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Consumers making cross-border payments [What Europe does for you]

With European elections coming up in May 2019, you probably want to know how the European Union impacts your daily life, before you think about voting. In the latest in a series of posts on what Europe does for you, your family, your business and your wellbeing, we look at what Europe does for consumers making cross-border payments.

Twitter Hashtag #EUandME

Whether you are travelling for leisure or business within the European Union, you should be able to make deposits in or withdrawals from a payment account, make payment transactions, or send money home in an easy and secure way. To achieve this goal, the EU has set up the necessary legal framework (the Payment Services Directive, first referred to as PSD 1 (2007/64/EC) now replaced by PSD 2 (EU) 2015/2366), and Regulation (EU) 924/2009 on charges for cross-border payments), and contributed to the establishment of the single euro payments area (SEPA).

Young couple withdrawing money using ATM at the airport during their travel

© rh2010/ Fotolia

The legal framework on payment services helps – among other things – to ensure that institutions offering these services have good governance standards and provide clear information, both before and after providing their services. It also lays down rules to ensure that customers are refunded if a payment transaction has been wrongly authorised by a payment provider. In addition, it sets strict requirements to protect financial data. Lastly, it has equalised fees for cross-border and national payments in euro within the EU, reducing transaction fees to a few cents.

The single euro payments area (SEPA), meanwhile, harmonises the way cash-less euro payments are made across Europe, allowing consumers, businesses and public administrations to make and receive credit transfers, direct debit payments and card payments under the same basic conditions.

Further information

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/21/consumers-making-cross-border-payments-what-europe-does-for-you/

Weight-loss dieters [What Europe does for you]

With European elections coming up in May 2019, you probably want to know how the European Union impacts your daily life, before you think about voting. In the latest in a series of posts on what Europe does for you, your family, your business and your wellbeing, we look at what Europe does for weight-loss dieters.

Twitter Hashtag #EUandME

If you are one of the many among us who have already tried all sorts of diets while trying to lose weight, you don’t need anyone telling you ‘just eat less and exercise more’. As everyone knows, it’s much more complicated than that.

On a positive note, the European Union has agreed on uniform labelling requirements, requiring all packaged food to display a list of ingredients and information on nutrition. Whether you are avoiding carbohydrates, fat or sugar, you can compare how much each product contains per 100 grams, as well as its total energy content.

If you decide to go for meal replacement products for a while, the EU has also set specific compositional requirements for them, based on a scientific opinion by the European Food Safety Authority, to make sure they give you the essential nutrients that your body needs. New, updated rules will apply from October 2022.

motivierte adipöse frau widersteht der versuchung

©Picture-Factory / Fotolia

In addition, there is legislation in place to protect consumers from false nutrition and health claims. Any claims, such as ‘low fat’ or ‘high fibre’, have to be based on scientific evidence and be authorised for use in the EU.

Drinks can be tricky, too. A drink described as ‘sparkling water with fruit juice’ can contain as many calories as a regular sugary soft drink. And not many people are aware that dry white wine (77kcal per 100 ml), contains more calories than a regular cola (42kcal per 100 ml). For the energy content of alcoholic drinks, you still need to go and search the internet, as alcoholic drinks are exempt from the obligation to list ingredients and nutrition information.

Further information

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/21/weight-loss-dieters-what-europe-does-for-you/

People from sparsely populated areas [What Europe does for you]

With European elections coming up in May 2019, you probably want to know how the European Union impacts your daily life, before you think about voting. In the latest in a series of posts on what Europe does for you, your family, your business and your wellbeing, we look at what Europe does for people from sparsely populated areas.

Twitter Hashtag #EUandME

People living in sparsely populated areas (e.g. parts of Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, Greece or Croatia) face common challenges, including a limited range of job opportunities, high poverty levels and the dilapidation of public services, such as transport, education and healthcare. These regions often feature specific geographic characteristics: they might be islands, mountainous areas or border regions. Usually, sparsely populated areas are a long way from major urban centres and lack transport connections to them. Transport for goods and people may be expensive and take a long time.

Traditional stone bridge in Epirus, Greece

© dinosmichail / Fotolia

The EU recognises that regions that suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps, such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island and mountainous regions deserve special attention. It therefore plays an active role in helping people in these areas to improve their living conditions by means of various programmes and measures. These focus mostly on the areas of research, innovation, new technologies, sustainable management of natural resources, investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and support for small and medium sized companies. In addition, a number of other EU funds in various policy fields can further contribute to supporting these regions in the areas of immigration, education and culture, etc. The idea is to use these funds to benefit people by means of economic growth, the creation of jobs, sustainability and innovation.

Further information

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/20/people-from-sparsely-populated-areas-what-europe-does-for-you/

Users of wearable sensors [What Europe does for you]

With European elections coming up in May 2019, you probably want to know how the European Union impacts your daily life, before you think about voting. In the latest in a series of posts on what Europe does for you, your family, your business and your wellbeing, we look at what Europe does for users of wearable sensors.

