Месечни архиви: февруари 2020

Economic impact of epidemics and pandemics

Written by Angelos Delivorias,

© BLACKDAY / Shutterstock.com

Despite significant medical progress over the last centuries, infectious diseases such as influenza or malaria still represent a considerable threat to society. While some are endemic to specific geographical regions, others can spread, becoming epidemics or pandemics. While the first and most crucial aspect of an epidemic is, and will always remain, the loss of human life, the spread of a virus can also have important repercussions for national or regional economies.

The evidence reported in various studies indicates that epidemic disease impacts on a country’s economy through several channels, including the health, transportation, agricultural and tourism sectors. At the same time, trade with other countries may also be impacted, while the interconnectedness of modern economies means that an epidemic can also implicate international supply chains.

These considerations, as well as the fact that rapid urbanisation, increasing international travel and climate change all render epidemic outbreaks a global and not simply a local phenomenon, imply that it is important for all countries to take necessary measures to counter this threat. In this context, several initiatives have been proposed, ranging from a single measure (e.g. investing in new antibiotics), to broader solutions to be adopted by developing and developed countries alike.

In the European Union (EU), healthcare organisation and provision are Member State prerogatives and responsibilities. The EU’s actions in this area therefore aim at complementing national policies to help Member States face common challenges, such as epidemics. This support takes place via coordination and exchange of best practices between EU countries and health experts, financial support under Instruments for co-financing, (e.g. the Horizon 2020 research programme and European Fund for Strategic Investments), and the adoption of relevant legislation.

The European Parliament has taken the opportunity, through own-initiative resolutions, to highlight the need for further actions.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Economic impact of epidemics and pandemics‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/28/economic-impact-of-epidemics-and-pandemics/

How should democracies respond to the disinformation dilemma?

Written by Naja Bentzen,

EPRS – The Dilemma of Disinformation: How should democracies respond?

Often sponsored by authoritarian state actors, disinformation undermines our democracies by eroding trust in institutions and media, increasing rifts and tensions in society and weakening our ability to take informed decisions. Democracies all over the world – including the United States and the European Union – are currently seeking adequate responses to the ongoing challenge of online disinformation (deliberately designed to deceive people). On 17 February 2020, the first joint event by EPRS and Stanford University discussed how democratic countries can respond effectively to disinformation without compromising core values such as freedom of expression.

Following an introduction by EPRS Director-General Anthony Teasdale, Director of Stanford Internet Observatory and former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos presented the Observatory’s research on these topics. Stamos explained that the 2016 US elections saw five ‘lanes’ of interference; two offline – overt propaganda by Russian state broadcaster RT and similar media outlets, as well as people-to-people interactions – and three online lanes:

1) Mimetic warfare: this can take the form of a truly false narrative; amplification of a divisive interpretation of a true fact (‘the Democratic Party rigged the primary against Bernie’); amplification of division or extreme political views; and undermining the very idea of truth – the last two being the key goals of mimetic information operations.

2) Hack and leak: a key actor here is the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), exemplified by the John Podesta emails. However, people in Brussels (including EU and NATO staff) are also targeted. Following a hack, such content can be leaked strategically (in the Podesta case, via the Russian-sponsored ‘DC Leaks’ platform) to the press.

3) Hacking election infrastructure: In general, this is more of a problem for the USA, where the decentralised elections are posing severe security challenges.



Following Alex Stamos’ presentation, Etienne Bassot, Director of the Members’ Research Service, EPRS, moderated the panel discussion. Discussing the challenges and opportunities for democracies facing the ‘disinformation dilemma’ were Paul Nemitz (Principal Adviser in the Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers), Wojtek Talko (Communications Adviser to Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová), Erika Widegren (Chief Executive of Re-Imagine Europa) and Naja Bentzen (Policy Analyst, Members’ Research Service, EPRS).

Stamos explained that the real problem is not the existence of disinformation, but the amplification of the message. Social media platforms use different amplification models (advertisements, private groups, recommendation engines etc.). The more a platform amplifies a message, the more responsibility the platform carries. He highlighted the need to focus on curbing amplification of mis- or disinformation (which is legal, but unwanted), rather than on the content side. In other words, you can allow people to access misinformation if they want to, as well as hinder the amplification of the message. In addition, we need to enable the collaborations necessary to finding organised ill-intentioned actors. Academia, governments, social media platforms, non-governmental organisations etc. all need each other at various stages, and social media platforms should be incentivised to allow these relationships to exist.

