A statement by the European Commission on combatting the climate of hatred and physical violence against democratically elected mandate holders is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, and Members will also debate a report calling to block sites when the domain name is defamatory or racist later on Wednesday evening. The trilogue agreement on new rules on the .eu top level domain (TLD), to be debated on Wednesday, ensures greater promotion of EU data protection rules and values in the proposed revamping of the rules on domain names, as well as encouraging best practice and reorganising the management of domain names in the EU.
Also on Wednesday afternoon, the Council and Commission will make statements on the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary. Parliament has made several resolutions on the risks of serious breaches of the EU’s founding principles by the Hungarian state. A proposal currently under consideration seeks to allow for sanctions measures with regard to EU funding.
Parliament will then debate a Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) report on the 2017 annual report on the protection of EU financial interests, and the fight against fraud. The European Commission prepares the annual report, based on information provided by the Member States’ authorities, who manage the actual expenditure. While the CONT committee acknowledges that irregularities decreased during the period, the amount of money involved actually increased. The report stresses the uneven geographical distribution of fraud, and decries the low average recovery rate.
In the latest, and one of the last, of the current series, a debate will be held with the Prime Minister of Finland, Juha Sipilä, on the Future of Europe on Thursday morning. Perhaps the Prime Minister will touch upon some of the burning issues for the next few years: such as an EU at 27 Member States, trade issues and other geopolitical changes, as well as security, the environment, or the challenges of the digital transformation.
Finally, on Thursday lunchtime, Members will vote on a report on the European Commission proposal to change the way EU overseas countries and territories are funded. Parliament’s Development Committee is proposing to increase the budget for the non-UK linked overseas territories plus Greenland to €669 million, and to include these territories in EU regional dialogues with their immediate neighbours. The measures also seek to reinforce environmental and human rights considerations, as well as the territories’ competitiveness.
On 15 January, the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected the Withdrawal Agreement which the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, had negotiated with the rest of the European Union, throwing into disarray efforts to ensure the country’s orderly exit from the bloc. However, the Prime Minister then survived a no-confidence vote tabled by the Opposition and later proposed tweaking her deal in a bid to win over rebel Conservative law-makers and the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, on which her government depends for its majority. British and European politicians are weighing various options as to how to proceed.
This note offers links to reports and commentaries from some major international think-tanks and research institutes on Brexit negotiations and related issues. More reports on the topic can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think Tanks are thinking’, published in December 2018.
Every day, citizens from all across the EU and the wider world address the European Parliament to request information, express opinions or suggest ideas on an extensive range of topics. The Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP) provides answers to citizens on the issues they raise. In 2018, citizens put more than 30 000 questions, suggestions and comments to the European Parliament or its President.
Topics of the year
The European Commission’s plans to end seasonal clock changes in the European Union (EU) generated a significant share of mail from citizens in 2018. The European Parliament and Council considered the legislative proposal, which would allow EU countries to decide whether their citizens would live in winter or summer time.
We also received a large number of messages ahead of the European Parliament vote on its position on a legislative proposal updating the copyright directive in September 2018. The proposal was hotly debated, with some arguing that the measures would ensure fair remuneration for journalists and publishers, and others highlighting the risks of filtering and control of the internet.
The environment was also a topic of great interest for citizens, particularly single-use plastics, which are a source of marine litter. To tackle the issue, the European Commission has proposed to ban or restrict certain plastic items commonly found on European beaches. The European Parliament has ensured that the legislation adopted is more ambitious than the initial proposal.
Two individual cases have also generated reactions from citizens: the early termination of the office of Richard Czarnecki, a Vice-President of the European Parliament, and the legal battle regarding Alfie Evans, a toddler who suffered from a neurological degenerative condition.
Civil liberties, justice and home affairs was an important area of interest for citizens addressing the Ask EP unit. Reactions related mainly to the political situation in Catalonia and the visit of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to the European Parliament in May 2018. Citizens also wrote to the European Parliament to comment and ask questions on migration and refugee policies, and to comment and request action on the political situation in some EU countries.
Citizens also turned to the European Parliament for answers on the political situation outside the EU, for instance in Kosovo, Palestine, Russia, Syria, Turkey and Ukraine.
Another fundamental area of direct concern frequently shared by citizens writing to our service relates to employment and social affairs, in particular pension schemes, employment policy and working conditions. Citizens also contacted the European Parliament for comments and queries on culture and education, in particular free Interrail passes and Erasmus+.
In 2019, continue to put your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.
