Out-Law Analysis 3 min. read
14 Sep 2023, 2:56 pm
Ursula von der Leyen’s ‘State of the Union’ speech on Wednesday provides businesses with an insight into future EU policy on issues such as climate and digital transformation.
Von der Leyen is in the final year of her current term as European Commission president, though it is widely expected that she will seek a second term when the European Commission is re-formed after next June’s European Parliament elections. It was perhaps not surprising in that context that von der Leyen used her speech to reflect on her achievements in office.
She referred, for example, to “the birth of a geopolitical Union”, with a particular nod to the EU’s support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, along with the creation of a European Green Deal, which she described as the EU’s “answer to the call of history” amidst the climate emergency. Von der Leyen said Europe has also “led on managing the risks of the digital world”, citing the passage of legislation such as the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act as examples.
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Von der Leyen said the Commission is keen on being involved in the development of ‘minimum global standards for safe and ethical use of AI’
With the European Parliament elections looming, much of the focus of this Commission over the coming months will be on promoting progress on existing legislative initiatives. This is reflected in an accompanying ‘letter of intent’ sent by von der Leyen and her vice-president Maroš Šefčovič to the president of the European Parliament and Spain’s prime minister – Spain holding the presidency of the EU’s other law making body, the Council of Ministers, currently. Von der Leyen and Šefčovič called for a “shared sense of purpose on key legislation”, citing approval of the proposed new EU AI Act as an example – legislation von der Leyen said is a "blueprint for the whole world".
Other imminent work will include “the first legislative proposals towards reducing reporting obligations at the European level by 25%”, von der Leyen said. Those proposals, which she said will be made in October, will address one of the three major economic challenges she thinks the EU faces in the coming years – making it easier to do business in the EU. The other two challenges, in her view, are labour and skills shortages, and tackling persistent high inflation.
There were clues too about longer-term initiatives a von der Leyen-led Commission wishes to pursue.
On AI, von der Leyen said the Commission is keen on being involved in the development of “minimum global standards for safe and ethical use of AI”. She said a body similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a respected UN authority on assessing climate risk, should be set up to lead on addressing AI governance issues globally.
Von der Leyen is also eager to “finish the work” started with the European Green Deal. She said the climate agenda is an economic one and the EU has given a clear direction for investment and innovation, and believes the Green Deal has delivered frameworks, incentives and investments for businesses to go and deliver the solutions to the climate challenge.
The next phase of work will involve a series of “clean transition dialogues” with industry, with a view to supporting “every sector in building its business model for the decarbonisation of industry”.
A specific “European wind power package” will also be brought forward in 2024, which will involve the fast-tracking of permitting and improvements to the auction process for the wind sector. Further wind sector initiatives will focus on enabling access to finance, and building the skills and supply chains that industry needs.
More broadly, von der Leyen suggested industry can expect further proposals to promote EU-based cleantech manufacturing, while von der Leyen and Šefčovič’s ‘letter of intent’ also lists the setting of a 2040 climate target as one of the Commission’s “key priorities for 2024”. The EU already has a legally binding target of achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions, in comparison with 1990 levels, by 2050. The 2040 target will therefore be an important milestone and shape policy and regulation developed across sectors between now and then.
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Businesses across the pharmaceuticals industry will want to track the progress of a package of reforms to the EU’s general pharmaceutical legislation that the European Commission outlined earlier this year.
Another of the Commission’s ‘key priorities’ for 2024 is an “EU biotech and biomanufacturing initiative”. Out-Law has asked the Commission for more information on what that initiative is likely to entail. Businesses may need to wait for publication of the Commission’s next annual work programme for that detail.
In the meantime, businesses across the pharmaceuticals industry will want to track the progress of a package of reforms to the EU’s general pharmaceutical legislation that the European Commission outlined earlier this year. Those proposals are subject to the scrutiny of the European Parliament and Council of Ministers.
MEPs leading the Parliament’s negotiating team on that package are reportedly seeking a vote of the full Parliament in April 2024 with a view to that providing them with a mandate to enter so-called ‘trilogue’ talks with the Council and Commission on finalising the reforms. Obtaining that mandate before the June elections would mean the process of scrutiny of the proposals by the Parliament would not need to start afresh once the new Parliament is in place, meaning the trilogue talks could in theory commence next autumn, but the timetable is ambitious and subject to events outside of the lead negotiators’ control.
Other 2024 initiatives trailed by von der Leyen include moves to strengthen the EU’s partnership with Africa, a European defence industrial strategy, and communications on pre-enlargement reforms.
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