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Disinformation, ‘fake news’ and the EU’s response

Written by Naja Bentzen,

Fake news word tag cloud. 3D rendering, blue variant.

© ommbeu / Fotolia

The impact of the online spread of mis- and disinformation – including false news posing as factual stories – became increasingly visible in the context of the crisis in Ukraine, and gained notoriety as a global phenomenon during the 2016 presidential election campaign in the United States. Ahead of the European elections in 2019, the EU’s answers to these challenges are still only tentative.

A global phenomenon with political impact

The phenomenon of false, misleading news stories is at least as old as the printing press. However, it gained momentum and global visibility during the final months of the 2016 US presidential election, when viral ‘fake news’ (or ‘junk news‘, as some researchers prefer to call it) across the political spectrum received more engagement on Facebook than real news. The Australian Macquarie Dictionary (AMD) chose ‘fake news’ as its word of the year for 2016, defining it as ‘disinformation and hoaxes published on websites for political purposes or to drive web traffic, the incorrect information being passed along by social media’. Explaining the choice, the AMD argued that the term ‘captures an interesting evolution in the creation of deceptive content as a way of herding people in a specific direction’. Social media and their personalisation tools have accelerated the spread of ‘fake news’. A growing number of EU citizens (46 % on average in 2016) follow news on social media; six out of ten news items shared are passed on without being read first; and US research has shown that most young, digital-savvy school and college students have difficulties in identifying ‘fake news’.

Disinformation as an information warfare tool

False news headlines seem tailored to trick users into sharing the stories, making them spread fast and far amongst like-minded users. Sometimes the aim is simply to generate traffic (‘clickbait‘). However, when designed to deceive users for political purposes, the digital gossip falls under ‘disinformation‘; dissemination of deliberately false information which is part of a strategic tool kit that non-state and state actors can use to undermine adversaries. The Kremlin continues to use information operations in its ongoing hybrid war against Ukraine, and is applying it in its ‘holistic‘ information warfare against the EU and the West. A declassified US intelligence assessment published in January 2017 said that the Kremlin used professional ‘trolls’ (internet warriors) and Russian state broadcaster RT ‘as part of its influence efforts’. Whereas tech giants Facebook and Twitter had previously played down the extent of content purchased by Russian actors during the 2016 US presidential election campaign, they told US lawmakers on 1 November 2017 that pro-Kremlin actors bought and published divisive ads aimed at influencing both liberals and conservatives during the campaign. Facebook said that Russia-backed posts reached up to 126 million Americans on their platform during and after the 2016 presidential election, whereas Twitter disclosed that it had found 2 752 accounts linked to Russian actors. Meanwhile, reports on Russian state institutions’ investments in Facebook and Twitter have further increased focus on these firms’ role in Western societal and political developments.

The Kremlin acknowledges its information warfare capabilities and intentions

Pro-Kremlin information campaigns boost Moscow’s narrative of a West in decline, including a ‘weak and morally decayed EU’ about to collapse. So far, the Kremlin has denied all allegations of interference in the US election. However, on 22 February 2017, Russian Defence Minister, Sergey Shoigu, announced that ‘information operations forces have been established that are expected to be a far more effective tool than all we used before’, arguing that Moscow’s ‘propaganda needs to be clever, smart and efficient’. Security analysts say that Shoigu’s announcement indicates that Moscow can no longer deny propaganda activities. At the same time, Russia’s foreign ministry itself began to publish ‘materials that contain false information about Russia’ on its website. There is also concern that the 2019 European elections could be targeted.

This is an updated version of an ‘at a glance’ note published in April 2017: PE 599.384.

International media watchdogs warn against threats to media

Information freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders warned in January 2017 that incoming US President Donald Trump’s remarks about mainstream media news outlets that he appears to dislike as ‘fake news‘, ‘dishonest’, an ‘enemy of the people‘ and ‘the opposition‘, could set a ‘dangerous example for the world’s press freedom predators’, who see the notion of ‘fake news’ as justification to criminalise critical media. The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, and other international monitors issued a joint declaration on ‘fake news’, disinformation and propaganda. They expressed alarm at ‘instances in which public authorities denigrate, intimidate and threaten the media, including by stating that the media is “the opposition” or is “lying”‘, thus undermining public trust and confidence in journalism as a public watchdog, risking misleading the public by ‘blurring the lines between disinformation and media products containing independently verifiable facts’.

