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Reply to the campaign against the EP resolution on fundamental rights of people of African descent in Europe

© sharafmaksumov / Adobe Stock

The President of the European Parliament sometimes receives large numbers of identical messages on a given topic. The Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (AskEP) is asked to reply to these campaign messages. Replies to campaigns are also published on the EPRS blog.

The President of the European Parliament has received a large number of messages calling on the Parliament to revoke its resolution on the fundamental rights of people of African descent in Europe.

See below for the reply sent to citizens who wrote to the President of the European Parliament on this matter (in English and German).

Reply in English

The European Parliament adopted the resolution on fundamental rights of people of African descent in Europe  on 26 March 2019. You can find the video recording of the relevant debate here.

The resolution was adopted by 535 votes to 80 with 44 abstentions (p. 11 of the annex ‘Results of votes‘). You will find the result of the roll-call vote under item 31 of the relevant annex, B8-0212/2019 – Resolution, pp. 68-69.

As you can see from the procedure file, the motion for a resolution was tabled on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

Reply in German

Das Europäische Parlament hat die Entschließung zu den Grundrechten von Menschen afrikanischer Abstammung in Europa am 26. März 2019 angenommen. Die Videoaufnahme der diesbezüglichen Debatte können Sie hier finden.

Die Entschließung wurde mit 535 Stimmen dafür, 80 Stimmen dagegen und 44 Enthaltungen angenommen (S. 12 der Anlage „Ergebnisse der Abstimmungen“). Die Ergebnisse der namentlichen Abstimmung finden Sie in dem entsprechenden Protokoll, unter Punkt 31. B8-0212/2019 – Entschließung, S. 68-69.

Wie Sie dem Verfahrensmerkblatt entnehmen können, wurde der Entschließungsantrag im Namen des Ausschusses für bürgerliche Freiheiten, Justiz und Inneres (LIBE) eingereicht.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/30/reply-to-the-campaign-against-the-ep-resolution-on-fundamental-rights-of-people-of-african-descent-in-europe/

Reply to the ‘Stop Extremism’ campaign

© stanciuc / Adobe Stock

The President of the European Parliament sometimes receives large numbers of identical messages on a given topic. The Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (AskEP) is asked to reply to these campaign messages. Replies to campaigns are also published on the EPRS blog.

The President of the European Parliament has received a large number of messages calling on the Parliament to reject, if submitted for a vote, an ‘Anti-Extremism Directive’.

See below for the reply sent to citizens who wrote to the President of the European Parliament on this matter (in English, German and Italian).

Reply in English

As regards your reference to the European Citizens’ Initiative Stop Extremism, we would like to draw your attention to the relevant European Commission website. There you will find information about the progress the initiative has made.

We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that the ‘draft act’ (‘Rechtsaktentwurf‘) mentioned on the website referred to by the European Parliament can in no way be regarded as an official European Commission proposal for a directive.

In overall terms, a citizens’ initiative puts a topic on the political agenda in a way that commits the Commission to address citizens’ concerns properly, although the Commission is not obliged to follow the initiative. If it decides not to act, however, it will give clear reasons.

Should the Commission decide to adopt a legislative proposal on a citizens’ initiative, that proposal will be dealt with under the ordinary legislative procedure and must therefore be considered and, if appropriate, adopted by the co-legislators (in general by the European Parliament and the Council; in some cases only by the Council).

The relevant deliberations and decisions in the parliamentary procedure are to be held by the Members of the European Parliament in the exercise of their independent mandate (Rule 2 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament).

Reply in German

Insoweit Sie sich auf die Europäische Bürgerinitiative Stop Extremism beziehen, möchten wir Sie auf die einschlägige Website der Europäischen Kommission aufmerksam machen. Dort finden Sie Informationen zum aktuellen Bearbeitungsstand dieser Bürgerinitiative.

Ergänzend weisen wir darauf hin, dass es sich bei dem auf der erwähnten Website angeführten „Rechtsaktentwurf“ keineswegs um einen dem Europäischen Parlament vorliegenden offiziellen Richtlinienvorschlag der Europäischen Kommission handelt.

