The European Council of 24 to 25 March

Jaanika Erne |

From 24 to 25 March 2011 was held the spring European Council. Again – as it is already the last day of March today, I feel somehow obliged to make for at least myself some conclusions about that European Council. 

The European Council began with expression of condolences for the loss of life in Japan. 

Concerning the financial crisis, the Council adopted a package of measures with the hope to move from the financial crisis toward sustainable growth. The Member States are more expected to cooperate here with the EU, and to inform about their measures, so that the Commission can analyse those measures already before the June European Council

The Council agreed upon action at the EU level with the aim to strengthen the Single Market, reduce the overall burden of regulation and promote trade with third countries. 

With regard to the internal market dimension, the European Council welcomed the Commission’s intention to present the Single Market Act and invited the European Parliament and the Council to adopt by the end of 2012 a first set of priority measures to bring a new impetus to the Single Market. Emphasized was the importance of completing the Digital Single Market. Under the Commission’s communication “Towards a better functioning single market for services”, the European Council called on Member States to fully implement the services Directive and on the Commission and Member States to take further actions where necessary to improve the internal market for services. 

As for the external dimension, in focus were promotion free, fair and open trade, conclusion of the WTO Doha Round, and Free Trade Agreements in 2011 in line with also the conclusions of the 16 September 2010 European Council. Setting out priorities for dismantling barriers to trade in third countries was also considered important. Further was developed the introduction of a global financial transaction tax. 

Six legislative proposals were made with the aim to strengthen economic governance. The “six-pack” includes: reform of the Stability and Growth Pact (aimed at enhancing the surveillance of fiscal policies and applying enforcement measures more consistently and at an earlier stage), new provisions on national fiscal frameworks, and a new surveillance of macroeconomic imbalances. 

An attempt to give new quality to economic policy coordination was made by agreement on the Euro Plus Pact initially by the euro area Heads of State or government and Bulgaria, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. The main aim is to further strengthen the economic pillar of EMU and achieve a new quality of economic policy coordination, with the objective of improving competitiveness and thereby leading to a higher degree of convergence reinforcing our social market economy. The 4 guiding rules in the Euro Plus Pact are: (1) it will be providing added value in line with and strengthen the existing economic governance in the EU; (2) it will be focused, action oriented, and cover priority policy areas that are essential for fostering competitiveness and convergence; (3) concrete national commitments will be undertaken by each Head of State or Government each year; (4) the Pact will fully respect the integrity of the Single Market meaning full commitment of the participating Member States. 

The Member States signatories to the Pact are bound to announce a set of concrete actions to be achieved within the next 12 months, and their certain commitments by the June European Council.  

The European Council adopted the decision amending the TFEU with regard to the setting up of the European Stability Mechanism, and calls for the rapid launch of national approval procedures with a view to its entry into force on 1 January 2013.  

The European Council gave importance to the preparation of the ESM treaty and the amendments to the EFSF agreement.  The ESM treaty will be activated by mutual agreement  and will assume the role of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM) in providing external financial assistance to euro-area Member States after June 2013.

The Council discussed the situation in Libya, and expressed its approval of the adoption of UNSCR 1973. The Council expressed its satisfaction with the „smooth“ conduct of the referendum on constitutional amendments held in Egypt on 19 March 2011, but understanding that the situation in each country is different, expressed its utmost concern at the situation in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain

The Council expressed its determination to develop a new partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood region and called for a rapid implementation of the orientations set on 11 March 2011. The Council agreed on first concrete steps to support the countries of the Southern Neighbourhood in the short term. 

The Council discussed the lessons to be drawn from the events that occurred in Japan, specifically nuclear safety (stress tests, cooperation of the European Commission with European Nuclear Safety Regulatory Group (ENSREG), expertise inter alia from the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association). But the Council also stressed the strategic importance of the EU/Japan relationship – oriented toward negotiations for a free trade agreement on the basis that Japan is willing to tackle tariff barriers and restrictions on public procurement inter alia the issue of non tariff barriers and restrictions on public procurement.