Growing concern raises European pressure on social media companies

In the EU, reflecting the increased concern over ‘fake news’, the European Parliament’s then-President, Martin Schulz, called for a European solution to the problem in December 2016. Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President in charge of the digital single market, urged Facebook and other social media firms to boost their efforts to counter ‘fake news’ in January 2017, adding that self-regulatory measures in the sector could be complemented by ‘some kind of clarification’ from the EU. In August 2017, Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner in charge of the digital economy and society, announced plans to launch a public consultation and set up a high-level expert group to advise on fake news, adding that it was ‘premature’ to talk about legislation. However, Gabriel said that online platforms ‘have a duty of care’, meaning that tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter would need to take action to monitor content posted by their users.

In June 2017, the German Parliament passed the Act to Improve Enforcement of the Law in Social Networks. It enables authorities to issue fines of up to €50 million on social media companies who fail to remove hate speech, incitements to violence and defamation within 24 hours. Although social media platforms have resisted being labelled as publishers, both Facebook and Google have launched fact-checking features, and on 26 October 2017, Twitter banned ads from Russian state media companies RT and Sputnik, citing their attempts to interfere with the US election ‘on behalf of the Russian government’. At the same time, independent fact-checking websites are mushrooming in Europe, not least in the context of national elections. Such initiatives include the pan-European fact-checking coalition CrossCheck, as well as national initiatives.

Continued calls to boost EU ‘myth-busting’ team

The European Council asked the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, to submit an action plan on strategic communication to address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns in 2015. As a result, the East StratCom task force was set up in September 2015 under the European External Action Service (EEAS). Since then, the team (now comprising 14 people) works without its own budget, drawing on the existing EU strategic communication budget and seconded staff. It relies on a network of volunteers to collect the disinformation stories (more than 3 300 examples in 18 languages since 2015), which, among other tasks, it debunks in its weekly newsletters.

The European Parliament (EP), in its 23 November 2016 resolution on EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda, warned against Russian anti-EU propaganda, and called for reinforcement of the East StratCom task force, including through ‘proper staffing and adequate budgetary resources’. In a March 2017open letter, a number of prominent European security experts, historians and lawmakers (including EP Members) criticised Mogherini’s allegedly ‘irresponsibly weak’ stance on Russia’s ‘brutally aggressive disinformation campaign’ (boosted by over €1 billion in state funds). The signatories called for a budget in single million euros for the East Stratcom task force.

The EP’s proposed amendments to the draft EU budget for 2018 include the pilot project ‘StratCom Plus’, aiming to increase capacity for fact-checking disinformation within and outside the EU. On 25 October, the Council announced that it cannot accept all the EP amendments; a compromise is expected by 20 November 2017.

In the June 2017 resolution on online platforms and the digital single market (2016/2276(INI)), MEPs stressed the ‘importance of taking action against the dissemination of fake news; calls on the online platforms to provide users with tools to denounce fake news’, while at the same time highlighting the fundamental role of free exchange of opinions, as well as the value of the free press as regards to providing citizens with reliable information. MEPs also called on the Commission to analyse the current situation and legal framework with regard to fake news, and to verify the possibility of legislative intervention to limit the dissemination and spreading of fake content.

Read this At a glance on ‘Disinformation, ‘fake news’ and the EU’s response‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/11/08/disinformation-fake-news-and-the-eus-response/

Financing clean energy: High-level conference in the European Parliament today

Written by Gregor Erbach,

High Level conference on Clean Energy Financing

High Level conference on Clean Energy Financing

Leading figures from politics, finance and business get together in the European Parliament hemicycle on Tuesday 7 November to discuss the financing of clean energy in Europe. The programme focuses on shifting to clean and efficient energy at local level, cross-border electricity interconnections and investment in renewable energies. Massive public and private investment in clean energy will enable Europe to meet its ambitious climate targets while boosting growth and the creation of jobs.

The EU is in the process of defining the regulatory framework to achieve its climate and energy targets for 2030 and beyond, and make its contribution to international climate action under the Paris Agreement on climate change. According to the European Commission, the transition to clean energy in the EU will require €177 billion in additional investment per year from 2021 onwards. EU funding plays an important role – 20% of the EU budget is dedicated to climate action and clean energy. However, the largest part of the investment will come from the private sector. EU legislation aims to create the right conditions to encourage such massive investments, including well-designed markets for carbon and energy, a stable regulatory framework, and measures to support innovation and reduce risk for investors.

More about the conference with a link to live webstreaming

Speakers at the event include the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, three members and a vice-president of the European Commission, nine MEPs (committee chairs and rapporteurs), ministers and state secretaries, mayors, and high-level executives of energy companies and financial institutions.

