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Marking International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

Written by Rosamund Shreeves,

Over the 2014-2019 legislature, the European Parliament has strongly condemned all forms of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual and intersex (LGBTI) people. Parliament has stressed the urgency of tackling increasing levels of hate speech and hate crime motivated by bias against a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and put forward concrete proposals for combating hate speech and harmful stereotypes in the media. Parliament has also drawn attention to the human rights situation of LGBTI people outside the EU on many occasions. In February 2019, it asked the Commission to make LGBTI rights a priority in its work programme for 2019-2024 and to adopt a new LGBTI strategy for this period, joining the 19 EU Member States who had already urged the Commission to ensure a strong follow-up to the EU’s current strategy.

Advocacy organisations are reporting diverging trends in the situation of LGBTI people, both globally and in Europe, with a worsening environment in some countries due to repressive and discriminatory legislation and spikes in hate crimes, contrasting with legal and social improvements in others.

This May, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), plans to launch a major survey of LGBTI people’s experiences across the EU. A follow-up to the agency’s first survey in 2012, it will ask about issues affecting people’s everyday lives, including discrimination, harassment and violence – and will be extended to cover the specific experiences of intersex people.

The FRA’s first survey of more than 93 000 people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender painted a worrying picture of discrimination in schools, workplaces, healthcare settings and public places, and widespread experiences of harassment and violence. Almost half (47 %) of the respondents said they had felt personally discriminated against or harassed in the previous year because of their sexual orientation, with the figures highest for lesbian women and transgender respondents. One in two respondents said that they avoided certain places for fear of being harassed, threatened or assaulted because of being LGBT, whilst one in four said that they had been attacked or threatened with violence over the previous five years. However, only one in ten people had reported incidents of discrimination, and only one in five of the most serious incidents of violence were reported to the police, mainly because respondents believed that nothing would happen or change as a result. Some feared a homophobic or transphobic reaction from the authorities.

As we approach the European elections, it is worth flagging that almost half of all respondents to the first FRA survey believed offensive language about LGBT people by politicians to be widespread in their country of residence. Figures for individual countries varied from 1 % in Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, to 33 % in Poland, 42 % in Bulgaria, 51 % in Italy and 58 % in Lithuania. Monitoring reports by the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance data (ECRI) confirm their concerns. Between 2014 and 2018, ECRI recorded incidents of homophobic and transphobic hate speech from politicians – and failures to counter them – in several EU Member States, along with more positive examples where hate speech was systematically condemned. The European network of Equality Bodies, Equinet, has also reported that a growing number of election campaigns in Europe are marred by scapegoating and discriminatory language or hate speech against certain groups.

During the campaigning for the 2014 European elections, ILGA-Europe, the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, received reports of 42 incidents of hate speech against LGBTI people and other minority groups. For the 2019 elections, the organisation is uniting with a broad spectrum of civil society organisations to appeal for ‘No Hate’ campaigning, calling on all candidates, politicians, the media and people in the public eye not only to avoid engaging in, or amplifying, rhetoric that could incite discrimination, prejudice or hatred on any ground, but also to counter it actively. In addition, ILGA-Europe is encouraging candidates to sign a pledge to stand up for human rights and equality for all LGBTI people in the European Union and beyond, by committing to listen to their concerns and work proactively to close gaps in legal protection, strengthen EU policy and support human rights defenders.

Two EPRS briefings published to mark this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), on 17 May, look in detail at the scope of the rights and protections against discrimination for LGBTI people within the European Union, the steps the EU and Parliament in particular have taken over the last term to further LGBTI rights, and EU external action in this area. EU external action focuses on Africa, where a majority of countries have legislation criminalising homosexuality and the public expression of sexual or gender behaviour that does not conform to heterosexual norms. For the EU, promoting LGBTI rights is complex, as in several African countries, the very notions of sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination are contested, and seen as ‘un-African’.

For further reading:

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/16/marking-international-day-against-homophobia-transphobia-and-biphobia/

Area of freedom, security and justice: Cost of non-Europe

Written by Wouter van Ballegooij,

Lady Justice Stature n Germany, Frankfurt

© fotolia

Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, the EU offers its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice (AFSJ). In this area, the free movement of persons should be ensured, in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum and migration, as well as preventing and combating crime. The European Parliament has gradually acquired equal legislative powers with the Council of Ministers, in an area that was previously intergovernmental. This contributes to better law-making, trust and legitimacy in the area of justice and home affairs. The policy agenda in the area of migration and security was, however, fundamentally reshaped following the rapid rise in the number of asylum seekers and irregular migrants arriving in the EU in 2015, and a string of terrorist attacks. Despite these challenges, surveys show that citizens expect the EU and its Member States to deliver an AFSJ, notably in the area of free movement, immigration and the fight against terrorism.

