Месечни архиви: април 2019

Journal of Common Market Studies Annual Review– 2019 Lecture: ‘How the EU 27 came to be’

Written by Joanna Apap,

EPRS - Journal of Common Market Studies Annual Review - 2019 Lecture - How the EU27 came to beOn 4 April, EPRS hosted, in Parliament’s Library Reading Room, the Journal of Common Market Studies Annual Review 2019 Lecture – ‘How the EU27 came to be’, this year delivered by Professor Dr Brigid Laffan, Director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence.

Following a warm welcome from EPRS Director General Anthony Teasdale, Dr Emanuele Massetti, Co-Editor of the JCMS Annual Review and moderator of the event, explained that the Annual Review is a key component of the Journal of Common Market Studies (JCMS). It shares the JCMS’ overall aim of publishing high quality, innovative and accessible articles that advance debates in European and comparative regionalism studies. Within this common endeavour, the specific role of the Annual Review is to provide rigorous analyses of the most important events and/or trends that emerge year by year in the context of the European Union, including an Annual Lecture delivered by a leading scholar or practitioner.

The Annual Review covers the key developments in the European Union, its Member States, and acceding and/or applicant countries in the previous year, including important developments in the domestic or external arena that shape the political debates in Europe. In line with the ethos and inspiring principles of the JCMS, the Annual Review is a multidisciplinary outlet, open to all methodological and theoretical approaches.

In her lecture, Professor Brigid Laffan explained how the ‘Brexit shock’ came at a time when the EU had endured a series of crises that had seemed too much for the weakened Union to bear. The evening of 23 June 2016, as Professor Laffan highlighted, was a momentous one in the history of European integration. The electorate of a Member State, the United Kingdom (UK), made the decision to leave the EU by voting 52 % ‘leave’ to 48 % ‘remain’. The Brexit shock came at a time when the EU had endured both the acute crisis in the euro area and the 2015 refugee crisis, and the immediate reaction from the media was that this third crisis might lead to the disintegration of the EU, representing a ‘final straw’ for the weakened Union. To the contrary, however, the EU responded to the Brexit shock with resolve and a determination to protect the polity.

The EU’s immediate responses featured:

  • Speedy EU collective framing on 24 June 2016:

    • President of the European Commission,
    • Presidents of the EU institutions,
    • Informal European Council at 27 on 29 June 2016.
  • Survival of the Union: ‘We will stand strong and uphold the EU’s core values of promoting peace and the wellbeing of its peoples. The Union of 27 Member States will continue’.
  • Unity: President of the European Council, Donald Tusk declared that ‘Today, on behalf of the 27 leaders, I can say that we are determined to keep our unity as twenty seven’.
  • Process and orderly withdrawal under Article 50,
  • United Kingdom as an embryonic ‘other’: the EU would negotiate the future relationship with the UK as a third country, and negotiations had to involve a balance of rights and obligations.

Professor Laffan explored what the EU response revealed about the Union, what membership means and the crucial difference between differentiation within the Union and as an external partner. Her aim was to understand and explain the Union response. Professor Laffan argued that Brexit is very revealing of the DNA of the European Union and the Union’s resolve to use its full capacity. In addition, Professor Laffan examined what Brexit helped reveal, through the EU’s response, about the Union, and the EU27’s actions since 2016 to reinforce its own inherent resilience.

Brexit revealed that the EU has become much more polity-like, unafraid of deploying power through the challenges of the multiple crises it faces. According to Professor Laffan, the EU showed a formidable capacity and is capable of deploying it collectively and strategically, particularly when its interinstitutional and Brussels/capitals networks work well – this enhances capacity. Finally, yet importantly, methods do matter. Unity after 2016 was not accidental – it was hard-won.

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/29/journal-of-common-market-studies-annual-review-2019-lecture-how-the-eu-27-came-to-be/

Launch of the new ESPAS foresight report

Written by Eamonn Noonan, with Atte Ojanen,

EPRS round table - Study visit

EPRS round table – Study visit

April 2019 marked the launch of the new European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) report: ‘Global Trends to 2030: Challenges and Choices for Europe’. The report is a result of a multi-year joint effort by key European institutions. The collaborative nature of the ESPAS process was also reflected in the launch event, which featured variety of stakeholders as speakers.

Lead author of the report, Florence Gaub, from EUISS, highlighted the report’s structure, focusing on ‘mega-trends’, ‘catalysts’ and ‘game-changers’. ‘Mega-trends’ refer to decade-long trends, which are extremely hard to alter, such as climate change and increasing connectivity. ‘Catalysts’ on the other hand are short-term trends that are more easily influenced. These include trends like technological progress, increasing trade and migration. Finally, informed by mega-trends and catalysts, ‘game-changers’ are the key decisions that will shape our common future. The most pressing game-changers include responses to climate change and the populist threat to democracies.

ESPAS Chair, Ann Mettler, from EPSC, depicted the report as a call to action. Despite the somber challenges, we are still in a position to take action and shape the future for the better. Importantly, the ESPAS process has fostered the role of foresight and preparedness throughout European decision-making. Trends such as the decline of democracy, a global power shift towards China, and growth in connectivity, are now more widely acknowledged. The report helps frame the discussion concerning global challenges, which is crucial given the next institutional cycle. Not only can we shape our own future, but the European Union is also a normative superpower, standing for human rights, democracy and equality in an increasingly uncertain world.