With the right finance for clean energy, Europe can achieve its climate targets, deliver growth and employment and lead the global transition towards a low-carbon economy, an issue that is at the core of the COP 23 climate change conference which started this week in Bonn, Germany.

For further information about climate and energy policies, please consult our topical digests:

High-level conference on clean energy financing

Implementing the Paris Agreement – EU and global climate action

‘Clean energy for all Europeans’ – legislative package


Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/11/07/financing-clean-energy-high-level-conference-in-the-european-parliament-today/

COP 23 climate change conference in Bonn

Written by Gregor Erbach,

Today, the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins in Bonn, Germany. The presidency is held by Fiji, a Pacific island state with high vulnerability to climate change impacts.

Developing the rulebook for the Paris Agreement

COP 23 climate change conference in BonnCOP 23 will be focused on the implementation of the Paris Agreement that was concluded in December 2015 and entered into force in November 2016. The conference will develop guidelines on how the provisions of the Paris Agreement will be implemented across a wide range of issues, including transparency, adaptation, emission reductions, provision of finance, capacity-building and technology. It will also prepare the facilitative dialogue which will be held in 2018, with the aim of assessing the nationally determined contributions (national action plans) and raising their ambition in order to meet the targets of the agreement, namely keeping the temperature rise well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

COP 23 is the first UN climate conference since the announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. However, a US delegation will participate, as the withdrawal cannot take effect before November 2020 and the USA continues to be a party to the Framework Convention. The other major parties, including the EU, have reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

European Parliament engagement

In line with the Parliament’s commitment to the international climate process, a delegation of 12 MEPs, headed by Adina-Ioana Vălean (EPP, Romania), the Chair of the Environment Committee, will be attending the COP 23. On 4 October 2017, Parliament adopted a resolution calling for greater and speedier efforts to advance the EU’s climate goals and policy instruments. It asks the Commission to start preparing a mid-century zero emissions strategy for the EU before the 2018 COP.

See our Topical Digest on the topic

Implementing the Paris Agreement in Europe

The EU is in the process of adopting policies and legislation aimed at implementing the Paris Agreement. The European Commission has tabled a comprehensive set of energy and climate policy proposals for 2030, aiming at a 40 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 27 % share of renewable energy sources, and a 30 % improvement in energy efficiency. Key legislative proposals include a reform of the EU emissions trading system (ETS), the effort sharing regulation for emission cuts in the sectors not covered by the ETS, and a regulation integrating the land use and forestry sector into EU climate policies. The ‘clean energy for all Europeans’ package issued on 30 November 2016 includes proposals related to electricity markets and customers, renewable energy, energy efficiency, buildings and governance of the Energy Union. These proposals are currently being considered and amended by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

Financing the transition to a low-carbon economy

In the current Multiannual Financial Framework (2014-2020), the EU aims to spend at least 20 % (approximately €180 billion) of its budget on climate action objectives. Climate goals and actions have therefore been integrated into all major EU policies and programmes.

In 2016, the EU and its Member States provided €20.6 billion of support developing countries in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and coping with the impacts of climate change. The European Parliament has called for EU and international commitments to deliver additional financing sources and bring lending and investment practices in line with the low-carbon transition.

Besides EU funding, private sector investments will be crucial, as the transition to clean energy in the EU will require €177 billion of additional investment per year from 2021 onwards, according to the European Commission. To advance the debate on how to mobilise the required investments, the European Parliament will be hosting a high-level conference on financing the transition to clean energy on 7 November in Brussels.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/11/06/cop-23-climate-change-conference-in-bonn/

Is it rational to be optimistic about artificial intelligence?

Written by Philip Boucher and Carys Lawrie,

The STOA workshop ‘Should we fear the future? Is it rational to be optimistic about artificial intelligence?’ gathered speakers from the fields of sociology, policy, computer science and philosophy to contribute their perspectives on the future of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Should we fear the future ?In her welcome address Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), MEP and STOA Chair, emphasised that the EU should take a leading role in thinking about new technology and its positive and negative implications. Maria Teresa Gimenez Barbat (ALDE, Spain), MEP and chair of the event, used her introduction to stress the link between science, technology and social realities, and the importance of ensuring that politicians have scientific information available to them. She then introduced Steven Pinker (Harvard University) for a keynote lecture in which the experimental psychologist claimed, via several longitudinal measurements of human wellbeing, that humanity is making progress and that we have every reason to be optimistic about the future in general. This provided the context for the subsequent panel debate in which the discussion revolved around AI and, more specifically, whether it was considered rational to be optimistic about the future impact of AI on our lives.

