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The EU Budget proposal and its impact on the digital sector

On 27 May, the European Commission put forward its proposal for a major recovery plan. The plan includes not only a proposal for the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 – The EU budget powering the recovery plan for Europe, but the European Commission also proposes to create a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU.

Next Generation EU, with a budget of €750 billion, together with targeted reinforcements to the 2021-2027 EU budget with a proposed budget of €1.1 trillion, will bring the total financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion. Including other schemes such as Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (Commission’s safety net for workers), the European Stability Mechanism Pandemic Crisis Support (Eurozone’s enhanced credit line) and the European Investment Bank Guarantee Fund for Workers and Businesses (focused primarily on small and medium-sized companies), with a combined budget of €540 billion, significant funds will be available for European recovery.

Next Generation EU will raise money by temporarily lifting the European Commission’s own resources ceiling to 2.00% of EU Gross National Income, allowing the Commission to use its strong credit rating to borrow €750 billion on the financial markets. To help do this in a fair and shared way, the Commission proposes a number of new own resources among which extension of the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) to include maritime and aviation sectors, a carbon border adjustment mechanism, a digital tax and a tax on large enterprises.

Finally, the Commission has published an update of its 2020 Work Program, which will prioritize the actions needed to propel Europe’s recovery and resilience.

The future is digital

The outbreak of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digitization across all areas of the economy and society. New technologies have helped businesses and public services to keep functioning and have made sure that international trade could continue. It is expected that, in the long run, the pandemic will have triggered permanent social and economic changes: more remote working, e-learning, e-commerce, e-government. It has, therefore, become imperative for businesses and governments to invest in digitalization.

The twin transitions to a green and digital Europe remain the defining challenges of this generation. This is reflected throughout the Commission’s proposals, which stress that investing in digital infrastructure and skills will help boost competitiveness and technological sovereignty.

Implications for the digital sector

A new instrument, the Solvency Support instrument would be primarily aimed at countries hit hardest by the crisis and unable to provide state aid to their most vulnerable sectors. The distribution of this ‘immediate and temporary’[1] tool will also aim to prioritize green investment according to the Commission. While welcomed by poorer countries the instrument might not have the desired effect unless agreed upon and deployed quickly by the Member States.

The Strategic Investment Facility will be used to promote the green and digital transitions by investing in 5G, artificial intelligence, the industrial internet of things, low CO2 emission industry and cybersecurity. Since such investments might become significantly riskier in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Commission stands behind a common European approach to provide the crucial long-term investments for companies implementing projects of strategic importance. The Strategic Investment Facility will take a more forward-looking approach by focusing on ‘projects relevant for achieving strategic autonomy in key value chains in the single market.

The Digital Europe Programme will be used for the development of EU-wide electronic identities and for the building of strategic data capabilities, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, secured communication, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, supercomputers, quantum and blockchain. The Commission has managed to withstand the significant pressure from Member States to reduce the funding of the Programme and the digital transition remains one of its key priorities.

In terms of financial inputs, the digital sector would be affected by two of the newly proposed taxes, aimed at funding the Commission’s so called ‘own resources’ used to repay the recovery package. The new digital tax would come into play at EU level if no global solution could be reached at OECD level. If the tax is applied to companies with an annual turnover higher than €750 million, it could generate up to €1.3 billion per year for the EU budget. The other relevant provision is the new corporate revenue tax, which if applied according to the same principle as the digital tax at a rate of 0.1 percent could generate up to €10 billion annually.

The Commission tried to introduce a European digital tax last year but its proposal was blocked by several Member States. The chance of such a proposal being accepted at this date appear slim as unanimity is required and Ireland, amongst others, has been adamantly against it. However, with the departure of the UK who had previously provided strong backing for Ireland’s opposition, some form of digital taxation being accepted remains a possibility. The new corporate tax was also previously unsuccessfully introduced by the Commission in 2016 and would be aimed at ‘companies that draw huge benefits from the EU single market and will survive the crisis.’[2] The chances of the proposal being accepted are also relatively low with countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands strongly opposing it. The proposal might also provoke a ‘race to the bottom’ phenomenon where companies relocate to countries willing to provide them with the most favorable business conditions. While both taxes are facing strong opposition from some Member States, the alternative of increased national contributions might convince leaders that accepting a form of these levies would be the more politically savvy option.

