislation where applicable and in line with data protection criteria;

61. Invites the Commission to study the possibilities of enabling third-country national workers to obtain work permits in the EU, under the precondition that all safeguards in national and EU labour law are effectively ensuring protection and decent working conditions for third-country nationals too and that this will not result in labour market distortions; asks the Commission to conduct an extensive investigation into the trends characterising posted third-country nationals with regard to their working conditions, and emphasises the need for possible policy measures at EU or national level based on the outcome of the investigation; is deeply concerned at the current increase in the share of third-country nationals in sectors with a reputation for precarious working conditions and cases of abuse; underlines that third-country nationals are often more vulnerable for exploitation and therefore need protection; highlights that this includes abusive practices such as bogus posting, bogus self-employment, fraudulent subcontracting and recruiting agencies, letter-box companies and undeclared work; calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure compliance with applicable laws and rules on employment conditions when dealing with third-country nationals, in order to eliminate abuses, and calls on the Member States to implement the protective elements of Directive 2009/52/EC, ensuring accessible and effective complaint mechanisms making it possible to effectively claim back due wages and social security contributions;

62. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality calls on the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

A. whereas the Commission communication ‘A strong social Europe for just transitions’ (COM(2020)0014) was issued before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out;

B. whereas women are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly women working in precarious employment and in feminised sectors such as health, retail or care services; whereas the implementation of adequate work-life balance policies and the equal distribution of care responsibilities are indispensable to reconciling work, private and family life, and to facilitating women’s equal participation in the labour market, as women remain the primary caregivers;

C. whereas women, including women with disabilities, health problems, migrant and ethnic minority women, older women, women with fewer formal academic qualifications, single parents, women living in rural areas, as well as LGBTQI+ persons, are more often subject to multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination;

D. whereas women are under-represented in economic and political leadership positions deciding on the policy responses to COVID-19; whereas women should be included in decision-making to bring in more perspectives, knowledge and experience, which would lead to better policy outputs;

E. whereas as a result of COVID-19 and the measures to tackle it, namely confinement and telework, women in abusive relationships have become permanently exposed to violence, which has increased the number of cases of violence against women; whereas one consequence of the confinement period has been an explosion in gender-based and intra-family violence by around 30 % in several European countries; whereas, in total, more than 243 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced sexual and/or physical violence worldwide in the past 12 months;

F. whereas despite gender equality being one of the fundamental principles of the European Union, enshrined in Articles 2 and 3(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), Article 8 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Articles 21 and 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the gender employment gap stands at 11.7 %, the pay gap at 15.7 % and the pension gap at 30.1 %;

G. whereas COVID-19 has exposed a long-standing problem in care provision in the EU, in particular in relation to work-life balance; whereas care needs to be viewed holistically along a continuum, from childcare through after-school care and care for persons with disabilities to care for older persons; whereas more than 50 % of carers under the age of 65 combine care with employment, thereby performing a difficult balancing act; whereas carers may prefer low-skilled and low-paid jobs, which can be adapted to their caregiving schedule, as well as be obliged to reduce their working hours or leave paid work altogether; whereas between 7 % and 21 % of informal carers reduce their working hours, and between 3 % and 18 % of them withdraw from the labour market;

H. whereas gender discrimination in the home and on the labour market can result in an unequal distribution of resources, making women more vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion than men; whereas if they fall into poverty, women have less chance of getting out of it;

I. whereas 15 % of households with children at EU level are single-parent households; whereas, on average, 85 % of these households are run by single mothers, while 47 % of single-parent households were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2017; whereas these single-parent households have been disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic;

J. whereas homelessness among women is a growing problem; whereas women experiencing homelessness continue to encounter specific challenges in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, with temporary and emergency accommodation being particularly vulnerable to disease transmission, gender-based violence and a lack of access to hygiene and healthcare facilities;

K. whereas horizontal and vertical labour market segregation in the EU is still significant, with women over-represented in less profitable sectors; whereas in particular women with precarious contracts have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as they were the first to lose their jobs, leading to financial consequences for their families and for their economic independence, as well as leading to their receiving insufficient social security protection in times of crisis;

L. whereas start-up entrepreneurs, 70 % of whom are men and 30 % women, and the self-employed, of whom 34.4 % are women, have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis; whereas an updated study showing COVID-19’s short-, medium- and long-term implications for women’s entrepreneurship in the EU-27 would be a valuable source of information for European decision makers;

