Месечни архиви: ноември 2020

Plenary round-up – November II 2020

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson,

EP Plenary session - The impact of Covid-19 measures on democracy, fundamental rights and rule of law

© European Union 2020 – Source : EP / Daina Le Lardic

During the second November 2020 plenary session, Parliament held a number of debates with Council and the European Commission. Discussions concerned fundamental rights issues such as abortion rights in Poland, the new LGBTIQ equality strategy, and Hungarian interference in the media in Slovenia and North Macedonia. In a debate with Council and Commission, Members also discussed the forthcoming European Council meeting, on 10‑11 December 2020. Debates with the Commission included discussion of a new consumer strategy and a pharmaceutical strategy for Europe. Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borell made statements on escalating tensions in Varosha, and on the fight against impunity for crimes committed against journalists around the world, followed by a debate with Members. Members also voted, inter alia, on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, on customs duties on certain products, on tariff quotas with Northern Ireland, as well as on a number of own-initiative reports, including on industrial policy.

Towards a more sustainable single market for business and consumers

Members approved, by large majority, an Internal Market (IMCO) Committee own-initiative report on improving the sustainability of the single market for both business and consumers, suggesting that consumers could be encouraged to make better environmental choices by ensuring a ‘right to repair’, improving guarantees and promoting better product information. Members took the opportunity to underline the need to ensure product safety and the protection of consumer rights.

Amending Budget No 9/2020: Mobilisation of the EU Solidarity Fund

In response to the coronavirus public health emergency in seven EU countries, as well as an earthquake in Croatia and flooding in Poland, Members voted on draft amending budget 9/2020, thereby approving the release of a total of €823.5 million from the EU Solidarity Fund to help people in the affected regions. The decision authorises the Commission to begin assessment of the requests for assistance it has received.

Foreign policy implications of the pandemic

Members debated and adopted an own-initiative report from the Foreign Affairs (AFET) Committee on the foreign policy consequences of the Covid‑19 outbreak, following a short presentation. Members underlined the need for the EU to seize the opportunity to respond to the challenges of the evolving international landscape, where both the pandemic and recent United States elections highlight the need for a stronger role in rebuilding the multilateral order and defending EU values.

Abraham Accords

Members heard and debated a statement from the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the geopolitical implications of the Abraham Accords (held over from the November I session). Parliament has a long commitment to peace in the Middle East, and (despite Palestinian Authority and Palestinian factions’ concerns), has welcomed the United States-brokered normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Strengthening media freedom in the EU

Members debated, and by majority adopted, Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) own-initiative report on the deteriorating media environment in Europe and measures to strengthen media freedom, protect journalists, and tackle hate speech and disinformation in the EU. The LIBE report highlights areas where EU action could improve the situation, including: ensuring robust media freedom and pluralism, and the political and financial independence of the media; protecting (particularly investigative) journalists; and charting a course through the tension between justified freedom of expression and unjustified permissibility of hate speech, as well as disinformation. The committee proposed stronger monitoring and increased measures against misinformation, particularly on the part of digital platforms.

Istanbul Convention: A tool to tackle violence against women and girls

Partly due to the coronavirus crisis, violence against women has worsened in the EU. Parliament has consistently supported a strong stance on the issue, repeatedly calling for EU accession to the Istanbul Convention. Members heard a Commission statement on the Istanbul Convention, which sets legally binding standards on prevention of such violence. Parliament’s President underlined the EU commitment to non-violence and equality, and the Chair of the Women’s Rights & Gender Equality Committee reiterated the call for all EU countries to ratify the Convention. However, as things stand, Parliament will not be formally requested to consent to EU conclusion of the Convention until the European Court of Justice has delivered an opinion on the Convention’s compatibility with the Treaties.

Taking stock of the 2019 European elections

Members voted by large majority to adopt a Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) Committee own-initiative report proposing to strengthen the European electoral process. Welcoming the higher turnout in 2019, Members regretted however that the results do not reflect the true diversity and gender balance in Europe’s population. They also warned against foreign interference in elections and put forward a number of possible improvements to the European electoral system, such as remote voting for citizens in specific circumstances; transnational lists; and the establishment of a European Electoral Authority, among other things. Furthermore, Members suggest a reflection on the Spitzenkandidaten process.

Opening of trilogue negotiations

Members confirmed three mandates for negotiations: two from the Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee, on a proposal for a regulation on exemption of certain third-country foreign exchange benchmarks and the designation of replacement benchmarks for certain benchmarks in cessation; and on a proposal for a regulation on EU recovery prospectus and targeted adjustments for financial intermediaries to help the recovery from the Covid‑19 pandemic. The third mandate approved, from the Fisheries (PECH) Committee, concerns a proposal for a regulation on conservation and enforcement measures applicable in the Regulatory Area of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘Plenary round-up – November II 2020‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/27/plenary-round-up-november-ii-2020/

Towards a common EU approach to lifting coronavirus-related restrictions on freedom of movement

Written by Costica Dumbrava,

Map of european countries with coronavirus and quarantine signs.Concept of Coronavirus, COVID-19 and quarantine

© tanaonte / Adobe Stock

In an effort to tackle the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, EU Member States started reinstating restrictions on the freedom of movement in October 2020. To prevent a new series of severe and uncoordinated restrictions at countries’ internal borders similar to those of March this year, there have been renewed efforts at the EU level to establish a coordinated approach towards coronavirus-related restrictions on movement.

