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How the Budget is spent: Youth Employment Initiative

Written by Ana Claudia Alfieri,

trainers with young apprentices

© industrieblick / Fotolia

In the wake of the economic and financial crisis, young people became one of the age groups most at risk of social exclusion. The unemployment rate among young people aged 15-24 years was 24.0 % in the EU in February 2013, with peaks of 60.0 % in Greece, 56.2 % in Spain, 49.8 % in Croatia, 44.1 % in Italy and 40.7 % in Portugal.

The Union addressed this situation by means of the Youth Guarantee (YG), a political commitment to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 years receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.

The Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), with an initial financial envelope of €3.2 billion for 2014-2015, is the main EU funding programme of this political commitment. Its objective is the fight against youth unemployment in the worst-affected EU regions by supporting young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) in regions with a youth unemployment rate above 25 %.

The YEI has been in place for three years, during which the average rate of youth unemployment in the EU fell to 16.9 % and the NEET rate from 13.2 % in 2012 to 11.5 % in 2016. It has certainly contributed to this improvement, both supporting young people individually, but also helping structural reforms, in more than 120 regions in 20 Member States. However, as the situation is still worrying in many regions of the EU, the programme has been extended up to 2020 and its financial envelope has been raised, with an additional €1.2 billion for 2017-2020.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Youth Employment Initiative‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/18/how-the-budget-is-spent-youth-employment-initiative/

How the EU budget is spent: Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation

Written by Matthew Parry,

Budget Instrument nuclear safety cooperation

© alona_s / Fotolia

In the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the USSR, the EU began to provide support via its TACIS programme for structural adjustment and reform in 11 post-Soviet and post-communist countries. One form of support was for countries grappling with a Soviet-era nuclear legacy to help them lift their safety and technical standards to Western European levels – a source of particular concern in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. That support ultimately paved the way for a formal EU external policy on nuclear safety cooperation around the world, financed by an Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation (INSC). With a 2014-2020 budget of €225.3 million (0.02 % of the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework), the current INSC promotes a high level of nuclear safety, radiation protection, and safeguards for nuclear material outside the EU, from Argentina to Mongolia.

Funds in the 2014-2020 INSC are allocated in line with annual action programmes (AAP) based on two multiannual indicative programmes, the first of which covers the period from 2014 to 2017. These in turn reflect an INSC strategy paper, which takes as its starting point specific measures set out in Article 3 of the INSC Regulation for each of the three objectives: (1) promoting a culture of nuclear safety and radiation protection standards; (2) supporting responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste; and (3) establishing effective safeguards for nuclear material in third countries.

According to a 2016 Commission report on the implementation of the EU’s instruments for financing external actions in 2015, the main achievements of the INSC in 2015 include ongoing work on environmental problems resulting from the legacy of former uranium mining activities in central Asia; support for nuclear regulatory authorities in Armenia, Belarus, China, Ukraine and Vietnam; support for regulatory authorities in Turkey and Iran; and radioactive waste management activities in central Asia and Ukraine.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation’ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/15/how-the-eu-budget-is-spent-instrument-for-nuclear-safety-cooperation/

Global Trendometer: Essays on medium- and long-term global trends – Summer 2017

Written by Eamonn Noonan,

Global Trendometer: Essays on medium- and long-term global trends - Summer 2017

© Johannes Vermeer, The Astronomer, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Europe faces both challenges and opportunities: some readily apparent – others still hidden. Foresight is needed; a habit of lifting the view from everyday concerns, to take a look at what else is coming over the horizon. The Global Trendometer seeks to flag emerging issues, and to bring new perspectives to those already under consideration. A new edition includes essays on African demographics, taxation, and international trade, and shorter pieces on issues ranging from the digitisation of journalism, new weapons technology, and the scarcity of sand.

Demographics, taxation, trade, and more

This publication includes detailed analysis of three trends:

  • Demographic transition in Africa

Africa’s population is set to double in the next few decades. This can give the continent a powerful lift, or it can intensify existing problems. In similar circumstances elsewhere, an initial fall in the mortality rate was followed by a fall in the birth rate, resulting in a demographic dividend. The empowerment of women is crucial if Africa is to follow a similar path.

  • Taxation and redistribution:

Revelations of large scale tax avoidance and concerns about inequality have prompted a new look at taxation policy, also in relation to redistribution. The influential view that economic growth is key to redistribution is being challenged by research suggesting that the arrow of causation goes in the other direction: that redistribution helps economic growth.