Twitter Hashtag #EUandME

Have you noticed people watching their wrist while doing sport? Perhaps, like an increasing number of people, you enjoy using mobile and wearable devices to track your fitness by measuring your athletic performance, calculate the calories you burn, your sleep, or stress level.

Wearable devices are used for different purposes including healthcare (e.g. to monitor heartbeat or the level of insulin in diabetic patients and provide tailored treatments). Relying on built-in sensors that recognise human features and the environment they can combine large amounts of data. Europe is the second largest market for wearable sensors and the EU has funded several projects on wearable computing.

Watch for sports with smartwatch. Jogging training for marathon

© LMproduction / Fotolia

However, as the use of ‘wearables’ like smart clothes and watches grows, the risks related to monitoring and sharing of personal data also increases. Wearables process and share personal data (including location data or internet address) with other connected devices, raising concerns about data protection and other rights. About 50 % of people in the EU say they are worried about the recording of everyday activities via phone or mobile applications.

The EU makes sure that privacy and data protection rules adapt to new technologies to protect your rights. From May 2018, a new European framework strengthens these rights, including getting easy-to-understand information about how your data is used; having several options to give consent (browser privacy settings); and having your data deleted. The new rules should include analytical data gathered from apps and data emitted by terminals, like wifi.

Further information

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/20/users-of-wearable-sensors-what-europe-does-for-you/

Outcome of the meetings of EU Heads of State or Government, 17-18 October 2018

Written by Ralf Drachenberg and Suzana Anghel,

no deal brexit roulette - concept gambling

© fotolia

Although Brexit was the most anticipated point on the agenda, the European Council (Article 50) meeting of 17 October 2018 did not make any significant progress towards finalising a withdrawal agreement; nor did it decide to hold a special meeting on Brexit in November. There was consensus amongst EU Heads of State or Government that ‘for now, not enough progress has been made’ but they would ‘continue talks in a positive spirit’. At the regular European Council meeting, Heads of State or Government continued discussions on migration as well as internal security, following up on their informal meeting in Salzburg on 20 September. Regarding migration, they stressed the need to cooperate with countries of origin and transit, as well as in fighting people-smuggling-networks. On internal security, they adopted conclusions regarding many of the new threats the EU is facing, including cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns and terrorism. They also addressed a number of external relations issues, including EU-Africa relations, the upcoming EU-League of Arab States meeting and climate change. The informal Euro Summit assessed the state of play on EMU, specifically the completion of banking union and the reform of the European Stability Mechanism.

1. European Council commitments: Implementation and new deadlines

Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Chancellor, and President-in-Office of the Council, provided an overview on the progress made in implementing previous European Council conclusions. The follow-up to new commitments made at this European Council meeting will be reported on at future meetings.
Table 1: New European Council commitments and requests with a specific time schedule

2. European Council meeting


At its formal meeting on18 October 2018, the European Council called for continuing the work on all elements of its ‘comprehensive approach to migration’. While recalling that ‘the number of detected illegal border crossings into the EU has been brought down by 95 % from its peak in October 2015’, it cautioned that ‘some recent internal and external flows warrant sustained attention’. The conclusions stressed that, following the informal Leaders’ discussions in Salzburg, cooperation with countries of origin and transit, particularly in North Africa, should be strengthened. This reiterates previous European Council conclusions since the start of the migration crisis, such as at the November 2016 summit in Valletta.

In the fight against people-smuggling networks, the European Council called for establishing a joint task force, with third-country partners, within Europol. It also invited the co-legislators to examine, as a matter of priority, the proposals on the return directive, the Asylum Agency and the European Border and Coast Guard. Heads of State or Government reiterated their call to do more on facilitating effective returns, in particular by better implementing existing readmission agreements and concluding new arrangements. Regarding the reform of the common European asylum system (CEAS), the European Council encouraged the Council Presidency to continue its work and conclude it as soon as possible. In this context the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs wrote a letter to the Austrian Council Presidency on 10 October 2018, expressing its disappointment on the state of play in the negotiations on CEAS reform, as despite two and a half years of negotiations, the co-legislators had not been able to adopt any of the seven specific proposals. They requested clarity from the Austrian Council Presidency on its plans to take this issue further, and stressed that Parliament rejects reopening negotiations on any of the specific proposals where agreement had already been reached by the co-legislators under the Bulgarian Council Presidency.

Main messages of the EP President. Referring to the reform of the CEAS, the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, stated: ‘the Council has not yet been able to adopt a negotiating mandate on two of the [7] proposals …. We in the Parliament find it difficult to understand why the Council does not apply the qualified majority rule …. We cannot go on being hostages to the unanimity principle.’ Regarding the issue of relocation and the principle of solidarity, he supported the idea that ‘those who do not want to take in asylum-seekers should be able to display their solidarity by other means, for example by providing financial or administrative support to the States receiving refugees’.

