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Economy

Relaxation of fiscal rules extended to start of 2023

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The European Commission has today (3 March) announced that it intends to extend its relaxation of the fiscal rules under the Growth and Stability Pact. The EU will extend the “general escape clause” until 2023. 

The relaxation of the rules will remain in place after 2023 if the level of economic activity in the EU or euro area has not returned to pre-crisis levels (end-2019), this will be the key quantitative criterion for the Commission in making its overall assessment of the deactivation or continued application of the general escape clause.

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Today’s guidance also provides general indications on the overall fiscal policy for the period ahead, including the implications of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) for fiscal policy.

Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “There is hope on the horizon for the EU economy, but for now the pandemic continues to hurt people's livelihoods and the wider economy. To cushion this impact and to promote a resilient and sustainable recovery, our clear message is that fiscal support should continue as long as needed.” 

“Our decision last March to activate the general escape clause was a recognition of the gravity of the unfolding crisis,” said Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni. “It was also a statement of our determination to take all necessary steps to tackle the pandemic and support jobs and companies. One year on, the battle against COVID-19 is not yet won and we must ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of a decade ago by pulling back support too soon.” 

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Gentiloni added that the EU’s approach was also that of the G20 finance ministers who met last Friday.

Agility

The word of the moment appears to be ‘agile’, meaning that economies should be able to respond to the evolving crisis which still holds many uncertainties. The hope is that fiscal measures can gradually move towards supporting more forward-looking measures that promote a sustainable recovery. The guidance will be further detailed in the Commission's European Semester spring package.

Making the best use of the Recovery and Resilience Facility

It is hoped that the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) will play a crucial role in helping Europe recover from the economic and social impact of the pandemic and will help to make the EU's economies and societies more resilient and secure the green and digital transitions.

The RRF will make €312.5 billion available in grants and up to €360bn available in loans to support the implementation of reforms and investments. As well as providing a sizeable fiscal impulse, it is hoped that it will help mitigate the risk of divergences in the eurozone and the EU. Importantly for the facility, expenditure financed by grants from the RRF will provide a substantial boost to the economy in the coming years, without increasing national deficits and debt. 

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Defence

Essential infrastructure: New rules to boost co-operation and resilience

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Civil Liberties Committee MEPs endorse new rules to better protect essential services like energy, transport and drinking water.

With 57 votes in favour and six against (no abstentions), the Committee adopted its negotiation position on new rules on EU critical infrastructure entities. MEPs are aiming to better protect essential services (e.g. energy, transport, banking, drinking water and digital infrastructure) by improving member state resilience strategies and risk assessments.

Climate change is included as a potential source of disruption of essential infrastructure, and cyber-security is seen as an important aspect of resilience. As services are increasingly interdependent, the reformed directive requires local authorities to set up a single point of contact responsible for communicating with other jurisdictions. It also creates a new Critical Entities Resilience Group to facilitate communication between stakeholders, with Parliament participating as an observer.

MEPs push for broader scope, more transparency

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MEPs want to see more transparency when disruptions happen, requiring critical entities to inform the general public about incidents or serious risks. They also want to make sure that member states can provide financial support to critical entities, where this is in the public interest, without prejudice to state aid rules.

The Civil Liberties Committee proposes to widen the definition of essential services, so that protecting the environment, public health and safety, and the rule of law are also mentioned.

To make cross-border co-operation frictionless, MEPs finally want service providers to be considered “of European significance” if they offer similar services in at least three member states.

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After the vote, rapporteur Michal Šimečka (Renew, SK) said: "Critical entities provide essential services across the EU, while facing a growing number of both man-made and natural threats. Our ambition is to strengthen their ability to cope with risks to their operations while improving the functioning of the internal market in essential services. We are expected to deliver on a Europe that protects and that means also bolstering the collective resilience of the critical systems underpinning our way of life."

Background

The European Critical Infrastructure (ECI) directive currently covers only two sectors (transport and energy), whereas the reformed directive would expand this to ten (energy, transport, banking, financial market infrastructures, health, drinking water, waste water, digital infrastructure, public administration and space). At the same time, the new directive introduces an all-hazard risk approach, where the ECI was largely focused on terrorism.

