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Outlook for the meetings of EU leaders, 17-18 October 2019

Written by Ralf Drachenberg and Suzana Anghel,

Brexit, deal or no deal concept. United Kingdom and European Uni

© Fotolia

The meeting of Heads of State or Government on 17-18 October is expected to be dominated by Brexit. The EU-27 leaders will probably meet in a European Council (Article 50) format to discuss the most recent developments in the negotiations, and deliberate on possible consequences. At its formal meeting, the European Council will discuss the recently adopted Strategic Agenda 2019-24 and the priorities of the new Commission in the presence of the incumbents as well as the incoming Presidents of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and of the European Council, Charles Michel (current Prime Minister of Belgium). EU Heads of State or Government will also exchange views on the current state of play on the MFF negotiations in the Council, where differences in opinion remain significant on certain issues, not least on the overall size of the 2021-2027 budget. Finally, the European Council will discuss the external dimension of climate policy and consider the possibility of opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. The meeting could also discuss foreign policy issues, notably the evolution of the situations in Ukraine and Syria, where a Turkish military operation has commenced in the northern part of the country.

1. Implementation: Follow-up on previous European Council commitments

As announced in the June 2019 European Council conclusions, EU Heads of State or Government will return to the issues of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-27 and the Strategic Agenda 2019-24, as reflected in the annotated draft agenda.

At the start of the meeting, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, will address the European Council meeting for the first time in his mandate. Antti Rinne, Prime Minister of Finland, which currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the Council of Ministers, will provide an overview on the progress made in implementing previous European Council conclusions.

As announced in the June 2019 European Council conclusions, EU Heads of State or Government will return to the issues of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-27 and the Strategic Agenda 2019-24, as reflected in the annotated draft agenda.

At the start of the meeting, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, will address the European Council meeting for the first time in his mandate. Antti Rinne, Prime Minister of Finland, which currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the Council of Ministers, will provide an overview on the progress made in implementing previous European Council conclusions.

2. European Council meeting

Multiannual Financial Framework

On 17 October 2019, EU Heads of State or Government will hold an exchange of views on the next MFF. The discussion will be based on a paper by the Finnish Presidency informing EU leaders on the state of play in the negotiations. The most recent exchange of views between Member States on the main elements of the MFF took place in the General Affairs Council (GAC) of 16 September. Both the GAC discussions and the content of a draft ‘Negotiating Box’ (i.e. a document indicating the progressive completion of the negotiation, used by successive GAC meetings to prepare the final deliberation in the European Council), show that the differences of opinion on many sensitive aspects remain significant (see EPRS Legislative Train Schedule: MFF – 2021-2027). Some Member States continue for instance to advocate an EU budget equivalent to 1.0 per cent of total EU GNI, while others support a higher figure. Another point of contention is the size of the allocations to the common agriculture policy and cohesion funds.

With a view to its next meeting in December, the European Council is expected to invite the Finnish Council Presidency to update, based on the results of the discussions between EU leaders, the June 2019 Negotiating Box, including numbers. Thus, in December 2019, EU leaders would only for the first time discuss concrete numbers for the MFF, making the aim of ‘reaching an agreement in the European Council before the end of the year’ difficult to achieve.

On 10 October 2019, the new European Parliament adopted a resolution on the MFF reiterating that ‘Parliament will not rubber-stamp a fait accompli from the European Council’ and calling on the European Council to refrain from adopting detailed and purportedly binding conclusions based on the MFF negotiating box, as this would amount to direct interference in the legislative sphere’.

The next institutional cycle

This meeting is the first European Council since EU Heads of State or Government agreed on a package of candidates for the EU high-level positions (see Figure 1), and the subsequent election of the new European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, on 16 July by the European Parliament. President-elect von der Leyen will outline her priorities for the new Commission, and discuss the recently adopted Strategic Agenda 2019-24 with EU Heads of State or Government.

Figure 1: Overview of high-level office-holders since the 2009 EP elections

The European Council is also expected to adopt a decision appointing Christine Lagarde as President of the European Central Bank, with her nomination part of the package agreed by the European Council on 2 July. Her appointment follows a hearing in the European Parliament and the subsequent positive recommendation. This meeting is the last scheduled European Council to be presided over by Donald Tusk, who will be replaced as European Council President by Charles Michel (currently Prime Minister of Belgium) as of 1 December.


For the third meeting in a row, the European Council will discuss climate, with a focus on its external dimension. EU leaders are expected to reiterate their support to the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, to discuss the outcome of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit held in New York in September 2019, and to prepare for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) to be held in Santiago de Chile in December 2019. They could also discuss the guidelines for the EU’s long-term strategy on climate change that they had committed to finalise by the end of 2019.