  • International trade: between multilateralism and protectionism

After the financial crisis, international trade is growing more slowly. But are we seeing a major change – a shift from multilateral trade to protectionism? What factors would drive this change of direction, and what would hinder it? What policy options might mitigate this trend or deal with its impact?

The Global Trendometer also includes concise presentations on other issues. These are:

  • the decline of traditional journalism,
  • advances in weapons technology,
  • the scarcity of sand,
  • gender imbalance in China,
  • the need to reuse water,
  • the decline of the middle class, and
  • new ways to measure socio-economic progress.

In each case, a two-page spread presents key trends, uncertainties and possible disruptions.


The Global Trendometer is a series by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS). It offers Members of the European Parliament a concise overview of significant medium- and long-term trends. The Trendometer considers issues facing Europe in coming decades, many of which are complex and cross-sectoral. The aim is to identify policy options and contribute to informed discussion; it does not make policy recommendations.

Look before you leap 

Foresight can help us to tackle an issue before it becomes a problem, and a problem before it becomes a crisis. In a period of rapid change, it helps to look for signs of new trends in different sectors, and across sectors. This can give clues about how to make the most of opportunities and how to minimise risks. ‘Look before you leap’ is still a useful adage, especially at a time when there is vast scope for uniformed or misinformed decisions.

Read the complete study on ‘Global Trendometer: Essays on medium- and long-term global trends – Summer 2017‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/15/global-trendometer-essays-on-medium-and-long-term-global-trends-summer-2017/

Session round-up – Strasbourg, September 2017

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka,

Jean-Claude Juncker delivers the 2017 State of the Union address in plenary

Jean-Claude Juncker delivers the 2017 State of the Union address in plenary. © European Union 2017 – Source : EP

In addition to the State of the Union address by European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, the main debates held during Parliament’s September plenary session included questions such as fire safety in buildings, the impact of hurricane Irma, breaches of human rights and a series of statements related to external relations presented by the High Representative, Federica Mogherini.

On the legislative front, Members voted, inter alia, on proposals concerning the WIFI4EU regulation (an initiative to promote internet connectivity in local communities), security of gas supply, the European Accessibility Act and the European Venture Capital Funds and European Social Entrepreneurship Funds investment schemes. Parliament pushed the Council to move forward with ratifying the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women. It also raised concerns over the EU Common Position on arms export, as well as adopting three resolutions aimed at modernising EU-Chile trade relations.

State of the Union

The key debate of the September plenary session followed the State of the Union address by Jean-Claude Juncker. Noting that the overall outlook has changed for the better over the past year, notably thanks to an accelerating economic recovery, President Juncker based his address on the scenarios proposed in the Commission’s white paper on the future of Europe of March 2017, followed by the series of more detailed reflection papers on economic and monetary union, EU finances, EU defence, the social dimension and harnessing globalisation.

Much interest focused on Juncker’s advocacy of various euro area and EU institutional reforms. He proposed the designation of a euro-area finance minister, who would preside over the Eurogroup, as well as being a member of the Commission. He supported the development of a European Monetary Fund, but not the creation of a separate euro-area budget, preferring a dedicated budget line within the EU budget. He also said there should not be a separate euro-area parliament either. He favoured combining the presidencies of the Commission and the European Council, and supported a new, additional transnational constituency for the European elections. On the policy front, he advocated a pro-innovation industrial strategy, a reinforced social pillar, an authority to supervise fairness in the single market, better handling of migratory flows, and new trade agreements.

Special committee on terrorism

Parliament voted on the composition of the special committee on terrorism which has been mandated to investigate shortcomings in the EU fight against terrorism. The constituent meeting took place on Thursday 14 September, with Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE, France) elected as chair.

Fire safety in buildings

Following the Grenfell Tower fire in London on 14 June 2017, Council and Commission representatives made statements on fire safety in buildings. With a view to harmonising fire-testing of building facades at EU level, the current revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the possible revision of the Construction Products Regulation could help to prevent such disasters happening in the future.