Internal security

On the issue of internal security, EU Heads of State or Government discussed many of the new threats the EU is facing, including cyber-attacks, hostile activities of foreign intelligence networks, disinformation campaigns, and radicalisation and terrorism. For many of the new policy initiatives in this area, they urged the co-legislators to consider them as a matter of priority, while also inviting them to speed up work on several of the ongoing legislative files in this area (see Table1).

As indicated by President Tusk prior to the meeting, EU Heads of State or Government condemned the hostile cyber-attack carried out against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and called for measures to ‘further strengthen [the EU’s] deterrence and resilience against hybrid, cyber, as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats’. In this context, the European Council welcomed the adoption of a new regime of restrictive measures to address the use and proliferation of chemical weapons, and anticipates progress being made on the listing of relevant individuals and entities.

Following a recent letter by the governments of the UK, the Netherlands, Romania, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania, the European Council also agreed that, in the context of cybersecurity, work on restrictive measures should be taken forward.

EU Heads of State or Government also agreed on providing ‘law enforcement authorities and Europol with adequate resources to face new challenges posed by technological developments and the evolving security threat landscape’. They also called for examination of the proposal to extend the competences of the European Public Prosecutor’s office to cross-border terrorism.

Main messages of the EP President. As regards measures to combat disinformation and fake news, ‘I am delighted that the European Council considers the protection of our democratic system as a priority. […] We cannot stand idly by while our citizens’ rights to choose their elected representatives, freely and in full knowledge, is jeopardised.’

External relations

As flagged up in the EPRS outlook, EU Heads of State or Government discussed climate change ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) to be held in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. Referring to the latest special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they reiterated their support for the full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and expressed the view that parties to the Agreement should set more ambitious and comprehensive implementing rules.

The European Council prepared for the upcoming summit with the League of Arab States, to be held in Egypt in February 2019. The primary focus of the summit will be on the external dimension of migration, as announced by Donald Tusk at the informal European Council meeting held in Salzburg in September 2018.

Moreover, the European Council reiterated the EU’s commitment to taking the EU-Africa partnership to a new level, by developing ‘a fair and equal partnership’, underpinned by the necessary resources, aimed at advancing the socio-economic transformation of the African continent, and not just focused on migration. Heads of State or Government welcomed the initiative for a new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs and called for proposals from Member States in this regard. They also emphasised their commitment to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustain­able Development, and welcomed the Commission’s intention to publish a reflection paper in 2018.

Main messages of the EP President. President Tajani called for increased support in replenishing the EU Trust Fund for Africa, as well as for mobilising investments in the region.

3. Euro Summit

The informal Euro Summit, which took place over lunch on Thursday, assessed the state of play on EMU reform, specifically the completion of banking union, the reform of the European Stability Mechanism and the establishment of the European deposit insurance scheme. Decisions on these issues are expected in December.

The Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, confirmed that the Italian prime minister had presented his country’s budget to the leaders, but that the issue had not, however, been discussed in depth. He added that the Commission ‘will be examining [the Italian budget] with the same rigour and the same flexibility as is applied to examin[ing] others’.

4. European Council (Article 50) meeting

The most anticipated point on the agenda was clearly the European Council (Article 50) dinner discussion on Brexit. Preceding this, the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, addressed the EU-27 leaders. She outlined the UK perspective on the state of play in the Brexit negotiations, but reportedly provided no new elements which could enable the discussions to be unlocked. Subsequently, based on a presentation by the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, EU-27 Heads of State or Government discussed ways of taking the negotiations forward. There was consensus amongst Heads of State or Government that ‘so far not enough progress has been achieved’, but that negotiations should be continued in a positive spirit. Thus, for the moment, they postponed a decision to call a special meeting on Brexit – expected for November – although Donald Tusk declared his readiness to convene such a meeting, if and when the Union negotiator reports that decisive progress has been made. Prior to the meeting, he had already indicated that recent reports on the progress of the negotiations gave ‘no grounds for optimism’. He added that, for a breakthrough to take place, new facts were needed. These did not materialise at this meeting, in particular regarding the Irish border issue. President Tusk concluded that the European Council (Article 50) had again expressed its full trust in Michel Barnier, and asked him to continue efforts to achieve an agreement.

While the length of the transition period was not discussed, Mr Tusk indicated that if the UK would prefer a longer period than set out in the draft withdrawal agreement, the leaders ‘would be ready to consider it positively’. Jean-Claude Juncker indicated that extension of the transition period was a good option, which would provide room to find a sustainable solution.

While still hoping to reach an agreement, EU-27 Heads of State or Government called for a stepping-up of the EU’s preparations for a ‘no-deal’ scenario. While they did not discuss the issue, Heads of State or Government were informed by Jean-Claude Juncker, on the Commission’s work in this respect.

