The Chair for the EFTA CC, Mr Halldór Árnason, welcomed the ambassadors and members and addressed the agenda topics. He said: “Our societies, economies and labour markets are in a period of profound change, and there have been several new EU initiatives in the social field – including most notably, the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. These initiatives also affect the EFTA States and our Committee will continue to follow up.”
The Ambassador of Iceland, Ms Bergdis Ellertsdóttir, currently chairing the Standing Committee, briefed participants on recent developments in the EEA. She underlined that the EEA EFTA States had stepped up their dialogue with the EU in recent months on important issues, with a particular emphasis on the backlog in financial services, data protection, and Brexit.
Priority to ensure the incorporation of the General Data Protection Regulation
Ambassador Ellertsdóttir noted the challenges related to the acts outstanding in the field of financial services, which now constitute more than half of the entire backlog. She informed the Consultative Committee that there had been important progress, which should hopefully lead to the incorporation of numerous files in this area in the months to come. With regard to data protection, a key priority is to ensure the incorporation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) into the EEA Agreement. The GDPR, which becomes applicable in the EU on 25 May, aims at unifying data protection for all individuals in the EEA.
“Data protection is an integral part of the EEA Agreement, and our goal is to make the GDPR applicable in the EEA EFTA States at the same time as in the EU”, she said.
Dialogue with the EU and the UK
The parties were briefed further on the implication Brexit may have for the EEA Agreement by the Chair of the Standing Committee:
“Following the results in December on the first phase of the Brexit negotiations, our dialogue with the EU-27 and the UK has increasingly focused on the legal and practical options to ensure that relevant parts of the withdrawal agreement and any transition arrangements are extended simultaneously to the EEA EFTA States,” she said.
“We expect that our work on Brexit, both the dialogue with the EU-27 and with the UK as well as our internal efforts, will be further intensified in the months ahead, and will keep you informed of any major developments.“
Ambassador Ms Sabine Monauni from Liechtenstein commented on the issue of Brexit and how it has been dealt with so far in her country.
“We have submitted opinion papers to both the EU and the UK on how the EEA EFTA states can adapt to the transition. We are very focused on homogeneity prevailing.”
The Consultative Committee of EFTA is a forum for trade unions and employers’ organisations in the four Member States. Through its cooperation with social partners in the European Union, the Committee also serves as a link between social partners in EFTA and in the EU.
The Standing Committee of the EFTA States serves as a forum in which the EEA EFTA States consult one another and arrive at a common position before meeting with the EU in the EEA Joint Committee.
It consists of the Ambassadors to the EU of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, and observers from Switzerland and the EFTA Surveillance Authority. The Committee’s substructure consists of five subcommittees, under which there are several working groups. The Internal Market is governed by the so-called four freedoms, enabling the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons in the EEA.
Find high-resolution photos from the meeting here.
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