While the focus is now on the ongoing health crisis, concerns about the functioning of the Schengen area of free movement predate the pandemic. As recent terrorist attacks in Europe remind us, scant progress and unfinished reforms in the area of migration, external borders and security both weaken and threaten to undo the important achievements of Schengen cooperation.

This briefing discusses the key steps taken by the EU to develop a common response to the above challenges and thus to safeguard the Schengen area. It provides an overview of the main restrictions on movement imposed by EU and Schengen countries as of 25 November 2020. Since contact-tracing apps have been promoted as a key tool in combating the pandemic and restoring freedom of movement, this briefing also provides an overview of the existing coronavirus applications in the EU Member States and their interoperability across borders.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Towards a common EU approach to lifting coronavirus-related restrictions on freedom of movement‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/27/towards-a-common-eu-approach-to-lifting-coronavirus-related-restrictions-on-freedom-of-movement/

STOA establishes a centre of dialogue and expertise on AI

Written by Philip Boucher,

With the launch of its Centre for Artificial Intelligence (C4AI), the appointment of a new International Advisory Board (INAB) focusing on AI, and a partnership on AI with the OECD, STOA is intensifying its activities on artificial intelligence.

Centre for Artificial Intelligence

Eva Kaili (EP), Margrethe Vestager (EC) and Anthony Gooch (OECD) at the STOA workshop on the Future of Artificial Intelligence for Europe ©European Union (EP)

STOA launched its Centre for Artificial Intelligence (C4AI) to underscore its determination to extend and diversity its activities in this crucial field. A decision of the STOA Panel established the C4AI on 19 December 2019, and the high-level STOA workshop ‘The Future of Artificial Intelligence for Europe‘, launched the centre on 29 January 2020, at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The C4AI produces studies, organises public events and acts as a platform for dialogue and information exchange on AI-relevant topics within the Parliament and beyond, within the context of STOA and based on decisions of the STOA Panel. In particular, it provides expertise on the possibilities and limitations of AI and its implications from an ethical, legal, economic and societal perspective. Through these activities, C4AI aims to contribute to the quality and coherence of discussion and policy-making as the EU seeks to coordinate its efforts and influence global AI standard-setting.

International Advisory Board

STOA and its C4AI are eager to cooperate and exchange with stakeholders and partners within the Parliament, the global parliamentary community and beyond. To this end, a new STOA International Advisory Board (INAB) is being established for the remainder of this parliamentary term (2020‑2024). The Board will provide STOA with strategic advice about the future direction of its work on science and technology in general, with an emphasis on AI and the activities of the C4AI, increasing STOA’s outreach capacity and widening its pool of high-level expertise. The STOA Panel remains responsible for initiating and coordinating its activities. So far, 21 world-renowned personalities from academia, international organisations, the private sector and think tanks have already agreed to join the board.

Partnership with OECD Global Parliamentary Network

STOA and the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), are entering into a partnership with the OECD’s Global Parliamentary Network (GPN), following an agreement during the Panel meeting of 11 September 2020. The GPN is a hub for legislators and officials from parliaments around the world to share experiences, identify good practices and foster international legislative co-operation. It includes a Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence, and benefits from proximity with the OECD’s AI Policy Observatory and Global Partnership on AI. The partnership between STOA and the GPN will be launched at a joint event on 2 December 2020.

Follow us on Twitter at @EP_ScienceTech to stay informed about our activities.

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

Further information

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/26/stoa-establishes-a-centre-of-dialogue-and-expertise-on-ai/

InvestEU programme: The EU’s new investment support scheme [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Alessandro D’Alfonso (1st edition),

© weyo / Adobe Stock

The InvestEU programme is a single investment support mechanism for the 2021-2027 period. It would bring together various EU financial instruments for internal policies that are currently supported by different funds and programmes of the EU budget. In May 2020, the European Commission put forward a revised proposal for InvestEU, reflecting a partial agreement reached by Parliament and Council in 2019 and incorporating new elements to take account of the impact of the coronavirus crisis. On 4 November 2020, the Council adopted its partial mandate for the interinstitutional negotiations. Parliament adopted a mandate for negotiations during the November I 2020 plenary part-session. The structuring of InvestEU in policy windows and its contribution to the European Green Deal and a just transition are among the points to be agreed by the co-legislators. The financial envelope of the programme depends on the outcome of the negotiations on the EU’s next multiannual financial framework.

Complete version

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/26/investeu-programme-the-eus-new-investment-support-scheme-eu-legislation-in-progress/

Outcome of the European Council video-conference of 19 November 2020

Written by Ralf Drachenberg and Izabela Bacian,

© Adobe Stock

Initially planned to discuss only the EU response to the coronavirus pandemic, recent developments required EU leaders to dedicate attention to other issues during the European Council video-conference meeting of 19 November 2020. In this context, they addressed notably the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), specifically the rule-of-law conditionality linked to the MFF, and the fight against terrorism. While the vast majority of Member States agree with the compromise reached between negotiators from the Council and the European Parliament on the issue of rule-of-law conditionality, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia are currently not able to support it. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, indicated that discussions to find an acceptable solution for all would continue. The exchange of information on the coronavirus pandemic focused in particular on the development of vaccines, ensuring that they would be available and affordable to all EU citizens, and on the coordination of the exit from the second-wave restrictions. The European Council agreed once more to further strengthen coordination of action against the coronavirus pandemic.