As part of the regular Thursday debates on breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, particular attention was devoted to the rapidly escalating humanitarian disaster with regard to the situation of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Read this At a glance on ‘Session round-up – Strasbourg, September 2017‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/15/session-round-up-strasbourg-september-2017/

Safeguarding competition in air transport [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Ariane Debyser (1st edition),

business aviation background with planes on world map on blurred airport terminal

© alex_aldo / Fotolia

The issue of fair competition between EU and third country airlines and the importance of guaranteeing a level playing field has been recognised for some years by the various EU institutions as key for the future of European aviation. The 2015 Commission communication on the aviation strategy underlined the importance and legitimacy of EU action to deal with possible unfair commercial practices in international aviation, and announced the revision of existing rules in this field.

On 8 June 2017, the Commission adopted a legislative proposal for a regulation on safeguarding competition in air transport, repealing Regulation 868/2004 as part of the ‘Open and Connected Aviation’ package delivering part of the aviation strategy.

The objective of the proposal is to provide effective legislation in order ‘to maintain conditions conducive to a high level of Union connectivity and to ensure fair competition with third countries air carriers’.


Stage: National Parliaments

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/14/safeguarding-competition-in-air-transport-eu-legislation-in-progress/

North Korea: Possible scenarios

Written by Enrico D’Ambrogio,

map of north and south Korea

© European Union, 2017

On 3 September 2017, North Korea conducted a sixth nuclear test, its most powerful yet, claiming to have successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that would fit in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The North Korean crisis, which has a long history, has now the potential to develop into a large-scale conflict affecting a large variety of actors across the globe. Pyongyang has become a global threat combining increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and missiles programmes that could strike the USA and even Europe. This has been made possible by the international community’s lack of a common strategy and Chinese support for the North Korean regime. All the while, this ‘hermit kingdom’, which a 2014 United Nations (UN) report accused of crimes against humanity, has continued to feed its traditional anti-American rhetoric and has succeeded in taking its devastating human rights record off the international agenda.

As the international community tries to resolve the current crisis, analysts have identified a number of possible scenarios: reinforcing international sanctions to push Pyongyang to the table to negotiate an agreement to renounce its nuclear programme in exchange for economic support and a guarantee of not being attacked; performing a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear sites, undergoing the risk of retaliation against Seoul; and assenting to North Korea’s demand to be recognised as a de facto nuclear power and to conclude the peace treaty that was never signed at the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War ─ which ultimately is Kim’s real goal and the reason for this escalation.

From the Korean War to military escalation

Partition of the Korean peninsula and the origin of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme

After the Japanese withdrawal at the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was divided in two on the 38th parallel: the USSR-supported the North (Democratic Popular Republic of Korea, DPRK) and the USA-supported the South (Republic of Korea, ROK). In June 1950 the North ─ sustained by the USSR and China ─ invaded the South. The USA formed a UN-backed allied force that pushed the invaders back but provoked Chinese intervention. The armistice of July 1953 ended the stalemate of a bloody conflict that left two million Koreans dead. A peace treaty was never signed and the two sides are still technically at war. In 1974 North Korea joined the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and in 1985 joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) without, however, having completed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. However Pyongyang succeeded in building a nuclear programme, allegedly with Pakistani support providing Chinese technology. In 1994, former US president Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang and negotiated a deal dismantling the North Korean nuclear programme in exchange for proliferation-resistant power reactors (North Korea had just withdrawn from the IAEA). In 2002, then US president George W. Bush accused North Korea of forming an ‘axis of evil’ with Iraq and Iran and of implementing a secret uranium enrichment programme. The deal on the nuclear programme fell through and in 2003 North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT. This resulted in the Six-Party Talks (SPT) between China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Russia and the USA. The talks aimed to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns arising from the North Korean nuclear weapons programme. In 2005 North Korea declared it had nuclear weapons. In October 2006 Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test. In April 2009 North Korea quit the SPT and ceased all cooperation with the IAEA; one month later Pyongyang conducted its second nuclear test.

Escalation under Kim Jong-un

Though projecting a more modern image through Kim Jong-un, who succeeded his father in December 2011, the regime has not changed, remaining closed to the rest of the world while increasing its anti-American rhetoric. In February 2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights issued a report accusing North Korea of crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, North Korea conducted three more nuclear tests in February 2013, and January and September 2016. Pyongyang has also performed a number of missile tests. In July 2017 it test-fired its first ICBM twice. On 9 August 2017 North Korean media said Pyongyang was considering firing missiles at Guam, a Pacific island where the USA has a military base. On 29 August 2017 it launched a ballistic missile over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. Most recently, on 3 September 2017, North Korea conducted a sixth nuclear test, the most powerful yet, claiming to have successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that would fit in an ICBM.

Despite being closed to the world and being targeted by UN sanctions since 2006, North Korea sustains itself through trade with China (importing oil and selling coal) but also allegedly through reserves in Chinese banks, revenues from hacking banks, the black market for weapons and illicit minerals, and selling forced labour. Arguably North Korea has won time to diversify its revenues on account of China’s stalling and vetoing more meaningful sanctions at UN level. North Korea has also taken advantage of the divisions between the main regional actors (China, Japan and South Korea) whose economies are interconnected, but whose political relations are often strained owing to territorial disputes and historical legacies linked to the resurgence of nationalism. Frictions between them and the on-going US administration are emerging.

South Korea has been going through political turmoil with little US support. President Trump wants to renegotiate the US-Korea trade agreement, KORUS, at a time of instability on the peninsula. Analysts argue that the exchanges of words between the US and North Korean leadership in recent months may have undermined Washington’s credibility and cast doubt on the existence of a coherent US strategy. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned against using ‘confrontational rhetoric’ on the North Korea crisis and has asked the major powers to come up with a single strategy.

The Chinese conundrum

The North Korea crisis has put China in an uncomfortable position. US President Trump has criticised China for not taking more action against Pyongyang despite its leverage (it accounts for 90 % of North Korea’s trade and their exchanges have increased in 2017). Beijing has suspended Pyongyang’s coal imports until the end of 2017 but is under pressure to adopt a full embargo of oil exports to North Korea. It has been argued that the North Korea crisis helps Beijing to distract world attention from its assertiveness in the South and East China Sea. China, together with Russia, advocates ‘dual suspension’ of North Korea’s tests and US military exercises in South Korea. Its main interest is in keeping the region’s peace and security, while Kim’s rhetoric has offered the USA a pretext to deploy a terminal high-altitude area defence (THAAD) system in South Korea, which Beijing claims could be used to intercept Chinese missiles.

Possible scenarios


The international community has consistently condemned Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests, inviting North Korea to refrain from further challenges to regional stability, in the hope of coaxing it to the table to negotiate renouncing the nuclear programme in exchange for food aid, economic support, and guarantees that the regime will not be overthrown and the country not attacked. However the UN sanctions that have regularly been adopted by the Security Council ─ and increasingly endorsed by the previously reluctant China and Russia ─ have failed to convince Pyongyang, which has gained time to achieve the ballistic capability of reaching the USA (and soon Europe too, as warned by French defence minister, Florence Parly on 5 September 2017). Analysts point to loopholes in the UN-adopted sanctions, while the USA, South Korea, Japan and Australia have called on China, which has decisive leverage over Pyongyang, to isolate North Korea economically by cutting oil supplies in order to bring the regime to its knees. Russia, however, is against this move. South Korea‘s President Moon Jae-in is still pushing for a peace proposal, combining the offer of talks with increased pressure, but so far without success. US President Donald Trump, departing from the previous administration’s policy of ‘strategic patience’, has threatened to stop trade with countries doing business with North Korea ─ a threat that is hard to apply and that has been criticised by China. Meanwhile Pyongyang refuses to put its ‘nuclear deterrent‘ on the negotiating table.

Use of pre-emptive force

On several occasions US President Trump has hinted at the use of force through a pre-emptive strike against North Korea. Meanwhile US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said that the USA is ‘never out of diplomatic solutions’ in dealing with North Korea. China and Russia have warned against the mounting rhetoric and the use of force to solve the North Korean crisis. Indeed, North Korea’s retaliation could strike Seoul, a 10-million inhabitant metropolis around 40 kilometres from the border, potentially causing huge casualties. The lives of the 28 500 US soldiers based in South Korea would also be in danger, as would the territory of allied Japan, which is host to US bases with 47 000 soldiers. The Chinese, bound by the 1961 Treaty of Mutual Assistance, are also afraid that a war on the Korean Peninsula could bring a humanitarian catastrophe to its borders with an influx of refugees, and the loss of a key buffer state should the two Koreas reunify with Washington’s support.

Conceding to North Korean demands

Analysts note that it is unlikely that Kim Jong-un would give the order to attack another country. The nuclear and missile programmes, while strengthening his legitimacy in the eyes of the North Koreans, represent life insurance for him and his regime, in order to avoid the fate of other tyrants like Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi or Slobodan Milosevic. North Korea’s hope is to conclude a peace treaty with the USA, a perspective that, according to analysts, would risk side-lining South Korea and undermining its security, as Pyongyang may secure the departure of US troops. North Korea also wants be recognised as a nuclear power. This is acknowledged by Russia, which is against tougher sanctions. Recognition would be inconsistent with the NPT, but the examples of the India, Pakistan and Israel show that a country can be given de facto nuclear power status. Meanwhile, other countries in the region (e.g. South Korea and Japan ─ Tokyo is planning a 2.5 % defence budget increase) might react by deciding to acquire nuclear capabilities, resulting in escalation and further instability in the region.

Long-term efforts bringing regime change

Analysts have long predicted the collapse of the North Korean regime but have been proved wrong. The country is isolated but can still destabilise the region. The sanctions approved so far have been ineffective because they do not affect the elite that is increasingly opposed to Kim’s rule. In the long term, a change of leadership could be achieved by means of a persistent counter-information campaign targeting the population, breaking the state’s monopoly on information, in support of the efforts of North Korean defectors.

The European Union on North Korea

The EU has a policy of critical engagement towards North Korea, aimed at supporting a lasting reduction in tension on the peninsula and in the region, upholding the international non-proliferation regime and improving the human rights situation. The EU has implemented the UN Security Council sanctions but has also kept dialogue channels open. Of the 28 Member States, 26 have diplomatic relations with North Korea. The European Parliament adopted a resolution on North Korea on 21 January 2016 urging Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and advocating a diplomatic and political solution. MEPs pointed to the human rights situation and called on the international community to bring those responsible for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court while imposing targeted sanctions.

Read this briefing on ‘North Korea: Possible scenarios‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/12/north-korea-possible-scenarios/

The 2017 State of the Union debate in the European Parliament

JUNCKER, Jean-Claude (EC)

© European Union 2016 – Source: EP

Written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva,

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address to the European Parliament, and the subsequent debate, on 13 September come in the context of the ongoing broader reflection on the future path of the European Union. This has been intensified by the first-ever withdrawal of a Member State from the Union; although lamented by most, this is often cited as an opportunity to rebuild the Union on stronger grounds.

The debate will therefore feed into a larger reflection process, to which Parliament contributed three landmark resolutions, launched by EU-27 leaders in the Rome declaration of 25 March 2017. As announced in President Juncker’s 2016 State of the Union speech, the Commission published a white paper on the future of Europe, identifying five scenarios for the further course of the Union. The Commission President has recently pointed to a sixth scenario to be revealed in his State of the Union speech.

The State of the Union debate forms part of the process for the adoption of the annual Commission Work Programme and thus plays an important role in identifying major political priorities to be agreed in interinstitutional dialogue.

This briefing is an update of an earlier one of September 2016.

Read the complete publication on ‘The 2017 State of the Union debate in the European Parliament‘ on the European Parliament website.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/09/the-2017-state-of-the-union-debate-in-the-european-parliament/

Next steps in the debate on the future of Europe

Written by Aidan Christie,

Debate on the State of European UnionA clearer view of the European Commission’s vision of the future of Europe should be one outcome of the 2017 State of the Union speech by President Jean-Claude Juncker. Set to take place in the European Parliament’s plenary session of 13 September, this year’s annual set-piece is to be a key moment in defining the vision for a European Union of 27 Member States for the coming decade.

Juncker’s speech will be the first occasion on which the Commission publicly takes stock of the debate it launched in March, when it published the white paper on the future of Europe. That coincided with the celebrations of the Union’s 60th anniversary, held in Rome at the site of the original Community Treaties’ signing. But there was also widespread recognition, in the wake of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the Union, that fresh impetus was needed, not least to deal with the major challenges – some already clear, others yet to emerge – which European citizens face.

Five scenarios for the Union’s development up to 2025 were set out in the white paper:

  • ‘Carrying on’, in which the EU continues its incremental development at the current pace;
  • ‘Nothing but the single market’, whereby the Member States refocus their attention on the single market, while dropping broader ambitions for increased cooperation;
  • ‘Those who want more do more’, with some Member States deepening their cooperation in particular fields while others stand back;
  • ‘Doing less more efficiently’, under which cooperation would be intensified in some EU policy fields, but scaled back in others seen as of lower interest; and
  • ‘Doing much more together’, with all Member States agreeing to step up their collective work across all EU policy areas.

The Commission aimed to stimulate debate across the 27 Member States, among citizens, stakeholders and governments, and fostered discussion with a range of different events. From the outset, the goal was for EU leaders to decide on the Union’s orientation for the coming decade, enabling preparation of more detailed plans in advance of the European elections in 2019.

See also our blog post about the September EP Plenary Session

As a contribution to the debate, the Commission published five reflection papers on subjects at the heart of the decisions to be made.

The first, on the social dimension of Europe, builds on work the current Commission has been doing. In recognition that many citizens feel the interests of business and the financial services have enjoyed priority in the years since the economic crisis, the Commission wants to redress the balance.

On harnessing globalisation, the second reflection paper seeks to establish how the EU can ensure European citizens and economies do not lose out in the rapid and far-reaching changes of the global economy, in which multinational firms can move their activities, and their funds, around the world with great ease.

The economic and monetary union (EMU) has already undergone major development in the past decade, in the wake of the financial crisis. As the crisis receded, however, the urgency to act faded, and further reforms set out in the Five President’s Report a couple of years ago lost momentum. This reflection paper seeks to re-energise the process of strengthening EMU, which many feel still has some weaknesses in the face of a future economic or financial crisis.

European defence has come starkly into focus as a result of Donald Trump’s wavering commitment to the North Atlantic alliance and heightened tensions with Russia, particularly since its annexation of Crimea. Conflict in the Middle East and the ever-growing offensive cyberwar capabilities around the world also underscore Europe’s need to step up its military capabilities.

The final reflection paper addresses the future of EU finances. The difficult discussions over each EU multiannual financial framework illustrate the deep-seated interests of Member States in this area. But even if there is widespread agreement that the current system needs reform, there is no agreement on how. The departure of the United Kingdom from the EU presents both challenges in addressing the shortfall in revenue from one of the biggest ‘net payers’ but also an opportunity to remove much of the complexity from the current system.

The white paper acknowledges that the final outcome is likely to incorporate elements of the five different scenarios. Juncker himself recently said that his preference is in fact for a sixth, as yet publicly undefined. The State of the Union speech will see him focus the debate, narrowing the options, with a view to enabling Member States’ leaders to agree on a clear path forward at the December European Council.

SOTEU 2017 teaser

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/08/next-steps-in-the-debate-on-the-future-of-europe/

EP Plenary Session September: Boosting EU values of social cohesion and human rights

Written by Clare Ferguson,

Flags outside the European Parliament building Louise Weiss in Strasbourg - LOWThis month’s European Parliament plenary agenda sees MEPs back in Strasbourg, with the major focus of this month’s session on Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s address on the State of the Union, to be held at 09:00 on Wednesday morning. The speech is likely to look back at the reflections and scenarios proposed in the white paper on the future of Europe, presented by Juncker in March 2017, and signpost the direction the EU will take from today. Aiming to open a debate on the way forward, the Commission published further reflection papers on the prospects for deepening economic and monetary union and the future of EU finances, as well as consideration of the perspectives of greater protection of EU citizens through EU defence. Further papers cover boosting the social dimension of the EU and harnessing globalisation to the greater benefit of all EU citizens.

Two EU investment schemes, falling under Point 4 of Juncker’s 10 priorities (a deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base), the European Venture Capital Funds and European Social Entrepreneurship Funds, were created to boost EU businesses by offering a new and simplified way to raise and invest capital in small European companies. Although the venture capital scheme has been a success, the rules applied led to a poor take-up of the funding scheme for social entrepreneurship. The EU now proposes to revise the schemes to make them more attractive, by removing limitations on managers, decreasing costs and widening the field of assets eligible for investment. Debate is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

A specific initiative to boost the EU’s social dimension is the first item on the agenda on Tuesday morning, which begins with a first reading of an initiative, approved by Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee, to promote internet connectivity in local communities, known as WIFI4EU. Access to fast fixed and wireless internet in the EU is somewhat uneven, and the Commission proposes to fund improvements over a period of three years to bring the EU up to the same standards as countries such as Japan and South Korea. The idea is to offer free wifi access in public places, such as libraries and hospitals, whilst also protecting citizens from data mining for commercial use, as well as advertisements.

WIFI4EU – Promotion of internet connectivity in local communities [Plenary Podcast]

Aiming to ensure that the 70 million people who live with disabilities in the EU can participate in European society without hindrance, Members will discuss proposed legislation on accessibility requirements for products and services (the European Accessibility Act), on Wednesday afternoon. With an ageing population, social cohesion measures are increasingly important to ensure the legal rights of disabled people to live independently. Parliament is likely to support the proposals, which seek to establish ‘accessibility principles’, rather than technical rules, for products and services such as computers, telephones, televisions, transport, and banking services.

Members are expected to vote to ensure solidarity through new rules on security of gas supply during this session, which will also be debated on Tuesday morning. To ensure that Member States have measures in place to guarantee the supply of gas to consumers in the event of a disruption to supplies or infrastructure failure, the EU wants countries to have well-defined contingency plans in place. These include regional solidarity plans that allow affected countries to purchase gas supplies from their neighbours, and a uniform list of customers for whom gas supply should be guaranteed in an emergency – which includes all households.

The EU’s values include combatting the clear violation of human rights that is violence against women. Monday’s session will debate an interim report on EU accession to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – otherwise known as the Istanbul Convention – to which Parliament must give its consent. The Convention provides a framework for legally binding measures to prevent violence against women, and sets standards for a response to such acts, experienced by a staggering 33 % of European women. Parliament’s report raises some concern regarding the scope of the EU’s accession, as well as the lack of progress on ratification.

The EU is the second largest exporter of major conventional weapons in the world, with 26 % of total global exports in 2012-2016. Human rights concerns are also behind Parliament’s position that an embargo should be placed on EU arms exports to Saudi Arabia – currently the main destination (along with Egypt and Qatar) of EU arms export licences – in breach of the EU Common Position on control of arms exports. Members will vote on Tuesday afternoon on a resolution concerning implementation of the Common Position. The EU’s Common Position has encouraged transparency between Member States, but a report by Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee points to the need for a supervisory body to monitor implementation of the agreement, as well as increased possibilities for sanctions and continued transparency and information-sharing.

EU rules on control of arms exports [Plenary Podcast]

EU values are also customarily included in trade agreements with third countries, and this is equally the case concerning trade with Chile. While the EU’s political relations with Latin America will be discussed on Tuesday afternoon, Members are also due to take part in a joint debate on EU-Chile trade. The debate on Wednesday evening will explore possibilities to modernise EU-Chile trade relations, governed since 2002 by the EU-Chile Association Agreement. Seeking to reverse a relative fall in bilateral trade, Parliament is recommending an ambitious upgrade to the agreement, including further liberalisation of services. The proposals include an emphasis on retaining public service regulation in the hands of governments, and focuses on social, environmental and political values, as well as human rights. Parliament is also likely to give its consent to the ground-breaking EU-Chile agreement on trade in organic products, under which Chile and the EU agree mutual recognition of rules on organic food production.

The session closes on Thursday with the customary debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/08/ep-plenary-session-september-boosting-eu-values-of-social-cohesion-and-human-rights/

What if manmade biological organisms could help treat cancer? [Science and Technology Podcast]

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

Synthetic biology is expected to begin to design, construct and develop artificial (i.e. man-made) biological systems that mimic or even go beyond naturally-occurring biological systems. Applications of synthetic biology in the healthcare domain hold great promise, but also raise a number of questions. What are the benefits and challenges of this emerging field? What ethical and social issues arise from this engineering approach to biology?

3D illustration, concept of genetic engineering or genetic modification.

© Ktsdesign / Fotolia

The interdisciplinary field of synthetic biology brings together individual parts that can be readily synthesised and combined in different biological arrangements. Rather than constituting a strictly defined field, synthetic biology may be best described as a rational approach to designing and constructing biological compounds, organs and, potentially, entire living organisms not found in nature, that brings forward an engineering-based notion of generating and using interchangeable biological parts. Synthetic biology is expected to permit scientists to enhance existing biological systems using synthesised parts. Synthetic biology improves disease detection and treatment, and produces better medicines. At the same time, however, synthetically designed organisms raise a range of social, economic, ethical, and legal issues, and question the EU legal framework’s adequacy to control or contain the relevant human health and biosafety risks.

Expected impacts and developments

According to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research, the global market for synthetic biology products and applications is predicted to reach a market worth of US$13.4 billion in 2019. The first products on the market include pharmaceuticals, biofuels, and biomaterials. Scientific advances in synthetic biology are expected to provide the foundations for health applications that may include the production of novel types of proteins and pharmaceuticals, which will be more efficient, safer, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than today’s, such as artemisinin, an anti-malaria drug, and a range of anti-microbial drugs. It is also argued that the deployment of synthetic biology applications will include fast production of new types of vaccines through designing, synthesising, testing and using antigens, as well as by developing and producing immunogens that might help prevent or treat diseases. Synthetic biology might also enable the development of diagnosis tools to combat important infectious diseases, of novel therapeutic strategies based on ‘synthetic’ viruses, organisms, or engineered mammalian cells to fight cancer, and of synthetic medicines that may prove to be more affordable.

