Next Generation EU: A European instrument to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Written by Alessandro D’Alfonso,

© European Union, 2020

The socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic across the European Union (EU) is posing significant challenges, not least to the good functioning of the single market and the euro area. This has led to a growing consensus on the need for a common recovery plan to complement national stimulus packages. The European Commission has put forward a proposal to establish a €750 billion European recovery instrument, Next Generation EU, to reinforce the EU’s 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF). The instrument would be financed from funds borrowed on the markets by the Commission on behalf of the EU, while a mix of new and already planned instruments under the EU budget would channel expenditure, combining grants (€500 billion) and loans (€250 billion). The proposal, which aims to focus on the geographical areas and sectors hardest hit by the crisis, seeks to ensure an economic rebound that is also about quality, since expenditure is to be in line with jointly agreed EU objectives such as the green and digital transitions. National allocations under the largest instrument, a new Recovery and Resilience Facility, are to address challenges identified in the context of the European Semester. The recovery instrument includes various proposals in which the European Parliament is involved to varying extents, depending on the issue at stake. The channelling of resources through the EU budget means that Parliament would be co-legislator of relevant spending instruments, and exercise democratic scrutiny of expenditure through the discharge procedure. The budgetary authority would not however determine annual expenditure of Next Generation EU in the budgetary procedure since financing would be based on external assigned revenue. The Commission has called for an agreement to be reached in July 2020, in order for the recovery instrument to be operational as of 2021. A €11.5 billion bridging solution would address some objectives already in 2020. Elements expected to be at the heart of the complex negotiations, which are linked to those on the 2021-2027 MFF, are: the size of the instrument; the mix of grants and loans; the allocation of resources between Member States; reform of the financing system of the EU budget with new own resources; and the repayment of the borrowed resources.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Next Generation EU: A European instrument to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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What if insects were on the menu in Europe? [Science and Technology podcast]

Written by Nera Kuljanic with Samuel Gregory-Manning,

© Adobe Stock

Insects, while commonly consumed elsewhere in the world, have long been off the menu in Europe, but they could soon be creeping their way onto our plates. Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is now gaining serious interest. Is it set to take Europe by swarm?

Insects are the most diverse group of organisms on the planet and over 1 000 different species are regularly eaten in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. Nutritionally dense and versatile, insects are already available for human consumption in some EU Member States, either sold whole or in processed products.

With the EU committed to transitioning to a more sustainable and resilient food system as part of the European Green Deal and in light of the Covid‑19 pandemic, insects could offer a greener alternative component of future animal protein production. EU legislation has recently had to catch up with entomophagy’s expansion from a niche novelty to serious commercial and culinary contender, with further legislative authorisation anticipated.

Potential impacts and developments

Insects could make a healthy addition to European diets, generally being a rich source of proteins, fats, minerals (particularly calcium, iron and zinc), and vitamins (including vitamin C and B vitamins). Many insects reportedly taste good and are even considered delicacies in some cultures. Otherwise, insects can be ground or their nutrients extracted and mixed with other foodstuffs, such as grains or meat, to enhance the quality of processed products such as burgers, pasta, cereal bars, and cakes. However, potential risks are associated with the consumption of insects. Some species contain body parts that are difficult to digest, such as cricket spines and legs, and eating inappropriate species or developmental stages could lead to the inadvertent ingestion of toxic substances. Chitin, an abundant biopolymer that makes up the exoskeletons of insects, is a known allergen.

Insects are not yet routinely eaten in most European diets and are subject to strong cultural responses of dislike and disgust, as well as perceptions as a primitive foodstuff. However, the rejection of entomophagy has been shown to be a learned behaviour and overcoming this cultural bias would therefore be feasible for Europeans. Indeed, other arthropods, mostly crustaceans, as well as other invertebrates such as molluscs, are already widely eaten across the continent, with many deemed prized delicacies. Farmed insect species would be herbivorous and thus objectively more hygienic than omnivorous crustaceans, while insects ground and added to other foodstuffs are more likely to be palatable to a wider public, allowing people to overcome food neophobia (fear of unfamiliar foods).

Globally, the most commonly consumed insects are the immature developmental stages of species of beetle, butterflies and moths, and ants, bees and wasps. Elsewhere in the world, mostly wild insects are harvested for consumption, but this would not be feasible in Europe on a large scale due to the lack of an appropriate species in sufficient abundance, as well as a pesticide contamination risk. Insect farming is already practiced in Europe for the production of those used in laboratory research, aquaculture, as pet and zoo feed, and for human consumption. Silk worms and honey bees have also long been reared in Europe for their valued by-products. Representatives of the insect sector estimate that 6 000 tonnes are currently produced annually in Europe, and expect this to grow to between 3 and 5 million tonnes by 2030.