1. European Council meeting

Coronavirus pandemic

The European Council meeting of 15-16 October had already agreed to intensify overall coordination, both at EU level and between Member States, in respect of the coronavirus crisis, and to regularly exchange information on the situation by video-conference. EU leaders continued their discussions on testing and vaccination as well as on the lifting of restrictive measures, following the peak of the second wave of infections. Discussions focused on developing a common approach on the use of rapid antigen tests – complementary to PCR tests (which require laboratory analysis) – allowing for mutual recognition of the tests and their results across the EU Member States. The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, stressed that reaching 80 % sensitivity in detection of the virus would be part of the necessary performance criteria for rapid antigen tests. Ahead of the meeting, the Commission had adopted a recommendation on the use of rapid antigen tests for the diagnosis of Covid-19. Progress on a digital passenger locator form was also made, with two Member States already part of the pilot project and 12 more expected to join soon. The roundtable discussion included an exchange on national testing strategies.

Regarding vaccines, Charles Michel welcomed the conclusion of advance purchase agreements with five pharmaceutical companies (BioNTech, CureVac, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi-GSK) and stressed that national vaccination plans needed to be in place to ensure vaccines are made available and affordable to all EU citizens. Logistical challenges such as storage, transport and the number of doses represent just some of the challenges ahead; a massive communication effort to facilitate the uptake of the vaccine by EU citizens will also need to be carried out. President von der Leyen also announced that Team Europe – that is the Member States together with the European Commission – have provided €800 million to COVAX, the international facility bringing together 190 countries to make sure that low- and middle-income countries will have access to future vaccines. President Michel underlined the EU’s commitment to COVAX, and recalled that the vaccines should be a common public good, accessible to all and universally available.

Finally, President Michel cautioned against the premature lifting of restrictive measures. The exit from lockdown should be ‘gradual and regressive’. The Commission will soon make a proposal for a coordinated approach to lifting the containment measures. President Michel stressed that the coronavirus has had a devastating human cost, and that behind all the numbers and statistics lie human lives, which is why EU leaders remained united in their fight in combatting the pandemic.

Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and rule-of-law conditionality

Although not in their initial plans, EU leaders also addressed the MFF for the 2021-27 period, and in particular rule-of-law conditionality (i.e. the proposed general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget). The rule-of-law conditionality regime forms part of the package of measures concerning the 2021-27 MFF, also including Next Generation EU (NGEU) and the own resources decision (for a detailed overview, see EPRS, Negotiations on the next MFF and the EU recovery instrument). However, the approval procedures for the different elements vary, notably concerning the role of the European Parliament and the majority needed for approval in the Council (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Main elements of the MFF package and the legislative procedures applicable

Main elements of the MFF package and the legislative procedures applicable

Main elements of the MFF package and the legislative procedures applicable

As holder of the rotating Presidency-in-office of the Council of the EU, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, updated her colleagues on the state of play in the discussions between the Parliament and Council on the MFF and NGEU recovery package. On 5 November 2020, the two institutions reached a provisional agreement on rule-of-law budget conditionality, and then on 10 November they reached a political agreement on the MFF. The different legislative elements of the next MFF and NGEU were presented to the Council for approval on 16 November. While the vast majority of Member States agreed with the compromise on the table, Poland and Hungary withheld their consent to launch written procedure to adopt the Own Resources Decision. They chose to block this part of the package, with which they have no specific issue, because it requires unanimity in Council for its adoption, while the rule of law conditionality, where their real concern lies, is decided by qualified majority voting.

At the General Affairs Council on 17 November, numerous participants underlined the seriousness of the situation and called for a responsible approach from all sides against the backdrop of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, which made EU programmes and financial support particularly important for citizens, businesses and economic recovery in general. Subsequently, the Slovenian Prime Minister, Janez Jansa, also criticised the rule of law budget conditionality.

Ursula von der Leyen stressed that the Commission supported the agreement found between the co-legislators. Both Presidents Michel and von der Leyen indicated that they ‘will continue to find an acceptable solution for all’, with the rotating Presidency leading the efforts. Charles Michel announced that he would hold consultations in different formats ahead of the December European summit, stressing that nobody under-estimated the seriousness of the situation.

Fight against terrorism

EU leaders expressed their solidarity with France and Austria following the terrorist attacks of recent months, notably in Paris, Nice and Vienna. They stated that they ‘will never shy away from defending our values and promoting our freedoms’. In that context, they stressed the importance of looking at the role of online platforms and of setting a stricter framework.

On 29 October, the European Council had already issued a joint statement, in which it condemned ‘in the strongest possible terms’ the attacks in France, calling them ‘attacks on our shared values’. Additionally, a video-conference, which focused on a European response to the terrorist attacks and included the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte as well as the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission, took place on 10 November 2020. It was agreed that ‘an uncompromising stance to uphold the free and democratic order will be taken in the fight against terrorism’. EU leaders urged the acceleration of progress on important European actions to fight terrorism, including the planned entry-exit system to monitor travel across the external borders of the Schengen area.

