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Updated: 1 hour 51 min ago

Outlook for the meetings of EU leaders on 24-25 June 2021

Tue, 06/22/2021 - 18:00

Written by Suzana Anghel and Ralf Drachenberg.

© Adobe Stock

At its meeting on 24-25 June 2021, the European Council will pursue its coordination efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic, discuss the situation on the various migration routes, return to the strategic debate on relations with Russia, revert to their discussions on Turkey and assess progress with the EU’s economic recovery. ‘The European Council will likely also address Belarus, Libya, Ethiopia and the Sahel. Regarding the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the EU leaders are expected to address the lessons learned from the pandemic, vaccine production, international solidarity and vaccine sharing, as well as the remaining obstacles relating to the right of free movement across the EU. The strategic debate on relations with Russia will pick up from the EU leaders’ discussion on 24-25 May 2021, on the basis of a new Commission report on the matter. As regards the EU’s economic recovery, the EU leaders will discuss the recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area and review the implementation of Next Generation EU. A Euro Summit meeting on 25 June will review progress on banking union and the capital markets union.

1. European Council agenda points

The only agenda items planned in advance for this June European Council, under the Leaders’ Agenda for 2020-21, were the future of Schengen and relations with the UK. While the latter subject was already addressed at the special European Council meeting of 24-25 May, the former has been taken off the agenda as a point in itself, but Schengen will be an important part of the discussions on the pandemic and on migration. The June 2021 meeting is the last on the current Leaders’ Agenda for 2020-21; whether President Michel will continue using this tool or propose a different way of planning the key topics for the European Council remains to be seen.

Policy area Previous commitment(*) Occasion on which commitment was made Coronavirus The European Council will return to this issue regularly. 1-2 October 2020 Coronavirus The European Commission will report by June 2021 on the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic so far. 25 February 2021 Turkey The European Council will return to this issue. 25 March 2021 Russia The European Council will return to this issue. 24-25 May2021

(*) The 24-25 May 2021 European Council meeting also agreed to discuss migration in June but this was not part of the formal conclusions.

The Presidents of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will report on the G7 discussions of 11-13 June in the UK, and also on the EU-Canada and the EU-US summits, of 14 and 15 June respectively.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, has been invited to join the meeting to discuss EU-UN cooperation to confront global challenges.

2. European Council meeting Coronavirus pandemic

The European Council will discuss the coronavirus crisis (for the 18th time) addressing lessons learned from the pandemic, vaccine production, international solidarity and vaccine sharing, as well as the remaining obstacles relating to the right of free movement across the EU.

Covid-19: Lessons learned and future preparedness

The European Council will discuss a report on lessons learned from the pandemic, which they requested in February 2021 from the European Commission. Based on this report, EU leaders will discuss improving the EU’s preparedness for future crises; including topics such as diversifying supply chains, EU coordination, joint procurement and strategic reserves, and an annual Commission ‘state of preparedness’ report for the European Council and the European Parliament.

Production, delivery and deployment of vaccines

EU leaders are expected to discuss the production, deployment and delivery of vaccines in the EU, with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen providing an update on the state of play (353 million doses delivered and 299 million doses administered as of 14 June 2021). She may also update them on developments regarding issues such as the European Medicine Agency’s approval of a new manufacturing site producing the Moderna vaccine in France, the evaluation and use of some vaccines for children under 18 years of age, the contamination of a batch of an active substance for the Janssen vaccine, and the Commission’s legal action against AstraZeneca.

International solidarity and vaccine sharing

The European Council is likely to reiterate its support for COVAX, the EU being a major contributor, and highlight the need to accelerate the production and delivery of vaccines worldwide. EU leaders may continue to discuss the intellectual property waiver from the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement proposed by South Africa and India, and the alternative proposed by the Commission. President Michel stated at the Global Health Summit on 21 May 2021 that the EU was in favour of a ‘third way’ public-private partnership. However, on 10 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution proposing to start negotiations on a temporary waiver of the TRIPS Agreement for Covid-19 vaccines and other related medical products.

The proposal for an international treaty on pandemics was first announced by Mr Michel at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2020. At their meeting on 25 February 2021, EU leaders endorsed the suggestion, with a view to its being taken forward within the framework of the World Health Organization. It is expected that they will now also welcome the decision adopted by the 74th World Health Assembly to establish a Special World Health Assembly in November 2021 to consider the development of an international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response.

Remaining obstacles to the exercise of the right to free movement

The European Council is also due to discuss the remaining obstacles to the exercise of the right to free movement, and most likely it will welcome the adoption of the Council recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fewer and fewer Member States have temporary internal Schengen border controls as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic (Denmark, Finland, France and Hungary). At the same time, however, some of them (including Austria, Germany and Sweden) maintain controls at borders within the Schengen areas on grounds of secondary movements of migrants and/or risks relating to terrorists and organised crime.

In this context, on 2 June, with a view to reducing the need for temporary border controls, the Commission published a new strategy for the Schengen area. This strategy focuses on i) ensuring effective and modern management of the EU’s external borders; ii) reinforcing the Schengen area internally; iii) improving governance and crisis preparedness; and iv) completing the enlargement of the Schengen area. EU leaders might refer to this strategy and call for its rapid implementation.

Migration Illegal border crossings 2009-2020

For the first time since December 2018, migration will formally feature on the European Council’s agenda – although the Commission’s new communication on migration and asylum was submitted back in September 2020. EU leaders are not expected to discuss outstanding decisions on the asylum package, but will probably focus on the protection of the EU’s external borders and on cooperation with countries of origin and transit. They will also review the migration situation on the various routes.

While overall illegal migration flows remain low (see graph above), illegal border crossings between January and April 2021 increased compared to the same period last year:

Western Balkan route1 1600+ 93 %Central Mediterranean route11 602+ 156 %Western Mediterranean route3 167+ 2.6 %Eastern Mediterranean rout4 828– 57 %

This was the case notably for Spain and Italy, which experienced high numbers of irregular arrivals of migrants on their territories this spring. EU leaders are expected to call on the Commission and the High Representative to propose concrete action for cooperation with priority countries.

Economic recovery

EU leaders will assess progress made on implementation of the Next Generation EU recovery fund. While welcoming the entry into force of the Own Resources Decision on 1 June, which has enabled the Commission to start borrowing resources (€20 billion) for the recovery instrument, the European Council is expected to push for rapid implementation of the national recovery and resilience plans. EU leaders are likely to underline the need for timely implementation of these plans in order to allow Member States to make the most of Recovery and Resilience Facility funding. Furthermore, the European Council is expected to welcome the EU headline targets, in line with the Porto Declaration – an instrument through which, on 8 May 2021, EU leaders committed ‘to continue deepening the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights at EU and national level’. On the EU economy, EU leaders are also due to discuss the Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area for 2021, which encourages Member States to implement priority reforms and investments with the aim of making the euro area and its members more sustainable and resilient.

External relations Russia

The European Council is expected to resume its May 2021 discussion on relations with Russia, on the basis of the joint communication and reiterating the five guiding principles identified in 2016. To uphold these principles the EU would have to simultaneously ‘push back’ against human rights violations, ‘constrain’ Russia’s attempts to undermine the Union’s interests, and ‘engage’ with Russia on subjects of common interest such as health and climate change. President Michel has stated that the EU stands united in condemning Russia’s illegal and provocative behaviour, and underlined that relations could improve ‘if Russia stops [its] disruptive behaviour’. EU leaders may once again express concern about the situation of Alexei Navalny, who is still imprisoned. Ahead of his 16 June meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, US President Joe Biden stressed that the possible death of Mr Navalny in prison would ‘hurt’ Russia’s relations with the ‘rest of the world’. Russia was discussed at the EU-US summit on 15 June, which confirmed the willingness of both the EU and the US to shape a renewed transatlantic policy agenda based on an enhanced dialogue on Russia.

Turkey

As regards Turkey, the European Council is expected to acknowledge the de-escalation efforts in the eastern Mediterranean. No further decisions are however expected for now since progress is still awaited regarding the resumption of negotiations on the settlement of the Cyprus problem as well as on human rights protection in Turkey. EU leaders might take note of the technical work being carried out to modernise the customs union and of the ‘preparatory work’ undertaken to establish high-level bilateral dialogues on health, climate change and counter-terrorism.  

EU leaders last discussed Turkey in March 2021, establishing the principle of ‘phased, proportional and reversed cooperation’, which will guide EU leaders when considering further cooperation depending on progress made on the normalisation of Greek-Turkish relations, on solving the Cyprus problem and on human rights protection in Turkey. Greece and Turkey have already held several rounds of ministerial-level talks, including on the delimitation of maritime zones, with the objective of ‘attempt[ing] an initial normalisation process’. There has been agreement on the need to ‘resolve differences within the framework of good neighbourly relations, international law and respect for mutual interests’. On the sidelines of the 2021 NATO summit, the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreed to a ‘quiet year’ for Greek-Turkish relations and to continued maritime delimitation talks and cooperation.

As regards the Cyprus problem, an informal 5+1 meeting was held in Geneva in April 2021, but ‘failed to achieve progress’. Antonio Guterres acknowledged that not ‘enough common ground’ had been found to resume negotiations formally and that another meeting, highly unlikely for now, would be convened ‘in the near future’. The President of Cyprus, Nikos Anastasiades, has stressed that stopping illegal drilling in the Cypriot economic exclusive zone is not sufficient to give a green light to a positive agenda with Turkey, which would require ‘positive behaviour’. He has warned that Cyprus could veto the positive agenda, pointing out that genuine progress on the Cyprus problem is among the conditions outlined by the European Council for further cooperation with Turkey.