Alex Stamos’ slides:


Paul Nemitz emphasised that Russian disinformation is not the only problem; our media ecosystem is under tremendous pressure. Last year in America, thousands of journalists lost their jobs. The free press is ‘going down the drain’, because Google and Facebook are draining the information environment for advertising revenue that used to be journalism’s main revenue source. We have to boost our free press, which is a vital component in the functioning of our democracies. There is however no ‘silver bullet’ in terms of social media regulation: we need to both tackle disinformation and the disappearance of traditional media. In the EU, the Commission, policy-makers and academics are united in their calls for a holistic approach to protecting democracy. In the 2019 EU elections, intersectoral, cross-silo cooperation produced good results. For Nemitz, all the steps Stamos advocates must be taken, but we also need an active policy to strengthen our institutions, public broadcasting and the free press. We also need the ‘technical intelligentsia’, experts like Stamos, to engage with parliaments and political parties. Lawmakers may know little about the technical side, but the technical intelligentsia also needs to learn what democracy is.

Erika Widegren

Explaining that Vice-President Věra Jourová is working on a European democracy action plan, intended to provide precisely such a holistic approach, Wojtek Talko fully agreed with the focus on amplification of legal but harmful content; Jourová intends to focus on behaviour rather than content. The challenge is to connect and coordinate various policy instruments and cyber-security, election, technology, and foreign affairs expertise. The European election cooperation network is an example of a complex, cross-sector network that exemplifies the important role of coordination. However, as we are learning, the actors who peddle disinformation are also learning. We have therefore to constantly adjust our responses and develop our technological capacity. Our main goal is to increase social media platforms transparency, make the platforms share information, at least with researchers, and ensure society is fully informed of their activities and intentions. In the long term, Talko concluded, we need to vaccinate society against disinformation.

Erika Widegren, referring to Re-Imagine Europe’s Taskforce on Democracy in a Digital Society, noted that one of their key conclusions was that a deeper change is happening. Digital technology is the third communication revolution, after the inventions of writing and printing, and, as she pointed out in Churchill’s words, ‘we shape the buildings we live in, and afterwards our buildings shape us’. One such example was the arrival of television in the USA, which revolutionised advertising. Before TV, the Teachers’ Union was almost as powerful in society as bankers. All this changed however when money was allowed ‘to talk’. Similarly, we are seeing a more aggressive media environment take hold in the digital age. The incentive online is to go viral, and the easiest way to do so is to pick a fight. Political extremes profit from this tendency, of which Greta Thunberg is a perfect example. The 85 % of the debate regarding whether people love or hate her eclipses her actual message. Democracy is based on compromise and finding solutions, which obviously clashes with this polarisation. For Widegren, ‘we will not be able to recreate what we once had, we need to clean up our “information river” to make it clean, transparent and safe again’.

BASSOT, Etienne; TALKO, Wojtek;

According to recent research published by the Oxford Internet Institute, Naja Bentzen noted that countries where a political party or government agency use social media manipulation campaigns at home has increased by 150 % over the past two years. In 2017, there was evidence of social media manipulation targeting domestic audiences in 28 countries. In 2018, it was 48 countries, and in 2019, the number had jumped to 70 countries. In these countries, such campaigns were used to suppress fundamental human rights, discredit political opposition and drown out political dissent. At the same time, in 2019, there was evidence of agents in seven countries using these techniques to influence audiences abroad: Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and India. At the same time, research from the StratCom Centre of Excellence in Riga has shown that it is still far easier to buy inauthentic amplification than it is to combat the phenomenon. Generally, authoritarian state actors can react swiftly and firewall their internet from the rest of the internet, criminalise creating and spreading rumours that ‘undermine economic and social order’, as China has done, or ban disrespect of authorities and the spreading of what the government deems to be ‘fake news‘, as has happened in Russia. This type of action is far more difficult for democracies, which strive to maintain human rights and free speech.

A key lesson from the debate was that – precisely because there is no silver bullet – we need coordinated authentic democratic behaviour and responses to combat ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour’ sponsored by autocracies. Full, advanced democracies carry a significant responsibility for pushing for a rules-based world order in the digital sphere. The EU has put unprecedented pressure on online platforms to counter online disinformation. The ‘Brussels effect’ of the Commission’s final response to the online platforms’ behaviour ahead of the European elections cannot be overestimated: Silicon Valley’s recent charm offensive in Brussels, including Mark Zuckerberg’s visit on the day of the event, speaks volumes for the significance of the EU’s role, and the global responsibility that comes with it.

