Tuesday 25 April 2017
ECOFIN: 21 March 2017
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Brussels on 21 March 2017. EU Finance Ministers discussed the following items:
Early morning session
The Eurogroup president briefed Ministers on the outcomes of the 20 March meeting of the Eurogroup. Ministers discussed the current economic situation. The European Commission presented its review of national provisions adopted in compliance with the treaty on stability, co-ordination and governance in the economic and monetary union (the fiscal compact) conducted in accordance with article 8 of the fiscal compact, which was followed by an exchange of views by Ministers. Austrian Finance Minister Schelling explained his views as regard a proposed fine for the manipulation of debt statistics in Austrian land of Salzburg, and the Polish delegation, on behalf of the Chairman of the EIB’s board of governors, outlined the suggested process for the upcoming election of the EIB president.
Reduced VAT rate for electronically supplied publications (e-publications)
Ministers discussed political issues in relation to the proposal for a Council directive regarding rates of value added tax applied to books, newspapers and periodicals. The proposal would give member states the ability to apply reduced rates or a zero VAT rate to e-publications and physical publications.
General reverse charge mechanism
Ministers discussed the political issues in relation to the general reverse charge mechanism (GRCM). This is a proposal for an amendment to Council directive 2006/112/ on the common system of value added tax to allow the temporary application of a GRCM to supplies of goods and services above a certain threshold, with the aim of combatting VAT fraud.
Current financial service legislative proposals
The Council presidency provided an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.
European Semester 2017:
a) 2017 country reports and in-depth reviews
b) Implementation of country-specific recommendations (CSRs)
Following a presentation by the Commission, Ministers discussed the country reports published by the Commission on 22 February, including the assessment of CSR implementation and, where relevant, the framework of the macroeconomic imbalance procedure. The Czech Republic, Italy and Slovenia were invited to reflect on their experiences of implementing reforms to the business environment, followed by an exchange of views.
Follow-up to the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors on 17-18 March 2017 in Baden-Baden
The presidency and the Commission informed Ministers on the outcomes of the G20 meeting.
Any other business
a) European Defence Fund
The Commission informed Ministers about its European defence action plan, focusing in particular on the launch of a European defence fund. This item was delayed from February ECOFIN.
b) Status of implementation of financial services legislation
The Commission informed Ministers on the status of implementation of financial services legislation.
ECOFIN: 7-8 April 2017
An informal meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Valletta, Malta on 7-8 April 2017. EU Finance Ministers discussed the following items:
The Eurogroup president briefed Ministers on the outcomes of the 7 April meeting of the Eurogroup. Ministers discussed the challenges and opportunities faced by the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), on the basis of the progress made with respect to the Five Presidents’ report, and the Commission’s White Paper on the future of Europe.
Working Session I: Non-performing loans
Ministers were joined by Central Bank Governors to discuss the current situation of non-performing loans (NPLs) in European banks.
Working Session II: Boosting private investment in North Africa and beyond—What role for the EU institutions?
Ministers discussed ways to encourage further private investment in North Africa and beyond, given the importance of these neighbouring regions to the EU. The discussion drew on analysis by Bruegel and included participation from a number of actors in the region including the European Investment Bank (EIB), the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Working Session III: Tax certainty in a changing environment
In the context of rapid changes in the international tax system and work being conducted by the OECD and the IMF, Ministers reflected on ways to improve tax certainty in support of the EU’s attractiveness as a place for doing business.
Any Other Business: IMF and G20 issues
Ahead of the April spring meetings in Washington DC, Ministers agreed the EU terms of reference for the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to be held on 20-21 April, the EU statement to the IMFC, and an updated agreement on EU co-ordination in the IMF.
Work and Pensions
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council: Informal Meeting
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met for the informal meeting of Ministers on 3 and 4 April 2017 in Valletta, Malta; I represented the UK. The informal meeting does not tend to include legislative matters, but provides an opportunity for in-depth policy debates. The subjects for discussion are determined by the presidency, who hosts the meeting.
The European Commission presented an EU road map for “making work pay”, which was the theme of the informal meeting. The Commission set out details of the White Paper on the future of Europe as well as an update on expected proposals for the European pillar of social rights.
The presidency led a discussion on skills, emphasising how poor skills lead to social exclusion. Member state interventions highlighted the importance of investing to raise skill levels and improve the quality of jobs.
A plenary discussion was held on the subject of addressing inequalities in the labour market, with a focus on the challenges of responding to digitalisation, the rise in self-employment, new types of employment, and demographic change.
The presidency gave a presentation on “moving away from benefit dependency—a Maltese perspective”, setting out how work has to be incentivised over benefits and how activation is critical. The Social Protection Committee chair outlined a framework of six key themes, including the balance between activation and income support; the provision of individualised support; and the availability of affordable services.
The final plenary of the informal meeting considered the labour market as a vehicle for social inclusion. Member states emphasised the importance of activation for the long-term unemployed, as well as the role of access to child and social care.