Месечни архиви: юни 2019

Continuation of work in progress from last term

Written by Kristina Grosek,

Law. Gavel on stack of documents

© BillionPhotos.com / Fotolia

With European elections held on 23-26 May 2019, the eighth parliamentary term formally ends on 1 July 2019, a day before the constituent part-session of the newly elected Parliament. Despite the efforts of the co-legislators, agreement could not be found on a number of legislative proposals before the end of the parliamentary term, and these form a major part of the business that needs to be picked up again in the new term. In order to ensure continuity in its work, therefore, Parliament has adopted rules on how to deal with unfinished files.

Unfinished business in the European Parliament

‘Unfinished business’ refers to any procedure on which parliamentary work was still ongoing at the end of the parliamentary term, i.e. where the plenary had not taken a final decision. According to Rule 240 (previously Rule 229) of the EP’s Rules of Procedure, ‘at the end of the last part-session before elections, all Parliament’s unfinished business shall be deemed to have lapsed’, unless the Conference of Presidents – at the beginning of the new term – decides ‘on reasoned requests from parliamentary committees and other institutions to resume or continue the consideration of such matters’. Furthermore, the EP can (Rule 61, previously Rule 63) ask the Commission to refer a proposal again to Parliament for work to restart.

Unfinished files at the end of the eighth parliamentary term

As of June 2019, there are around 168 ongoing ordinary legislative procedure files at different stages of the legislative process. Of these, the EP administration has identified 44 files which remained at an early stage in the legislative process at the end of the last term. There are also a number of other unfinished files (e.g. special legislative procedures, budgetary procedures, and non-legislative procedures). In line with Rule 240, in the early days of the new parliamentary term, the Chair of the Conference of Committee Chairs (CCC) will invite each committee to provide information on the state of play of unfinished files, and on how they intend to handle them (resume work, or ask the Commission to modify or withdraw the proposal). The Conference of Presidents will then decide on which of the proposed files work will resume and in what manner. On the basis of that decision, the President will then inform the Commission and Council of the EP’s plans.

Unfinished files at the end of the seventh parliamentary term

On 16 July 2014, the Chair of the CCC wrote to the chairs of all committees requesting them to examine the unfinished files and inform him on how they proposed to proceed. At its meeting on 18 September 2014, the Conference of Presidents took a decision on reasoned requests from parliamentary committees to resume work on 47 files under the ordinary legislative procedure (compared to 23 files carried over from the sixth parliamentary term). On a further 82 files on which a first-reading position had already been adopted in plenary, Parliament asked the Commission to refer its proposal again (Annex I). Work was to resume on 13 files under other legislative procedures (Annex II), while the Commission was asked to withdraw 19 legislative proposals (Annex III) and the Council to re-consult parliament on one file (Annex IV).

The Commission and Council

The Treaties do not set out a specific procedure for handling unfinished legislative files at the end of a parliamentary term, but they do allow the Commission to change a proposal as long as the Council has not acted (Article 293(2) TFEU). For those files where the first reading is concluded in the EP and where Council has already transmitted its first-reading position, Treaty deadlines for second reading must be respected. It should be noted that the joint declaration on practical arrangements for the co-decision procedure stipulates that the institutions coordinate their work, to enable proceedings to be conducted in a coherent and convergent fashion (point 6), with maximum efficiency (point 20).


Read this ‘At a glance’ note on ‘Continuation of work in progress from last term‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/28/continuation-of-work-in-progress-from-last-term/

What if policy anticipated advances in science and technology? [Science and Technology podcast]

Written by Lieve Van Woensel with Richelle Boone,

© Maxuser / Shutterstock.com

What if blockchain revolutionised voting? What if your emotions were tracked to spy on you? And what if we genetically engineered an entire species? Science and policy are intricately connected. Via monthly ‘What if’ publications, the Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA; part of the European Parliamentary Research Service) draws Members of the European Parliament’s attention to new scientific and technological developments relevant for policy-making. The unit also provides administrative support to the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA), which brings together 25 Members from nine different parliamentary committees who share a strong interest in science and technology in the context of policy-making.

Science, policy and society influence each other in many ways. For instance, scientific developments often give us new ideas about ourselves and our place in the world. These new ideas might change our expectations and moral standards, and might therefore call for a revision of established policies. Furthermore, new technological innovations and possible solutions to societal challenges put forward by scientists can only be implemented through policy. Scientific results and technological innovations could also spark new problems, dangers or ethical concerns. It is up to policy-makers (in interaction with scientists and societal actors) to address, mitigate and regulate those cases. Policy-makers however do not only deal with the products of scientific endeavour, they also have the power to prioritise certain fields of research and development, and to steer scientific practice by (binding) rules or (voluntary) ethical codes. The decisions made in all these types of science–policy interaction can be highly political.

Science and policy mainly meet at the agenda-setting and consultation stages of policy-making. In the agenda-setting phase, scientists (or others) highlight new scientific and technological developments that call for legislation or ethical regulation; the need for mitigation of certain rules limiting scientific freedom; or a detected pressing issue in society or nature, such as the need for new work skills or strategies to combat climate change. In the consultation phase, policy-makers might turn to scientific advisors for policy advice concerning research topics scientists are working on, such as the safety of artificial colorants in food. Looking to science for inspiration and information contributes to evidence-informed policy-making. It should however be noted that evidence-informed decisions are in the end always the result of a negotiation between such scientific input on the one hand, and the societal/political context on the other.

