How to navigate Spain’s EU presidency policy agenda like a pro

How to navigate Spain’s EU presidency policy agenda like a pro

Posted on


Spare a thought for Spanish diplomats in Brussels. They’re going to be working flat-out until Christmas.

Sweden has spent the last six months trying to process a huge pile of legislative files, many of which were proposed late by a European Commission distracted by COVID-19 and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Despite commendable progress, many of these files still need a lot of work before being passed into law. Look at the files we’ve laid out below, then look back at what we wrote six months ago, and you’ll see many of the same entries.

Spain’s turn leading the Council of the EU is the last full-length presidency before next year’s European Parliament election, which will take place from June 6-9; campaigning will eat away at legislative capacity for several weeks before that, leaving Belgium just a few short months to wrap everything up before a new Parliament and Commission reset the agenda.

Here’s a selection of the files weighing down Spain’s in-tray.

Grappling with the AI boom

Name of key legislation: Artificial Intelligence Act

Why it matters: The European Commission was ahead of the curve when it proposed the AI Act, one of the world’s first comprehensive AI rulebooks, in 2021. But the technology has since leapt forward, notably with the introduction of ChatGPT in late 2022, and there’s a sense of urgency in the EU about getting the Commission’s proposal passed into law. Spain itself is keen to play a role, and is poised to host the bloc’s first “AI sandbox” — a testbed for companies that want to make sure their product is compliant with regulation.

State of play: The Council agreed its approach in December and the European Parliament did the same on June 14. Both texts expanded the Commission’s already mammoth original proposal to add sections addressing the rise of general-purpose AI and generative models. The Spaniards, who singled out AI as their presidency’s biggest priority, are going to start three-way negotiations and are eager to finish them. 

EU fault lines:  One friction point will be the use of AI-aided facial recognition in public places: Lawmakers want an outright ban whereas governments want to restrict it. The definition of what exactly qualifies as “high risk” AI might also be a snag.

Likely progress:

Everyone wants the AI Act to be done with, and Spain will act as a powerful cheerleader. Still, disagreements between the European Parliament and member countries, particularly over the vexed question of facial recognition, can’t be discounted entirely.  

— Gian Volpicelli

Boosting high-speed networks

Name of key legislation: Gigabit Infrastructure Act

Why it matters: The proposed regulation would allow a faster and cheaper rollout of 5G and fiber networks in Europe by reducing red tape and burdensome procedures, helping the EU achieve its digital targets for 2030. It will replace the 2014 Broadband Cost Reduction Directive, whose flexibility has led to big discrepancies across the bloc.

State of play: Although the proposal unveiled in February introduced new provisions, it builds on the directive it is intended to replace and was well received by member countries. Conversations are still at an early stage, though.

EU fault lines: Some of the novelties brought up by the proposal have raised concerns, as has the very fact that this is a regulation: Some governments would rather keep the flexibility offered by a directive. The issue of “tacit” approval, whereby a deployment permit shall be deemed granted in case of an unjustified delay, is proving to be quite contentious.

Likely progress:

There’s scope for Spain to make good progress on this file before getting to the really sticky issues.

— Mathieu Pollet

Securing connected devices

Name of legislation: Cyber Resilience Act

Why it matters: The regulation would impose new cybersecurity requirements on makers of anything connected — from consumer items like doorbells, washing machines and smart watches, to connected cars, industrial machinery and security cameras. The idea is every part of a product’s supply chain presents vulnerabilities to spies and cybercriminals, and that even mundane products can be important. A smoke detector in a coffee shop might not pose much of a threat but the stakes change when it’s inside a nuclear reactor.

State of play: The rules were proposed in September 2022. The text is currently with the Parliament and Council, with the Parliament set to vote in July. The Commission’s aim is to get the regulation adopted before the end of the year.

EU fault lines: The lead lawmaker in the European Parliament has suggested a 40-month implementation time, which industry would be most comfortable with, but it’s unlikely that they’ll get that. Otherwise, apart from some debate on which products should be considered highly critical and to whom manufacturers should report vulnerabilities, there is widespread political agreement on quick adoption of the legislation.