On 13 November, the fifth anniversary of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, EU home affairs ministers issued a statement on the recent terrorist attacks in Europe. Ministers pledged to protect Europe’s societies and its people, to uphold common values and the European way of life as well as to safeguard our pluralist societies. They recalled that the security structures and legal framework in the Member States and at European Union level had been strengthened over the past two decades, but indicated that additional efforts and resources were needed. The European Council will revert to this issue in December.

EU-UK negotiations

While EU-UK negotiations on a future partnership were not discussed during the 19 November meeting, a number of leaders, including the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, and French President, Emmanuel Macron, called for an acceleration of preparations for a ‘no-deal’ scenario. Negotiations between the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and British counterpart, David Frost, had intensified over the last few weeks; however, they had to be interrupted on Thursday 19 November, due to a case of coronavirus reported in Barnier’s team. Negotiations will continue remotely, however there is not yet agreement in the main areas of divergence between the two sides. With Barnier self-isolating, Ilze Juhansone, the Secretary-General of the Commission, informed the Member States’ EU ambassadors about the state of play in the negotiations the day after the leaders met. With no sign of agreement yet, time is running out for the ratification of any agreement before the end of the year.

2. The European Council and the video-conference working method

This meeting was the eighth video-conference meeting of the European Council’s members since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The video-conference working method was introduced because of the impossibility of meeting in person.

Chart 2: European Council meetings in 2020

Chart 2: European Council meetings in 2020

In 2020, the pandemic impacted not only the format of European Council meetings, but also their frequency. While the Lisbon Treaty requires the European Council to meet at least four times a year (twice every six months), over the years, it has in reality met a lot more often than that; since 2014, it has met between eight and nine times every year, and 12 times so far in 2020. Both its role of crisis manager, and the ease with which video-conference meetings can be organised, explain the increased frequency in 2020.

The experience over the past eight months has shown the advantages and limitations of the video-conference format for European Council meetings. On the one hand, this format is not well suited to negotiations, which traditionally rely heavily on break-out sessions between individual actors or groups in order to reach an agreement. Moreover, while increased coordination between EU Heads of State or Government is generally positive, the fact that many of these discussions do not include the European Parliament’s President and/or are not the subject of a report to Parliament by the European Council’s President, as is required for formal meetings, limits the Parliament’s oversight role. On the other hand, the increased frequency of European Council meetings using the video-conference format, gives EU leaders the opportunity to discuss other pressing issues at Heads of State or Government level, which would either have had to wait until later or be dealt with at a lower level. Several European Council video-conference meetings, which were initially intended to deal solely with EU coordination measures to address the coronavirus pandemic, were in fact also used to raise ‘burning’ or ad hoc issues. President Michel stressed the usefulness of holding regular video-conferences on the coronavirus pandemic in allowing EU leaders to remain seized of the situation across Europe and keep each other informed on the common challenges they face.

Read this briefing on ‘Outcome of the European Council video-conference of 19 November 2020‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/24/outcome-of-the-european-council-video-conference-of-19-november-2020/

Coronavirus and the shadow pandemic of violence against women

Written by Rosamund Shreeves

Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November is a time to take stock of what has been done to root out this violation of women’s and girl’s human rights. It is also a moment to identify where to improve legislation, policy and practice on the ground to ensure that all women can live free from violence and insecurity. This year, the focus is very much on the Covid‑19 pandemic, its appalling impact on levels of violence against women – particularly domestic violence – and what it revealed about the state of support structures for victims in the European Union (EU).

In March 2020, as governments across the world began to impose mandatory lockdowns on their populations to curb the spread of coronavirus, the United Nations warned that the pandemic could lead to an increase in levels of domestic violence and a decrease in the ability of service providers to respond to cases and support victims. In Europe, many actors raised the alarm, including the European Women’s Lobby, the Council of Europe’s Secretary General and Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the EU’s Commissioner for Equality, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) and the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM).

Even in ‘normal times’, domestic violence is a considerable but under-reported problem, as data from the EU’s Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) and Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) show. Past epidemics were clearly associated with increased levels of violence against women and children and there are many reasons why quarantines in particular can increase the risks of domestic violence and abuse. They oblige victims to spend more time with perpetrators in circumstances where the confinement itself, fear of illness and anxiety over jobs and income tend to exacerbate tensions and problematic behaviours. Victims are more likely to be isolated from support networks, particularly where perpetrators capitalise on restrictions to exert power and control. Perpetrators may also monitor use of telephones and computers more closely, giving victims fewer opportunities to contact helplines and other support services. It is often difficult for victims to leave a violent or abusive partner, but quarantines can reduce avenues of escape still further by making it more difficult to access shelters and shrinking financial independence. Victims may also be afraid of becoming infected if they move out of the home. Shelters and support services are themselves likely to be under pressure and unable to operate normally due to the distancing measures and redeployment of resources to deal with the health emergency. Legal proceedings needed to issue barring and protection orders and evict perpetrators from the home may be interrupted. Any support for men who have already been violent or controlling towards their partners before a quarantine, or who may become so due to the situation, may also be reduced.

