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What Should We Expect from the EU in 2017?
| Jo Antoons

What Should We Expect from the EU in 2017?

As a global immigration law firm, our daily work is significantly influenced by legislation produced at the EU level. Therefore, we are always keeping a close watch on the policy plans put forward by the European Commission. Every year-end is a key moment, as the EU’s executive body issues its work plan for the coming twelve months.
At the end of October, the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, presented the 2017 programme, setting out the priorities for the year ahead. This agenda aimed at delivering a ‘Europe that protects, empowers and defends’,  gives us a comprehensive overview of next year’s key political initiatives. Nevertheless, it does not exclude unplanned initiatives in case urgent and unforeseen action is required at EU level. This was the case in the past two years, with the refugee crisis and the terrorist threat significantly shaping the EU legislator’s activity in the fields of migration and home affairs.
But these two developments will also considerably influence the work to be carried out in the next years. The 2017 work programme certainly confirms this in its title (a ‘Europe that protects…’) and content (the priority given to EU’s asylum and border control legislation is unquestionable).
So what exactly from this 16-page policy document and its five annexes will impact business immigration to and within the EU? Not many of the new initiatives currently planned for 2017, but some of the proposals that have already been put on the table in previous years and which are currently being discussed by European co-legislators (the Council and the European Parliament) – with negotiations continuing in 2017. 
Annex III of the work plan tells us that priority will be given to:
(In terms of external border control)
  • The EU Entry-Exit System (part of EU’s Smart Borders Package) that will apply to all non-EU citizens admitted for a short stay in the Schengen area (maximum 90 days in any 180 day period). It will consist of an automated system facilitating the border crossing of bona fide travellers and the detection of over stayers (see our client alert here).
  • The Revision of the Schengen Code to introduce systemic checks on EU nationals when crossing an external border of the Schengen Area (see our client alert here).
(In terms of intra-EU labour mobility)
  • The revision of the Posted Workers Directive: The proposal to revise the 1996 Posted Workers Directive was issued in March 2016. Whereas the Commission’s is to deter social dumping and ensure ‘equal pay for equal work at the same place’, the proposal seems to be quite controversial among EU countries. A compromise on this dossier which has more to do with labour law than immigration law – although they are strongly interlinked – could however, be found during the incoming Maltese Presidency of the Council.
Conversely, Annex 1V informs us that some initiatives have been withdrawn due to insufficient consensus among states: for example the Registered Traveller Programme.
Furthermore, surprisingly, the 2017 work plan does not mention the EU Blue Card. However, this does not mean that adoption of this proposal is not foreseen in 2017 (which may still be the case). The omission may simply be a consequence of the Commission’s political decision to emphasise its strong focus on protecting borders and ensuring fair working conditions for mobile workers, while the objective of attracting highly qualified migrants is minimised.
At first sight, this does not seem to be an overwhelming amount of work. Yet, this is consistent with the Commission’s  better regulation agenda aiming to reduce the quantity but increase the quality of EU legislation. But is this all? Well, much work still remains in terms of overseeing the quality of transposition of EU laws into national legislation: Intra-Corporate Transferees Directive, Students and Researchers Directive, Enforcement of Posted Workers Directive, Free Movement of Workers Facilitation Directive, and others.
And what about Brexit? The UK’s withdrawal process has not yet been initiated but, although not in the work plan, Brexit will undoubtedly be a major topic in 2017. European leaders will informally talk about Brexit again on the margins of the European Summit scheduled for 15-16 December 2016.  
So, it seems that a busy 2017 lies ahead of us of all, but knowing what to expect is already the first step in getting ready for what will come.