Insgesamt ist festzuhalten, dass mit einer Bürgerinitiative ein Thema auf die politische Tagesordnung gebracht wird, das die Kommission dazu verpflichtet, sich ernsthaft mit den Anliegen der Bürgerinnen und Bürger auseinanderzusetzen, aber sie ist nicht dazu verpflichtet, der Initiative Folge zu leisten. Allerdings wird die Kommission in einem solchen Fall ihre Gründe für die Ablehnung klar und eindeutig darlegen.

Sollte die Kommission allerdings beschließen, auf eine Bürgerinitiative hin einen Vorschlag für eine Rechtsvorschrift anzunehmen, so durchläuft dieser das übliche Gesetzgebungsverfahren und muss daher von den gesetzgebenden Organen (im Allgemeinen dem Europäischen Parlament und dem Rat oder in einigen Fällen nur vom Rat) geprüft und gegebenenfalls angenommen werden.

Die entsprechenden Beratungen und Beschlussfassungen im parlamentarischen Verfahren sind von den Mitgliedern des Europäischen Parlaments im Rahmen ihres freien Mandates (Artikel 2 der Geschäftsordnung des Europäischen Parlaments) durchzuführen.

Reply in Italian

Per quanto riguarda l’iniziativa dei cittadini europei Stop Extremism, richiamiamo la vostra attenzione sul pertinente sito web della Commissione europea. Vi troverete non solo informazioni sullo stato attuale di tale iniziativa, ma anche sulle prossime fasi procedurali previste.

A titolo integrativo, vi facciamo presente che il “progetto di atto giuridico” citato nella pagina web menzionata non costituisce assolutamente una proposta ufficiale di direttiva della Commissione europea presentata al Parlamento europeo.

In generale va chiarito che un’iniziativa dei cittadini inserisce nell’agenda politica un tema che impegna la Commissione ad occuparsi seriamente dell’interesse delle cittadine e dei cittadini, senza obbligarla per questo a dar seguito all’iniziativa. In questo caso, comunque, la Commissione deve illustrare in termini chiari e univoci i motivi del rifiuto.

Qualora la Commissione dovesse invece decidere di adottare un progetto di atto giuridico sulla base di un’iniziativa dei cittadini, esso è sottoposto alla procedura legislativa usuale e deve quindi essere esaminato ed eventualmente adottato dagli organi legislativi (in generale il Parlamento europeo e il Consiglio o in alcuni casi solo il Consiglio).

Le pertinenti deliberazioni e decisioni nel quadro della procedura parlamentare dovranno essere adottate dai deputati al Parlamento europeo nell’esercizio del loro libero mandato (articolo 2 del Regolamento del Parlamento europeo).

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/30/reply-to-the-stop-extremism-campaign/

The impact of coronavirus on Schengen borders

Written by Costica Dumbrava and Giulio Sabbati,

The Schengen Area

The Schengen Area consists of 26 countries that have agreed to remove regular checks at their internal borders in order to facilitate the free and unrestricted movement of people: 22 EU Member States (Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland and Sweden), and 4 associated countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). The Schengen Borders Code lays down the common rules governing the management of internal and external EU borders, including rules and procedures concerning the exceptional introduction of border checks at internal borders. According to the Code, Member States can introduce temporary border checks at their internal borders in cases of a foreseeable threat (e.g. a special event), an immediate threat or in the situation of persistent serious deficiencies relating to external borders.

In March 2020, the coronavirus outbreak has pushed many Member States to reintroduce border controls at internal borders on the grounds of an immediate threat to public policy. According to Article 28 of the Code, the duration of such exceptional measure must be limited to no more than ten days, with the possibility to extend them by renewable periods of 20 days, up to a maximum of two months. Member States must notify the Commission and the other Member States before taking action, specifying the reasons, scope and duration of the measures. This information must be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council too. The Commission is supposed to issue an opinion after consulting the other Member States.

In order to ensure the free circulation of goods and services in the single market during the ongoing health crisis, the European Commission put forward guidelines for border management measures. On 17 March, the members of the European Council accepted the Commission’s proposal to introduce a coordinated restriction of non-essential travel into the EU for a period of 30 days. The travel restriction provides for exemptions for nationals of all EU Member States and Schengen Associated States (UK nationals will be treated in the same way as EU citizens due to the current transition period), for the purposes of returning to their homes and for travellers with an essential function or need. As of 24 March, all Member States except Ireland (due to its common travel area with the UK) have implemented the temporary restriction.