Main messages of the EP President. Participating for the first time at a European Council (Article 50) meeting, President Tajani reiterated the Parliament’s three priority issues for the Brexit negotiations, and stressed that ‘without resolving these three key points, it will be impossible for us to vote in favour of the agreement’. The Parliament wanted to achieve a withdrawal agreement, but not at any price. He also underlined that the EP favoured a three-year transition period.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/19/outcome-of-the-meetings-of-eu-heads-of-state-or-government-17-18-october-2018/

The Cost of Non-Europe in Asylum Policy

Written by Wouter van Ballegooij and Cecilia Navarra,

EU Member States have committed to offering protection to those who have to leave their home country to seek safety from persecution or serious harm. Through the ‘Common European Asylum System’ (CEAS), the EU has developed legal and policy instruments for the management of asylum in the EU that apply from the moment someone has lodged an asylum application until the moment the application has been recognised or rejected upon appeal.

Gaps and barriers

Freedom concept: Silhouette of bird flying and barbed wire at su

© fotolia

However, there are significant structural weaknesses and shortcomings in the design and implementation of the CEAS and related measures, as exposed by the handling of the relatively high number of asylum applications during recent years. A new cost of non-Europe report maps gaps and barriers in the CEAS and related measures along the stages of the asylum journey from the pre-arrival phase, to the arrival, application and post application phase. The gaps identified arise either from shortcomings in the implementation of EU legislation at national level, or from gaps in current EU legislation or policies, and include:

  • a lack of legal pathways to the EU for the purpose of applying for international protection;
  • the lack of sustainable sharing of responsibility for asylum applicants across the EU;
  • inadequate reception conditions;
  • weak implementation of procedural rights and substantive criteria to qualify for asylum or subsidiary protection;
  • limited services aimed at facilitating refugees’ social and economic integration;
  • a lack of mechanisms to ensure the safe return of those not eligible for protection in the EU.

The report points out that non-compliance with fundamental rights is a concern throughout all stages of the asylum process.


This cost of non-Europe report draws a distinction between impacts at the individual level, due to an inadequate protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, and economic impacts upon Member States and the EU.

Beyond the tragic loss of 8 000 lives in 2016-2017 alone in the Mediterranean, the report uses established methodologies to estimate both the individual impact in terms of fundamental rights protection and the economic costs of gaps and barriers in the CEAS. The cost of the status quo is estimated at approximately €50.5 billion per year (out of which the estimated cost of lives lost is around €12 billion). This figure includes costs incurred due to irregular migration, lack of accountability in external action, inefficiencies in asylum procedures, poor living conditions and health, and reduced employment prospects that lead to lower generation of tax revenue.

Policy options

This report identifies seven policy options the EU could adopt to tackle the identified gaps and barriers:

  1. introducing EU legislation on humanitarian visas;
  2. further expanding the mandate of the European Asylum Support Office;
  3. improving implementation and monitoring of the CEAS;
  4. taking individual preferences into account when identifying the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application;
  5. fostering access to employment and integration;
  6. ensuring human rights and financial accountability in external funding and returns to third countries; and
  7. EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The report’s conclusions argue that these policy options would bring about many benefits for EU Member States, including better compliance with international and EU norms and values; lower levels of irregular migration to the EU and costs of border security and surveillance; increased effectiveness and efficiency in the asylum process; faster socio-economic integration of asylum-seekers; increased employment and tax revenues; and reinforced protection of human rights in countries of return. Once the costs are considered, the net benefits of adopting these policy options in the field of asylum would be at least €23.5 billion per year.

Read this study on ‘The Cost of Non-Europe in Asylum Policy‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Visit the European Parliament homepage on migration in Europe.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/19/the-cost-of-non-europe-in-asylum-policy/

European Parliament Plenary Session, October II 2018

Written by Clare Ferguson,

Following the recent warning from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that action needs to be taken more urgently to keep global temperatures down, it is unsurprising that a strong environmental focus kicks off the agenda for the European Parliament’s second plenary session of October, with a joint debate on Monday evening on the EU position for the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland (COP24) and the 14th meeting of the Convention of Biological Diversity (COP14). Two oral questions concern progress on EU climate change measures. A key supporter of the Paris Agreement, Parliament is seeking significant progress on action under the Agreement, not least through calls from the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) to raise the EU emissions reduction target from 40 % to 55 % by 2030. Parliament will set out its position in a motion for resolution scheduled for a vote on Thursday lunchtime, when it will also take a position in advance of the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP14) of the Convention on Biological Diversity in November, in Egypt.