M. whereas digital education and skills are key to adjusting to the digital transition of Europe’s economy and society; whereas women are under-represented in the ICT, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors; whereas only 17 % of ICT specialists and 34 % of STEM graduates are women; whereas at the same time, women in the ICT sector earn 19 % less than men; whereas there is a gender gap of 11 % in relation to digital skills, and whereas this gap is higher for above basic skills and especially among the over-55s; whereas women’s entrepreneurship enhances women’s empowerment and social inclusion, and boosts employment, supports diversification of businesses and stimulates innovation and growth; whereas the potential for just transition also relies on the new green jobs in sectors that often require high digital and ICT skills;

N. whereas the pressure on women has increased further; whereas the new forms of work imposed, which are extendable and are at the expense of the separation between work and private life have led to an explosion of new forms of psychological and sexual harassment, both online and offline, during the confinement period; whereas the vast majority of companies and governments have not put in place any measures to counter these phenomena;

O. whereas women are disproportionately affected by energy poverty and struggling to afford their energy consumption; whereas the energy sector workforce is composed mainly of men (77.9 %), with women representing only 22.1 %; whereas the same trend seems to apply to the renewable energies sector, where women represent less than 30 % of the workforce;

P. whereas principle two of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) enshrines equality of treatment and opportunities between women and men regarding participation in the labour market, terms and conditions of employment and career progression;

Q. whereas women have had to continue to take over the bulk of domestic work and the education of children during this period; whereas women have nevertheless seen their mental burden increase from a double to a triple day’s work; whereas unpaid care responsibilities slow down or prevent women’s career progression and have little to no impact on men’s professional lives, creating the subsequent pay gap and leading to the under-representation of women in certain sectors;

R. whereas the digital and green transitions and the demographic changes in society represent both challenges and opportunities, and our strategy to deal with them must be socially fair and just; whereas this strategy must support, coordinate and complement equality actions by the Member States;

S. whereas women were already the first victims of poverty in Europe; whereas these victims include single-parent families – more than 80 % of which are made up of single-mothers – who are at risk of living precariously and of sinking deeper into poverty; whereas the NGO OXFAM estimates that 500 million people in the world might sink into poverty, which corresponds to 10 % of the world’s population, and that mostly women would be affected;

T. whereas this crisis has also shown the massive lack of solidarity at European level; whereas a number of governments are now using the pandemic to reverse not only environmental commitments, but also the fundamental rights of workers and women;

1. Calls on the Commission to work with the Member States to put the EPSR at the heart of economic recovery programmes; insists that the Commission and the Council integrate gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting into all aspects of the EPSR in order to promote gender equality, equal opportunities and women’s participation in the labour market, addressing the gender employment gap, as well as in order to promote fair working conditions, affordable and sustainable social protection, and women’s involvement at all levels of decision-making processes; underlines the need to make gender mainstreaming an integral part of this plan; calls on the Commission to respect the principle of subsidiarity as enshrined in the Treaties when putting forward this plan;

2. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to implement policies and frameworks of social dialogue, which are necessary to make progress in the ecological transition to climate neutrality with no one left behind, meaning that this process will be open to and enhance the resilience of the most vulnerable and marginalised Europeans, especially women, by generating prosperity for the whole of society, adopting an inclusive approach, giving suitable protection to workers and creating quality jobs;

3. Calls on the Commission, Eurostat, the Member States and the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) to regularly gather gender- and age-disaggregated data on COVID-19 and the socio-economic impact of the virus; stresses that recovery measures must be informed by gender-disaggregated data, with special attention to areas where data is scarce and cannot be compared, to allow for informed decision making at EU, national and regional levels;

4. Notes that the under-representation of women deprives energy transitions of a range of different talents, and thus impedes the transformational change required to achieve the Paris Agreement goals (global climate targets) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals; calls for the equal participation of women in the workforce, which is important for business, the economy, social development and the environment; highlights that a diversified workforce delivers better results, not only in terms of increased creativity and innovation potential, but also in terms of better decision-making and greater profits;

5. Calls on the Commission to monitor the European strategy for gender equality (2020-2025) and invites the Member States to adopt national gender equality strategies based on the European strategy as an important component of the socio-economic measures taken in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis;

6. Emphasises that gender equality is not only a core development objective in its own right, but also enhances an economy’s productivity and improves future generations’ prospects; highlights the importance of having a higher percentage of women in decision-making positions at local level dealing with the energy transition and the circular non-toxic economy, which can increase innovation and profitability, decrease risk, and enhance sustainability practices;

7. Underlines the necessity of involving more women and young people in governments, the banking sector, companies, universities and NGOs to implement a wide variety of strategies to make the green transition more diverse and inclusive;

8. Notes that women are vital to the sustainable energy sector and the success of a more rapid energy transition; underlines the necessity of attracting, retaining and promoting more women, and ushering a greater range of different skills into the sustainable energy field;