3. Euro Summit

On 25 June, the Euro Summit will meet in inclusive format with all EU-27 leaders. The focus will be on economic challenges facing the euro area in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. EU leaders will receive an update on the state of play on banking union and the capital markets union.

Categories: European Union

European Parliament Plenary Session – June II 2021

Tue, 06/22/2021 - 10:31

Written by Clare Ferguson.

© artjazz / Fotolia

For this second session of the month of June, Parliament sits in Brussels, with formal agreement on funding for the European Union’s green ambitions top of the agenda. António Guterres will address the plenary on Thursday, following his re-appointment to a second term as UN Secretary-General, on his priorities for a fair and sustainable post-pandemic recovery.

On Wednesday afternoon, Members will take part in a joint debate on three regulations in the proposed cohesion policy package under the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) that together ensure the EU continues to fulfil its goals in strengthening development of its regions through targeted Union funding.

The proposed Common Provisions Regulation for 2021‑2027 sets out new, simplified financial rules for eight EU funds in the light of the EU’s policy objectives for a greener, smarter, more social and connected Europe. Parliament has succeeded in raising co-financing rates for the regions, increasing resources earmarked for sustainable urban development, and ensuring the rules better reflect the EU’s new policy objectives. Parliament will consider formal adoption of the compromise text at second reading during this session.

The debate will also consider the proposal for a regulation on the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund, with Members also due to vote on these proposals at second reading during this session. With around one third of the entire EU budget dedicated to reducing regional disparities and promoting cohesion during this seven-year MFF period, the Regional Development Fund seeks to support infrastructure and energy efficiency investment, as well as providing economic assistance for small businesses, while the Cohesion Fund should encourage environmental projects and transport infrastructure in the least-developed regions. In line with the EU’s climate ambition, fossil fuel and landfill-related investments will be ineligible for funding. The compromise agreed between Parliament and Council takes up Parliament’s focus on lower thematic concentration and greater funding for sustainable urban development. Funding should now be available for job creation and digital connectivity, with a focus on renewables under the Cohesion Fund.

A third element of the proposed package is the revision of the regulation on European territorial cooperation, or ‘Interreg’, with Parliament expected to vote at second reading on the compromise reached between the co-legislators on the changes. Although Parliament has successfully secured the reintroduction of maritime border cooperation, as well as increased co- and pre-financing for Interreg programmes, the increased €8.05 billion budget for cross-border, outermost region and inter-regional cooperation nevertheless falls short of Parliament’s initial ambitions. If agreed, the proposal will launch a revamped cooperation programme, removing barriers to development and fostering innovation and joint strategies to help border regions find solutions to the issues they face in common, emphasising their proximity rather than their location in different countries.

On Thursday morning, Members attention turns to another opportunity to assist EU regions, specifically those facing the greatest challenges to surmount the transition to climate neutrality. The public sector loan facility within the EU Just Transition Mechanism, part of the InvestEU scheme (a key financial element of the EU Green Deal), aims at mobilising €25‑30 billion in public investment through grants and loans during the 2021‑2027 period. Members are expected to vote on formal agreement of a compromise that incorporates many of Parliament’s demands, including beneficiaries’ compliance with EU values, and a greater share of the loans for the poorest regions.

Achieving climate neutrality by 2050, however, is going to take concerted effort. The EU has proposed measures that should both assist the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and ensure that climate ambitions become reality. The European Green Deal provides an action plan for these efforts, and the proposed European Climate Law creates the legal framework underpinning the measures. On Thursday morning, Members are expected to consider adoption of the compromise agreed with the co-legislators. The agreement reflects Parliament’s consistent demands for a higher net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2030, particularly as it states that the EU should advance the volume of reductions and removals of greenhouse gases, possibly to a net reduction of 57 %, by 2030.

As other human activities also threaten biodiversity, Parliament is keen to encourage realistic measures to protect endangered species, such as the Greenland shark, as well as to ensure responsible management of cod fisheries. Parliament has therefore negotiated a provisional agreement with the Council setting out EU compliance with the conservation and enforcement measures for the Northwest Atlantic fisheries. Under the agreement, EU fishing vessels will respect conservation measures when fishing outside national waters in the region. These include seasonal closure and bans on bottom-fishing in some locations. Members are expected to vote on the compromise on Wednesday evening.

In a debate on Wednesday afternoon on the preparation of the next European Council, Members will hear statements from the Council and Commission on the preparation of the European Council meeting scheduled for later in the week, on 24‑25 June 2021.

Finally, the European Ombudsman is the EU’s independent guardian of accountability and transparency, ensuring EU institutions adhere to principles of good administration and respect EU citizens’ rights. In its 27 years’ existence, the role has developed considerably, leading to a need to revise the underpinning Statute, last amended in 2008. Following Parliament’s debate and vote to adopt a new statute for the European Ombudsman during the June I plenary session, and the Council’s subsequent consent, the plenary is expected to formally adopt the revised European Parliament regulation governing the role of the Ombudsman on Wednesday evening. This completes the procedure begun in 2019 to further strengthen and improve the Ombudsman’s role and effectiveness.

Categories: European Union

Priority dossiers under the Slovenian EU Council Presidency

Tue, 06/22/2021 - 08:30

Written by Lucienne Attard (The Directorate-General for the Presidency).

© tanaonte / Adobe Stock

Slovenia will, in the second half of 2021, hold its second Presidency of the Council of the EU since joining the EU in 2004. It will conclude the work of the Trio Presidency composed of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia.

Slovenia is a democratic parliamentary republic with a proportional electoral system. The Slovenian parliament is bicameral, made up of the National Assembly (composed of 90 members) and the National Council (composed of 40 members). In the National Assembly, there are 88 representatives of political parties and two representatives of the Italian and Hungarian national communities, the latter two elected to represent their interests.

The National Assembly elects the Prime Minister and the government. The current government is a four-party coalition, made up of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS); the Modern Centre Party (SMC), the Democratic Party of Slovenian Pensioners (DeSUS) and New Slovenia—Christian Democrats (NSi). The Prime Minister, Mr Janez Janša from the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), was elected to office on 3 March 2020. The next general elections in Slovenia will take place no later than 5 June 2022.

Other political parties represented in parliament are the List of Marjan Šarec (LMS), Social Democrats (SD), Party of Alenka Bratušek (SAB), The Left, and the Slovenian National Party (SNS).

Read this complete briefing on ‘Priority dossiers under the Slovenian EU Council Presidency‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

Microbiomes: Small little things that run life on Earth

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 18:00

Written by Gianluca Quaglio with Virginia Mahieu.

‘Microbiota’ is a collective term referring to the reservoirs of micro-organisms living in the human body, in animals and in the environment. They are nearly ubiquitous, both in our soils and in our gut, working behind the scenes, but providing vital support to our health and well-being. Micro-organisms always live in microbial communities, which are quite diverse. Although the terms are used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between microbiome and microbiota. In fact, ‘microbiota’ refers to the actual organisms (‘bugs’) within a microbial community, and ‘microbiome’ to the organisms of a microbial community in its ‘theatre of activity’, i.e. taking environmental conditions into consideration, for example.

The human being has evolved with microbiomes and they are an integral part of life on Earth, although they have been relatively absent from the public consciousness. Scientific evidence of the last two decades shows the vital importance of microbiomes in our lives. The STOA workshop on the ‘Health and economic benefits of microbiomes‘ , held online on 21 May 2021, provided an insight into the importance of microbiomes in human, animal and environmental health, and how they could contribute to mitigating pollution and climate change, and boosting the European economy. Speakers illustrated the wide variety of applications and impacts of microbiomes and highlighted the ways in which their regulation at EU level could be improved.

STOA Chair Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece) opened the workshop by setting the scene on the role of microbiomes in health and the issues related when their balance is upset, as well as the related threats of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). She noted the current lack of EU regulation directly pertaining to microbiomes and stressed that it is crucial in the areas of healthcare and environmental sustainability that policy-making is guided by scientific and clinical evidence.

Microbiomes are vital to human, animal and environmental health

Emmanuelle Maguin, senior researcher at the French Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRAE), provided an insight into the roles that microbiomes play in the human being. Microbiomes and the host-microbe interplay are well documented. The human body offers microbiomes a sort of ‘shelter’, and in return they provide a number of ‘services’, such as protection against pathogens and support to our immune system and metabolism, breaking down fibre that we cannot digest, synthesising essential compounds such as vitamins, even metabolising drugs.

In the last 60 years, industrialised societies have markedly changed our lifestyles in terms of nutrition, food systems and food, physical activity, childbirth, drug treatments (including antibiotics), exposure to environmental factors etc. All these recent modifications are putting the human-microbe symbiosis at risk of progressive functional alterations.

The recent accumulation of knowledge on microbiomes radically transforms the human health paradigm inherited from our experience with infectious diseases and other pathological conditions. From a linear vision of one microbial agent and its ability to generate a disease, we have moved to a more complex situation, where the interactions between numerous environmental, host and microbiome factors determine the risk of developing a disease and possibly even the response to a given therapy.

The recent concepts of the One-Health approach and personalised medicine are integrating this complexity considering the specific history of the host, environmental exposure, and sometimes microbiome specificities and modifications over a human lifespan. However, there is still a need to advance knowledge on these multifactorial interactions. A key prerequisite for producing robust data and providing meaningful analyses is the availability and large-scale use of harmonised standards and operating procedures, as well as access to unified repositories.