Likely progress:

The Spanish are aiming to have a position agreed among member countries in the Council by the end of their presidency. That will mean a lot of technical talks in the early weeks of September.

— Antoaneta Roussi

Cracking down on child sexual abuse online

Name of key legislation: Regulation to prevent and combat child sexual abuse

Why it matters: Since the pandemic, the EU has seen a significant uptick in photos and videos of child sexual abuse material circulating on the internet. The European Commission has proposed rules that would require tech companies from WhatsApp to Google to use AI tools to parse through millions of messages to find, remove and report illegal images and conversations between minors and potential offenders. It would also create a new EU agency to enforce the rules.

State of play: Both the Parliament and Council are working toward a position on the draft law. EU lawmakers from different political groups started meeting in June to thrash out an agreement with the hope to vote in plenary in October. 

EU fault lines: The unprecedented measures to hunt down and remove illegal content and report problematic conversations have sparked widespread condemnation from EU privacy regulators, activists, experts and tech companies. They have warned it could undermine fundamental rights like privacy and break the highest forms of encryption. Separate legal analyses from the Parliament and Council have cast doubt that the provisions could stand up in court. Spain has said it supports breaking encryption for law enforcement to track offenders, but must play the neutral arbiter during its presidency. 

Likely progress:

Spain considers the law one of its tech priorities and said it intends to reach a deal with other EU countries. But it will likely be up to Belgium — which holds the next presidency — to finalize the law with negotiations between the Parliament and Council ahead of the 2024 election.

— Clothilde Goujard

Cooling down Big Tech’s royalty battles

Name of key legislation: Regulation on standard essential patents

Why it matters: Lengthy litigation over the value of technology patents has dogged the sector. This proposal aims to regulate how tech companies enforce their rights over standard essential patents (SEPs), which protect indispensable technology. Under the new rules, the EU’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) would make the SEP process more transparent by running a register of the patents and details of their royalty rates. Companies would need to register their SEPs and determine fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory royalty rates before they are allowed to go to court.

State of play: The Commission proposed the rules in late April, after a series of consultations throughout 2022. Talks will soon start over the details in both the Parliament and Council.

EU fault lines: The proposal has already whipped up intense lobbying, so expect heated debate in both institutions. Patent holders already complain it will let other Big Tech companies get away with using their technology without paying for it, for example.

Likely progress: 

As with anything involving Big Tech, there’s both a sense of urgency and a robust debate surrounding this file.

Edith Hancock

Setting the status of bike couriers

Name of key legislation: EU Platform Work Directive

Why it matters: Around 28 million people work casually for digital platforms in the EU, delivering people to restaurants and pizzas to homes. For years, the job status of those workers was unclear. Platforms claim their workers like the flexibility and should be seen as self-employed, while unions and leftist politicians say they are akin to employees — and entitled to the rights that come with that status. The Commission has proposed a set of criteria to determine when gig workers are presumed to be employees.

State of play: The rules were proposed in December 2021. Parliament adopted a pro-workers position early this year, which significantly lowers the bar for gig workers to be reclassified as employees. In June, after several delays, member countries finally struck a deal on their position — but it’s completely different from Parliament’s, setting up troubles in trilogues.

EU fault lines: Spain favors a broad employee classification, in line with the Parliament, and introduced a domestic law covering similar ground in 2021. But many other governments are more in line with the platforms. Closing such a politically contentious file will get increasingly difficult as next year’s EU election looms.

Likely progress:

This file has been a rollercoaster, and you can expect more twists and turns as it heads into trilogues.

— Pieter Haeck

Harnessing the power of health data

Name of key legislation: European Health Data Space 

Why it matters: The European Health Data Space (EHDS) promises to dramatically reshape how health data is shared for both patient care and research. The legislation aims to make it easier to access and use the bloc’s most valuable data, with wide-reaching implications for doctors, patients, academics, policymakers and industry. While all players negotiating the health data space agree it’s much needed, there are deep divisions over controversial aspects of the Commission’s plan such as patient consent and intellectual property protection. 