The panellists provided a wide range of views speaking from four different disciplinary backgrounds. Peter J. Bentley (University College London), a computer scientist, argued that AI is good at specific tasks, but does not, and will never, have the general intelligence required to pose significant threats to humanity. Miles Brundage (University of Oxford), a policy researcher, highlighted that AI could have significant and varied impacts on our lives, and argued that we should think carefully about how we can shape its development to maximise the benefits while limiting potential problems. Olle Häggström (Chalmers University), a statistician, argued that the chances of significant negative impacts may be small and little understood, but their gravity demands that we take them seriously, adding that, in venturing into unchartered territory, we may be making fundamental mistakes. The fourth panellist, philosopher Thomas Metzinger (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz), reframed the debate from the dichotomy of pessimism versus optimism towards rational risk management. Presenting several options highlighted in a policy paper, he argued for international cooperation and a global code of ethics, so that AI development can be fostered in a responsible way and to ensure that controversial research such as on the development of artificial consciousness is not pushed out to countries with fewer ethical concerns.

While nobody can predict how AI will develop in the future, it seems that we will encounter many challenges and opportunities, some more serious than others. If there were a single rational position on the future of AI, it would certainly be more nuanced than unbridled optimism or crippling fear. Until we know more about the impacts of AI and the capabilities of humanity to respond to them, it will remain important to create spaces where we can observe, reflect and debate the issues and, where necessary, prepare appropriate responses.

Since AI is attracting increasing attention amongst MEPs and citizens alike, STOA is currently planning further initiatives on this fascinating subject, so watch this space! Until then, you can access the presentations and watch the webstream of last week’s workshop via the event page.

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/10/30/is-it-rational-to-be-optimistic-about-artificial-intelligence/

Area of freedom, security and justice: Untapped potential

Written by Wouter Van Ballegooij,

Statue of Lady Justice

© shutterstock / Erhan Dayi

Since the entry into force of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, 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 the prevention and combating of crime. Since then, the Union has adopted its own Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the European Parliament has been fully engaged in shaping the AFSJ as a co-legislator. Two decades later, however, the Union and its Member States still face major challenges in delivering this objective. Problems have been identified in upholding democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, ensuring a high level of security (notably in the fight against corruption, organised crime and terrorism), protecting external borders, guaranteeing the right to asylum and developing a common migration policy. Surveys show that citizens expect the EU and its Member States to deliver in these areas, notably in the area of migration and the fight against terrorism and fraud.

In October 2016, the Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee requested the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) to produce a ‘Cost of Non-Europe Report‘ on the AFSJ. This paper contains an overview of the existing gaps and barriers in the main policy areas covered by the AFSJ, and assesses their economic impacts as well as impacts at individual level on fundamental rights and freedoms. It also assesses options for action at EU level that could address those gaps and barriers, together with an estimation of their potential cost and benefits.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Area of freedom, security and justice:Untapped potential‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/10/30/area-of-freedom-security-and-justice-untapped-potential/

Wintertime: changing of the clocks, but why?

Zeitumstellung Winterzeit Zahlen Symbole Schwarz

© Jan Engel / Fotolia

Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament with comments on the changing of the clocks. Some citizens are in favour of the summertime/wintertime arrangement; others call on the Parliament to abolish it. On Sunday, 29 October 2017 the clocks go back one hour – but why?

Twice a year the clocks in all EU Member States are switched – back by one hour from summer to wintertime (on the last Sunday in October) and forward one hour from winter to summertime (on the last Sunday in March).

This is an updated version of the EP Answer: ‘Summertime: changing of the clocks, but why?‘, published on 24 March 2017.

EU legislation and its implications

The current reference text in EU legislation with regard to summer-time arrangements for all Member States is Directive 2000/84/EC. The main idea is to provide stable, long-term planning which is important for the proper functioning of certain economic sectors.

Harmonising time

The standard time is wintertime and during the summer the time is put forward 60 minutes. Decision-making regarding standard time falls within the competence of Member States. Most Member States introduced summer time in the 1970s, although some began to apply it much earlier, for varying lengths of time. Since the 1980s the EU (the European Parliament and the Council), has adopted several directives harmonising the varying summertime arrangements step by step, to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market. The main idea is to provide stable, long-term planning which is important for the proper functioning of certain economic sectors, especially transport.