A group of eight EU states has recently called ‘to increase the EU’s emissions-cut target from 40 per cent to 55 per cent by 2030’, in line with a Dutch proposal made by Prime Minister Mark Rutte as part of the Future of Europe debate in the European Parliament plenary. Earlier this year, divergent views on the way forward to a carbon-neutral EU economy were particularly noticeable. In June 2019, a group of Member States (initially eight, later expanding to 18) as well as the European Parliament have expressed support for the European Commission’s communication ‘A Clean Planet for all’, pleading for an ambitious and timely climate policy promoting EU carbon-neutrality by 2050. Due to a lack of consensus on the target date for achieving carbon neutrality, the June 2019 European Council conclusions mention the objective of a transition to carbon neutrality, but specify in a footnote that ‘For a large majority of Member States, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050’. The countries reluctant at that time to commit to a date to achieve climate neutrality were Czechia, Estonia, Hungary and Poland.

External relations

EU leaders are expected to discuss several foreign policy issues, notably the situation in Ukraine and in Syria. As regards Syria, they will most probably consider both the in-country situation, as well as the regional situation, including the ongoing Turkish military operation in the northern part of Syria. Several Member States, including France and Germany, have already expressed their concern about Turkey’s ‘unilateral military operation’ in the northern part of Syria, warned about its possible humanitarian consequences, including a possible increasing influx of migrants on the Eastern Mediterranean route, and urged Turkey to end its offensive. The Foreign Affairs Council on 14 October noted that some Member States have decided to stop arms-exports licensing to Turkey but did not decide on ‘a formal EU-wide arms embargo’.


Although agreement was not reached at the General Affairs Council of 15 October 2019, the European Council will most probably consider whether or not to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

Whilst the Commission had given a positive recommendation, the decision to open or not accession negotiations with the two countries was postponed from June 2019 to October 2019 at the latest, due to persisting diverging views among the Member States, including France and the Netherlands which oppose the opening of accession negotiations. A possible solution, based on a German proposal, would consist of green-lighting the opening of accession negotiations with both countries whilst only North Macedonia would be given a clear date to start negotiations.

Enlargement gained momentum following the joint letter of the leaders of the EU’s institutions – the European Council President Donald Tusk, the European Parliament President David Sassoli, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and the European Commission President-elect Ursula Von der Leyen. In their letter, they outlined that the EU ‘stands before a strategic choice’ on whether or not to decide to open accession negotiations with the two Western Balkan countries which have fulfilled their share of the bargain and complied with the requirements set upon them so far. Prior to this, during his September 2019 visit to Albania and North Macedonia, Donald Tusk said that he has ‘always thought that the EU should open accession talks with both Albania and North Macedonia, in line with the positive recommendations from the Commission,’ whilst a similar position was also expressed by the Visegrad Four (V4) group.

Other Items

Standing by their earlier commitment, EU leaders will most probably once again condemn Turkey’s drilling activities in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone and reaffirm their solidarity with Cyprus.

3. European Council (Article 50) meeting

On Friday 18 October 2019, EU-27 leaders will possibly also meet in a European Council (Article 50) format to discuss the latest developments in the process following the United Kingdom’s notification of its withdrawal under Article 50 TEU.

On 2 October 2019, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, made a new proposal, including a differentiated EU-UK customs regime with no controls at or near the border which aims to replace the current ‘backstop’. The objective of the backstop, which was agreed upon by the previous UK government, is to prevent the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland; it envisages that the UK would leave the single market but remain in a single EU-UK customs territory. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed ‘that while the UK has made some progress, a number of problematic points remain in the proposal, on which further work is needed by the UK’. This sentiment was also shared by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, whose message to the UK Prime Minister was that the EU ’remains open but [is] still unconvinced’. A meeting between Johnson and his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, on 10 October concluded that both ‘could see a pathway to a possible deal’. Following a meeting between EU and UK negotiators the following day, the Commission announced that ‘the EU and the UK have agreed to intensify discussions over the coming days’.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, informed the General Affairs Council (Article 50) of 15 October, preparing the European Council (Article 50), about the state of play in Brexit negotiations and assessed that an agreement before the summit would be very difficult but still possible.

It is not excluded that the UK Prime Minister could – at the European Council meeting or shortly after – request a further extension to the Article 50 negation period. The recently adopted European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act 2019 requires the UK government to request a three-month extension, if it has not secured the approval of the House of Commons for either: 1) a withdrawal agreement, or 2) leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement, by the end of 19 October.