9. Calls on the Commission and the Council to closely examine women’s needs in order to promote gender equality and to facilitate women’s participation in the labour market during and after the COVID-19 crisis; calls for an ambitious social care strategy and demographic plan to improve available and affordable high-quality childcare, out-of-school care and long-term care infrastructures; urges the Member States to fully transpose and implement the Work-Life Balance Directive; invites the Member States and the Commission to exploit all synergies in the relevant EU financial instruments for the development of the necessary care infrastructure and services; calls on the Commission and the Member States to make every effort, including by adopting the provisions of the Istanbul Convention, to counter all forms of violence against women, children and the elderly, which has increased significantly owing to the restrictions put in place to address the pandemic;

10. Calls on the Member States to establish, while measures to tackle the COVID-19 crisis are still in place, special leave for caregivers and working parents that is non-transferrable and fully remunerated;

11. Calls on the Commission to collect data on the provision of different types of care to feed into a study examining the care gap, with a view to proposing a Care Deal for Europe aimed at supporting a transition towards a care economy; notes that the Care Deal must build synergies with the competences of Member States and regions, should aim to improve cooperation and coordination, and ensure relevant investment and legislation at EU level with benefits;

12. Urges the Council and the Commission to ensure that gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting are at the centre of all measures linked to the recovery, incorporating the lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis;

13. Underlines that the Commission and the Council must hold as a guiding principle that women and men should receive equal pay for equal work, also when designing response measures to the COVID-19 crisis, which need to be gender mainstreamed; welcomes the Commission’s commitment to present binding measures on pay transparency by the end of 2020 to effectively address the gender pay and pension gaps, with women’s economic independence having been hampered by the crisis as initial reports suggest; stresses, in this regard, the need for the Commission and the Member States to introduce measures to combat gender segregation in the feminised occupational sectors and to tackle the gender pay and pension gaps;

14. Calls on the Member States to transpose and implement the Work-Life Balance Directive in a timely and effective manner, as well as on the Commission to effectively monitor its implementation; invites the Member States to examine what would be needed by way of complementary measures to ensure a better work-life balance for working parents, with due attention to single-parent households;

15. Calls on the Commission to collect data on the provision of different types of care (childcare, care for older people and persons with disabilities or persons requiring long-term care), feeding into a study examining the care gap to inform an initiative for a European care strategy; notes that such a strategy would have to respect the competences of the Member States as laid down in the Treaties, but would aim to improve cooperation and the coordination of all measures which could be beneficial both for informal carers in the EU and the people they are taking care of; stresses that cooperation at European level, together with the efficient use of EU funds, can contribute to the development of quality, accessible and affordable care services;

16. Condemns the use of the pandemic as a pretext for some governments to backslide on some of the fundamental rights of workers and women; recalls the inalienable right to have access to healthcare, as well as the right to have self-determination over one’s own body; highlights, therefore, that reproductive healthcare, contraception and abortion rights must be guaranteed, including by an extension of the legal time frame for an abortion;

17. Stresses that new needs for childcare services have arisen with the growing number of dual-earning and single-parent families; points out that high-quality, available, accessible and affordable childcare services are essential to allow parents to stay in or join the labour market and reduce the gender gap in employment; stresses, however, that these childcare services should also be available for the children of job-seeking parents and for children in precarious family situations;

18. Highlights that, in the light of emerging demographic trends, such as ageing societies, lower birth rates and, consequently, the decline in the population of working age, the need for formal and informal long-term care services has become more important than ever; points out that the provision of care services and infrastructure are especially relevant for women, who are often more engaged than men in both the formal and informal care of older persons and/or persons with disabilities, the majority of whom are also women; stresses, in relation to informal carers, the importance of family-friendly leave schemes and of ensuring social security entitlements;

19. Highlights a particular development of the area of care provision during the COVID-19 measures; against this backdrop; calls on the Commission to serve as a platform to facilitate the exchange of best practices on the quality, accessibility and affordability of care services, as well as on the different models of care services; urges the Commission to examine the situation of informal carers and to share best practices on how the Member States regularise their work;

20. Calls on the Member States to empower women in the AI, ICT and STEM sectors through accessible, high-quality, tailored digital education and individualised training and skill development, taking the digitalisation of economy and labour market into account to achieve gender balance; stresses, in this regard, the need to envisage not only training and skills development online, but also specific training in the field; calls on the Commission to adopt concrete gender mainstreaming measures in the implementation of the single market strategy and the digital agenda;

21. Notes with concern that telework, which was promoted as one of the measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, according to all indications is tending to become more permanent in the labour market and that it could seriously affect working conditions, especially for women, with extendable hours, while at the same time women are taking on domestic care and tasks; urges that steps be taken to comply with the law by strengthening controls on respect for working hours and on promoting healthy and secure working conditions and rest times in accordance with labour law;