In 2007, the European Commission published a report on the impact of this directive, concluding that: ‘apart from the fact that it provides greater opportunities for a wide range of evening leisure activities and produces some energy savings, summer time has little impact and the current arrangements are not a subject at the forefront of people’s minds in the EU Member States. […] No Member State has expressed a wish to abandon summer time or change the provisions of the current directive. On the contrary, it is important to maintain the harmonised timetable to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market, which is the main objective of the directive’.

In 2014, the Commission launched a further study on the harmonisation of summertime in Europe. The study, entitled ‘The application of summertime in Europe‘, concludes that if summertime was not harmonised in the Union, it would entail substantial inconvenience and disturbance for citizens and businesses alike.

European Parliament action

The latest European Parliament plenary debate on summer/winter-time arrangements took place on 27 October 2016. Members of the European Parliament have also submitted various parliamentary questions asking whether the Commission is planning to revise or repeal Directive 2000/84/EC.

Furthermore, three parliamentary committees held a joint public hearing entitled ‘Time to Revisit Summer Time?‘, on 24 March 2015. Since the hearing, new parliamentary questions have been submitted, pointing to experts’ findings that the current summertime arrangements have more negative than positive effects.

In its answer of 8 February 2017, the Commission makes clear that, independently from the specific time zone a Member State has decided to apply on its territory, every Member State has to apply the summertime arrangements and move the clocks one hour ahead on the last Sunday of March and move the clocks back to wintertime on the last Sunday of October.

The European Parliamentary Research Service has produced a study on the summer-time arrangements, which points out that summer time benefits the internal market (notably the transport sector) and outdoor leisure activities, yet health research associates the arrangements with some disruption to the human biorhythm.


For years, the summertime arrangements have also been subject of petitions that citizens have submitted to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, for example Petition 1477/2012. Information on petitions and procedures for submitting a petition to the European Parliament are available on the Parliament’s petitions website.

European Commission to bring forward an analysis

The European Commission announced, in its reply of 23 January 2017 to a parliamentary question, that it is looking into the issue of summer and wintertime and will bring forward an analysis of the impact of the current arrangements in the Member States, based on available evidence.

Do you have any questions on this issue or another EP-related concern? Please use our web form. You write, we answer.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/10/26/wintertime-changing-of-the-clocks-but-why/

The EU’s beekeeping sector

Written by Rachele Rossi,

Apiary - woman beekeeper with bees

© Jaroslav Moravcik / Fotolia

Every year, the EU’s 600 000 beekeepers and their 16 million beehives produce 200 000 tonnes of honey. This is not however sufficient to cover demand on the EU market, and the shortfall is made up by imports, above all from China. Threats to bee health and market competition make the economic viability of apiculture a critical matter. EU policies aim therefore to address these issues and promote beekeeping, an activity that is of vital importance to the environment.

EU beekeeping in numbers

Beekeepers and hives in the EU

The EU numbers approximately 600 000 beekeepers and 16 million hives according to 2016 data reported by the Member States. Only 4 % of EU beekeepers have over 150 hives, commonly considered the minimum for professional producers. However, this figure gives only an average indication of the number of hives that could provide a viable revenue, as the boundary between professionals and amateurs can vary across countries depending for example on differing profitability or income levels. Beekeepers are present in all EU countries, with big differences in terms of numbers and size (see Table 1). Germany accounts for about one in every six EU beekeepers, while there are only a few hundred in Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta. In Italy, beekeepers with more than 150 hives manage 60 % of all bee colonies. While 72 % of EU apiculturists are members of a beekeepers’ association, differences across the EU show fewer affiliates in France, Italy, Poland and Spain. National figures show a drop in the number of beekeepers but an overall stable number of beehives over recent years. EU farm statistics confirm this trend as regards farms with beehives.

EU honey production and trade

Honey is the best-known product of beekeeping, although other apiculture products (royal jelly, propolis, pollen and beeswax) and services (e.g. renting out bees for pollination) can represent a source of income for beekeepers. EU beekeepers produce an average of 200 000 tonnes of honey a year, which makes the EU the second world producer after China, with respectively 12 % and 28 % of world production. However, the EU is not self-sufficient and China is the main source of EU honey imports. EU beekeepers have relatively high production costs compared with world competitors, and the limited EU exports of honey are priced higher than imports to the EU.