To support Members’ work in the agenda-setting phase, the Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA), prepares, among other things, monthly ‘What if’ publications to help Members detect new and interesting developments in the fields of science and technology. These publications cover both current developments that might spark immediate policy action and possible future developments that demand reflection today. Such considerations about future possibilities could, for instance, elucidate current debates, or make sure the first elements of an ethical framework are in place when a potentially disruptive new technology actually arrives, or they could be used to decide if a developing technology or strand of research should preferably be stimulated or even halted. To create the ‘What if’ publications, the Scientific Foresight Unit investigates the current state of a development and employs foresight methodology to map potential impacts on society and wider developments, and to list possible anticipatory policy options for Members.

As mentioned above, each ‘What if’ publication includes an overview of potential societal impacts and wider developments of the scientific or technological innovation in question. These include, for example, possible future advances, existing and future applications, ethical and societal concerns, normative challenges and probable consequences for daily life, uncertainties, risks and dangers, philosophical considerations, and new types of questions, specific to the particular technology. Both intended and possible unintended applications of a new technology are listed. Unintended applications could for instance include cases of dual-use, of the technology ‘falling into the wrong hands’, of unexpected side effects relevant to some stakeholders, or of creative uses in new domains, such as the use of drones to deliver commercial goods. By examining the potential impacts of a scientific or technological development from many angles (from social, technological, economic, environmental, political/legal, ethical and demographic viewpoints), and by taking many stakeholders’ perspectives into account, the Scientific Foresight Unit tries to make the analyses as complete as possible. Of course, some impacts and developments will always remain unforeseen.

Taking for instance the three ‘What if’ publications referred to in the introduction of this paper: each of the technologies mentioned would bring both opportunities and risks. Applying blockchain technology, for example, can speed up elections and reduce the risk of fraud, which would reduce costs and possibly lead to higher voter turnouts. However, to build a strong democracy, the whole electorate – even those disappointed with the result – must accept that the voting process was legitimate and reliable. It is not yet clear whether an intricate blockchain process can inspire enough public confidence. Moving on to the next kind of innovation, facial recognition technology can have many kinds of applications in many different fields, especially when it is combined with emotion recognition: it could identify potential shoplifters, track mental health, personalise marketing, facilitate faster entrance to events, or provide a patient’s medical history in emergency situations. The technology comes, however, with many ethical dilemmas, for example: what if it were used by state authorities or malicious employers to carry out mass surveillance, tracking peoples’ moves and emotions without their consent? And, finally, gene-drive technology – the technology that could be used to genetically engineer an entire species, by introducing a modified gene that easily spreads through a population – could be used to eradicate malaria, to fight invasive species that cost the European economy billions of euros, or to decrease resistance to pesticides or herbicides in pests and weeds. However, at the same time, hostile nations could turn gene-drive technology into a biological weapon by targeting species key to European ecosystems, such as bees.

As impact and development analyses show: the introduction of a new scientific idea or a new technology can lead to many different futures, depending on the way in which the innovation is implemented and spread. The Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) maps these different futures and identifies policy options for stimulating desirable futures and avoiding undesirable ones. Of course STOA analysts remain neutral, and it is up to Members to decide which futures they consider desirable or undesirable. Returning to our three examples: for blockchain voting procedures, the ‘What if?’ publication illustrated that the process would have to comply with various areas of European law, such as data protection for voters; to secure transparency and fairness in facial recognition technology, the paper underlined the option for Parliament’s Members and committees to play an active role in EU institutions’ efforts to formulate regulations and guidelines for artificial intelligence; and on gene-drive technology, the ‘What if?’ paper highlighted scientists’ calls for an appropriate risk assessment framework and a ban on for-profit exploitation.

To facilitate Members’ and committees’ preparations for policy action, STOA offers a wide range of services. Members can, for instance, apply for an extensive technology assessment or foresight study, or request a workshop on their topic of interest. Experience during the eighth parliamentary term proves that these services can be very effective: the STOA foresight study on the ‘Ethics of cyber-physical systems‘ contributed substantially to the February 2017 Parliament resolution on ‘Civil law rules on robotics‘.


Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘What if policy anticipated advances in science and technology?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to podcast ‘What if policy anticipated advances in science and technology?‘.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/27/what-if-policy-anticipated-advances-in-science-and-technology-science-and-technology-podcast/

Outcome of the European Council and Euro Summit, 20-21 June 2019

Written by Ralf Drachenberg and Suzanna Anghel,

Yes, No, or Maybe concepts of making business decision

© JohnKwan / Fotolia

At their most recent meeting, EU Heads of State or Government postponed decisions on nominating a set of high-level EU appointments, including the position of President of the European Commission. EU leaders will now reconvene for a special meeting of the European Council on 30 June, with the aim of reaching an agreement on a package of candidates. On climate policy, the European Council did not achieve consensus on ensuring climate neutrality by 2050 either. Conversely, it adopted the strategic agenda for 2019-24, setting four priority areas that will guide the work of the EU institutions over the next five years. EU leaders also discussed a wide range of external relations issues, including the situation in eastern Ukraine and the Azov Sea, and reconfirmed economic sanctions on Russia.

1. Implementation: Follow-up on previous European Council commitments

The President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis – whose country currently holds the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers – provided an overview of the progress made in implementing previous European Council conclusions.

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

2. European Council meeting

Next institutional cycle

High-level appointments

EU Heads of State or Government discussed nominations for a range of high-level appointments, and agreed on the need for a ‘package reflecting the diversity of the EU’. Prior to the meeting, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, had changed his view from ‘cautiously optimistic to more cautious than optimistic’. President Tusk concluded that, based on his ‘consultations and statements made within the European Parliament, there was no majority on any candidate,’ with diverging views amongst EU leaders, notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, on the impact of this lack of majority on the Spitzenkandidaten process itself.

