On 29 January 2020, the new European Commission has adopted its 2020 annual Work Programme, announcing 43 new concrete policy and legislative measures to be introduced over the course of the year of 2020, and thereby translating into practice the Political Guidelines of new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Climate/sustainability and digitalisation being the avowed key challenges for the EU in the years to come, large parts of the Programme aim to facilitate a "double transition" to a "fair, climate-neutral, digital Europe".

A large number of the proposals from the Work Programme (which is a non-binding document, but provides a fairly accurate overview of the key legislative and non-legislative initiatives planned to be proposed by the Commission) are scheduled to be adopted in the first quarter of 2020. On this basis, EU lawmakers in the Council and the European Parliament will elaborate and negotiate concrete policies and binding legislation.

The initiatives announced of the Work Programme will be highly relevant for companies in a wide range of sectors, as many of the envisaged proposals will include new and far-reaching rules which will have a significant business impact (e.g. proposals on climate change and environmental law under the Green Deal, as well as future proposals for regulation of artificial intelligence). It is therefore recommendable for companies to inform themselves about the planned reforms, in order to be prepared in advance, and, where appropriate, to be able to engage with EU decision-makers regarding the proposals affecting their business.

The key policy areas of focus for 2020 will be:

  1. Climate and sustainability – A European Green Deal
  2. Digital innovation – A Europe Fit for the Digital Age
  3. Economy, finance and taxation – An Economy that Works for People
  4. External affairs, including trade – A Stronger Europe in the World
  5. Social policy and migration – Promoting our European Way of Life
  6. Consumers and citizens' affairs – A New Push for European Democracy

Below, you will find an overview of new policy and legislative initiatives put forward in Annex I of the Work Programme, which are expected to exert concrete impact on all levels of operations of businesses, both based within the European Union, but also at a global level.

Climate and sustainability – "A European Green Deal"

In response to the challenges of global warming, depletion of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, and increasing natural disasters, and their respective impacts on European security and prosperity, the 2020 Work Programme frames the matter of environment and sustainability as the 'the defining task of our time', making it the key priority for the 2019-2024 legislature.

On the basis of the proposal for a European Green Deal published in the end of 2019, key initiatives for Q1/2020 with major implications for businesses include:

  • The European Climate Law, expected for March 2020, and aiming to make the European goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050 legally binding for all Member States;
  • The European Green Deal Investment Plan, with the objective of mobilising at least EUR 1 trillion in sustainable investments over the next decade; and
  • A Circular Economy Action Plan, which will include a sustainable products initiative, with a specific focus on the textiles, constructions, electronics and plastics industries.

The agricultural sector will face a number of new rules in the context of the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, announced for publication in spring 2020. The Strategy aims at reducing the use and risk of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics.

A Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility is expected to introduce major modernisation requirements for the transport sector. Finally, the Commission intends to reach certain goals for clean, affordable and secure energy; an effort that is expected to comprise a revision of the Energy Taxation Directive by June 2021.

Digital innovation – "A Europe Fit for the Digital Age"

The numerous policy and legislative initiatives announced for the Commission's second priority field - digital - are expected to influence the vast majority of companies: large and small; high-tech as well as traditional.

The most widely anticipated document for Q1/2020 in this field is the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, which is expected to be published on 19 February 2020. Whereas the White Paper falls short of the earlier announcement of the von der Leyen Commission to put forward binding legislation on ethics and AI within her first 100 days in office, a leaked, early version of the document indicates that the EU's executive is currently considering far-reaching proposals to regulate AI. The Work Programme points out that binding legislation on AI, in particular regarding safety, liability, fundamental rights and data aspects, is scheduled for adoption by the end of 2020.

Further initiatives announced for Q1/2020, and with key business implications for the digital field include:

  • A European Strategy for Data;
  • A new Industrial Strategy; and
  • an SME Strategy.

Economy, finance and taxation – "An Economy that Works for People"

During the first quarter of 2020, banks should in particular look out for the adoption of an Action Plan on Anti-Money Laundering. Other upcoming initiatives with relevance for businesses and organisations in the field of finance include a policy document on "A Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions", as well as a Review of the Economic Governance Framework. Key measures in the field of business taxation and in relation to the fight against tax evasion are planned to be launched in the second quarter of the year.

External affairs, including trade – "A Stronger Europe in the World"

Key areas of EU external affairs in 2020 include the EU's activities on human rights and democracy, including in relation to global business operations, as well as the EU's WTO reform initiative.

Other focus initiatives for 2020 with potential long-term implications for European organisations include the EU's engagement with the Western Balkans and the countries in the eastern neighbourhood, including Ukraine.

Social policy and migration – "Promoting our European Way of Life"

The Work Programme announces the publication of an Updated Skills Agenda for Europe for Q1/2020, which will expectedly exert some influence on the workforce considerations of EU businesses. The Commission further intends to produce a policy document setting out a New Pact on Migration and Asylum, including concrete, legislative proposals.

Consumers and citizens' affairs – "A New Push for European Democracy"

Key initiatives of major interest to companies in view of their workforce structure, scheduled to be published in Q1/2020, include the Report on the Impact of Demographic Change, and the European Gender Equality Strategy. The launch of a Communication on Better Regulation is planned for the second quarter, and is expected to set out ways to improve and simplify regulation to the benefit of companies.

What else to expect?

In addition to the proposed new EU policy and legislative initiatives, the Work Programme includes 44 so-called REFIT initiatives aimed at reviewing and simplifying existing legislation. The document also lists the priority pending legislative files, the legislative process of which is pending with the European Parliament or the Member States, and which are called upon by the Commission to speed up the process. The Commission further indicates a total of 34 pending proposals it intends to withdraw and existing legislation it proposes to repeal.

With the objective of ensuring that EU legislation does not impose unnecessary burdens on citizens and businesses, in particular including SMEs, the Commission committed to offset any newly introduced rules by retracting equivalent administrative costs in the same policy field.

Next steps

On the basis of the 2020 Commission Work Programme, in the coming weeks the European Commission, European Parliament, and the Member States in the Council will establish a Joint declaration on the EU's legislative priorities to swiftly implement the proposed measures.

The 2020 Work Programme for the first year of the new Commission's five-year tenure aspires to "set the vision, direction and pace" for the EU's policy and legislative activities until 2024. The von der Leyen Commission places particular emphasis on its first 100 days in office, with large parts of the proposed measures scheduled to be published in the first quarter of 2020.

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