Main challenges facing beekeepers

Profitability is crucial for the sustainability of the apiculture sector. Like other agricultural producers, beekeepers must cope with production and market challenges. When it comes to production, various factors can affect productivity in a beekeeping enterprise. Outbreaks of animal diseases, exposure to chemicals, losses in plant diversity, adverse climatic conditions or the deterioration of bees’ natural habitats owing to natural or human factors can all threaten the productive capacity of beehives. These factors can also be among the causes of the bee health problems and high bee mortality rates registered in recent decades. Not only do bee colony losses affect the economic viability of apiculture, but threats to bee health are a source of much wider concern, well beyond beekeepers, given bees’ role in the natural pollination of cultivated crops and wild plants and therefore in the preservation of the environment and the production of food.

As for the market, world competitors with lower production costs and cheaper prices represent a threat to EU producers’ market share. Furthermore, a ‘control plan‘ organised recently by the European Commission has highlighted illicit practices (e.g. adulteration of honey with sugar) carried out both in and outside the EU. Non-compliance with EU rules on production standards, labelling, etc. affects beekeeper income and has triggered a call from producers for broader checks to secure fair competition on the EU market.

EU policies addressing apiculture issues

Agricultural market

Agricultural policy measures always impact on beekeeping, whether directly or indirectly. Indirectly, they can help to improve the impact of farming practices on the environment (and thus on bees), for example by promoting the maintenance of permanent grassland or the adoption of environmentally friendly techniques. As for direct measures, apiculture products are part of the EU’s agricultural markets and, in this context, EU funds are available to support bee health, hive management, technical assistance, analysis and research, market monitoring and product quality. To benefit from these funds, which cover up to 50 % of total expenses, EU Member States draw up three-year national apiculture programmes in cooperation with beekeeping organisations (Article 55 of Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013). Every Member State has a programme in place, for an overall 2017‑2019 budget of €216 million (half from the EU budget) allocated according to the number of beehives in each country. Previous programmes used over 90 % of available EU funds. In defining measures to promote beekeeping, the European Commission can consult stakeholders in the civil dialogue group on animal products, whose strategic agenda seeks to promote beekeeping needs in EU agricultural policy making.

Promotion and quality

Beekeeping products can also benefit from promotion measures co-financed by the EU with a budget of over €100 million a year (Regulation (EU) No 1144/2014). Honey is included in several multi-product promotion campaigns in and outside the EU, while a Slovenian campaign is aimed at increasing public and beekeeper awareness of EU quality schemes. In this respect, more than 30 types of honey produced across the EU have received EU quality labels denoting protected designation of origin (PDO) or protected geographical indication (PGI), which can help to increase their economic potential.

Plant health, food security, research and innovation

EU policies covering areas other than agriculture can also help to address apiculture-related issues. On the plant protection side, for instance, decisions as to whether or not to authorise the use of a particular substance can have a significant impact on apiculture, as research has provided scientific evidence of the effects of certain pesticides on bees. On the food security side, the recently adopted Regulation (EU) 2017/625 on checks and penalties related to marketing rules in the EU food industry could benefit apiculture given the differences in production practices across the world and the high quantity of imported honey in the EU. This legislation contains measures that could help to fight honey adulteration fraud by producers both in and outside the EU. Various EU-funded research projects have studied bee health, honeybee colony losses, beehive management, etc. A recent €9 million project financed by the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 is investigating hazard identification for bees, focusing on exposure to chemicals, the presence of pathogens, and bee nutrition. The European Food Safety Authority is, meanwhile, setting up an EU Bee Partnership (expected to be up and running in 2018), a platform for sharing data on bee health.

European Parliament

In its role as co-legislator, Parliament has adopted a number of measures promoting EU beekeeping. The 2013 reform of the CAP addressed concerns expressed in a number of Parliament resolutions on bee health and the situation of beekeeping (20 November 2008, 25 November 2010, 15 November 2011), while an own-initiative report (2017/2115(INI)) tabled by the rapporteur Norbert Erdös (EPP, Hungary) on prospects and challenges for EU beekeeping is currently under deliberation. Alongside its legislative contribution, Parliament recently hosted a hearing on the apiculture sector, while the sixth annual edition of Beeweek took place earlier this year. Stakeholders used these opportunities to share their views on the challenges facing beekeeping and the need to support its vital role for the environment, agriculture and rural areas, and have put forward a position paper on the future of EU agricultural policy, calling for concrete action to promote bee-friendly farming.