Insect species with life history traits ideal for breeding in Europe for human consumption include native species such as the house cricket Acheta domesticus, Tenebrio molitor beetle larvae (mealworms), and honey bees Apis mellifera; selective breeding could produce domesticated strains with desired traits conducive to large-scale breeding. Nevertheless, breeding would likely have to be highly automated to produce sufficiently large quantities of insects for commercial viability.

The European Green Deal strives for climate-neutrality by 2050, and the Farm to Fork Strategy focuses on the transition to sustainable agriculture as an integral component of this goal, with the latter highlighting the urgency for a more resilient food system in light of the Covid‑19 pandemic. Agriculture is responsible for 10.3 % of EU greenhouse gas emissions, 70 % of which come from animal production, a sector which accounts for 68 % of EU agricultural land use. Meanwhile, EU animal protein demand is expected to grow in the next decade. Although the projected growth in insect production and consumption will not suffice to meet this demand (nor wholly replace traditional meat), it could play a role in the transition to a more sustainable, robust food system.

Naturally occurring in aggregated masses and possessing rapid life-cycles with high fecundity rates, insects could be bred more efficiently than conventional animal livestock, requiring less land, water and energy. Research indicates that they are generally higher in protein content than other traditional sources of protein, such as meat, dairy products, some seeds and soybeans, and that this protein is of high quality. Most insects are more efficient at converting feed to edible body mass: crickets for example require six times less feed than cows, four times less than sheep, and half that needed by pigs and chickens to produce roughly the same amount of protein.

Furthermore, insect species naturally consume organic waste materials, offering the potential for circular production. The majority of insects do not produce methane, and greenhouse gas emissions and ammonia production in their rearing would likely be low. Insects could also be used as feed for other animal livestock, being natural components of the diets of pigs, poultry and fish, potentially reducing EU agricultural dependency on other more environmentally destructive feed materials, such as soya and fish meal.

There are limitations and risks to the mass-farming of insects. Firstly, they are cold-blooded, and would therefore require maintained thermal conditions, particularly in colder climates. Insect species and their various developmental stages are subject to many pathologies and would be vulnerable to infectious diseases that are inherently involved with producing animals in high densities. The risk of novel zoonotic transmission of diseases from insect to human is relatively low, but insects can act as vectors for certain pathogens. Invasive alien species are a main driving force behind biodiversity loss and can cause wider economic damage, and being resilient and with rapid life-cycles, escaped insects could be especially effective invaders.

Anticipatory policy-making

Insects are subject to the EU Novel Food Regulation, which stipulates that food products, that ‘have not been consumed to a significant degree’ in the EU before 1997, must be safe and properly labelled if they are to receive pre-market authorisation. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is set to make a ruling in mid-2020 on the final authorisation of several insects as novel foods, including mealworms, grasshoppers and crickets. Clarification on the legal status of the import and export of insect products will also likely be required. The EU currently protects certain designations used for the marketing of specific foods of animal origin and so clarification on whether such designations can or cannot be applied to insect products may be necessary.

Insect production is also subject to legislation regarding animal health and transmissible diseases: insects may not be reared on certain organic waste and may not be used as feed for certain livestock, but may be used as feed for fish in aquaculture and pets. Given the potential of insects as part of a circular economy due to their ability to convert waste into edible animal protein, this legislation is likely to be reviewed, with the European Commission specifically mentioning insects in its commitment to explore alternative feed sources.

Current legislation protecting animal livestock welfare, pertaining to husbandry, transport and slaughter, does not cover insects. Future EU policy may have to bridge the gap in response to growing production (not least because higher welfare standards confer greater levels of hygiene and quality), with consideration given to the attributes unique to insects. While insects do respond to harmful stimuli, whether they possess the neural capacity to experience pain as perceived by higher animals has yet to be ascertained.

Stringent safeguarding would be needed to mitigate risks of accidental escape of potentially invasive and alien species. The EU currently recognises one species of non-European insect, the Asian hornet, as invasive, alongside three other species that are native to one part of the Union, but alien and potentially invasive in others. These species should not be used in any insect production and the list should be regularly updated to account for novel invasive threats.

Read this ‘At a glance’ on ‘What if insects were on the menu in Europe?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to Science and Technology podcast ‘What if insects were on the menu in Europe?’ on YouTube.

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The EU budget and coronavirus [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

© Corona Borealis / Adobe Stock

European Union leaders and institutions are now discussing plans to provide a major boost to the European economy to help it recover from the coronavirus crisis. They are doing so in the context of the new long-term EU budget, which would see the total ‘own resources’ ceiling for the Union more or less doubled. On 19 June 2020, the members of the European Council exchanged views digitally on the European Commission’s linked proposals, tabled on 27 May, for (i) a new ‘Next Generation EU’ recovery fund, and (ii) an updated Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the next seven-year financing period, from 2021 to 2027, in which the recovery fund would be embedded. The European Council will discuss these proposals again (in person) on 17-18 July in Brussels. In this context, think tankers and policy analysts have been debating the proposals and assessing their potential effectiveness.