22. Notes that the green energy transition provides opportunities to tackle systemic gender discrimination and enable societies to reap the benefits of a more diverse workforce; calls for the inclusion of a diverse range of skills, including civil engineering, environmental science, marketing, teaching, and community action;

23. Emphasises the creation of current and future career opportunities and career paths in partnership with educational institutions, and inclusive and incentivising programmes and policies for women and girls in STEM and non-STEM positions;

24. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to provide equal access to technology, education, training, employment, social protection systems and healthcare for all, by taking due account of the needs of women experiencing multiple forms of discrimination, including women with disabilities and health problems, women belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, older women, women who did not go on to higher education, single parents, women living in rural and peripheral areas, refugees, as well as LGBTQI+ persons, to increase their potential on the labour market and participation in social and civic life to ensure equal opportunities and to close the gender pay gap;

25. Urges that the gender perspective be incorporated into the upcoming disability equality strategy 2021, with due attention being paid to improved access to the labour market through targeted measures and actions;

26. Emphasises the need to integrate gender mainstreaming into training policies and programmes, as the regions most affected by the crisis deserve a better future, based on sustainability, equity and social justice;

27. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure the participation of women in the decision-making process concerning the policy responses to COVID-19;

28. Calls on the Commission and the Council to adopt binding policy measures concerning pay transparency and the minimum wage;

29. Calls on the Commission to adopt a specific approach towards single mothers, as they are particularly economically vulnerable, since they often earn less than men and are more likely to leave the labour market when they become a parent; calls on the Commission to enhance, in this context, the enforcement of the existing legal instruments on the cross-border collection of alimony, while raising public awareness of their availability; urges the Commission to work closely with the Member States to identify practical problems linked with alimony collection in cross-border situations and to develop tools to effectively enforce payment obligations;

30. Calls on the Member States to take a relevant step forward in tackling the gender pay gap by investing in predominantly female and precarious sectors, namely the care and cleaning sectors, by improving working conditions and pushing for greater economic and social recognition of this work;

31. Urges the Member States to unblock negotiations on the Women on Boards Directive and the Anti-Discrimination Directive;

32. Welcomes the Commission’s commitment to present binding measures on pay transparency by the end of 2020; stresses, in this regard, the importance of full cooperation and involvement of the social partners and all the stakeholders;

33. Calls on Member States to improve their plans for a shared and fair distribution of unpaid care responsibilities, namely child and elderly care, by following good practice and efficient examples;

34. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to recognise the significant value to society of the care workers who were on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to improve their working conditions and to revalorise these professions with the involvement of the social partners and through collective bargaining;

35. Calls on the Member States to ensure that employers and public administrations create an efficient structure to prevent and deal with violence against women while teleworking, perpetrated by or against their employees;

36. Highlights the fact that, across Europe, single-parent families are more vulnerable to poverty and insecurity than other families; calls, therefore, for their increased social protection, an increase in family allowances and guaranteed access to public services, including housing; calls for emergency measures to protect the poorest and most vulnerable women, including single-parent families, and to further improve security in their lives;

37. Calls on the Member States to ensure that adequate social and financial support is extended to those in precarious situations, including women at risk of poverty or those who are living in poverty, homeless or vulnerable to social exclusion;

38. Urges that ambitious policies be pursued at the destination of the most vulnerable groups such as refugees, migrants, Roma, etc.;

39. Emphasises the need for digital literacy to be supported through education and for the provision of resources to bridge the digital divide that has been highlighted as a result of work and schooling, as well as many services and facilities, having suddenly moved online;

40. Encourages the Member States to follow the Commission’s Guidelines for Employment Policies in the EU, including combating precarious work that often involves more women than men, with due regard being paid to their national labour market models; invites the Commission to examine the working conditions of platform workers with a view to suggesting improvements to their particular situation, given the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic may only reinforce negative trends in their employment;

41. Stresses the changes that just transition brings to the labour market and the distribution of the new green jobs; calls on the Commission and the Member States to develop strategies to ensure women’s access to new green jobs and to reduce the gender gap in employment in the renewable energy sector.

 

 

REPORT on closing the digital gender gap: women’s participation in the digital economy – A9-0232/2020

Source: European Parliament 2

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on closing the digital gender gap: women’s participation in the digital economy

(2019/2168(INI))