Next steps

Before negotiations with the Council can start, the draft negotiating position will need to be endorsed by the whole house in a future session.

Further information 

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EU railways

EU offers young people 60,000 rail passes to DiscoverEU

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The Commission will provide free travel rail passes to 60,000 Europeans aged from 18 to 20 years, thanks to DiscoverEU. Applications open tomorrow, 12 October, at noon and close on 26 October, at noon, for a travel period in 2022, which will be the European Year of Youth.

European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “Over the past 18 months, in a true spirit of solidarity, our young people have sacrificed valuable youthful and defining moments of their lives. I am delighted that the Commission offers today a European boom of mobility with the 60,000 train passes. This European boom of mobility and opportunities will be further fostered by Erasmus+ and many more initiatives coming for the European Year of Youth in 2022.”

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “I am very glad to open this new round of DiscoverEU to give 60,000 young people the chance to discover the richness of our continent. In the spirit of the Commission designating 2022 the European Year of Youth, DiscoverEU is back, bigger than ever, with new opportunities for young people to take a train, broaden their horizons, extend their learning, enrich their experiences and meet fellow Europeans while travelling by rail as of March 2022.”

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This application round is open to young Europeans born between 1 July 2001 and 31 December 2003. Exceptionally, 19 and 20 year-olds can also apply after their rounds were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Successful applicants can travel between March 2022 and February 2023 for up to 30 days. As the evolution of the pandemic remains unknown, all travellers will be offered flexible bookings through a new mobile travel pass. The departure date can be changed right up until the time of departure. The mobile travel passes have a one-year validity. The Commission advises all travellers to check potential travel restrictions on ReopenEU.

Young people with special needs are strongly encouraged to participate in DiscoverEU. The Commission will put information and tips at their disposal and cover the costs of special assistance, such as an accompanying person, an assistance dog, etc.

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Successful applicants can travel alone or in a group of up to five people (all within the eligible age range). To reinforce sustainable travel - and thereby support the European Green Deal, DiscoverEU participants will predominantly travel by rail. However, to ensure wide access across the EU, participants can also use alternative modes of transport, such as coaches or ferries, or exceptionally, planes. This will ensure that young people living in remote areas or on islands also have a chance to take part.

Every member state is allocated a number of travel passes, based on its population, as a proportion of the overall population of the European Union.

Background

The Commission launched DiscoverEU in June 2018, following a proposal from the European Parliament. It has been formally integrated into the new Erasmus+ programme 2021-2027.

DiscoverEU connects thousands of young people, building a community across Europe. Participants who had never met before linked up on social media, exchanged tips or offered local insights, formed groups to travel from city to city or stayed at each other's places.

In 2018-2019, 350,000 candidates applied for a total of 70,000 travel passes available: 66% of candidates travelled for the first time by train out of their country of residence. For many, it was also the first time they travelled without parents or accompanying adults and the majority indicated that they had become more independent. The DiscoverEU experience has given them a better understanding of other cultures and of European history. It has also improved their foreign language skills. Two-thirds said that they would not have been able to finance their travel pass without DiscoverEU.

Since 2018, former and prospective DiscoverEU travellers now form a diverse and engaged community that meets on- and offline to share their experiences.

Participants are invited to become DiscoverEU Ambassadors to champion the initiative. They are also encouraged to contact fellow travellers on the official DiscoverEU group online to share experiences and exchange tips, particularly on cultural experiences, or on how to travel digitally and sustainably.

To apply, eligible candidates need to complete a multiple-choice quiz on general knowledge about the European Union and other EU initiatives targeting young people. An additional question invites applicants to make an estimate of how many people apply in this round. The closer the estimate is to the correct answer, the more points the applicant gets. This will enable the Commission to rank the applicants. The Commission will offer travel passes to applicants following their ranking, until the available tickets run out.

