From the Brussels office
Recent developments in the EU, including public procurement; victims of crime; recognition of professional qualifications; company law; insolvency; patents; Year of Citizens; environmental
Public procurement rules revision
Steady progress is being made in the European Parliament on the proposal for a directive amending the current EU Directive on Public Procurement, including the abolition of the distinction between A and B services. It is also the intention to ensure that electronic communication is used for all procurement procedures by June 2016. The Commission’s plan is to reduce public expenditure and to ensure that there are harmonised rules on e-procurement throughout the EU. Amendments to the proposed directive are due to be debated on 16 April.
Rights set for victims of crime
On 14 November the directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime was published in the Official Journal. The directive, to be implemented by 16 November 2015, aims to strengthen victims’ rights across the EU by ensuring minimum standards are met. Victims will gain free access to support services and to translation and interpretation services in the member state where the crime occurred. They must also receive comprehensible information on their rights, be treated with respect and should receive protection during the investigation of the case. The directive expressly aims to assist the families of victims as well as vulnerable victims.
Recognition of professional qualifications
Progress continues on the modernisation of mutual recognition of professional qualifications. However the Commission’s proposal to include notaries in the scope of the directive has turned out to be controversial in both Parliament and Council. Parliament’s position would partially exclude notaries while in Council the consensus appears to be around maintaining a full exclusion. Another innovation in the Commission’s proposal, the European Professional Card, has garnered wide support in the Parliament while the member states appear more reserved. The Council has said it supports the principle but concerns remain over the practical implementation.
Future of company law
On 12 December 2012, the Commission published its “Action Plan: European company law and corporate governance”. It identifies three principal lines of action, each comprising a number of more specific initiatives.
The first objective is enhancing transparency, for example through disclosure of board diversity policy and improving corporate governance reporting. The second element is engaging shareholders by enhancing shareholder oversight of matters such as remuneration policy, by regulation proxy advisers, and through employee share ownership. The third strand of action is supporting companies’ growth and their competitiveness, in particular by improving the framework for cross-border operations of EU companies. This includes initiatives relating to transfer of seat, improving the mechanism for cross-border mergers and ensuring that the regulatory framework facilitates cross-border activities of SMEs.
The final component in the Action Plan is an overarching codification exercise to streamline existing regulation and make it more easily accessible.
Insolvency Directive revision
On 12 December 2012 the Commission published a communication and proposal setting out its plans to revise the Insolvency Directive, which governs cross-border insolvency proceedings. The intention is to align the existing directive with modern national legal frameworks, which tend to encourage rescue and restructuring. There are also a number of provisions designed to improve the efficiency and transparency of proceedings and to encourage member states to work together, introducing further rules on jurisdiction and specific provisions relating to cross-border co-operation.
Unified patent protection
After 30 years of ongoing negotiations on the creation of a Unified Patent System (UPS) in the European Union, Parliament and Council at last reached agreement on 11 December 2012. Two draft regulations setting out provisions for the creation of unitary patent protection, and the translation arrangements, were accepted. Spain and Italy expressed concerns about the three official languages to be used – English, French and German – and accordingly chose not to sign up to the system. Under the UPS an inventor will be able to register a single patent which will be recognised in all 25 participating member states, significantly reducing costs and delays. There will also be a Unified Patent Court. The central division will have its seat in Paris with sections in London and Munich.
European Year of Citizens 2013
2013 has been officially named the European Year of Citizens. This marks the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the concept of European citizenship under the Maastricht Treaty. European groups and societies will aim to improve citizens’ rights throughout the EU by listening to their needs. The Commission will visit all 27 EU countries, presenting “citizens’ dialogues” where citizens will have the opportunity to speak directly to EU politicians to voice their concerns and discuss their views for the future of the EU. Other events aimed at overcoming citizenship issues will be held throughout the year.
There have been a number of developments in the environmental sphere over the last few months. Arguably the most important was the publication of the Commission proposal for the Seventh Environment Action Programme (or 7EAP), which will run until 2020. Entitled “Living well, within the limits of our planet”, it is designed to promote sustainable growth, create jobs, safeguard citizens from environmental threats to health, and protect nature.
2013 is the European Year of Air Quality. On 10 December the Commission launched a consultation looking at ways to revise the EU Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and associated policies. It closes on 4 March 2013.
The Commission has also presented its “Blueprint to safeguard Europe’s waters”. The Blueprint sets out the Commission strategy for ensuring that good quality water is available throughout the EU to meet the demands of its citizens, the economy and the environment. The Blueprint has been welcomed by the Council.
Finally, the review of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive is underway. The aim is to update the directive to take account of developments over the quarter century since the original directive was put in place. The Commission proposal identifies a number of problems with the current system which need to be addressed, including “insufficient operation of the screening process”, “insufficient quality and analysis of assessments”, and “risks of inconsistencies”.