A special European Council meeting was called for 30 June. Before then, President Tusk will continue his consultations, including with the European Parliament, in order to find a solution acceptable for both the Member States and the institutions involved. He held individual meetings with the leaders of several of the political groups in Parliament on 24 June.

Main messages of the President of the European Parliament: President Tajani reminded the EU Heads of State or Government of the EP’s position on the procedure of appointing the European Commission President. He re-emphasised the principle of the Spitzenkandidaten system.

Strategic Agenda 2019-24

As flagged up in the EPRS outlook before the meeting, the European Council adopted the 2019-24 Strategic Agenda for the Union. The main priorities for the next five years will be:

  1. protecting citizens and freedoms;
  2. developing a strong and vibrant economic base;
  3. building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe;
  4. promoting European interests and values on the global stage.

Table2: Selected changes in the Strategic Agenda 2019-24 compared to earlier drafts

Following discussions among Member-State Permanent Representatives to the EU (Coreper) on the strategic agenda, the final version evolved substantially on various points from the outline discussed at the informal meeting of Heads of State or Government in Sibiu and subsequent draft versions. The biggest changes concern the fourth priority, where two concepts, 1) climate neutrality and 2) social Europe, previously only touched upon (see table 2), were added. More precise objectives were set on both. Other noteworthy deletions or additions relate to defence and migration. Overall, the final text is more proactive and assertive, and less defensive, than previous draft versions.

Multiannual Financial Framework

EU leaders welcomed the work done under the Romanian Presidency of the Council on the future Multiannual Financial Framework, and called for further efforts on developing the ‘negotiating box’ under Finland’s Presidency. EU Heads of State or Government aim to agree on the MFF before the end of the year.

Climate change

The European Council reconfirmed its commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and underlined the necessity of transforming the EU into a carbon-neutral economy. Due to persistent diverging views among Member States, it did not manage to commit to a date. President Tusk mentioned that ‘reaching unanimity was not possible today’, whilst underlining ‘that a vast majority of Member States has committed to climate neutrality by 2050’, as expressed in a footnote in the conclusions. Analysts spoke of a missed opportunity to show global leadership at the forthcoming United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, to be held in New York in September 2019. EU leaders will come back to the issue in the autumn with a view to adopting the EU’s long-term strategy, which is to be submitted to the UNFCCC early in 2020. With respect to international climate finance, EU leaders acknowledged the EU’s and Member States’ commitment to scale up mobilisation and work towards ‘a timely, well-managed and successful replenishment process for the Green Climate Fund’ in support of green projects in developing countries.

Disinformation

Based on a report from the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU, showing great variation in Member State practices, the European Council discussed the issue of disinformation, insisting on the need to ‘increase preparedness and strengthen the resilience’ of European democracies. It welcomed the European Commission’s initiative to evaluate the implementation of the Code of Practice on Disinformation aimed at continuously adapting the EU’s response to countering disinformation. EU leaders also invited the EU institutions and the Member States to work jointly on better protection of the EU’s information and communication networks.

External relations

The European Council discussed the situation in eastern Ukraine and in the Azov Sea. It confirmed the prolongation of economic sanctions on Russia, by six months, following the illegal annexation of Crimea. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, and the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, updated their colleagues on the implementation of the Minsk agreements and of the Normandy framework negotiations. The European Council reconfirmed its attachment to the Minsk agreements, deplored current breaches and stressed that it will continue to monitor the evolution of the situation in eastern Ukraine. It expressed concern about the issuing of Russian passports in areas of eastern Ukraine, suggesting that their non-recognition could be part of a series of possible options. EU leaders reiterated their call for an unconditional release of detained Ukrainian sailors, the return of vessels and compliance with international law in the Kerch Strait by allowing the free passage of ships. They also noted the fifth anniversary of the downing of flight MH17 and reiterated their call to ‘establish truth, justice and accountability’ for the victims and their families.

EU leaders expressed solidarity with Cyprus, and requested that Turkey respect Cyprus’s sovereign rights by refraining from conducting illegal drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean. They pointed to the ‘serious immediate negative impact’ of Turkey’s actions on EU-Turkey relations, and invited the EU institutions to rapidly ‘submit options for appropriate measures.’

In addition, the European Council referred to the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership, the situation in Moldova, and the EU’s strategic partnership with Africa. It confirmed the EU’s commitment to finding a stable and inclusive political solution in Libya, underlining its support for the UN-led process. It also welcomed developments in EU-Morocco bilateral relations ahead of the Association Council to be held on 27 June 2019. Although the escalating situation in the Gulf was not on the agenda, Presidents Tusk and Juncker confirmed that the EU’s position on Iran remained unchanged, stressing the EU’s concerns over recent developments.

Other items

Country-specific recommendations

In the framework of the European Semester, EU Heads of State or Government discussed the 2019 country-specific recommendations (CSR), which set the goals for Member States’ fiscal and economic policies. While the endorsement by the European Council is legally not required, this is the first time since the launch of the CSR in 2011 that the European Council did not endorse them, but only discussed them.

Enlargement

EU leaders endorsed the conclusions of the June 2018 General Affairs Council on enlargement and the stabilisation and association process. The Council postponed decisions on the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia to October 2019.

Brexit

EU-27 leaders also addressed Brexit, reconfirming their unity on the matter and taking note of the EU’s preparations for a ‘no-deal’ scenario. The EU-27 indicated that they: ‘i) look forward to working together with the next UK Prime Minister; ii) want to avoid a disorderly Brexit and establish a future relationship that is as close as possible with the UK; and iii) are open for talks when it comes to the declaration on the future UK-EU relations if the position of the United Kingdom were to evolve, but [that] the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation’.