The report lays the groundwork for a serious debate about the future, as expressed by Jim Cloos, Deputy Director-General for General and Institutional Policy at the General Secretariat of the EU Council of Ministers. It forces us to discuss Europe itself and its role in the world, rather than being trapped in a discourse on internal politics. Foresight is not a matter of predicting the future, but rather about framing issues, building a shared narrative and understanding. One cannot tackle the most challenging issues of the future without first agreeing what the problems themselves are. It is central therefore that the ESPAS report is not only circulated within the foresight community, but also finds its way into the hands of heads of states.

In spite of the grave challenges, one can also find a positive and motivating tone in the report. As Christian Leffler of EEAS noted, the EU is well positioned to respond to these challenges and provide stability for the world. Many of the problems are recognised in the institutions and policies of the Union, especially when compared to other global actors. While preparation and adaptation are still needed, the structural framework for effective response is in place. This is important given the contested and fragmented global context. The rules-based international order and multilateralism are giving way to competitive multi-plurality. The response lies in the EU’s strategic autonomy, ensuring the Union’s capacity to choose its own path.

The launch event also generated lively discussion. The severity of climate change, ‘de-growth’, the potential of Africa, the future of trade, and gender-balance figured in the questions from the audience. The questions highlighted the essence of foresight – reconciliation and balancing conflicting views. Ultimately, foresight is not a mere intellectual exercise, as these challenges are already affecting us profoundly. The launch day of this second ESPAS report marked the beginning of a new discussion, which aims to strengthen the culture of preparedness and anticipation throughout Europe.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/25/launch-of-the-new-espas-foresight-report/

Plenary round-up – Strasbourg, April II 2019

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson,

Plenary session - Debate with Arturs Krisjanis KARINS - Latvian Prime Minister on the future of Europe

© European Union 2019 – Source : EP

Highlights of the April II plenary session (the last of the current legislature) included debates on the conclusions of the April 2019 European Council meeting on the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, and the final debate in the series on the future of Europe with the Prime Minister of Latvia, Kisjanis Karins. Important debates also took place on the rule of law in Romania; failure to adopt an EU digital services tax; protecting the European elections against international cybersecurity threats; and on the possible extradition of Julian Assange. Members debated a number of external relations situations: in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe after cyclone Idai; in Libya; in Sudan; and US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. The legislative proposals adopted included those on collective investment funds, banking reform, prudential requirements, covered bonds, CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles, and promoting clean, energy-efficient vehicles. Members voted on a number of legislative proposals (see below), including a partial agreement on the Horizon Europe programme.

Protection of whistle-blowers

By a large majority, Members adopted the agreement reached with the Council on the long-awaited proposal for an EU directive giving whistle-blowers greater protection when they report on breaches of EU law (such as money laundering, or contravening environmental or food safety regulations).

Collective investment funds

Members debated and voted on proposals on collective investment funds, which pool investment capital in collective securities portfolios. While the EU provides passporting to ensure a wide range of cross-border distribution of investment funds, the EU market remains both small and national. The proposals align national rules and harmonise verification, creating economies of scale and opening up the market.

Prudential requirements and supervision of investment firms

Parliament voted to agree to an update of the current complex and inefficient EU regulatory framework for prudential supervision and requirements of investment firms, which facilitates savings and investment in EU capital markets, to take account of the size and nature of investment firms and the risks involved.

Transparent and predictable working conditions

Members debated and approved an interinstitutional agreement on proposals to reform labour market rules, ensuring transparent and predictable working conditions in the EU, to end the unfair employment practices that have affected EU citizens in the wake of the financial crisis.

Horizon Europe

An EU success story – the key role played by the Horizon 2020 programme in the first ever observation of a black hole – underlines the importance of EU research funding. Members debated and approved a partial agreement to establish and implement Horizon 2020’s replacement, the Horizon Europe programme, which could generate 100 000 new jobs, and could see 35 % of its budget allocated to climate objectives.

Market surveillance and compliance of products

Members debated and voted to adopt proposals encouraging fair competition between businesses and protecting consumer health and safety, through the market surveillance and compliance of products, with greater coordination of rules on surveillance of harmonised industrial products in the single market.

Fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation platforms

After debating proposals for a regulation on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services, Members voted to adopt an agreement on the proposals, which seek fairer contractual relations between online giants (such as Amazon and Google) and other online businesses (such as hotels or restaurants).

Food chain risk assessment transparency

In a direct response to citizens’ demands for improved public access to the scientific studies carried out on sensitive products and substances, notably regarding a ban on glyphosate, Members debated and adopted an agreement reached during interinstitutional negotiations on a regulation concerning the transparency and sustainability of risk assessment in the food chain.

Supplementary protection certificate for medicinal products

Due to the lengthy testing and trials necessary to obtain EU market approval, pharmaceuticals firms can extend the patent protection on their products through a supplementary protection certificate (SPC) for medicinal products. Members debated and adopted a compromise on proposals to improve the intellectual property rights regime for the industry, which suffers from competitive disadvantage in export markets.

Coordination of social security systems

Parliament decided not to close the first reading procedure on a regulation on social security system coordination, but to leave it to the next Parliament. The European Commission proposal seeks to: ensure benefits do not overlap; secure equal treatment; allow for aggregation of insurance, work or residence periods; and ensure benefits from one country can still be received if the citizen moves to another country.

European Border and Coast Guard

Members debated and approved a provisional agreement to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard, including measures to engage 5 000 EU border guards (from January 2021), with a further 5 000 operational staff by 2027. The changes aim to ensure uniform border management standards throughout the EU, and to provide more support for national authorities involved in managing migration and the fight against cross-border crime at the EU’s external borders.