This note offers links to recent commentaries and reports from international think tanks on coronavirus and related issues. Earlier publications on financing the fight against the coronavirus can be found in the previous item in this series, published by EPRS on 8 June.

How to spend it: A proposal for a European Covid-19 recovery programme
Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, July 2020

An opportunity to improve the MFF permanently
European Policy Centre, June 2020

Un budget de relance ambitieux, mais de dures négociations à prévoir
Jacques Delors Centre, June 2020

How to spend it right: A more democratic governance for the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility
Hertie School – Jacques Delors Centre, Bertelsmann Stiftung, June 2020

The EU’s recovery fund proposals: Crisis relief with massive redistribution
Bruegel, June 2020

An ambitious recovery budget, tough negotiations ahead
Notre Europe, June 2020

Le cadre financier pluriannuel 2021/2027: Être le phare
Fondation Robert Schuman, June 2020

Three-quarters of Next Generation EU payments will have to wait until 2023
Bruegel, June 2020

Les banques européennes à l’épreuve de la crise du Covid-19
Centre d’études Prospectives et d’informations Internationales, June 2020

Italian economic recovery plan
Polish Institute of International Affairs, June 2020

Financing the 2030 agenda for sustainable development: Prerequisites and opportunities for the post-Covid-19 crisis
Institut du Développement durable et des Relations Internationales, June 2020

Next generation EU bonds might face a credit-rating challenge
Central for European Policy Studies, June 2020

The US and Europe have addressed Covid unemployment in divergent ways: The differences are revealing
Atlantic Council, June 2020

The ground-breaking novelties of the Franco-German proposal and the misuse of the abacus
Luiss School of European Political Economy, May 2020

The role of greater cohesion funding for solidarity and sustainability post-Covid-19
Institute for European Environmental Policy, May 2020

Options for a European Recovery Fund
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, May 2020

The European Union’s SURE plan to safeguard employment: A small step forward
Bruegel, May 2020

How Germany’s Constitutional Court jump-started the Franco-German engine
Council on Foreign Relations, May 2020

The EU recovery fund is a historic step, almost
Centre for European Reform, May 2020

Whatever it takes, for as long as is needed: Mapping a new European recovery programme
Wilfried Martens Centre, May 2020

When the Franco-German ‘couple’ starts making sense again
Instituto Affari Intrnazionali, May 2020

Rebooting Europe: A framework for a post Covid-19 economic recovery
Bruegel, May 2020

The recovery fund: Legal issues
Luiss School of European Political Economy, May 2020

Governing in times of social distancing: The effects of Covid-19 on EU decision-making
European Policy Centre, April 2020

Beyond coronabonds: A new constituent for Europe
Instituto Affari Internazionali, April 2020

Will Covid-19 reduce the resistance to Eurobonds?
Centre for European Policy Studies, April 2020

A proposal for a coronabond: The Pandemic Solidarity Instrument
Centre for European Reform, April 2020

Protecting employment in the time of coronavirus
Centre for European Policy Studies, April 2020

Europe’s debate on fiscal policy: Too much yet too little
Centre for European Policy Studies, April 20

A European approach to fund the coronavirus cost is in the interest of all
Bruegel, April 202

Comment le budget de l’UE peut-il contribuer à résoudre la crise du coronavirus?
Jacques Delors Institute, March 2020

Towards a new MFF: New priorities and their impact on Italy
Centre for European Policy Studies, February 2020.

Read this briefing on ‘The EU budget and coronavirus‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Read all EPRS publications on the coronavirus outbreak

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Artificial intelligence is revolutionising our future: opportunities and challenges

Written by Nera Kuljanic with Sara Suna Lipp,

© metamorworks / Adobe Stock

Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to impact the future of almost every industry and all our lives. This is why it is highly important to keep Members of the European Parliament informed about the latest developments, as well as the challenges and long-term impacts of this technology. To support Members in their work, STOA (the Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology) continuously monitors the newest developments and it has produced 20 publications and hosted several events in the last two years on themes related to AI and its applications. Before delving into specific areas of AI applications, the latest STOA study on AI provides an accessible and extensive overview of developments in AI techniques, explaining how they work, the associated impacts and regulatory measures.

AI is one of today’s hottest topics and, due to its strategic value, is ranked very high on the EU agenda. The number of files on AI in progress at the European Parliament only illustrates the amount of activities expected in this area for the coming year. While AI and its applications open up great opportunities, many related risks and ethical concerns are subject to intense discussions at many levels.