The European Parliament,

 having regard to Articles 2 and 3(3), second subparagraph, of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Article 8 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

 having regard to Article 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

 having regard to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, and, in particular, the area of concern ‘Women and the Media’,

 having regard to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention (No 190) and to the ILO Violence and Harassment Recommendation (No 206), both of 2019,

 having regard to the outcome document of 16 December 2015 of the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society,

 having regard to the Commission communication of 6 May 2015 entitled ‘A Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe’ (COM(2015)0192), and the mid-term review of 10 May 2017 on its implementation entitled ‘A Connected Digital Single Market for All’ (COM(2017)0228),

 having regard to the European Pillar of Social Rights and, in particular, its principles 1, 2, 3 and 20,

 having regard to Pillars II (‘Creating the right conditions for digital networks and services to flourish’) and III (‘Maximising the growth potential of our European economy’) of the Commission’s digital single market strategy,

 having regard to the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020),

 having regard to the Commission studies entitled ‘ICT for work: Digital skills in the workplace’ and ‘Women in the Digital Age’,

 having regard to the Commission communication of 5 March 2020 entitled ‘A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025’ (COM(2020)0152),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 1 July 2020 entitled ‘European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience’ (COM(2020)0274),

 having regard to the Commission report of 1 October 2013 entitled ‘Women active in the ICT sector’,

 having regard to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) study of 26 January 2017 entitled ‘Gender and digital agenda’,

 having regard to the Council conclusions of 30 May 2016 on ‘Developing media literacy and critical thinking through education and training’,

 having regard to the Council conclusions of 6 December 2018 on ‘Gender Equality, Youth and Digitalisation’,

 having regard to the Council conclusions of 10 December 2019 on ‘Gender‑Equal Economies in the EU: The Way Forward’,

 having regard to the opinion of the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men of 19 December 2018 entitled ‘The future of gender equality strategy after 2019: the battles that we win never stay won’,

 having regard to the Declaration of Commitment on Women in Digital (WID), signed in 2019 by 27 EU ministers and Member States’ representatives plus Norway,

 having regard to its resolution of 24 May 2012 with recommendations to the Commission on application of the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value[1],

 having regard to its resolution of 12 March 2013 on eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU[2],

 having regard to its resolution of 12 September 2013 on the Digital Agenda for Growth, Mobility and Employment: time to move up a gear[3], and, in particular, the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs,

 having regard to its resolution of 8 October 2015 on the application of Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation[4],

 having regard to its resolution of 28 April 2016 on gender equality and empowering women in the digital age[5],

 having regard to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2019 on ‘Information and Communication Technologies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’,

 having regard to the WSIS Forum 2020 on ‘Fostering digital transformation and global partnerships: WSIS Action Lines for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’,

 having regard to the question to the Commission on empowering women and girls through the digital sector (O-000004/2018 – B8‑0010/2018),

 having regard to its resolution of 17 April 2018 on empowering women and girls through the digital sector[6],

 having regard to its interparliamentary committee meeting held on International Women’s Day 2018 on empowering women and girls in the media and ICT,

 having regard to the in-depth analysis entitled ‘Empowering women on the Internet’, published by its Directorate-General for Internal Policies on 30 October 2015[7],

 having regard to the study entitled ‘The underlying causes of the digital gender gap and possible solutions for enhanced digital inclusion of women and girls’ published by its Directorate-General for Internal Policies on 15 February 2018[8],

 having regard to the study entitled ‘Cyber violence and hate speech online against women’ published by its Directorate-General for Internal Policies on 16 August 2018[9],

 having regard to the study entitled ‘Education and employment of women in science, technology and the digital economy, including AI and its influence on gender equality’ published by its Directorate-General for Internal Policies on 15 April 2020[18];

U. whereas digital inclusion means the ability of all individuals and communities to have access to and use of ICT; whereas lack of access, affordability and education, as well as gender-related expectations and socio-cultural norms, lower educational participation in STEM and ICTs, the limited use of digital tools and lower activity on social platforms resulting from cyber violence towards girls and women are all factors which exclude the latter from digital inclusion; whereas the gender digital inclusion dimension has to be part of all EU initiatives and investments related to ICT and digitalisation;

V. whereas digital financial inclusion means digital access to and use of formal financial services that are suited to needs and delivered responsibly at an affordable cost; whereas laws and norms that can undermine women’s right to participate in the labour force, control assets, establish and access funding to grow formal businesses and to make their own economic decisions are the main reasons for women’s financial exclusion; whereas approximately one billion women still do not have access to formal financial services, owing to their lack of access to identification documents, mobile phones, digital skills and lack of financial knowledge, as well as a result of inappropriate products; whereas better access to and usage of responsible digital financial services can help build women’s economic power and economic independence;

W. whereas the ability of women to access and use digital technologies is affected by many factors, including investments, regulations and competition; whereas women and girls in rural and hard-to-reach regions face challenges and barriers to access the internet and digital technologies and infrastructure, preventing them from being able to fully embrace the digital potential of modern technology; whereas, especially in developing countries, women and girls in rural areas generally work in agriculture and their work is often unpaid and precarious, which leads to them living in technology-poor environments and to difficulties in the accessibility of digital technologies;