In October 2016, the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee requested the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) produce a ‘cost of non-Europe Report’ on the AFSJ. This blogpost introduces a briefing on the series of analyses produced by EPRS in response to this request, covering asylum, border control and visa policy (forthcoming), legal migration, the fight against organised crime and corruption, and terrorism, as well as procedural rights and detention conditions, equality and the fight against racism and xenophobia.

State of play

Substantial progress has been made since the EU declared its aim of creating an area of freedom, security and justice 20 years ago. In particular, the Schengen Borders Code abolishes internal border controls except under specific circumstances and provides EU Member States with common rules that govern external border controls and entry requirements. In addition, the EU has developed a Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Furthermore, the EU aims at building a comprehensive immigration policy. Several EU directives have facilitated third country nationals’ admission and residence in an EU Member State. The EU also established security measures ranging from those coordinating crime prevention to police and judicial cooperation. Moreover, the EU supports operational cooperation between national law enforcement authorities through the exchange of information contained in a number of EU and national information systems. Beyond the right to asylum, the EU has developed common standards in other areas of fundamental rights. These standards include non-discrimination, data protection, the free movement and residence of EU citizens, and the rights of victims and suspected and accused persons. Finally, a number of EU agencies support national authorities in these areas.

Gaps, barriers and their impacts

However, the various cost of non-Europe reports point to a number of gaps and barriers. In particular, there is a lack of consistent monitoring and enforcement of EU values and norms. The root causes are to be found in weaknesses in the existing EU legal and policy framework on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. Lower fundamental rights standards have a negative impact on mutual trust between Member States, which is based on the presumption that an independent judiciary enforces these standards and that the material conditions are in place that allow for the effective exercise of fundamental rights. In addition, respect for the rule of law presents a necessary condition for economic transactions. The lack of enforcement is also felt in the particular policy areas covered by the AFSJ.

Furthermore, the reports identify a number of outstanding gaps in the EU’s framework in certain areas:

  • a permanent, robust and effective Union response regarding search and rescue operations at sea;
  • a framework that would allow legal entry in the EU for the purpose of applying for international protection;
  • a framework on legal migration covering all third country nationals;
  • EU criminal policy preparation more comprehensively involving the European Parliament and national parliaments;
  • EU legislation covering individuals who are discriminated against on the basis of their religion and belief, sexual orientation, disability and age outside employment;
  • EU legislation protecting suspects throughout the criminal procedure, including during the pre-trial detention phase.

These deficiencies have a significant impact at individual level, notably in terms of preventing the effective exercise of fundamental rights by EU citizens and third country nationals alike. For example, negative impacts accumulate along the asylum journey, resulting in the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean in the pre-arrival phase and further violations in the arrival, application and post application phases. Discrimination has serious impacts on individuals. A denial of rights, material and immaterial damage, health status, and a loss of earnings, among other impacts, are just a number of problems they face. These deficiencies also have a negative effect on budgetary spending, growth and tax revenue, which is estimated at at least €180 billion annually, with the lack of enforcement of EU values still to be assessed in more detail.

Policy options

Further EU action in four main areas would have significant benefits:

  1. Monitoring and enforcement of EU values through an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights;
  2. Creating safe legal pathways for migrants and asylum-seekers to enter the EU, respectively though a binding immigration code and EU legislation on humanitarian visas;
  3. Instilling a European law enforcement culture; and
  4. Completing the Union’s fundamental rights framework, notably through the adoption of the ‘horizontal’ anti-discrimination directive and a directive on the substantive criteria and procedural requirements related to pre-trial detention;

In particular, this could allow individuals to fully enjoy their fundamental rights and make EU society more secure, open, fair and prosperous. This would also foster trust in the EU on the basis of its ability to deliver on its aims.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Area of freedom, security and justice: Cost of non-Europe‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.


Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/14/area-of-freedom-security-and-justice-cost-of-non-europe/

What are Spitzenkandidaten?