AI and (public) health

AI technologies are transforming the fields of public health, biomedical research and medicine. The coronavirus crisis is an example of how AI applications can provide an immediate response to the pandemic. A recent STOA publication investigates ten technologies to fight coronavirus, including AI applications to tackle Covid‑19 and provide potential tools for fighting future infectious outbreaks. AI applications are used to help track the spread of the disease in real-time, predict new clusters, search drug databases and even analyse CT scans. Furthermore, AI is widely used in biomedical research and medicine. Long a focus of AI development, AI diagnosis and treatment of diseases were discussed in a STOA workshop organised in February 2019, and in a recently published ‘at a glance’ on AI and dementia.

AI and disinformation

The rise of disinformation in the digital age poses serious threats to society, democracy and business; the EU therefore pays special attention to tackling disinformation by acting at the European level. Two sequentially published STOA studies assess AI and its applications related to disinformation. One study examines how algorithms are used to detect, contain and counter online disinformation. The study provides policy options emphasising the need to support research and innovation, a multi-stakeholder approach, to improve the transparency and accountability of online content, and raise standards in media and journalism. The other study covers the trade-offs of using AI algorithms to prevent disinformation. The different policy options presented underline the interactions between technological solutions, freedom of speech and media pluralism.

AI opportunities, challenges and ethics

While AI already benefits our daily lives on many levels, including more effective healthcare, transportation and decision-making systems, it also poses legal, social, economic and ethical challenges. Furthermore, public opinion, hopes and fears are even more important in the discussion about future AI applications. Our in-depth analysis ‘Should we fear AI?‘ presents varying perspectives on this issue in a collection of opinion papers based on a workshop STOA organised in October 2017. Furthermore, the use of AI in media was the theme of the STOA Annual Lecture 2017, which investigated the challenges and the opportunities that arise with the use of algorithms in systems that create, manage and distribute information.

Transparency, explainability and responsibility; privacy, data protection and informed consent; misuse; military applications and security are some of the issues that are discussed in more detail in our publications:

In addition, past STOA events have addressed topics such as ethical and legal frameworks, governance challenges, and the European approach to AI. Also, check out our two-pagers on thought-provoking future scenarios: How could AI change employment? What if AI-enabled face recognition was used to monitor emotions? Can algorithms obey ethical rules? And what if technologies had their own ethical rules? You can also explore more detail and watch short videos on AI on our website.

Follow us on Twitter to stay in touch and for information about our newest publications and upcoming events!

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Public sector innovation: Concepts, trends and best practices [Policy Podcast]

Written by Cemal Karakas,

© enotmaks / Adobe Stock

The public sector is an important employer, service provider and procurer. Innovations in the public sector mainly focus on processes, products, organisation and communication. Citizens and businesses alike benefit from a professional and modern public administration in terms of better governance, faster service delivery, co-creation and co-design of politics.

There is no overall European Union law that targets public sector innovation per se. The European Commission, however, provides guidelines on public sector innovation. Many of these guidelines aim to tackle challenges deriving from digital transformation, increased mobility and cross-border interoperability.

In 2013, an expert group appointed by the Commission encouraged the EU and its Member States to overcome innovation barriers in the public sector by, for instance, improving the management and ownership of innovation processes, empowering innovation actors, and providing standards for innovation. In this context, the EU has been implementing its innovation union policy, promoting best practices and co-financing the establishment and activities of the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). While today many of the expert group’s recommendations have been implemented – such as innovation labs and networks, policy labs, innovation scoreboards or toolboxes – some, however, remain unaccomplished.

The European Parliament has demonstrated a positive stance towards innovation in the public sector on several occasions, including encouraging the Commission to speed up the realisation of the digital single market. More recently, Parliament adopted resolutions on the Commission’s EU e‑government action plan and on the proposed new digital Europe programme.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Public sector innovation: Concepts, trends and best practices‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to policy podcast ‘Public sector innovation: Concepts, trends and best practices’ on YouTube.

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Enforcement of consumer protection legislation [Policy Podcast]

Written by Nikolina Šajn,

© Worawut / Adobe Stock

European consumers enjoy a high level of rights, but when the rules protecting them are broken, they need to be enforced. The main goals of enforcement are to prevent and punish infringements, and to enable consumers harmed by infringements to get wrongs put right (consumer redress).

In the 2019 consumer conditions scoreboard poll, one in five consumers said that they had encountered problems when buying a product or service in the previous 12 months. However, whereas two thirds of them had complained – and were generally happy with the outcome, the other third decided not to do anything because they expected complaining to require too much time and effort, with an uncertain result.

When it comes to faulty products, individual consumers can demand redress directly from sellers, and if this is unsuccessful, they can sue them in court. However, individual lawsuits are highly problematic, as, for instance, the costs often exceed the value of the claim. The EU therefore requires Member States to ensure that consumers have access to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, while the Commission runs an online dispute resolution platform. Consumers can also collectively seek injunctions to stop or ban infringements, and the EU institutions are also working on enabling consumer organisations to demand compensation in court.