On Monday evening, Parliament will debate EU water quality standards, which date from 1998; today over 98.5 % of drinking water tested in the EU meets those standards. However, not least in response to the first successful European Citizens’ Initiative, ‘Right2Water’, the Commission has proposed to revise the Drinking Water Directive to ensure the safety and sustainability of the water supply, including through encouraging restaurants to supply customers with free (or low cost) tap water, which would have the added benefit of reducing the use of plastic bottles. Such single-use plastics have a severe impact on the marine environment in particular, and a debate will also take place on Monday night on proposals to reduce marine litter: single-use plastics and fishing gear, which threatens marine and coastal biodiversity. The demands of Parliament’s ENVI committee include reducing plastics use by 50 % by 2025 and 80 % by 2030, and setting a 50 % minimum collection rate for fishing gear.

When it comes to road transport, Parliament is keen to apply the ‘user pays’ and ‘polluter pays’ principles, and particularly in the charging of heavy goods vehicles for using road infrastructure. A wholesale revision of what is known as the Eurovignette Directive is under way, with Parliament pushing for greater harmonisation in road toll charges for heavy goods and heavy duty vehicles, that today neither cover costs nor incentivise cleaner operations. Members will debate the proposal on Wednesday evening, before discussing measures to move towards ‘clean mobility’ through the promotion of clean and energy-efficient vehicles for use by public services – which has met with limited success to date. Parliament’s ENVI committee considers that contracting authorities and entities that face additional costs due to these measures need EU financial support, and links the proposals to EU measures on alternative fuels infrastructure, on the agenda for debate on Thursday morning.

The next in the series of debates on the future of Europe is scheduled for Tuesday morning with Klaus Iohannis, the President of Romania. Members will hear European Council and Commission statements on the conclusions of the European Council meeting held on 17 and 18 October 2018 on Wednesday morning, as well as a statement from the Commission on its work programme for 2019 on Tuesday afternoon, and on the use of Facebook users’ data by Cambridge Analytica and the impact of this on data protection on Tuesday morning.

As usual at this time of year, Parliament will also debate the EU budget for next year. On Monday evening, Parliament’s reading of the 2019 EU budget will consider whether and how to amend the Council’s position in the light of the Committee on Budgets report reversing most of the Council’s proposed cuts, and increasing funding for Parliament priorities on sustainable growth, competitiveness, security, migration and young people. Votes on all sections of the draft general EU budget for 2019 will take place on Wednesday lunchtime.

On Tuesday lunchtime, Parliament consent is sought for two appointments, for the managing and deputy managing directors of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). Wilhelm Molterer, and Iliyana Tsanova are likely to have their appointments renewed, following their earlier hearings before the EP. Later on Tuesday evening, Parliament will debate the second reports on the remaining EU institutions awaiting budgetary discharge for 2016. Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee, insisting that the expenditure of all EU institutions is scrutinised in exactly the same way, proposes to refuse to grant discharge to the Council and the European Council, as in recent years, due to the ongoing lack of transparency in spending by those institutions, particularly on buildings. The committee also proposes to grant discharge for the European Asylum Support Office, where the spending and staffing issues that previously gave cause for concern, are considered to have been sufficiently resolved.

Parliament is well aware of EU citizens’ demands to better address migration and security challenges and to counter terrorism and serious crime in the EU. However, it is also determined not to strengthen security measures at the expense of safe treatment of personal data. Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee is in favour of stronger centralisation of data such as fingerprints, and is calling for further harmonisation of alerts on refusals of entry to the Schengen area. The committee is also concerned about the ineffectiveness of the current EU policy on returning unsuccessful asylum candidates to third countries. Following an informal agreement on a package of measures on the use of the Schengen Information System with the Council, Parliament will consider the final texts in a joint debate on Tuesday afternoon.

A joint debate on the animal medicines package, which includes improved rules on authorisation of medicinal products for human and animal use, veterinary medicinal products and the manufacture, sale and use of medicated feed, is scheduled for Wednesday evening. The proposed changes to the current framework seek to ensure that medicines are available where they are needed, yet not abused, which may lead to raised antimicrobial resistance, for instance. Parliament particularly insists that EU food standards are reciprocal, and that trading partners respect EU rules on antibiotics and antimicrobials that aim to protect citizens’ health.

Finally, while no EU legislation exists at present on the import of cultural goods (except from Iraq and Syria), on Wednesday afternoon, Parliament will debate a proposal to simplify EU customs rules, while ensuring that trade operators and buyers can be certain of the legality of the artefacts they buy.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/19/european-parliament-plenary-session-october-ii-2018/

What if ‘nudging’ good habits could make us healthier? [Scientific and Technology Podcast]

Written by Nera Kuljanic,

Healthy nutrition concept. Fruits and vegetables vs sweets and unhealthy food.

© Natalia Mels / Shutterstock.com.

The link between high consumption of trans fats, sugar and salt, found in large amounts in processed food, and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), type 2 diabetes and various cancers is well established. In the current food market, calorie-rich, processed food, wrapped with ambiguous labels, is readily available, cheap and heavily promoted. But what if consumers could be prompted to make healthier food choices?