Written by Zsolt G. Pataki with Riccardo Molinari,
The aim of the event was to examine the opportunities and challenges of moving towards a digital democracy, with well-informed, perceptive contributions from representatives of most EPTA member organisations with a long experience in technology assessment and foresight. In his welcome speech, Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO, Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for STOA, argued that assessing the impact of new technologies on our democratic processes and institutions was truly relevant today, when objective facts seem to be less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Democratic institutions must therefore face both the positive and the negative side of technological evolution, which, on the one hand, increases transparency and strengthens the democratic processes, but on the other, facilitates the proliferation of illegal activities.
The first session, on ‘Interactions between Quantum Technology (QT), Block Chain (BC) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)’, was led by Eva KAILI (S&D, Greece), Chair of STOA.
The second session, entitled ‘Societal and political debate’, was moderated by Mady DELVAUX (ALDE, Luxembourg), member of STOA.
The third session, on ‘Experiences and outlook’, was chaired by Wolfgang HILLER, Director for Impact Assessment and European Added Value, DG EPRS.
In each session, Members of the European Parliament, members and experts representing their constituents, 17 EPTA member countries and regions from the entire world, as well as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, shared their experiences with new technologies and their impact on the democratic processes in their geographical area of competence. There was a common understanding among the participants that these technologies have already started to produce effects on democracy by modifying interactions at different levels, from the legislative, to that of relations between the media and the citizens, as well as policy areas from security and defence to the economy.
To understand all the facets of this complex situation, it is essential to examine it from different angles. The different experiences and outlooks presented by the EPTA Members of Parliament, members and experts were therefore very precious contributions to the debate. The outcome was a wide-ranging collection of knowledge that provided the pieces to an elaborate puzzle.
Interested? The complete report can be found on the EPTA website.
How to prepare ourselves for a world using quantum technologies
On the afternoon of the same day, STOA hosted its 17th Annual Lecture, entitled ‘Quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity: Catching up with the future’. The lecture was linked thematically to the EPTA Conference and focused on the opportunities and challenges created by greatly enhanced computing power, as well as other applications of quantum technologies. The lecture touched upon issues of cybersecurity and data protection at a time of widespread use of big data, artificial intelligence and data analytics.
After a warm welcome from Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO, Vice-President of the European Parliament, responsible for STOA, STOA Chair Eva KAILI introduced the two eminent keynote speakers: Anton ZEILINGER, Professor of Physics and President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences; and Esther WOJCICKI, American technology educator and journalist at the Palo Alto High School Media Arts Program.
In the first talk, entitled ‘From quantum puzzles to quantum communication’, Professor ZEILINGER made a link between the first quantum revolution, which began in the first decades of the twentieth century, (where wave-particle duality, based on the work of such European scientists as Marie Skłodowska Curie, Niels Bohr, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger and Albert Einstein allowed a better understanding of the structure of matter (atoms, chemical bonds) and the crucial role they played in the development of new inventions, such as lasers, optical fibres, transistors and integrated circuits.
argued that we are in the middle of the second quantum revolution, which
promises a great deal for the future. As Professor ZEILINGER explained, we
are no longer in the world of inandout, of zeroandone,
and of onandoff.
Whereas ordinary computers
use ‘bits’ to store and process information, which can only occupy two definite
states (0 or 1), a quantum computer would also allow a ‘quantum superposition’
of these two states. These superpositions would vastly speed up computation of
certain problems, potentially by several orders of magnitude, making it
possible to solve such problems much faster than with classical computers.
the second keynote speech,
entitled ‘Preparing students for a world
dominated by quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, computer security
and the media’, Esther WOJCICKI
pointed out that today’s education is based on a teaching approach where
students sit passively just listening to lessons. She believes that students will vastly benefit if they spend 20 %
of their time working on collaborative projects, using
smartphones, tablets and other modern technology. Esther WOJCICKI
highlighted how today’s students need to acquire skills in such
areas as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication and
through what she calls TRICK, i.e. trust, respect, independence, collaboration
According to the speaker, the new generations would be better prepared to face the new reality if we allowed ourselves to change our teaching and education methods. Esther WOJCICKI therefore called for a change of culture, as this is the century of the media, and students to have to learn to use them in an ethical and intelligent way.
In the context of climate change, we often talk about the need to achieve public support for low-carbon energy technologies. However, new installations frequently face public opposition, and there are gaps between how regulators, developers and experts conceptualise and respond.
Public acceptance of energy infrastructures goes beyond individual consumer choices. While almost all citizens make use of energy from the grid, some may object to the impacts of specific installations on their local environment, economy, sense of place, or a wide range of other factors. Opposition may also be more global, on the basis of climate change impacts. These opponents are sometimes characterised as ‘luddites’, dogmatically opposed to any kind of technology development, or as ‘NIMBYs’ (derived from ‘not in my back yard’), who want to use green energy but object to infrastructural developments in their local area. These characterisations are often found in popular discourse and, while they do provide a model for understanding opposition, they do not open many avenues for resolving disagreements.