Read this briefing on ‘Outlook for the meetings of EU leaders, 17-18 October 2019‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/16/outlook-for-the-meetings-of-eu-leaders-17-18-october-2019/

Mainstreaming of climate action in the EU budget: Impact of a political objective

Written by Alessandro D’Alfonso,

© Mediaparts / Fotolia

The European Union (EU) has developed many legislative measures related to climate change, and is on track to meet its 2020 targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the improvement of energy efficiency and the increased use of renewables. However, analysts estimate that more demanding targets in the medium- and longer-term require significant financial investments in mitigation and adaptation measures. Public resources can play an important role in financing such investment needs, not only directly but also in attracting funding from other sources.

In the broader field of EU finances, three main categories of climate-related initiatives can be identified: relevant projects and activities across a broad range of funding instruments in the EU budget; programmes for the demonstration of innovative technologies, funded by the EU’s Emissions Trading System; and climate finance from the European Investment Bank. While the EU budget represents only 2 % of public spending in the Union, it has features that can amplify its impact and make it particularly relevant for climate-related objectives, including the greater predictability of long-term investments ensured by its Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

In the 2014-2020 MFF, the EU decided to step up the contribution that the EU budget makes to action on climate change, by committing to spending 20 % of its financial resources on relevant measures. This political objective sets the broader framework for mainstreaming of climate in the EU budget, which consists of the incorporation of climate considerations and objectives across the major EU funding instruments. Climate mainstreaming takes place at different levels: a political objective and a tracking methodology for the overall budget; the design and implementation of specific funding instruments; and monitoring, reporting and evaluation, both for the overall budget and for specific instruments. Decision-makers and actors involved differ, depending on the phase.

According to the latest data, the EU should almost be able to reach the objective of spending 20 % of its 2014-2020 resources on climate by the end of the programming period. Some of the largest EU programmes under shared management with Member States are also the largest contributors to the climate target in absolute figures: agricultural funds, the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund. However, some smaller instruments have significant climate-relevance.

Assessments of the tracking methodology and of its impact have identified both achievements and shortcomings. The creation of a broad political objective is deemed to have triggered ambitious work and a greater focus on climate. Climate spending in instruments such as the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund has increased both quantitatively and qualitatively. However, other areas such as the common agricultural policy have not shown significant progress, despite the emergence of some good practices. Criticisms have included: the absence of a common mechanism to assign sub-targets to individual instruments; some inconsistencies in the methodology with over-estimations in some areas and under-representation in others; and a performance framework more focused on outputs than on results and impact.

The adoption of an overall objective for climate expenditure in the EU budget contributes to the establishment of a general framework against which to assess progress and areas for improvement in climate-related activities. For the post-2020 MFF, the European Commission has proposed to raise the objective to 25 % of the EU budget, while the European Parliament has called for an even more ambitious approach. Elements in the MFF proposals, such as the creation of some links to National Energy and Climate Plans, could reinforce the effectiveness of climate mainstreaming. The revenue side of the EU budget also has the potential to contribute to climate objectives, but its reform is considered extremely difficult due to the requirement for unanimity in the Council.

Read this ‘in-depth analysis’ on ‘Mainstreaming of climate action in the EU budget: Impact of a political objective‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/14/mainstreaming-of-climate-action-in-the-eu-budget-impact-of-a-political-objective/

Reform of the Service of Documents Regulation [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Rafal Manko,

Business people are exchanging document

© sebra / Fotolia

In May 2018, the Commission put forward a proposal for amending the existing Regulation on Cross-border Service of Documents in civil proceedings. The proposal aims, above all, to replace the existing mechanisms of paper transmission with an electronic system. National information technology (IT) systems would be connected into one network, and the use of paper transmission would become an exception, available only in the event of a failure of the electronic system. Within Parliament, a draft report was prepared by the Legal Affairs Committee in October 2018, and in February 2019, the institution adopted its first-reading position on the proposal.

Within Council, following an exchange of views between delegations and work at technical level, a policy debate is envisaged. Once Council reaches a general approach, trilogue negotiations will be able to start.


timeline 10 steps trilogue with second reading

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/14/reform-of-the-service-of-documents-regulation-eu-legislation-in-progress/

A globalisation that works for everyone? Penny Goldberg discusses the 2020 World Development Report

Written by Klemen Zumer with Paul Anton Kindermann,

Chief Economist of the World Bank (WB), Penny Goldberg, presented an exclusive snapshot of the 2020 World Development Report in the Library Reading Room at the European Parliament on 1 October 2019, discussing the economic challenges and perspectives of global value chains (GVCs) for economic development: what can policy makers do to facilitate sustainable growth through GVCs? This question is particularly pressing in the wake of continuous trade conflicts that dampen expectations for further growth. The high-level event with Penny Goldberg and EP Vice President Pedro Silva Pereira kicked off intensified EPRS cooperation with the World Bank that will spark many follow up initiatives.