EU Visa Code

Parliament debated and approved an agreement on the revision of the EU Visa Code, which would increase the visa fee to €80, simplify the procedures for requesting visas and harmonise multiple-entry visa rules. The proposals also seek non-EU country cooperation in re-admitting their illegally staying nationals.

Adapting legal acts to Articles 290 and 291 TFEU

Members approved a revision that would adapt legal acts to the Treaty of Lisbon. The proposal aligns ‘regulatory procedure with scrutiny‘ (RPS) measures, from 64 basic acts, with the delegated acts procedure, where European Parliament and the Council have the right of veto and may revoke the delegation. However, agreement on a further 104 acts, and on acts in the justice policy field, will have to wait until the new legislative term.

Digital tools and processes in company law

Members debated and approved an agreement on measures to improve the use of digital tools and processes in company law, which should make it easier to set up and register a business in the EU, including greater use of online submission for official company documentation.

Covered bonds

Finally, Members debated and approved a compromise on proposals on covered bonds – debt securities issued by credit institutions, secured by a pool of mortgage loans or public sector debt. Covered bonds provide vital long-term finance for many EU Member States, channelling funds to the property market and the public sector. However, both use and regulation of these bonds varies greatly between EU countries, and a common definition is lacking.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/18/plenary-round-up-strasbourg-april-ii-2019/

Does artificial intelligence threaten human rights?

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

Does artificial intelligence threaten human rights?Asking ‘Is artificial intelligence a human rights issue?’, the workshop co-organised by STOA with the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on 20 March 2019, gathered academic experts, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), practitioners and representatives of international organisations to share their perspectives on exactly how artificial intelligence (AI) affects the protection and enjoyment of human rights. Despite the speakers’ diverse experiences, there was a consensus that AI poses a wide range of new risks for human rights that need to be addressed immediately. The panellists also agreed that there are no established methodologies yet to track the effects on human rights and to assess the potential for discrimination in the use of machine learning.

The workshop opened with a welcome address from STOA Chair Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), who highlighted that the workshop followed up on the recently adopted European Parliament resolution on a comprehensive European industrial policy on artificial intelligence and robotics, and that its conclusions should feed into efforts to shape a socio-ethical framework for a human-centric approach to AI. She also emphasised the need to assess the capacity of the current universal human rights and EU ethical frameworks, to confront emerging governance challenges when it comes to the deployment and application of AI, and argued that Europe has the opportunity to shape the direction of AI, at least from a socio-ethical perspective.

Following the Chair’s remarks, the first panel kicked-off with Ekkehard Ernst, Chief Macroeconomist at the International Labour Organization analysing the four AI inequality challenges. He argued that AI intellectual property rights should be addressed as a way to decrease the unsustainable concentration of data and AI development in the hands of a few mega-corporations. Representing the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Joanna Goodey, Head of the Research and Data Unit, presented the work of FRA in this field, highlighting that the protection of human dignity should be prioritised and arguing that use of AI in the area of law enforcement can lead to discrimination. Dimitris Panopoulos, Co-founder of Suite5 Data Intelligence Solutions, presented the initial findings of the EU-funded project ChildRescue – Collective Awareness Platform for Missing Children Investigation and Rescue, emphasising that AI can also be used to protect the human rights of vulnerable population groups such as children.

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The second panel, which was moderated by Marietje Schaake (ALDE, the Netherlands) focused on the impacts of AI on human rights through the presentation of real life case-studies. The first panellist, Silkie Carlo, Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch, shared her experience of working on real case studies in the United Kingdom that undermine the protection of the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and non-discrimination. She highlighted that flaws in biometric facial recognition used by the Police in the UK can lead to misleading judgments, especially for minorities and women, and recommended that decisions that engage individuals’ human rights must never be purely automated. Lorena Jaume-Palasi, founder of the Ethical Tech Society a non-profit organisation analysing and evaluating processes of automation and digitisation regarding their social relevance, noted that it is not the technology itself, but its use that matters and argued for the need for more reflective oversight structures. In her presentation, she called for a paradigm shift in our approach towards information platforms’ terms of operation and in the principles and values that determine the access to platforms and the degree of their commercial character.

Lofred Madzou, Project Lead, AI & Machine Learning at the World Economic Forum, presented the work of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and analysed the policy concerns associated with AI, such as the erosion of privacy, algorithmic bias and the abuse of surveillance that could, in his opinion, ‘affect our rights to stand up and protest if AI remains unregulated’. Marietje Schaake noted that algorithmic oversight for AI is urgently needed and that it is essential to ensure that the process of embedding ethical principles and values in AI-based decision-making systems is transparent and inclusive.

The third panel focused on the possible measures and remedies for safeguarding the protection of human rights in the context of AI. The panel was moderated by Michał BONI (EPP, Poland), who noted that Member States are gradually adopting their national AI strategies, but that this could lead to regulatory fragmentation. He therefore argued for the need for ethical certainty and stability for AI. Professor Aimee van Wynsberghe of TU Delft and Member of the High-Level Expert Group on AI, presented the preliminary results of the ongoing STOA study on a new ethical framework for AI. She noted that context and practice matter in our ethical analysis of AI, and recommended the introduction of data hygiene certification, ethics impact assessment and accountability reports. Fanny Hidvegi of Access Now and Member of the High-Level Expert Group on AI, presented a case study examining the use of AI-powered facial recognition tools for law enforcement purposes and recommended the adoption of strict standards for government use of AI. She emphasised that the design, development and deployment of AI and any AI-assisted technologies must be individual-centric and respect human rights. Can Yeginsu a Barrister with 4 New Square Chambers, noted that we do not yet have the potential to leave AI without any human intervention, and may need to ensure individual access to justice and even consider the establishment of an AI ombudsman to handle individual complaints associated with the use/misuse of AI.