In conclusion, the new EU budget proposal creates new opportunities and challenges for the digital sector with the potential application of new pan-European taxes but also with additional funding devoted to digitalization, increased connectivity and sustainable value chains. The Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the increasing importance of digitalisation for the daily functioning of the economy and the Commission’s proposal reflects that through a series of digital political priorities. Increased connectivity, investment in strategic digital capacities (artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, blockchain and more) building a real data economy and legislative efforts on data sharing (a EU-wide Data Act), as well as a thorough reform of the single market for digital services (Digital Services Act expected in late 2020). The combination of budgetary provisions and policy priorities makes the moment beneficial for a transition to online business models, a trend which has appeared during the pandemic but is expected to remain for the next few years.

[1] Annex to the Commission Budget Communication, p 6.

[2] Commission Budget Communication, p 15.

Brexit: impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the latest negotiatons rounds

During the last two months, the world has come to a stop because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Trade negotiations have not been exempted, and the EU-UK negotiations have been severely affected. As the virus broke out in Europe, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tested positive for the coronavirus and only a day later the UK chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost self-isolated, together with other key members of the negotiation teams. This obviously casted a shadow of doubt on the future of the negotiations, when expectations were already quite limited concerning what could be achieved in such a short amount of time.

Despite the major disruption, and the delay taken in the negotiations, the EU and the UK resumed the Brexit discussions on 15 April. During that call they agreed on negotiating rounds lasting a full week during the weeks of 20 April, 11 May and 1 June.

After the negotiations round of 20 April, Michel Barnier immediately expressed his disappointment regarding the progress of the talks, specifically on key issues such level playing field and fisheries. The UK, too, recognized the lack of progress on governance and level playing field and stressed that there cannot be any deal until the EU drops its insistence on imposing conditions on the UK which are not found in any other EU trade agreements.

Unfolding a blaming game between the UK and the EU, where Britain accuses the EU of treating the UK as “unworthy” partner in the negotiations, Michel Barnier blaming the UK for not being realistic and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan adding that the UK would be ready to accept a no-deal, while blaming the failure to reach a deal on the impact of COVID-19 on the negotiations

However, according to Frost, a comprehensive free-trade agreement is within reach, alongside individual agreements on issues such as law enforcement, nuclear energy, and aviation. On 19 May the UK Government published 12 legal texts on several of the above mentioned issues which will be the basis of the last negotiations rounds in June, following the EU’s publication its own draft trade deal earlier this year.This new UK text appears to be both surpringly ambitious in certain areas (for example, equivalence provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade) and less surprinsingly, lacking ambition on regulatory cooperation and level playing field.

Extension of Brexit?

As stated above, there will be only one additional negotiation round before the agreed high-level stock-taking conference, where the UK and the EU are supposed to determine whether enough progress has been made or if an extension to the transition period is required in order to reach an agreement.

Such an extension would have to be requested by the UK Government, and agreed by the European Council before 1 July. However, the UK has consistently made clear that it will not ask to extend the transition period as it would only prolong the negotiations, business uncertainty, and delay the moment at which the UK can take back control of its sovereignty.

With the lack of progress, how the events will unfold in the coming two months remain extremely uncertain, while pressure on both sides of the channel grow in favor of an extension.

EU consultation on Artificial Intelligence: seizing the business opportunity

With its new ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’ Strategy, the European Data Strategy and a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, all published on the same day (19 February 2020), the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen is fully committed to digitalizing our society. Zeroing in on the AI White Paper, it is clear that the Commission tries to find a delicate balance between building both an ecosystem of excellence that supports the development and uptake of AI and an ecosystem of trust where AI is also regulated and safe for everyone. The European Commission has already undertaken quite some work in defining its approach to AI and in consulting stakeholders. It is now proceeding with an official written consultation, seeking feedback on the White paper through a questionnaire.

While the European Commission has the prerogative to initiate the above ideas and strategies, the European Parliament has not stood still in the past couple of months and has proactively, and extensively, positioned itself and defined its priorities. Most notably, the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) is working on multiple AI reports, focused on the technology’s ethical aspect, its civil liability regime and intellectual property rights for the development of AI technologies. Furthermore, also the Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee (CULT) is working on its own report on AI applications in education, culture and the audiovisual sector, and a EP Resolution has been drafted on automated decision-making processes and ensuring consumer protection and free movement of goods and services.