A third characterisation suggests that
opponents have misunderstood the technology or hold irrational fears of its
potential impacts. This is known as the ‘knowledge deficit model’ and it is
frequently found in strategies for managing the introduction of new
technologies into society. Unlike luddite or NIMBY conceptualisations, the
deficit model does indicate a practical means of responding to opposition and
fostering public acceptance by informing citizens about the technology,
particularly how it works and what benefits it can bring. For regulators,
developers and other stakeholders that are eager to reap the promised social,
environmental or economic benefits of technologies, it can be tempting and
intuitive to adopt one of these three characterisations. The deficit model is
particularly attractive when opposition is expected but there is little
appetite to change the development path.
However, studies of public opposition
to low-carbon energy technologies have repeatedly highlighted the inaccuracy
and ineffectiveness of the luddite, NIMBY and knowledge deficit
conceptualisations. They tend to misrepresent the often nuanced and sensitive
concerns of citizens with simplistic or even pejorative caricatures of
opposition. As a result – instead of opening paths to mutual understanding,
dialogue and resolution – they are more likely to escalate tensions and lead to
entrenched positions. Concepts
such as ‘beyond NIMBYism’, ‘responsible
research and innovation‘
with and for Society have provided practical measures for understanding and responding to this
opposition, usually focusing on establishing meaningful dialogues between the
full range of actors involved, particularly developers and citizens, from the
earliest stages of development.
STOA is organising a workshop, entitled ‘Responding to public opposition to low-carbon energy technologies’, which will provide an opportunity to discover and discuss several perspectives on understanding and responding to public opposition to low-carbon energy technologies. The workshop will also serve as the launch of a new STOA study, which reviews academic perspectives on these issues. It will open with a welcome address from STOA First Vice-Chair Paul RÜBIG (EPP, Austria), and an introduction to the workshop from the workshop’s chair and moderator JENS GEIER (S&D, Germany). This will be followed by a panel discussion, with presentations from Antonella BATTAGLINI (CEO, Renewables Grid Initiative), Sarah MANDER (Senior Researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and lead author of the STOA study, Catharina SIKOW-MAGNY (Head of Unit, DG Energy, European Commission), Rosemary STEEN (Director of External Affairs, EirGrid) and Ilse TANT (Chief Public Acceptance Officer, Elia System Operator). The event will conclude with a Q&A session and debate with all participants.
The sexual assault allegations brought against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein laid bare the painful reality for scores of women working in the film industry around the world. However, sexual harassment is seemingly just the tip of the iceberg in an industry where gender inequalities relating to biased representation and pay are arguably systematic and pervasive. Europe’s own film industry has not been spared. The weighted average of films directed by women in the 2012-2016 period is just 19.6 %, with country results varying from 5 % (Latvia) to 30 % (Sweden). More worryingly, research shows that the various positions in the film industry appear to be dominated by one or the other gender. Thus, women are over-represented in professions traditionally considered feminine – such as costume design and editing – and under-represented in others viewed as more technical, such as those dealing with sound, music and image.
To start redressing these imbalances, various EU-level initiatives have been introduced in support of female film projects. One such example is the LUX Film Prize, through which over the past 11 years the European Parliament has been consistently encouraging the dissemination of films directed by women and portraying strong, inspiring female characters. For its part, the European Commission has started measuring women’s participation in key positions in projects supported under the Media strand of its Creative Europe programme. Similarly, it is currently considering specific ways for a more gender-balanced provision of support. Yet again, the cultural support fund of the Council of Europe – Eurimages – committed in its 2018-2020 strategy to achieving equal distribution of co‑production funding between women and men by the year 2020; the distribution of funding currently stands at 38 %. Sweden is the EU leader in terms of regulatory policies at national level. The critical acclaim won by Swedish female filmmakers in the past 10 years has shown that by applying a methodical and systematic approach it is possible to achieve gender equality without compromising quality.
With European elections coming up in May 2019, you probably want to know how the European Union impacts your daily life, before you think about voting. In the latest in a series of posts on what Europe does for you, your family, your business and your wellbeing, we look at what Europe does for pregnant women at work.