State of play: The file is moving along swiftly, with the Parliament pushing for it to get to trilogues by the fall and then concluded safely before the EU election. “If you don’t do it by the end of this year, I’m afraid that this will be transferred over to the next Parliament or the next Commission, and then who knows?” said Tomislav Sokol, one of the MEPs leading on the file.  

EU fault lines: Whether patients need to give consent for the data to be used for research and policymaking will be an important issue to hammer out. The Swedish presidency has also made changes to the governance of the health data space, giving member countries a greater role. The Parliament is expected to push for a bigger role for patients, doctors and industry on the board governing the EHDS. Finally, it’s an open question how much protection is afforded to industry data in terms of intellectual property rights and trade secrets.

Likely progress:

There’s significant momentum behind this file, and the disagreements appear to be manageable.

— Ashleigh Furlong

Updating pharma rules

Name of key legislation: Revision of the general pharmaceutical legislation

Why it matters: The European Commission’s once-in-a-generation reform to its pharmaceutical rules is already controversial, with last-minute delays and rumors of backdoor industry influence. In the end, the provisions are widely seen as tough on the large and influential pharmaceutical sector. Drugmakers would be heavily “encouraged” to launch new medicines across the entire EU at the same time, with the aim of narrowing the gap between Western countries and Eastern ones. There’s also a reform of the EU’s drug regulator, stricter environmental standards, and new rules around labeling on boxes of medicines, among other things.      

State of play: Both the Council and the Parliament need to find their negotiating positions on the package, which is made up of one regulation and one directive. Sweden hasn’t advanced the file far in the few weeks since the proposal.

EU fault lines: Governments seem to be mostly in agreement with the Commission that something needs to be done to improve access to medicines, but expect some resistance from the most pharma-friendly countries. Denmark in particular is opposed to the package, while Germany has also made some noises that it’s not totally on board.     

Likely progress:

Spain has other health files on its plate, so progress on this one may have to wait. One Spanish diplomat said that the plan is to hold just one or two working party meetings on the topic.

Carlo Martuscelli

Finding a watchdog a home

Name of key legislation: Regulation establishing the Authority for Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism

Why it matters: This file will be contentious because Madrid is among 10 cities vying for the coveted new EU agency, giving Spain a difficult balancing act as it negotiates the criteria that should be set. Diplomats from rival countries are already muttering concerns of a possible conflict of interest into their cappuccinos in Brussels cafes.

State of play: Council and Parliament have developed their own versions of the AMLA bill and are waiting to begin legislative negotiations to find a compromise text. Eva-Maria Poptcheva, the Spanish liberal MEP co-leading Parliament’s negotiating team for AMLA, and her colleagues are hoping for one round of political talks on AMLA in June. Once the criteria are set, candidate cities can formally submit their bids.

EU fault lines: Knives are out. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg are vying against Spain and each other, and their representatives in Brussels are happy to talk up their applications. It’ll be up to Poptcheva and the Spanish Council presidency to organize hearings for AMLA hopefuls to mark their pitches and try to finalize the bill by year-end. 

Likely progress:

Given the fierce competition, there’s a decent chance that negotiations could stretch into 2024, when the Belgians take over the EU presidency. Of course, that won’t solve the questions of neutrality, as Brussels is also a candidate city.

— Bjarke Smith-Meyer

Topping up the coffers

Name of key legislation: Multiannual Financial Framework midterm review

Why it matters: The EU’s coffers are depleted. Money earmarked for foreign policy spending has been vacuumed up by support for Ukraine, while rising interest rates have ballooned the cost of servicing EU debt far beyond what was forecast when the EU started issuing bonds to fund the post-pandemic recovery fund. Salaries of EU officials are also indexed partly to inflation, meaning they’re due a raise. Migration and industrial competitiveness have also emerged as new priorities in need of a boost.

State of play: The Commission will on June 20 ask for a top-up from EU countries to replenish its coffers. The budget lines set for an increase include financial support for Ukraine, migration policy, investments in strategic sectors, admin costs, and the higher EU debt servicing bill.