This new vision necessitates reconsideration of our current health and medical approaches. This should enable us to integrate the environment-microbiome-host interactions as key elements in prevention of disease and maintenance of a healthy state, to re-examine and to create new diagnostic and therapeutic tools, and to devise the required regulatory framework for microbiome-based innovations and increase awareness of, as well as information and training in this paradigm.

The balance of microbiomes is important not only in our bodies and in nature, but also in ‘built environments’, as Elisabetta Caselli, from the University of Ferrara pointed out. Hospitals have their own microbiome, and persistent use of chemical disinfectants on surfaces leads to the selection for multi-drug antimicrobial resistant (AMR) pathogens that can cause HAIs. HAIs are a global concern, each year affecting over 4 million patients in the EU, with about 90 000 avoidable deaths and €1.1 billion of extra sanitary costs.

Modulating the hospital microbiome by using probiotic cleaning hygiene systems to reduce pathogens and AMR in clinical settings could be a new and effective method. This system, called probiotic-based sanitation (PBS), contains selected probiotic bacteria, which are non-pathogenic and also present in the human gut and diet. A number of studies that applied PBS showed a massive decrease in pathogens on surfaces compared to using chemical-based sanitation, as well as a decrease in AMR genes, while presenting no risk to hospital patients. Furthermore, it led to a considerable decrease in costs related to HAIs. The PBS approach could open new perspectives in the fight against infections of bacterial, fungal and viral origin, including SARS‑CoV‑2.

Shifting the focus from human health to that of animals and the environment, Lene Lange, of BioEconomy Research & Advisory, explained that the gut microbiome is highly relevant for the agricultural industry, particularly in the breeding of pigs, chicken and fish. Harnessing it can give a better life to livestock with less inflammation and a lower mortality rate, and could reduce the use of antibiotics and thus the threat of AMR. Animal health can be improved by analysing the gut microbiome and producing feed with beneficial effects: probiotics (beneficial microbes) and prebiotics (fibre) are anti-inflammatory components that can be added to or released through fermentation of the feed, producing a cascade of good products that strengthen the gut flora. She recommended making these gut microbiome-improving animal feed additives a part of dietary requirements in industrial animal breeding.

The speaker also noted that the same concept as HAIs, mentioned above, can be applied to natural ecosystems: ‘undisturbed’ nature offers insight into a healthy balance of microbiomes in soils, and can inform biological measures to strengthen them and reduce pesticide use (crucial for halting biodiversity loss), improve nutrition efficiency, and mitigate climate change. Furthermore, estimates of emissions from permafrost melt can be made by monitoring the soil microbiome, and study of bacteria-rich wastewater can inform soil-improvement products and track the spread and development of AMRs. Dr Lange concluded by saying that microbiomes present a scientists’ dream pool for the discovery of new enzymes, recommending that their research would benefit from becoming more cross-sectorial with EU support and given a high priority.

Microbiomes could support a circular bio-economy, but currently face regulatory gaps

To elaborate on the crucial roles of microbiomes in maintaining life on Earth and their potential role in the economy, Angela Sessitsch from the Austrian Institute of Technology spoke about how these ‘tiny little things run the Earth and the circular economies’. Microbiomes are key for ecosystem function and can be considered a natural resource. In soils, they perform vital functions: contributing to growth and nutrient cycling by fixing nitrogen and methane, breaking down plant cells, and through fermentation, all reducing expensive fertiliser needs and greenhouse gas emissions. They have a variety of important environmental uses such as breaking down organic waste, toxic compounds and plastics, and they can improve sustainable food, feed and biofuel production. Specifically, agricultural management practices can favour microbiome conditions and thus improve food production.

These potential applications for better, more sustainable agriculture and recycling can contribute to a circular bio-economy, which has been acknowledged by several organisations including the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and microbiomes can substantially contribute to Sustainable Development Goals and EU Green Deal ambitions. Their many applications are also extremely promising for market growth in medical areas: they can generate economic value through products and therapies, diagnostics, predictions and personalised medicine and food. To best exploit microbiomes, the EU needs to increase awareness about them and integrate them into cross-sectorial policies.

Indeed, microbiomes are not yet regulated at the EU level. Marta Hugas from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) spoke about the safety and regulatory challenges of microbiome innovations. One of EFSA’s core tasks is to assess risks to human, animal and environmental health from substances linked to food and feed production The increasing role of microbiomes in health calls for a prospective mapping of their various roles into regulatory assessment, with a view to understanding their potential health impact in the various hosts.

Legal requirements under EU food law do not specify that risk assessments account for microbiomes. There is currently also no internationally agreed guidance or methodology in place to systematically assess possible effects on the microbiomes, or caused by the microbiomes, on human, animal or plant health. Translating a decrease in microbiome diversity into a functional effect is challenging, as there are currently no standards for defining a healthy microbiome.

EFSA is currently working on integrating the new scientific information on microbiomes and clarifying how it can be applied. There are suspicions that differences between animal and human microbiomes could be the reason for the differences that sometimes exist between studies and clinical trials, which raises questions as to how to interpret toxicological studies. Further questions include determining criteria for when an effect becomes adverse and establishing causality between metabolic pathways and microbiota (i.e. if a disease is the cause or the effect of microbiome imbalance). Research does not usually focus on regulatory science. EFSA will therefore soon publish the research questions the EU and Member State levels need to address from a regulatory perspective, such as the link between microbiomes and diet/toxicology.

While the field of microbiomes holds genuine promise, it is also subject to hype. Challenges remain with regard to the standardisation of terms and protocols, and credible and well-tailored information is needed. These issues were addressed by Kathleen D’Hondt, from the Department of Economy, Science and Innovation of the Flemish Government. For example, many health claims ascribed to food products targeting the microbiome lack sufficient scientific substantiation and are merely associative, with no established causal pathway. For such a promising scientific field to lead to innovative applications, policies on science and innovation could be improved in several areas: (1) international research should be strengthened, with common access to a large interconnected data infrastructure; (2) standard protocols are required for clinical design and marker validation, as better characterisation of a healthy gut will be important for establishing disease biomarkers; (3) public-private collaboration could be reinforced; (4) the framework for evaluating health claims for new food products and new dietary approaches needs to be improved. Finally, (5) healthcare professionals and the public should be informed in a clearer and more understandable way.

In his closing remarks, Othmar Karas, Vice-President of the European Parliament (PPE, Austria) and STOA Panel member, noted how microbiomes dominate every aspect of our lives. Studying microbiomes and their effects opens a range of new possibilities in medicine, agriculture, the circular economy, waste decomposition, recycling, and sustainable energy generation. The last few years have seen a number of tools put forward such as the circular economy action plan, the Farm to Fork Strategy, and the EU4Health programme. Nevertheless, he concluded, a lack of EU regulation persists around microbiomes and these gaps must be filled: ‘Now we need to act’.

The full recording of the workshop is available here.

Categories: European Union

Data Governance Act [EU Legislation in Progress]

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 14:00

Written by Hendrik Mildebrath (1st edition).

© ra2 studio / Adobe Stock

Data is a key pillar of the European digital economy. To unlock its potential, the European Commission aims to build a market for personal and non-personal data that fully respects European rules and values. While the volume of data is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years, data re-use is hampered by low trust in data-sharing, conflicting economic incentives and technological obstacles. As the first of a set of measures announced in the European strategy for data, the Commission put forward its proposed data governance act on 25 November 2020. It aims at facilitating (largely) voluntary data sharing across the EU and between sectors by strengthening mechanisms that increase data availability and foster trust in intermediaries. It establishes three principle re-use mechanisms and a horizontal coordination and steering board. While there seems to be considerable support for data governance rules, the appropriate approach remains fundamentally disputed. Issues have been raised concerning, for instance, the ineffectiveness of labelling and registration regimes to foster trust and data re-use, the uncertain interplay with other legislative acts, the onerous rules on international data transfers and the vulnerability of certain mechanisms to commercial exploitation. The co-legislators, the European Parliament and Council, are in the process of assessing whether the Commission’s proposal presents an adequate response to the challenges identified and are working towards defining their respective positions.

Versions Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on European data governance (Data Governance Act) Committee responsible: Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) COM(2020) 767 25.11.2020 Rapporteur:

Angelika Niebler (EPP, Germany)

2016/0340(COD) Shadow rapporteurs: Miapetra Kumpula-Natri (S&D, Finland), Nicola Danti (Renew), Damian Boeselager (Greens/EFA, Germany), Elena Lizzi (ID, Italy), Dace Melbārde (ECR, Latvia), Maria Matias (The Left, Portugal) Ordinary legislative procedure (COD) (Parliament and Council on equal footing – formerly ‘co-decision’) Next steps expected: Committee vote
Categories: European Union

New STOA study ‘Carbon-free steel: Cost reduction options and usage of existing gas infrastructure’

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 18:00

Written by Andrés García Higuera.

© VITO/EnergyVille

To assess the prospects of success for Europe’s Green Deal policies (most importantly, the transition to a carbon-neutral EU economy by 2050), it is necessary to address the evolving technological and behavioural trends and their impact on the implementation of the Green Deal.

With this in mind, the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) has published a new study exploring the options for decarbonising the iron and steel production processes, focusing on the use of renewable hydrogen as an alternative to fossil coal. This study was commissioned by STOA from VITO/EnergyVille, following STOA Panel approval of a proposal submitted by Panel member Tiemo Wölken (S&D, Germany). The study explains the basic physical and chemical differences between alternative processes, their cost structures and the potential for further cost reductions, as well as the larger implications and longer-term consequences of switching to hydrogen in this key industrial sector.

