European Union. Here are some of the events in the EU that got the most attention during the year.
Unemployment in EU member states did not fall in 1997 either. At the Luxembourg summit in late November, the Union’s heads of state and government discussed efforts to create more jobs, against a background of just under 11% on average in the EU. The worst is the situation in Spain, Finland and France (between 12 and 22%). Swedish unemployment is 10%. The lowest unemployment rate is in Luxembourg, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands (between 3.3 and 6.3%). The summit agreed that each country should fight unemployment according to the following principles: easier entry into the labor market, improved entrepreneurial spirit and better adaptability (education and development) to the changing demands of the labor market. The program can be interpreted as a first step towards a common EU stimulus policy. According to abbreviationfinder, EU stands for European Union.
The EU budget for 1997 includes ECU 90 billion (about SEK 800 billion). Budget Commissioner Erkki Liikanen wants to reduce the EU’s vulnerability in enlargement to Eastern and Central Europe. Costs should be reduced by simplifying administration: programs administered by Brussels should be fewer but larger. The structural and regional funds will be concentrated to those in need. Today, the EU provides some kind of support to such a large number of regions that every other EU citizen is indirectly covered. The aid shall be reduced to cover every third citizen.
Trade policy in 1997 was dominated by conflict with the United States in two areas: bananas and hormone steaks. The EU lost both cases to the WTO jury. Thus, the EU must not retain its barriers to trade that favor banana producers from ancient colonies in Africa and the Caribbean. The so-called dollar bans, which are cheaper and dominated by US-owned Chiquita, cannot be excluded according to the order the EU has so far applied. Nor can the EU stop the import of American meat on the grounds that it is hormone-treated. The 1997 WTO negotiations also opened to free competition in telecommunications services. This means that domestic companies are not given priority when large telecommunication systems are established in a country. Customs duties and fees on computer products have also been eliminated.
The infrastructure will be improved through the TEN project, Trans-European Networks, which includes motor and railways, bridges, electricity, telecommunications and gas networks. The major problem with financing has been partially solved by the Amsterdam Summit in June 1997 deciding that the European Investment Bank’s favorable loans are allowed to cover 75% of the investment instead of 50% as before.
Internal market appears to be the EU’s greatest success recipe, despite the fact that member states still neglect to incorporate the rules into their national legislation. The Commission’s ambitious plan of action, adopted by the Member States at the Amsterdam Summit in June 1997, states that the single market should be fully completed on 1 January 1999. Then begins the monetary union, which complements the internal market. Key industries in the EU are starting to open up to competition: a gradual liberalization of the gas market will facilitate this, but postal liberalization is postponed until 2003. It is also very slow to open the public procurement for competition. The Commission wants to push to stop Member States from so-called unfair tax competition. Despite the fact that taxes have traditionally been a strict intergovernmental area in the EU, Sweden has pushed for the EU to act against tax competition between member states. According to Countryaah.com, some EU countries, e.g. Ireland, attracts foreign investors through very low corporate taxes.
In 1997, agricultural policy accounted for 46% of the EU budget of SEK 790 billion. However, this is a steadily decreasing proportion. In 1998, the proportion will be 45%, reflecting the structural transformation that is sought in the EU: agriculture should become more efficient, less dependent on subsidies and more adapted to the world market. Ecology and a living countryside should receive separate support. The reforms are expected to raise protests from farmers.
Gender equality work advanced in 1997. The Women’s Lobby appreciated the decision of the European Court of Justice to allow positive discrimination against women. The case in question involved a German woman who was given a teaching job instead of an equally qualified man. Gender equality also received a strong writing in the Amsterdam Treaty and in the conclusions of the Luxembourg summit in December.
Disaster assistance was concentrated in 1997 to refugee inference around the large lakes in central Africa, where projects worth 205 million. ecu (million ecu = mecu) was distributed. In former Yugoslavia, projects for 165 mecu have gone to rehabilitation, housing, health care, food and transport. The victims of the floods in Poland and the Czech Republic received 15 mecu. ECHO, the EU’s aid body, channels its support through the UN, the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and others. and is the world’s largest donor of relief efforts.