By April 2020, UN Secretary General, António Guterres, was signalling that lockdowns were indeed linked to a ‘horrifying global surge in domestic violence’ directed towards women and girls. In the EU, victim support organisations, police forces and governments began to release figures. Some countries saw sharp increases in the numbers of women reporting incidents. In France, reports of domestic violence rose by 30 % in the first 11 days of the country’s lockdown. In Spain, calls to the 016 helpline increased by 31 % from 14 March (when the lockdown began) to 15 April 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, while online consultations increased still more substantially (by 443.5 %) in the same period. In other countries, reports to helplines decreased. For example, in Italy, the largest domestic violence helpline reported that calls fell by 55 % to 496 in the first two weeks of March, compared with 1 104 in the same period in 2019. However, a parliamentary committee cautioned that this reflected added difficulties in reporting and seeking help. Findings from the United Kingdom and Germany illustrate why this can be the case. In the UK, the nationwide domestic violence helpline reported that during the first lockdown, perpetrators made increasing use of technology such as smart locks, webcams, social media or sharing revenge porn to intimidate and control partners. In Germany, 2 % of the 3 800 women who responded to a survey said that, during the strict lockdown period between 22 April and 8 May 2020, they had been unable to leave their home without their partner’s permission and 4.6 % reported that their partners had controlled their contacts with others, including their digital communication. The survey also illustrates the reality beneath the figures: around 3 % of the women were subjected to beatings or other forms of physical violence by a partner and 3.6 % were raped. The risk of all forms of domestic violence and abuse was significantly higher when women were self-isolating or when they or their partner had lost work or were in financial difficulty. At the most extreme, the UK Parliament heard evidence that the number of suspected domestic abuse killings doubled in the first three weeks of the lockdown compared with the same period over the past 10 years.

Simultaneously, the pandemic has created challenges for organisations supporting survivors of domestic violence. Reports to the Council of Europe show that domestic violence shelters in some areas stopped all admissions because they were unsure how to manage the risk of infection, while others privileged online or telephone support, leaving women at risk from their abusers. European and national women’s organisations have flagged gaps in essential services before the pandemic and limitations caused by the pandemic, including drastic cuts in funding for specialist support services in some countries. This is particularly worrying in view of the likelihood of increased demand for emergency intervention, counselling and therapy in the months after the crisis passes.

Against the backdrop of a resurgence in Covid‑19 cases in many EU countries and the prospect of further lockdowns, what lessons can be learned from what happened earlier in the year? This month, the EIGE and Parliament’s FEMM committee have both issued analyses of the emerging data on violence against women during the pandemic, how support services have adapted, and responses from governments, with policy recommendations for future action. The two studies for Parliament, on the gendered impact of the Covid‑19 crisis and the added value of the Istanbul Convention, found that all EU Member States adopted some promising measures. Nearly all conducted awareness-raising campaigns on where to get help. Some developed temporary help points in supermarkets and pharmacies or innovative apps or online means of alerting the police. Some classified hotlines and shelters as essential services, enabling them to continue to provide assistance. Some provided additional funding for these services or expanded capacity by converting empty tourist accommodation into shelters. A few countries introduced comprehensive action plans. However, initial findings from EIGE’s ongoing research into what the EU and the Member States can do to protect women more effectively from gender-based violence during crises show that support systems for victims of gender-based violence are shaky in the majority of EU countries. No EU country had a disaster plan in place to deal with domestic violence. The research for Parliament demonstrates that ratification of the Istanbul Convention – one of the EU’s priorities for preventing and combating violence against women – remains an important way forward. The Convention has contributed directly to the creation of services for victims in a number of countries, while countries that have ratified the Convention implemented more measures during the pandemic than those that have not, suggesting greater political awareness and readiness to respond to violence against women. Parliament will hear an update on progress towards EU accession to the Convention and hold a debate on violence against women at its plenary session on 25 November 2020.

Related EPRS publications:

The Istanbul Convention: A tool to tackle violence against women and girls (FR, DE) (update, November 2020)

Violence against women in the EU: State of play (FR) (update November 2020)

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/24/coronavirus-and-the-shadow-pandemic-of-violence-against-women/

UK Internal Market Bill and the Withdrawal Agreement

Written by Issam Hallak,

© niroworld / Adobe Stock

On 9 September 2020, the United Kingdom (UK) government tabled a bill in the House of Commons which would govern the country’s internal market after the Brexit transition period ends. It aims to allow goods and services to flow freely between the four jurisdictions of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – replacing the rules now in place through membership of the EU’s single market.

Certain parts of this UK Internal Market Bill are particularly controversial, as they explicitly contravene the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland attached to the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) that was ratified in January 2020. First, the bill provides that the UK government may authorise Northern Ireland businesses not to complete exit summary declarations when sending goods to Great Britain, thereby breaching the Union Customs Code applicable to NI. The bill would also allow the UK government to interpret, dis-apply or modify the application of the State aid rules of the European Union, which are applicable to UK measures that affect trade between Northern Ireland and the EU. Last but not least, the bill provides that UK regulations in these areas will have effect notwithstanding their incompatibility with relevant domestic or international law, including the Withdrawal Agreement.

The reaction of the European Commission to the bill was immediate, calling for an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee, which was held the following day, 10 September. On 1 October, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice to the UK for breaching its obligations under the WA, marking the beginning of an infringement process against the UK. As the UK did not reply by the end of October, the Commission may now proceed with the process, sending a Reasoned Opinion to the UK. Meanwhile, the bill has passed third reading in the House of Commons, even if in the House of Lords the government has been heavily defeated, with amendments removing the controversial clauses. While the government has indicated its intention to re-table the clauses when the bill returns to the Commons in December, it would be open to it to no longer press for their inclusion, if and when agreement is reached in the ongoing negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship.