Future Leaders of the Next Generation of Business People

© Kentoh / fotolia

The European Parliament regularly receives enquiries from citizens on the election of the President of the European Commission and the process known as ‘Spitzenkandidaten‘ or ‘lead candidates’.

Under the Treaty on European Union, EU leaders in the European Council propose the candidate for the President of the European Commission. However, EU leaders need to do so while ‘taking into account’ the results of the European elections and ‘after having held the appropriate consultations’ (Article 17.7 of the Treaty). The European Parliament then elects the Commission President by a majority of its members (376 of 751 votes).

In 2014, European political parties appointed lead candidates for the European Parliament elections (sometimes referred to as Spitzenkandidaten, in German); with the presidency of the Commission going to the candidate from the largest political group in the European Parliament. This process led to the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President.

In 2019, the European Parliament is committed to repeating the lead candidate process, with the presidency of the Commission going to the candidate capable of gathering sufficient parliamentary support. The European Parliament made clear that it stands ready to reject any candidate who was not appointed as a lead candidate. While the Commission and its President have equally expressed strong support for the lead candidate process, the European Council has emphasised that it has the autonomous competence to nominate the candidate, and insisted that ‘there is no automaticity in this process’.

Ahead of the 2019 European elections, seven European political parties have put forward one or several lead candidates for the presidency of the European Commission. You can find out more on who they are on the European Parliament website.

Continue to put your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.

Further information

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/14/what-are-spitzenkandidaten/

Using technology to help those in need

Written by Nera Kuljanic,

As a result of conflict and protracted crises, 200 million people are currently in need of international humanitarian assistance around the world. Providing timely and adequate assistance to everyone who needs it is an increasingly challenging task, due to the growing needs of people and the complex nature of the crises. To make things worse, billions of dollars are still needed to close the funding gap. All of this places the humanitarian system under considerable strain. Can technology help to do more with less?

Technological innovations are perceived as an enabler in preventing such crises and helping to reduce human suffering during crises. A new STOA study analyses the impact of technological innovations in humanitarian assistance as transformative tools for both people in need and humanitarian actors. Although humanitarian innovations go beyond ICT, such as new shelter, sanitation and water solutions, this study is oriented towards ICT-enabled improvements. The technologies are considered to be part of preparedness, response, and recovery, reconstruction and risk reduction activities. The study provides an overview of the current state-of-play and developments with regard to ICT-related innovation in humanitarian assistance, and lists a number of options for policy-makers to further technological innovation in humanitarian assistance.

overview of technologies assessed in the study

overview of technologies assessed in the study

Technological innovation in humanitarian assistance

ICT technologies and digitalisation are not new to the humanitarian domain. Nevertheless, ongoing developments in the field and the ubiquity of technologies such as mobile devices, are fundamentally transforming humanitarian assistance. The availability and use of mobile phones and social media platforms by people affected by humanitarian crises; geospatial technologies and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones) to detect crises; biometric identification to facilitate humanitarian support; a shift to digital payments with e-vouchers and mobile money as relief provisions, are just some examples. Embracing technological innovation is a way forward to better address the needs of those affected by crises and the challenges of providing humanitarian assistance. Interpretations of what this entails however vary among actors. For example, some may focus more on the ‘innovation process’, whereas others focus on ‘technology’ and its ‘adoption’. There is also an ongoing discussion on ethics, technical standards and responsible innovation, as well as ‘information as a right’ in the humanitarian domain. In addition, involving local communities and capabilities is important to foster local ownership and engagement.

Transformative nature of technologies and how to make the most of them

Technological innovation in humanitarian assistance is maturing and growing, and this has led to an increasing awareness of challenges and opportunities in the field. Innovation transforms the way in which humanitarian assistance is organised and executed, it redefines relationships between actors in the field and it affects financial flows. It can facilitate new ways of addressing the humanitarian funding gap. It also enables a shift of focus from response and recovery to prevention and preparedness and offers opportunities for increased local ownership and engagement. However, the use of technological innovation in humanitarian assistance raises serious concerns about inclusiveness and the protection of the most vulnerable due to privacy and cybersecurity issues, and it requires shared technological standards. Additionally, the use of technological innovation requires different ways of working, skills and capabilities of institutional and individual actors.