On 21 June, the Euro Summit took note of a broad agreement on the euro-area budget – a budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness – and on the revision of the Treaty on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) reached a week before in the Eurogroup. The leaders tasked finance ministers to swiftly come up with solutions for financing this budget and to prepare the full package on ESM revision by December 2019.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/26/outcome-of-the-european-council-and-euro-summit-20-21-june-2019/

Artificial intelligence, machine learning & automation: what future for journalism?

Written by Vitalba Crivello,

first edition of the European Youth Science and Media Days (#eysmd2019)Some 70 enthusiastic young journalists from all over the EU met in Strasbourg from 4 to 7 June 2019, for the first edition of the European Youth Science and Media Days (#eysmd2019) – the summer school on ‘Artificial intelligence and journalism’ organised by the European Science-Media Hub (ESMH/STOA) in cooperation with the European Youth Press network of media-makers (EYP).

The event was the first of its kind for Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel and the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), and it proved a success in terms of participant engagement and feedback received so far. The idea behind this format is to turn it into a regular forum, offering young media-makers the opportunity to learn about the latest technology tools and practice using them for their work. The results of the satisfaction survey distributed to the participants will help the ESMH to collect suggestions and remarks to take on board for the next edition.

Ten artificial intelligence (AI) experts (researchers, policy-makers, journalists and media representatives) shared their experience and reflections on key aspects of the intersection between AI and journalism:

  • What does the rise of automation mean for media-makers?
  • How does AI affect journalism?
  • What role can algorithms play in this changing context and what are the possible ethical implications?
  • How will AI and humans combine in the journalism of the future?

 The programme was dense and diverse, ranging from thematic panels, hands-on training and case study presentations (including an AI tool demo), workshops for participants and a virtual reality experience.

Thematic panels focused on ‘AI, EU & ethics’, ‘AI in the newsrooms’ and ‘AI & algorithm literacy’. The European approach to AI aims at putting Europe in the lead globally by deploying only ethically embedded AI, while promoting innovation and investment. Robots can definitely play a game-changing role, as they accelerate the interpretation of information, challenging the professional practice of journalists and researchers. However, the fundamentals of providing sense and critical assessment with ethics, integrity and sound judgement remain valid and relevant. AI in newsrooms is real, but AI can be made ‘uncool’ again, according to Mattia Peretti (LSE, JournalismAI), through understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by the adoption of AI-powered technologies in newsrooms and what AI can, should and should not do for journalism.

Other issues addressed by the thematic panels and the accompanying discussions with the audience included:

  • Automation and AI have already made their way into newsrooms, helping journalists do their work quicker or better. State-of-the-art algorithms can already provide decent, brief and readable summaries of research papers, opening up the possibility of automated science press releases and news.
  • Notwithstanding the fact that growth and development of AI is spreading into creative domains, the emerging challenges relate mostly to the distribution of content using AI, rather than to the use of AI in content creation.
  • Editorial thinking helps to hold algorithms accountable for possible consequences. An algorithm is simply a set of instructions, similar to a recipe. Like any set of instructions, they reflect the biases of the people who create them. The tech industry might not have a codified body of ethics, but media professionals do, and they are committed to truth, transparency, accountability and harm minimisation.

In algorithmic literacy, the key question is: what can or should be automated and what are inherently human tasks? ‘Augmented journalism’ is a novel concept, which differs from the idea of AI and machines that are smarter than humans.

The ‘machine learning’ hands-on training offered journalists the opportunity to learn how machine learning really works and also how to distinguish facts from myths, to cut through the hype about AI, as well as the misinformation about what it can and cannot do.

Participants also experienced a demonstration of INJECT, a new digital tool (EU-funded) available to newsrooms to support journalists in writing more original pieces, by using different technologies to enhance and empower journalists faced with less time, and fewer resources.

A full session was devoted to case studies from the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) community, showing that EIT is running one of the biggest AI programmes in Europe with education, innovation and entrepreneurship activities, helping to shape the future of Europe’.

Finally, the virtual reality (VR) experience included a VR cinema screening a selection of three films on AI for participants (‘Alteration’, ‘Merger’, and ‘I saw the future’). Moreover, participants could use three ‘room-scale’ VR stations to test a space-themed experience (Mercury project), a vertigo-themed experience ‘spheres’, and an artistic experience to paint in 3D.

The afternoons were devoted to nine working groups where the young journalists produced outcomes on selected topics discussed during the summer school. These groups produced several interesting media products on AI, which they showcased on 7 June. Stay tuned to the ESMH webpage to see them!

For more details on the event:


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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/25/artificial-intelligence-machine-learning-automation-what-future-for-journalism/

Political Groups in the European Parliament: A historical perspective

Written by Christian Salm,

Paul-Henri Spaak speaking to the hemicycle of the ECSC Common Assembly

Paul-Henri Spaak speaking to the hemicycle of the ECSC Common Assembly

Taking a variety of shapes and forms, European transnational party cooperation is a unique international phenomenon. This is true of transnational party cooperation both outside and within the European Parliament. Moreover, transnational party cooperation in the Parliament and elsewhere is key to explaining the success of European integration and the various existing transnational party families at European level are crucial in shaping European politics.

However, when the forerunner of today’s Parliament, the Common Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), was established in 1952, the creation of transnational political groups was not envisaged at all. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1951 by the ECSC’s six founding states and laying the ECSC’s foundation, did not mention the creation of political groups sharing a same ideology and similar persuasion within the new assembly. Nevertheless, as early as at the first ECSC Common Assembly plenary session in September 1952, it appeared that members would group along political instead of national affiliation. Consequently, at its plenary session in June 1953, and only a couple of months after its inauguration, the Assembly unanimously decided to insert the creation of political groups into its rules of procedure.