GVCs constitute a central layer of today’s unprecedentedly interconnected world economy. In a GVC, countries do not simply trade products. They produce together, as different steps of a single production process are distributed to different locations around the world, and the parts produced in each place are shipped across the globe often crossing borders multiple times. GVCs extend the division of labour to an international scale. In the contemporary world economy, almost all countries participate in GVCs; at different stages of the economic chain, they export raw materials, semi-finished goods, or eventually goods ready for consumption. The steady emergence of these GVCs over four decades has powered an economic revolution that boosted economic growth.

In general, the World Bank finds comprehensive empirical evidence that GVCs facilitate major income growth in manufacturing countries. And in developing countries, GVC firms have contributed to significant poverty reductions. On the other hand, Penny Goldberg identifies two major problems that come as costs of participating in GVCs. First, the economic gains that result from GVCs are distributed unequally across and within countries: participation in GVCs disadvantages unskilled workers, and women and youth are generally placed in lower value-added segments of production. Second, the high transportation costs are a strain on the environment. Thus, policy-makers are called upon to ensure that benefits are shared and the environment protected – e.g. by a carbon tax or stronger regulations on particular industries and polluters. Only then can globalisation ‘work for everyone’.

While these policies are needed urgently, the profound potential of GVCs for further, sustainable economic growth can only be harnessed if the rule-based international trade system is maintained and strengthened. Penny Goldberg warned that the continuation of protectionist measures could push more than 30 million people into poverty and crush global income. In concert with EP Vice President Pereira, she emphasised that international cooperation on trade is critical for the sustainable growth of all countries and suggested several criteria that new deep trade agreements should fulfil – such as stronger rules on subsidies. Vice-President Silva Pereira recalled the problems of trade agreements which lacked public support and came under heavy scrutiny. Here, he said, the EP should, among other things, push for prominent placement of sustainable development chapters in new, comprehensive agreements.

Following a lively question and answer session, Penny Goldberg promised to be back at EPRS soon to discuss the report in more detail.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/14/a-globalization-that-works-for-everyone-penny-goldberg-discusses-the-2020-world-development-report/

Origins of the 2019-24 EU Strategic Agenda: The Future of Europe debate and the Sibiu European Council

Written by Suzana Anghel and Ralf Drachenberg,

© Fotolia

The Sibiu Summit of 9 May 2019 and the subsequent adoption of the 2019-24 Strategic Agenda on 20 June 2019 constitute the end of the Future of Europe debate (at least in its current iteration), which was initiated following the June 2016 UK referendum on EU membership. Five milestone moments marked three distinct phases in the Future of Europe debate: 1) diagnostics and reflection (June to mid-September 2016); 2) deliberation and proposals (mid-September 2016 to March 2017); and 3) delivery and vision (April 2017 to June 2019).

One of the main findings of this study is that throughout the Future of Europe process, EU Heads of State or Government reiterated three core messages that also featured prominently in all the milestone documents: the need for unity, priority to EU citizens, and focus on (policy) delivery. Moreover, the three policy priorities – migration, security and the economy – identified in the Bratislava Declaration, have been the focus over the entire period of the Future of Europe process (June 2016 to June 2019), forming the European Council’s ‘rolling agenda’ of policy priorities. Despite developments in the European Council composition in that same period (as a result of the arrival of 16 new Heads of State or Government), the core messages remained almost identical, even though, often, different players were involved in drafting the related declarations and statements.

Another finding of the study is that both the European Council and the European Parliament emerged stronger from the three-year Future of Europe debate. The introduction of the Leaders’ Agenda and of the new working methods allowed EU leaders to ‘take things into their hands’ and to concentrate on solving sensitive issues by debating them well in advance at leaders’ meetings. The Parliament was active throughout the Future of Europe debate. In addition to adopting resolutions and expressing its vision in specific documents, it solidified its role as a forum for open debate by holding a series of plenary debates with EU Heads of State or Government.

An examination of the most recent phase of the Future of Europe debate (April 2018-June 2019) showed that three more or less parallel processes – the activities under the Leaders’ Agenda, the debates in the Parliament, and the citizens’ consultations – lasted throughout that whole phase and shaped the Sibiu Declaration and the subsequent (new) Strategic Agenda 2019-24.

The study identifies strong continuity between the new Strategic Agenda and its predecessor with regard to some policy issues, while also noting that other significant policy issues have been added and there has been a shift in focus within the different policy areas. Both the Sibiu Declaration and the new Strategic Agenda strengthen the policy focus on the EU’s role as a global player in actions related to climate change.