The study lists and explains a number of policy options to further technological innovation in humanitarian assistance. These are divided in three categories: (1) those related to ‘objectives’ of technological innovation; (2) those that focus more on the technological innovation ‘process’; and (3) those related to ‘implementation’ of technological innovation.

The above points are the main conclusions of the recently published STOA study on technological innovation in humanitarian aid. Requested by Enrique GUERRERO SALOM (S&D, ES) through the Committee on Development (DEVE), the study was carried out by Capgemini Netherlands, under STOA management. A list of sources complements the study, which draws on information and feedback collected during 11 interviews with various experts on the topic.

If you read the study, please get in touch via email to let us know what you think. Your opinion counts for us.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/13/using-technology-to-help-those-in-need/

Outcome of the informal meeting of EU-27 leaders on 9 May 2019 in Sibiu

Written by Ralf Drachenberg with Simon Schroecker,

Sibiu - Romania stamp

© fotolia

Just two weeks before the European elections, EU-27 Heads of State or Government met on 9 May 2019 in the Romanian city of Sibiu, to discuss the Union’s common future. They adopted the Sibiu Declaration, recalling the achievements and values of the European Union. EU leaders reaffirmed their unity, and recognised the role they have to play to make the EU stronger and the future brighter. They also discussed the forthcoming Strategic Agenda for 2019-2024, which will outline policy priorities for the next five years. The European Council President, Donald Tusk, suggested a process for the forthcoming appointments to a set of high-level EU positions, and called a special summit for 28 May.

1. Background to the Sibiu Summit: The Future of Europe debate

The Sibiu Declaration and the preparation of the Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 at the Sibiu Summit constitute the final stage of the Future of Europe debate, launched after the UK referendum on EU membership in June 2016. This process has seen milestones, such as the Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap in 2016 and the Rome Declaration in 2017, and also triggered the Future of Europe debates in the plenary of the European Parliament throughout 2018 and early 2019.

This summit in Sibiu has been on the political agenda since the 2017 State of the Union speech by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. His initial suggestion had been to schedule the meeting for 30 March, conceiving it as the first meeting after the UK’s departure. It would thus be an opportunity for EU leaders ‘to take first decisions by unanimity on the Future of Europe’, and to choose one of the five options outlined in the European Commission’s white paper. However, the Commission and the European Council had a different understanding of the purpose of the Sibiu Summit. For the European Council, the Sibiu Summit was essentially designed to assess the implementation of previously set objectives and to reflect on future EU policy action in the up-coming five years. In its contribution to the Sibiu Summit, the Commission, whilst recalling its white paper and the five scenarios, finally came into line with the European Council’s approach and made 10 policy recommendations for the new strategic agenda. Following the extension of the Article 50 period until 31 October 2019 (at the latest) by the European Council (Article 50) on 15 April 2019, the UK remains a member of the EU although its prime minister did not attend this summit.

2. The Sibiu Summit

The 27 EU leaders adopted the Sibiu Declaration and discussed an outline for the 2019-2024 Strategic Agenda prepared by President Tusk. Following the address by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, the first working session dealt with the EU’s external dimension, with the EU High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini, participating. A second session addressed the EU’s internal dimension.

According to the Leaders’ Agenda, the Heads of State or Government were also due to look at the implementation of the Agenda at the meeting in Sibiu. In the end, EU leaders decided not to carry out such an assessment of past action. Analysis by EPRS shows that the Leaders’ Agenda can be assessed rather favourably, as it has enabled a more structured approach to work and better preparation by all actors concerned. However, it did not fulfil a core objective of enabling deadlocks on the most sensitive issues, such as migration and taxation, to be overcome.

High-level appointments

At the Sibiu Summit, President Tusk informed EU leaders on how he intends to proceed to reach agreement in a ‘swift, smooth and effective way’ on the new EU leadership. He underlined that the rules set in the Treaties were to be followed for the appointments of the President of the European Council (Article 15(5) TEU), the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (18(1) TEU) and the President of the European Central Bank (283(2) TFEU), as well as for the proposal of a candidate for the President of the European Commission (17(7) TEU). President Tusk added that the nominations for the new EU leadership should reflect the EU’s demography and geographical balance, but also gender and political balances. Finally, he stressed that these decisions were to be taken by consensus, if possible, but that he ‘would not shy away from putting [them] to the vote’ if needed. To conclude the process in time for the June European Council, he has called a meeting of all 28 EU leaders on 28 May, just after the European elections.