Steel is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise and has recently received special attention due to the potential use of low-carbon hydrogen to reduce fuel combustion and process-related carbon emissions in the industry. This study addresses concerns that might arise while evaluating the potential and limitations of the future role of hydrogen in decarbonising the iron and steel industries. The sector is one of the pillars of the European industry and job market, supporting approximately 2.7 million (direct and indirect) jobs. In 2019, the production of crude steel in Europe was 157 Mt, which accounted for 4 % of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Europe.

Investment decisions in the steel sector are challenging, since margins are tight and competition is fierce. The slowdown due to the pandemic has worsened the situation, resulting in a reduction in demand for steel products in 2020. In Europe alone, prices have fallen nearly 30 % since 2018. Furthermore, manufacturing sectors are now including carbon neutrality in their strategies, putting pressure on steel producers to embrace these commitments while remaining competitive and maintaining their place in the supply chain. In Europe, some blast furnaces are almost 25 years old, making them suitable candidates for technology replacement, while others have recently undergone refurbishments that entailed large investment. In the coming decades, this situation could open a window of opportunities to replace current assets with cleaner, novel technologies. Nevertheless, the decision to shift to a cleaner route is site-specific and will come at different times.

Currently, 60 % of steel produced in Europe originates from the integrated blast furnace/basic oxygen furnace route (BF/BOF), which emits around 1.9 tCO2/tsteel. Other routes, for instance, the natural-gas-based NG‑DRI and Scrap‑EAF generate lower emissions, with 1.4 tCO2/tsteel and 0.4 tCO2/tsteel, respectively. Of the total steel produced in Europe, 60 % (94 Mt) originates from the BF/BOF route and is more suitable for the hydrogen direct reduction route (H‑DRI). Estimates suggest that 94 Mt of ‘green steel’ would require approximately 37‑60 GW of electrolyser capacity, producing approximately 6.6 Mt of hydrogen per year.

By comparison, the EU hydrogen strategy aims at installing 40 GW of electrolyser capacity within the EU by 2030. The authors estimate that these electrolysers would consume approximately 296 TWh of green electricity per year; as a reference, Germany produced 176 TWh of green electricity in total in 2020. Several H‑DRI projects have been backed by iron and steel producers across Europe. The companies involved expect the technology to reach commercialisation at large capacities by 2035. This transition will create demand for low-carbon hydrogen (60‑80 kgH2/tsteel). This hydrogen could be supplied by installing electrolysers on-site, in which case the storage of hydrogen could guarantee an uninterrupted hydrogen supply. An alternative is the use of pipelines to link the hydrogen production sites with consumption locations. Both methods are challenging and the prevalence of one over the other depends strongly on the location of the steel plant and access to low-cost renewable energy.

This study was preceded by the STOA briefing ‘The potential of hydrogen for decarbonising steel production‘ and some of its results were presented at the STOA online workshop ‘Decarbonising European industry: hydrogen and other solutions‘ held on 1 March 2021. True to its mission of providing Parliament’s committees and other parliamentary bodies with independent, high-quality and scientifically impartial studies, STOA continues working on this strategic topic and exploring the potential of hydrogen for decarbonising other sectors of EU industry.

Read the full report to find out more.

Your opinion counts for us. To let us know what you think, get in touch via stoa@europarl.europa.eu

Categories: European Union

Community sponsorship schemes under the new pact on migration and asylum: Take-up by EU regions and cities

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 14:00

Written by Anja Radjenovic.

© Riko Best / Adobe Stock

The number of people in the world that are forcibly displaced inside or outside their home country has risen significantly in recent years, as also showcased by the unprecedented arrival of refugees and irregular migrants in the EU since 2015. This highlights an urgent need to ensure organised, legal and safe pathways for protecting migrants who embark on dangerous journeys in an attempt to enter countries of destination irregularly, or find themselves in protracted refugee situations.

A potential solution is the community sponsorship scheme, understood as encompassing several different approaches for refugee admission to third countries other than countries of origin or transit. The concept includes a shared responsibility between civil society and the state when engaging in refugee admission efforts, by providing financial, emotional, social and/or settlement support to help newly arrived refugees integrate in a third country.

Community sponsorship for integration is particularly important in the EU, where local and national governments, alongside civil society, have been pondering how best to support newcomers and ease integration and social cohesion. Since 2015, the concept has been piloted and launched in several EU countries, including through the active input of regions and cities.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Community sponsorship schemes under the new pact on migration and asylum: Take-up by EU regions and cities‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

US: Economic indicators and trade with EU

Wed, 06/16/2021 - 14:00

Written by Gyorgyi Macsai and Giulio Sabbati (Members’ Research Service) with Igor Tkalec (GlobalStat, EUI).

The US-EU trading relationship is one of the biggest in the world, even though the overall value of traded goods dropped in 2020 in the pandemic. The EU and US economies account for about half the entire world’s GDP, and for nearly a third of world trade flows. The European Commission reported in 2016 that over 10 million European jobs depend on exports to the USA. This Infographic provides you with essential data on trade between the EU and US. This is a further updated edition of an infographic, the last edition of which was published in October 2019.

© European Union 2021, EPRS

Read this at a glance note on ‘US: Economic indicators and trade with EU‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

Peace and Security in 2021: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future

Wed, 06/16/2021 - 12:00

Written by Tania Lațici and Elena Lazarou.

© fotomaster / Fotolia

The promotion of global peace and security is a fundamental goal and central pillar of European Union (EU) external action, following the model of its own peace project. Both within and beyond the EU, there is a widespread expectation among citizens that the Union will deliver results in this crucial area. Nevertheless, as the deteriorating security environment of the past decade has posed significant challenges, the EU has been intensifying its work in pursuit of peace and security in a number of key policy areas.

According to the Global Peace Index, the state of peace in the world deteriorated further in 2020, owing not least to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, multilateralism, a core element in the EU’s foreign policy and identity, and a cornerstone of its approach to peace and security, is under increasing pressure from alternative value systems and ideologies; a situation that has been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis has accelerated pre-existing trends, which were already signalling the advent of a more competitive international geopolitical environment, characterised by great-power rivalries and the weakening of multilateral security guarantees. In response to these trends, the European Commission under President Ursula von de Leyen, with the support of the European Parliament, has committed to empowering the EU’s external action. The fundamental goals remain those stipulated by the founding Treaties, including the achievement of peace.

The over-arching values and objectives of the EU guide all facets of its external action, including common foreign and security policy (CFSP); democracy support; development cooperation; economic, financial and technical cooperation; humanitarian aid; trade; and neighbourhood policy. While the promotion of peace remains the objective of EU foreign policy, achieving it is also linked to understanding peace and its components. Thus, measuring peace and the threats that challenge it is becoming an increasingly relevant exercise. In that context, the Normandy Index attempts to measure threats to peace based on variables identified in the EU Global Strategy. The EU Member States, supported by the European External Action Service (EEAS), conducted a comprehensive threat analysis in 2020, as part of the plans to develop an EU Strategic Compass. This has been ongoing in 2021 and is set to be finalised by March 2022.

The EU’s contribution to countering threats to peace, security and democracy globally has been growing significantly through legislation, financing and the creation of new structures and initiatives. A significant share of EU aid goes to fragile states and to issues related to securing peace. The EU’s ‘new consensus on development’ emphasises the role of development cooperation in preventing violent conflicts, mitigating their consequences and aiding recovery from them. On the ground, the EU has been able to strengthen the nexus between security, development and humanitarian aid through the implementation of comprehensive strategies, for example in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel. Through the CSDP, the EU runs 17 missions and operations, making it one of the United Nation’s main partners in peacekeeping.

In 2020, the EU advanced its work on countering new threats to peace, such as disinformation, cyber-attacks and climate change. New elements strengthening EU security and defence capabilities are being implemented with the aim of boosting EU strategic autonomy, including its capacity to work for peace and security. These elements of ‘hard power’, together with the EU’s long-standing experience in the practice of soft power, form the backbone of its action for peace and security.

The EU also continues to be a staunch promoter of multilateralism on the global and regional levels to counter global threats, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and global health crises, including the economic and humanitarian consequences of the coronavirus pandemic across the world. A consistent focus in the EU’s work is on its neighbourhood, with the aim of building resilience and upholding peace and democracy, both challenged by the implications of the health crisis.

Looking to the future, the global environment is expected to grow in complexity, not least because of the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Threats such as cyber-attacks, disinformation and foreign influence campaigns are here to stay, and demand new types of responses that take into account their nuances. While the EU has made significant progress in furthering its aim of strengthening its presence and efficiency in the area of peace and security, more remains to be done. The 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) is focused on streamlining the EU’s various programmes and instruments to allow for sufficient flexibility to respond to unforeseen threats, while also implementing innovative financial instruments. Underlying the quest for flexibility, efficiency and innovation is the strategic goal of empowering the EU in its global role as a promoter of peace and security, while adapting to the new realities of the international order and the rapid technological, environmental and societal changes of our times. What constitutes peace and security in 2021 has become more multidimensional, dual, and civil-military in nature. The EU is therefore one of the best placed actors to ensure a comprehensive response by employing all its instruments strategically and coherently. Advancing towards increased strategic autonomy will depend on a harmonious blend of instruments and on increasing political and institutional capacity to act. A strategically autonomous EU will be invaluable in achieving the objective of a more peaceful, secure and prosperous world.

Read this study on ‘Peace and Security in 2021: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

See also our animated infographic on Peace and Security

Categories: European Union

Asylum in the EU: Facts and Figures

Wed, 06/16/2021 - 08:30

Written by Giulio Sabbati.