Recently, the United Kingdom introduced a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). The idea behind this levy is that manufacturers will reduce the sugar content of their products and that consumption of beverages high in sugar will fall due to their added costs. However, the extent to which such levies are effective is debatable. While there is ample evidence to suggest that food taxes lead to a decrease in consumption of targeted foods, the evidence as to whether this leads to a fall in the development of chronic disease is less convincing.

In the absence of an EU strategy, prior to the UK´s adoption of a sugar tax, Finland, Hungary, France and Denmark had also implemented food tax strategies. This was done in an attempt to adhere to the WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases 2013-2020, which aims to promote healthy eating through fiscal policy. The Danish and Finnish experiences highlighted some of the issues that can arise from punitive fiscal strategies. In both cases the taxes have since been abolished.

Studies comparing punitive policies with ´reward´ schemes have shown that subsidies granted to companies for the production of wholesome food also significantly alter dietary consumption. Price decreases due to subsidies for healthy food saw an increase in the consumption of healthier products, and clearly affected the overall improvement of consumers’ diets. The same studies also concluded that fiscal policy should not be applied in isolation, since promotion, advertising and nutrition education could also accentuate the dietary changes achieved through subsidies.

Developments in behavioural economics, a method of economic analysis that applies psychological insights into human behaviour to explain decision-making, have made it possible to better understand what kind of messages the public responds to and what kind of ‘nudges’ can be applied to influence the decisions people make when selecting products and adhering to certain dietary choices. Subsidies, therefore, are not only effective as fiscal policies, but could also act as a means of encouraging large food and beverage companies to join in with wider efforts being made to sway the public towards making healthier choices.

Potential impacts and developments

A handful of behavioural science insights provide an understanding of why it is challenging to make healthy choices in the current environment. These, in turn, can help to inform the design of health interventions shaped by the public sector for potential implementation by the private sector, which has more resources to spend on promotion than governments and NGOs. Large corporations also have broader experience in marketing strategies and tend to create more memorable media messages.

A key finding from psychological studies is that interventions promoting healthy behaviour are generally more effective than those condemning unhealthy behaviour. This is likely to be because positive messages, such as those concerning consumption of fruit and vegetables, are more readily received than negative ones on, for example, sugar consumption. Promotion of enticing, government-approved messages for healthy foods is something food and beverage companies, both large and small, could be more willing to undertake with a monetary incentive.

Insights into effective communication have gone further. Psychologists have separated human thought processing into two systems. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman calls them ‘System 1’, which is fast and impulsive, and ‘System 2’, which is slower and reflective, used when processing complex inputs such as numerical information. Information such as displays of nutrients on packages, presented in milligrams and grams, may often go ignored, as this requires time and effort to process. Simpler ways of transmitting information, directed towards System 1, such as the traffic light system adopted in the UK, or pictograms, could be more effective ways of profiling food, and thereby guiding the public in making healthier food choices. In April 2016, the European Parliament voted down the concept of nutrient profiles on food labels because of the serious and persistent problems in its implementation. The REFIT evaluation on nutrition and health claims is revisiting the issue, in the hope that a comprehensive nutrient profiling system could be determined. Incentives for clear messaging based on strict guidelines on what can be labelled as healthy may deter companies from printing misleading labels. The risk of misleading information nevertheless remains, given that food companies have the option of reformulation in response to food taxes, but that lowering the excessive amount of one ingredient does not necessarily result in a healthier product. Another concern when it comes to labelling is the ‘compensation effect’. This was seen, for example, in one study which found that people ate more M&M sweets when these were labelled as ‘low fat’.

The human tendency to stick to default options, which are habitual and automatic, known as the status quo bias’, is also a relevant behavioural science insight. Currently, many pre-prepared convenience food options come in calorie-dense portions, which results in excessive intake. By taking advantage of the status quo bias, policies implemented by food and beverage producers could perhaps also help reduce calorie consumption.

What does this mean for European policy-making?

Businesses are becoming increasingly willing to shift towards production of food products that contribute more to a healthy diet, as consumer demand for them continues to rise. It therefore seems to be the right time for the public sector to formulate policy strategies that will boost this change. Reports such as the Access to Nutrition Index will be required to assess which food and beverage companies have stepped up their efforts to encourage better diets, and to what extent. Likewise, actions taken by EU Member State governments should be evaluated in order to determine what measures work best and can potentially be applied more widely. Evidence-based guidance will enable planning and support at the EU level.

While a fiscal policy that supports subsidies could be promising, and would eradicate concerns around competitive disadvantages of companies in countries that have introduced food taxes, it is important to assess how subsidies could be distributed amongst businesses. For example, while the top 10 multinationals produce more than 50 % of all soft drinks, the top 10 packaged-food companies supply only 15 % of worldwide sales. Therefore, it is important to work with SMEs as well as big corporations to guide them along the right path.

Food labelling is already regulated within the EU. More comprehensive rules are nonetheless needed. Companies are able to make health claims on the absence of unhealthy ingredients or high amounts of specific ingredients that offer health benefits. Some products, however, may not entirely justify their ‘healthy’ image. A clear and simple labelling system should be established, enabling consumers to compare products according to their health benefits. Governments have taken the lead in changing the public’s perception of smoking and drink driving, and many hope that eating habits could be remoulded in much the same way. With the right guidance, and appropriate marketing techniques, food and beverage companies will be better positioned to spread messages to this effect in the future.

Read this At a glance on ‘What if ‘nudging’ good habits could make us healthier?‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/19/what-if-nudging-good-habits-could-make-us-healthier-scientific-and-technology-podcast/

Golden visa, free ports and letterbox companies from a money laundering and tax evasion perspective

Written by Ron Korver,

financial art

© Fotolia

Taxation and money laundering are  hot topics these days. Following numerous scandals such as the ‘Lux leaks’ revelations, the ‘Panama Papers and the continuing banking scandals, many people ask whether the current system in which some companies and the super-rich get away with low or zero taxes – whereas ordinary citizens have to foot the full tax bill – is still fair. With public expenditure under pressure, some feel they have to compensate for the ‘race to the bottom’ in the area of corporate taxation to keep the public sector going.

Today’s meeting of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Financial Crimes, Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance (TAX3) will be devoted to ‘golden visa’, ‘free ports’ and ‘letterbox companies’ from a money laundering and tax evasion perspective. During the meeting on 18 October 2018, in-house researchers from the EPRS Ex-Post Evaluation Unit and the European Added Value Unit will present three in-house studies to TAX3 Members.

The first study, on citizenship by investment (CBI) and residency by investment (RBI) schemes in the EU analyses the state of play and issues surrounding citizenship and residency by investment schemes (also known as ‘golden passports’ and ‘golden visas’) in the EU. It looks at their economic, social and political impacts and examines the risks they carry in respect of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. The study compares the schemes offered by several EU Member States.

The second study provides an insight into the money laundering and tax evasion risks in connection to free ports, particularly those that function as (semi-) permanent storage for high value goods, such as art, antiques, diamonds or luxury wines. It provides an appreciation of the effectiveness of the Union Customs Code, the EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive and the Directive on Administrative Cooperation in addressing these risks and makes the connection to the unregulated market of ‘investment art’. Part of the research consists of a case study into the legal and supervisory framework at ‘Le Freeport’ in Luxembourg.

The third study gives an overview of shell companies in the European Union, the main common feature of which is the absence of real economic activity in the Member State of registration. The study aims to contribute to a better understanding of the phenomenon of shell companies by seeking to estimate the incidence of such companies, by means of a set of ‘proxy’ indicators at Member State level. It also explains the main risks associated with shell companies and current policies aimed at mitigating the risks identified.

The three studies contribute together to provide the TAX3 Committee with a comprehensive overview of the policy options for dealing with tax avoidance in the EU.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/18/golden-visa-free-ports-and-letterbox-companies-from-a-money-laundering-and-tax-evasion-perspective/

What if gene editing became routine practice?

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

Manual genetic engineering. Manipulation of DNA with bare hands, scalpel and tweezers. Isolated on a white background

© Perception7 / Shutterstock.com

Gene-editing techniques are still relatively new, but are constantly multiplying, and they seem exciting in their promise, especially since a more precise version – CRISPR-Cas9 – has recently been used for the first time in a human trial. The use of CRISPR-Cas9 has generated a series of socio-ethical concerns about gene editing, which trigger societal debates and regulatory initiatives.

The announcement, in November 2016, that gene editing had been tested in a person for the first time was received as a potential ‘biomedical Sputnik’ moment marking a breakthrough in the field of cancer research. In February 2016, the UK became the first country to authorise the genetic modification of human embryos using CRISPR-Cas9[1] and related techniques, for research. Gene editing is a rapidly developing area of biotechnology that allows scientists to edit the genome of a living organism by inserting, deleting or replacing pieces of DNA. The capacity to engineer genomes in a systematic and cost-effective way has been a long-standing objective in the field of genomic studies.

Several gene-editing techniques have recently been developed to improve gene-targeting methods, including CRISPR-Cas9, transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs). This multitude of techniques illustrates the potential of gene editing in targeting genes in a precise and cost-effective manner and modifying human genomes even at the embryonic stage. CRISPR-Cas9 is a powerful tool that has the potential to cut the DNA of any genome at any desired location, replace or add parts to the DNA sequence by introducing the Cas9 protein and appropriately guide RNA into a cell. It currently stands out as the biggest ‘game changer’ in the field of gene editing due to its efficiency and low cost. This technological trajectory is expected to enhance our capacity to target and study particular DNA sequences in the vast expanse of a genome.

Potential impacts and developments

CRISPR-Cas9, being a fast-moving technology, has a lot of potential as a tool for directly modifying or correcting the fundamental disease-associated variations in the genome and for developing tissue-based treatments for cancer and other diseases by disrupting endogenous disease-causing genes, correcting disease-causing mutations or inserting new genes with protective functions. Two first-in-human safety trials have been initiated to study whether CRISPR-edited immune cells could kill tumour cells in people with terminal cancer. Researchers hope to use it to adjust human genes to eliminate diseases, fight with constantly evolving microbes that could harm crops, wipe out pathogens and even edit the genes of human embryos, which could eventually lead to transformative changes in human well-being. CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to alter the genes of a wide range of organisms with relative precision, and also create animal models for fundamental research. Editing the genes of animals could improve disease resistance, control mosquito populations to mitigate or tackle malaria transmission, or even lead to the creation of farmaceuticals, which are drugs created using domesticated animals or crops. Recently, scientists discovered how mosquitoes become virulent virus hosts unlocking the mechanisms by which yellow fever virus (YFV), Zika virus (ZIKV) and West Nile virus (WNV) antagonise antiviral small RNA pathways in disease vectors. In addition, the technique is expected to facilitate transplanting animal organs into people by eliminating copies of any retrovirus present in animal genomes that may harm human recipients. CRISPR-Cas9 may develop the potential to enable the creation of human organs in chimeric pigs, with the possibility of having an unlimited supply of organs not rejected by the immune system of human recipients.

At the same time, the use of CRISPR has generated a series of socio-ethical concerns over whether and how gene editing may be used to make heritable changes to the human genome, lead to designer babies, or even disrupt entire ecosystems, leading some scientists to recommend a moratorium on making inheritable changes to the human genome. For instance, the application of CRISPR as a pest-control technique may produce off-target effects and mutations, which could lead to the dispersion of gene drive, the disappearance of a whole animal population, or accidental releases and/or the irreversible disturbance of entire ecosystems. Taking into account the non-maleficence principle in risk assessment, and distinguishing the clinical and therapeutic aims of gene editing from its enhancement applications/uses have also become sources of major concern. Other important problems are linked to the efficient and safe delivery of CRISPR-Cas9 into cell types or tissues that are hard to transfect and/or infect. These range from the prospect of irreversible harms to the health of future children and generations, all the way to concerns about opening the door to new forms of social inequality, discrimination and eugenics. In October 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reaffirmed its opposition to contemplating germline changes, as expressed in the ‘Oviedo Convention’, on the grounds that they cross ‘a line viewed as ethically inviolable’ (see Recommendation 2115 (2017) on the use of new genetic technologies in human beings).

Anticipatory policy-making

Given the rapid pace of scientific developments in the field of gene editing, its regulatory oversight seems more necessary than ever before. However, there is a lack of scientific and legal consensus as to whether this transformative technology should be regulated as such, or whether its techniques and products should instead be controlled individually following a result-based approach. International discussion, especially in the frame of the Nagoya Protocol, is currently focused on the regulatory status of genome-editing techniques. Within this frame, the European Commission is working on a legal interpretation of the regulatory status of products generated by new plant-breeding techniques so as to minimise legal uncertainties in this area. In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that genome-edited organisms qualify as products of genetic engineering and hence fall under the scope of the 2001/18 Deliberate Release Directive. The Court declared that genetic modification includes genetic changes ‘in a way that does not occur naturally’. The ruling emphasises that organisms obtained by mutagenesis, a set of techniques which make it possible to alter the genome of a living species without the insertion of foreign DNA, are GMOs and are, in principle, subject to the obligations laid down by the relevant EU-wide authorisation rules. Patenting CRISPR-Cas9 for therapeutic use in humans is also legally controversial. In September 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit awarded, for the first time, intellectual property on the use of CRISPR in ‘eukaryotic cells’, which include plant and animal cells, to the Broad Institute, MIT, and Harvard, which had been the first to obtain a CRISPR patent in 2014. The risks of heritable, unintended and unpredictable genetic mutations also raise questions about the safety of the technique and the attribution of liability in case of damages. In a recent report under the title ‘Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values’, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine urged caution when releasing gene drives into the open environment and suggested ‘phased testing’, including special safeguards in view of the high scientific uncertainties and potential ecological risks.

In fact, many scientists caution that there is much to do before CRISPR is deployed in a safe and efficient manner, given that anyone with the appropriate equipment could engineer a vaccine‐resistant flu virus or invasive species in a laboratory. Finally, yet importantly, CRISPR might create additional challenges from a risk assessment standpoint, in that organisms produced by these methods may contain more pervasive changes to the genomes of living organisms than traditional genetic modification techniques. Given the variety of concerns surrounding the potential unintended consequences of these techniques, public debates on responsible use of this promising technology are needed at local, national and supranational levels.

Read this At a glance on ‘What if gene editing became routine practice?‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2018/10/17/what-if-gene-editing-became-routine-practice/