When comparing the 2019-24 Strategic Agenda with other milestone documents that were issued during the Future of Europe debate, a certain degree of continuity on horizontal and institutional issues can be observed. However, the Strategic Agenda envisages that the different EU institutions should revisit their working methods, indicating that some institutional evolution can be expected in the near future. In the case of the European Council, for instance, this could lead to the operationalisation of the 2019-24 Strategic Agenda through a new Leaders’ Agenda under the next President of the European Council.

Read this ‘study’ on ‘Origins of the 2019-24 EU Strategic Agenda: The Future of Europe debate and the Sibiu European Council‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/11/origins-of-the-2019-24-eu-strategic-agenda-the-future-of-europe-debate-and-the-sibiu-european-council/

CAP Amending Regulation (CMO): Amending regulations on the CMO for agricultural products, quality schemes and measures for remote regions [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Beata Rojek,

© Julien Eichinger / Fotolia

On 1 July 2018, as part of the work on the EU’s 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework, the European Commission proposed a package of three regulations with the aim of reshaping and modernising the common agricultural policy (CAP).

One of these proposals, the Amending Regulation, introduces changes to rules governing the common market organisation (CMO) in agricultural products (including the rules on wine), the EU quality schemes (geographical indications) and the support measures for remote regions. The aim is to equip agricultural markets and support measures to face new challenges, update provisions, simplify procedures and ensure consistency with other regulations on the future CAP.


timeline-10 steps-voted in plenary

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/11/cap-amending-regulation-cmo-amending-regulations-on-the-cmo-for-agricultural-products-quality-schemes-and-measures-for-remote-regions-eu-legislation-in-progress/

Plenary round-up – Brussels, October I 2019

Written by Clare Ferguson and Katarzyna Sochacka,

Plenary session - Resumption of session and order of business- Council and Commission statements - Preparation of the European Council meeting of 17 and 18 October 2019- Council and Commission statements

© European Union 2019 – Source : EP

Highlights of the October I plenary session included statements and debates on the preparation of the European Council meeting of 17 and 18 October 2019, on greening the European Investment Bank (EIB), in the presence of the Bank’s president, and on how to prevent conflicts of interest in the EU. Parliament also debated statements made by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR/VP) on the situation in northern Syria and Ukraine. Debates took place on Council and Commission statements on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 and own resources. Finally, Members discussed Commission statements on United States tariffs on European goods following the World Trade Organization’s Airbus dispute decision, on authorisation of genetically modified organisms, and on the fight against cancer.

Statements by the High Representative

Federica Mogherini, as HR/VP, made statements on northern Syria and on the situation in Ukraine. With the election in Ukraine this year for both a new President and Parliament, increased efforts have been made to relaunch talks on settling the Donbass conflict, under the Normandy format. President Volodomyr Zelenskiy’s room for manoeuvre remains limited, however, with little sign of follow-up on the Minsk Agreements commitments and the conflict in the country’s east continuing.

Post-2020 EU budget

Council and Commission outlined the progress made on narrowing the gaps between Member States’ positions on the post-2020 EU budget; nevertheless it is clear that the European Council is not yet close to finalising its position and thus the subject will remain on the agenda in the months ahead. In advance of EU leaders’ discussions next week, the Parliament adopted its position on both the MFF and the own resources system. The resolution adopted, on a motion tabled by four political groups (EPP, S&D, Renew and Greens/EFA), largely seeks to reiterate the positions adopted by Parliament during the last term.

Euro area employment and social policies

Members debated and adopted a report from the Employment & Social Affairs (EMPL) Committee on the employment and social policies of the euro area, a contribution to the annual European Semester process. Parliament’s position should feed into Council recommendations on euro-area policies, due to be adopted in November 2019. The committee’s report emphasises the need to strengthen social rights, ensure universal coverage, and to develop labour market and education policies to ensure adequate social protection and address skills mismatches more effectively.

Amending the EU budget for 2019

Parliament voted on a report on draft amending budget No 4 (DAB 4/2019), which amends the Council’s position, seeking to redeploy savings to other major EU programmes that currently lack funding. Parliament therefore calls on the Commission to present a new proposal along these lines.