Asylum is a form of international protection given by a state on its territory to someone who is threatened by persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion in their country of origin or residence. This infographic provides an overview of the number of third-country nationals seeking asylum in EU Member States, their success in asylum procedures, and requests for transfers between Member States, as a consequence of the Dublin Regulation.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Asylum in the EU: Facts and Figures‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

Computerised system for communication in cross-border judicial proceedings (e-CODEX) [EU Legislation in Progress]

Tue, 06/15/2021 - 08:30

Written by Rafał Mańko (1st edition).

© everythingpossible / Adobe Stock

The e-CODEX system is the digital backbone of EU judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters. e-CODEX comprises a package of software products that allow the setting up of a network of access points for secure digital communication between courts and between citizens and the courts, while also enabling the secure exchange of judicial documents. The project, which was launched in 2010 with EU grant funding, is managed by a consortium of Member States and other organisations and is coordinated by the Ministry of Justice of the German Land of North Rhine-Westphalia. Even though it is currently used by 21 Member States, e-CODEX lacks a clear, uniform and EU-wide legal basis. To remedy this situation, on 2 December 2020 the Commission put forward a proposal for an e-CODEX legal instrument (a regulation) to formally establish the e-CODEX system at EU level. The management of the project would be entrusted to eu-LISA (the EU Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice). Within the European Parliament, the LIBE and JURI committees are jointly in charge of the file, and the draft report is expected shortly.

Versions Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a computerised system for communication in cross-border civil and criminal proceedings (e-CODEX system), and amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1726 Committee responsible: Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and Legal Affairs (JURI) (jointly under Rule 58) COM(2020) 712 02.12.2020 Rapporteur:

Nuno Melo (EPP, Portugal); Emil Radev (EPP, Bulgaria)

2020/0345(COD) Shadow rapporteurs: Franco Roberti, Isabel Santos (S&D); Ramona Strugariu, Adrián Vázquez Lázara (Renew); Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, Sergey Lagodinsky (Greens/EFA); Angel Dzhambazki, Cristian Terheş (ECR); Clare Daly, Emmanuel Maurel (The Left) Ordinary legislative procedure (COD) (Parliament and Council on equal footing – formerly ‘co-decision’) Next steps expected: Publication of draft report
Categories: European Union

World Day Against Child Labour

Fri, 06/11/2021 - 14:00

Written by Kristina Grosek.

Adobe Stock

The International Labour Organization (ILO) introduced the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002, as part of their efforts to eradicate this unacceptable phenomenon. The day is observed annually on 12 June, and this year the focus is on the 2021 International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. It is also an opportunity to consider measures taken at international and EU level.

Child Labour

The UN defines child labour as work performed by children who are under the minimum age legally specified for that kind of work, or work that, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited. Not all work performed by children should be considered child labour. Forms of work that are beneficial to a child’s personal and social development, that do not interfere with schooling and childhood, but rather provide useful experience and skillsets should be encouraged.

Worst forms of child labour. The biggest concern within the scope of child labour, according to ILO Convention No 182, these forms of labour are prohibited for any person below the age of 18 and must be eliminated as a matter of urgency. They include all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery; involvement of children in commercial sexual exploitation; involvement of children in illicit activities; and work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children (Article 3).

Global trends. There has been a significant decline in the number of children between the ages of 5 and 17 involved in child labour, from an estimated 246 million children worldwide in 2000, but the pace slowed considerably from 2012 to 2016 and in the past four years, the number increased by 8.4 million. According to latest global estimates, a total of 160 million children were engaged in child labour in early 2020, and nearly half of them (79 million) carry out hazardous work, endangering their health, safety and moral development. The Covid‑19 crisis is likely to cause a substantial rise in child labour, with 8.9 million more children predicted in child labour by the end of 2022. Over half of all child labour is in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest rate of child labour, with 24 % of children employed as child labourers, a total of nearly 87 million. Next is Asia and the Pacific, where although a steady decline has been seen since 2008, 48.7 million children remain in child labour. Globally, the largest number of child labourers (71 %) are in the agricultural sector. Although the phenomenon is more commonly associated with non-EU countries, and reliable data are lacking, there is evidence that child labour also persists in the EU and Europe.

Root causes. It is believed that child labour is commonly driven by family and community poverty, paired with lack of access to decent work for adults and youth (income insecurity, inadequate wages), weak social protection and lack of free, quality, public education and other public services.

Future goals. The ILO’s initial goal was to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016. However, despite its efforts, supported by countries all over the world, and notable progress, the goal has still to be achieved. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and Goal 8 in particular, set the target of eliminating all forms of child labour by 2025. To meet this, according to the latest projections, progress needs to be 18 times faster than in the past 20 years. Immediate action is required to reduce the negative impact of the Covid‑19 crisis on child labour. The risk of child labour in growing crises, conflicts, and disasters should be addressed. Social protection needs to be universal, and children’s education safeguarded and advanced. It is important to address the risk of child labour in both domestic and global supply chains.

Act now: End child labour! This year’s Day Against Child Labour is the first since universal ratification of ILO Convention No 182 on the worst forms of child labour. It is also the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, declared by the UN General Assembly in July 2019. The ILO is responsible for its implementation, and all member states and stakeholders are invited to raise awareness of the importance of eradicating child labour, working towards the goal of eliminating it by 2025. A week of action runs from 10 to 17 June 2021, starting with the publication of the new global estimates on child labour (2016‑2020).

International legal framework for combating child labour

The ILO has been committed to the abolition of child labour as one of its main goals since 1919, playing a crucial role in raising awareness of the importance of eliminating child labour, as well as in establishing recognised standards. Three international conventions establish the legal framework for national action against child labour. ILO Convention No 138 on the minimum age for admission to employment and work, adopted in 1973, has been ratified by 173 countries, including all European Union (EU) Member States. This crucial document lays down standards for the minimum age for employment, calling on the parties to set the minimum age at 15 years (Article 2(3)), or at least 18 for hazardous work (Article 3(1)). It also emphasises the importance of taking all necessary steps to ensure the effective abolition of child labour. ILO Convention No 182 on the worst forms of child labour, adopted in 1999, has been ratified by 187 countries, including all EU Member States, and is known for being the fastest ratification in the history of the ILO. It calls on members to ensure immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency (Article 1). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted in 1989, has been ratified by 196 countries, including all EU Member States. In the framework of prohibiting child labour, the CRC confers upon children the right to protection from economic exploitation, as well as from performing any work likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development (Article 32). Although it does not specify a minimum age for employment, it urges parties to stipulate one, as well as to regulate hours and conditions of employment, and provide penalties and sanctions.

EU action to combat child labour

The EU’s strong commitment to eliminating child labour is reflected in Article 32 of the 2012 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (CFR), which prohibits the employment of children and stipulates that the minimum age of employment may not be lower than the minimum school-leaving age. The main legal instrument prohibiting child labour in the EU is Council Directive 94/33/EC. It allows Member States to set the minimum age for employment below the minimum school-leaving age only exceptionally, in Article 4(2). Transposition of the directive into national law was uneventful, as most Member States already had legislation providing for the prohibition of child labour. There is also an external dimension to the fight against child labour, and to the EU’s full commitment to its eradication. Building upon a document from 2010, the Commission staff working document, Trade and Worst Forms of Child Labour, SWD(2013) 173 provides the framework for understanding the complexity of the issue, emphasising the link between trade and child labour, and pointing out the positive impact of economic growth on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. More recently, a Commission staff working document, SWD(2017) 147, addresses child labour in the context of promoting sustainable garment value chains through EU development action. In its recent communication on the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, the Commission confirms its strong commitment to elimination of child labour and the ‘zero tolerance’ approach already announced in the Commission’s political guidelines. The Council of the EU has also reaffirmed its strong commitment to eliminating child labour, particularly its worst forms, and stressed the importance of eradicating the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, including child soldiers.

The European Parliament has condemned child labour and its various forms within and outside the EU in a number of resolutions, and called for measures that would facilitate its elimination. For example, in 2010, Parliament called for all future trade agreements to provide for a ban on the exploitation of child labour. Subsequent resolutions, on the EC-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (2011) and on child labour in the cocoa sector (2012) repeated that call, with specific reference to forced child labour, while the 2013 resolution on the global cotton value chain referred to a traceability mechanism for goods produced through child or forced labour. A Parliament resolution on the EU flagship initiative on the garment sector (2017) calls on the Commission to propose binding legislation on due diligence obligations for supply chains in the sector, including standards for the elimination of forced and child labour. More recently, in its resolution on children’s rights in view of the EU strategy on the rights of the child (March 2021), Parliament calls on the Commission and Member States to end, in law and in practice, all child labour and all other forms of work likely to harm children’s health and safety. It also calls on the Commission to embed children’s rights in the upcoming EU sustainable governance framework, and recommends adopting cross-sectoral mandatory due diligence and ensuring that all EU policies are child-friendly.

Read this at a glance note on ‘World Day Against Child Labour‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

Plenary round-up – June I 2021

Fri, 06/11/2021 - 13:30

Written by Clare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochacka.

© European Union 2021 – Source : EP/DAINA LE LARDIC

The June I 2021 plenary session took place in Strasbourg once more (although still in hybrid form), some 15 months after the previous session was held there, with coronavirus-containment measures restricting the Parliament’s activity throughout that period. A number of important debates took place, including on European Council and European Commission statements on the conclusions of the special meeting of the European Council on 24 and 25 May 2021, and on preparation for the G7 and EU-US Summits. Members also debated the state of play on implementation of the Own Resources roadmap and Parliament’s scrutiny of the Commission and Council assessments of the national recovery and resilience plans. Debates were also held on the rule of law situation in the European Union, including the application of the conditionality regulation. Members discussed the follow-up to the Porto Social Summit, as well as the situation of women in politics. Debate was held on systematic repression in Belarus and its consequences for European security in the light of Belarus’ interception of a civilian plane. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Josep Borrell, made statements on the situation in Afghanistan and in Cuba. Parliament also voted on the proposed EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, and on amendments to information systems required for operation of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. In a formal ceremony, Parliament awarded the annual Lux Audience Award to a Romanian documentary, Collective, directed by Alexander Nanau.

EU Digital Covid Certificates

Members approved by an overwhelming majority the proposed EU Digital Covid Certificate for EU nationals as well as the parallel proposal covering third-country nationals. Parliament agreed to an accelerated procedure to consider these proposals. The co-legislators agreed on a compromise on the certificate proposal, now named the ‘EU Digital Covid Certificate’, and the system should be in operation by 1 July 2021. Parliament has ensured that the testing required is more affordable and accessible, through the allocation of around €100 million for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. If necessary, EU countries may still impose duly justified additional restrictions with 48 hours advance notice. The second proposal covers travel for third-country nationals within the EU.

European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) 2021-2027

The European Parliament approved the interinstitutional (trilogue) agreement on the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) 2021‑2027 (without a vote) at early second reading. The ESF+ budget for social inclusion is greatly needed to provide resources to improve youth employability and equal opportunities for children at risk of poverty in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The compromise reached between the co-legislators after some disagreement allocates an €88 billion EU budget for employment, education and social inclusion measures (almost 8 % less than under the previous multiannual financial framework, MFF).

Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument 2021‑2027 – Global Europe

Members endorsed, at second reading, the final text agreed between the Parliament and Council on the regulation establishing the new single financing instrument Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument 2021‑2027 (NDICI, also known as Global Europe) in the 2021‑2027 EU budget. As agreed, the proposal allocates €70.8 billion (in 2018 prices) under the 2021‑2027 MFF and brings together the 10 previous funds for external action along with the European Development Fund. The agreement enhances Parliament’s oversight of the strategic direction of the funding, including ending assistance to countries that do not respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Establishing the instrument for financial support for customs control equipment

Parliament formally adopted (without a vote) an early second-reading agreement on establishing the instrument for financial support for customs control equipment. The instrument will be used to purchase, maintain and upgrade detection equipment for customs controls at external EU borders. Parliament has succeeded in amending the proposal to ensure the equipment has optimal cybersecurity and safety standards. The regulation now takes effect retroactively, as of 1 January 2021.

EU Ombudsman’s status

Following 2019 proposals to update the EU Ombudsman’s Statute, to align it with the Lisbon Treaty and strengthen the role of this guardian of institutional accountability and transparency, Members debated a new European Parliament regulation governing the Ombudsman’s duties, in the presence of Emily O’Reilly, the current European Ombudsman. Members adopted a resolution based on the Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) Committee’s report, to which is annexed an amended text for the European Ombudsman’s statute. This new text follows informal consultations with the Council, which had indicated it would be in a position to give consent to the regulation. Once formally received, the Parliament will vote on final adoption of the new statute.

State of the SMEs Union

Over 60 % of European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which employ 100 million people, have reported a fall in turnover in 2020. In a joint debate on the State of the SMEs Union, Members called on the European Commission to take action to reduce barriers and red tape for SMEs. Parliament had requested that the European Commission set ambitious targets for the reduction of the administrative burden on SMEs by June of this year, and would also like to see better assessment of the costs and benefits for SMEs of proposed EU legislation in future.

Cyber-attacks in the EU

Members heard Council and Commission statements on recent cyber-attacks on EU and national public and private institutions, particularly in light of the EU digitalisation agenda, as part of a joint debate, including an oral question on the future EU cybersecurity strategy. The 230 000 daily new malware infections detected by the ENISA cybersecurity agency between January 2019 and April 2020, give an idea of the scale of the issue. Members also adopted a resolution on the EU’s cybersecurity strategy for the digital decade.

European Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the cage age’

With nearly 1.4 million signatures, the European citizens’ initiative, ‘End the cage age‘ has gained sufficient support to oblige the European Commission to propose legislation to ban the use of the remaining cages, farrowing crates, stalls and pens still authorised in the EU for a range of livestock. Members debated and adopted a resolution, based on an Agriculture & Rural Development (AGRI) report, proposing to phase out cages in farming, possibly by 2027.

Parliament’s right of inquiry

In 2012, Parliament proposed to revise the regulation of its right of inquiry, whereby a majority in Parliament may set up a temporary committee of inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration in the implementation of Union law. Although the Parliament has the right of initiative, adoption of the regulation is subject to a special legislative procedure requiring Council and Commission consent, which has not been forthcoming to date. Seeking to break the deadlock on strengthening Parliament’s right of inquiry, the Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) Committee sought assurance from both the Commission and the Council that they will engage in good-faith political dialogue with the Parliament to reach agreement. While both Council and Commission representatives claimed to be ready to cooperate with Parliament on this file, both underlined that they could not agree to the text unless Parliament changed several aspects.

Opening of trilogue negotiations

Members confirmed the mandate for negotiations by the Regional Development (REGI) Committee on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Brexit Adjustment Reserve.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – June I 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

President Biden’s visit to the EU – a new start for transatlantic relations

Fri, 06/11/2021 - 09:00

Written by Clare Ferguson, Tania Latici, Matthew Parry and Ionel Zamfir.

President Biden

Expectations are at an all-time high in Europe for a re-set in transatlantic relations in advance of the EU-US Summit scheduled for 15 June. With President Biden personally attending the summit, as well as both the preceding G7 Summit and the NATO leaders’ meeting, EU leaders will be keen to make the most of the opportunity for face-to-face diplomacy, with a view to repairing relations that have negatively impacted cooperation on trade, the fight against climate change and even the defence of democracy itself.

US Foreign policy

Eager to shore up US democratic institutions, President Biden has promised to pursue a ‘foreign policy for the middle class’, and insisted that American citizens’ future prosperity can be maximised through intensified international cooperation. The Biden Administration’s emerging foreign policy priorities therefore focus on ‘building back better’ on a global scale, in pursuit of the same imperative at home, while working with allies to counter authoritarian threats to US interests. Early moves to re-enter the Paris Agreement and to re-affirm the importance of the transatlantic partnership confirm that this administration is taking a different transatlantic tack. However, some trade policy issues remain contentious. A joint approach towards China is expected to be on the summit agenda, but some divergence still exists in that area.

G7 Summit

President Biden’s first European appointment is at the 47th G7 Summit, which will take place on 11‑13 June, after a one year break due the coronavirus pandemic (the 46th Summit did not take place). There, he might be expected to follow-up on his agenda to reassert democratic values. With a reputation as an informal framework of cooperation on major global issues, the G7 Summit this year is likely to uncover the depth of the shared commitment to the fundamental values of liberal democracy in the face of authoritarianism, and the strength of cooperation in tackling Covid‑19. To ensure more equitable and rapid access to vaccines and other medical supplies for developing countries, the US has supported a proposal to waive patent rights for the production of vaccines. However, the EU insists on using existing flexibilities and on expanding production capacities, particularly in Africa. It remains to be seen whether G7 leaders will find common ground on how to improve access to vaccines for developing countries. Likewise, the global corporate tax proposed by the USA and agreed by the G7 finance ministers is likely to be a priority subject for discussion. While it could represent a historical change in the international taxation system in pursuit of greater fairness, the commitment is yet to be tested at the implementation level. Regulation of digital developments is also expected to figure in the discussions. Climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement are naturally another priority, following President Biden’s April 2021 virtual climate summit, which announced an updated US target, new initiatives to help developing countries decarbonise, and prompted several other countries to update their targets. While the US return to positive climate action is welcome, questions remain regarding their feasibility.

See also our Topical Digest with selected publications on EU Transatlantic Relations

NATO leaders’ meeting

Recent turbulence in the international order has also led to a strategic reflection on the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). In parallel, the EU is carrying out its own deliberation on the scope of its security and defence policy, known as the ‘Strategic Compass’. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has provided a forward-looking agenda for the leaders’ meeting on 14 June 2021, inspired by the ‘NATO 2030’ process, which is intended to reinforce the ‘unity between Europe and North America’, to broaden ‘NATO’s approach to security’, and to safeguard rules-based multilateralism. While presenting certain risks, the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, where NATO troops have been deployed since 2001, is certain to be on the leaders’ table. With the recent hijacking perpetrated by Belarus fresh in leaders’ minds, the seemingly perpetual tensions with Russia and reinforcing the Eastern flank, in advance of President Biden’s forthcoming meeting with President Putin, are also expected to be discussed. In the same vein, NATO Allies are likely to balance the opportunities to cooperate with China on economic and climate matters with its build-up of its defence capabilities and its stance on human rights. A debate on a renewed EU‑NATO cooperation is expected during European Parliament’s plenary on 5 July 2021.

Trade

Transatlantic relations have been rather difficult for some time, particularly in the context of the World Trade Organization Appellate Body crisis. Thus far, President Biden’s position on international trade shows some overlap with that of previous administrations. It is highly likely that both G7 and EU leaders will engage with President Biden on these issues during his time on European soil, not least because so many of his administration’s other priorities, on corporate tax, Big Tech and climate change, depend on good trading relations.

Nevertheless, the Biden Administration’s foreign policy moves to date augur well for a move to a more positive and dynamic transatlantic relationship in the years to come, and there are signs of transatlantic alignment on major trade files.

G7 members: Population and nominal GDP per country in 2021

Български (jpg | pdf) – Español (jpg | pdf) – Čeština (jpg | pdf) – Dansk (jpg | pdf) – Deutsch (jpg | pdf) – Eesti Keel (jpg | pdf) – Ελληνικά (jpg | pdf) – English (jpg | pdf) – Français (jpg | pdf) – Gaeilge (jpg | pdf) – Hrvatski (jpg | pdf) – Italiano (jpg | pdf) – Lietuvių Kalba (jpg | pdf) – Magyar (jpg | pdf) – Malti (jpg | pdf) – Nederlands (jpg | pdf) – Polski (jpg | pdf) – Português (jpg | pdf) – Română (jpg | pdf) – Slovenčina (jpg | pdf) – Slovenščina (jpg | pdf) – Svenska (jpg | pdf)

Graphic taken from the EPRS Briefing ‘G7 summit, June 2021: Asserting democratic values in the post-crisis context‘.

Categories: European Union

Harnessing the new momentum in transatlantic relations: Potential areas for common action during the Biden presidency

Fri, 06/11/2021 - 08:30

Written by Tania Latici (lead author).

© Premium Collection, Nicola, wetzkaz, Alx, W.Scott McGill, david hughes / Adobe Stock.

The transatlantic relationship has been witnessing a significant injection of renewed enthusiasm and policy activity since Joe Biden became President of the United States in January 2021. This paper focuses on three important issues on the rapidly evolving transatlantic policy agenda, exploring their potential for generating, in effect, new ‘common global goods’ during the Biden presidency. First, it looks at pathways towards developing some kind of ‘transatlantic green deal’, taking climate action, trade and climate diplomacy in the round. Second, it analyses the comparative fabrics of US and European societies through the triple lens of violent extremism, the rule of law and technological disruption. Third, the prospects for ‘crisis-proofing’ the transatlantic space for the future are examined by looking at defence, health security and multilateralism. The paper also explores some potential avenues for closer transatlantic parliamentary cooperation, building on the already strong relationship between the European Parliament and the US Congress.

Momentum for restoring transatlantic relations

Like-minded strategic partners, natural and historical allies or an Atlantic bridge are among the terms used to describe the complex relationship between the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA). The evolution of EU-US relations has been subject to innumerable analyses, not least since the election of former US President Donald Trump in 2016. The arrival of a new, pro-transatlantic US administration, with Joe Biden displacing Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, has injected significant new enthusiasm into the relationship – matched only by pressure to deliver lasting change amid the deep geopolitical uncertainty left in President Trump’s wake.

Polling data from late 2020 show that across 11 EU countries, 57 % of respondents consider that President Joe Biden’s administration is a positive development for the EU. The same poll however reveals a significant ‘trust deficit’ among European countries towards the USA while another one from June 2021 illustrates that almost half of Europeans (from the eight countries polled) no longer think that the USA is the most influential global leader. About two-thirds of Americans believe that alliances with Europe are beneficial to them, while some 70 % believe that the USA should cooperate more with allies to tackle global problems. Although the transatlantic relationship has travelled several bumpy roads over the years, it has endured. Recent economic and geopolitical shifts led to a focus on resilience ‘at home’ and to a reshuffle of strategic priorities – the Indo-Pacific on the US side, beginning during the Obama administrations, and boosting strategic autonomy on the European side – which will influence the terms of a renewed relationship.

The EU and USA ‘share more with each other politically, socially, legally and culturally’ than either share with almost any other power.[4] Nevertheless, as polling data indicate, this should not be taken for granted. Instead, shared transatlantic values should be channelled through concrete policy action to generate alignment where interests converge and functional diplomacy where they diverge. The expectation is not a return to a status quo ante, but rather of a fresh start through a recalibrated relationship that can respond to the challenges of this decade and the next. The coronavirus crisis has underlined our interdependence and potential as a global force for good. This is the aim of an agenda to revitalise the transatlantic alliance.

Read this complete in-depth analysis on ‘Harnessing the new momentum in transatlantic relations: Potential areas for common action during the Biden presidency‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

EU climate action in ocean governance and fisheries policy

Thu, 06/10/2021 - 14:00

Written by Frederik Scholaert.

© shaunwilkinson / Adobe Stock

Marine resources are a vital and growing source of food for human consumption, while oceans also play an important role in climate regulation. Scientific evidence shows that the climate system has changed rapidly in recent decades, with the oceans greatly mitigating the effects of climate change by absorbing excess heat and human-made carbon emissions. The velocity of the effects of climate change leaves little room for adaptation, causing both declines in abundance and geographic shifts in fish populations. As a result, people who rely heavily on seafood and fisheries for their livelihoods run the risk of income loss and food insecurity.

The European Green Deal places climate action at the heart of a wide range of new legislative and non-legislative initiatives and includes ambitious goals such as achieving climate-neutrality by 2050 and preserving and protecting biodiversity. The new ‘farm to fork’ strategy addresses the challenges of sustainability in the food supply chain and, in the area of seafood, highlights the imminent update of the strategic guidelines on aquaculture, the goal to support the algae industry and the focus on climate change in the 2022 common fisheries policy review. In its biodiversity strategy, the Commission proposes a new binding target of 30 % marine protected areas in EU waters by 2030, a target supported by Parliament.

A reduction in fishing pressure could also offset the environmental impacts of climate change. The last reform of the common fisheries policy marked an important milestone by requiring fish stocks to be restored and maintained above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield. An own-initiative report from Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries focuses specifically on the impact of rising seawater temperatures on fish stocks and fisheries. The oceans can be harnessed to help to close the emissions gap however, by unlocking their renewable offshore energy potential. In its offshore renewable energy strategy, the Commission aims to reach a deployment of 300 GW in offshore wind capacity by 2050, a 20-fold increase compared to today. Another own-initiative report from Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries looks into the impact on the fishing sector of offshore wind and other renewable energy systems.

Cumulative installed capacity of offshore wind energy worldwide

Cumulative installed capacity of offshore wind energy worldwide

БългарскиEspañolČeštinaDanskDeutschEesti keelΕλληνικάEnglishFrançaisHrvatskiItalianoLatviešu valodaLietuvių kalbaMagyarMaltiNederlandsPolskiPortuguêsRomânăSlovenčinaSlovenščinaSuomiSvenska

Read the complete briefing on ‘EU climate action in ocean governance and fisheries policy‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

The new EU Roma Strategic Framework: Towards equality, inclusion and participation

Thu, 06/10/2021 - 08:30

Written by Branislav STANICEK.

The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) held a round table on the new Roma strategy for equality, inclusion and participation on 1 June 2021.This event was part of the regular EPRS policy series, and was a follow-up to the seminar held last year with Vice-President Lívia Járóka (NI, Hungary) who is responsible for the Western Balkans and a member of the High-Level Group on Gender Equality and Diversity. The event marked the 15th anniversary of the adoption of Lívia Járóka’s report entitled Situation of Roma women in the European Union (adopted 1 June 2006).

In his welcome speech, Director of the EPRS Members’ Research Service Etienne Bassot recalled that the EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation was adopted by the European Commission on 7 October 2020. The new Roma strategy was endorsed not only by the European Union but also by all Western Balkan countries at the ministerial meeting in Tirana, Albania on 27 October 2020. The ministerial meeting was a follow-up to the 2019 Poznan meeting and declaration on Roma integration in the EU enlargement process.  

The new Roma strategy proposes seven qualitative and quantitative targets for 2030. Three of these objectives are horizontal in the areas of equality, inclusion and participation. The other four are sectoral objectives in the areas of education, employment, housing and health. The European Commission requires the Fundamental Rights Agency to conduct surveys and assess the situation, both in the EU and Balkan countries. In 2021, the survey will be extended to Serbia and North Macedonia.

Vice-President Lívia Járóka, the first Roma ever elected to the European Parliament, stated in her keynote speech that human rights and inclusion for all citizens should remain a cross-cutting priority both for the European Union and Western Balkan countries. Roma participation in some countries remains fragile, and the situation was aggravated during the Covid‑19 pandemic. She also recalled the important role played by the Roma in European culture and emphasised the need for increased Roma political participation, in particular by Roma women. Alongside increased political participation, better and positive media coverage would be highly beneficial.

Sónia Pereira, Portugal’s High Commissioner for Migration responsible for the Roma communities integration strategy and President of the Management Board of the High Commission for Migration, presented the views of the Portuguese Presidency to the European Council. She reviewed the successful adoption of the strategic framework in March 2021, as well as the Portuguese Presidency conference ‘Working together for Roma rights’ held in April 2021. Roma rights are a cornerstone of social rights, and the combat against hate speech and anti-gypsiysm should be taken up by all citizens. Finally, she stressed that the new framework should be implemented in line with multilevel governance, together with regions and cities, respecting the subsidiarity principle.

Marta Garcia Fidalgo, advisor for the coordination of Roma policies and Equality Coordinator at the European Commission (DG NEAR), presented the Roma situation in the Western Balkans accession countries. She noted that, considering that the Roma’s status in the Western Balkans has hardly improved in the last 20 years, despite considerable financial investment by the EU, the new strategic framework is important to Roma equality and participation. The Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) includes the financing of Roma inclusion projects. It is important that references to Roma employment and social inclusion be retained in the new Investment Plan for the Western Balkans adopted last October.