Consumer protection rules are also enforced by national public authorities, including through implementation of some EU-level enforcement rules. The Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation harmonises the powers of national competent authorities and lays down rules on their cooperation with counterparts in other Member States, while the EU has moved to harmonise maximum fines for widespread infringements of consumer protection rules.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Enforcement of consumer protection legislation‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to policy podcast ‘Enforcement of consumer protection legislation’ on YouTube.

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GDPR and AI: making sense of a complex relationship

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

© Shutterstock

The development and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) tools should take place in a socio-technical framework where individual interests and the social good are preserved but also opportunities for social knowledge and better governance are enhanced without leading to the extremes of ‘surveillance capitalism’ and ‘surveillance state’. This was one of the main conclusions of the study ‘The impact of the General Data Protection Regulation on Artificial Intelligence‘, which was carried out by Professor Giovanni Sartor and Dr Francesca Lagioia of the European University Institute of Florence at the request of the STOA Panel, following a proposal from Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), STOA Chair.

Data protection is at the forefront of the relationship between AI and the law, as many AI applications involve the massive processing of personal data, including the targeting and personalised treatment of individuals on the basis of such data. This explains why data protection has been the area of the law that has most engaged with AI and, despite the fact that AI is not explicitly mentioned in the General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR), many provisions of the GDPR are not only relevant to AI, but are also challenged by the new ways of processing personal data that are enabled by AI. This new STOA study addresses the relation between the GDPR and AI and analyses how EU data protection rules will apply in this technological domain and thus impact both its development and deployment.

After introducing some basic concepts of AI, the study reviews the state of the art in AI technologies with a focus on the application of AI to personal data. It then provides an in-depth analysis of how AI is regulated in the context of the GDPR and examines the extent to which AI is captured by the GDPR conceptual framework. It discusses the tensions and proximities between AI and data protection principles, such as purpose limitation and data minimisation, examines the main legal bases for AI applications to personal data, and reviews data subjects’ rights, such as the rights to access, erasure, portability and object. Researchers and policy-makers will find the meticulous analysis of the provisions of the GDPR to determine the extent to which their application is challenged by AI, as well as the extent to which they may influence the development of AI applications, of great theoretical and practical value.

The study carries out a thorough analysis of automated decision-making, considering the extent to which it is admissible, the safeguard measures to be adopted, and whether data subjects have a right to individual explanations. It then considers the extent to which the GDPR provides for a preventive risk-based approach, focused on data protection by design and by default. In adopting an interdisciplinary perspective, the study identifies all major tensions between the traditional data protection principles — purpose limitation, data minimisation, special treatment of ‘sensitive data’, limitations on automated decisions — and the full deployment of the power of AI and big data. The vague and open-ended GDPR prescriptions are analysed in detail regarding the development of AI and big data applications. The analysis sheds light on the limited guidance offered by the GDPR on how to balance competing interests, which aggravates the uncertainties associated with the novel and complex character of new and emerging AI applications. As a result of this limited guidance, controllers are expected to manage risks amidst significant uncertainties about the requirements for compliance and under the threat of heavy sanctions.

It should be noted that one of the main study findings is that, despite several legal uncertainties, the GDPR generally provides meaningful indications for data protection in the context of AI applications, that it can be interpreted and applied in such a way that it does not substantially hinder the application of AI to personal data, and that it does not place EU companies at a disadvantage by comparison with non-European competitors.

The study then proposes a wide range of concrete and applicable policy options about how to reconcile AI-based innovation with individual rights and social values and ensure the adoption of data protection rules and principles. Some of the proposed options relate to the need for a responsible and risk-oriented approach that will be enabled by the provision of detailed guidance on how AI can be applied to personal data in a way that is consistent with the main principles and general provisions of the GDPR. This guidance can be provided by national data protection authorities, and the Data Protection Board in particular, and should also involve civil society, representative bodies and specialised agencies.

The study emphasises the need to distinguish between use of personal data in a training set, for the purpose of learning general correlations and their use for individual profiling, as well as on the need to introduce an obligation of reasonableness for controllers engaged in profiling. The authors’ proposal concerning the facilitation of the exercise of the right to opt out of profiling and data transfers along with the right of collective enforcement in the data protection domain is of practical importance.

The study’s added value lies not only in the detailed legal analysis and realistic policy options it puts forward but also in its engagement with the general discussion about the values of the GDPR and the need to embed trust in AI applications via societal debates and dialogue with all stakeholders, including controllers, processors and civil society. This societal engagement would be necessary to develop appropriate responses, based on shared values and effective technologies. The arguments and findings of the study offer both theoretical insight and practical suggestions for action that policy-makers will find stimulating and worth pursuing.

Read the full report and accompanying STOA Options Brief to find out more. You can also watch the video of the presentation of interim findings to the STOA Panel.

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Priority dossiers under the German EU Council Presidency

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


© tanaonte / Adobe Stock

Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, with federal power vested in the Bundestag  (the German parliament) and the Bundesrat (the representatives of Germany’s regional states, Länder). The Bundestag is the only body at the federal level directly elected by the people, and is currently composed of 709 members.