Following the panel presentations, the audience raised several interesting questions, in particular regarding how to establish connections between AI, consent, surveillance and human rights, as well as whether the various EU-level ongoing or planned policy initiatives (such as the ethics guidelines for trustworthy artificial intelligence produced by the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on AI, the Commission communication on artificial intelligence for Europe, and the European Parliament resolution on a comprehensive European industrial policy on artificial intelligence and robotics), are sufficient to safeguard a human rights lens in the governance of AI. In response, the panellists advocated an ethics-by-design approach that will facilitate the embedding of values such as transparency and explainability in AI development. They also noted that legally binding norms are needed in the field of AI-based decision-making processes, rather than soft-law instruments, and that EU legislators should consider the possibility of integrating a requirement for systematic human rights impact assessments, or even developing new legal mechanisms for redress/remedy for human rights violations resulting from AI.

If you missed out this time, you can access the presentations and watch the webstream of the workshop via the STOA events page.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/16/does-artificial-intelligence-threaten-human-rights/

How the EU budget is spent: EU cooperation with Greenland

Written by Naja Bentzen and Alessandro D’Alfonso,

National flag of Greenland on a flagpole in front of blue sky.

© millenius / Fotolia

Having been a part of the European Community since 1973 through Denmark’s membership, Greenland withdrew from the European Community in 1985 after the island secured home rule from Denmark. Since then, Greenland has been associated with the European Union as an Overseas Country and Territory (OCT). The purpose of this association is ‘to promote the economic and social development of the countries and territories and to establish close economic relations between them and the Union as a whole’.

Various documents cover Greenland’s relations with the EU, including the 2014-2020 EU-Greenland Partnership Agreement that aims to contribute to the diversification of Greenland’s economy. The explicit political ambition is to ensure policy dialogue on global issues of common interest. The main areas of cooperation include education and training, energy, climate, environment and biodiversity, natural resources, maritime transport and research and innovation, in addition to Arctic issues.

As part of the partnership, and taking Greenland’s needs into account, the focal point of EU-Greenland financial cooperation is education and training, with a special emphasis on boosting the pre-school and elementary school system, as well as on providing support for vocational education and post-elementary education.

The EU allocates an indicative amount of €217.8 million (current prices) for financial cooperation with Greenland for the 2014-2020 period. The overarching aim of this financial cooperation is to contribute to an inclusive and coherent education system, while specific objectives focus on reducing inequality, improving the quality of the education system, and making it more efficient.

The EU budget channels financial cooperation with Greenland, contrary to the case for all other OCTs, which receive support from the European Development Fund. As regards the aid modality, the European Commission grants budget support for the implementation of the Greenland education programme, which is led by Greenland’s Ministry of Education, Church, Culture and Gender Equality, in cooperation with other ministries and stakeholders.

The evaluation of the 2014 Greenland Decision, which lays down rules for the EU-Greenland Partnership, fed into the mid-term review of the EU’s 2014-2020 external financing instruments (2017). This deemed the choice of education as the focal sector to be relevant to beneficiaries’ needs in Greenland: there is a broad consensus in Greenland that education is ‘the most relevant growth parameter’. The evaluation stressed that the fact that the education sector had been chosen by the Greenland government ensured strong support and ownership.

According to the evaluation, attempts to expand the official policy dialogue to include areas of mutual interest other than education had not yet been achieved. The document added that, while it was still too early to see a significant impact in terms of diversifying Greenland’s economy, the instrument had triggered positive dynamics and contributed to sustainable development by improving educational attainment.

On the basis of the assessment of current external financing instruments, the European Commission has proposed to streamline funding for OCTs and channel it entirely through the EU budget for the post-2020 programming period, with special arrangements for Greenland. The proposed resources for the years 2021 to 2027 amount to €500 million for all OCTs, including Greenland.

Read this briefing on ‘EU cooperation with Greenland‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/16/how-the-eu-budget-is-spent-eu-cooperation-with-greenland/

How the EU budget is spent: Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived

Written by Marie Lecerf,

Homeless man searching for empty bottles and other stuff for recycle.

© Svyatoslav Lypynskyy / Fotolia

In 2014, around 122 million people were ‘at risk of poverty or social exclusion’ (AROPE) in the 28 EU Member States– a quarter of the population. This means they were in at least one of the following situations: at risk of monetary poverty (17.2 % of the total population); living in households with very low work intensity (11.1 %); or severely materially deprived (9.0 %).

Since the onset of the 2008 financial and economic crisis, fighting poverty and social exclusion is a key priority for the European Union. One of the aims of the Europe 2020 strategy is to reduce the number of people ‘at risk of poverty or social exclusion’ by at least 20 million by the end of the decade. Consequently, on 24 October 2012, the European Commission announced a proposal to set up a new Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) for the 2014-2020 period, to replace the EU’s food distribution programme for the most deprived (MDP).

The fund’s general objective is to promote and enhance social inclusion and therefore ultimately contribute to the goal of eradicating poverty in the Union. It seeks to alleviate the worst forms of poverty by providing non-financial assistance for the most deprived in conjunction with other EU funds, such as the European Social Fund (ESF), and with Member States’ national poverty eradication and social inclusion policies.

The EU contribution to the FEAD is more than €3.8 billion (in current prices) for the 2014‑2020 period. In addition, Member States are to co-finance at least 15 % of the costs of their national operational programmes (around €674 million), bringing the total resources channelled through the fund to approximately €4.5 billion.