EU fault lines: The budget is one of the EU’s most contentious files. The size of the pie and how it is shared is subject to cut-throat negotiations between EU countries, each seeking to maximize their gains. They are normally grouped into net payers and net receivers. There’s a lot of reluctance from net payers into the budget, including Germany and the Netherlands, to provide more money to the EU, with the exception of that destined for Ukraine.

Likely progress:

Updating the budget requires unanimity from EU countries. Hence the file is likely to get drawn into long negotiations, possibly falling hostage to vetoes from countries wishing to obtain concessions on other, unrelated files.

— Paola Tamma

Bank bailout reforms

Name of key legislation: Bank crisis management and deposit insurance framework (CMDI)

Why it matters: The Commission wants to tighten up EU rules for handling bank failures, which were put in place after the 2008 financial crisis to end taxpayer bailouts. But EU countries have continued to throw public money at midsized banks that run into trouble because they don’t neatly fit into the bank resolution regime. Plus, the March banking turmoil in the U.S. and the demise of Credit Suisse have shown that banking crises aren’t just consigned to the history books.

State of play: The Commission has been working on its plans for years, and finally brought forward the proposal in April. It remains politically contentious because EU countries fear being on the hook for losses in another country, and there’s resistance to the EU meddling with national regimes.

EU fault lines: Germany in particular isn’t on board with key parts of the reforms, and other EU countries are uncomfortable with some of the specifics. But there’s also a growing sense of goodwill. Unlike the long-dead European-wide deposit insurance scheme, EU countries are willing to have a debate.

Likely progress: 

The Spanish will try to capitalize on recent momentum to reach a general approach in the Council, but it’s still not going to be easy.

— Hannah Brenton

Protecting Europe’s culinary heritage

Name of key legislation: Reform of Geographical Indications

Why it matters: The heritage business is hugely lucrative when it comes to food — think of Italy’s renowned Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and others protected by the EU’s system of Geographical Indications. Upholding culinary traditions is both good business and good politics because it boosts profits and doesn’t cost governments any money. But competitive threats are emerging, such as knock-off produce increasingly being sold on online marketplaces. Hence the proposed revamp. 

State of play: The Parliament recently passed a position orchestrated by Italian MEP Paolo De Castro, the socialist rapporteur on the GIs file, that would strengthen protection in online commerce; simplify and speed up registration procedures; better protect GIs in processed products; and give more rights and financing for recognized producer groups to handle GI requests.

EU fault lines: Parliament’s proposal deviates from the Commission’s by minimizing the role of the EU’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in awarding GI designations — which may reflect the interests of the food and beverages industry that prefers existing scrutiny by DG AGRI. The Council, meanwhile, has yet to come up with a unified position, meaning that no date can yet be set for negotiations between the three branches of the EU on hammering out a final agreement. 

Likely progress:

Likely progress:

This isn’t the most contentious file, but also isn’t generally seen as the most urgent. With Spain distracted by other files and elections at home, it may not get very far.

— Douglas Busvine

(Finally) inking a mega-deal with Latin America

Name of key legislation: EU-Mercosur Association Agreement

Why it matters: Securing the trade deal with the Mercosur countries — Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay — would be a welcome boost for the EU’s economy and help cut its dependency on countries like China. Spain and the EU also want to reinforce their political relations with Latin American countries, as Brazil and others are staying neutral in the standoff between the West and Russia.

State of play: The latest EU gambit is to include an extra document with more environmental criteria. The Mercosur bloc has yet to provide its counteroffer, but the EU-Latin American summit in mid-July might provide an occasion. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva taking over as president of Brazil augurs well, as the EU couldn’t tolerate the wanton deforestation encouraged by his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro. The stars seem aligned for talks to inch toward the finish line this year, after two decades, but it’s so politically sensitive that anything could happen.

EU fault lines: Whereas Spain, Portugal, and pro-free trade countries like Germany and the Nordics want to conclude this deal fast, the likes of France, Austria and Ireland have traditionally held reservations for a mix of agricultural and environmental reasons. Recently, even the Dutch parliament called on its government to oppose the deal if it contains agricultural provisions.