Read the complete briefing on ‘UK Internal Market Bill and the Withdrawal Agreement‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/23/uk-internal-market-bill-and-the-withdrawal-agreement/

What is the European Parliament’s position on artificial intelligence?

AI, Machine learning, Hands of robot and human touching on big data network connection background, Science and artificial intelligence technology, innovation and futuristic.

© Adobe Stock

The European Parliament regularly receives enquiries from citizens about artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology that combines machine-learning techniques, robotics and automated decision-making systems. It is central to the digital transformation of society and it has become a priority for the European Union (EU). On the one hand, AI could have a positive impact for society and the economy, in healthcare or in the transport sector for example. On the other hand, it entails a number of potential risks for EU citizens’ fundamental rights that may have negative consequences. Against this background, the EU aims at fostering and regulating AI, while taking both threats and opportunities into account.

European Parliament position

In its February 2020 resolution on a comprehensive European industrial policy on AI and robotics, the European Parliament stressed that AI will increase productivity and output and, even though some jobs will be replaced, new jobs will also be created. The use of robotics and AI would improve working conditions, as it ‘should also reduce human exposure to harmful and hazardous conditions’. Moreover, the resolution highlighted the strategic sectors in which AI could bring an added value in the general public interest, such as health, energy and transport.

In October 2020, the European Parliament adopted three resolutions on what AI rules should include with regards to ethics, intellectual property rights and liability, and called for a harmonised approach at the EU level. Furthermore, the resolutions stated that the AI technologies should be ‘human-centric and human-made’ and should not cause any harm to individuals, society or the environment.

First, in its resolution on the ethical aspects of AI, the European Parliament put forward recommendations about the ethical principles needed for the new legal framework, which must be ‘values-based’ and built on safety, transparency and accountability. Moreover, it highlighted the advantages of AI application, for instance with regard to the internal market, transport, defence and green transition. However, AI technologies ‘must be tailored to human needs in line with the principle whereby their development, deployment and use should always be at the service of human beings’.

Second, the resolution on intellectual property rights called on the Commission to carry out an impact assessment regarding the protection of intellectual property rights in the context of AI development. Furthermore, it highlighted the benefits of AI development. For instance, AI could help in the fight against ‘deep fakes’ through the verification of facts and information. However, the European Parliament called for further clarification of the protection of data and for a common AI legislation to avoid massive litigation that might affect aspects such as traffic safety. The European Parliament also specified that AI technologies should not have legal personality and that only humans have the ownership of intellectual property rights.

Finally, in the resolution on a civil liability regime for AI, the European Parliament called for the adoption of a horizontal and harmonised legal framework for civil liability claims, which would ‘prevent potential misuses of AI-systems’. The resolution addressed some of the key aspects of this framework, such as the liability of the operator, insurance, and different liability rules for different risks. For instance, it proposed that those operating high-risk AI should be strictly liable for any resulting damage, material and immaterial harm.

In June 2020, the European Parliament decided to set up a new Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) to assess the impact of AI, investigate its challenges, analyse the approach of non-EU countries and define common EU objectives in the medium- and long-term.

European Commission and AI

The European Commission has established its policy on artificial intelligence through a series of documents. In a 2018 communication, the European Commission set out an EU approach to AI addressing the socio-economic, ethical and legal aspects. In April 2019, based on the idea that trust is a prerequisite to ensuring a human-centric approach, the European Commission published non-binding guidelines on ethics in AI, which set out seven key requirements that AI systems should meet. In addition, the Commission highlighted in a communication that European values should be the core requirements for a trustworthy AI.

Furthermore, in a February 2020 White Paper on Artificial Intelligence: a European approach to excellence and trust, the Commission highlighted the need for a coordinated approach and proposed policy options for a future EU regulatory framework on AI. In parallel, it also published a communication highlighting the need to evaluate the intellectual property framework to enhance access to and use of data, which is essential for training AI systems. Later in 2020, the European Commission held a public consultation on its approach on AI.

Further information

Keep sending your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/23/what-is-the-european-parliaments-position-on-artificial-intelligence/

Citizens’ enquiries on the ECB consultation procedure for the implementation of a digital euro

Euro Currency Money Symbol Icon Sign. Business Finance Concept.

© Adobe Stock

Citizens often send messages to the President of the European Parliament (or to the institution’s public portal) expressing their views on current issues and/or requesting action from the Parliament. The Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (AskEP) within the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) looks into these issues and replies to the messages, which may sometimes be identical as part of wider public campaigns.

The President of the European Parliament has recently received a large number of messages calling on the Parliament to intervene and prevent a public consultation on the possible introduction of a digital euro by the European Central Bank. Citizens first began to write to the President on this subject in October 2020. After the European Central Bank announced that it would launch a public consultation on the potential implementation of a digital euro, citizens voiced concerns that a purely digital euro could increase the ability of authorities to control and monitor them, thereby potentially restricting their civil liberties and financial independence. However, as indicated by the European Central Bank, a digital euro would be intended to complement, but not replace, cash. The European Parliament is closely following plans regarding digital forms of payment.

Please find below the main points of the reply sent to citizens who took the time to write to the President of the European Parliament on this matter (in English and German).

