Top News from the European Commission 23 February – 20 March 2015

Background notes from the Spokesperson’s service for journalistsThe European Commission reserves the right to make changes
24/2: How digital is your country? Find out in the new EU Digital Index
25/2: The Commission presents Energy Union Strategy
26/2: The Commission adopts its monthly infringements package
27/2: The Commission presents the winter economic package
3/3: High-level international conference on Ebola
3/3: The Commission presents European environment — state and outlook 2015
4/3: Wednesday 4 March: Towards a new European Neighbourhood Policy
5/3: High Level Conference – A new start for social dialogue
Early March (date tbc): Commission holds orientation debate on migration

Tuesday 24 February – How digital is your country? Find out in the new EU Digital Index
The news:
How many citizens go online to watch videos online or use public services? How many smaller businesses sell over the internet? How many homes have high-speed broadband? The answers to these questions – and 30 more – are found in the new EU Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI).
The Index looks at areas including connectivity (how widespread, how fast and how affordable broadband is), internet skills, the use of online activities from news to shopping, how integrated different digital technologies are (e-invoices, cloud services, e-commerce, etc), and at digital public services such as e-government and e-health. It looks country-by-country – and at Europe as a whole.
The background:
The Index compiles new data and uses a weighting system to rank each country based on digital performance.
This information is particularly relevant as the European Commission prepares its Digital Single Market strategy, due in May — so that the EU’s single market freedoms can “go digital”.
The objective is to make the most out of the great opportunities offered by digital technology, which knows no borders. Citizens should be able to access services, music, movies and sports events on their electronic devices wherever they are in Europe. Companies should be able to develop their activities in the EU, with the same data protection and consumer rules wherever their server is based. By creating a Digital Single Market, Europe can generate up to €250 billion in additional growth, and hundreds of thousands of news jobs, in the next five years.
The event:
The Index will be presented and discussed at the Digital4EU forum in Brussels on 24 February. Both Vice-President Ansip(@Ansip_EU) and Günther H. Oettinger (@GOettingerEU) will take part. Live coverage will be provided via web-streaming.
The contacts:
Mina Andreeva, Tel.: +32 229 91382, 
Marie Frenay, Tel.: +32 229 64532, 

Wednesday 25 February: Commission presents Energy Union Strategy
The news:
The European Commission will adopt a Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy. The Energy Union is one of the key priorities of the new Commission as laid down by President Juncker in his political guidelines.
The Energy Union Strategy will go hand in hand with a Climate Communication “Road to Paris” and a Communication reporting on the electricity interconnection target of 10%.
The background:
Much has been done in the field of energy over the last years. The EU has started to build the most integrated, competitive and sustainable Internal Energy Market in the world. Still the current energy policies are unsustainable in every sense of the term and don’t deliver all benefits that citizens and companies can expect.
Some few examples:
The fact that most of the EU’s energy comes from outside the EU, notably from a few countries which use their energy supply as a political bargain puts the EU at constant risk for disruptions. Energy systems in Europe are fragmented into 28 national silos and some parts of the EU are still insufficiently integrated in the energy system.
EU companies are facing gas prices which are no less than three times higher than those enjoyed by their American counterparts. This is a huge burden for industry and EU’s economy overall.
And when it comes to low-carbon technology: among the top 10 solar energy companies, none is European. Still too much energy is wasted, and the EU has not yet built the low-carbon economy and society.
The event:
Wednesday 25 February: Press conference with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and EU-Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete (details to follow).
Press release and MEMOs available on the day.
The sources:
More information about the Commission’s priorities:
The contacts:
Anna-kaisa Itkonen, +32 229 56186,
Nicole Bockstaller, +32 229 52589, nicole.bockstaller@ec.europa

Thursday 26 February: The Commission adopts its monthly infringements package
The news:
On Thursday 26 February, the European Commission will adopt its monthly infringements package. These decisions cover all Member States and most of EU policies and seek to enforce EU law across Europe in the interest of both citizens and businesses.
The background:
Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) gives the Commission the power to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations under EU law.
There are three successive stages: Letter of formal notice, reasoned opinion and referral to the Court of Justice.
If, despite the ruling, a Member State still fails to act, the Commission may open a further infringement case under Article 260 of the TFEU. After only one written warning, Commission may refer a Member State back to the Court and it can propose that the Court imposes financial penalties based on the duration and severity on the infringement and the size of the Member State.
The event:
A comprehensive fact sheet on all referrals and reasoned opinions, specific press releases on each referral and a fact sheet on the procedure will be available on the dayin the Press Release Database:
The sources:
For more information on infringements:
On the general infringement procedure: MEMO/12/12
The contacts:
Overall coordination:   
Ricardo Cardoso, +32 229 80100,
Justyna Milanowska, +32 229 94246,
Seán Pól De Búrca, +32 229 72216,