 

While the discussion around AI at EU level seemed to have stemmed exclusively from the new Commission’s strong will to act on this issue, since then feedbacks from civil society, NGOs, companies and others, have been highly requested to shape further the future framework.

The latest opportunity for stakeholders to contribute to the discussion is the Commission’s Consultation on the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, closing on 14 June.

The questionnaire explores certain aspects of the White Paper, including specific actions to build an ecosystem of excellence, options for a regulatory framework for AI and further consultation on the question of safety and liability aspect of AI.

To zoom in on a specific and rather important aspect of the questionnaire for businesses, the Commission is seeking feedback on whether the introduction of new compulsory requirements should be limited to high-risk applications, and whether the current definition and criteria for this risk-based approach is the right way forward. New requirements and standards would regulate aspects such as training data, human oversight and so on. In addition, the European Commission is seeking feedback voluntary labelling for any other AI-powered services that could be qualified as “low-risk”. The intention and content of such voluntary labelling scheme is still fully open for discussion.

There are two key opportunities for businesses here through this process, that should not be overlooked:

First, this should be seen as the perfect opportunity to question, understand, assess and if necessary, improve companies’ practices when developing or using AI in their daily activities. The Commission and Expert Groups have developed various tools such as the White Paper, but also the  assessment list of the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI., that can guide this type of exercise. Do we allow for human oversight? Does the data we use could lead to biased decisions? Would we benefit for a voluntary label or other form of self-regulation? Those are some of the questions that companies operating in the EU could ask themselves to stay relevant in the market.

Second, share companies should share their experience with policymakers to ensure that a new EU legal framework does not hinder business activities or innovation beyond what is necessary to protect consumer and fundamental rights, and to ensure that any new legal framework does not create legal uncertainty or unnecessary red tape. Referring once again to the risk-based approached, the possible evolution of the qualification and criteria for “high-risk” use can have a significant impact on companies. Stakeholders have an opportunity to shape rules that could ensure the EU remains an open, competitive, and innovative market.

There have been certain voices calling for a reassessment of the Commission’s plans in relation to AI under the new circumstances created by the COVID19 outbreak, which could shed new light on the costs of not using AI-powered solutions. The Commission has however clearly insisted on the fact the questionnaire would be the perfect opportunity to reflect further on what a future regulation should look like to ensure that AI fulfill its promises for society.

Dr2 Consultants hosts webinar on competitiveness of transport sector post COVID-19

Main takeaways

The COVID-19 outbreak has seen an unprecedented impact on the transport sector in the EU. Due to national containment measures, travel restrictions and the closure of border crossings, passenger transport is at a standstill and trade flows are severely impacted. In order to help EU citizens and businesses, the Commission has issued several contingency measures to support the transport sector, e.g. by identifying green freight lanes, issuing guidelines on passenger rights and allowing financial relief under the temporary state aid framework.

In this context, Dr2 Consultants organized a dedicated transport webinar on 7 May 2020, focusing on the question how to reinstate the EU’s transport industry in a post COVID-19 era, in order to ensure the transport sector can enable economic growth, secure jobs, increase global competitiveness and allow people and goods to move across Europe and beyond. Mr. Daniel Mes, Member of the Cabinet of Executive Vice-President on the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, responsible for the transport portfolio, and Mr. Jan-Christoph Oetjen, Member of the European Parliament (Renew Europe) and Vice-Chair of the Committee for Transport and Tourism took part in the panel discussion and shared their views on the subject.

The main takeaways from the webinar are:

  • The Commission is working on a coordinated exit strategy in which all modes of transport are covered, including practical advice on how to restart operations while ensuring the safety of the passengers;
  • It is crucial that the transport sector returns to its old strength and becomes even more resilient. It is a joint effort by the EU and its Member States to ensure the European transport sector remains competitive on a global level;
  • Mr. Mes highlighted the need for political guidance when national measures are taken to ensure consistency in sectoral investments. The transport sector will be dependent on both public as well as private investments, which the Commission will aim to mobilize;
  • Both speakers highlighted that transport will be one of the main pillars in the green recovery of the European economy. Mr. Oetjen emphasized the need for using a mix of transport modes based on their characteristics and respective advantages. Mr. Mes stated that it is key to ensure that the recovery of the transport sector is green recovery, and conditions can be attached to financial aid received by the sector.