The principal measures undertaken under the FEAD are:

  • food support (distribution of food packages and meals to people in deprived situations, school lunches for children at risk of poverty or social exclusion, collection and distribution of donated food, etc.);
  • material assistance (basic hygiene items for adults and children, basic household items, clothing, sleeping bags for the homeless, school supplies, etc.);
  • accompanying measures to alleviate adversity through advice and guidance (regarding basic rights, nutrition and health, available social services and access to education services, temporary shelter for the homeless, etc.);
  • social inclusion activities (improving access to existing support and social services, psychological support, training in self-reliance, language courses, etc.).

FEAD assistance is delivered via partner organisations (public bodies or non-governmental organisations (NGOs)), selected by Member States on the basis of objective and transparent criteria.

On 27 March 2019, the mid-term evaluation of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived was published. It presents the FEAD’s main achievements for the period up to the end of December 2017. According to the report, between 2014 and 2017, the FEAD supported more than 12 million people per year and, during this period, more than 1.3 million tonnes of food were distributed. Social inclusion measures, meanwhile reached about 66 000 people. Given the FEAD’s very limited resources compared with other EU funds, the main conclusion of the mid-term evaluation is that there are strong arguments in favour of continuing the programme.

The European Court of Auditors is, however, much more severe in its evaluation of the programme’s first results. In its Special Report No 5/2019: FEAD-Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, published on 3 April 2019, the Court assesses whether the initial set-up of the FEAD and the Member States’ operational programmes effectively target the most in need and do contribute to the Europe 2020 poverty-reduction target. The Court points out that the fund remains primarily a food aid scheme, with 80 % of its budget devoted to food support. As a result, although the FEAD offers Member States the possibility to focus on social inclusion, those measures are scarcely implemented. The Court concludes by stating that the ability of the fund to reduce poverty has yet to be demonstrated.

Read this briefing on ‘Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD)‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/16/how-the-eu-budget-is-spent-fund-for-european-aid-to-the-most-deprived/

What if we could fight drug addiction with digital technology? [Science and Technology podcast]

Written by Gianluca Quaglio,

Drug addiction is one of the greatest problems facing European public health authorities. Advances in drug addiction research have focused mostly on the neurobiological aspects of the disease, but now promising new technologies are enhancing our ability to understand and treat drug addiction. A wide range of health tools for drug addiction recovery is available on the internet: information and education websites; assessment and psychotherapeutic software; comprehensive self-help programmes; and social network therapeutic communities. Use of such tools on smartphones and other mobile devices is known as mobile health (mHealth). The utilisation of new technologies in drug addiction treatment and research has generated interest, curiosity and expectation, but also concerns regarding the ethical aspects of their use.

Digital e-health concept as vector illustration. Cartoon person connected to online doctor and hospital

© iconimage / Fotolia

Substance-use disorders (SUDs) are major public health concerns in the EU, with considerable interpersonal, physical and societal consequences. Around 23 million people are affected by alcohol-related disorders in Europe. One in four EU citizens over 15 years of age is a tobacco smoker. There are about 1.3 million high-risk opioid users in Europe and 2.3 million young adults (aged 15–34 years) used cocaine in the last year. Given these figures, it is not surprising that there has been significant interest in Europe in the development and implementation of technology-based interventions (TBIs) for people with SUDs.

TBIs do not attempt to replace traditional therapy. Rather, they allow for the combined use of different intervention tools, increasing the still-limited number of therapeutic methods in treating drug dependence, and reaching out to a different typology of subjects. Strategies for managing SUDs should be able to address the chronic and relapsing nature of addiction, and TBIs can provide a valuable support in addressing these challenges.

TBIs include technology-assisted behaviour therapies, education, recovery support programmes, wellness monitoring, and resources for prevention and information. These interventions can be offered via different approaches, including for instance telephone counselling and web-based video conferencing tools, self-directed desktop therapeutic tools, web-based text communication (email, chat, forums), as well as mHealth. Significant overlaps exist between the use of the aforementioned types of tools, and similar services are offered via different tools.

Overall, TBIs for SUDs appear to be effective, although their efficacy in behavioural change tends to be small, and the mechanisms through which the treatment works remain largely unknown. Nonetheless, these changes should be considered important because, from a public health perspective, even small changes become meaningful when multiplied at the population level.

Specifically, mHealth can provide support in conducting SUD research and treatment through two different pathways: (i) direct input, via self-assessments by patients; or (ii) via passive data collection, where physiological information is gathered using special sensors.

Using mobile technologies to collect self-assessments is referred to as ecological momentary assessment (EMA). EMAs help people to self-monitor behaviours at the time and in the context in which they occur. Compared to traditional measures using paper-pencil questionnaires, EMA has several benefits, such as increasing our ability to correlate instances of craving to maladaptive behaviours.

Passive data collection often relies on technologies that record patterns of movement within the patient’s environment, for example, via global positioning system (GPS) and wireless local area networks (Wi-Fi), which can be used to acquire location-based data. What is specific about these tools is the possibility to gather spatial and temporal information, i.e. where and when the behaviours of the subject occurred.

The impact of the environment in developing or sustaining SUDs has been called the ‘exposome’ of addiction. The term has already been used in other areas of medical research, such as in cancer research, where it refers to the environmental exposures throughout life as a way of understanding the environmental influence on the onset and development of tumour diseases.

In addition, physiological information from special sensors, such as those measuring blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature or substance concentration levels in blood, can be combined with the gathered spatial and temporal data in order to get a more detailed profile of the patient and her or his behaviour, including monitoring physiological responses or precursors to craving.