This event in audio: https://europarl.europa.eu/EPRS/Disinformation_February2020.MP3

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/25/how-should-democracies-respond-to-the-disinformation-dilemma/

Outcome of the special European Council, 20-21 February 2020

Written by Ralf Drachenberg,

© Shutterstock

On 20-21 February 2020, EU Heads of State or Government held their first meeting specially dedicated to the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) since the publication of the European Commission’s proposal in May 2018. Despite intense preparations, and discussions lasting over two days, they failed to overcome their differences to find an agreement. At the end of the meeting, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, declared that ‘we need more time’. When, and under which conditions, the European Council will reconvene for another attempt to finding an agreement has not decided thus far.

1. Special European Council 20-21 February 2020

On 20-21 February 2020, EU Heads of State or Government met for a special European Council dedicated to the EU long-term budget for 2021-2027. This meeting was also the first European Council after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the EU, the departure of which will lead to an estimated €60-75 billion less funding for the EU’s budget. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, stressed that the current MFF discussions were made particularly difficult because of Brexit.

After a brief session with all Members of the European Council on 20 February, President Michel met with individual EU Heads of State or Government in ‘bilateral’ meetings until late in the night. Further ‘bilaterals’ took place the next morning. Additionally, President Michel held meetings with groups of Member States, notably with the ‘frugal four’ (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden), the Visegrad countries (Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and other constellations (for example France and Germany, together with the ‘frugal four’). Following a final session around 19.00, with all EU Heads of State or Government, the European Council concluded without a political agreement between the EU Heads of State or Government.

Charles Michel expressed the view that, despite not reaching an agreement, the special meeting of the European Council had been very useful and necessary insofar as it had allowed for a political debate. It had enabled certain conclusions to be drawn, which had helped to assess the different positions and would improve the chances of success in the future. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, concurred, adding that this was really the first time that the European Council had gone into the details of the various headings of the MFF and discussed the different Member States’ positions.

Following the European Council, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, stated that Parliament was disappointed with ‘the failure of the European Council to find an agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework and on own resources’. He added that ‘if we want to be able to deliver on the expectations of our citizens, we need to back up our ambitions with sufficient funds’. This disappointment was also expressed by several Heads of State of Government, such as Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish Prime Minister.

2. Main discussion points

Despite the intensive discussions held by Charles Michel with all EU Heads of State or Government in preparation for this special European Council, EU leaders were not able to overcome their differences. Individual EU Heads of State or Government reported that negotiations had been intensive and positions were still far apart; it had evidently not been possible to close the existing gaps at that special meeting. The strongest differences persist on the following points: the level of ambition (the size of the EU budget), the balance between ‘traditional’ European policies (for example, agriculture and cohesion) and new policies and challenges (e.g. migration, climate change and innovation), as well as the question of correction mechanisms and conditionality.

Overall size

A large gap remains between the various positions on the overall size of the 2021-2027 MFF expressed in percentage of gross national income (GNI). While the Parliament calls for a MFF based on 1.3 % of GNI, the European Commission proposed a commitments ceiling at 1.114 % of GNI. Amongst the Member States having disclosed information, most indicate preferences between 1.0 % and 1.11 % of GNI. A group of net contributors to the EU budget (Member States contributing more to the EU budget than the amount of EU funding they receive), and referred to as the ‘frugal’ Member States, insist that the EU’s next seven-year budget should be capped at 1 % of GNI. These ‘frugal four’ convened prior to the European Council to coordinate their positions at the European Council, jointly attended ‘bilateral discussions’ with the European Council President following the closing of an initial session of the European Council with all members, and reconvened together before the start of the Friday session of the European Council.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, stressed that the differences in views cut across European political party membership. For example, each of the three big European political party affiliations (EPP, S&D/PES and Renew Europe) are represented within the ‘frugal four’ group (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden).

Balance between European policies

Another highly debated point in the MFF discussions is the balance between funding ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ policies. Traditionally, the biggest share of MFF expenditure is earmarked for the common agricultural policy (CAP) and cohesion policies, representing 39 % and 34 % of the 2014‑2020 MFF respectively. In Charles Michel’s proposal for the 2021-2027 MFF, agriculture and cohesion would be reduced by 14 % and 12 % respectively. The ‘friends of cohesion’, a group currently numbering 16 Member States (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain), which defends a strong level of cohesion funding and opposes cuts in this area in the 2021‑2027 MFF, stressed on 1 February 2020 that the level of funding for cohesion policy and CAP should be maintained at the same level in 2021-2027 in real terms as under the 2014-2020 MFF. They also support the idea that all rebates would be abolished from the beginning of the next MFF.

In most cases, those Member States that stress the importance of cohesion and agricultural policy also plead for an ambitious long-term 2021-2027 budget, providing ‘the European Union with sufficient resources’ to fulfil its objectives. In contrast, many of the Member States preferring to concentrate on more ‘modern’ policy areas also favour a reduction in, or at least no expansion of, the total EU budget.


A number of Member States (i.e. Austria, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden) benefit from rebates or ‘budget correction mechanisms’ to compensate for what is, in their view, ‘a budgetary burden which is excessive in relation to its relative prosperity‘. The biggest and most famous was the UK rebate, obtained by the then UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, at the Fontainebleau summit in 1984. Since then, other Member States have argued that their EU budgetary burden is excessive, requesting different forms of reduction in their contribution.

In the context of the UK withdrawal from the EU, the European Commission argued in its MFF proposal that the elimination of all rebates would increase the fairness of the future long-term budget, while at the same time leading to significant increases in contributions by certain Member States. The European Commission therefore proposed to phase out the current rebates over time. The ‘frugal four’, together with Germany, advocate that reductions should also continue in the 2021‑2027 MFF. The request for a fair balance within the group of net contributors (i.e. the continuation of the rebate system) was strongly reiterated by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel at the special European Council meeting.

Own resources

The EU budget is currently largely financed by three main categories of revenue: i) ‘traditional’ own resources (mainly customs duties); ii) a value added tax based own resource; and iii) the gross national income based own resource. The GNI-based own resource, which is perceived as a national contribution, represented about 67% of revenue in 2018.

The proposal of the European Council’s President includes the idea of two new own resources, based respectively on a ‘national contribution calculated on the weight of non-recycled plastic packaging waste’ and ‘any revenue generated by the European Union emissions trading system exceeding the average annual revenue per Member State generated by allowances auctioned over the period 2016-2018’. President Michel also left open the possibility of introducing ‘possible proposals for additional new own resources’ in the course of 2021-2027, such as a ‘digital or aviation levy, a carbon border adjustment mechanism or a financial transaction tax’. Following the European Council, the Commission President von der Leyen reported that many Member States were in favour of introducing new forms of own resources, but needed to agree on the type of new own resources that could be used at European level.

3. Messages of the President of the European Parliament

When addressing the Special European Council at the start of its meeting, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, reiterated Parliament’s dissatisfaction with the current proposal. President Sassoli underlined that the amount that the European Parliament was asking for was a ‘calculation based on the needs of the Union, on the commitments made by the new Commission and by the strategic agenda of the Council’. He emphasised that ‘we must equip the Union with all the means necessary to address the challenges we have decided to face together’.

From the Parliament’s point of view, one of the shortcomings of the current proposal is linked to the system of rebates. President Sassoli stressed that the proposal, which suggests fully maintaining existing rebates, ‘represents a concession that contrasts with the principle of European solidarity’ and Parliament ‘opposes the perpetuation of this outdated system’. Another inadequacy of the current proposal concerns the conditionality mechanism, insofar as the EU needs to be ‘capable of protecting the budget of the Union when the rule of law is not respected and a systematic violation of European values occurs’. While President Michel has taken on board the idea of a general regime of conditionality, this has been weakened in comparison to the Commission’s proposal. Under Michel’s proposal, a case of deficiencies in the good governance of Member State authorities as regards respect for the rule of law would, following a proposal by the Commission, require approval by qualified majority in the Council, while under the Commission’s proposal it would have to be approved by the Council by reverse qualified majority (i.e. qualified majority would be needed to block the proposal, rather than to approve it).

President Sassoli expressed Parliament’s appreciation of President Michel’s efforts in seeking an agreement, notably with regards to his availability and to his discussions with Parliament. He thanked Michel ‘for his efforts to equip the Just Transition Fund, although this needs to be further increased’, as well as for the attention he has paid to the issue of own resources for the EU budget.

However, President Sassoli warned that the Parliament ‘will not just accept any agreement. There is a very large majority ready to reject any proposal that does not take due account of Parliament’s positions.

4. Next steps

Following the special European Council, Charles Michel indicated that EU Heads of State or Government needed more time. However, he was not able at that point in time to specify the exact working method that ought to be used to reach a ‘political’ agreement and to indicate a specific timeline. It is likely that another special European Council will have to be convened early in March – without waiting for the formal European Council meeting scheduled for 26-27 March 2020. Charles Michel should call this meeting following consultation with the Member States.

Past experience with MFF negotiations has shown that several dedicated European Council meetings have always been necessary to be able to reach an agreement between EU Heads of State or Government. Negotiations in the European Council (with the Commission proposal as the starting point) have already lasted over 21 months. Therefore, despite the European Council’s original aim of speeding up these MFF negotiations, the current round of talks has already taken longer than the time that was necessary to find an agreement during the 2014-2020 MFF negotiations. Moreover, once EU Heads of State or Government have reached a political agreement between themselves, Parliament and Council will still have to negotiate the final agreement, which could take until September or October 2020 at the earliest, assuming the negotiations run according to a similar timetable to that of the 2014-2020 MFF.

Other items


What EU leaders did agree, in the margins of the Special MFF European Council meeting, was a declaration of the European Council on the situation in Idlib. In this declaration, they condemned the renewed military offensive by the Syrian regime and its backers, and called on all actors to cease hostilities immediately. They also urged all parties to the conflict to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, to put a sustainable ceasefire in place, to fully implement their commitments under the Sochi Memorandum of 17 September 2018, and to find a credible political solution in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué.

Read this briefing on ‘Outcome of the special European Council, 20-21 February 2020‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/24/outcome-of-the-special-european-council-20-21-february-2020/

Artificial intelligence [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

© metamorworks / Shutterstock.com

Artificial intelligence (AI) is usually understood as the ability for a machine to display human-like capabilities such as reasoning, learning, planning and creativity. The ‘Holy Grail’ for many governments and companies seeking to benefit from the digital revolution, the first to invent and apply true AI could achieve an enormous advantage in economic and military terms. However, there are serious ethical implications in such potential developments. Many aspects of AI have already been applied since the 2000s in machines with sufficiently fast processing speeds, equipped with learning techniques and fed large amounts of data. Current versions of AI help to drive cars, beat chess champions, and offer excellent medical diagnostics, to take a few examples.

This note offers links to recent commentaries, studies and reports from international think tanks on AI and related issues.

Europe needs a DARPA
Bruegel, February 2020

Out of the slow lane: How Europe can meet the challenge of AI
European Council on Foreign Relations, February 2020

The dynamics of data accumulation
Bruegel, February 2020

Artificial Intelligence and cybersecurity
Centre for European Policy Studies, January 2020

Artificial intelligence-based development strategy in dependent market economies: Any room amidst big power rivalry?
Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Institute of World Economics, January 20

Ever cleverer Union: How AI could help EU institutions become more capable, competent, cost-effective and closer to citizens
Open Political Economy Network, December 2019

AI and the productivity paradox
Bruegel, December 2019

A candle in the dark: US national security strategy for artificial intelligence
Atlantic Council, December 2019

Europe’s third way in cyberspace
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, December 2019

It’s not magic: Weighing the risks of AI in financial services
Center for the Study on Financial Innovation, November 2019

Establishing trust in an AI-powered future
Jacques Delors Institute, November 2019

An ambitious agenda or big words? Developing a European approach to AI
Egmont, November 2019

EU–US relations on internet governance
Chatham House, November 2019

The case for a global AI framework
Friends of Europe, November 2019

Diplomacy in the age of artificial intelligence
Real Instituto Elcano, October 2019

The impact of artificial intelligence on strategic stability and nuclear risk
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, October 2019

Intelligence artificielle et politique internationale. Les impacts d’une rupture technologique
Institut français des relations internationales, November 2019

Intelligence artificielle et analyse du risque en matière de stabilité stratégique
Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, October 2019

The case for intelligent industrial policy
Bruegel, October 2019
The case for intelligent industrial policy
Bruegel, October 2019

Analytical report: Preparing the armed forces for disruptive technological changes
European Policy Centre, September 2019

Making Artificial Intelligence work for everyone
Chatham House, September 2019

Artificial Intelligence prediction and counterterrorism
Chatham House, August 2019

Beyond the hype: The EU and the AI global ‘arms race’
Carnegie Europe, August 2019

Machine politics: Europe and the AI revolution
European Council on Foreign Relations, July 2019

Automation, labor market disruption, and trade policy
Peterson Institute for International Economics, July 2019

Harnessing artificial intelligence
European Council on Foreign Relations, June 2019

Intelligence artificielle et réduction du risque nucléaire : Données du problème et argument politique
Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, June 2019

Artificial Intelligence and society: ‘Technology is not destiny’
Chatham House, June 2019

The future of work? Work of the future! On how artificial intelligence, robotics and automation are transforming jobs and the economy in Europe
European Political Strategy Centre, May 2019

Helping the EU win the trust game
Centre for European Policy Studies, April 2019

Intelligence artificielle et avenir du travail : Quelle voie européenne?
Confrontations Europe, April 2019

Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, governance and policy challenges
Centre for European Policy Studies, February 2019

Artificial Intelligence: Tools and online hate speech
Centre on Regulation in Europe, February 2019

IA et emploi en santé: Quoi de neuf docteur?
Institut Montaigne, January 2019

Read this briefing on ‘Artificial intelligence‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/21/artificial-intelligence-what-think-tanks-are-thinking/

Future EU-UK trade relationship

Written by Issam Hallak,

© Melinda Nagy / Shutterstock.com

The withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) came into effect on 1 February 2020, following the large majority gained by the Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson, in the UK general election in December 2019. The transition period began on the same day and is due to run until the end of 2020. During this period, although no longer part of the EU institutions, the UK remains in the customs union and single market, and within the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU (with some exceptions). Negotiations during the transition period are aimed at reaching agreements that will shape the future EU-UK relationship in a range of domains, and especially that of trade.

In the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU and the UK ‘agree to develop an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership’. However, some major obstacles have surfaced. The UK insists that it is unwilling to submit to EU Court of Justice jurisdiction, and demands autonomy in its regulatory and trade policies. The UK indicates that it seeks a free trade agreement similar to that agreed between the EU and Canada: comprehensive, but very different to the previous relationship. The EU has taken note of the UK objectives, but emphasises that the deeper the trade agreement, the more UK regulations and standards must align with those of the EU. To the EU, alignment is essential to preserve a level playing field, on the grounds that the EU and UK are close neighbouring economies and strongly interconnected. The European Commission’s 3 February 2020 recommendation for a Council decision authorising the opening of negotiations on the future relationship confirms this approach.

In this context, time is critical. The Withdrawal Agreement allows for an extension to the transition period, but the UK Withdrawal Act explicitly prohibits extension. In addition, to allow for ratification, the trade agreement should be ready well ahead of the end of the transition period. The Commission recommendation insists on including fisheries (a highly sensitive area of negotiation), in the new economic partnership and that related provisions should be established by 1 July 2020. Time-constrained negotiation may give rise to a limited economic and trade agreement that covers only priority areas, rather than the ambitious single comprehensive agreement sought under the Political Declaration and Commission recommendation.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Future EU-UK trade relationship‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Timeline of UK withdrawal

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/21/future-eu-uk-trade-relationship/

Implementation of macro-regional strategies

Written by Christiaan Van Lierop,

© vladystock / Fotolia

While each macro-regional strategy is unique in terms of the countries it brings together and the scope of its policies, they all share the same common aim: to ensure a coordinated approach to issues that are best tackled together. Building on the success of the pioneering 2009 European Union strategy for the Baltic Sea region, this form of cooperation has since become firmly embedded in the EU’s institutional framework, with four strategies now in place, covering a total of 19 Member States and 8 third countries.

Every two years, the European Commission publishes a report to assess the implementation of these strategies, most recently in 2019. With the views of stakeholders and other players helping to complete the picture, it is possible to identify a number of challenges common to all macro-regional strategies in areas such as governance, funding, political commitment and the need to be more results oriented. This, in turn, has helped focus discussions on the future role of macro-regional strategies within the post 2020 cohesion policy framework. For while recent months have seen the idea of a fifth macro-regional strategy resurface, with negotiations now under way on the cohesion policy architecture beyond 2020, the future position of macro-regional strategies within this framework looks set to be the key issue in the coming months for all actors involved in the EU’s macro-regional strategies.

Parliament has actively taken part in this debate, through its participation in trilogues on the cohesion policy package, and its 2018 resolution on the implementation of macro-regional strategies. The current Croatian EU Presidency has also committed to focusing on achieving the goals of macro-regional strategies and ensuring their complementarity with cohesion policy as part of its programme, helping to keep the issue high on the political agenda. Much will depend, however, on the outcome of the ongoing multiannual financial framework (MFF) negotiations, which will be critical not only for macro-regional strategies but also for the future shape of cohesion policy in general.