According to the Assembly’s rules of procedures, all that was required to form a political group was a declaration of formation, including the name of the group, its executive and the signatures of its members. The only restrictions were: first, that groups be politically, not nationally, based; second, that they have at least nine members; and third, that no individual could belong to more than one group. As a result, three political groups were officially authorised in 1953: the Christian Democratic Group, the Socialist Group, and the Group of Liberals. All three political groups are still represented in today’s Parliament, albeit under other names. With their official authorisation in 1953, the first three political groups began to develop organisational structures and the members’ work within the political groups was gradually strengthened in the following years. Furthermore, the political group bureaus extended their administrative structures, internally resembling the structures of political groups in national parliaments. Nevertheless, the political groups’ structures remained relatively small until the 1970s.

Fostering transnational cooperation at European level became a more serious prospect for Parliament’s political groups during the 1970s. The decision taken at the European Community (EC) summit in The Hague in December 1969, in favour of direct European Parliament elections, provided a new impetus to extend and strengthen their organisational structures. In an influential article published in 1978, the British political scientist David Marquand anticipated a much greater role for political parties and parliamentary political groups, in view of the increased politicisation of the EC in the wake of the first direct elections to the European Parliament scheduled for June 1979. Parliament’s political groups reacted to this decision by setting up more working units dedicated to specific policy areas. In addition, the number of members per political group constantly increased over time, due to various rounds of Community enlargement. Likewise, the number of staff employed by the political groups has grown constantly. While consisting of only a handful of staff in the 1950s, all political groups together employed 1 103 temporary staff members in 2018. As political groups grew and political groups’ staff levels increased, the European Parliament’s expenditure for political groups also increased. In 2017, for example, Parliament gave a total of €60 000 000 to fund the administration of the political groups. Finally, the number of political groups itself has risen. Starting with three political groups in 1953, the largest number of political groups ever to be simultaneously represented in the European Parliament was at the beginning of the 1989-1994 parliamentary term, with ten political groups. At the end of the 2014-2019 parliamentary term, there were eight political groups.

The eight political groups in the outgoing 2014-2019 Parliament in order of size were:

  • Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (EPP), with 219 Members of the European Parliament;
  • Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D), with 189 Members;
  • European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), 70 Members;
  • Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), 68 Members;
  • Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), 52 Members;
  • Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), 51 Members;
  • Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group (EFDD), 44 Members; and
  • Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), 36 Members.

In contrast to earlier times, to form a political group today, a minimum of 25 Members of the European Parliament, elected in at least one quarter (currently seven) of the EU’s Member States is required. Furthermore, recent changes to Parliament’s Rules of Procedure require all members of a new group to declare in a written statement ‘that they share the same political affinity‘ (Rule 33(5)). The President of Parliament must receive notification of a group’s formation in a statement that must contain: (a) the name of the group; (b) a political declaration; setting out the purpose of the group; and (c) the names of its members and bureau members.

Looking back, the political groups’ history shows that, from the very beginnings of the ECSC Common Assembly to today’s Parliament, Members have prioritised political rather than national affiliations, highlighting the supranational character of the institution. It was therefore only natural that, despite their initial omission, it only took a couple of months after the constituent plenary session of the ECSC Common Assembly in September 1952, for the creation of political groups to be suggested.

For more detailed information on the political groups in the European Parliament and their history read:

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/20/political-groups-in-the-european-parliament-a-historical-perspective/

20 June, World Refugee Day: A long way to safety

hashtag World Refugee DayWritten by Maria Diaz Crego,

According to UNCHR, those fleeing their own countries for fear of persecution travel collectively around two billion kilometres per year to reach a safe haven. To honour their resilience and determination and to remind us of the long and tortuous journeys they are forced to make on their way to safety, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched the www.stepwithrefugees.org campaign to mark 2019 World Refugee Day.

Many Europeans may not remember today, but the main international piece of legislation protecting refugees, the Geneva Convention, was adopted in the aftermath of World War II with the aim of protecting refugees of European origin. It is estimated that over 40 million people were displaced in Europe in May 1945, and many more would have to flee during the final throes of the war and in the years that followed. The Geneva Convention therefore limited its scope of application to the events occurring before 1 January 1951 in Europe (State parties could opt to extend the application of the Convention outside Europe). It was not until the adoption of the 1967 Protocol that the protection afforded to refugees became universal, with the removal of the geographical and temporal restrictions under the Convention. In the post-war period, millions of displaced Europeans were repatriated to their countries of origin, but others were resettled in the United States, Australia, Israel, Canada or Latin American countries, travelling long distances to find a safe home.


#StepWithRefugees


Of the 25.9 million refugees in the world, nearly 60 % come from Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. Some 80 % of those refugees are hosted by developing countries, with the world’s largest refugee populations currently present in Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda. However, some European Union countries do host significant refugee populations, with Germany, France and Sweden being among the top 25 countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees in the world.

People in need of international protection often travel long distances to arrive on our shores. Syria, Afghanistan and Irak were the top three countries of origin of those applying for asylum in 2018 in the European Union. In many cases, they have to rely on smugglers and make perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to be able to lodge an asylum application in the European Union, as their possibilities to reach European soil using legal migration pathways are scarce. It is estimated that 90 % of those granted international protection in the European Union arrive via irregular channels.

To resolve the issue, the European Commission proposed to establish a permanent European Union resettlement framework that would allow displaced persons in need of international protection to enter the Member States legally and safely. Similarly, the European Parliament has repeatedly called for the adoption of humanitarian visas at EU level, ultimately adopting a resolution calling on the European Commission to submit a proposal establishing a European humanitarian visa by 31 March 2019. Both proposals are still to become law but, if adopted, they would grant some relief to those trying to find safety within European borders.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/20/20-june-world-refugee-day-a-long-way-to-safety/

Outlook for the European Council and Euro Summit meetings, 20-21 June 2019

Written by Ralf Drachenberg and Suzana Anghel,

Elections voting, politics and elections illustration, hands lea

© fotolia

The June 2019 European Council meeting, the last regular one in the current institutional cycle, has a full agenda. First, EU leaders will discuss, and potentially agree on, high-level appointments to EU institutions. Moreover, they are expected to adopt their 2019-24 strategic agenda, setting the EU’s political priorities for the next five years. The European Council will also discuss the timetable for the adoption of the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the EU’s common climate change position ahead of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit. Other agenda items include deciding on the number of Commissioners, concluding the 2019 European Semester, possible decisions on opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, countering disinformation, and the situation in Ukraine. Finally, EU-27 leaders will meet for a Euro Summit in extended format, to discuss the report submitted by the Eurogroup on EMU reform.

1. Agenda and follow-up to previous European Council commitments

The Leaders’ Agenda had identified the MFF, institutional appointments and the new strategic agenda as the main topics for the June 2019 European Council meeting. The annotated draft agenda introduces other topics, reflecting previous commitments or a call by several Member States.

At the start of the meeting, there will be an address by Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, and Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, which currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the Council of Ministers, will provide an overview on the progress made in implementing previous European Council conclusions.

2. European Council meeting

Next institutional cycle

High-level appointments

The ‘relevant decisions on appointments for the next institutional cycle’ concern the positions of President of the European Commission, President of the European Council, and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In addition, the President of the European Central Bank also has to be chosen. These appointments should reflect the EU’s demographic and geographical balance, as well as gender and political balances, and are thus treated by many as a ‘package’. Although the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, aims to ’provide clarity on all these posts already in June’, and while intensive discussions have taken place since the European elections, there is no guarantee that the European Council will reach a final ‘package deal’ in June.

For the positions of Presidents of the European Council and the European Central Bank, as well as the HR/VP, the decisions rest mainly with the European Council. Regarding the election of the President of the European Commission, the European Council and European Parliament are, as stipulated in Article 17(7) TEU, jointly responsible: ‘taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission’. President Tusk has repeatedly stressed that the decision on a candidate for European Commission President (as well as for the others) should be taken by consensus in the European Council, if possible, but that he ‘would not shy away from putting [it] to the vote’ if needed. If a vote on the candidate is necessary, a ‘reinforced’ qualified majority’ would be needed. According to Article 238(3)b TFEU this would require at least 72 % of the Member States representing 65 % of the EU’s population. Subsequently, the candidate needs to be elected by Parliament by a majority of its component members (376 of 751).

Decision-finding process in the European Council: At their informal meeting on 28 May 2019, EU-28 Heads of State or Government reiterated their agreement that there could be ‘no automaticity’ in proposing the lead candidate of the political family that gained most votes at the EP elections for this position; consequently, they gave President Tusk a mandate ‘to engage in consultations with the European Parliament, as foreseen by the Treaty’. Indeed, Declaration 11 annexed to the Treaty stipulates that ‘the European Parliament and European Council are jointly responsible for the smooth running of the process leading to the election of the President of the European Commission. Prior to the decision of the European Council, representatives of the European Parliament and of the European Council will thus conduct the necessary consultations …’. This procedure is now being used for the first time; back in 2014, the Parliament had rapidly declared its firm support for the EPP Spitzenkandidat, Jean-Claude Juncker, and he was subsequently agreed upon by the European Council. This time, the Parliament has not declared its support for a common candidate, and a more formal consultation procedure is thus required.

In that context, President Tusk is consulting individual members of the European Council. In parallel, six EU Heads of State or Government – the prime ministers of Croatia, Andrej Plenkovič (EPP), Latvia, Krišjānis Kariņš (EPP), the Netherlands, Mark Rutte (Renew Europe), Belgium, Charles Michel (Renew Europe), Spain, Pedro Sánchez (PES) and Portugal, Antonio Costa (PES) – were nominated as negotiators for their political families to discuss the high-level appointments informally. Since the European Council does not include any Green Head of State or Government (Current make-up: eight EPP members, eight Renew Europe, six S&D/PES, two ECR, and one GUE/NGL), the Green family is not included in this process.

Discussions in the European Parliament: On 28 May, in view of the results of the European Parliament elections, the EP Conference of Presidents recalled the EP resolutions emphasising the Parliament’s support for the lead candidate process. Subsequently, four of the main political groups – EPP, S&D, Renew Europe and the Greens/EFA – agreed on a political process aimed at defining a programme for change for the next legislative period, to which the new President of the European Commission would need to commit in order to enjoy a broad and stable majority in the EP.

Discussions between the EP and the European Council: On 5 June, President Tusk and the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, held consultations on the high-level appointments ahead of the June European Council meeting. President Tusk also met individually with leaders of some of the main political groups. On 18 June, he met the Parliament’s Conference of Presidents.

2019-24 Strategic Agenda for the Union

The European Council will also adopt the EU’s strategic agenda for 2019-2024. Its substance is based on the outline prepared by Donald Tusk and the discussion at the informal meeting of EU-27 Heads of State or Government on 9 May 2019 in Sibiu, and sets four core priorities:

  1. protecting citizens and freedoms,
  2. developing a strong and vibrant economic base,
  3. building a more climate-friendly, green, fair and inclusive future,
  4. defending European interests and values on the global stage.

The order of the priorities corresponds to the concerns of EU citizens, as indicated in the most recent standard Eurobarometer. Migration is the main concern, followed by terrorism (both part of priority 1). Then come the state of Member States’ public finances and the economic situation (both considered to be part of priority 2). Climate change and unemployment are next on the list of citizens’ concerns (both part of priority 3). And fourth comes the EU’s influence in the world (priority 4). The European Council is likely to invite the other EU institutions to implement these strategic priorities and will monitor their implementation.

Size of the European Commission: In 2013, EU leaders had indicated that they would come back to the issue of a possible reduction in the number of Commissioners – to two-thirds of the number of Member States – before the next European Commission takes office. In accordance with the possibility provided for in Article 17(5) TEU, the European Council is expected to decide unanimously to maintain one Commissioner per Member State, as it had already done in 2009.

Multiannual Financial Framework

The Romanian Council Presidency will update the European Council on the state of play in the Council MFF deliberations. On 14 November 2018, Parliament adopted an interim report on the MFF package, arguing for an increase in the MFF ceiling from the current 1.0 % to 1.3 % of EU gross national income. EU leaders will discuss whether to maintain the calendar set in December 2018, aiming at ‘an agreement in the European Council in autumn 2019’, or to adjust the timeline.

Climate change

The European Council will again consider climate change, at a time when divergent views on the way forward towards a carbon-neutral EU economy persist. A group of Member States (initially eight and now 18) as well as the European Parliament have recently expressed their support for the European Commission’s communication ‘A Clean Planet for all’, pleading for an ambitious and timely climate policy promoting EU carbon-neutrality by 2050. Early agreement on the level of ambition ahead of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in September is key if the EU is to play the leading role it aspires to in the global fight against climate change.

Other items

European Semester: EU Heads of State or Government are expected to endorse the 2019 country-specific recommendations (CSR), which set the goals for Member States’ fiscal and economic policies, outlining necessary structural reforms, thus concluding the policy-guidance phase of the European Semester. In a June communication, the Commission pointed to the worse implementation of 2018 CSRs than in previous years. In addition, EU leaders might address Italy’s public debt (132.2 % of GDP in 2018); the Commission and the Eurogroup believe that an excessive deficit procedure under the Stability and Growth Pact is warranted.

Disinformation: Based on a report from the Romanian Council Presidency, EU leaders will discuss the next steps in countering disinformation. The report assesses efforts made to counter disinformation in the context of the 2019 EP elections, and outlines lessons learned thus far.

Enlargement: EU Heads of State or Government might consider the outcome of the General Affairs Council, following the European Commission recommendation, for the second year in a row, to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Member States remain divided. Some, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, consider it premature to open accession negotiations with one or both, whereas 13 Member States have expressed support for such a move.

External relations: The European Council will consider the situation in Ukraine, including the renewal of the economic sanctions imposed on Russia following the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the illegal issuing of Russian passports in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. EU leaders will discuss the Eastern Partnership, and will most probably mandate the Commission and the High Representative to undertake an evaluation of ‘existing instruments and measures’ by early 2020. Moreover, they are expected also to examine Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean, and reiterate their solidarity with Cyprus. EU leaders might decide to consider freezing ‘talks on an upgraded customs union’ if Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean do not cease.

Brexit: Although Brexit is not on the agenda, it can be expected that President Tusk will update EU‑27 leaders on developments in the UK, in the margins of the Euro Summit.

3. Euro Summit

On Friday 21 June, EU-27 leaders will meet for a Euro Summit in an extended format. In December 2018, euro-area leaders had endorsed the agreement reached in the Eurogroup meeting of 3 December on elements of the banking union package: (i) the European stability fund (ESM) will provide a backstop to the single resolution fund (SRF); (ii) the ESM will be able, under strict conditionality, to provide precautionary loans to Member States. On 13 June, the Eurogroup, which reports directly to the leaders, reached broad agreement on ESM treaty revision and the main features of the euro-area budget. On the European deposit insurance scheme (EDIS), the third pillar of the banking union, the Eurogroup did not take any decisions, with the exception of single supervision and a single resolution mechanism.


Read this briefing on ‘Outlook for the European Council and Euro Summit meetings, 20-21 June 2019‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/19/outlook-for-the-european-council-and-euro-summit-meetings-20-21-june-2019/

Electing the European Parliament’s President

Written by Silvia Kotanidis,

EU parliament, leadership, Members of European Parliament as pawns and a chess king on European Union flag, banner. 3d illustration

© Rawf8 / Fotolia

At the July I plenary sitting, the newly elected European Parliament (EP) is due to elect its 31st President, to hold office until mid-term at the beginning of 2022, when a new election for Parliament’s President will be held. The President has an important and increasingly visible function in the EU institutional and international setting, mirroring the influential role of the Parliament as shaper of EU policies and co-legislator.

Election procedure

Until 1979, EP Presidents were chosen on an annual or biennial basis. Since the first EP election by universal suffrage in 1979, the President is elected and remains in office for a renewable period of two and a half years. During each legislative term, a first election is normally held in July, immediately after the election of the new Parliament, and a second, mid-term election is held two and a half years later, in January.

According to Article 14(4) of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU), the European Parliament elects its President from among its Members. The Parliament’s Rules of Procedure (RoP), as revised and applicable from the start of the 2019-2024 legislature on 2 July 2019, set out the procedure for this election.

The President is elected based on nominations, which may be handed in before each round in the ballot, with nominees’ consent. Candidates are proposed by political groups, but may also be nominated by a number of Members reaching at least the ‘low threshold’ i.e. one-twentieth (38) of Parliament’s Members (Rules 15 and 179). During the first plenary sitting after the election of a new Parliament, or at the sitting designated to elect the President for the mid-term election, the procedure is chaired by the outgoing President, or by one of the outgoing Vice-Presidents in order of precedence or, in their absence, by the MEP having held office for the longest period (Rule 14). The Parliament cannot deal with any other activity until the election of the new President is concluded (Rule 14(2)).

