Recent Developments March 2017

News Update EU
06 March 2017

White Paper on the future of Europe

On 1 March 2017 the European Commission presented its White Paper on the future of Europe, looking at how Europe will change in the next decade. The White Paper sets out five different scenarios for Europe in 2025: (i) scenario 1: "Carry On", the EU27 focuses on delivering its positive reform agenda; (ii) scenario 2: "Nothing but the Single Market", the EU 27 cannot agree to do more in many policy areas beyond key aspects of the single market; (iii) scenario 3: "Europe at Different Speeds" the EU27 proceeds as today but allows willing Member States to do more together in specific areas; (iv) scenario 4: "Doing Less More Efficiently", the EU27 focuses on delivering more and faster in selected policy areas not acting in where it is perceived not to have an added value; and (v) scenario 5: "Doing Much More Together", Member States decide to do much more together across all policy areas. The White Paper is the contribution of the European Commission to the Rome Summit on 25 March 2017, the moment when the EU will discuss its achievements of the past 60 years but also its future. The White Paper marks the beginning of a process for the EU27 to decide on the future of their Union.

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Entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

The Trade Facilitation Agreement, the first significant multilateral trade deal concluded by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995, entered into force on 22 February 2017 after the required ratification by two-thirds of its 164 members. This agreement aims to simplify and clarify international import and export procedures, customs formalities and transit requirements. It will make trade-related administration easier and less costly, thus helping to provide an important and much needed boost to global economic growth. EU customs authorities will play a leading role in the implementation of the agreement, acting both as an example to follow and as an engine for further progress in trade facilitation within the EU and at international level. The agreement will also help improve transparency, increase possibilities for small and medium-sized companies to participate in global value chains, and reduce the scope for corruption. The deal was agreed during the WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali in 2013.

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Opinion ECJ on competence EU to conclude international agreements

On 14 February 2017 the Court of Justice of the European Union ("ECJ") issued Opinion 3/15 on the question whether the Marrakesh Treaty (Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired of Otherwise Print Disabled) may be concluded by the EU acting on its own or whether the participation of the Member States is necessary for that purpose. Under Article 3(1) TFEU the European Union has exclusive competence for matters within the scope of the common commercial policy, including the commercial aspects of intellectual property. In its Opinion the ECJ concludes that the Marrakesh Treaty does not come within the ambit of the common commercial policy. First, the treaty is not intended to promote, facilitate or govern international trade in accessible format copies; its aim is rather to improve the position of beneficiary persons by facilitating, through various means, their access to published works. It follows that the body of obligations laid down by the Marrakesh Treaty falls within an area that is already covered to a large extent by ‘common EU rules’ and that the conclusion of the Treaty may affect those rules or alter their scope. Since the conclusion of the Marrakesh Treaty may affect the directive on copyright or alter its scope, the Court concludes that the EU has exclusive competence and that the treaty may be concluded by the EU acting on its own, without the participation of the Member States. 
In our News Update of January 2017 we discussed the opinion of AG Sharpston regarding the competence of the EU to conclude the Singapore Free Trade Agreement. These questions of competence of the EU in external relations gain more interest and importance in the light of the negotiations and conclusion of agreements with the UK regarding Brexit.

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Benelux retail market – opportunities and challenges

On 20 February 2017 the General Secretariat of the Benelux published a report about the opportunities and challenges of a Benelux Single Retail Market for the benefit of retailers and consumers and its consequences for policy makers. It stresses that the Benelux can act faster than the overall EU in creating a Single Retail Market and, as such, can offer an example to the other EU Member States that can be invited to join the newly harmonised legal framework. According to the report, the General Secretariat of the Benelux Union could play an important coordinating and orchestrating role towards solving several Benelux retail cross-border challenges. As such, it may set the example for broader EU cooperation.

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The Houthoff Buruma EU team is available at or +32 (0)2 507 98 00.

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