Friday 27 February: The Commission presents the winter economic package
The news:
On 27 February, the Commission will present the winter economic package, the next milestone in the streamlined European Semester cycle. It follows the adoption of the Annual Growth Survey last November and sets out the analytical basis for the adoption of country-specific recommendations (CSRs) in May.
The package will include:
28 country reports and one euro area report (staff working documents) analysing the economic policies of all Member States and the euro area as a whole. This includes in-depth analyses of macroeconomic imbalances for 16 countries, as identified by the Commission last November.
Possible further steps under the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure (MIP) and the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) for some Member States.
A chapeau Communication summarising the main findings and possible legal decisions.
It is the first time the Commission presents the winter economic package in this format and publishes country reports so early in the Semester cycle. The reports are no longer presented together with the country-specific recommendations in the spring, but three months earlier to allow more time for discussions with stakeholders and more ownership by Member States.
The background:
This economic package builds on the new “virtuous triangle” for jobs and growth that the Commission presented in its 2015 Annual Growth Survey: fiscal responsibility, structural reforms and investment. It is also aligned with the priorities of the Investment Plan for Europe, which calls for mobilising finance for investment, making financing reach the real economy and improving the investment environment. Finally, possible steps under the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) will take into account the guidance of the Commission from 13 January 2015 on “making the best use of the flexibility within the existing rules of the Stability and Growth Pact”. In the cases of France, Italy and Belgium, the Commission has announced last November that it would examine by early March 2015 its position vis-à-vis those countries’ obligations under the SGP in the light of the finalisation of the countries’ budget laws for 2015 and the expected specification of their structural reform programmes.
The event:
The winter economic package will be presented at a press conference on 27 February, exact timing to be confirmed.
The sources:
EU’s economic governance explained: MEM0/14/2180
The contacts:
Annika Breidthardt, +32 229 51536,
Audrey Augier, +32 229 71607,
Annikky Lamp, +32 229 56151,

Tuesday 3 March: High-level international conference on Ebola
The news
The European Union and key partners are organizing a high-level international conference on Ebola on 3 March to take stock of the fight against the outbreak, coordinate further action for the total eradication of the disease and discuss the recovery process in the most affected countries.
The event will be co-chaired by Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as Togo as Ebola coordinator of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations and the African Union.
The European Union will be represented by Vice-President and High Representative Federica Mogherini; the Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica; the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis and the EU Ebola coordinator and Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides.
More than 80 delegations have been invited, including Ministers from all West African countries and EU Member States, other countries that are contributing to the fight against Ebola, and relevant partners, such as UN agencies, the IMF, the World Bank, NGOs, the private sector and research institutes.
The background:
West Africa is currently facing the largest and most complex Ebola epidemic on record. The outbreak primarily affects three countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. So far, more than 22,500 cases have been confirmed and more than 9,000 victims have died.
The European Union has been monitoring the spread of Ebola and taken collective action at home and abroad. It has mobilised humanitarian, political, financial and scientific resources to help contain, control, treat and ultimately defeat the virus. The EU and its Member States have pledged over EUR 1.2 billion to fight the epidemic. The EU is contributing EUR 414 million to provide emergency measures and longer-term support as well as the development of vaccines and treatments.
The event:
The one-day event will take place in the Egmont Palace in Brussels. Facilities for the press and interview opportunities will be available on the spot. EbS will cover the event.
To attend the conference, please fill in the registration form at the link below, no later than 25 February, indicating your media profession in the “function” field:
Once you are registered, a media guide with practical information will be sent to you closer to the event.
The contacts:
Catherine Ray, +32 229 69921,
Irina Novakova, +32 229 57517,
Sharon Zarb, +32 229 92256,