General remarks

1. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to align the measures fostering the digital transition with the Union’s goals on gender equality; stresses that the digital transition should not leave anyone behind; welcomes the Commission’s commitments to boosting the participation of women in the digital economy and information society included in the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025; calls on the Commission to continue to address the serious gender gap within the ICT sector in the digital agenda, the European digital strategy and all other digitalisation skills and education policies and initiatives, with concrete measures aimed specifically at increasing the participation of women and girls in the sector; stresses that increasing women’s participation in the digital sector can have an important impact on combating gender inequalities, stereotypes and discrimination, improving access to the labour market for women and their working conditions, as well as addressing the gender pay gap; calls on the Commission and the Member States to provide appropriate funding to programmes aimed at attracting more girls and women to study and work in STEM, to set up entrepreneurship programmes that finance women and girls who start tech projects or new companies, to develop strategies aimed at increasing girls’ and women’s digital inclusion, and digital financial inclusion, in fields relating to STEM, AI and the research and innovation sector, and to adopt a multi-level approach to address the gender gap at all levels of education and employment in the digital sector;

2. Calls on the Commission to take equal opportunities for women and men and the digital gender gap into due account while negotiating programmes within the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) and funds and loans under the Recovery Plan, and to increase awareness of these mechanisms among women; stresses that gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting with measurable indicators should be part of the policies supporting ICT development; calls on the Commission to ensure the gender mainstreaming of the Digital Services Act and all upcoming proposals related to the digital realm;

3. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure the full implementation of the Ministerial Declaration of Commitment on ‘Women in Digital’; calls on the Commission to monitor the implementation of Member States’ cross-sectoral national plans on women in digital;

Education

4. Underlines the importance of ensuring gender mainstreaming in digital education at all levels, including extra-curricular, informal and non-formal education, also for teaching staff; calls for specific strategies for different age ranges;

5. Encourages the Commission and the Member States, as well as developers, businesses and universities, to address the gender gap in the ICT sector and cooperate in finding solutions and sharing best practices on better inclusion of girls in subjects relevant for digital education from an early age onwards; calls for the EU and the Member States to develop, support and implement the actions promoted by the UN and its bodies;

6. Calls on the Commission to thoroughly address the issue of the low numbers of women participating in ICT studies and careers, and ensure a strong gender perspective in the digital Europe programme and updated digital education action plan, including accessibility and affordability of digital equipment; calls on educational entities to include a gender component in all STEM and ICT-related curricula, educational materials and teaching practices from an early age to encourage girls to take up and continue studying mathematics, coding, ICT classes and science subjects in schools; encourages the Commission and the Member States to work with educational institutions and civil society organisations to assess and redesign ICT educational formats;

7. Underlines the importance of women and girls being co-authors of their own future in STEM and ICT becoming an integral part of education in pre-school and primary school, abandoning harmful gender role stereotypes for girls and boys;

8. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to take into account the gender perspective in the development of digital education policies to enable both male and female students to face future challenges; calls on the Commission and the Member States to set up mentoring schemes with female role models in ICT within all levels of education; calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote awareness-raising campaigns directed at both students and their parents to fight gender stereotypes in school projects and jobs; stresses the importance of crediting women for their work so that girls do not see only male names in science books, but also have female role models;

9. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to support lifelong learning in order to facilitate women’s professional transition to ICT-related positions, as well as training and schemes to boost the e-skills, upskilling and reskilling of girls and women; stresses that the Council’s recommendation on vocational education and training and the updated skills agenda for Europe must ensure a gender perspective;

10. Calls on the Commission and Member States to adopt policies and measures to address the leaky pipeline phenomenon;

11. Calls for gender equality to become a consistent and structural part of future EU youth strategy and policies;

Employment and entrepreneurship

12. Urges the Member States to fully transpose and implement the Work-Life Balance Directive and calls on the Commission to monitor it effectively to ensure that both parents can benefit from paternity, parental and carer’s leave; encourages the Member States to consider ICT as a means to promote work-life balance and to observe trends in the digitalisation of the world of work, including the digital sector, in order to adapt their existing work-life balance measures, if necessary, and to promote and strengthen their systems aimed at an equal distribution of caregiving responsibilities; in this context, encourages the Commission and Member States to introduce policies to address the situation of the self-employed, particularly women entrepreneurs in the ICT and digital sectors, and their need for access to social protection systems, maternity leave and childcare; points out that teleworking allows women to work from home and has the potential to lead to a better work-life balance; notes, however, that it has to be monitored and properly regulated by the Member States;

13. Stresses that the gender pay gap has a negative impact on social security benefits and the pension gap for women, including in the digital sector; welcomes the Commission’s commitment to present binding measures on pay transparency by the end of 2020, while giving due consideration to the unique circumstances of Europe’s small and medium-sized enterprises, and the various labour market models that exist in the EU, in order to effectively address the gender pay and pension gaps and old-age poverty;

