The priorities of the Italian Council Presidency are being outlined to the various parliamentary committees by Italian ministers on 2 and 3 September, following a first series of meetings held on 22 and 23 July. This text will be updated here after each session.
Foreign affairs: enlargement and accession agreements
The Presidency’s key challenge in the next six months is “the implementation of the association agreements with Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia", Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini told the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday 2 September. "We support enlargement, but without artificially accelerating it", she continued, adding that religious freedoms, work on eradicating the death penalty and promoting women's rights are also on the Italian foreign policy agenda.
In questions MEPs asked Ms Mogherini to specify what concrete steps would be taken towards enlarging the EU to include Balkan countries and Turkey, and also how the EU should respond to the crises in Iraq, Syria and Gaza. The also asked how Italy itself would approach the Russia/Ukraine crisis.
Civil Liberties: migration and data protection among priorities
Tackling immigration with "actions that deliver results" in the short, medium and long terms, fighting human trafficking, corruption and terrorism and combating hate crime, xenophobia and discrimination are some of the Italian Presidency’s key priorities in the home affairs area, said Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Tuesday. Replying to Civil Liberties Committee MEPs’ questions on border control and migration, he said that "responsibility and solidarity should go hand in hand" and stressed the need for stronger cooperation between the EU and African countries of origin and transit of migrants.
Data protection reform and the exchange of data with third countries, the European Public Prosecutor's Office and cooperation on criminal and civil matters are issues on which the Italian Presidency aims to make progress, said Justice Minister Andrea Orlando on Tuesday. "We will try to achieve a common approach during the Presidency" on data protection, he told MEPs, assuring them that the Presidency will take account of the "right to be forgotten", in the light of the recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling. On data retention, he said that the Council is awaiting a Commission proposal in the aftermath of the ECJ ruling declaring the 2006 directive invalid.
Economic affairs: “refocus on factors that can create growth”
Economy and Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan presented a "three pillar" growth strategy focusing on improved market integration, structural reforms and investment to Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee MEPs on Tuesday. "The EU2020 strategy must be refocused on factors that can create growth", he said, adding that creating an EU long-term investment fund, combatting money laundering and tax evasion and introducing the Financial Transaction Tax will be key areas of legislative work.
Youth unemployment will also be high on the agenda, Mr Padoan assured MEPs who asked about possible EU Commission/ECB/IMF "Troika" reform, what the Presidency would do to relieve the credit squeeze, especially on small and medium-sized enterprises, and for his views on budget deficits and spending flexibility. In his replies, he stressed that much can still be gained by better enforcing existing rules and learning from best practices in other EU countries.
Transport: talks on 4th railway package to start soon
Transport and transport infrastructure are vital to the Presidency's key priorities of growth and employment, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi told the Transport and Tourism Committee on Tuesday, in a meeting which new chair Michael Cramer (Greens/EFA, DE) opened with a minute's silence for the victims of the crashed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The Presidency aims to start negotiations with Parliament on the 4th railway package "technical pillar" files and will press for progress in the Council on the "political pillar" too, he said. The Single European Sky (SES) proposals will have a big impact on the sector's industrial landscape and the Presidency will encourage discussion of the SES2+ package, he said. The Presidency also aims to complete negotiations with Parliament on the weights and dimensions of trucks dossier, and will pursue work on cross-border enforcement rules, he added.
MEPs asked Mr Lupi to clarify the timeline for progress with the railway package, stressing that negotiations on the "technical pillar" negotiations should start as soon as possible. They also inquired how progress could be achieved on the port services proposals, road safety, the airports package files, the e-call proposal and how transport policy could be placed at the heart of efforts to combat climate change.
Development: "Humanitarian advocacy is the Presidency's first priority in the development area"
"Humanitarian advocacy is the Presidency's first priority in the development area" Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Lapo Pistelli told the Development Committee on Tuesday. The Presidency will also focus on strengthening the link between humanitarian assistance and civil protection, improving protection for vulnerable groups in emergency situations, and stepping up private sector involvement in delivering humanitarian aid. Topics discussed with MEPs included budgetary constraints on EU humanitarian aid, the links between development policy and immigration, and prospects for the post-2015 development aid framework.
Employment: countering youth unemployment, poverty and social exclusion
The Presidency will pursue inclusive and sustainable growth to tackle employment challenges and "restore the trust of EU citizens", Labour and Social Policy Minister Guiliano Poletti told Employment Committee MEPs on Tuesday. MEPs welcomed the Presidency's ambitious agenda, which aims to counter youth unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. The Presidency aims, inter alia, to put a halt to undeclared work, help the unemployed by increasing their mobility through the EURES initiative and better protect seafarers. Mr Poletti said he was committed to reaching an agreement at Council level on these files.
MEPs agreed that tackling youth employment should be a key priority, but also asked for more concrete and appropriate measures. Stimulating the mobility of the workforce is not by itself a solution to unemployment, MEPs said, adding that enhanced mobility should be complemented by measures such as cutting red tape to help small firms to create more quality jobs. They also asked the Presidency to address mismatches of skills on the labour market through education and training, and underlined that the social dimension should not be secondary to attaining economic growth. Concluding the meeting, committee chair Thomas Händel (GUE/NGL, DE) stressed that both Parliament and the Presidency must ensure that the Commission's REFIT programme does not undermine existing employment and social rights.
Constitutional Affairs: call for more transparency
Putting fundamental rights back at the heart of the political agenda, responding to citizens’ call for change in European elections, and tackling immigration were among the aims highlighted by Undersecretary of State for European Affairs Sandro Gozi when presenting the Presidency’s priorities to the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Tuesday. He also stressed the need to review progress in implementing the Lisbon treaty and ways to boost inter-institutional cooperation.
MEPs also posed questions about increasing transparency, particularly of Council and Court of Justice proceedings, subsidiarity, the location of the seat of the European Parliament, the public EU register for lobbyists (transparency register) and improving the European Citizens’ Initiative instrument.
Women's rights: getting more women onto company boards and re-opening talks on maternity leave
Getting more women onto company boards, "re-opening dialogue" on the maternity leave directive, breaking deadlock over the anti-discrimination draft law and boosting gender equality in non-EU countries are some of the Presidency’s key priorities in the women's rights and gender equality field, said Undersecretary of State for European Affairs Sandro Gozi told the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee on Tuesday.
Answering MEPs' questions on the presence of women in the next college of Commissioners, Mr Gozi said that "we are doing what we can to ensure that the Commission has at least nine or ten women". The Presidency will also look into the issue of gender-related violence, he told MEPs.
Environment and public health: energy security, GMOs, medical devices
"We need a cultural paradigm shift, and to make clear that growth and jobs can be created in the whole economy by being green" Environment Minister Gian Luca Galetti told the Environment Committee on Wednesday. Among other priorities, Mr Galetti cited the 2030 climate and energy targets, the reform of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), energy security, and the preparation of the UN Climate Change conference to take place in Lima, Peru, in December.
The Presidency also intends to make "significant progress" on the GMO cultivation dossier, reducing consumption of plastic bags, the air quality package, monitoring maritime transport emissions, and the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) legislation.
Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said the Presidency will seek a compromise with Parliament on the medical devices and in vitro Diagnostic medical devices regulations, and if possible an early second reading agreement on official checks in the agri-food chain. The Presidency will also aim to reach an agreement within the Council on novel foods, she added. “Health is not a cost but an investment for our society” she stressed.
The Italian Presidency will conclude its round of presentation of its priorities in the EP committees in September.