Read this At a glance on ‘The EU’s beekeeping sector‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Number of beekeepers in selected EU countries

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/10/24/the-eus-beekeeping-sector/

EU-Australia free trade agreement – Moving towards the launch of talks [International Agreements in Progress]

Written by Krisztina Binder,

Graphics: Giulio Sabbati and Samy Chahri,

Australia flag combined with european union flag

© Argus / Fotolia

The prospective EU-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) will complement the economic dimension of the current longstanding and evolving relationship with a new element. In addition to opening up new bilateral commercial opportunities, the FTA would also both facilitate the creation of new ties with global production and commercial networks and help to advance the trade policy interests of the EU in the Asia-Pacific region.

The economic cooperation already in place includes a number of bilateral agreements that provide a good basis for the future negotiations. However, given that Australia is a major agricultural and agri-food exporter globally, it is expected that, in the course of the negotiations, certain sensitive issues may be raised. The EU is committed to taking European agricultural sensitivities fully into consideration in its negotiating strategy, seeking to protect vulnerable sectors through specific provisions.

On 13 September 2017, the European Commission presented the draft negotiating directives for the FTA with Australia. This draft mandate, in line with the EU Court of Justice’s recent opinion on the EU-Singapore FTA, covers only those areas falling under the EU’s exclusive competence. Therefore, the prospective agreement could be concluded by the EU on its own and could be ratified at EU level only. The Commission aims to finalise the negotiations before the end of its mandate in late 2019.


International Agreements in Progress

Read the complete briefing on ‘EU-Australia free trade agreement – Moving towards the launch of talks‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/10/24/eu-australia-free-trade-agreement-moving-towards-the-launch-of-talks-international-agreements-in-progress/

EU-New Zealand free trade agreement – All set for the launch of negotiations [International Agreements in Progress]

Written by Krisztina Binder,

Graphics: Giulio Sabbati and Samy Chahri,

New zealand flag with european union flag, 3D rendering

© Argus / Fotolia

New Zealand already enjoys a number of bilateral trade cooperation agreements with the EU. These agreements pave the way for negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and New Zealand. However, both sides are expected to raise several sensitive issues during negotiations, not least because New Zealand is a major and competitive producer and exporter of agricultural goods. The EU is committed to taking European agricultural sensitivities fully into consideration in its negotiating strategy, seeking to protect vulnerable sectors through specific provisions.

In addition to facilitating trade and investment flows between the parties, the FTA would create a level playing field for the EU with other trading partners that have already concluded FTAs with New Zealand. The FTA would also strengthen the EU’s position in Asia-Pacific value chains, and help to advance the trade policy interests of the EU in the region.

On 13 September 2017, the European Commission presented draft negotiating directives for an FTA with New Zealand. This draft mandate, in line with the EU Court of Justice’s recent opinion on the EU-Singapore FTA, covers only areas falling under the EU’s exclusive competence. Therefore, the prospective agreement could be concluded by the EU on its own and could be ratified at EU level only. The Commission aims to finalise negotiations before the end of its mandate in late 2019.

International Agreements in Progress

Read the complete briefing on ‘EU-New Zealand free trade agreement – All set for the launch of negotiations‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/10/24/eu-new-zealand-free-trade-agreement-all-set-for-the-launch-of-negotiations-international-agreements-in-progress/

US decertification of the Iran nuclear deal

Written by Elena Lazarou,

On 13 October, US President Donald Trump announced his decision not to certify Iran’s compliance with the international nuclear agreement of 2015. This will likely result in a vote on the deal in Congress. The EU and the rest of the international community intend to keep to the agreement.

President Trump’s announcement

During his electoral campaign, Donald Trump had stated that he would pursue a much tougher stance on Iran compared with his predecessor. On 13 October, he laid out his strategy and stated that he would not certify Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Legal basis

Iran after the nuclear deal: Implications for the region and the EU

© Guillaume Le Bloas / Fotolia

Under the US Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), the US president must certify Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days to avoid triggering provisions enabling Congress to commence procedures for re-imposing sanctions. While the JCPOA itself does not stipulate or require certification, the act was put in place in May 2015 to give Congress oversight of the agreement, largely on account of the scepticism of a number of its members. INARA requires the president to publicly certify every 90 days that Iran is in technical compliance with the deal and, more broadly, that ‘suspension of sanctions [is] appropriate and proportionate to the specific and verifiable measures taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear programme’.