Tuesday 3 March: Commission presents European environment — state and outlook 2015
The news:
A major 5 year report, released by the European Environment Agency reveals the state of the environment. EU Commissioner for Environment, Karmenu Vella, will draw on the report’s findings, presented by the Director of the European Environment Agency, Hans Bruyninckx, to outline Europe’s vision and opportunities to advance environmental policy and significantly improve the standard of living of its citizens.
The background:
The European environment — state and outlook 2015 report, provides a comprehensive assessment of the European environment’s state, trends and prospects, and places it in a global context. It informs European environmental policy implementation and analyses the opportunities to modify existing policies in order to achieve the EU’s 2050 vision of living well within the limits of the planet’s resources.
Short term trends are encouraging as European policies have reduced several environmental pressures; several of these have also been decoupled from economic growth. Yet looking to the long term prognosis there is a less positive picture.
Some examples:
Environmental policies have brought improvements in drinking water and bathing water quality. Hazardous pollutants have been reduced though serious health impacts still prevail in urban areas. Looking ahead, the less positive outlook reflects that (1) inside and outside Europe, climate change, depletion of natural resources, and biodiversity loss can have potentially wide ranging and long-term effects on our health and life quality; and (2) urbanisation and human vulnerabilities such as our ageing population can reduce the gains we have made through improved environmental awareness.
The event:
Tuesday 03 March: press conference with EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella and the Director of the European Environmental Agency, Hans Bruyninckx.
Press release and background note available on the day.
The sources:
The full report:
Information on EU Commissionner Karmenu Vella:
The contacts:
Enrico Brivio, +32 229 56172,
Iris Petsa, +32 229 93321,
Wednesday 4 March: Towards a new European Neighbourhood Policy
The news:
On 4 March, the European Commission and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will launch a consultation on the future of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).
The background:
President Juncker has indicated that the ENP will be reviewed within the first year of the new Commission’s mandate.
On 4 March, a joint Communication by the European Commission and the High Representative will be adopted. The purpose of this document is to frame a policy debate on the future direction of the ENP. The aim is to consult as widely as possible both with partners in the neighbouring countries and with stakeholders across the EU until the end of June.  After this public consultation, a further Communication setting out proposals for the future direction of the ENP will follow in the autumn.
The ENP was last reviewed in 2011. Given the significant developments in the neighbourhood since then, it is now essential to undertake a fundamental review of the assumptions on which the policy is based as well as the scope and how instruments should be used.
The event:
HR/VP Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn will give a press conference on 5 March in the Commission’s press room. A press release, a MEMO as well as the Communication will be issued on the day.
An ‘off-the-record’ technical briefing will also be organised in the press room on 3 March.
The sources:
Information on European Neighbourhood Policy:
The contacts:
Maja Kocijancic, +32 229-86570,
Anca Paduraru, +32 229-66430,

Thursday 5 March: High Level Conference – A new start for social dialogue
The news:
On 5 March, the Commission will host a high level conference to mark a new start for social dialogue. Leaders of European and national employers’ and workers’ organisations, will gather together in Brussels to discuss with the EU institutions concrete ways to strengthen social dialogue throughout the EU in line with the renewed EU economic and social priorities.
Discussions with social partners will revolve around the following questions:
How the social partners envisage their active involvement in President Juncker’s political priorities for the European Commission as set out in the document “A new start for Europe: My agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change”?
How could the involvement of European and national social partners in the European Semester be further strengthened?
How to further support the functioning of industrial relations and social dialogue at EU level and in the Member States?
The background:
Social dialogue at all levels is a prerequisite for the functioning of Europe’s social market economy and crucial to promote both competitiveness and fairness. 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the launch of the cooperation with European social partners at Val Duchesse. Well-developed tripartite and bipartite structures have been put in place, which have produced tangible results. However, in recent years social dialogue has been affected by the difficult socio-economic environment and has been delivering below its potential. The Commission is committed to work with social partners to improve the quality and effectiveness of social dialogue at all levels and todevelop joint solutions for the main challenges we are facing in Europe.
The event:
Journalists interested in attending the high-level conference are invited to contact Tove Ernst ( On-site registration is also possible.
Press release and background note will be available. The high-level conference will be live streamed and press events (more details to follow) will be broadcast by EbS.
Follow the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #EUSocDia
Available on EbS
The sources:
For more details about the event:
For more information on Social Dialogue:
The contacts:
Christian Wigand, + 32 229 62253,
Annika Breidthardt, +32 229 51536,
Tove Ernst, +32 229 86764,
Annikky Lamp, +32 229 56151,

Early March (date tbc): Commission holds orientation debate on migration
The news:
In the coming weeks, the College of Commissioners will hold an orientation debate on migration. The outcome of the debate will feed directly into the legislative and non-legislative measures for a European Agenda on Migration, as set out by the Commission in its Work Programme for 2015.
The background:
Creating a new European migration policy is one of the ten top political priorities of the Juncker Commission. Protecting the lives of asylum seekers, fighting human trafficking and addressing the reasons why people flee their homes and seek a better life in Europe are the most pressing challenges, as the recent terrible events in the Mediterranean have shown. At the same time, the new policy on migration must also ensure that all EU Member States apply asylum rules in the same manner by fully implementing the common European asylum system, with a focus on responsibility sharing and solidarity, and closer cooperation with non-EU countries. The policy will also include measures to encourage legal migration of individuals with much needed skills in Europe trough, amongst others, a review of the ‘Blue Card’ legislation.
On College orientation debates: they are initiated by the Commission President to prepare initiatives in strategic policy areas. Orientation debates can take place during the weekly College meetings, seminars or specific working meetings.
The event:
Early March (exact date to be announced): The College of Commissioners will hold an orientation debate on migration.
The sources:
President Juncker’s political guidelines:
The Commission Work Programme 2015:
Website of Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship:
The contacts:
Natasha Bertaud, +32 229 67456,
Milica Petrovic, +32 229 63020,