Likely progress:

The full deal probably won’t be signed this year, but on a pact this big and contentious any progress will be seen as a success. Spain has a better chance than anyone has had in years.

Sarah Anne Aarup

Securing green-transition materials

Name of key legislation: Critical Raw Materials Act

Why it matters: Critical raw materials like lithium, cobalt and rare earth elements are essential for the EU’s push to go carbon-neutral by 2050. For now, the EU depends in large part on autocratic regimes for its supply of these materials: China provides nearly 98 percent of the EU’s supply of rare earths, for example. The Critical Raw Materials Act, proposed in March, is meant to shore up domestic extraction, processing and recycling, and to diversify imports of these key materials.

State of play: Brussels wants to catch up fast in the global race for raw materials, and the goal is to seal a deal under the Spanish presidency. EU institutions are pressing ahead and negotiations are already in full swing in both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

EU fault lines: Countries generally agree on the need for speed on this file but they don’t all see eye-to-eye on what to prioritize. While resource-rich countries like Portugal, Sweden and Spain are emphasizing easing conditions for domestic mineral extraction, countries with fewer reserves place greater emphasis on boosting trade relationships and recycling raw materials.

Likely progress:

The timeline is extremely tight, and negotiators are hashing out a host of major points. Some are contentious but there is a widespread sense of urgency.

Antonia Zimmermann

Sustainability in global value chains

Name of key legislation: Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence

Why it matters: This proposal would compel large EU-based companies to keep tabs on how their products’ global value chains might contribute to human rights abuses or environmental degradation, and could lead to them being sued by plaintiffs anywhere in the world. It has potentially huge consequences for EU businesses.

State of play: The Council and Parliament agreed their positions in December and June respectively, and trilogues are already underway. Nevertheless, the file remains very contentious so there’s no guarantee Spain can get it over the line.

EU fault lines: This law broadly pits progressives against conservatives, so expect the left-leaning Parliament to push for more stringent rules while a right-leaning Council asks to pare back the obligations on businesses. The current Spanish government is arguably closer to the Parliament’s position, but that might change after the elections.

Likely progress:

Much progress has already been made and the finish line is in sight. But governments, with business interests in mind, will fight hard against any perceived overreach from the Parliament.

Sarah Anne Aarup

Binning packaging waste

Name of key legislation: Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation; Waste Shipments Regulation

Why it matters: The packaging sector accounts for 40 percent of EU plastics use and 50 percent of paper, and generates 36 percent of municipal solid waste. The Commission’s green revamp of EU packaging rules would have a huge impact on scores of industries, including food, farming, alcohol, hospitality, cosmetics and apparel — and as such has proved divisive. The Waste Shipments Regulation revision, meanwhile, proposes tighter rules on the EU’s waste exports.

State of play: The Parliament is slated to adopt its stance on the packaging proposal in October, putting Spain under pressure to have a common approach by then so interinstitutional negotiations can commence. Trilogues on the Waste Shipments Regulation have already begun.

EU fault lines: While some countries are supportive of the Commission’s sustainable packaging aims, many believe the overhaul interferes too much with national recycling systems — including Italy, a particularly vocal opponent against the proposal’s focus on reusable packaging. On waste shipment negotiations, the Parliament will be pushing for a phaseout of plastic waste exports from the EU — something totally absent from the original proposal and the Council’s position.

Likely progress:

The Council and Parliament are likely to clash on these files. But if Spain can get governments to agree to a common position on packaging — and to strike a deal with the Parliament on waste exports — that’ll be a marker of solid progress.

Leonie Cater

Greening consumption

Name of key legislation: Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation; Empowering consumers for the green transition; Substantiating green claims; Right to Repair

Why it matters: These four files are all part of the European Commission’s push to make EU consumption greener and boost the development of the circular economy. They also aim to reduce waste and associated pollution by making products last longer, stop the destruction of unsold goods and better inform people about the environmental impacts of their consumption habits.