The Bundestag is elected every four years by German citizens aged 18  and over. The current Bundestag is led by the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) with 33 % of representation, followed by the SPD (Social Democratic Party) with 24 % and then by the AFD (Alternative for Germany) with 11 %. These are followed by: the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the Left (Die Linke), Alliance 90/The Greens (Grüne) and the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in office since 2005, heads the executive government. The executive is elected by the Bundestag and is responsible to it. The German head of state is the federal President, currently Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The federal President has a role in the political system, particularly in the establishment of a new government and its possible dissolution.

Germany has held the Council Presidency 12 times since becoming a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1957. The country last held the Presidency in 2008. It will take the helm of the EU Council Presidency on 1 July 2020, starting the trio Presidency composed of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. The Trio has adopted a Declaration outlining the main areas of focus  for  their Trio,  including  democracy, human rights and  the  rule  of  law,  as  well  as  an economically strong EU based on growth and jobs and the social dimension. Likewise the three Member States have pledged to work on the challenges of digitalisation, climate change and energy transition. It is to be noted that the Trio is working on a revised declaration to reflect the changed situation in Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The  Strategic  Agenda  2019-2024 endorsed by the  Member  States at the European Council meeting of  20 June 2019  will  remain, however, a guiding instrument. The Agenda covers the protection of citizens’ freedoms; developing a strong and vibrant economic base; building a climate- neutral, green, fair and social Europe; and promoting European interests and values on the global stage.


This note looks at the legislative and political projects, which could feature predominantly during the German Presidency. The upcoming German Presidency has already been dubbed the ‘German corona Presidency’ with a focus on crisis management. In the words of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, ‘….the Council Presidency will  have to deal with very difficult  framework conditions. The Covid-19  pandemic will  not only influence  the Council Presidency’s thematic priorities, but also the way of doing politics. Priority should be given to projects that are legally binding and have to be dealt with by the end of 2020.’

I. Covid-19

One of the first tasks of the Presidency will be to regulate restrictions on free travel and to revive the internal market. The EU civil protection mechanism is another area of importance in relation to Covid-19 as well as common procurement and production of life-saving medical equipment.

In the short term, the German Presidency will likely want to focus on the exit strategy from the emergency measures and the recovery of the continent. Europe will need to get back on its feet, and in order to do this, there has to be a focus on strengthening social cohesion. The north–south fight over the financial responses to the crisis will  need  to be addressed with the degree of commitment that would lead to economic recovery. There is also an urgent need to re-open EU borders, and to help tourism and aviation which have been hard-hit by Covid-19. On 13 May 2020, the European Commission published a communication on tourism and transport in 2020 and beyond. The Commission has already published a common rulebook for voluntary travel vouchers, and  once  the  virus  outbreak  is  sufficiently  under  control,  will  adopt  recommendations on reimbursement options for travellers.

It is clear that to achieve this first set of objectives, there will need to be coordination efforts at the EU level on Covid-19 measures taken by individual Member States.


There are policy areas in which decisions are imperative, notwithstanding the pandemic crisis. This includes the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and its sectoral programmes, including the establishment, as requested by the EP, of an MFF contingency plan, the adoption of the annual budget for 2021,  the future relationship with the UK, fishing quotas and certain international obligations.

Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, the overarching challenges currently facing the Union are well known and include, in particular, the 2021-2027 MFF (2018/0166 APP). There should be a rethinking of the EU budget for the next seven years, in the words of Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, where massive investment is needed in research, climate protection, technological  sovereignty and crisis-proof health and social systems.

Another area requiring an imperative decision at EU level concerns the annual budget for 2021. This, too, will fall during the German Presidency, along with the decisions on fishing quotas and international commitments such as climate goals set in the Paris Agreement.

The negotiations on the future relationship with the UK in the post-Brexit reality are particularly challenging. The UK has rejected an extension of the current transition period, which expires at the end  of  2020.  After four negotiation rounds up  to June,  there is  no  guarantee that a  future relationship agreement will be struck and ratified by the end of the year.

The  German Presidency  may also  take initiatives in  tackling issues requiring more European integration such as climate change and minimum taxes. On the question of the environment, it is clear that much work lies ahead with the need to implement the European Green Deal. Amongst others, there are the Closed Substance Cycle and Waste  Management  Action Plan  and the Chemicals Strategy  due in summer. The European Commission has also promised the announcement of an offshore wind strategy in July 2020.

Another area of importance is the protection of the EU’s founding values of democracy and the rule of law. One of the consequences of the pandemic has been the restrictions introduced bysome Member  States on these fundamental values under the disguise of  fighting coronavirus. The German Presidency may well push forward the idea that Member States which undermine these fundamental values should not be able to benefit from the Union’s financial assistance.