More information

DiscoverEU

European Youth Portal

Factsheet

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Economy

Connecting Europe Express reaches final destination after 20,000km journey

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On 7 October, the Connecting Europe Express reached its final destination of Paris after 36 days travelling across Europe - West to East, North to South, and even visiting neighbours outside the EU.  This train was specially put together for the occasion of the European Year of Rail 2021, aiming to raise awareness of the benefits of rail and the challenges which still need to be overcome. The train made over 120 stops, crossed 26 countries and 33 borders, travelling on three different gauges along the way.

Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said: “The Connecting Europe Express has been a rolling laboratory, revealing in real-time the many achievements of our Single European Rail Area and our TEN-T network to allow for seamless travel across our Union. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who helped us turn the Connecting Europe Express from an idea into reality, a packed and exciting itinerary, memorable meetings – of minds and persons – and a true flag-bearer for European rail.”

Andreas Matthä, Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) chairman and CEO of Austrian Federal Railways, said: “The Connecting Europe Express has achieved two targets today. Not only has it reached its final destination in Paris but, more importantly, it has highlighted the challenges in cross-border train services. If another important target, the Green Deal, is to be a success, it must become as easy to drive a train through Europe as it is to drive a truck. For this to be achieved, rail will need more capacity and new investments in infrastructure. Framework conditions must be adapted to create a level playing field between all modes of transport. I congratulate and thank everyone involved in this highly successful project.”

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The final event in Paris was an opportunity to present the initial conclusions drawn during the unique train journey.

  • First, for rail to unleash its potential, a true cross-border, modern, high-quality rail infrastructure is a basic requirement. There is a clear need for joint action to complete the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T): the core network by 2030, and the comprehensive network by 2050. The Commission will propose changes to the TEN-T Regulation later this year. On 16 September, a €7 billion call for proposals under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) was launched, for projects targeting new, upgraded and improved European transport infrastructure. The EU's Recovery and Resilience Facility can support the modernisation and interoperability of rail infrastructure, plus key infrastructure projects, such as the Lyon-Turin lines, the Brenner Base tunnel and Rail Baltica.
  • Second, existing infrastructure must be better managed and its capacity improved. Digitalisation can help. For example, deploying the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) will increase capacity, safety, reliability and punctuality. Research and innovation will also unlock more capacity, and the new ‘Europe's Rail' partnership will build on the successful work of Shift2Rail.
  • Third, greater pan-European coordination and common requirements are needed, and the Single European Rail Area must be enhanced. For example, Europe's train drivers should be able to accompany their trains across borders, just as pilots and truck lorry drivers can. And the 4th railway package must be transposed quickly to eliminate other remaining obstacles created by national rules and establish an open and competitive European market for rail – technically, operationally and commercially.
  • Fourth, rail needs to become more attractive to encourage more people and companies to choose rail. Improving ticketing and options for planning travel across transport modes would help, as would lowering the costs of rail travel in comparison to the alternatives. Against this backdrop, the Commission will present an Action Plan to boost long-distance cross-border passenger rail services in December.

Background

The Connecting Europe Express has been a collective European achievement. It has brought together national, regional and local authorities, society at large and the rail sector, from new entrants and incumbent operators to infrastructure managers and the supply industry. More than 40 partners from the sector joined forces to combine an Austrian sleeper coach with an Italian dining coach, a Swiss panoramic coach, a German seating coach, a French conference coach and a Hungarian exhibition coach; completing the standard gauge train with an Iberian and Baltic train. The railway sector association CER coordinated the technical and operational running of the trains with the 40 plus railway actors involved. 

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Throughout its journey, the train hosted several conferences and a mobile exhibition, and welcomed school classes, policymakers, stakeholders and other citizens on board. Additional conferences and welcome events were organized along the way and the train stops coincided with key events such as the informal meeting of transport and energy ministers in Brdo, Slovenia, as well as the first-ever Western Balkans Rail Summit in Belgrade. In Halle (Saale), Germany, passengers witnessed the beginning of the era of digital automatic coupling for freight wagons as well as intermodal operations at the Bettembourg terminal in Luxembourg.

More information

Connecting Europe Express

Blog

Route and events

Tourbook

Exhibition

Photo contest

Partners

Resources

European Year of Rail

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