Pregnancy is a special time when you need to take particular care of yourself and the baby inside you. If you are well, you may want to work right up until the day you give birth, in which case you can expect your working conditions to be adjusted to ensure your safety and that of your unborn child. The EU has played an important role in improving protection for pregnant working women. EU legislation sets minimum standards regarding situations that could be risky or dangerous for pregnant employees and in which cases employers are obliged to take action. Depending on the type of work, pregnant women can take advantage of possibilities to reduce working time or refrain from certain types of task that could put their pregnancy at risk. In addition, pregnant workers are not obliged to work night shifts if that would be contrary to medical advice. Without loss of pay, pregnant women are permitted to attend antenatal medical appointments during working hours. At all events, they should not be discriminated against at work or dismissed because of the fact that they are pregnant.
Although there has been significant progress regarding the protection of pregnant workers and those who have recently given birth, the EU is now working on better rules. As part of broader measures to improve people’s work-life balance, the EU has suggested further measures to secure appropriate working conditions for pregnant employees. It is now up to the Member States to discuss them and agree.
The European Union will face increasingly serious foreign policy and defence challenges in 2019. The current Administration in the United States seems to be abandoning its traditional role of the ‘benign protector’ of the rules-based international order. Russia, according to many analysts, continues to try to undermine the democratic process in many Western countries and China’s foreign policy is becoming more and more assertive, notably in the economic field. Furthermore, migration, Brexit and cyber-security, as well as a lack of EU unity on certain issues, also feature amongst key challenges.
This note offers links to recent selected commentaries, studies and reports from major international think tanks on EU foreign and defence policies. Links to more reports on President Donald Trump’s policies, Russia, EU-China relations and NATO available in previous items of the series published last year.
Highlights of the January I plenary session included
the latest debate on the future of Europe, with Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón,
Spain’s prime minister, and a debate on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Members also debated the reform of EU asylum and migration policy, reviewed the
Austrian Council Presidency and discussed the incoming Romanian Presidency’s programme.
Among the subjects debated and voted, Parliament adopted positions on 12 more of
the three dozen funding programmes proposed for the 2021-2027 period, enabling
negotiations with the Council to be launched on each proposal as and when the
latter has agreed its position.
Use of vehicles hired without drivers
Following the Commission proposal to update the 25-year-old rules on the use of vehicles hired without drivers, Parliament adopted its position at first reading based on the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) report. Freight operators could reduce their environmental impact by hiring vehicles in other EU Member States to reduce journey distances, and newer model rental vehicles could potentially be better for the environment. However, negotiations in Council seem unlikely to proceed rapidly, as some EU Member States disagree with the proposals, fearing a loss of revenue from vehicle taxes and registration.
Authorisation procedure for pesticides
Parliament adopted, by a very large majority, recommendations on authorisation procedures for pesticides from its special committee on pesticide authorisation (PEST). This committee was set up to examine EU pesticide authorisation procedures, following the controversial 2017 renewal of the licence for glyphosate. It recommended reinforcing the EU’s capacity for independent, objective and transparent assessment; fast-track approvals for biological pesticides; and greater monitoring of their impact on the environment.
Gender mainstreaming in the EU: State of play
Parliament debated a report from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) on gender mainstreaming in the EU. While gender may not at first glance be a central consideration in policy on trade or the environment, neglecting this aspect can perpetuate inequalities between women and men. For this reason, the EU has put in place a strategic engagement for gender equality for the 2016-2019 period. However, the FEMM committee report highlights that there is still some way to go to improve the current gender balance in Parliament itself, particularly in political and administrative posts.
Situation of fundamental rights in the European Union in 2017
Members debated a report from the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee on the situation of fundamental rights in the EU in 2017. The report draws on six main areas where the decline in rights in 2017 was most significant, namely the rule of law, migration, women’s rights, freedom of the press, racism and hate speech, as well as the mandate of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. Despite the adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights, this was also the year that saw the first formal EU action following up on criticisms of the rule of law in EU Member States, including over moves to reduce women’s rights, curtail freedom of expression or judicial independence, and to discriminate against minorities.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
Thirteen committees’ decisions (from JURI, ECON, LIBE, PECH, TRAN and ITRE) to enter into interinstitutional (trilogue) negotiations were confirmed. Only two votes were held, with both mandates being approved.
On 17 April 2018, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a directive intended to facilitate law enforcement authorities’ access to and use of financial information held in other jurisdictions within the EU for investigations related to terrorism and other serious crime. In this sense, the proposed directive would grant competent authorities direct access to bank account information contained in centralised registries set up in each Member State, according to the provisions of the Fifth Anti-Money-Laundering Directive. The proposal also aims to strengthen domestic and cross-border exchange of information between EU Member States’ competent authorities, including law enforcement authorities and financial intelligence units, as well as with Europol. Following the Council’s adoption of its negotiating position in November 2018, on 3 December 2018, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties adopted its report and mandate in view of interinstitutional negotiations. This mandate was confirmed in plenary in December 2018.