The European Parliament has consistently defended the Schengen Area and condemned the unjustified reintroduction of internal borders. On 16 March, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE), called for a coordinated approach and urged Member States to take measures that fully respect the Schengen rules and the principles of proportionality, solidarity among Member States, and non-discrimination.


Read the complete briefing on ‘The impact of coronavirus on Schengen borders‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.


Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/30/the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-schengen-borders/

Plenary round-up – Brussels, March II 2020

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson,

Extraordinary EP Plenary session - European coordinated response to the COVID-19 outbreak - First remote plenary session of EP history

© European Union 2020 – Source: EP / Philippe BUISSIN

The need to observe strict sanitary measures, in view of the COVID-19 contagion, requires a flexible response from everyone. Consequently, the European Parliament organised and conducted its March II plenary session with new precautionary measures, allowing it to act rapidly to carry out its essential legislative function during the crisis. Parliament’s Bureau put in place an alternative voting procedure for the 26 March extraordinary plenary session. The new procedure meant that all Members – with most unable to be present in Brussels – could vote from a distance, sending their voting papers to Parliament’s Secretariat by e-mail. Parliament has adjusted its calendar, replacing the regular plenary part-sessions with shortened sessions until the summer. The temporary voting procedure will be available until 31 July 2020, unless extended by Bureau decision. Moreover, the Secretariat is working to put in place a more advanced remote voting system, which would enable more complex votes to be held among Members, in both committee and plenary, thus ensuring Parliament can carry out its essential budgetary and legislative functions throughout the ongoing public health crisis.

The session focused on three urgent legislative proposals responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Parliament adopted its positions on temporary suspension of EU rules on airport slots, creation of a Corona Response Investment Initiative and extension of the EU Solidarity Fund, almost unanimously, less than two weeks after the European Commission tabled its proposals. With the Council also agreed on the three texts, the measures can now be adopted in the coming days. Members also heard from the Commission and Council on the coordination of the European response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Allocation of slots at airports in the EU: Common rules

The Parliament adopted a proposal seeking to amend the common rules on allocation of slots at EU airports. The Commission proposed to temporarily suspend rules obliging airlines to use their slots. The suspension until October 2020, with retroactive effect from 1 March 2020, will ensure legal certainty for air carriers, given the grounding of aircraft due to the drop in demand for flights and widespread travel restrictions. It will also end unnecessary emissions from near-empty (‘ghost’) flights that carriers might have been tempted to operate to maintain their rights. Under the current regime, known as the ‘use it or lose it’ rule, airlines must use their slots at least 80 % of the time during the period for which they are allocated, or see the slots, which are a valuable resource, allocated to others.

Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative

Parliament adopted an initiative introducing specific measures mobilising a total of €37 billion of cohesion fund investment in Member States’ healthcare systems, as well as initiatives to provide support to SMEs in the form of working capital, and to specific mutual funds supporting fishermen. The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative will reallocate unused cash reserves available under the European structural and investment funds. The Commission will now use unspent 2019 advance payments to Member States to release €8 billion of investment liquidity to kick-start the initiative, with expenditure on crisis-response capacity eligible for funding retrospectively from 1 February 2020.

Extension of the EU Solidarity Fund

Members adopted the proposal extending the scope of financial assistance already available to Member States and accession candidate countries under the EU Solidarity Fund. The Fund intervenes to help countries hit by major natural disasters. The Parliament agreed that EU-level intervention under the Fund is also justified in the case of a major public health emergency, such as the COVID-19 outbreak, including medical assistance, as well as measures to prevent, monitor or control the spread of diseases. Disbursement will now be speeded up, and advance payments raised to 25 % of the expected EUSF contribution (limited to €100 million) for countries seriously affected by the crisis.


Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – Brussels, March II 2020‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/27/plenary-round-up-brussels-march-ii-2020/

Reply to the campaign about the European Commission’s proposal to amend the rules concerning lead concentration in PVC

© Maxx-Studio / Shutterstock

The President of the European Parliament sometimes receives large numbers of identical messages on a given topic. The Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (AskEP) is asked to reply to these campaign messages. Replies to campaigns are also published on the EPRS blog.

The President of the European Parliament has received a large number of messages calling for the European Parliament to reject a Commission proposal to amend the rules concerning lead concentration in PVC.

You can find below, in English, Italian, German and French, the reply sent to citizens who wrote to the President of the European Parliament on this matter.

Reply in English

We would inform you that on 12 February 2020, the European Parliament rejected the Commission proposal to amend the rules concerning lead concentration in PVC. The resolution was adopted by 394 votes to 241, with 13 abstentions.

As a result, the draft measure will not be adopted by the Commission. It may however either submit an amended draft or present a new one.

Further information is available in the press release.

Parliament has long held the position that recycling PVC must not perpetuate the problem of heavy metals. Lead in PVC has been phased out in the EU since 2015, thanks to the EU PVC industry’s voluntary commitment, however lead in PVC can continue to enter the EU via imported PVC products.

Further information on PVC in the EU is available on the Commission’s dedicated webpage.

Additional material on chemicals and EU policies is available from the EP Think Tank, for instance a briefing on Chemicals and the circular economy.

Reply in Italian

La informiamo che il 12 febbraio 2020 il Parlamento europeo ha respinto la proposta della Commissione volta a modificare le norme relative alla concentrazione di piombo nel PVC. La risoluzione è stata adottata con 394 voti favorevoli, 241 contrari e 13 astensioni.

Di conseguenza, il progetto di misura non sarà adottato dalla Commissione. Potrà tuttavia presentare una bozza modificata o presentare una nuova proposta.

Ulteriori informazioni sono disponibili nel comunicato stampa.

Il Parlamento sostiene da tempo che il riciclaggio del PVC non deve perpetuare il problema dei metalli pesanti. Il piombo nel PVC è stato gradualmente eliminato nell’UE dal 2015 grazie all’impegno volontario dell’industria del PVC nell’UE, ma il piombo nel PVC può continuare a entrare nell’UE attraverso i prodotti in PVC importati.

Ulteriori informazioni sul PVC nell’UE sono disponibili sulla pagina web dedicata della Commissione.

È disponibile materiale supplementare sulle sostanze chimiche e le politiche dell’UE presso il gruppo di riflessione del PE, ad esempio il briefing sulle sostanze chimiche e dell’economia circolare.

Reply in German

Wir möchten Ihnen hiermit mitteilen, dass das Europäische Parlament am 12. Februar 2020 den Vorschlag der Kommission zur Änderung der Vorschriften über den Bleigehalt in PVC abgelehnt hat. Die Entschließung wurde mit 394 Ja-Stimmen bei 241 Nein-Stimmen und 13 Enthaltungen angenommen.

Die Kommission wird diesen Entwurf einer Maßnahme dementsprechend nicht annehmen. Sie kann allerdings einen geänderten oder einen neuen Entwurf vorlegen.

Weitere Informationen finden Sie in der entsprechenden Pressemitteilung.

Das Parlament ist seit langem der Ansicht, dass das Recycling von PVC nicht zu einem Stillstand beim Problem der Schwermetalle führen darf. Die PVC-Industrie in der EU verzichtet seit 2015 freiwillig auf die Verwendung von Blei in PVC, aber es dürfen nach wie vor PVC-Erzeugnisse mit Bleigehalt in die EU eingeführt werden.

Auf der Website der Kommission sind weitere Informationen über PVC in der EU verfügbar.

Weiteres Material über Chemikalien und politische Maßnahmen der EU sind beim Think Tank des EP verfügbar, beispielsweise ein Briefing über Chemikalien im Zusammenhang mit der Kreislaufwirtschaft.

Reply in French

Nous souhaitons vous informer que le 12 février 2020, le Parlement européen a rejeté la proposition de la Commission visant à modifier les règles concernant la concentration de plomb dans le PVC. La résolution en question a été adoptée par 394 voix pour, 241 contre et 13 abstentions.

Il s’ensuit que ce projet de mesure ne sera pas adopté par la Commission. Cette dernière peut néanmoins présenter un projet modifié ou un nouveau projet.

D’autres informations sont disponibles dans le communiqué de presse.

Le Parlement estime depuis longtemps que le recyclage du PVC ne doit pas perpétuer le problème des métaux lourds. Depuis 2015, le plomb présent dans le PVC est éliminé progressivement grâce à un engagement volontaire de l’industrie européenne du PVC, mais il peut continuer d’entrer dans l’Union via des produits en PVC importés.

Pour de plus amples informations sur le PVC dans l’Union, veuillez consulter la page web de la Commission consacrée à ce thème.

D’autres documents sur les produits chimiques et les politiques de l’Union en la matière sont disponibles sur le Think Tank du Parlement européen, comme la note d’information intitulée «Chemicals and the circular economy» (les produits chimiques et l’économie circulaire).

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/27/reply-to-the-campaign-about-the-european-commissions-proposal-to-amend-the-rules-concerning-lead-concentration-in-pvc/

Terrorist content online: Tackling online terrorist propaganda [EU Legislation in Progress][Policy Podcast]

Written by François Théron (1st edition),

© fotolia

Dissemination of terrorist content is one of the most widespread and most dangerous forms of misuse of online services in the field of internal security. In line with the 2015 European agenda on security and taking into account the impact of this propaganda on the radicalisation, recruitment and training of terrorists, the European Commission launched a voluntary system for tackling terrorism online, based on guidelines and recommendations. However, given the limitations of the method, on 12 September 2018 the Commission then adopted a proposal for a regulation preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online. While the Council rapidly reached a position on the proposal, in December 2018, the European Parliament adopted its first-reading position in April 2019. Following the European elections, interinstitutional trilogue negotiations then began in autumn 2019, with a new rapporteur.

Versions

Listen to policy podcast ‘Tackling online terrorist propaganda‘ on YouTube.

 

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/26/terrorist-content-online-tackling-online-terrorist-propaganda-eu-legislation-in-progresspolicy-podcast/

Coronavirus: Impact and reaction [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

© wladimir1804 / Adobe Stock

Governments around the world are introducing increasingly harsh measures to contain the highly contagious coronavirus, which causes the often lethal COVID-19 disease. Borders in many countries have been shut, schools, restaurants and non-food shops closed, and a ban on public and sometimes private meetings has been introduced. According to news media reports, confirmed coronavirus cases around the world exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories as of 24 March, with more than 16,500 of them having been fatal.

This note offers links to recent commentaries and reports from international think tanks on the coronavirus and related issues. Earlier publications on the topic can be found in the previous item in the series, published on 18 March.

How Brussels could get crisis management right this time
European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

The culture and politics of the coronavirus
Clingendael, March 2020

Coronavirus: Why the EU needs to unleash the ECB
Chatham House, March 2020

CureVac, covid-19, and economic statecraft: Lessons for Europe
European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

We should re-launch the G-20 as a global rescue mechanism
Friends of Europe, March 2020

Resilience before reinvention: The EU’s role in the Covid-19 crisis
European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

Covid-19: A trigger for global transformation? Political distancing, global decoupling and growing distrust in health governance
Finnish Institute of International Affairs, March 2020

The Coronavirus is a test for the West
Carnegie Europe, March 2020

European elections in a time of coronavirus
Brooking Institution, March 2020

Europe under siege
European Policy Centre, March 2020

Six proactive steps in a smart trade approach to fighting COVID-19
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

EU limits on medical gear exports put poor countries and Europeans at risk
Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic should end Europe’s comfort zone
Carnegie Europe, March 2020

The EU needs to step up its response to the COVID-19 outbreak
Centre for European Reform, March 2020

How is the Fed dealing with the Coronavirus crisis?
Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

Seven early lessons from the coronavirus
European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

How the indiscriminate virus reinforced our inequalities and the lessons we can draw from this when it is all over
Egmont, March 2020

Big data versus COVID-19: Opportunities and privacy challenges
Bruegel, March 2020

Three scenarios for a Covid-19 world: We can still make the right choices
Friends of Europe, March 2020

Le COVID-19 met l’Europe au pied du mur
Confrontation Europe, March 2020

Italy’s Coronavirus experience and the challenge of extreme crises to liberal democracies
German Marshall Fund, March 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic lets China score a win in Serbia
German Marshall Fund, March 2020

International order and the European Project in times of COVID19
Instituto Affari Internazionali, March 2020

Why $1 trillion is not enough
Brooking Institution, March 2020

Coronavirus: Britain on the brink
European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

Infected: The impact of the coronavirus on the Middle East and north Africa
European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

Containing the economic nationalist virus through global coordination
Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2020

Poland: Politics in a time of corona
European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020

Drastische Maßnahmen im Kampf gegen das Coronavirus
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, March 2020

The EU, coronavirus and crisis management: Is ‘solidarity’ real or just a prop?
Real Instituto Elcano, March 2020

COVID-19 and broken Collusion: The oil price collapse is one more warning for Russia
Bruegel, March 2020

COVID-19 Emergency: Europe needs a vaccine
Instituto Affari Internazionali, March 2020

COVID-19: A moment for unity
Brooking Institution, March 2020

Will modernity survive the corona infection?
Clingendael, March 2020

The European coronavirus response must be a solution, not more stigma
Bruegel, March 2020

The Coronavirus is Iran’s perfect storm
Brooking Institution, March 2020

Be bold now: Coronavirus, the Eurogroup and fiscal safety nets
Bruegel, March 2020

The economy and policy in the coronavirus crisis to date
Brooking Institution, March 2020

A letter to Santa, the G7
Bruegel, March 2020

State of denial: How the coronavirus caught the West off guard
Friends of Europe, March 2020

Caught unprepared by pandemic, Europe must relearn tough lessons
Carnegie Europe, March 2020

La planète à l’heure du coronavirus : Un monde affolé qui bascule dans l’inconnu
Institut Thomas More, March 2020

Frankreich: Eingesperrt und alleingelassen
Heinrich Böll Stiftung, March 2020

The social distancing economy
Rand Corporations, March 2020

Covid-19: l’Union européenne et le défi de la résilience
Fondation Robert Schuman, March 2020

Sans-abri et épidémie: Que faire?
Fondation Jean Jaurès, March 2020

Transatlantic take 360: Responses to COVID-19
German Marshall Fund, March 2020

China is not a Coronavirus role model
Hudson Institute, March 2020

L’Inde à l’heure du coronavirus: Une bombe à retardement globale?
Institut Montaigne, March 2020


Read this briefing on ‘Coronavirus: Impact and reaction‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/26/coronavirus-impact-and-reaction-what-think-tanks-are-thinking/

What if smartphones could help contain COVID-19?

Written by Christian Kurrer,

© Shutterstock

The recent outbreak of respiratory diseases triggered by the new coronavirus poses a challenge to public health worldwide. As governments evaluate how to stop further contagion, what role could smartphone apps play in the overall effort? Can tracking data recorded by smartphones help better understand and stop the spread of the virus?

From its first appearance in Wuhan in December 2019, the new coronavirus has spread to a majority of countries in the world, including most EU Member States.

The outbreak of this new respiratory ailment poses challenges to our medical systems – and society at large – at many different levels.

On one hand, there is the issue of dealing with individual patients, helping them to recover as quickly as possible, while searching for drugs that can help the recovery process and possibly a vaccine that can protect people at risk in the future.

On the other hand, there is the challenge of slowing the spread of the virus into those parts of the population it has not yet reached. This includes getting a better understanding of where and how the virus is actually being transmitted. Appealing to the wider population to increase their personal hygiene effort (washing hands, sneezing into the elbow, etc.) is helpful, as are targeted measures to cancel large gatherings, sporting events, school classes or restrict travel, extending to various levels of confinement. While all these measures can undoubtedly help contain the virus, they are, however, rather unspecific, in the sense that they impose a heavy burden on a large group of people, while possibly not being sufficiently restrictive on those who actually, although unknowingly, are carrying the virus.

In view of halting the further spread of the virus as efficiently as possible, without imposing unnecessary restrictions and disruption on the wider population, it is therefore of key importance for health authorities to quickly identify all possible contact persons with whom an infected person might have interacted recently, to test those contact persons, and focus monitoring and effective quarantine measures on the contact persons identified.

Potential impacts and developments

At the early stages of the outbreak, health authorities therefore focussed much of their energy on this process of identification of contact persons. Those who test positive for the coronavirus seem to have generally cooperated well with the authorities, and this made it possible to identify and isolate additional carriers of the virus quickly, preventing them from further spreading the virus. This process of interviewing every single carrier of the virus, and reaching out to all possible contact persons, is, however, time and labour intensive, and carriers might not always remember in great detail all the contacts they have had over the past few days.

What if we used smartphones to make this process faster and more efficient?

In recent years, smartphones have increasingly attracted attention as a key tool in emergency and disaster situations. Almost all smartphones today are equipped with GPS sensors, and most of them track the location of their owners – places they visited and the times – in great detail. This tracking can be switched off by individual users, but many users keep tracking enabled, to allow the smartphone to deliver a range of useful location services, such as recommending best travel routes and interesting nearby restaurants, or providing feedback on the number of steps walked and other health parameters.

Infected patients who share their location history on their smartphones with public health authorities can help them quickly identify the restaurants, cinemas, parks or other places the patient had frequented, where they could possibly have been infected, or where they may have transmitted the virus to other people. However, it would remain a challenge to identify all the other persons who have recently visited the same places in order to test them for a possible infection.

This is where big data could play a crucial role: comparing the location history of infected individuals with the location history of all other smartphone users (tested positive or not yet tested) could help health authorities gain a much better understanding of where the transmission might have occurred, and who else should be tested urgently. At the same time, individual smartphone users could obtain an instant assessment of how close they have recently been to potential infection sources, whether they should take measures urgently, or whether there is less reason to worry.

Comparing location histories using such a system could dramatically simplify the task of halting the spread of the novel coronavirus. At the same time, it would also raise a host of serious questions about possible data privacy and digital self-determination issues that merit careful consideration.

Anticipatory policy-making

Many people feel uncomfortable about sharing their location history, even in the context of a health emergency. It is unlikely that citizens would appreciate being identified as a potentially infected person through online media. They would, however, probably value a system that helps them to better understand the extent of their personal risk of having contracted the virus during a recent holiday or at an event they attended. Citizens would also appreciate more precise information about places they should refrain from visiting to avoid infection.

Individual infected users might not mind if close relatives and friends get automated warnings about the infection, but would not want that information needlessly divulged to the general public in a personalised form. They might understand the need to share their data with public health authorities, but might be worried to what degree this makes their personal lives transparent to public authorities in general (despite many people seeming less worried about sharing data with companies that make profits from that data). Citizens might appreciate having access to a better picture of their own risk status, but would be uncomfortable with this being shared in the future with insurance companies, employers, or for other commercial purposes. Ultimately, policy-makers will have to decide how transparent such a system is to the individual user, the provider collecting the data on the smartphone, and to public authorities.

Generalising the use of big data to assess the individual risk profiles of a large number of people certainly infringes the right to privacy and informational self-determination, but not using this technology and instead imposing more indiscriminate measures on the populations of whole regions or countries also comes with a cost in terms of personal freedoms. The challenge is to reach a broad societal consensus on the right balance between maximising the benefit we can derive in terms of containing the spread and gaining a better understanding of the disease, while minimising the possible infringement of individual rights. China and South Korea were swift to use smartphone technology in the current crisis, with some problematic implications. What lessons can we learn from the experience in those countries as applications begin to be developed in the EU, the United Kingdom and the United States of America?


Read this ‘At a glance’ on ‘What if smartphones could help contain COVID-19?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Read all EPRS publications on the coronavirus outbreak

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/25/what-if-smartphones-could-help-contain-covid-19/

European Parliament Plenary Session – March II, 2020

Written by Clare Ferguson,

European Parliament LogoResponding to the novel coronavirus outbreak demands flexibility from everyone, and the European Union, and the European Parliament in particular, are no exceptions. However, there is a vital balance to strike between stopping the spread of the virus and maintaining the vital functions of our society. President David Sassoli therefore indicated that Parliament ‘must remain open, because a virus cannot bring down democracy’. As an interim solution, and respecting all necessary quarantine measures, an extraordinary plenary part-session on 26 March, in Brussels, will formally replace the session planned for 1‑2 April. As most Members are unable to travel, those not in Belgium will be able to participate via videoconference, and vote by email under a new procedure decided by Parliaments Bureau to enable this week’s session to go ahead. The agenda focuses on three urgent legislative proposals responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Use of the urgent procedure means that there are no reports on the proposals from the committees responsible, with the Commission’s proposals passing directly to the plenary, however it will be possible to table amendments to the proposals.

The first of the proposals seeks to amend the common rules on allocation of slots at EU airports. The Commission proposes to temporarily suspend rules obliging airlines to use their slots at EU airports, retroactively from 13 March 2020. This will ensure legal certainty for air carriers given the grounding of planes due to the drop in demand for flights and widespread travel restrictions. It will also end unnecessary emissions from near-empty (‘ghost’) flights that carriers might have been tempted to operate to maintain their rights. Under the current regime, known as the ‘use it or lose it’ rule, airlines must use their slots at least 80 % of the time during the period they are allocated, or see the slots, which are a valuable resource, allocated to others.

The second proposal seeks to institute specific measures to mobilise €37 billion from the cohesion funds for investment in Member States’ healthcare systems and to inject much-needed liquidity in other sectors, where businesses need to pay workers and overheads. The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative will reallocate unused cash reserves available under the European structural and investment funds. The Commission proposes to use unspent 2019 advance payments to Member States to release €8 billion of investment liquidity to kick-start the initiative, with expenditure on crisis-response capacity eligible for funding retrospectively from 1 February 2020.

Finally, Parliament is expected to vote on a proposal to extend the scope of financial assistance already available to Member States and accession candidate countries under the EU Solidarity Fund. The Fund intervenes to help countries hit by major natural disasters. The Commission proposes that EU-level intervention under the Fund should also be justified in the case of a major public health emergency, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. The proposal seeks to speed up disbursement, and raise advance payments to 25 % of the expected EUSF contribution (limited to €100 million) to countries seriously affected by the crisis. However, under EU law, Parliament must agree before countries can receive assistance from the Fund.

Parliament will also hear statements from the Council and Commission on the coordinated European response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/25/european-parliament-plenary-session-march-ii-2020/

Solidarity in EU asylum policy

Written by Anja Radjenovic,

© M-SUR / Shutterstock.com

The unprecedented arrival of refugees and irregular migrants in the EU in 2015 exposed a number of deficiencies in EU external border, asylum and migration policy, sparking EU action through various legal and policy instruments. While the EU has been relatively successful in securing external borders, curbing irregular migrant arrivals and increasing cooperation with third countries, Member States are still reluctant to show solidarity and do more to share responsibility for asylum-seekers.

International cooperation and solidarity is key in helping to manage migration to and between states. Under international law, countries have certain legal obligations to assist and protect refugees that they accept on their territory, but the legal duties of other states to help and share that responsibility are less clear.

At EU level, the principle of solidarity is set out in Article 80 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), however there is currently no consensus on whether it can be used as a stand-alone or joint legal basis for secondary legislation. Furthermore, the notions of ‘solidarity’ and ‘fair sharing of responsibilities’ for refugees or asylum-seekers are not defined in EU law. This has prompted EU institutions, academics and other stakeholders to propose different ways to resolve the issue, such as sharing out relevant tasks and pooling resources at EU level, compensating frontline Member States financially and through other contributions – such as flexible solidarity – and changing the focus of the European Court of Justice when interpreting EU asylum law.

In recent years, the EU has provided the Member States most affected by migrant arrivals with significant financial and practical support, notably through the EU budget and the deployment of personnel and equipment. Nevertheless, the continued failure to reform the EU asylum system, as well as the implementation of temporary solidarity measures based on ad-hoc solutions, has exposed a crisis of solidarity that shows no signs of being resolved. The von der Leyen Commission has made it clear that the new EU asylum system ‘should include finding new forms of solidarity and should ensure that all Member States make meaningful contributions to support those countries under the most pressure’.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Solidarity in EU asylum policy‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/03/24/solidarity-in-eu-asylum-policy/