State of play: The Council and Parliament have agreed their respective positions on the ecodesign rules and on empowering consumers for the green transition; Spain can realistically hope to get these two files over the line during its presidency. The two institutions are yet to agree their positions on the Right to Repair and on substantiating green claims.

EU fault lines: The Council supports the idea of banning the destruction of unsold textiles under the Ecodesign Regulation, but the Parliament wants to expand the scope of this ban to also cover electronic products like smartphones. The Parliament is also pushing to add the prevention of premature obsolescence as one of the green requirements companies will have to respect when designing new products.

Likely progress:

The Spanish presidency could make a lot of progress on these files as they’re not proving to be very controversial.

— Louise Guillot and Leonie Cater

Getting the Green Deal past farmers

Name of key legislation: Nature Restoration Law; Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products Regulation

Why it matters: Healthy ecosystems are essential for securing food production, protecting against extreme weather events and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why reversing environmental degradation is an important part of combating climate change and biodiversity loss. Reducing the use and risk of pesticides can also contribute to these goals, while mitigating the harmful effects of chemicals on human health, including that of farmers.

State of play: Both proposals have hit resistance. MEPs from centrist and right-wing groups have pushed back against the nature restoration law, arguing that it will hurt farmers’ livelihoods, threaten food security and block the development of renewable energy. The pesticide reduction law is slowly being disarmed in both the Parliament and the Council. On both files, conservative lawmakers want the Commission to go back to the drawing board, but Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans said that won’t happen.

EU fault lines: While green and left-wing MEPs are pushing for higher targets, conservatives want to water them down, arguing that they’re too much of a burden on farmers and foresters. Over in the Council, EU countries also disagree on how prescriptive the laws should be about how they’ll have to meet the targets. They fear the new rules will limit the amount of land available for agriculture or renewable energy.

Likely progress:

As this article went to press, environment ministers were going into a meeting hoping to reach a common position on the nature restoration file. Beyond that, Spain can’t do much until Parliament has a position. For the pesticide reduction law, Spain has already said it will leave it to the Belgian presidency to try and strike a compromise among governments. Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told POLITICO that he expects the bill’s passage to be “delayed for a long time” — likely beyond next year’s EU election.

— Louise Guillot and Bartosz Brzeziński

Cleaning up gases

Name of key legislation: Decarbonized gases package

Why it matters: This policy aims to help replace polluting natural gas with a new generation of greener fuels — stepping up both domestic production and imports to use 20 million tonnes of hydrogen by 2030.

State of play: Governments agreed a common position in March this year, after the file suffered heavy delays due to successive political crises. Trilogues have now begun, but tricky technical details around “unbundling” who owns the infrastructure versus who provides the gas need to be hashed out.

EU fault lines: The package came close to being derailed by a row over nuclear-generated hydrogen, championed by France. Anti-atomic energy nations like Germany are vociferously opposed to including “pink” hydrogen in the targets. Paris parked its demands, allowing the Council to agree, but the row could always reappear in trilogues.

Likely progress:

The hydrogen and biofuels lobbies are pushing for a speedy settlement, warning Europe is falling behind the U.S. and China. Parliament officials say they expect the package to be finalized during the Spanish presidency.

Gabriel Gavin

Reducing air pollution

Name of key legislation: Ambient Air Quality Directive; Industrial Emissions Directive

Why it matters: Despite air pollution levels falling across the bloc in recent years, dirty air is still the main environmental risk factor for human health in Europe and causes well over 300,000 premature deaths each year, according to the European Environment Agency. The European Commission has presented a proposal to better control emissions from its largest industrial installations, and another to revamp its air pollution guidelines in line with the latest recommendations from the World Health Organization.

State of play: Member countries have already adopted their stance on the revised industrial emission rules, whereas Parliament is expected to do so in the summer, so Spain should be able to start work on trilogues. Negotiations on air pollution rules are at an earlier stage, but interinstitutional negotiations could kick off under the Spanish presidency, too, if the Parliament and Council adopt their stance swiftly. 

EU fault lines: The revision of industrial emission rules has proven particularly explosive, with governments and MEPs pushing back strongly against a proposal to widen the scope of farms covered by the new rules. Countries failing to meet the current air quality guidelines are pushing back against aligning the new ones closely with those of the WHO — which some lawmakers in the European Parliament have been calling for.