14. Calls on the Commission and Member States to promote gender equality in companies in the ICT and related sectors and in the digital economy, and to adopt horizontal policies to reduce the gender gap in the digital economy through targeted measures, including European funds to finance female-led projects in the digital sector, the promotion of a minimum number of women researchers participating in ICT projects, training courses for HR departments on ‘unconscious gender-discriminatory bias’ to promote gender-balanced recruitment, the designing of prizes and incentive schemes for companies and organisations actively implementing gender-neutral policies linked to measurable targets, the promotion of gender mainstreaming in companies’ strategies in the production, design and marketing of ICT products, annual reports on diversity and the gender pay gap by ICT companies, public procurement policies and/or guidelines on the purchase of ICT services from providers that apply a gender balance in the composition of their companies and boards, facilitating the distribution of European funds to companies that take into account gender balance criteria and encouraging the implementation of gender equality plans and protocols to improve and monitor companies’ performance as regards women’s participation, including at management and leadership levels, as well as mentorship programmes;

15. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to fully assess the causes and factors that lead to a high drop-out rate of women from digital careers; calls on the Commission and the Member States to analyse the effect that the lack of work-life balance has on women’s ability to participate in the upskilling training needed to keep up the required skill level in the ICT sector; calls on the Commission and Member States to develop mechanisms and programmes to integrate women and girls into education, training and employment initiatives in the digital sector, irrespective of their legal migration status;

16. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to foster women’s entrepreneurship and engagement in innovation and to increase financing opportunities for female entrepreneurs and female-led digital start-ups, and to improve the accessibility of existing funds so that they have equal opportunities to compete in the digital single market and encourage a more gender-balanced composition of financing institutions;

17. Encourages the Commission and the Member States to reinforce the funding for research on gender‑related issues in ICT;

18. Considers it to be of the utmost relevance to have more women role models and to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the ICT sector; calls on male role models to speak out for gender equality in the digital economy; stresses the need for ICT companies to introduce human resources practices that promote diversity, such as gender balance in middle and senior management positions, and on company boards; welcomes the Commission’s stated intention to encourage the adoption of the 2012 proposal for a Directive on gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges (the Women on Boards Directive) and urges the Council to unblock and adopt it;

The culture, media and audiovisual sectors

19. Stresses the impact of the cultural, media, advertising and audiovisual sectors in the development and intensification of gender stereotypes and promotion of normative and cultural barriers, replicated through the language and images disseminated;

20. Calls on the audiovisual and media industries to increasingly portray women in STEM and ICT-related professions, and to introduce depictions of diversity and opportunity within STEM and ICT; calls on the media industries to include women on discussion panels, in newspaper articles and in other spaces where public opinion and discourse on technological subjects is shaped;

21. Recalls the importance of eliminating conscious and unconscious gender‑discriminatory bias from algorithms, AI applications, videogames and toys that perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and lead to the reduced participation of women in the digital, AI and ICT fields; stresses the need to address the innovation bias within the ICT sector, whereby the designers and developers of services, software and user applications are mostly men and the users mainly women;

Women’s civic, political and economic empowerment

22. Stresses that ICTs can greatly increase women’s ability to take part in electoral processes, public consultations, surveys and debates, as well as to organise and advocate women’s rights; calls on the Commission and the Member States to take the gender dimension into account when devising e-government initiatives; underlines the effectiveness of using the internet for campaigns, forums and boosting the visibility of female role models;

23. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to engage constructively with and support digital civil society organisations and to encourage such organisations to get involved in internet governance; calls on the Commission and the Member States also to work closely with and involve women and women’s civil society organisations in order to better respond to and alleviate the concerns that exist in the everyday life of women and girls when designing and implementing public tech policies, and to promote women’s economic and digital inclusion;

24. Encourages the Member States and the Commission to organise awareness-raising, training and gender mainstreaming campaigns to highlight the impact of ICT proficiency on the economic empowerment of women;

25. Considers that women need to be encouraged to play a more critical role in the design, development, construction and maintenance of smart cities or smart villages;

Data collection

26. Welcomes the creation of the Women in Digital scoreboard as an integral part of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), as well as the four new indicators proposed by the EIGE in its 2018 report entitled ‘Gender equality and youth: opportunities and risks of digitalisation’;

27. Calls on the Commission and the Member States, as well as platforms and businesses, to collect comparable gender- and age-disaggregated data on the use of ICT, as well as to propose initiatives, including research, to understand and address the root causes of the digital gender gap; urges the Commission and the Member States to collect and utilise existing sex-disaggregated data to promote more research into the interaction of the different factors which impede women’s and girls’ digital inclusion; stresses that harmonised data collection facilitates the comparison and sharing of data and examples of best practices by the Member States;