The vote is by secret ballot (Rule 15). While, prior to January 2017, Rule 15 provided that, if the number of candidates for the election of the President, Vice-Presidents and Quaestors was less than or equal to the seats to be filled, the election may be held by acclamation, as of January 2017, Rule 15 provides that, in those circumstances, the election shall be held by acclamation unless a number of Members or political group(s) reaching at least the ‘high threshold’, i.e. one fifth of Members (150), request a secret ballot. This provision is, however, unlikely to apply to the presidential election, where traditionally more than one nominee runs for the seat.

Rule 16 provides that after nominations have been handed to the provisional chair of the plenary sitting, the latter announces them in plenary. The President is elected by an absolute majority of votes cast, i.e. 50 % +1 of the votes cast (not an absolute majority of Members). Abstentions and spoilt or blank votes do not count. Rule 16 provides for a maximum of four ballots. If, after the third ballot, no absolute majority is reached, the fourth ballot is confined to the two candidates who obtained the highest number of votes in the third ballot, in which case the victory is attributed to the candidate (among the two) with the highest score . In the case of a tie at the fourth ballot, Rule 16(1) assigns the victory to the older candidate. In electing the President, Vice-Presidents and Quaestors, account should be taken of the need to ensure a fair representation of political views, geographical balance and gender balance (Rule 15(2)). The elected President is the sole person entitled to give an opening address.

Duties of the President

Figure 1 – European Parliament Presidents

European Parliament Presidents

The President enjoys executive and representative powers, as well as responsibility for ensuring respect of the rules of procedure. The President directs all of Parliament’s activities, including the duty to ‘open, suspend and close sittings; to rule on the admissibility of amendments and other texts put to the vote, as well as on the admissibility of parliamentary questions’. Order is maintained during sittings by the President giving the floor to speakers. The President also closes debates, puts matters to the vote, announces the results of votes and makes relevant communications to committees. The President’s responsibility extends also to the security and inviolability of the Parliament’s premises (Rule 22). Rule 22(4) attributes to the President the power to represent Parliament in international relations, on ceremonial occasions and in administrative, legal and financial matters, although these powers may be delegated.

The powers of the President, however, extend far beyond the mere letter of Rule 22. They also include, for example, the power to convene the conciliation committee, under both ordinary legislative procedure and in the budgetary procedure, in agreement with the President of the Council, and to chair Parliament’s delegation to the conciliation committee (although under the ordinary legislative procedure this duty is often delegated); to chair formal sittings when visiting heads of state address the Parliament; and during important votes or debates.

Since the late 1980s, the practice of the EP President addressing the opening of all European Council meetings has developed, a sign of the increased visibility and recognition of the role in relation to the other institutions and the outside world. The President chairs both the EP Bureau and the Conference of Presidents, and may cast a deciding vote in the Bureau in the event of a tie. One significant symbol of the extent to which Parliament’s powers have evolved is that the EP President co-signs, with the President of the Council, legislative acts adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure (Article 297(1) TFEU). At the end of the budgetary procedure, it is also the EP President who declares the EU budget adopted (Article 314(9) TFEU).

Election of Vice-Presidents and Quaestors

Rule 15 makes it explicit that, after the election of the President, Parliament also elects the other two main political officers of Parliament necessary for the functioning of Parliament’s activities, in the following order: the 14 Vice-Presidents and then the 5 Quaestors. Nominations are made on the same basis as for the President (Rule 15). Under Rule 17, the 14 Vice-Presidents are elected in a single ballot by an absolute majority of votes cast. If the number of successful candidates is less than 14, a second vote is held to assign the remaining seats under the same conditions (absolute majority). If a third vote is necessary, a relative majority is sufficient to fill the remaining seats.

Vice-Presidents take precedence in the order in which they are elected and, in the event of a tie, by age. If voted by acclamation, a vote by secret ballot determines the order of precedence. The election of Quaestors follows the same procedure as that for the election of Vice-Presidents (Rule 18). In practice, the political groups aim to ensure that the Vice‑Presidents and Quaestors broadly reflect the numerical strength of the groups, including taking into account the results of the election of the President.

This is an update of an ‘at a glance’ note published in January 2017.


Read this ‘At a glance’ note on ‘Electing the European Parliament’s President‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/19/electing-the-european-parliaments-president/

Verifying the credentials of new Members of the European Parliament

The European Parliament regularly receives enquiries from citizens as to how it ensures that elected Members do not hold any office that is incompatible with the office of Member of the European Parliament.

Incompatibilities

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As laid down in the Act concerning their direct election, the office of Member of the European Parliament is incompatible with certain mandates. These include being a member of the government of an EU country or a member of the European Commission, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the European Ombudsman, or sitting on the European Central Bank’s Board of Directors.

Since the 2004 European elections, the office is also incompatible with that of member of a national parliament.

Procedure

After each European election, the competent authorities in EU countries notify the European Parliament of the names of newly elected Members, so that they may take their seats at the opening of the first sitting. The elected Members must declare in writing that they do not hold any incompatible office.

Based on the official notification of the full results of the election received from each EU country, the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs prepares a report on the verification of credentials. The European Parliament subsequently rules on the validity of the mandate of each Member. It also decides on any disputes on incompatible offices, other than those that fall under EU countries’ national provisions. Where it is determined that a Member cannot take their seat in Parliament because they hold – and wish to retain – an office that is incompatible, the European Parliament establishes that there is a vacancy for that seat.

Throughout the legislature, the European Parliament also verifies the credentials of individual Members who replace outgoing MEPs.

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.

Further information

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2019/06/17/verifying-the-credentials-of-new-members-of-the-european-parliament/