Lobbying in the EU is intensifying. Media people, parliamentarians and commission officials are subjected to heavy lobbying by the thousands of lobbyists representing diverse interests in Brussels. Following a decision in Parliament in July 1997, control has tightened. Lobbyists must be registered in order to conduct their activities in Parliament. For example, a powerful lobbying alliance is fighting for the EU to maintain duty-free sales after 1999. Only a unanimous Council of Ministers can overturn the decision to stop duty-free sales after 1999. Transport workers, aviation and ferry industries across Europe do not believe that tax-free sales will be abolished, even though tax-free contrary to the principle of the internal market. The tax-free decision could cost tens of thousands of jobs, lobbyists say.
Environmental policy in the EU was dominated in early 1997 by the Commission for the first time imposing fines on the member states of Germany and Italy for delaying the incorporation of EU environmental laws into their own legislation. The Commission expects that more than 500 Member States’ offenses against EU environmental regulations will be prosecuted and brought to court unless Member States implement the rules in their national law. The Danish Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard also presented a proposal for how cars should be built from recyclable materials to reduce the landfill in the cemeteries. In June, the rules on labeling of genetically modified organisms, GMO, were accepted, which places the consumer’s demands on information at the center. The EU countries agreed on an ambitious plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Nordic cooperation. Nordic co-operation within the EU broke ground in 1997 due to Sweden’s, Denmark’s and Finland’s differing attitudes both to the currency union and to security policy. While Finland strives to become a member of EMU on 1 January 1999, Sweden wants to wait. Denmark has been granted an exception to membership in EMU after its first no in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. The Nordic heart issues, e.g. gender equality, environment and openness, however, gained a stronger position in the Amsterdam Treaty, but this was less due to the coordination of the Nordic countries. Finland also broke the Nordic line on a broad start of negotiations for all candidate countries. Finland supports the Commission’s position that a smaller group of countries, including Estonia, should be allowed to start.
Patents Directive. In November 1997, EU Internal Market Ministers agreed to adopt the disputed Patent Directive, which allows patents on parts of people. A gene can thus be patented if its function is specified in the application. However, human embryos may not be used for commercial purposes. The draft directive was rewritten following violent criticism from the European Parliament, which in its so-called first reading forced important restrictions on the directive. Parliament’s concerns that the directive could lead to cloning and patenting of people were taken into account in the new proposal, which was accepted by a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers. Belgium and Italy, both countries with a strong Catholic opinion, cast their votes. Parliament will, in a second reading, decide on the amended proposal.
The tobacco advertising disappears from the EU during a 3–8 year step-down period. The EU health ministers decided this in 1997, after the British government departed from its previous promise to support a total ban. Labor had received a million grants from Formula 1 sports, which are funded almost entirely by tobacco advertising. According to Formula One management, the sport threatened to disappear from Europe without tobacco advertising. Ministers’ compromise gives this sport the longest transitional period (8 years). For Sweden, the decision is of little national importance because the Swedish rules are stricter than the EU compromise.
EU enlargement was discussed at the Luxembourg Summit in December 1997: Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus start membership negotiations in 1998. With other applicant countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia and Lithuania – the EU initiates a control process to facilitate future membership. A so-called European Conference for the discussion of foreign and security policy and human rights will be established between the EU and all candidate countries, including Turkey. However, the Turkish government rejected this invitation as it considers that the EU is treating the country’s application for membership separately.
Transparency in the EU has increased in 1997 according to the European Ombudsman, the Finnish Jacob Söderman. Lack of transparency has otherwise dominated the complaints against the EU institutions, but the Amsterdam Treaty affirms the citizens’ right to information. All institutions except the courts have so far approved the common rules on access to documents.