Likely progress:

Negotiators have made good progress on the revision of industrial emission rules, and Spain has a chance of significantly advancing work on the file — so long as it can push through the last tough disagreements.

Antonia Zimmermann

Cleaner cars and trucks

Name of key legislation: Euro 7 vehicle pollutant standards; Regulation on CO2 emission performance standards for new heavy-duty vehicles

Why it matters: Both proposals address road transport emissions: Euro 7 mandates cuts to a wide range of non-greenhouse gas pollutants spewing from all kinds of vehicles, including for the first time microplastics from tire abrasion and dust produced from brakes. The separate rules on heavy vehicles focus on CO2 emissions, with the required phaseout date for polluting trucks the critical issue of contention.

State of play: The Euro 7 rules were proposed in early November and the truck standards in February. Officials in both the Council and Parliament insist that the two files should proceed in lockstep, though work on Euro 7 is more advanced. At this stage consensus is around postponing the implementation of the non-CO2 standards to at least 2026 to give the auto industry more time to adjust.

EU fault lines: Industry captains are in full lobbying mode given that the laws effectively set the guardrails for their seismic shift to electric vehicles. The Council and Parliament are generally moving in the same direction on Euro 7, but are likely to be sharply split over what to do about clean trucks — the Commission wants an overall 90 percent slash to fleetwide truck emissions as of 2040, a target the Council is just about starting to discuss.

Likely progress:

There’s significant momentum behind these files, but the two-track approach complicates things — as does the fierce lobbying battle mounted by the car industry, which holds sway over many governments due to its contribution to employment and the economy.

— Joshua Posaner

Sustainable freight

Name of key legislation: Greening freight package

Why it matters: The forthcoming proposals will include plans to boost long-distance rail transport, a revision of combined transport rules, and new weights and dimension thresholds for heavy-duty vehicles. The plans sound niche, but they’re key cogs in the policymaking machine behind the EU’s Green Deal transport targets. For instance, the Commission’s 2020 sustainable and smart mobility strategy had targets to increase rail freight traffic by 50 percent by 2030 and double it by 2050, compared with 2015.

State of play: The proposals were supposed to land on June 21, but have been pushed back until July 11, so Spain will be starting from scratch.

EU fault lines: It’s too soon to say, as the proposals haven’t been presented yet. But the slightest controversy risks derailing efforts to close the files before the EU election and the end of the Commission’s mandate next year.

Likely progress:

The package is just one of many transport proposals still making its way through the EU institutions, a year before the EU election. Spanish officials may choose to focus their efforts on files they can realistically complete, or those where they can make enough progress to give the Belgians a fighting chance before the 2024 election.

Hanne Cokelaere

Power market reform

Name of key legislation: Regulation to improve the Union’s electricity market design

Why it matters: On the back of the EU’s worst energy crisis in a generation, spurred in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Commission in March proposed a targeted reform of the bloc’s wholesale electricity market. That was a key win for interventionist countries including Spain which had long pushed for a revamp, even if it ended up being more superficial than some had anticipated.

State of play: Technical discussions among EU countries have so far progressed well, though have left some of the thornier issues outstanding, including whether specific types of state subsidy schemes for new renewables investments should be made mandatory. A meeting of EU energy ministers in late June will be a critical moment for ironing out these issues.

EU fault lines: Debates over the file have become less polarized than some had expected, partly because all sides see something they like in there, while industry has praised the Commission’s proposal as broadly balanced. Interventionist and liberal countries still have some gripes, though, including whether capacity mechanisms — incentives to ensure that generators are available in times of high demand — should be reformed and whether governments can unilaterally impose windfall levies on highly profitable energy firms in times of crisis.

Likely progress:

Countries on all sides of the debate have said they want to see a deal by year-end. Besides shielding consumers from volatile energy prices, success here would further reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. Plus, having been the first to call for this regulation, Spain will be especially keen to shepherd it through to completion.

Victor Jack


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *