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Coronavirus: Vaccination debates [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

© New Africa / Adobe Stock

As the second wave of the coronavirus passes, new infections and the death rate are currently both in decline globally. At the same time, countries across the world have begun vaccination programmes. In parallel, fears that the impact of the disease will continue, as some new, highly contagious mutations of the virus have spread, have lead governments to adopt additional preventive border restrictions and lockdowns. Among many debates on the subject, two stand out – the slower vaccination rate in the EU compared to the UK and US, and the imbalance between rich and poor countries in the availability of vaccines, with a third debate, on vaccination passports, emerging rapidly.

This note offers links to recent commentaries, studies and reports from international think tanks on the pandemic and related issues. A previous item from this series on the coronavirus was published in earlier in February 2021.

Vaccines: How to use market-based incentives to ramp up production
Centre for European Policy Studies, February 2021

Why the EU’s vaccine strategy will pay off in the end
Carnegie Europe, February 2021

Will Covid accelerate productivity growth?
Bruegel, February 2021

Why has the EU been so slow to roll out a Covid vaccination programme?
Bruegel, January 2021

A global pandemic alarm bell
Bruegel, January 2021

What do vaccination passports mean for Europe?
Bruegel, January 2021

Résilience: La nouvelle boussole
Bruegel, January 2021

Corporate insolvencies during Covid-19: Keeping calm before the storm
Bruegel, January 2021

Lessons from the battleground: EU strategic autonomy after the ‘vaccine wars’
European Policy Centre, February 2021

Why the Covid-19 crisis calls for a revamped Better Regulation agenda
European Policy Centre, February 2021

Will corporate debt choke the post-Covid-19 recovery?
European Policy Centre, January 2021

Europe’s post-pandemic strategy for the WHO
European Council on Foreign Relations, February 2021

The EU’s misguided export regulation on vaccines
European Council on Foreign Relations, February 2021

All the rage: The pandemic’s emotional politics
European Council on Foreign Relations, February 2021

The geopolitics of Covid vaccines in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood
European Council on Foreign Relations, January 2021

Corona pandemic shows that many states are poorly prepared
Bertelsmann Stiftung, January 2021

With European unity and empathy against Covid-19
Bertelsmann Stiftung, December 2020

L’impact de la Covid-19 sur le monde du travail
Confrontations Europe, January 2021

How Greece can recover from Covid
Centre for European Reform, February 2021

Ditchley conference report: Covid-19, the global economy and the return of power politics
Centre for European Reform, January 2021

Prioritizing equity after Covid-19
Chatham House, February 2021

The dysfunctional vaccine rollout is creating even more opportunities for cybercriminals
Council on Foreign Relations, February 2021

A guide to global Covid-19 vaccine efforts
Council on Foreign Relations, February 2021

Covid-19 death rate rising in Africa
Council on Foreign Relations, January 2021

What does the World Health Organization do?
Council on Foreign Relations, January 2021

How the Chinese state mobilized civil society to fight Covid-19
Brookings Institution, February 2021

How Covid-era innovation can build more equitable education systems
Brookings Institution, February 2021

Covid-19: Quels impacts sur le climat?
Institut des relations internationales et stratégiques, February 2021

Les relations Europe-Afrique à l’aune de la pandémie de Covid-19: État des lieux et perspectives
Fondation Robert Schuman, February 2021

What the vaccine row tells us about the Commission’s worth
Friends of Europe, February 2021

Adapt or perish: Lessons from the pandemic
Friends of Europe, February 2021

Covid-19: How can we get it under control in 2021?
Friends of Europe, February 2021

La crise Covid, le transport stratégique et ses perspectives européennes
Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, February 2021

Covid-19: Comment faire face à la peur vaccinale?
Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, December 2020

Saving the red-eye to Ibiza: How vaccine corridors can open up travel again
Foreign Policy Centre, February 2021

Pandemie, Regierungskrise und Wahlkampfauftakt in den Niederlanden
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, February 2021

Political risk: Germany pledges to speed up vaccinations
Polish Institute of International Affairs, February 2021

An abrupt awakening to the realities of a pandemic: Learning lessons from the onset of Covid-19 in the EU and Finland
Finnish Institute of International Affairs, January 2021

Reforming multilateralism in post-COVID times: For a more regionalised, binding and legitimate United Nations
Instituto Affari Internationali, January 2021

The Post-Covid-19 trajectory for Algeria, Morocco and the Western Sahara
Instituto Affari Internationali, January 2021

Learning from Covid-19: Implications for the EU response to human smuggling
Instituto Affari Internationali, December 2020

How Covid-19 changed the future
European Union Institute for Security Studies, December 2020

Les européens devant l’hésitation vaccinale
Institut Jacques Delors, December 2020

Covid-19 pandemic: Insights from Rand
Rand Corporation, February 2021

An evaluation of the Turkish economy during Covid-19
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, January 2021

Impact and potential consequences of Covid-19: Global and European considerations
Economic Policy Institute, January 2021.

Read this briefing on ‘Coronavirus: Vaccination debates‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/03/05/coronavirus-vaccination-debates-what-think-tanks-are-thinking/

European Parliament Plenary Session – March I 2021

Written by Clare Ferguson,

Plenary session - Week 09 2018 in Brussels -

© European Union 2018 – Source : EP

Continuing to mark International Women’s Day 2021, the agenda for the first plenary session of March 2021 kicks off with a ceremony celebrating women’s day, not least their role in fighting on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, it is no secret that the pandemic has also had a highly gendered impact on women, with women more likely to suffer a negative impact in their professional and personal lives. Women continue to be under-represented in business and political leadership – even in the European Parliament. Nevertheless, the Parliament has already made recommendations on the need for a gendered response to Covid‑19, such as the adoption of effective gender mainstreaming tools that could mitigate the negative consequences and contribute to halting the reversal of gender equality.

A joint debate on the European Semester scheduled for Wednesday morning will look at the economic outlook for Europe’s recovery from the pandemic, with an emphasis expected on social and employment policy. The Council and European Commission are also expected to make statements on the action plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. This will be followed by the formal signature, by the presidents of the EU institutions, of the recently endorsed Joint Declaration on the Conference of the Future of Europe, an initiative long supported by Parliament, which now begins its work to engage with citizens’ concerns. As direct representatives elected by people in EU countries, Parliamentarians are keen to contribute along with citizens themselves, to building a truly Citizen’s Union.

Even before the current pandemic, investment in the EU had yet to recover to pre-financial crisis levels. On Tuesday morning, Members will debate a joint Budgetary Committee and Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee legislative report on the proposed InvestEU programme, designed to streamline investment support and now adjusted to tackle the post-coronavirus investment landscape. Parliament has been fierce in its advocacy for adequate resources to finance the recovery, securing a €1 billion top-up for the EU guarantee and measures that could mobilise an extra €35-40 billion in investment through incorporating European Investment Bank legacy portfolios. Thanks to the Parliament’s efforts, the proposals now include the possibility for Member States to use InvestEU funding to provide capital support for otherwise viable small and medium-sized businesses that have been hard-hit by the pandemic.

Also under consideration before the current pandemic, Parliament has long supported moves to establish a coherent EU health programme – following through by negotiating an additional €3.4 billion for the EU4Health programme during the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework negotiations. Parliament will proceed with its first reading of the proposed legislation to establish the programme on Tuesday morning. While the programme will focus on combating cross-border health threats, ensuring affordable medicine and promoting stronger health systems, it is expected that Parliament will steer the programme towards support for measures with clear EU added value.

Parliament elects the European Ombudsman at the beginning of each parliamentary term, and is due to discuss an own-initiative report on the Ombudsman’s annual activity report for 2019 on Tuesday afternoon, in the presence of the Ombudsman herself, Emily O’Reilly. The annual report covers a wide range of issues where the Ombudsman has investigated complaints and initiated enquiries into possible maladministration by EU institutions or agencies. In 2019, these included senior EU staff appointments, ongoing transparency issues in the Council and Eurogroup, and the treatment of disabled people and asylum-seekers. While the institutions complied with the Ombudsman’s recommendations in the interests of good administration in most cases, the annual report makes some key recommendations for further action on: decision-making accountability in the Council; public access to documents; interviews with asylum-seekers; appointment procedures; and on citizens’ participation in EU policy-making. Parliament’s Petitions Committee (PETI) is largely in agreement with the Ombudsman’s assessment, particularly with regard to remarks concerning the Council and the transparency register.

Finally, while fisheries control is an exclusive EU competence under the common fisheries policy, EU countries are responsible for controlling their fishing activities, with the European Commission checking that they fulfill their responsibilities correctly. Advances in technology allow more effective controls to protect fish stocks, and the rules are therefore being revised. On Tuesday afternoon, Members will debate a legislative report on this revision from the Fisheries Committee that supports the new rules in general, while seeking to protect small fishing vessels, and reserving the imposition of CCTV onboard for those who commit infringements.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/03/05/european-parliament-plenary-session-march-i-2021/

Outcome of the European Council video-conference of 26 February 2021

Written by Suzana Anghel,

© Adobe Stock

On 26 February 2021, EU leaders met for a second video-conference session to discuss security and defence and the southern neighbourhood. They reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the 2019-2024 Strategic Agenda, by increasing the EU’s ability to act autonomously and strengthening its resilience through taking ‘more responsibility for its security’. They also expressed their wish to deepen the transatlantic bond with the US and through NATO. In line with past meetings dedicated to security and defence, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, joined the EU leaders to discuss EU-NATO cooperation.

Video-conference of the members of the European Council

The October 2020 Leaders’ Agenda had listed security and defence as well as health as items for discussion in February 2021. A discussion on the southern neighbourhood was only subsequently added to the agenda. While health was discussed on 25 February, with European Parliament President David Sassoli addressing the European Council on the same day, discussions at the 26 February 2021 video-conference of the Heads of State or Government focused on security and defence and the southern neighbourhood. The title ‘special’ European Council specified on the Leaders’ Agenda indicates that the original intention was to organise a physical meeting in Brussels, but this had to be abandoned owing to the difficult EU-wide epidemiological situation. Accordingly, the EU leaders did not adopt conclusions, but released a statement, outlining medium to longer-term commitments (see Table 1).

Table 1 – New European Council commitments and requests with a specific time schedule

Security and defence

The European Council returned to discussing security and defence policy, a rolling item on its agenda between 2012 and 2018, and committed to reviewing this regularly. European Council President Charles Michel stressed that the EU wanted ‘to act more strategically’ and to increase its ‘ability to act autonomously’ while continuing to deepen partnerships, including though a renewed transatlantic dialogue on security and defence with the Biden Administration.

The EU’s efforts to take more responsibility for its security go hand in hand with the deepening and strengthening of existing partnerships, especially with NATO. Charles Michel stressed that the EU and NATO shared ‘common strategic interests’ but also common threats, such as ‘cyber, hybrid and disinformation’ threats, for which both organisations needed to strengthen their resilience as well as their cooperation. He spoke of a ‘strong partnership which requires strong partners’, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg affirmed that EU-NATO cooperation had reached unprecedented levels in recent years, in particular on issues such as resilience and cybersecurity. However, a durable solution to maritime boundary delimitation in the eastern Mediterranean and to the Cyprus problem would allow further normalisation of the EU-NATO relationship. This is key, as the two organisations are developing a new strategic concept (NATO) on the one hand, and a Strategic Compass (the EU) on the other, making information-sharing vital.

The High Representative, Josep Borrell, presented the results of the first ever EU threat analysis, conducted with input from the Member States’ intelligence agencies between June and November 2020. This analysis represents the first step and the foundation for the forthcoming strategic compass. The exercise is entering its second and most sensitive phase, that of developing policy orientations and setting objectives in four areas, namely: i) crisis management; ii) preparedness and resilience; iii) capability development; and iv) partnerships. This second phase, which will last until mid-2021, requires a vision and guidelines from the European Council, which has tasked the High Representative with continuing the work on developing a strategic compass ‘making use of the entire EU toolbox’. In this way, EU leaders would have ownership of the process, something that was missing in 2016 when the European Council ‘welcomed‘, but did not endorse, the EU’s Global Strategy. The third phase of this exercise will be dedicated to developing the strategic compass document, expected by March 2022.

The European Council also recognised that ‘significant steps’ had already been undertaken to boost European defence cooperation, and called for it to be further deepened, not least in the area of crisis management where ‘improved force generation’ is needed. A set of new instruments – the coordinated annual review on defence (CARD), the European Defence Fund (EDF), permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) and the European Peace Facility (EPF) – have become a reality and are about to be implemented. The European Council called for ‘swift operationalisation’ of the EPF and ‘full use’ of PESCO. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasised the importance of these tools in tackling existing fragmentation and the duplication of capabilities, fostering interoperability and building synergies between civilian, defence and space industries. The EU leaders also underlined the importance of countering cyber-threats and building cyber-resilience, and invited the co-legislators to act ‘swiftly’ and ‘take work forward’ on the revised directive on security of network and information systems. Addressing EU leaders, the Parliament’s President, David Sassoli, welcomed ‘the shift from a common defence policy to a fully fledged defence system’ and the initiative to develop a strategic compass by 2022. He reiterated Parliament’s view that the EU must ‘improve [its] understanding of the new threats and build up our common resilience, in order to become strategically autonomous’.

Southern neighbourhood

EU leaders discussed the ‘political and strategic nature’ of the partnership with the southern neighbourhood and reaffirmed their attachment to their previous conclusions from December 2020. They called on the Council to implement the joint communication from the Commission and the High Representative on a renewed and reinforced partnership with the southern neighbourhood, while taking into consideration the ‘common challenges’ and the ‘shared opportunities’. Josep Borrell emphasised that the EU is ‘closely intertwined’ with its southern neighbourhood but that the ‘gap between the two shores of the Mediterranean has been increasing’, heightening the urgent need to deepen cooperation. Charles Michel stressed that the EU and NATO want ‘more stability and more predictability’ in their neighbourhood.

In his address to the European Council, EP President David Sassoli underlined that Parliament welcomed the new agenda, which confirmed ‘the importance the EU attaches to its southern neighbours’. He stated that the Parliament, which holds the presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean, was determined to help strengthen inter-parliamentary dialogue on challenging issues such as fighting climate change and overcoming socio-economic disparities.

Other items

Charles Michel reiterated the European Council’s condemnation of the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and demanded his release. He stressed that, earlier in the week, the Foreign Affairs Council had agreed to impose restrictive measures against those responsible for the ‘arrest and sentencing’ of Mr Navalny under the newly introduced EU global human rights sanctions regime.

The European Council also condemned the attack on the World Food Programme convoy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and expressed sympathy for the families of the victims and solidarity with Italy.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Outcome of the European Council video-conference of 26 February 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/03/04/outcome-of-the-european-council-video-conference-of-26-february-2021/

What if we could engineer the planet to help fight climate change? [Science and Technology podcast]

Written by Lieve Van Woensel with Marcos Fernández Álvarez,

©phonlamaiphoto AdobeStock

Efforts to curb carbon emissions are falling short. As climate change impacts become all too clear, geoengineering is again in the spotlight. Some see it as a last-resort option to fight climate change. Detractors highlight the risks and uncertainties. Will governments end up ‘tinkering with Earth’s thermostat’?

In the summer of 2018, a succession of heatwaves struck the EU. Record-breaking temperatures were reported, and wildfires ravaged the continent. Sweden suffered the worst forest fires in modern history. In Greece, blazes swept through Attica and left 102 dead. For many citizens, wildfires threw the reality of climate change into sharp relief.

Under the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries pledged to keep global warming well below 2°C. But progress in curbing carbon emissions is not on track. If the current trend is not reversed, extreme weather events like the 2018 heatwave will become more and more frequent.

Large-scale tree planting and direct air capture (DAC) are being considered to boost these efforts. While these are steps in the right direction – and could end up playing a significant role in tackling climate change – DAC is currently very costly and energy intensive, and planting trees can only help so much.

Geoengineering refers to large-scale interventions in the global climate system, intended to counteract climate change. In 2008, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity called for a moratorium on geoengineering ‘until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities’. Only a decade later, scientists and policy-makers are again looking for last-ditch solutions to buy some extra time. Geoengineering is again in the spotlight.

Potential impacts and developments

Geoengineering includes a number of techniques of varying complexity, risk, and cost. In policy-making, the debate revolves almost entirely around ‘solar geoengineering‘. This describes a set of methods aimed at cooling the planet by reflecting a portion of solar energy back into space, or increasing the amount of solar radiation that escapes the Earth.

Cirrus clouds are known to have a warming effect on Earth. Seeding the atmosphere with innocuous Sahara dust would prevent the formation of cirrus clouds, and reduce global temperatures. Stratospheric aerosol injection entails creating an artificial sunshade by injecting reflective particles in the stratosphere. Its working principle is based in nature. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 pumped around 15 million tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere; in the two years that followed, global temperatures decreased by about 1°C.

Solar geoengineering would be inexpensive, and scientists agree on its potential. Without actions to reduce emissions, the concentration of CO2 is likely to be double pre-industrial levels by 2060. In theory, getting rid of all cirrus clouds would balance the doubling of CO2; so would using stratospheric particle injection to reflect 2 % of the incoming solar radiation.

But there is no simple solution. For a start, solar geoengineering does not target the root of the problem; it only mitigates its effects. Solar geoengineering has never been tried before. If done incorrectly, it could cause even more global warming; and there could be other unintended consequences. The real challenge, however, may not be technological but rather one of governance. Climate politics is slow and complex; agreeing on using untested technology on a planetary scale could prove impossible. Who decides to use solar geoengineering? Who benefits from it? Who is affected?

Solar geoengineering is a geopolitical issue. The atmosphere has no borders, and the actions of some countries could affect the climate of others. To make matters worse, the science is not always conclusive. Some climate models suggest that almost every region in the world would benefit from solar geoengineering. Other scientists claim that since heat-trapping gases would still operate, temperatures would be more evenly distributed. This would reduce precipitation. Such a geoengineered world would be cooler, but also drier.

Many stakeholders see a moral hazard in solar geoengineering. All efforts are now focused on reducing emissions. With new tools in their climatic toolbox, governments could become complacent. Scientists insist that geoengineering is a supplement and not a substitute for mitigation. For example, solar geoengineering will not solve ocean acidification, and its impact on the water cycle is uncertain. Eventually, part or all the carbon released into the atmosphere will need to be recaptured, regardless of whether geoengineering is used or not.

To some citizens, meddling with the climate may sound like playing god. But across the world, about 40 % of the population live within 100 kilometres of the coast. Rising sea levels will threaten these coastal communities. Many regions will see more intense and frequent summer droughts, extreme weather events, and heavy rainfall. This could strain the fragile agricultural systems in the global South, sparking an exodus of climate refugees. As the consequences of climate change accumulate, the public’s opinion on solar geoengineering could shift rapidly.

Perceptions could be as important as the science. In 1962, the US started a programme to weaken hurricanes through seeding. In 1963, Hurricane Flora caused thousands of deaths in Cuba. The Cuban government accused the US of waging weather warfare. Similarly, any country suffering from extreme weather could blame geoengineers. In addition, geoengineering would be deployed progressively. Its effects would be initially difficult to decouple from natural fluctuations and climate change. Detractors would be quick to discard it as a failed idea.

There is a bigger problem, however. Once started, solar geoengineering cannot be stopped. Assuming that carbon emissions continued, the artificial sunshade would mask increasing amounts of extra warming. If geoengineering ceased abruptly – due to sabotage, technical, or political reasons – temperatures would shoot up rapidly. This termination shock would be catastrophic for humans and ecosystems.

Anticipatory policy-making

Solar geoengineering should only be considered as a last-resort solution. There is ample consensus that cutting emissions is the safest, most economical route to tackling climate change. The world needs a climate champion to accelerate these efforts, and the EU could lead the way.

Ultimately, the debate surrounding solar geoengineering could come down to balancing the risks and benefits. Solar geoengineering is not without risks. However, failing to mitigate climate change will also bring major new risks, disrupt ecosystems across the world, and hit the most vulnerable regions particularly hard.

Ironically, one reason that solar geoengineering may become necessary is the slow pace of international climate negotiations. Yet discussions on geoengineering are following the same path. Should solar geoengineering become necessary, governments need to be ready. The EU could help advance preparedness in this area; for example, by throwing its diplomatic weight behind multilateral initiatives moving in this direction.

The EU and its partners could promote an international governance framework for solar geoengineering. However, all parties must be on board. There are real risks that some of the countries worst affected by climate change could act unilaterally. Even if well-intentioned, this could create geopolitical tension. An international regulation system would ensure that no country ‘goes rogue’, and that geoengineering is not done for some at the expense of others.

The EU could also support research on solar geoengineering. Studies and trials may have been hampered by fears of promoting a quick ‘technofix’. But if geoengineering became necessary to avert disaster, its full effects must be known. Current techniques are criticised for posing a risk to biodiversity, precipitation patterns, and the ozone layer. A better understanding of these problems is the first step towards tackling them. Research could also help governance. For example, counter-geoengineering tools could serve as a deterrent against unilateral action.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘What if we could engineer the planet to help fight climate change?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to Science and Technology podcast ‘What if we could engineer the planet to help fight climate change?’ on YouTube.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/03/03/what-if-we-could-engineer-the-planet-to-help-fight-climate-change-science-and-technology-podcast/

Green and sustainable finance [Policy Podcast]

Written by Stefano Spinaci,

© areeya_ann / Adobe Stock

The dramatic consequences of climate change and environmental degradation have brought the need for a more sustainable economy to the top of the agenda. Transforming the EU economy to make it more sustainable requires large investments, especially for enabling a green and low-carbon transition. Given that the public sector alone cannot cover this financial need, solutions have been sought to bring the private sector on board. Green finance involves collecting funds for addressing climate and environmental issues (green financing), on the one hand, and improving the management of financial risk related to climate and the environment (greening finance), on the other. Sustainable finance is an evolution of green finance, as it takes into consideration environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and risks, with the aim of increasing long-term investments in sustainable economic activities and projects.

The European Union is a global leader in the above domain. In its 2018 action plan on financing sustainable growth, the European Commission set out the EU strategy to connect finance with sustainability. The first deliverables have been three key regulations seeking to create a classification system to determine whether an economic activity is environmentally sustainable (the ‘taxonomy’); to make disclosures relating to sustainable investments and sustainability risks clearer; and to establish low-carbon benchmarks. The Taxonomy Regulation is particularly important for driving the consistent development of future legislation, as advocated, in particular, by the European Parliament. The Commission will release a renewed sustainable finance strategy in 2021, and a legislative proposal on the green bond standard.

The interest in green and sustainable finance is rising very fast among investors worldwide, and several voluntary private initiatives have tried to create some market standards. Policymakers have also been very active in launching numerous regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives at global or local level. To avoid market fragmentation, there is a demand for greater harmonisation among the different measures. There is also a need to increase the standardisation and disclosure of non-financial information published by companies and used to evaluate the risks. Doing so will help to increase data availability, to make data more comparable, and to bring more transparency and clarity to investors. Given that climate change and environmental degradation are global challenges, international cooperation is in the common interest; the European Union is actively promoting this through the International Platform on Sustainable Finance.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Green and sustainable finance‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to policy podcast ‘Green and sustainable finance’ on YouTube.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/03/03/green-and-sustainable-finance-policy-podcast/

Learning for the future

Written by Denise Chircop,

The European Union is beginning to deploy significant amounts of coronavirus recovery funding and has introduced visionary initiatives such as the New European Bauhaus, a European Green Deal, and a Europe fit for the digital age. In this way, the EU seeks to turn the huge disruptions resulting from the Covid‑19 pandemic into an opportunity to start afresh, with some initiatives to shape the future.

In the field of education, the European Commission proposes to establish a European education area by 2025, and implement a new digital education action plan. The Portuguese Presidency of the European Council has launched discussions on the renewal of the strategic framework for European cooperation on education and training up to 2030. In the latest round of negotiations over the long-term budget of the European Union, the European Parliament fought hard to boost the funding programme dedicated to lifelong learning Erasmus for 2021‑2017, securing additional funds and wider participation to include significantly more people with fewer opportunities.

At a time of new beginnings, our animated infographic on lifelong learning in the EU has been revamped with recent data and greater interactivity. A new section on vocational education and training looks at the distribution of enrolments, the situation of vocational education teachers and instructors, the financing of our vocational systems, and the opportunities vocational education and training opens up, including for mobility. Education is integral to our lives and the sections of the animated infographic span from early childhood to adulthood. Since learning implies an act of curiosity, there are many interesting nuggets waiting to be discovered – just click.

Lifelong learning in the EU is intended to help explain what the EU means when it uses the term lifelong learning and to draw attention to some of the issues by displaying EU financed studies and data. How is learning structured in the EU? Who pays for it? And how much? What are the profiles of the professionals? Who are the beneficiaries? Who is left by the wayside? What is the impact?

Prepared for Members of the European Parliament, we have added a series of infographic briefings that use some elements of the animated infographic as a launch pad to dig deeper into a theme. There are four to date:

  • The infographic on the inclusion of migrants in formal education draws on statistics that show that students with a migrant background experience a degree of exclusion from formal education compared to other students. Nevertheless, many different individuals fall under this category. This infographic looks at the complex picture behind the statistics, and at how authorities in Member States address the inclusion of migrant students through their policies.
  • Adult learners in a digital world looks at how adults in the EU currently use the internet, and their level of skills. While policy-makers see the potential of the digital environment to broaden access to education, lack of skills and infrastructure may be barriers in their own right.
  • Non-formal learning: Access and validation looks at the different situations in which we learn over the course of a lifetime. It looks at examples of learning opportunities in adulthood and the types of recognition adults receive for the knowledge and skills that they develop.
  • Our latest infographic is on early leavers from education and training. It looks at young adults whose highest level of education is at or below lower secondary or primary school level. Those who fall in this category suffer considerable disadvantage, so how do policies supported by the EU bring down their numbers?

See also our video that provides answers to questions such as what is lifelong learning, whether it is equally accessible to everyone and how the European Union contributes towards the promotion of lifelong learning.



Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/03/02/lifelong-learning-overview/

Women in politics in the EU: State of play

Written by Rosamund Shreeves with Nessa Boland,

© pressmaster / Adobe Stock

One hundred years after women won the vote or were first elected to parliament in some EU countries, the data show that women continue to be under-represented in politics and public life, in the European Parliament, national parliaments and governments, and local assemblies.

The arguments for gender balance in politics are numerous, and benefit not only women and female politicians, but also parties themselves and the rest of society. After all, women form half the population and need to be better represented in power structures. However, there is now solid evidence both of obstacles and of the strategies that are effective when it comes to increasing women’s participation and representation. Here, political parties and the media can be both barriers and important enablers. The EU has committed to achieving a gender balance in political representation and participation as a matter of justice, equality and democracy. Concrete recommendations have been made for achieving this goal, including specific action that could be taken by the EU institutions, national governments, political parties, civil society and the media.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the issue of women’s leadership and its implications for gender equality.

This is an update of a Briefing from March 2019, drafted by Rosamund Shreeves and Martina Prpic.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Women in politics in the EU: State of play‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/03/01/women-in-politics-in-the-eu-state-of-play/

Covid-19: The need for a gendered response

Written by Rosamund Shreeves,

© VAKSMANV / Adobe Stock

In the midst of the current pandemic, adopting a gender perspective may seem a secondary concern. However, pandemics are known to affect women and men differently, making it essential to recognise these differences in order to understand the impacts on individuals and communities and to respond effectively and equitably.

There is already clear evidence that the ongoing health, social and economic crisis is having gendered impacts. Disaggregated data show that sex and gender are playing a role in exposure to the virus and risks of severe outcomes, and that some groups of women and men are particularly vulnerable. Lockdown measures have led to an increase in violence against women and disrupted access to support services. Access to sexual and reproductive healthcare has also been affected. Successive lockdowns have widened the existing gender divide in unpaid care work that was already keeping more women than men out of the labour market. Greater work-life conflict is one of the factors leading to women’s employment being worse hit than men’s, with potential long-term impacts on women’s employment, pay and career advancement. The pandemic has also brought the issue of women’s participation in decision-making to the fore.

Without a gender-sensitive approach, the pandemic could have far-reaching implications, including a real risk of exacerbating gender inequalities and sending progress into reverse. At the same time, gender mainstreaming tools such as gender impact assessments and gender budgeting exist that could, if used effectively, mitigate the negative consequences and contribute to achieving gender equality.

Internationally and within the European Union (EU), there have been calls for gender-sensitive emergency and long-term responses. In January 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution setting out recommendations on both aspects.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Covid-19: The need for a gendered response‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Sex-disaggregated data on confirmed cases and mortality in the EU

Sex-disaggregated data on confirmed cases and mortality in the EU

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/03/01/covid-19-the-need-for-a-gendered-response/

Outcome of the European Council video-conference of 25 February 2021

Written by Ralf Drachenberg,

© Adobe Stock

For the tenth time since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, the European Council met by video-conference, however this time in two separate sessions. The first, on 25 February, dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and ways of increasing the EU’s health resilience, is covered in this paper, while the second, the following morning, addressed security and defence as well as the southern neighbourhood, and is covered by a separate paper. Regarding the pandemic, EU leaders called for acceleration in the authorisation, production and distribution of vaccines, reiterated their solidarity with third countries, and acknowledged that non-essential travel still needed to be restricted while ensuring the unhindered flow of goods and services within the single market. To strengthen the EU’s resilience to future health emergencies, EU leaders will seek to improve coordination to ensure better prevention, preparedness and response. However, further EU integration in health policy was excluded, with the conclusions stressing that these actions should be carried out ‘in line with the Union competences under the Treaties’. EU leaders also called on the Commission to draw up a report on the lessons learned from this crisis, to take forward the work on the European health union, and underlined the need for a global approach, including an international treaty on pandemics.

Meeting format and video-conference conclusions

The Leaders’ Agenda for 2020-21 envisaged a physical European Council meeting in February 2021. However, due to the still serious health situation, it was replaced by video-conferences. Despite the informal nature of the meeting, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, was invited to present Parliament’s view, which is not the case for most video-conferences of the European Council. This was the 14th time the European Council has addressed the coronavirus crisis in a period of just under 12 months, underlining its role as Covid-19 crisis manager. Nine of these exchanges took place by video-conference, but their results have taken different formats, notably, three ‘President’s conclusions‘, three ’President’s remarks’, one ‘oral President’s conclusions’ and, for this meeting, two statements. While the meaning of these different labels is neither obvious nor explained, it suggests a distinction in nature to that of formal conclusions of a physical European Council meeting, which have been qualified as ‘political orientations’.

EU coordination efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic

EU coordination efforts

Over the past year, the European Council has met regularly to take stock of the epidemiological situation and to coordinate efforts in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent challenges regarding the production and roll-out of vaccines across the EU, have led to criticism of the European Commission. On 10 February, in the European Parliament, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged some mistakes in the handing of the vaccine acquisition process, but remained firm that ordering vaccines jointly and sharing them in a spirit of solidarity was the right decision. MEPs addressed some of the mistakes made, but also stressed that the overall strategy – to purchase vaccines jointly – was the right one. EU leaders emphasised their determination to continue working together and coordinate their actions to tackle the pandemic and its consequences, keeping the overall situation under close review.

Vaccine delivery

The European Council agreed on the need to accelerate the authorisation, production and distribution of vaccines, as well as the vaccination process. Ahead of the meeting, Charles Michel stressed that the ‘main challenge is to speed up #COVID19 vaccine delivery to Member States so they can implement their vaccination campaigns’. EU leaders expressed their support for the Commission’s ‘on-going efforts to accelerate the availability of raw materials, facilitate agreements between manufacturers across supply chains, scope existing facilities so as to help production scale-up in the EU and further the research and development of vaccines to protect against variants’. Prior to the meeting, Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Poland and Spain called for the strengthening of vaccine production in the EU. In order to boost production capacity in Europe, the Commission has set-up a task force for industrial scale-up of Covid-19 vaccines, to facilitate a more integrated and strategic public-private partnership with industry. It will also provide operational support for addressing potential bottlenecks in production and supply of raw materials and other essential input required for vaccines manufacturing. Addressing the European Council, President Sassoli stressed ‘it was forward-looking of our governments to give the Commission the mandate to procure vaccines to distribute among all 27 Member States’.

Coronavirus variants

Considering the possible resistance of future coronavirus variants to existing vaccines, EU leaders called for enhancement of the EU’s surveillance and detection capacity to identify variants as early as possible. To anticipate such developments, the Commission launched a new bio-defence preparedness plan named HERA Incubator. The objective is ‘to access and mobilise all means and resources necessary to prevent, mitigate and respond to the potential impact of [coronavirus] variants’. EU leaders stressed that ‘companies must ensure predictability of their vaccine production and respect contractual delivery deadlines’. On 17 February, the Commission approved a second contract with the pharmaceutical company Moderna, providing an additional 300 million doses. This adds to the contracts already signed with BioNTech/Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Curevac and Moderna.

The movement of persons

Currently eight Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Portugal and Spain) have set temporary internal border controls due to Covid-19. Seven of them introduced them despite the EU leaders’ statement at their last video-conference meeting, on 21 January 2021, that ‘borders need to stay open to ensure the functioning of the single market, including the flow of essential goods and services. No indiscriminate travel bans should be imposed.’ The latest European Council meeting took a more nuanced approach, acknowledging that ‘for the time being, non-essential travel needs to be restricted’, while stressing that ‘the unhindered flow of goods and services in the single market must continue to be ensured’. It welcomed two new Council recommendations on travel within, and into, the EU, as well as the progress made on a common approach to vaccination certificates, calling for this work to continue.

Covid-19 and third countries

EU leaders reaffirmed their solidarity with third countries, and the aim of improving access to vaccines for priority groups in the neighbourhood and beyond, through COVAX, a global vaccine procurement facility.

Strengthening the EU’s resilience to health threats

EU leaders had a first exchange of views on ways of strengthening the EU’s health resilience in the long term. The Commission was invited to present a report on the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic ahead of the June European Council meeting, which would be followed up in the second half of 2021. Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, health was a policy issue which received very limited attention from the European Council; and had not previously featured as a separate agenda point at a European Council meeting. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, health has become one of the main concerns for Europeans, as shown by recent Eurobarometer surveys. When asked what the EU should now prioritise in its response to the coronavirus outbreak, citizens prioritised ‘developing financial means to find a treatment or vaccine’; ‘establishing a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future’; and ‘developing a European health policy’. EP President Sassoli thus underlined that modifying the Treaties to incorporate clearly defined competences for the EU institutions ‘can no longer be a taboo’.

European health union

EU leaders agreed to ‘improve EU coordination, in line with the Union competences under the Treaties, to ensure better prevention, preparedness for and response to future health emergencies’. Priority will be given to the development of safe and effective vaccines and medicines, early investment in production capacity and making best use of big data and digital technologies for medical research and healthcare. EU Heads of State or Government called for the work on the European health union to be taken forward.

Global multilateral cooperation on future health threats

EU leaders committed to advancing global health security, including by strengthening the World Health Organization, and supported President Michel’s idea for an international treaty on pandemics, which could be addressed during the 21 May 2021 G20 Global Health Summit in Rome.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Outcome of the European Council video-conference of 25 February 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/02/27/outcome-of-the-european-council-video-conference-of-25-february-2021/

When are online platforms liable for illegal or harmful content?

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

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The current EU liability framework is incredibly complex and often inadapted to modern entities. It is therefore difficult for the subjects involved to understand exactly when a given obligation applies to them, and what kind of behaviour is required. This was one of the main conclusions of the study on ‘Liability of online platforms‘, carried out by Professor Andrea Bertolini of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Pisa) at the request of the STOA Panel, following a proposal from Christian Ehler (EPP, Germany), First Vice-Chair of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA).

Online platforms (OPs) have gained significant economic and societal importance in the last decade and the public debate on their responsibilities and liability has reached an unprecedented level. They have penetrated all product and service markets and have changed the way in which goods are sold and purchased, and in which information is exchanged and obtained, allowing a shift from the off-line world to the online environment, where they provide numerous digital services including the mass diffusion of any type of content, both legal and illegal.

As a result of their growing importance, users and policy-makers raise questions about the platforms’ responsibility in the digital domain. The contractual responsibility of online platform operators has been subject to an intensive debate in the recent past, in the frame of the debate on the effective detection and removal of illegal material. While the operators of transaction platforms usually seek a role of mere intermediary, without considerable liability for the proper performance of the main contracts, there is increasing support for extending their responsibility. Moreover, the lack of international legal mechanisms to enforce the removal of abusive material complicates the tracing and prosecution of abusive behaviours online. Self-regulation efforts appear suboptimal, due to the presence of externalities and asymmetric information problems, warranting some form of liability rules.

What are the main legal/regulatory challenges associated with the operation of OPs and the efforts to detect and remove illegal/harmful material, content and/or products? Can we map the whole range of liabilities associated with the operation of online platforms and provide the conceptual clarifications necessary to address them systematically? Is the existing EU legal framework adequate to ensure protection for users and their fundamental rights and freedoms? Does the current liability regime reflect the position of users and platforms alone? Does it adequately address the interests of third parties that are potentially violated by user-generated content?

Against this background, the study identifies and assesses the relevant legal framework at the EU level, discussing the policy issues that deserve consideration, and identifies the possible policy issues and concerns, with respect to the application of the existing legal framework – comprised of both hard- and soft-law initiatives – deserving discussion and, in some cases at least, even regulatory intervention. The review of the main legal/regulatory challenges associated with the operation of OPs involves an analysis of the incentives for OPs, their users and third parties, to detect and remove illegal/harmful material, content and/or products.

One of the most important aspects of the study is the detailed discussion of the notion of OPs and the comprehensive classification it provides on the basis of multiple criteria. In fact, it maps and critically assesses the whole range of OP liabilities, taking hard and soft law, self-regulation, as well as national legislation, into consideration.

In doing so, the study sets out a much-needed conceptual framework by analysing the difference between responsibility and liability, and the different types of liability, distinguishing, on the one hand, between civil, criminal and administrative liability and between strict, semi-strict or fault-based liability on the other hand. It also makes an important distinction between liabilities connected with the activities performed or the content uploaded by OP users and alternative sources of liability, such as OPs’ contractual liability towards users, both businesses and consumers, as well as that deriving from infringements of privacy and data protection law. The proposed classifications demonstrate their plurality, as platforms differ pursuant to the activities and functions they serve, the multiplicity of actors they involve and the various ways in which they interact with them in their operation, their different sources of revenue and associated business models, the way in which they use and exploit data, and the level of control they exercise on users’ activities.

Against the analysis of OPs’ rights, duties and liabilities under the existing EU regulatory framework, the study suggests a set of policy options which could be used to shape this framework regarding the liability of OPs, and especially that relating to the illegal/harmful content or products distributed and/or made available through their infrastructures, such as content that infringes intellectual property rights (IPR), hate speech, terrorist content, content that harms children, counterfeit and unsafe products.

One of the most innovative aspects of the study is that the policy options are assessed against a variety of criteria including cost and benefits, feasibility and effectiveness, sustainability, their coherence with EU objectives, ethical, social and regulatory impacts and the effects on EU citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, and presented along a scale of increasing interventionism.

This new STOA study provides a timely, in-depth overview of the discussion on the liabilities of OPs that will inform the discussions on the recent European Commission proposal on a Digital Services Acts, which aims to establish a new, comprehensive transparency and accountability regime for OPs. While proposing the maintenance of the liability exemptions for tech companies by not subjecting them to a general monitoring obligation regarding user content, this legislative proposal proposes that, in certain circumstances, platforms could be held liable for third-party content, for instance, when failing to act after being alerted of illegal content. The study is expected to provide EU legislators with a wide range of pragmatic and well-balanced policy options during the discussion of this proposal.

Read the full report and accompanying STOA Options Brief to find out more.

Your opinion counts for us. To let us know what you think, get in touch via stoa@europarl.europa.eu.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/02/26/when-are-online-platforms-liable-for-illegal-or-harmful-content/