More specifically, the president must certify to Congress the following five elements:

  • Iran is ‘transparently, verifiably, and fully’ implementing its nuclear obligations;
  • there is no Iranian ‘material breach’ of the nuclear agreement;
  • Iran has not acted, covertly or not, to ‘significantly advance’ its nuclear programme;
  • US sanctions relief is ‘appropriate and proportionate’ to Iran’s nuclear obligations; and
  • the agreement is ‘vital’ to US national security interests.

The latest deadline for certification was 15 October. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran remains technically compliant. The IAEA has verified Iran’s compliance eight times, most recently on 31 August 2017. Since the implementation of the JCPOA, the USA has imposed additional sanctions on Iran relating to non-nuclear issues, such as terrorism, the ballistic missile programme, and human rights violations.

What happens next?

As decertification does not automatically re-impose sanctions, it does not violate the JCPOA, or signify immediate US withdrawal. Rather, it shifts responsibility as to whether to withdraw onto Congress. Congress will now have a 60-day window in which to decide whether to re-impose the sanctions on Iran that were suspended by the 2015 deal. The decision will be taken through an expedited process, which requires a simple majority in both Houses. A decision to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions would violate the deal, and lead to a US withdrawal from the agreement. However, Congress may opt for more moderate measures, such as holding hearings, passing more symbolic sanctions than the pre-2016 ones, or even not imposing any sanctions at all. The de-certification comes at a time when Senators Corker and Cotton are working on legislation to amend INARA, so that sanctions would be automatically re-imposed if Iran came within a year of obtaining a nuclear weapon. The proposed legislation would change the certification requirement to every six months.


The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in July 2015 between Iran and the E3/EU+3 – France, Germany, the UK, the EU, China, Russia and the USA. It aims to normalise Iran’s relationship with the rest of the international community and was endorsed by the UN Security Council on 20 July 2015. The main objective of the JCPOA is to ensure the purely peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. In exchange, the other parties agreed to gradually lift restrictive measures on Iran. Iran and the E3/EU+3 envisaged that the implementation of the JCPOA would allow Iran to move forward with ‘an exclusively peaceful, indigenous nuclear programme’ and the rest of the international community to progressively ‘gain confidence’ in Iran’s intentions. In addition, Iran agreed that it would not seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons. The deal provides for extensive monitoring by the IAEA and an inquiry into evidence of past work on nuclear warhead design. Full implementation of the JCPOA is expected to generate a more positive climate for cooperation with Iran in the long term.



Reactions to President Trump’s decision were immediate and predominantly critical. All parties to the agreement have asked the US not to withdraw from it. In a joint statement, the British, French and German leaders noted that the JCPOA had been ‘unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2231’ and that the IAEA had ‘repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA through its long-term verification and monitoring programme’. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission (HR/VP), Federica Mogherini, emphasised that no one country could terminate the deal, which is quintessentially multilateral and which ‘the international community, and the EU with it, has clearly indicated is, and will, continue to be in place’. On 16 October, the EU Foreign Affairs Council unanimously endorsed a statement that considers President Trump’s decision not to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA as being made ‘in the context of an internal US process’. The statement encouraged the USA ‘to maintain its commitment to the JCPOA and to consider the implications for the security of the United States, its partners and the region before taking further steps’. The HR/VP has announced that she will be travelling to Washington DC to address the issue with the US administration and Congress.

Russia has warned the US of the dangerous implications of a potential US withdrawal from the agreement and reaffirmed its own commitment to the pact. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stated that Iran will continue to honour its commitment to the deal as long as it serves its interests. China has also called on the USA to preserve the JCPOA, not least since Iran holds a pivotal position in its ‘belt and road’ initiative.


The majority of experts agree that the Iran deal should be maintained, a position that is also held by Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. A US withdrawal from the deal would raise questions for Iran as to whether it is still bound by the deal and destabilise the ongoing process of normalising relations, potentially even leading to Iran leaving the NPT and thereby disregarding any legal constraint against building nuclear weapons. In addition, it would create tensions between the USA and the other parties to the agreement, including key EU and NATO allies. The American think tank Brookings has assessed the decision to de-certify as risky for the President’s credibility and for American global leadership. Various analyses point to the potential increase of Russian and Chinese influence should the USA decide to withdraw from the agreement. Last but not least, the dismantling of the JCPOA would have dire repercussions for the Iranian economy and would likely weaken support for President Rouhani’s reform efforts. For all the above reasons, the majority of analyses predict that Congress will not be reinstating sanctions on Iran.

Read this At a glance on ‘US decertification of the Iran nuclear deal‘ in PDF.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/10/20/us-decertification-of-the-iran-nuclear-deal/