Main points made in the reply in English

In a press release dated 2 October 2020, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that the public consultation on the possible introduction of a digital euro would soon be launched. In it, the ECB stressed that a digital euro ‘would complement cash, not replace it’. Background information in this connection (plus an online registration form for taking part in the consultation exercise) can be found in the relevant section of the ECB website: A digital euro.

We would draw your attention to the fact that the ECB is independent and is not subject to instructions from the European Parliament or any other EU institution.

However, the ECB does have obligations and rights vis-à-vis other EU institutions. Accordingly, it is obliged to provide information to the parliamentary committee responsible. On 12 October 2020, for instance, in a meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON), ECB Executive Board Member Fabio Panetta presented the recently published report on a digital euro (currently available in English), by the Eurosystem High-Level Task Force on Central Bank Digital Currency, and subsequently discussed it with the committee Members. The Members welcomed investigations into digital forms of payment, but voiced their concerns on issues such as the inclusiveness and stability of financial systems. More information on the meeting can be found here.

Of the EU institutions, only the Commission has right of legislative initiative. Any legislation it proposed, following the consultation exercise, on the introduction of a digital euro would be subject to the ordinary legislative procedure. That means that it has to be thoroughly assessed by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. When conducting their deliberations accordingly and taking decisions, Members perform their duties freely and independently and may not be bound by any instructions or receive a binding mandate.

You can of course directly contact both Members in general and the Members of the European Parliament’s ECON committee in particular, in order to inform them of your views on this issue.

We would furthermore draw your attention to the fact that, as an EU citizen, you are entitled to submit a petition to the European Parliament on a matter which comes within the European Union’s fields of activity and which affects you directly. Further details about submitting a petition can be found via the petitions web portal of the petitions section of the European Parliament’s website.

Main points made in the reply in German

In einer Pressemitteilung vom 2. Oktober 2020 verkündete die Europäische Zentralbank (EZB) den zeitnahen Beginn des von Ihnen erwähnten öffentlichen Konsultationsverfahrens für die mögliche Einführung eines digitalen Euros. Hierbei betonte die EZB, dass ein digitaler Euro „Bargeld ergänzen, aber nicht ersetzen [würde]“. Hintergrundinformationen dazu (ebenso wie ein elektronisches Teilnahmeformular für die Konsultation) finden Sie auf der einschlägigen Website Ein digitaler Euro der EZB.

Wir möchten Sie in diesem Zusammenhang gerne darauf hinweisen, dass die EZB unabhängig und frei von Weisungen des EP sowie anderer EU-Institutionen ist.

Die EZB besitzt jedoch gewisse Verpflichtungen und Rechte anderen EU-Institutionen gegenüber. So unterliegt sie der Pflicht zur Auskunftserteilung an den für die jeweilige Sachmaterie zuständigen parlamentarischen Ausschuss. Am 12. Oktober 2020 präsentierte beispielsweise Fabio Panetta, Mitglied des Direktoriums der EZB, den neulich veröffentlichten Bericht der „Taskforce des Eurosystems zum digitalen Euro“ (zur Zeit in englischer Sprache verfügbar) im parlamentarischen Ausschuss für Wirtschaft und Währung (ECON), und diskutierte ihn anschließend mit den Abgeordneten. Die Abgeordneten des Ausschusses begrüßten die Erkundung digitaler Zahlungsformen, jedoch äußerten sie ihre Bedenken zu Themenbereichen wie allgemeine Zugänglichkeit und Stabilität der Finanzsysteme. Mehr Information zu diesem Treffen können Sie hier finden.

Sollte die Europäische Kommission als jenes Organ der EU, das das alleinige Initiativrecht im Bereich der Legislative besitzt, anschließend zur Konsultation eine Rechtsvorschrift zur Einführung eines digitalen Euros vorschlagen, so muss dieser Vorschlag zwingend das ordentliche Gesetzgebungsverfahren durchlaufen. Das bedeutet, dass er vom Europäischen Parlament und dem Rat der Europäischen Union eingehend geprüft werden muss. Hierbei sind die Abgeordneten des EP in ihren entsprechenden Beratungen und Beschlussfassungen frei und unabhängig in der Ausübung ihres Mandates und sind weder an Aufträge noch an Weisungen gebunden.

Selbstverständlich können Sie sowohl die Abgeordneten als auch die Mitglieder des parlamentarischen Ausschusses für Wirtschaft und Währung (ECON) unmittelbar kontaktieren, um ihnen Ihre Einschätzungen zu diesem Themengebiet mitzuteilen.

Darüber hinaus möchten wir Sie darauf hinweisen, dass Sie als EU-Bürger das Recht haben, beim EP eine Petition zu einem Thema einzureichen, das in den Tätigkeitsbereich der Europäischen Union fällt und Sie unmittelbar betrifft. Weitere Informationen zur Einreichung einer Petition finden Sie auf dem Petitionsportal der Webseite „Petitionen“ des EP.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/23/citizens-enquiries-on-the-ecb-consultation-procedure-for-the-implementation-of-a-digital-euro/

What if AI could help us become ‘greener’? [Science and Technology podcast]

Written by Vadim Kononenko,

As ‘green transitions’ become real political goals, what role can artificial intelligence (AI) play in helping to achieve them?

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While some argue that AI can potentially be useful or even indispensable in ‘green transitions’, important questions remain open. Should AI only be used in resolving specific problems (for example, intelligent pollinating robots replacing a declining bee population), or should it be employed in ‘governing’ the sustainability of complex socio-economic systems such as mobility, or food or energy supply? While the latter option is currently technically unattainable and may be ethically dubious , it marks the axis of a political debate about possible synergies between sustainability and AI.

Potential impacts and developments

In recent years, sustainability and AI have both been high on the EU’s political agenda. The European Commission has advanced in the preparation of a White Paper on AI and the European Parliament has launched a special committee on AI in the digital age (AIDA). Several significant reports have recently been adopted or are currently being debated in Parliament’s committees, including a civil liability regime for AI, a framework for ethical aspects of AI, and intellectual property rights for AI technologies. With regard to sustainability, Parliament adopted a taxonomy of ‘green’ investments in June 2020. In 2019, the Commission included the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the mandate of every Commissioner. The UN SDGs were also included in the European Semester process, as part of the European economic governance framework. In March 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the EU’s implementation and delivery of the SDGs, calling on the Commission to work out a comprehensive SDG implementation strategy.

So far, these two issues – AI and sustainability – have not been linked in terms of concrete policies. However, in the context of the massive economic fallout brought about by the Covid‑19 pandemic, building a ‘sustainable and digital Europe’, promised in Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines, remains a big challenge. Perhaps potential synergies between AI and sustainability could help the EU face this challenge?

It is instructive to put this question in the wider context of a policy debate that concerns both sustainability and AI. This debate oscillates between two images of sustainability and AI that can be described as ‘weak’ and ‘strong’.

  • Weak sustainability‘ means that loss of natural capital is certainly regrettable and to be avoided, but it could be substituted by man-made capital, especially if helped by technological innovation. ‘Strong sustainability’ implies that human activity and its growth should not exceed the ‘planetary boundaries’, i.e. the capacity of the planet to sustain human life.
  • Similarly, there can be ‘weak’ and ‘strong AI’. The latter is usually understood as ‘superintelligence‘, for example AI systems that would eventually be able to act and make decisions without human intervention on an infinite range of complex issues.

In the long term, the role of AI in sustainability policies will depend on two factors. One factor concerns whether a stronger view on sustainability will underpin future policies. For example, even if the EU succeeds in going carbon neutral by 2050, it does not mean that all of the sustainability goals will be reached. In fact, the current UN SDGs (and by extension the EU’s own sustainability goals) have been criticised as favouring weak sustainability. Another factor has to do with the technological development of AI itself. So far it does not seem as if superintelligence will emerge any time soon, however the speed of AI development has been impressive. Whether and when such systems become technologically possible, the ultimate choice will lie in the realm of politics and ethics. It is highly unlikely that someone would advocate a ‘strong-strong’ solution – delegating the power over decision-making on sustainability issues to super-intelligent machines – but it is worthwhile to imagine possible ethical safeguards should this option ever become real.

In the near term, a more pragmatic step would be to get a better understanding of links between AI and the three main domains of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. A recent study by McKinsey for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows that current applications of AI can be found to a greater extent in the domain of social sustainability (such as in health and education). As to economic sustainability, the potential of AI to drive the circular economy appears to be substantial. AI can help, for example, in the development of new products, components and materials. It can also optimise logistics and inventory, and provide ‘smart management’ tools. Most importantly, AI could help tackle the negative effects of automation on employment by creating new jobs.

Finally, environmental sustainability is an area where AI has proven to be extremely helpful, with a very wide range of applications. One of the most recent discoveries made thanks to AI was the new understanding of how long it would take for global temperatures to react to a decline in man-made CO2 emissions. This temperature lag has proven to be much faster than previously thought. However, perhaps the main contribution of AI to sustainability overall is that it might provide tools for better understanding the interconnectedness of the environment, society and economy. The more AI proliferates in different sectors, the more its effects can be traced and understood with the help of machine learning. In turn, this expands our understanding of what ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ sustainability may entail in practice.

Anticipatory policy-making

The world is only beginning to understand and anticipate how AI can be used in the three domains of sustainability and what its effects might be. While China and the United States of America have been doing a lot of advanced research and development on AI in general, it is the EU that may be better placed to test the applicability of AI in the domains of sustainability. The Commission initiatives on ‘green and digital’ Europe could provide the ground for such anticipatory work. Several elements would benefit anticipatory policy-making on AI and sustainability:

Develop a common data management framework of AI uses throughout the EU sustainability agenda. As argued elsewhere, without a common EU sustainability data management framework (including collecting, sharing and analysis), the application of AI technologies will remain patchy. Data accessibility across the EU and interoperability of AI systems is an important issue.

Think systemically. The proliferation of AI in the economy, society and environment does not automatically lead to an overall improvement in sustainability. A systemic anticipatory approach would entail thinking of applying AI in complex socio-economic systems. For example, the food system would use economic, environmental and social indicators, including not just the reduction of CO2 emissions but also people’s well-being resulting from changes in their food consumption. AI could help to understand how one indicator is connected to another.

Human behaviour is key. Both using AI and caring about sustainability entails changes to human behaviour across generations. Anticipatory policies could include measures to limit the gap between generations and enhance trust in adjusting behavioural patterns.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘What if AI could help us become ‘greener’?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to policy podcast ‘What if AI could help us become ‘greener’?’ on YouTube.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2020/11/21/what-if-ai-could-help-us-become-greener-science-and-technology-podcast/