Negotiations ahead of Council’s first reading

The President announced 43 decisions by the ECON, ITRE, TRAN, ENVI, LIBE, REGI, EMPL, CONT, IMCO, AFET and DEVE committees to enter into interinstitutional negotiations, in accordance with Rule 72. Parliament’s positions adopted earlier at first reading will provide the mandates for these negotiations.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – Brussels, October I 2019‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/11/plenary-round-up-brussels-october-i-2019/

Oleg Sentsov: The 2018 Sakharov Prize laureate

Oleg Sentsov: Ukrainian filmmaker and symbol for political prisoners

Born on 13 July 1976 in Simferopol (Crimea), Oleg Sentsov studied marketing at Kyiv State Economics University. He did not particularly enjoy these studies, which he said ‘disillusioned’ him. After managing a computer club in Simferopol and playing online video games professionally for years – eventually becoming the Ukrainian champion – Sentsov became the leader of the Crimean gaming movement. This experience of the gaming world served as inspiration for his first feature film Gamer, which was released in 2011 and later screened at a number of international film festivals.

Euromaidan as a turning point for Ukraine — and for Sentsov

Sentsov’s work on his film Rhino, about children of the 1990s, was interrupted in 2013, when he joined the Revolution of Dignity (‘Euromaidan’) that broke out in Ukraine after pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovich decided to suspend talks on an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. In February 2014, the protests paved the way for a new pro-European government and for Yanukovich’s ousting. When Moscow responded by illegally annexing Crimea and launching a hybrid war against Ukraine, Sentsov helped bring food to Ukrainian soldiers and organised rallies for a united Ukraine in Simferopol. The Russian Federal Security Service arrested Sentsov in Crimea in May 2014, and deported him to Russia. In what Amnesty International called a ‘cynical show trial’, a Russian military court convicted Sentsov to 20 years imprisonment for plotting terrorist acts in August 2015. Sentsov denies the charges, which he and human rights groups call politically motivated. Sentsov said he was beaten for 24 hours in an attempt to force him to confess. Russian authorities refused to investigate the allegations of torture. In May 2018, Sentsov began a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held on political grounds in Russia and annexed Crimea. Sentsov ended the 145-day hunger strike on 6 October 2018. In a handwritten statement, he explained that he had no choice but to halt the hunger strike to avoid being force-fed due to the critical state of his health.

International support, including from the EU and the European Parliament

The European Union, the United States, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, human rights groups, filmmakers’ and writers’ associations and even Russian film-director Nikita Mikhalkov, who has close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, had all requested Sentsov’s release. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission (HR/VP) repeatedly underlined that Sentsov’s detention breached international law, and urged Russia to return Sentsov and fellow activist Oleksandr Kolchenko to Ukraine. In a June 2018 resolution, Parliament requested the immediate release of Sentsov and the 70 other Ukrainian citizens illegally detained in Russia and Crimea. Announcing the Sakharov Prize laureate in Strasbourg on 25 October 2018, then European Parliament President Antonio Tajani stated that Sentsov’s ‘courage and determination’ has made him ‘a symbol of the struggle for the release of political prisoners held in Russia and around the world’. With the award of the Sakharov Prize, Parliament is ‘expressing its solidarity with him and his cause’, Tajani said: ‘We ask that he be released immediately’.

Responses to the 2018 Sakharov Prize

While Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticised Parliament’s award of the prize to Sentsov as ‘absolutely politicised’, others hailed the decision. PEN America called it ‘a powerful statement in defence of writers, artists, political prisoners, and all those … actively fighting for free thought and free expression in a time of creeping – and not so creeping – authoritarianism around the world’. Human Rights Watch said the award would help increase the pressure on Moscow to release Sentsov. European Council President Donald Tusk renewed his call on Moscow to ‘free Sentsov and all other political prisoners following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea’. Then Prime Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman, expressed gratitude to Parliament for the award, which he called ‘a strong message highlighting the necessity of democracy protection in the world’.

Sentsov’s release in a landmark prisoner swap

Moscow rejected Kyiv’s calls to swap Sentsov and Ukrainian journalist Roman Suschenko, arrested in Moscow in 2016 on espionage charges, for Russian prisoners, until 7 September 2019, when Ukrainian prisoners in Russia were exchanged for 35 prisoners held in Ukraine. The other Ukrainian prisoners released include Suschenko, as well as 24 Ukrainian sailors who were detained in November 2018, when Russia seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels off Crimea. Although the prisoner swap – in line with the 2014-2015 Minsk Peace Agreements – sparked questions about some of the prisoners released by Ukraine, the move was generally hailed by European leaders, including by the HR/VP. The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, expressed ‘relief and profound joy’ at the release, adding that he looked forward to meeting Sentsov in person in Parliament and handing him the Sakharov Prize.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Oleg Sentsov: The 2018 Sakharov Prize laureate‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/11/oleg-sentsov-the-2018-sakharov-prize-laureate/

Health threats from climate change: The time to act is now

Written by Mark English and Nicole Scholz,

On 1 October, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) hosted the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) for a policy roundtable on climate change and human health. EASAC brings together national science academies from across the EU, Norway and Switzerland.