As the webinar was recorded, please find the playback link here.

As a next step, the Commission is expected to publish a follow-up to its ‘European roadmap towards lifting coronavirus containment measures on Wednesday 13 May, which will entail a broad package of recommendations aimed at reinstating connectivity and tourism. The package will include a Communication on tourism, protocols on health and safety for main tourism locations, guidance on safe and healthy resumption of passenger transport and guidance on lifting of international borders. The package is also expected to include an assessment of the application of the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU.

Jasper Nagtegaal Managing Partner at Dr2 Consultants

Dr2 Consultants is pleased to announce Jasper Nagtegaal (1985) as new Managing Partner. Nagtegaal has a professional background in maritime and logistics, he has fulfilled several pivotal roles predominantly related to Public Affairs and Business Development.

Jasper Nagtegaal will succeed Marlene ten Ham, who will return with her family to the Netherlands. Ten Ham – who contributed to the impressive growth of Dr2 Consultants over the previous ten years – will continue to work for organisations in (re)shaping their corporate and external affairs. Ten Ham will remain involved as Dr2 Associate Partner.

At Dr2 Consultants, alongside Managing Partner Margreet Lommerts, Nagtegaal will manage the international team of twenty colleagues and work for a wide range of clients including corporations, NGOs and European associations. Nagtegaal is looking forward to contributing to the further expansion of Dr2 Consultants in Brussels.

European Commission sets out coordinated response to counter the economic impact of COVID-19

On 13 March 2020, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a set of coordinated measures to fight the COVID-19 outbreak in the EU Member States.

The Commission will use all the instruments at its disposal to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic, in particular:

  • To ensure the necessary supplies to our health systems by preserving the integrity of the Single Market and of production and distribution of value chains;
  • To support people so that income and jobs are not affected disproportionally and to avoid permanent effect of this crisis;
  • To support firms and ensure that the liquidity of our financial sector can continue to support the economy;
  • To allow Member States to act decisively in a coordinated way, through using the full flexibility of our State Aid and Stability and Growth Pact Frameworks.

The Member States are encouraged to take all necessary measures to decrease an economic downturn. The Commission will apply flexibility in its supervisory role, allowing for the implementation of wide ranges of state aid schemes and flexibility in the EU fiscal framework (e.g. wage subsidies, suspension of payments of corporate and value added taxes or social contributions). Also, EU State aid rules enable Member States to help companies that are in need of urgent rescue aid or need to cope with liquidity shortages.

The Commission considers that the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as an “unusual events outside the control of government”, which allows for accommodating exceptional spending to contain the COVID-19 outbreak such as health care expenditure and targeted relief measures for firms and workers.

In the coming weeks, €1 billion will be redirected from the EU budget as a guarantee to the European Investment Fund to incentivize banks to provide liquidity to SMEs and midcaps.

Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative

Besides measures stemming from national budgets, the European Commission will set up a Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative worth €37 billion to stimulate the economy. In addition, the Commission is proposing to extend the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund by also including a public health crisis within its scope, in view of mobilizing it if needed for the Member States that have been hit hardest.

Transport

The transport sector has been hit especially hard by the spread of COVID-19. According to Von der Leyen, Member States are encouraged to take all necessary measures to support people in certain sectors such as transport, through, for example, short term employment schemes. Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU enables Member States to compensate companies for the damage directly caused by exceptional occurrences, which is applicable to aviation and tourism.

On aviation, the Commission has proposed targeted legislation to temporarily alleviate airlines from the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule – whereby air carriers must use at least 80% of their airports slots within a given period in order to keep them within the corresponding period of the next year. This is done to lower the economic impact for airlines, as well as the ecological impact of flying empty airplanes to be able to keep the slots. This targeted legislation, however, still has to be approved by the Council (expected next week).

Dr2 Consultants among top EU Public Affairs Consultancies in Brussels

Dr2 Consultants has been shortlisted among the top 60 EU Public Affairs Consultancies in the range of mid-to-large consultancies, published by Best in Brussels. With key sectoral expertise in digital & tech, transport and sustainability sectors, Dr2 Consultants has grown into a well-established consultancy firm and has experienced tremendous growth over the past years.

In 2019, Dr2 Consultants further expanded its client portfolio and grew its team of Public Affairs professionals who provide continuous guidance, support and strategic advice to our clients at both EU and Belgian level.