This is an updated edition of a Briefing from September 2017.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Implementation of macro-regional strategies‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/20/implementation-of-macro-regional-strategies/

Cultural mores, wealth impact education process: OECD-EPRS conference

Written by Marcin Grajewski

Policy round table on ‘ Where all students can succeed: Analysing the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results ‘

Educational performance has largely stagnated in many countries over the last two decades despite increasing spending on education, according to recent findings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), published every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The Paris-based OECD also cautions governments that, while shaping their education policies, they should take such issues as gender, social equality, the culture of cooperation or competition, as well as students’ self-confidence into account. These factors affect the educational process as much as the syllabus, noted OECD experts, politicians and other analysts at an event organised in the European Parliament in late January. The event on PISA, which measures students’ ability to read, do maths and master science subjects, took place in the European Parliamentary Research Service’s (EPRS) Library Reading Room on 29 January 2020. The event was part of the fast developing EPRS-OECD cooperation programme.

PISA skills have been measured since 2000. Anthony Gooch, OECD Director for Public Affairs, stressed that this measurement had an immediate impact due to what news media called ‘the German shock’. This was the discovery in the early 2000s, that German students, thought to be among world leaders in educational terms, actually achieved mediocre results.


Nearly 20 years later, ‘We have not seen significant progress across countries, whereas if you look at financing, expenditure per student, it has increased, by 15 %’, noted Yuri Belfali, Head of Early Childhood and Schools, Directorate for Education at the OECD. China, Singapore, Estonia and Canada lead the OECD ranking, and, of more than 70 countries taken into account in the study, Kosovo, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines scored the worst.

Those results also made front-page headlines when the current report was published in early December 2019. Belfali presented a more nuanced view of the report, which helps countries understand their challenges better: ‘There was a ranking, but PISA can show much more beyond the ranking. We can understand challenges and opportunities. PISA contributes to peer learning and learning by comparison’, he stated.

Policy round table on ' Where all students can succeed: Analysing the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results '


For example, PISA also values equity, how education systems offer equal opportunities for students regardless of their background. Here, Slovakia displays a big gap between the poorest and richest in society, although it achieves the OECD average. In Portugal, the poorest students are achieving the average in Slovakia. In China, even the poorest student can achieve the OECD average.

Another factor is what the OECD calls a growth mind-set – or students’ belief that they can develop and change themselves for the better. A high growth mind-set is related to students’ high motivation to master tasks and confidence in tackling problems or setting the goals for themselves. Here, for example, Poland scores poorly, despite being among the leaders in the general ranking.

The culture of competition or cooperation is also important. In countries such as high-scorers Netherlands or Denmark, for example, the OECD saw more students open to cooperation than to competition. Competition was much more important in the United Kingdom, United States or Brazil. Cooperation helps the education process. ‘But competition can also be useful, if it is well designed, for students to be encouraged to try something hard. If too much competition impacts on their emotional well-being, however, it may work negatively on students’ performance,’ said Belfali.

 Policy round table on ' Where all students can succeed: Analysing the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results '


Finally, she noted that the gender gap is a common challenge for all countries, although the type of challenges are different by countries. Typically, girls outperform boys in reading, and boys outperform girls in maths. This then corresponds to their imagined future profession: many girls think they will become doctors, nurses or teachers, while boys consider a future as information technology workers and engineers. According to Belfali, ‘This is not necessarily related to student performance. Even high performing girls in science and maths do not necessarily expect to get into study in engineering or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This may be related to expectations transmitted by parents and communities to boys and girls, or the development of confidence’.

Sabine Verheyen (EPP, Germany), Chair of the EP Culture and Education Committee, lauded the OECD study. ‘We want our children to receive the best education possible. And the best way to guarantee this is to take a look around, to compare and to learn from each other. This is what makes the PISA study so valuable,’ she said. She added: ‘In my opinion, it is not desirable to make our European systems exactly the same and equalise everything, but we should make them comparable’.

Sara Baiocco, a Researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies think tank, highlighted the growing importance of renewing digital skills and learning throughout life in a fast changing labour market. Both Baiocco and Verheyen underlined that the PISA should focus more on digital skills. In response, Belfali announced that there are indeed plans to measure this in the next survey in 2021.

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/19/cultural-mores-wealth-impact-education-process-oecd-eprs-conference/

Just Transition Fund [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Pernilla Jourde and Agnieszka Widuto (1st edition),

© matthi / Shutterstock.com

The EU aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 % by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This will require a socio-economic transformation in regions relying on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries. As part of the European Green Deal, on 14 January 2020, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a regulation to create the Just Transition Fund, aimed at supporting EU regions most affected by the transition to a low carbon economy.

Funding will be available to all Member States, while focusing on regions with the biggest transition challenges. The fund will support workers, companies, and regional authorities, encouraging investments that facilitate the transition. The proposed budget for the Just Transition Fund (JTF) is €7.5 billion, to be complemented with resources from cohesion policy funds and national co‑financing (up to a total of €30-50 billion). The Fund will be part of a Just Transition Mechanism, which also includes resources under InvestEU and loans from the European Investment Bank. Total funding mobilised under the mechanism is expected to reach €100 billion, according to the Commission.

In the European Parliament, the file has been entrusted to the Committee on Regional Development. The committee is due to hold a workshop on 19 February 2020 before starting discussion on the rapporteur’s draft report.


EU legislation in progress

Just Transition Mechanism

Just Transition Mechanism

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/18/just-transition-fund-eu-legislation-in-progress/

The European Council and the 2021-27 Multiannual Financial Framework

Written by Ralf Drachenberg,

© Shutterstock.com

EU Heads of State or Government will meet on 20 February 2020 for a special European Council meeting to discuss the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Both the Sibiu Declaration of EU Heads of State or Government and the 2019-24 Strategic Agenda state that ‘the EU must give itself the means to match its ambitions, attain its objectives and carry through its policies’. Following an initial informal discussion in February 2018, the European Council has touched regularly upon the MFF negotiations at its meetings over the last two years. Until now, however, the EU Heads of State or Government have not really attempted to reach an agreement. Most recently, in December 2019, the incoming President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was given a mandate ‘to take the negotiations forward with the aim of reaching a final agreement’. This confirms the European Council’s central involvement in the MFF negotiations, as was the case for the agreement in 2013 on the 2014-2020 long-term budget (see The European Council and the Multiannual Financial Framework, EPRS). This briefing will examine the discussions in and conclusions of the European Council over the past two years, outline the main topics debated and present the diverging views of the various players involved.

Discussions in the European Council since February 2018

Informal European Council meeting, 23 February 2018

On 23 February 2018, the EU Heads of State or Government met informally for an initial discussion on the 2021-2027 MFF. The aim was, in the words of the then European Council President, Donald Tusk, for ‘the European Commission [to] receive political guidance from the European Council, before coming up with its proposals’. Unlike the negotiations for the 2014-2020 MFF, in which the European Council only became fully involved after publication of the Commission’s proposal (The European Council and the Multiannual Financial Framework, EPRS), this time round the European Council began discussing its priorities for the next MFF at an early stage. EU Heads of State or Government discussed (i) the political priorities that should be addressed during the upcoming financial period; (ii) the overall level of expenditure in the next MFF; and (iii) the timetable envisaged for the MFF negotiations. At this meeting, EU leaders did not manage to agree on the overall level of expenditure, but a consensus emerged on the need for the EU to ‘spend more on stemming illegal migration, on defence and security, as well as on the Erasmus+ programme’.

Read the complete briefing on ‘The European Council and the 2021-27 Multiannual Financial Framework‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/18/the-european-council-and-the-2021-27-multiannual-financial-framework/

Family reunification rights of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection

Written by Anja Radjenovic,

© Ruslan Shugushev / Shutterstock.com

Separation of family members can have devastating consequences on their well-being and ability to rebuild their lives. This is true for everybody, but especially so for persons who have fled persecution or serious harm and have lost family during forced displacement and flight. In the case of beneficiaries of international protection, family separation can affect their ability to engage in many aspects of the integration process, from education and employment to putting down roots, as well as harming their physical and emotional health. That is why family reunification is a fundamental aspect of bringing normality to the lives of such people. While EU law ensures refugees and holders of subsidiary protection – the two types of beneficiaries of international protection – equal treatment in most areas, differences remain, among others, as regards family reunification in accordance with the Family Reunification Directive. Unlike refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection do not enjoy the favourable conditions associated with the right to family reunification.

After 2015, most EU Member States witnessed a significant increase in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in their territory, paralleled by an increase in the number of beneficiaries of international protection seeking reunification with their families. To establish some form of control over this unprecedented flow of people, Member States shifted away from awarding refugee status towards granting subsidiary protection, thus restricting the possibility of beneficiaries to reunite with their families. According to many legal experts, the fact that beneficiaries of subsidiary protection face stricter requirements regarding family reunification than do refugees disregards the particular circumstances related to their forced displacement and the corresponding difficulties they are likely to face in meeting these stricter requirements.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Family reunification rights of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/02/17/family-reunification-rights-of-refugees-and-beneficiaries-of-subsidiary-protection/