With Greta Thunberg on the front pages worldwide, the urgent need to act on climate change is starting to capture the imagination of the public. Yet the specific threats that climate change poses to human health are less well-known, despite experts such as Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, sounding the alarm.

Drawing inspiration from the main findings of EASAC’s own June 2019 report, the roundtable focused on identifying the major health effects of climate change in Europe, analysing who is most at risk and assessing how EU policy might help. Cristian Bușoi, MEP, Vice-Chair of the Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) – a physician as well as a politician – gave the opening speech.

Speakers (the full list and bios are here) emphasised the gravity and immediacy of the threat and called for urgent action. Climate change will bring about a diverse range of risks for human health, through different pathways. Projections in Europe show a geographical gradient that increases towards southern Europe (Mediterranean region), but also with greater effects at the highest latitudes (Arctic). Extreme heat exposure will be particularly pronounced in cities (‘heat island effect’).

Health effects may be direct – from heatwaves, wildfires, storms or floods. They may also be indirect, resulting in a higher risk of vector-borne diseases (dengue fever, for example), due to the spread of disease-carrying insects into previously temperate zones. Negative health impacts from air pollution are also projected to rise, as are allergies (for instance, to ragweed pollen).

Vulnerable people, such as the elderly, children and marginalised groups, will be at a higher risk. Mental health effects likely to arise from climate change are also of serious concern. Moreover, climate change will potentially affect agriculture, thereby weakening food security. There is also a growing risk of forced migration, with a rise expected in the number of climate refugees.

According to the EASAC report’s findings, the top priority is to stabilise climate and accelerate efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing the current and future health effects of climate change can provide substantial economic benefits, and the health co-benefits of decarbonising the European economy are likely to save millions of lives. Recommendations include a ‘health in all policies’ approach.

The need to make better use of existing evidence, invest in research, and base policy more closely on the results was a recurring theme in the discussion. Speakers also stressed the importance of engaging the public in action on climate change and health, and the need to improve communication on health risks, including by doing more to counter misinformation.

The EU-funded INHERIT project (final conference on 10 December) was highlighted during the roundtable. The project explores the close links between climate change and social disadvantage and aims to identify ways of living, moving and consuming that protect the environment and promote health and health equity.

There was also a discussion on how focusing on health issues – which by their nature interest everybody – could help further raise awareness of climate change and widen participation in debate, for instance around the new European Green Deal.

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EPRS briefings related to the topic:

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/10/health-threats-from-climate-change-the-time-to-act-is-now/

Using trade policy to tackle climate change

Written by Jana Titievskaia,

Aerial view of deforestation. Rainforest being removed to make way for palm oil and rubber plantations

© whitcomberd / Fotolia

The recent forest fires in the Amazon highlight the need for greater measures worldwide to attenuate tensions between resource needs, for example mining or grazing, that cause deforestation. European leaders have called for urgent action, including through trade policy. Policy-makers argue, for instance, for leveraging the negotiated European Union (EU)-Mercosur Trade Agreement to achieve compliance with the Paris Agreement. Since the Paris Agreement is binding only in part and aspirational concerning national emissions targets, there are calls to resort to trade policy instead.

Trade agreements as leverage for change?

During the recent massive Amazon fires, on which Parliament held a debate in September 2019, leaders of France and Ireland, as well as a number of civil society petitions, called for the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement to be frozen or rejected, to leverage stronger action to tackle climate and environmental concerns in partner countries. Halting negotiations or opposing the agreement is seen by some as a tool to elicit compliance with climate commitments, or penalise a trade partner that fails to comply. This is a political course of action, possible in the short term, when the EU has not (yet) made bilateral trade commitments vis-à-vis the trade partner. However, pulling out of a trade agreement at an advanced stage has drawbacks. Late-stage blocking of a trade deal can be seen as bowing to interest group influence (e.g. agricultural producers in the case of Mercosur), who rally behind public concerns to stop a deal if they expect competition to increase as a result of the agreement. In the case of a regional trade agreement, the condemnation of climate violations by one partner might also unfairly penalise other sectors or countries. Therefore, the European Commission has called for rapid adoption of trade agreements, as this would allow the EU to foster change through constructive political dialogue under the auspices of a deal. The Commission has defended the Mercosur agreement, arguing that deforestation is already happening and that in the long term, once the agreement applies, the EU could in theory invoke specific clauses of the agreement to challenge such misconduct as it includes ‘commitments to effectively implement the Paris Agreement’, e.g. under the sustainable development provisions.

However, the current form of trade agreements does not necessarily lead to an increase in the level of compliance with climate commitments. Firstly, for mixed agreements, such as the EU-Mercosur Association Agreement, provisional application applies to the trade pillar (which is an exclusive EU competence), while the provisions for political dialogue and cooperation can potentially not be applied for many years, pending ratification by Member States. It may take a long time before the EU can leverage the political dialogue provisions of the agreement to motivate climate action. Secondly, in EU trade agreements, references to climate commitments, including the Paris Agreement and tackling deforestation, are included in the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters, which are arguably not enforceable in the same way as other parts of the trade deal. The TSD chapter, as well as competition and trade remedies provisions, is exempt from the general dispute settlement chapter. The general dispute settlement mechanism is modelled on that of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and allows, in case of non-compliance, the EU to take punitive economic measures as temporary remedies, e.g. to suspend trade concessions in case of non-compliance with an arbitration ruling. In contrast, TSD chapters have separate procedures for disputes, which involve a request for consultation and the creation of a panel of experts. The first case of EU TSD dispute settlement is ongoing under the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (on labour issues). If the counterpart fails to comply, the panel will deliver a set of recommendations. The TSD Committee then monitors the situation. While punitive economic measures are not possible, the Commission argues that the consultations focus on finding a mutually acceptable solution and on exerting public pressure, and that this dynamic of political oversight and a risk of reputational damage incentivise the partner country to comply with the recommendations. One explanation for the separate dispute settlement process for environmental issues is the difficulty of establishing a causal link between economic injury and non-compliance with TSD provisions, which makes it difficult to make a fair estimation of remedies.

WTO rules and the climate waiver

EU trade agreements incorporate the general exception derived from WTO rules – Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The general exception lays down the conditions under which members may take trade-restrictive measures which are ‘necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health’, or relating to the exhaustion of natural resources. The measure (e.g. an import restriction or a ban) cannot be applied in a manner that would constitute arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, nor can it be a disguised restriction on international trade (Article XX, chapeau). Recent EU trade deals, including the EU-Mercosur provisions on trade in goods, set out that ‘environmental measures, such as measures taken to implement multilateral environmental agreements’ fall within the general exception. This would suggest that in theory, the EU is not prevented from taking trade-restrictive environmental measures that aim to implement the Paris Agreement. However, the general exception has been successfully invoked only under very specific circumstances and conditions (e.g. US shrimp products). WTO rules also require a strong causal link between the measure and the environmental objective. With measures taken to address highly complex phenomena, such as climate change, the causality can only be assessed with the passage of time, as suggested by the WTO Appellate Body (Brazil retreaded tyre imports). Under current rules, therefore, a trade-restrictive measure to implement a multilateral environmental agreement – such as a carbon border tax, proposed by Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen – could potentially be challenged on several grounds as WTO-incompatible, unless it is deemed to qualify as a border tax adjustment. Due to the growing possibility of a clash between trade rules and climate action, commentators have called for a climate waiver. This could be possible under Article IX: 3 of the WTO Agreement, which allows the Ministerial Conference to waive an obligation in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Trade preferences

The withdrawal of trade preferences can act as a sanctions-like measure. For some developing countries (not Mercosur countries), the removal of tariff preferences, under the General Scheme of Preferences (GSP) scheme, is possible in case of serious and systemic violations of core conventions relating to human and labour rights (listed in Part A of Annex VIII) of the GSP Regulation.

However, under the GSP, the EU’s ability to influence the beneficiary in the protection of forests or sustainable management of natural resources is limited. Conventions related to the environment, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Part B of Annex VIII of the GSP Regulation) are not included under the provisions allowing for the temporary withdrawal of preferences (Article 19.1.). In practice, threats to withdraw preferences have been linked to labour or human rights concerns. A review of the current GSP Regulation, due to expire in 2023, should begin in 2020. In a March 2019 resolution, the European Parliament called for the addition of the Paris Agreement to the 27 conventions. It did not specify whether environmental conventions should be linked to preference suspension.

The menu of options to elicit climate action from partner countries through trade policy comes with benefits and drawbacks. Outside the trade toolkit, consumer behaviour and corporate social responsibility in companies can help foster climate action in trade partners. The Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) regulation, in combination with the EU Timber Regulation, also seek to ensure that only legally harvested timber is imported into the EU. In July 2019, the European Commission’s communication ‘Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests’ proposed further measures. However, implementation of FLEGT is based on voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs), which to date exist with only a few trade partners, and so far only one country, Indonesia, has begun issuing FLEGT licences.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/10/09/using-trade-policy-to-tackle-climate-change/