In addition to the benefits of synthetic biology, scientific uncertainties are associated with the development of synthetic life, cells or genomes, and their potential impact on human health. The development of synthetic biology could entail a series of undesired impacts that may raise concerns. For instance, the dual-use potential of synthetic biology or even biohacking (the application of IT hacks to biological systems), could become a serious threat to safety and security. Copying the mechanisms used to produce pharmaceuticals, such as sequence information and knowledge about pathogen genomes, coupled with advanced and relatively cheap custom DNA synthesis and genome assembly, could be used to redesign harmful pathogens. Synthetic biology lacks the safety locks currently available in genetic engineering, such as genetic safeguards (e.g. auxotrophy and kill switches). Do containment strategies, or DNA screening procedures for DNA synthesis, or conditions for publication of biosecurity-sensitive data, or the ethical training of researchers, provide adequate safeguards?

The distributed and diffuse nature of synthetic biology makes it difficult to track, regulate, or mitigate potential biosafety and biosecurity risks linked to the use of genetically engineered organisms as therapeutics. In fact, it is anticipated that synthetic biology will reinforce the potential terrorist/criminal misuse of such organisms. We must also consider the bioethical implications of current health-related synthetic biology and its future ramifications. Does synthetic biology blur the distinction between life and ‘non-life’, and when should we interfere with nature? Where should we draw the line between what is suitable for synthetic design? How can we prevent broad patents and ‘patent thickets’ obtained for synthetic biology applications, from impeding developing countries’ access to drugs?

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Anticipatory law-making

As technologies such as synthetic biology advance quickly, and are becoming more widely accessible and easier to use, the role of law is a crucial parameter. These developments raise unique and boundary-challenging regulatory questions regarding the source of genetic material or the introduction of transgenes into an organism by methods that do not necessarily fall under the current definition of genetic engineering. The primary role of law in that respect should be to develop proportionate pre-assessment tools and guiding risk assessment criteria, especially in the fields of biosecurity and biosafety. The governance of synthetic biology, either as a whole or following a product-based approach, requires a legal acknowledgment of its inherent complexity and a nuanced application of the precautionary principle through self-governance, institutional oversight and risk analysis tools.

The regulatory oversight of such an emerging technology is a challenging process, given the novel character of synthetic biology, its dynamic epistemic boundaries, and the high scientific uncertainties. A discussion is currently taking place under the Nagoya Protocol (2010) and the Cartagena Protocol (2003) to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), as to whether synthetic biology is captured through the concept of derivatives (products derived from biotechnology), and sufficiently controlled by the current risk assessment and intellectual property rules for the protection of genetic resources. Whether the growing use of digital sequence information on genetic resources falls within the Convention’s three objectives, and in particular necessitates Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) rules under the Nagoya Protocol, is an issue of particular legal importance. The Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on synthetic biology, established in 2014 by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD, is currently working on the production of an operational definition of synthetic biology and the identification of gaps and overlaps in regulatory instruments nationally, regionally, or internationally.

In an opinion adopted in December 2015, the Scientific Committees of the European Commission suggested several improvements to ensure continued safety protection proportionate to risk, given that new challenges in predicting risks are expected due to: ‘1) the integration of protocells into/with living organisms; 2) future developments of autonomous protocells; 3) the use of non-standard biochemical systems in living cells; 4) the increased speed of modifications by the new technologies for DNA synthesis and genome editing; and 5) the rapidly evolving DIYbio citizen science community; which may increase the probability of unintentional harm’.

It is time for regulators to take a closer look at synthetic biology, not only in terms of coping with its sui generis challenges, but also in relation to accommodating the vast range of ethical concerns relevant to the effects or even permissibility of (re)designing nature, and the adequacy of the traditional risk analysis framework to face the structural challenges of this unchartered scientific field.

Read this note on ‘What if manmade biological organisms could help treat cancer?‘ in PDF on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament..

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2017/09/08/what-if-manmade-biological-organisms-could-help-treat-cancer-science-and-technology-podcast/