The question of migration and asylum will likely feature prominently on the German Presidency agenda. Under the previous legislature, agreement on a Common European Asylum System was not reached. It is expected that the European Commission will come up with a new proposal in the next months, which it is hoped can find support among the Member States and the European Parliament. There can be no doubt, however, that the Member States remain highly divided on the questions of migration and asylum. The German Ambassador, in a  recent webinar  highlighting  Germany’s priorities, indicated that while Germany is very much committed to working on this matter, it is not considered a likelihood that a solution be found before the end of the German Presidency in December 2020.


From the health  perspective, one of the proposals is to strengthen the European Centre  for Disease Prevention and Control, possibly through a budgetary increase to recruit more staff and increase the capacities of the Centre.

Likewise, Germany is likely to look at ways to strengthen the health systems of the Member States, in  order to ensure that each  is well  equipped to deal with  the coronavirus, considering that infections could increase again in individual regions after the summer.

A European Pharmaceutical Strategy is also a project in the pipeline of the European Commission that could feature prominently during the Presidency, particularly the ways to prevent supply bottlenecks for pharmaceuticals in the EU, secure supply chains and to avoid dependency in the production of active ingredients. The Commission is preparing a roadmap for this strategy, which aims to review the Orphan and  Paediatric  Regulation,  legislation on fees for the  European Medicines Agency (EMA), as well as the basic pharmaceutical legislation, which dates back to 2001.


The German Presidency will likely also focus on issues such as data policy, artificial intelligence and a digital single market. There is an urgent need for a strengthened research base if the EU is to play a role on the international level, particularly in the face of fierce competition from the US and China. Germany has already proposed a Code of Conduct for the use of health data. Likewise, it would like to see a European Data Governance framework in order to write common rules for data use.


The German Presidency had announced well in advance the preparation of an EU-China summit in September 2020. This is a priority for the German Chancellor and an essential event for the future relations between the two trading partners. However, with the ongoing coronavirus situation the two sides agreed on 3 June to postpone the summit, and it remains unclear when it will take place. On the other hand, an EU-China summit did take place on 22 June 2020 via video conference with the  participation of  Charles  Michel,  European Council  President, and  Ursula Von  der  Leyen, European Commission President.


A revised Commission Work Programme was adopted on 27 May, including a proposal on the Covid-19 recovery plan, which, as the Commission has explained, is based on the EU’s seven-year budget and will be topped up by a recovery instrument. The EU executive has proposed borrowing from the markets in order to finance a recovery plan that will come on top of the EU budget.

The revised MFF proposal is also on the table, and a number of further legislative proposals to deal with Covid-19 are expected. All this will require urgent action by the two co-legislators and under the leadership of the German Presidency. The economic hit to Europe’s economy because of the pandemic is substantial. The EU institutions and Member States will be expected to work together to manage and handle the consequences and fall-out of the current crisis.

On the Conference on the Future of Europe, while work was halted due to Covid-19, the German Presidency has indicated its wish to work further on this project. It is  however clear that the Conference cannot start until the pandemic is considered over, and social-distancing measures are relaxed. Conducting complex negotiations is very much dependent on physical meetings.

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

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EU-China relations: Taking stock after the 2020 EU-China Summit

Written by Gisela Grieger,

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The 22nd EU-China Summit, originally scheduled for March 2020, was postponed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. While other summits were simply cancelled or postponed indefinitely, the EU and China decided to hold the summit by video-link, on 22 June 2020. This decision testifies to the importance both sides attach to taking their complex relationship forward in difficult times.

The 2020 summit offered the opportunity to take stock of progress made on past commitments and to re-calibrate EU-China relations, against the backdrop of the wide-ranging fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, growing United States-China strategic rivalry, rapid geopolitical power shifts and the erosion of multilateralism.

Looking at EU-China relations through the lens of the 2019 EU-China strategic outlook, China is seen as being at once a partner for cooperation and negotiation, an economic competitor and a systemic rival. China has been a cooperation and negotiating partner for the EU in several fields where interests have converged. Nonetheless, the different norms and values underlying the EU and Chinese political and economic systems have made cooperation challenging. Shared objectives do not necessarily lead to the same approaches to pursuing them. Economic competition has become fiercer in China, in the EU and in third markets. As the Chinese leadership shows growing assertiveness in disseminating alternative models of governance – at international, regional and bilateral levels, China is also acting as a systemic rival, on an increasing number of issues.

The coronavirus pandemic has amplified pre-existing political and economic challenges in EU-China relations. It has exposed the EU’s over-reliance on China for the supply of strategic goods and also China’s confrontational ‘Wolf Warrior diplomacy‘, which has involved the use of a wide range of tools, including disinformation campaigns, political influence and economic coercion, in an attempt to alter narratives critical of China’s management of the crisis. It has also clearly demonstrated the need for a ‘more robust’ EU policy on China.