Possible impacts and developments

TBIs have the potential to play an important role in enhancing the availability of SUD treatment. Given the substantial gap between the number of individuals seeking addiction treatment and the health system’s capacity to offer adequate and timely health support, TBIs appear to offer interesting opportunities for clinicians, health administrators and decision-makers to expand the availability of medical services and reduce health service barriers, such as reduced patient mobility, treatment costs or carer availability.

Moreover, based on information from smartphones and other mobile devices, it is possible to deliver, in real time, interventions during people’s daily lives. Information can be utilised by clinicians, health personnel, peers or family for detailed messages and suggestions, helping the patient to control her or his cravings. In addition to real-time monitoring of factors related to SUDs, information collected by these technologies can be used to calculate the risk for new episodes of the specific maladaptive behaviour: it has been found that relapse to substance use can be predicted using information from surveys of use and risk factors in the previous weeks. Algorithms may then be developed to identify behavioural patterns indicative of treatment progress, such as treatment response and triggers for cravings and behaviour that increases the risk of relapse.

Anticipatory policy-making

Despite encouraging progress, TBIs for SUDs need to be evaluated with caution. This field of medical science still suffers from a lack of clarity and consistency. Across the research literature there are methodological difficulties, such as a lack of common definitions, selection biases, study attrition, difficulties in mounting randomised clinical trials and uncertain conclusions drawn from the findings. Supporting TBIs for SUDs by investing in research is important for a better understanding of the potential and limits of these applications. Improving the quality of research will enable effective clinical interventions, but can also help decision-makers to better understand the potential of these technologies from a public health perspective.

Given the proliferation of technology applications, a possible policy option for fostering the implementation of TBIs in SUD treatment is to provide adequate ICT infrastructure and stimulate digital literacy among healthcare professionals. Training for health personnel will become not only necessary but also multi-disciplinary in the near future. Clinicians should develop expertise in different types of media and technological interventions, developing collaborations with experts in other fields, such as cognitive psychology, ICT and communication.

TBIs for SUDs are a component of the application of ICT in healthcare (eHealth). Several barriers hamper the wider uptake of eHealth solutions in Europe, such as limited interoperability between eHealth solutions and insufficient evidence of cost-effectiveness. A legal framework applicable to mHealth tools exists, but practical implementation brings forward questions about how specific software should be classified and thus which rules should apply. Another barrier to wider uptake of digital health applications is a lack of transparency regarding the utilisation of data collected by such applications. A privacy code of conduct for mHealth apps is currently being developed, because the issue of ambiguous data collection may render the implementation of online therapy for SUDs incompatible with health professionals’ ethical duty to protect their patients’ privacy and to guarantee patient confidentiality.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘What if we could fight drug addiction with digital technology?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/15/what-if-we-could-fight-drug-addiction-with-digital-technology-science-and-technology-podcast/

Outcome of the Special European Council (Article 50) meeting, 10 April 2019

Written by Ralf Drachenberg with Simon Schroecker,

deadline extended, 3D rendering, traffic sign

© Argus / Fotolia

At the special European Council (Article 50) meeting on 10 April 2019, Heads of State or Government agreed to further extend the Article 50 period until 31 October 2019 at the latest. This goes beyond the request made by the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, for that period to be extended until 30 June 2019, but represents only half of the time period some European Council members had been seeking to offer. The compromise found, which maintains unity amongst the EU-27, is designed to reduce as much as possible the disruptive effects of the Brexit negotiations on EU affairs at the start of the new institutional cycle. With the longer extension period – and if the Withdrawal Agreement, already rejected three times by the UK Parliament, is not ratified by 22 May – the UK will be required to organise European elections. The decision adopted by the EU-27 also confirms that, during this period, the UK remains a Member State with all its rights and obligations. Under this extension, several different scenarios are all still possible: ratifying the current deal, ‘no deal’, another referendum or revoking Article 50. However, the decision preclude any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. Progress in the ratification process in the UK will be reviewed at the European Council meeting on 20-21 June.

1. The UK request to further extend the Article 50 negotiation period

On 21 March 2019, the EU-27 Heads of State or Government had agreed to a first request by the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, for an extension of the Article 50 period, deciding to postpone Brexit until 22 May 2019, provided that the Withdrawal Agreement were approved by the House of Commons by 29 March. If not approved, the extension would end on 12 April, with the UK required to indicate a way forward before that date. As the House of Commons rejected the Withdrawal Agreement for the third time, on 29 March 2019, the 22 May extension was no longer valid. On 5 April, the UK Prime Minister sent a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in which she requested the UK’s withdrawal to be delayed until 30 June 2019. In her letter, she argued that, without this further extension, the United Kingdom would leave the European Union without a deal on 12 April 2019. She also made the case that she was now seeking a consensus across the House of Commons, and therefore, had met with the leader of the opposition with the aim of agreeing on ‘a proposal that can be put before the House of Commons which allows the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with a deal’.

2. The European Council (Article 50) meeting

On 10 April, EU-27 Heads of State or Government met to deliberate on the consequences which an extension beyond 22 May, as requested by the UK Prime Minister, would have on the forthcoming European elections and on EU decision-making. Following an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, the EU-27 Heads of State or Government listened to Theresa May’s presentation of the state of play of the ratification process in the UK, and to her arguments in favour of a further extension.