Furthermore, Dr2 Consultants opened two new offices, in New York City and in Copenhagen which, together with offices in Brussels, The Hague and Shanghai, form part of a network covering three continents and five countries.

In addition, Dr2 Consultants recently launched brand-new services:

  • the European Green Deal Impact Scan that helps companies identify risks and opportunities of new and existing legislation linked to the Commission’s European Green Deal initiatives.
  • the Brexit Office which offers support to organizations from local startups to European associations and corporations planning to settle in Belgium following Brexit.
  • the Dr2 Academy which provides tailor-made coaching for Public Affairs professionals and organizations about the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the field of EU Public Affairs.

Read our full profile here and get in touch with us for more information on how we can support your business.

 

News alert: Dr2 Consultants launches European Green Deal Impact Scan

The start of the new European Commission marked also the start of a new European Growth Strategy: the European Green Deal. The ultimate goal: to become the first climate-neutral economy by 2050!

The measures stemming from the European Green Deal will provide opportunities but will also pose challenges to businesses. Whether you are a front runner in your respective field or a company which is challenged by these new policies, the European Green Deal will affect your business.

Dr2 Consultants’ experience in dealing with sustainability issues allows us to identify clear-cut opportunities and threats for organizations dealing with the green transition.

Dr2 Consultants has, therefore, developed a ‘European Green Deal Impact Scan’. The Impact Scan will give you a comprehensive overview of how the European Green Deal will affect your business, identifying the opportunities and challenges as well as highlighting moments to positively influence policies and legislation.

If you want to know more about our European Green Deal Impact Scan, please visit our dedicated web page and do not hesitate to reach out to Ward Scheelen via w.scheelen@dr2consultants.eu.

Visit EGD Impact Scan webpage

News alert: Dr2 Consultants opens Brexit office

Tomorrow, on 31 January, the United Kingdom will officially leave the European Union, and the two parties will have eleven months to negotiate a formal trade agreement regulating trade relations between from 2021 onwards.

The Brexit brings uncertainties for companies currently based in the UK with many of them considering to move their headquarters to the EU where they can enjoy the benefits of the single market. Being the capital of the European Union and having an excellent geographical location with the vicinity of other European capitals, it is no surprise that numerous companies have looked at Belgium as a potential new location. Belgium is strategically located in the heart of Europe with access to critical infrastructure for maritime, rail and road transport.

Belgium, however, having no less than six governments, is a complicated political environment, where competences are spread over different levels. Guidance in the Belgian and European maze is therefore essential to develop businesses in Belgium.

Dr2 Consultants, a well-established Public Affairs consultancy based in Brussels, helps businesses find their best locations in Belgium and assist them to build constructive and long-lasting relations with Belgian and European stakeholders, develop and implement comprehensive Public Affairs strategies.

If you want to know more about our Brexit services, please visit our dedicated web page and do not hesitate to contact us at c.kremer@dr2consultants.eu for more information.

Dr2 Consultants hosts successful transport networking event with focus on sustainability

On 22 January, Dr2 Consultants hosted a transport networking event welcoming over 60 representatives of the transport sector both from EU institutions and private companies.

The event at Holland House provided an opportunity to exchange views about the policy priorities of the EU. The networking event featured two keynote speakers, Mr. Kristijan Ležaić, Counsellor at the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Mr. Daniel Mes, member of Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans’ cabinet giving interesting insights about the impact of the European Green Deal on transport.

The Presidency will focus on the improvement and finalization of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and the achievement of a competitive and sustainable shipping sector. The Croatian Presidency will also try to finalize trilogues on the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) as soon as the negotiations for the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 are completed.

Mr. Daniel Mes explained that the Commission is committed to work towards a sustainable transport sector that is beneficial for all. The Climate Law that will be presented in February will propose binding targets that will allow the EU to become climate neutral by 2050. Mr. Mes invited stakeholders to take an active role in shaping the EU’s climate agenda.

“At Dr2 Consultants, we promote constant interaction between policymakers and stakeholders in order to ensure future-proof legislation, especially now, at the beginning of the new policy mandate and in view of the challenges the EU is facing. We look back at a successful event and we look forward to gathering colleagues from the transport, digital and sustainability sector in the coming months.”- added Margreet Lommerts, Managing Partner at Dr2 Consultants.