Situation in Cyprus

At the summit, the President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, informed EU leaders about the Turkish drilling activities within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus. Donald Tusk, speaking on behalf of the EU leaders, underlined that ‘the European Union stands united behind the Republic of Cyprus and expects Turkey to respect sovereign rights of the EU Member State. The European Council will continue to follow these developments closely.’

Views of the European Parliament President: Antonio Tajani stressed that, to be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow, the EU needed institutional reforms that make ‘decision-making processes more democratic and transparent and the EU and its institutions more accountable, as well as enhancing its efficiency and effectiveness’. The Parliament should be granted the right of legislative initiative, and its powers of scrutiny –in particular its right of inquiry – should be strengthened. The Council should be ‘made a genuine legislative chamber, on an equal footing with Parliament, and increased transparency be injected into its decision-making processes’. Moreover, unanimous voting in the Council ‘presents an almost insurmountable obstacle to major decisions at key times’ and ‘must be abandoned as soon as possible’. He also stressed that ‘the European Council has extended its own rights of political initiative in response to recent crises, sometimes encroaching into the legislative field’. Many of these reforms can be achieved by exploiting the Lisbon Treaty to the full, while other reforms would require Treaty changes. He reiterated the EP’s view that ‘the Union must tackle the challenges of its future with greater and better political integration’, and called on ‘Heads of State or Government to pursue this path in a renewed spirit of solidarity and collaboration’.

3. Sibiu Declaration

The Sibiu Declaration, adopted by the 27 EU Heads of State or Government, outlines ten commitments which should help EU leaders to make the EU ‘stronger and [the] future brighter, while recognising the European perspective of other European States’. The commitments are:

  • Defending one Europe – from East to West, from North to South;
  • Staying united, through thick and thin;
  • Always looking for joint solutions;
  • Protecting the European way of life, democracy and the rule of law
  • Bringing the Union closer to its citizens;
  • Reducing disparities [among Europeans];
  • Providing the Union with the means to achieve its objectives;
  • Safeguarding the future for the next generation;
  • Protecting EU citizens;
  • Being a responsible global leader.

The aim of the declaration was not to define specific objectives, but to list principles which summarise the spirit of European cooperation and integration. The Sibiu Declaration repeats pledges already part of the Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap and the Rome Declaration, without being specific on how they want to achieve them and therefore was perceived by some as ‘empty’.

The ten commitments also reflect some core messages expressed by EU Heads of State or Government in the framework of the Future of Europe debates in the European Parliament, notably the added value of being a Member of the EU; the need for EU Member States to face the major challenges together, the need to preserve EU unity, the significance of common European values; and the important role of European citizens and the need to better communicate with them.

4. The forthcoming Strategic Agenda 2019-2024

In accordance with the European Council’s role, as defined in Article 15(1) TEU, which is to ‘provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development’ and to define its ‘general political directions and priorities’, the EU-27 Heads of State or Government intend to adopt the 2019-2024 Strategic Agenda at their next meeting, on 20-21 June 2019. To that end, they had a first informal debate on the direction for future EU action at their Leaders’ Meeting in Sibiu. The new working method of the European Council, as introduced under the Leaders’ Agenda, promotes open and informal debates among EU leaders, stimulated by the use of Leaders’ Notes, with the aim of facilitating consensus on sensitive political issues. The outcome of these informal Leaders’ Meetings is then translated into formal European Council conclusions at a subsequent meeting.

The Leaders’ Agenda note, ‘Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 – outline’, provides a first overview of the topics which could be part of the Strategic Agenda for 2019-2024. It is organised around four policy clusters:

  • Protecting citizens and freedoms;
  • Developing our economic base: the European model for the future;
  • Building a greener, fairer and more inclusive future; and
  • Promoting Europe’s interests and values in the world.

Each policy cluster includes four general policy objectives, which again include two to four more specific policy objectives. But, as underlined by President Tusk, ‘this debate … will also be influenced by the European Parliament elections’. When comparing this outline with recent reflections by the Commission and the Parliament (see Table), one can see that the policy priorities outlined are quite similar, and reflect the concerns of EU citizens as emerging from recent Eurobarometer polls). Although many of these policy areas were already part of the Strategic Agenda 2014-2019 and among the Commission’s ten priorities, one can observe a shift in orientation, reflecting the changing and more unpredictable international environment. Whilst President Tusk stressed that ‘the rule of law will be in the centre of attention of the next strategic agenda’, eight Member States called for the fight against climate change to be the cornerstone of future EU policy. The eight spoke in favour of phasing out GHG emissions by 2050, and advocated that at least 25 % of EU budget spending be earmarked for projects contributing to that objective.