Extension period

After lengthy discussions amongst the EU-27, between those seeking a longer extension period – possibly until the end of 2019 or even the end of March 2020 – and others, in particular the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, who were more critical of a long extension period, the Heads of State or Government adopted a decision to extend the Article 50 period, but not until 30 June, as requested by the UK Prime Minister. The compromise found grants the United Kingdom a six-month flexible extension of the Article 50 period, which ‘should last only as long as necessary and, in any event, no longer than 31 October 2019’. This flexibility means that the extension could be terminated at any time before 31 October, once the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified. The UK would then leave the EU on the first day of the following month. Theresa May agreed to this flexible extension, since ‘the extension can be terminated when the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified’. She nevertheless underlined that she believes that ‘we need to leave the EU, with a deal, as soon as possible’.

In advance of the meeting, Donald Tusk had already argued against a short extension until 30 June and for granting a ‘flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year’. The advantage of this approach would be, in his view, to avoid both an accidental ‘no-deal’ Brexit as well as repeated Brexit summits. Furthermore, it would allow the extension to terminate automatically, as soon as both sides had ratified the Withdrawal Agreement, and could also ‘allow the UK to rethink its Brexit strategy’.

The date of 31 October 2019 has most likely been chosen in order to complete the Brexit process before the entry into office of the new Commission on 1 November. The aim was thus to limit as much as possible further disruption to EU affairs at the start of the new institutional cycle – beyond the existing uncertainty arising with regard to the European elections, notably as to the effective composition of the new European Parliament.

Main messages of the President of the European Parliament: The President, Antonio Tajani, stressed that the key question was not the length of the extension, but whether it served a clear purpose. It should not be used for negotiations on further relations or to reopen the withdrawal agreement, but ‘must be designed to resolve the issue meaningfully’.

European Parliament elections

The European Council decision provides that, ‘if the United Kingdom is still a Member State on 23-26 May 2019, and if it has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement by 22 May 2019, it will be under an obligation to hold the elections to the European Parliament in accordance with Union law‘. The UK Prime Minister stressed again her preference to agree on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons before 22 May, so that the UK would not have to participate in the European elections. The European Council’s decision specifies that ‘if it fails to live up to this obligation, the withdrawal will take place on 1 June 2019’.

Main messages of the President of the European Parliament: Antonio Tajani underlined the importance of any extension for the European Parliament. ‘The European elections are not a game, and they must not be made to look like one thanks to the casual attitude that some in the UK may choose to take towards them’. The President emphasised the importance of genuine participation of the United Kingdom in the European elections, as they are the basis for the efficiency and integrity of the European Parliament and the EU.

Membership rights and sincere cooperation

During the extension period, the United Kingdom will remain a Member State with full rights and obligations in accordance with Article 50 TEU. The other Member States expect ‘the United Kingdom to act in a constructive and responsible manner throughout the extension period in accordance with the duty of sincere cooperation’, and expect ‘the United Kingdom to fulfil this commitment and Treaty obligation in a manner that reflects its situation as a withdrawing Member State. To this effect, the United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and shall refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives, in particular when participating in the decision-making processes of the Union.’ The summit conclusions specify that, during the extension period, ‘the EU27 will continue to meet separately … to discuss matters related to the situation after the withdrawal of the UK’.

Following the meeting, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed the Commission’s satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting, and President Tusk called upon ‘our British friends not to waste the time’ given by this extension, and to seek ‘to find the best possible solution’.

3. Outlook

Even after granting this new ‘flexible extension’ all the possible scenarios, including ratifying the current deal, ‘no deal’, another referendum or revoking Article 50 are all still possible. However, the EU-27 leaders clearly indicated that the extension ‘cannot be used to start negotiations on the future relationship’. They also indicated that in case the position of the United Kingdom were to evolve, they would be prepared ‘to reconsider the Political Declaration on the future relationship in accordance with the positions and principles stated in its guidelines and statements, including as regards the territorial scope of the future relationship. President Tusk stressed that ‘until the end of this period, the UK will also have the possibility to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit altogether’. Recent polls show that in case of a second referendum, ‘remain’ would be more likely to win, although the margins remain close.

The European Council will review progress at its meeting on 20-21 June 2019. President Tusk clarified that this date is not a ‘cliff edge’, as the aim for this meeting would not be to have a discussion, but only to inform the EU-27 of the current situation and the state of play in the ratification process. With the extension agreed at the special meeting, the possible ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement would most probably only take place after the new European Parliament has started its activity.

Main messages of the President of the European Parliament: Antonio Tajani, expressed the hope that an agreement could soon be reached between the British government and the opposition, preferably including a more ambitious political declaration on future relations. Prior to the meeting, the European Parliament had already stated its support for ‘an upgrading of the political declaration, that could include participation in either the customs union or the single market, in full compliance with EU principles – indivisibility of the four freedoms, integrity of the single market and autonomy of EU decision-making.’

Read the complete briefing on ‘Outcome of the Special European Council (Article 50) meeting, 10 April 2019‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/15/outcome-of-the-special-european-council-article-50-meeting-10-april-2019/

Forty years of direct elections to the European Parliament

Written by Christian Salm,

EPRS round table - The making of a new political institutionBetween 23 and 26 May 2019, 350 million European Union (EU) citizens have the opportunity to vote for Members of the European Parliament. It will be the ninth time that EU citizens can vote directly for the policy- and decision-makers who will represent them in EU politics. Direct elections to the European Parliament are consequently one of the most important events in the EU political cycle. Moreover, with Brexit and other challenges to overcome before the new Parliament can be constituted, many EU observers attach a special significance to this ninth election in the history of direct European elections. Before the elections take place therfore is a good time to look back to the very first direct election to the European Parliament, held forty years ago, in 1979. A history roundtable, jointly organised by EPRS, the European University Institute (EUI) and the Association of Former Members of the European Parliament (FMA); took place on 3 April 2019 to recall this occasion, and to discuss the Parliament’s past as a new political institution in the making.

