Assessing Member States' progress on economic and social priorities


Commission adopts the European Semester Winter Package, registers a European Citizens' Initiative and presents guidance for its staff participating in European elections.

European Semester Winter Package

In its annual assessment of the economic and social situation in the Member States, the European Commission today stressed the need to promote investment, pursue responsible fiscal policies and implement well-designed reforms.

Challenges vary significantly across countries and call for appropriate and determined policy action.

This review of country-specific challenges comes against the backdrop of a European economy that is expected to grow for the seventh consecutive year in 2019, but at a more moderate pace. Employment is at a record high and unemployment at a record low. Public finances have also improved across the board, although some countries are still facing high levels of debt.

However, challenges remain. Productivity levels remain subdued, population ageing is intensifying and rapid technological change is having a significant impact on labour markets. Real household income remains below pre-crisis levels in some Member States. Youth unemployment has been significantly reduced, but is still unacceptably high in some Member States. At a time of more pronounced global uncertainty, it is crucial that EU Member States step up their action to boost productivity, improve the resilience of their economies and ensure that economic growth benefits all citizens.

Following the publication in November of the Annual Growth Survey and the recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area, which set out the priorities at European level, today's 28 Country Reports zoom in on the national dimension of the European Semester. The reports provide a detailed analysis of country-specific economic and social challenges. They will serve as the basis for discussions with Member States of their national policy choices ahead of their national programmes in April, and will lead to the formulation in late spring of annual Country-Specific Recommendations.

As a novelty of today's package, the Commission launched a discussion on investment challenges and priorities in the Member States and sets out first ideas as to how EU funds, in particular EU Cohesion Policy funds, can help in the forthcoming programming period 2021-2027. This will also serve to ensure greater coherence between the coordination of economic policies and the use of EU funds, which are a significant part of public investment in several Member States.

Overall, today's package include:

European Citizens' Initiative

The European Commission has today decided to register a European Citizens' Initiative entitled ‘Europe CARES - Inclusive Quality Education for Children with Disabilities'.

The objective of the initiative is to ensure: "the right to inclusive education of children and adults with disabilities within the European Union". The initiative states that while "over 70 million EU citizens have a disability and 15 million children have special educational needs" many "are facing excessive barriers in […] their right to quality inclusive education". The organisers therefore call on the Commission to "draft a bill on a common EU framework of inclusive education, which will ensure that no child is left behind when it comes to early intervention services, education and transition towards the labour market".

Under the Treaties, the EU can take legal action aimed at combatting discrimination based on disability as well as support Member States' efforts when it comes to education systems and vocational trainings. The Commission therefore considered the initiative legally admissible and decided to register it. At this stage in the process, the Commission does not analyse the substance.

The registration of this Initiative will take place on 4 March 2019, starting a one-year process of collection of signatures of support by its organisers. Should the initiative receive one million statements of support within one year, from at least seven different Member States, the Commission will analyse it and react within three months. The Commission can decide either to follow the request or not, and in both instances would be required to explain its reasoning.

Practical arrangements for staff participating in European elections

The European Commission has adopted today a Decision providing practical guidance for staff of the European Commission with regard to their participation in the European elections campaign in 2019. The guidelines are based on the already existing principles spelled out in the Staff Regulations. 

According to today's Decision and in line with the already existing rules, Commission staff is allowed to participate in the election campaign provided that three general conditions are respected.

Firstly, staff members must make a clear, public distinction between their private capacity as campaigners and their official capacity as staff members.

Secondly, they must not use Commission resources for the purpose of the campaign.

Finally yet importantly, staff must take particular care to comply with confidentiality rules, and abstain from any action or public expression of opinion that might reflect adversely on their position. More specifically, staff members who have been selected and standing as candidates shall inform the Commission which will have to decide on the necessary adaptations to working arrangements – using annual leave, part-time or leave on personal grounds as necessary - as any involvement in the political campaign should happen outside working hours. In particular, candidates will, as a general rule, be required to apply for leave on personal grounds for a period of one month before the polling day.