Table: EU institutions’ priorities for the forthcoming Strategic Agenda 2019-202

Table: EU institutions' priorities for the forthcoming Strategic Agenda 2019-2024


Read the complete Briefing: ‘Outcome of the informal meeting of EU-27 leaders on 9 May 2019 in Sibiu‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/13/outcome-of-the-informal-meeting-of-eu-27-leaders-on-9-may-2019-in-sibiu/

The Future of Europe debates in the European Parliament, 2018-19: A synthesis of the speeches by EU Heads of State and Government

Written by Silvia Kotanidis and Ralf Drachenberg,

© European Union, 2019 – EP.

The debates held in the European Parliament on the Future of Europe offered a unique opportunity for Heads of State or Government to present their views on the future direction that the EU-27 should take. This exercise showed, on the one hand, that the question of which policy areas are of compelling importance differs among the speakers, and, on the other hand, that they have converging views on many issues. A premise on which all speakers agreed is the added value of EU membership, due to either the economic or the security benefits deriving from it. All the speakers considered that the challenges of the 21st century cannot be solved by Member States acting individually, regardless of their size or economic prosperity. In this sense, all speakers underlined the need for unity of the EU, referring also to EU values that need to be preserved, while the origin of such values is believed to come from different sources.

The will to recognise the EU’s added value brought some speakers to emphasise the need to strengthen the link between the EU apparatus and European citizens. Some speakers want to see citizens more involved in the EU decision-making process, others want to have them better informed of the EU’s achievements. The debates revealed little desire for Treaty reforms, therefore improvements should be based on the current legal set-up. When it comes to the identification of policy needs, speakers mostly mentioned migration, climate change and security as the three main areas of priority. Here, however, as in other policies too, the extent to which the EU should be involved diverges among speakers. Another contentious point remains whether to abandon the unanimity principle and if so, in which areas. The analysis also showed that sometimes the choice of topics (e.g. unemployment) was due not only to the specific political affiliations of the speaker but also to general international events (e.g. trade dispute with the US) or to the issue being on the agenda at EU level (e.g. Spitzenkandidaten). The debates also offered a platform for Heads of State or Government to put forward their own proposals. Indeed, new – albeit potentially contradictory – ideas came from speakers on policy-related fields as well as on broader institutional matters.

As for the key policy areas covered in this paper, in the field of EMU, divergences persist between risk-reduction approaches (i.e. balanced budgets and a healthy banking system), and positions emphasising the need for solidarity among Member States. Migration proves to be unanimously an area where a common EU strategy is needed, although differences persist on the reform of the common European asylum system (CEAS) and the dichotomy of positions stressing solidarity or flexibility. On the social dimension, the majority of speakers who spoke on the issue supported the European Pillar of Social Rights. While most said that social and welfare policies should be prioritised at EU level, some proposed an EU minimum wage or unemployment insurance. On trade, the majority of speakers addressing the issue highlighted the need to avert protectionism or nationalist approaches while better protecting EU strategic interests and preserving social and environmental standards. Regarding the multiannual financial framework (MFF), those who addressed the size of the EU budget were fairly balanced in wanting to reduce it, enlarge it or in general set it in line with EU needs. Here, again, speakers were divided on whether to maintain spending unchanged on structural and cohesion policies. On security and defence, the speakers showed a high degree of convergence on the need for security and defence, owing to the external threats the EU faces. While the transatlantic link and multilateralism remain significant factors, most leaders also highlighted the importance of permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF). The institutional aspects of security and defence remain contentious however. The leaders’ positions on climate change and energy testified to the supranational nature of these challenges. The reduction of carbon emissions and achievement of a carbon neutral economy by 2050 were debated together with the need to promote renewable energy, diversify supplies and boost energy efficiency. On institutional aspects, speakers prioritised the need for greater citizen involvement. Views on the need for ‘more’ or ‘less’ Europe were mixed.


Read the complete In-depth Analysis on ‘The Future of Europe debates in the European Parliament, 2018-19: A synthesis of the speeches by EU Heads of State and Government‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.


Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/13/the-future-of-europe-debates-in-the-european-parliament-2018-19-a-synthesis-of-the-speeches-by-eu-heads-of-state-and-government/

Assessing the Leaders’ Agenda

Written by Suzana Anghel and Ralf Drachenberg,

Europa Gipfel

© fotolia

The Leaders’ Agenda, adopted by the EU Heads of State or Government on 20 October 2017, was designed both as a contribution to the realisation of the objectives set out in the ‘future of Europe’ debate and as a concrete work programme for the European Council up to June 2019. The main feature of the Leaders’ Agenda is the introduction of new working methods to enable consistent follow-up on the policy objectives outlined in the Bratislava and Rome declarations, previous milestones in the future of Europe debate. It notably increased the number and formats of meetings, and introduced a new approach to the discussions among EU Heads of State or Government.

This method has allowed an open debate among EU leaders on sensitive political issues at informal Leaders’ meetings, with the aim of facilitating consensus, which would be followed up through the adoption of formal European Council conclusions at subsequent meetings. The informal debates were stimulated by the use of Leaders’ notes, which outline the main challenges and sticking-points on a specific topic. In this sense, the Leaders’ Agenda can be seen as the operational follow-up to the Bratislava and Rome declarations. Ahead of the expected discussion on the implementation of the Leaders’ Agenda at the 9 May 2019 Sibiu summit, one can conclude that the Leaders’ Agenda was a rather successful approach, which introduced a more structured framework to the proceedings in the European Council and generally improved decision-making, whilst also sustaining unity among EU leaders when the Union faced the unprecedented challenge of the departure of a Member State. This notwithstanding, it seems that the Leaders’ meetings and Leaders’ notes, the purpose of which was to serve as consensus-building tools, have not been used to their full potential. However, a follow-up to this Leaders’ Agenda would be advisable in the next institutional period, while taking the lessons learned into consideration.

At the core of the Leaders’ Agenda is the objective of preserving unity, which can be considered as the red line running through Donald Tusk’s term in office as European Council President, at least since the United Kingdom (UK) referendum on EU membership. This assessment distinguishes between achieving unity (on a piece of legislation or in a given policy area) and maintaining unity between Member States when the EU faces a major challenge. While the European Council was rather successful in maintaining this unity, in particular with respect to Brexit, it has a more mixed record in achieving unity on certain other topics, such as migration, where Member States have very different positions.

Moreover, the Leader’s Agenda emphasised the importance of taking account of citizens’ views when shaping a common future for Europe. The three policy areas – migration, security and unemployment – indicated by President Tusk as priorities under the Leaders’ Agenda, also reflected the three main concerns of EU citizens, as expressed in Eurobarometer surveys at the time.

Now that the end of the life-span of the Leaders’ Agenda is approaching, one can indeed observe that most of the policy priorities included in the Bratislava and Rome declarations have figured on the agenda of meetings of EU Heads of State or Government and been debated to varying degrees, either as part of the formal European Council, the Leaders’ Agenda meetings or the Euro Summits.

As we approach the 2019 European Parliament elections, EU leaders ought more than ever to be encouraged ‘to draw inspiration from new ideas’ that have arisen from citizens’ dialogues and consultations, in which, under the Leaders’ Agenda, they have voluntarily agreed to participate and to conduct. Whether and to what extent the citizens’ views will be reflected in the output of the Sibiu summit, and the European Council’s subsequent new strategic agenda, remains to be seen.


Read the complete In-depth analysis on ‘Assessing the Leaders’ Agenda‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.


Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/07/assessing-the-leaders-agenda/

The Juncker Commission’s ten priorities: An end-of-term assessment

Written by Etienne Bassot and Wolfgang Hiller,

© European Union, 2019; EP – Michel Christen

As the European Parliament reaches the end of its 2014-2019 mandate and the European Commission approaches the end of its term, it is timely to look back at the commitments made by the Juncker Commission when it took office in 2014 and assess to what extent it has delivered. Since 2014, this biannual publication has regularly assessed, quantitatively and qualitatively, the Juncker Commission’s performance on the basis of its own standards. This final issue in the series covers the past semester and before, reporting on the Juncker Commission’s term as a whole, examining what the EU institutions have been able – or not – to collectively enact.