The roundtable brought together former Presidents and former Members of the European Parliament, as well asnd academics from the field of EU politics and history. EPRS Director-General, Anthony Teasdale, opened the roundtable, emphasising the importance of raising the awareness of the Parliament’s past, and its presence as a political institution that has gained substantial decision-making powers since the first direct election in 1979. In this context, he underlined the role of former Presidents and former Members as key players in maintaining Parliament’s public profile, and influencing debates on EU politics in the Member States. He also mentioned that increased historical research on the Parliament is needed to close the gaps in Parliament’s history. More studies should be carried out, along the lines of a recent EPRS research project on Parliament’s culture, role, and impact during the first two directly-elected Parliaments from 1979 to 1989. The results of this EPRS research project were presented in the first panel discussion of the history roundtable.

Researching the Parliament’s character, composition and culture in the 1980s, Birte Wassenberg (Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Strasbourg) stressed three key elements of the EP in that decade. She described, firstly, how Parliament’s inter-groups such as the Kangaroo Group, an association created in 1979 as an informal gathering of members of the European institutions from different countries and political affiliations, contributed to creating a European family. Secondly, she pointed to the effects of the Parliament’s working culture on Members, including those with an Eurosceptic view. Thirdly, she underlined the Parliament’s engagement in the fight for women’s rights, exemplified by the election of Simon Veil as President of the first directly-elected Parliament.

Exploring Parliament’s policies on the institutional reform of the European Communities in the 1980s, Wolfram Kaiser (Professor of European Studies at the University of Portsmouth) explained how the Parliament fulfilled key functions in building the present-day EU. He argued that these functions included defining a set of criteria for effective and democratic governance and developing legal concepts such as subsidiarity. Moreover, he argued that the Parliament pressured the Member States into accepting greater institutional deepening and more powers for the Parliament in the 1986 Single European Art and the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.

Inquiring into the Parliament’s role in the development and implementation of the single market programme (1979 to 1989), Laurent Warlouzet (Professor of Contemporary History at the Université de Boulogne) addressed various ways the Parliament affected the policy-making process behind the programme. He outlined, for example, that the Parliament exercised intellectual influence by developing and using the notion of the ‘cost of non-Europe’, a concept used to quantify the potential efficiency gains to be made for the European economy through pursuing further integration and harmonisation in various European policy fields. Furthermore, he demonstrated that the Parliament set and shaped the Community’s economic agenda, as for example in case of the ‘relaunch of Europe’ initiative, with the aim to overcome economically disadvantaged Member States’ situations in the 1980s. Finally, he pointed out how the Parliament pushed the Commission to act with regard to the implementation of the single market programme.

Moderated by the Director of the EU Archives at the EUI, Dieter Schlenker, the second panel gathered four former Parliament Presidents and one former Parliament Vice-President: Charlotte Cederschiöld (Vice-President and Chair of Conciliation 2001-2001), Enrique Barón Crespo (President 1989-1992), Klaus Hänsch (President 1994-1997), Pat Cox (President 2002-2004), and Hans-Gert Pöttering (President 2007-2009). The panel of influential actors in the EP’s history reflected on the forty years of direct elections and emphasised that, despite being complex, the EU’s decision-making systems are democratic, thanks in part to the direct elections to the European Parliament. Moreover, they underlined that, within the last four decades, the Parliament has changed and developed tremendously, becoming a legislative maker equal to the Council. They also addressed possible challenges for constituting the Parliament after the election in May 2019. Here, they particularly mentioned the possible increase of Eurosceptic representation. Asked to provide a slogan for the European elections to come, Pat Cox referred to a quote by one of the EU founding fathers, Jean Monnet: ‘Ce qui est important, ce n’est, ni d’être optimiste, ni pessimiste, mais d’être déterminé‘, adding that: ‘The Parliament is determined to succeed in the next election.’

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/15/forty-years-of-direct-elections-to-the-european-parliament/

Scouts [What Europe does for you]

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 scouts.

Twitter Hashtag #EUandME

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Three boys of diverse ethnic background in cub scout uniforms

© James Steidl / Fotolia

Are you, or is someone you know, one of the 40 million recognised members of the scouting movement worldwide? Then you will already know that scouts in Europe and worldwide are committed to contributing to build a better world where people are self-fulfilled as individuals and play a constructive role in society.

Over 1.7 million scouts are active in Europe. The European Scout Region, co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme, numbers 41 national scout organisations, under the umbrella of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, also co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme, reaches more than 1.2 million young girls throughout Europe. There are several other scout organisations operating at European level, including, for example the Confederation of European Scouts and the Union Internationale des Guides et Scouts d’Europe.

According to their Vision for Scouting 2023, scouting will be the world’s leading educational youth movement by 2023, enabling 100 million young people to be active citizens who create positive change in their communities and in the world, based on shared values.

The EU Youth Strategy for 2010-2018 promotes youth participation in society. Among the key points are the recognition of informal learning and of volunteer work, both of which figure large in scouting activities. Erasmus+ is the funding programme for youth in the EU budget, and brings together funding for scouting, education and exchange under the Erasmus, European Voluntary Service, Youth in Action, and Life-Long Learning programmes.

Further information

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/04/13/scouts-what-europe-does-for-you/