Read this briefing on ‘EU-China relations: Taking stock after the 2020 EU-China Summit‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Artificial intelligence: From ethics to policy

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

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The public service revolution expected from the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) simultaneously promises positive change and threatens negative societal impacts – we only need to mention ‘predictive policing’ to comprehend the potential for both service efficiencies and unintended consequences. AI ethics attempts to unpick these issues and provide a solid ethical framework. However, the snowballing adoption of AI ethics principles and guidelines by national governments, international organisations, research institutions and companies during the last three years triggers questions about the actual applicability and efficient implementation of these instruments. As a response to these concerns, scholars and practitioners are currently trying to find ways to translate these principles into practical requirements to enable the application of AI ethics principles and guidelines. Some of this work is about translating ethics principles into technical requirements, and/or design methodologies such as privacy-by-design, ethics-by-design, or ethically aligned design.

Several ethical tools and framework models have been created to visualise ethical concerns and develop a set of practices to anticipate and address the potential negative effects of AI on people. However many questions arise. Are these technical solutions sufficient to get from AI ethics to specific policy and legislation for governing AI? How can we apply the variety of ethical frameworks consistently in governing data, developing algorithms and actually using AI systems? Who bears this responsibility? And are there (or should there be) mechanisms for enforcement and monitoring in place? What is, in fact, a trustworthy and responsible AI, especially with regard to data governance? What is the role of ethical frameworks in ensuring trustworthy and responsible data governance and AI? Are there any lessons learnt from existing frameworks? How can AI systems best be governed? What are the promises and perils of ethical councils and frameworks for AI governance? What possible frameworks could guide AI governance, like those based on fairness, accountability and transparency?

To try to answer some of these issues, STOA launched a study to produce stakeholder-specific recommendations for the responsible implementation of AI systems and technologies, aligning them to already adopted ethical principles. The study, ‘Artificial Intelligence: From ethics to policy‘ was carried out by Dr Aimee van Wynsberghe of Delft University of Technology and co-director of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics at the request of the STOA Panel, following a proposal from Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), STOA Chair. The study’s central focus is the question of how can we get from AI ethics to specific policy and legislation for governing AI? The study builds on the ethics guidelines principles developed by the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence by providing insight into how the principles can be translated into design requirements and concrete recommendations.

The study firstly provides a brief overview of AI as a technology and the unique features it brings to the discussion of ethics: what is AI and what is new about it that is deserving of ethical attention. Particular attention is paid to the role of ‘black boxes’ and algorithmic fairness. Following this, the study unpacks what ethics is, and how ethics ought to be understood as a resource in the AI debate beyond its current use to generate principles.

From an overview of the current literature, the author produces a remarkable range of insights regarding the transparency of AI algorithms, the balance of trade-offs between accuracy and fairness, the conceptualisation of AI as a socio-technical system and the use of Ethical Technology Assessments as a viable mechanism for uncovering ethical issues ab initio. By arguing in favour of viewing AI as an ongoing social experiment that requires appropriate ex ante ethical constraints, assessment of epistemological constraints and constant monitoring, the author proposes a precautionary approach that is adapted to the realities and risks of AI.

The study then proposes an extensive range of ethically informed and stakeholder-specific policy options for the responsible implementation of AI/ML products, aligning them to defined values and ethical principles that prioritise human wellbeing in a given context. The entire set of policy options, viewed as ethical constraints, constitute a meta-ethical technology assessment framework directed towards the public administration and governmental organisations who are looking to deploy AI/ML solutions, as well as the private companies who are creating AI/ML solutions for use in the public space.

Among the proposed options, the development of a data hygiene certification scheme, the demonstration of the clear goals of AI/ML application and the production of an ‘Accountability Report’ in response to the ethical technology assessment appear as the most applicable in the context of the current debate about regulating the ethical aspects of AI. Besides proposing a meta-ethical framework, the author also makes a preliminary identification of the possible concerns surrounding the proposed policy options and their applicability. Particular emphasis is placed on the role of the ethicists and the allocation of tasks when it comes to the completion of the ethical technology assessment, the affordability of this process, especially for small and medium enterprises, and the horizontal character of the proposed regulatory process. The study includes useful accounts of the debates regarding the interface between regulation, technology and ethics, as well a critical engagement with traditional narratives about the role of ethics in the technological innovation process. In the concluding section, the author makes some important remarks about the meaning of ethics in an AI-focused regulatory context, its policy implications as well as its normative value.

Given the lack of operational experience with regard to AI, and its inherent uncertainties and risks, the study’s proposed framework appears to ensure accountability and transparency when organisations apply ethical frameworks and principles. Its interdisciplinary character, the cross-cutting nature of its insights and the acknowledgement of the role society plays in shaping technology and its regulation could pave the way for AI development that is both efficient in operational terms and acceptable to society.

Read the full report and accompanying STOA Options Brief to find out more.

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