The 2014 priorities

Prior to his election as President of the European Commission in July 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker set out the policy priorities that would serve as the political mandate for his term in office. The aim was to make a difference and deliver concrete results for citizens, on each of the following 10 priorities:

  1. A new boost for jobs, growth and investment
  2. A connected digital single market
  3. A resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy
  4. A deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base
  5. A deeper and fairer economic and monetary union (EMU)
  6. A reasonable and balanced free trade agreement with the United States
  7. An area of justice and fundamental rights based on mutual trust
  8. Towards a new policy on migration
  9. Europe as a stronger global actor
  10. A union of democratic change.

Changes and challenges every year

Since President Juncker and the college of commissioners took office in November 2014, every year has brought its share of changes and challenges, some unexpected in their extent, others in their nature. To name just a few, 2015 started with a series of terrorist attacks that were to spread during that year and in subsequent ones and lead to a strengthened focus on security. Later that year, the record-high number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the European Union had a significant impact on both policy delivery and political balances at national and European levels. In 2016, the result of the Brexit referendum on the one hand, and the election of a new administration in the United States on the other, compelled the European Union to adapt its priorities, both internally and externally, with major impact in several key areas, from security and defence to trade. While these developments have continued to unfold, they have been joined by additional challenges – such as ensuring energy independence, guaranteeing the respect of the rule of law in each Member State, or strengthening the economic and monetary union –each affecting many, if not all, of the others, and ultimately leading to a reshuffling of the agenda.

As a political player, the European Commission was faced with two imperatives: on the one hand, continue to deliver what it had announced and committed to tabling, and on the other hand, adapt its response and initiatives to an ever-changing environment. It did so through its annual work programmes and the announcements made in the State of the Union addresses. This publication assesses the Commission’s delivery with regards to both initial and subsequent sources of commitments.

To what extent has the European Commission delivered?

Overall, this in‑depth analysis reveals that while two thirds of the proposals tabled by the European Commission were adopted by the end of the legislature, almost one third had not reached agreement and one out of ten had been withdrawn. Progress varies from one policy field to another. With regard to the tabling of proposals, the rate is the highest in areas such as internal market, migration, and the union of democratic change. As for adoption of proposals by the co‑legislators, in some priority areas, such as the digital single market, the internal market, justice and fundamental rights, and Europe as a stronger global actor, almost three quarters of the proposals submitted have been adopted; in others, such as jobs, growth and investment, or trade, progress was much slower (around one third adopted). Overall, however, evidence suggests that, step by step, the European institutions have collectively enacted the ‘Juncker plan’.


Read the complete In-depth analysis on ‘The Juncker Commission’s ten priorities: An end-of-term assessment‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/06/the-juncker-commissions-ten-priorities-an-end-of-term-assessment/

Serbia at risk of authoritarianism?

Written by Martin Russell,

Aerial view of National Assembly in Belgrade, Serbia

© krutenyuk / Fotolia

Among the Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU membership, Serbia is seen as a frontrunner in terms of its democratic institutions, level of economic development and overall readiness for accession. However, in November 2018 opposition politician, Borko Stefanović, was beaten up by thugs, triggering a wave of protests that has spread across the country. Week after week, thousands have taken to the streets, accusing Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of authoritarian rule, attacks on independent media, electoral fraud and corruption.

Although the protests only started recently, they highlight worrying longer-term trends. Press freedom has been in decline for several years, particularly since Vučić became prime minister in 2014. A large part of the media is now controlled either directly by the state or by pro-SNS figures. Independent journalists face threats and even violence, and perpetrators are rarely convicted.

In the National Assembly, the governing coalition uses its parliamentary majority to systematically block meaningful discussions of legislative proposals. In protest, the opposition started a boycott of plenary debates in February 2019.

The tone of verbal attacks by SNS politicians and their allies on independent media, the political opposition and civil society is often virulent. Criticising government policy is framed as betrayal of Serbian interests. The aim seems to be to marginalise critical voices while concentrating power in the hands of the SNS-led government. Elected to the mainly ceremonial role of president in 2017, Vučić nevertheless remains the dominant figure.

If Serbia’s drift towards authoritarianism continues, it could become a major obstacle to EU accession, for which 2025 has been mentioned as a possible date.


Read the complete Briefing: ‘Serbia at risk of authoritarianism?‘ on the Think Tank website of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/05/06/serbia-at-risk-of-authoritarianism/