Beata Bislim Olahova, advisor on Roma and Sinti issues at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), presented the social and economic situation of the Roma, as well as their political participation within the OSCE countries. The European Commission recognises that the high NEET rate (not in employment, education or training) among Roma in the EU is a problem. The Commission therefore set an objective to cut the gap in the NEET rate by at least half. Currently the NEET rate among Roma in the EU is 62 %, compared to 10 % among the general population.

Some Roma face double difficulties as they live in poor regions and disadvantaged communities. Marja Eronen, chief coordinator of the International Romani Union in Finland, described the social challenges that the Roma population is facing in Europe. Low schooling rates and frequent premature school leaving, crowded housing and insufficient health care are among the main challenges. Participation in the labour market and social inclusion are fundamental for improving the living conditions of Roma in Europe. She also described the role of the Roma ombudsman in Finland.

Finally, Branislav Stanicek, policy analyst for the External Policies Unit at the EPRS, spoke about the need for accurate data on the Roma population for better policy-making. He pointed to some successful projects, such as the Atlas of Roma Communities, initiated by Iveta Radičová, former Prime Minister of Slovakia, and currently being developed by Ábel Ravasz, former governmental envoy for Roma communities in Slovakia. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe might also better share their best practices with the accession countries of the Western Balkans. Finally, he noted the fact that Roma rights are placed within the first negotiations policy cluster of ‘fundamentals’, establishing the central role of this policy for EU accession of the Balkan countries.

The new EU Roma Strategic Framework: Towards equality, inclusion and participation
Categories: European Union

Disinformation and science – How gullible are young Europeans with regard to false science news?

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 18:00

Written by Eszter Fay.

©Viperagp/Adobestock

Fake news? Disinformation? Misinformation?

Misinformation is always troubling, not least in science. Scientists feel distress when public understanding diverges from facts. Intentional disinformation (fake news) is not, however, the only source of misinformation. Citizens living in modern democratic societies frequently face the dilemma of whether to consider true or false – and accept or reject – information they receive concerning climate change, vaccinations, genetically modified agricultural products, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, or Covid‑19.

Misinformation is not new – but the information ecosystem within which it is now spreading is. The public sphere has evolved into a completely new phase, where information filtering mechanisms are often ineffective. The producers of messages disseminated through social media can broadcast news unchecked by any scientific or editorial authority. We have entered a world of public communication where facts play a limited role in substantiating the content of the statements.

Political misinformation and disinformation have always existed. What is different today is that contemporary lies by populist actors often have no apparent purpose, but create a climate of shocks and chaos. Although misinformation is a topical issue, there is little consensus concerning the different types of misinformation, however. McCright and Dunlap[1] have recognised the need to differentiate between types of misinformation in order to know how to deal with them. Yet, their types – ‘truthiness, bullshit, systemic lies, and shock-and-chaos’ – are mostly connected with political misinformation and disinformation.

Disinformation is a hot topic today and is of course a global phenomenon, but may also have a correlation with how new and older democratic societies present and teach scientific achievements and innovation in their education systems. The topic of fake news has been extensively studied in political science, but surprisingly enough, no study has dealt with fake science news. As mentioned above, misinformation that contains intentionally false information is known as disinformation, and fake science news usually falls into this category.

Part of the mission of the European Science-Media Hub (ESMH), operating under the political responsibility of the EP’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA), is to identify and disseminate trustworthy information sources in the field of science. During a health emergency, it is essential to explore how science information circulates and how people get their news and knowledge about science and new technology. In this context, the ESMH supported a project to conduct a survey examining the spread of disinformation among young people in some countries of Central Europe and in Italy, to explore the public understanding of scientific topics and address the damaging impact of disinformation and junk science.

The survey outcomes were presented to the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) at its meeting on 19 April 2021. The recording is available here.

Gullibility of false science news in central European countries

The ESMH/STOA study ‘Disinformation and Science – A survey of the gullibility of students with regard to false scientific news’ resulting from the above ESMH project discusses the disinformation phenomenon, its causes related to social trust and types of media consumption among university students in Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, northern Italy and Slovakia. The survey was coordinated by Professor György Csepeli from Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest.

How to tackle the infodemic?

In the midst of the research, Europe was hit by the coronavirus pandemic that highlighted the radically new features of our information ecosystem by magnifying the most controversial aspects of the public sphere. Falsehood has literally become a lethal problem on an unprecedented scale. Pandemics affecting our health will come and go, but the pandemic of misinformation (known as the ‘infodemic’) will stay. The lesson to be drawn from the survey’s results is that, to tackle the infodemic, there is a need to enhance the level of public trust in science. Consumers and producers of social media should be motivated and trained to use fact-checking mechanisms enabling them to distinguish between true and false information. Furthermore, misinformation consumed by credulous persons should be distinguished from disinformation that is manufactured intentionally to cause havoc.

Myths are no doubt inherent parts of the human mind-set. However, myths cannot serve as the only means of constructing reality. Real knowledge, in contrast, lies in recognising information and thoughts produced by trustworthy sources. Science communication alone, however, does not guarantee against inaccuracies and errors. Real wisdom is the art of doubting: this is a lesson Europeans can draw from this experience.

The EuroScience Open Forum 2020 Roundtable

The ESMH/STOA study findings were also presented at an earlier ESOF2020 roundtable discussion on 4 September 2020. The EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) is a biennial, pan-European, general science conference dedicated to scientific research. The 2020 event brought together over 4 500 leading thinkers, innovators, policy-makers, journalists and educators from more than 90 countries, to discuss current and future breakthroughs in contemporary science.

The ESOF roundtable ‘Perspectives on science-related fake news among young people in Central-Eastern Europe and Italy’ was opened by Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), STOA Chair. The project team members presented the results of the survey. Keynote speaker Stephan Lewandowsky from the University of Bristol addressed the questions of science, misinformation and conspiracy theories in the age of Covid‑19. The ESMH and its activities during the corona crisis were presented at another ESOF2020 panel session devoted to science communication in times of crisis.

Your opinion matters! If you read our study or watched the presentation, let us know what you think at stoa@europarl.europa.eu.

What are the psychological determinants of gullibility? 'Escape from complexity' @ISIG_Gorizia @EPCulture

Study: https://t.co/YjIh40khwW #ESMH #STOA #disinformation #falsenews pic.twitter.com/qflc93WgWV

— STOA Panel (@EP_ScienceTech) April 19, 2021

[1] A. M. McCright and R. E. Dunlap, Combatting Misinformation Requires Recognizing Its Types and the Factors That Facilitate Its Spread and Resonance, Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 2017, 6(4) 389-396.

Categories: European Union

Recovery plan for Europe: State of play

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 14:00

Written by Magdalena Sapała with Nina Thomassen.

© European Union, 2021, EPRS

In December 2020, the adoption of the legislative package on the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) and the Next Generation EU (NGEU) recovery instrument marked the end of an important stage in the process of launching a unique financial stimulus package – the recovery plan for Europe. However, in order to make the plan fully operational, additional conditions need to be met and preparatory steps completed.

First, there is the financing of NGEU, based on borrowing operations carried out by the European Commission on behalf of the European Union. These operations could start only once the Member States had ratified the Own Resources Decision (ORD). This procedure was completed before the end of May 2021. In the meantime, the Commission started preparing for its role as a borrower on an unprecedented scale and published its diversified funding strategy for the financing of NGEU. The Commission has ensured that the preparations are advanced and that it would be ready to begin the borrowing operations as soon as ratification of the ORD was finalised and the act in force.

In parallel, preparations are ongoing for the spending of the biggest part of NGEU (90 %) under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This process includes the drawing up of national recovery and resilience plans by the Member States, their evaluation by the European Commission, and approval by the Council of the EU. Only then will the Commission conclude an agreement with each Member State on a legal commitment authorising the financial contribution to be made, and begin pre-financing. An indicative timeline of the whole process shows that the first payments for Member States could be made between July and September 2021.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Recovery plan for Europe: State of play‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

Biodiversity protection: Where do we stand?

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 08:30

Written by Vivienne Halleux.

© JasperSuijten / Adobe Stock

Based on Member States’ reporting under the Birds and Habitats Directives, the backbone of European Union (EU) nature conservation policy, the latest assessment on the state of nature by the European Environment Agency shows that despite some encouraging developments, the overall picture remains bleak. Only 15 % of habitats and around 27 % of species protected under EU legislation have a good conservation status. An EU-wide assessment of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems found that, overall, the condition of ecosystems in the EU is unfavourable. Worldwide, most indicators of ecosystems and biodiversity show rapid decline. Targets set to tackle biodiversity loss by 2020, at both EU and global levels under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), have not been met.

Under the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, part of the European Green Deal, the EU has therefore set itself new targets for the next decade. These include enlarging the current network of legally protected areas to cover at least 30 % of the EU’s land area and 30 % of the EU’s seas; and setting legally binding EU nature restoration targets to restore degraded ecosystems. The recent zero-pollution action plan for air, water and soil proposes additional commitments relevant to biodiversity protection.

Parties to the CBD, including the EU, are due to meet on 11-24 October 2021 in China to agree on a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The EU intends to push for global 2030 targets in line with the commitments set out in its biodiversity strategy and for a much stronger implementation, monitoring and review process. The issue of resource mobilisation will be an important one, especially in the context of the coronavirus crisis, affecting the funding available for biodiversity.

On 28 May 2021, Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety adopted an own-initiative report with recommendations to strengthen the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030. The vote in plenary is scheduled for the June I plenary session.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Biodiversity protection: Where do we stand?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Categories: European Union

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