Combating gender-based violence: Cyber violence

28. Acknowledges with great concern the rise in digital crimes and acts of intimidation, bullying, doxing, harassment and violence against women in the digital world; stresses the importance of digital and media literacy, cyber-hygiene and cyber safety; calls for funds and campaigns to raise awareness and educate women in how to secure their accounts and communications to protect themselves online, and in respectful social communication on the internet to warn women about potential harassers or aggressors, as well as to inform them how to seek help in case of an incident; considers that such campaigns should combat gender-based violence and gender stereotypes, educate men in how to behave towards women online and ensure women’s continued freedom of expression and meaningful participation in public discourse; considers, in addition, that companies and developers should address gender-based online violence and abuse on their infrastructures through effective reporting and suspension mechanisms; calls on the Member States to facilitate reporting channels and to support the development of training tools for the police force, the justice system and the information and communication technology sector to empower law enforcement agencies to effectively investigate and prosecute malicious attackers and support the victims of online harassment and violence;

29. Calls for the EU institutions, agencies and bodies, as well as the Member States and their law enforcement agencies, to cooperate and take concrete steps to coordinate their actions to counter the use of ICT to commit crimes, including online sexual harassment and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and to collect sex-disaggregated data concerning online gender-based violence; welcomes the Commission’s announcement of a survey on gender-based violence; urges the Commission and the Member States to provide appropriate funding for the development of AI solutions that prevent and combat cyber violence, online sexual harassment, the exploitation of women and girls, and harassment at the workplace; calls on the Member States to review their criminal law to ensure that new forms of digital violence are defined, acknowledged and criminalised, as well as to ratify the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention of 2019, which applies, inter alia, to work-related communications;

30. Considers it essential for the achievement of gender equality to create comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual and relationship education which includes combating cyber violence and online sexual harassment, as well as combating online objectification and the hyper-sexualisation and sexual exploitation of women; calls on the Commission and the Member States to adopt policies and measures to address the occurrences of sexual harassment at STEM educational sites and schools, as well as within the ICT sector; calls on employers to adapt HR measures to tackle both old and new forms of online harassment, with mandatory training courses and emergency numbers for victims;

31. Calls for further legally binding measures and for a directive to prevent and combat gender-based violence, including cyber violence, which is often directed at women such as public figures, politicians and activists, as well as online hate speech against women; calls on the Commission to ensure that the forthcoming proposal for a Digital Services Act and the new framework for cooperation between internet platforms address online platforms’ responsibilities regarding user-disseminated hate speech and other harmful, abusive and sexist content, to protect women’s safety online; calls on the Commission to develop harmonised legal definitions of cyber violence and a new Code of Conduct for online platforms on combating online gender-based violence;

Emerging fields

32. Calls on national public administrations and the EU institutions to work with the private sector to create Europe-wide role model campaigns, encouraging women junior professionals to opt for the cybersecurity professions, which would significantly reduce the skills gap, boost the economy, and improve the overall resilience of the cybersecurity industry in Europe;

33. Stresses the need for further regulatory efforts to ensure that AI respects the principles and values of gender equality and non-discrimination as enshrined in Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union;

34. Highlights that a need exists to deepen understanding, through a gender lens, of emerging fields such as algorithmic decision-making, blockchain technology and cryptocurrency and dataveillance, and to set out strategies to address them;

Gender equality in development policies

35. Expresses its concerns about the possibility of an increase in the digital gender gap in developing countries and regions in the current crisis; stresses the importance of promoting women’s and girls’ digital proficiency, digital accessibility and digital affordability as instruments to obtain gender equality in development strategies; stresses the need to channel development funds into the promotion of the digital education of girls and women, and to support female-led projects in the digital sector, especially those with a social impact;

36. Recalls that persons with disabilities, ethnic and minority groups, women from different socio-economic backgrounds, older women and women in rural areas, as well as refugee and migrant women, may face difficulties in accessing digital services and related infrastructure; stresses the importance of an intersectional approach to all gender mainstreaming initiatives as regards increasing women’s access to and use of digital services, and to education and employment in the digital economy and society; calls on the Member States to tackle the digital exclusion of all vulnerable groups in society and to make ICT education accessible to them by adapting teaching methods and timetables to take account of the different factors determining women’s access to education;

 

°

° °

37. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

 

REPORT on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending the Regulation (EU) 2019/833 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2019 laying down conservation and enforcement measures applicable in the Regulatory Area of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation – A9-0220/2020

Source: European Parliament

REPORT on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending the Regulation (EU) 2019/833 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2019 laying down conservation and enforcement measures applicable in the Regulatory Area of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation