A year and a quarter after the Covid-19 pandemic first broke out, the disease continues to wreak havoc in many countries around the world. The process of vaccination continues at varying speeds across the globe, but with a clear discrepancy between rich and poor countries. Significant pressure is being applied by NGOs, international institutions and a number of national governments to help poor countries with vaccinations, notably because of actual or potential dangerous mutations of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the EU institutions are close to finalising a ‘digital green certificate’ to facilitate safe and free movement between Member States, by providing proof that a person has either been vaccinated against Covid-19, received a negative test result, or recovered from the disease and carries antibodies.
This note offers links to recent commentaries, studies and reports from international think tanks on the coronavirus and related issues. More studies on the topics can be found in a previous edition in this series, published in February 2021.
This briefing provides an initial analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the European Commission’s impact assessment (IA) accompanying the above-mentioned communication on the new EU strategy on adaptation to climate change (new adaptation strategy), which aims to realise the 2050 vision of a climate-resilient EU. The IA was published on 24 February 2021 and was subsequently referred to the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Pubic Health and Food Safety (ENVI).
The Commission’s communication builds on Article 4 of the proposal for a European climate law regulation, which requires the Member States and the EU to enhance their adaptive capacity, strengthen their resilience and reduce their vulnerability to climate change. The new EU adaptation strategy was first announced in the European Green Deal communication in December 2019. The European Parliament welcomed the new strategy as a key component of the EU’s climate policy in its resolution of 17 December 2020 and called for a renewed and improved focus on climate adaptation. The Council, meanwhile, repeatedly stressed the need for further action on adaptation, most recently in January 2020. The new strategy on adaptation to climate change is part of the 2021 Commission work programme.
Following the forced landing of a Ryanair flight by Belarusian authorities on 23 May, Belarus became the central topic on the first day of the special European Council meeting of 24-25 May 2021. EU leaders strongly condemned the ‘unprecedented and unacceptable incident’, and were united in imposing further sanctions on Belarus. As regards Russia, the European Council reconfirmed the five principles guiding the EU’s policy since 2016 and asked the High Representative and the European Commission to present a ‘report with policy options’ by June 2021. On EU-UK relations, EU leaders called on the European Commission to continue to monitor closely the implementation of the two agreements concluded with the UK. On foreign affairs, they also discussed the situations in the Middle East and in Mali, as well as the forthcoming EU-US summit. The leaders’ primary focus on the second day was the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, with the European Council calling for rapid implementation of the EU Digital Covid Certificate, the revision of the Council Recommendation on travel within the EU by mid-June 2021 and accelerated global access to coronavirus vaccines. Finally, regarding climate policy, despite renewed support for the 2030 and 2050 climate targets, diverging views on national efforts to achieve the objectives set remained apparent.
1. General aspects and new commitments
In accordance with Article 235(2) TFEU, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, addressed the European Council at the start of its proceedings. As President-in-Office of the Council, the Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa, provided an overview of progress made on implementing previous European Council conclusions. As of 12 May 2021, Bulgaria has an interim government and, following established practice, the President, Rumen Radev, represented the country rather than the interim Prime Minister.
Table 1 – New European Council commitments and requests with a specific time schedule
2. European Council meeting
EU coordination efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic
Production, delivery and deployment of vaccines
EU leaders took note of the improved general epidemiological situation (i.e. fewer confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalisations) and accelerated vaccine delivery across the EU. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, updated EU leaders on the production, delivery and deployment of vaccines. As of 21 May 2021, 241.3 million doses of vaccine had been delivered to the EU Member States, 211.4 million administered, and 40.7 % of the adult EU population had received at least one dose. By the end of July, there should be enough doses for 70 % of the EU’s adult population to be vaccinated. In order to ensure the gradual reopening of European society, EU leaders stressed the need to remain vigilant regarding the emergence and spread of variants, for which vaccine production and adequate supply will be key. EU leaders also considered the vaccination of minors, and President von der Leyen announced that the approval of the first vaccination for 12 to 15 year-old children by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was expected as early as the end of May.
EU Digital Covid Certificate
As flagged up in the EPRS outlook, EU leaders welcomed the deal reached on 21 May 2021 between the European Parliament and the Council on the EU Digital Covid Certificate, calling for its rapid implementation. President von der Leyen confirmed that the IT infrastructure would be ready at EU level as of 1 June, and that Member States would be able to connect from mid-June. With the same aim of facilitating travel throughout the Union, EU leaders welcomed the agreement on the revision of the Council Recommendation on non-essential travel into the EU, and called for the revision of the Council Recommendation on travel within the EU by mid-June 2021.
International solidarity on vaccines
EU Heads of State or Government recalled that the EU was the largest exporter of Covid-19 vaccines to the rest of the world and pledged to continue efforts to increase global vaccine production capacities. The European Council called for work to be stepped up to ensure equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines, reiterating the EU’s commitment to step up vaccine sharing to support third countries through COVAX, a global vaccine procurement facility. President von der Leyen announced that the pharmaceutical companies Biontech/Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson had committed to deliver 1.3 billion doses of vaccine, on a non-profit basis for low income countries, and at low cost for middle-income countries.
Main message of the Parliament’s President: David Sassoli welcomed the initial agreement on the Digital Covid Certificate, as this will avoid a patchwork of national solutions. Regarding vaccine exports, he invited the G20 Global Health Forum to follow the example of the EU by exporting vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. He expressed the view that production should be enhanced in these countries in the medium term, including by allowing for mandatory sharing of licences for this purpose – using the flexibility already allowed within the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.
The European Council reaffirmed its conclusions from December 2020, welcomed the co-legislators’ agreement on the EU climate law and invited the European Commission ‘to put forward its legislative package’ (Fit for 55). EU leaders welcomed the US’s return to the Paris Agreement and called on international partners ‘to increase their ambition ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow’.
In recent years, the European Council has managed to steadily and progressively reach agreement on the EU climate goals for 2030 (a 55 % greenhouse gas emissions reduction compared with 1990 levels) and for 2050 (EU climate neutrality). This progress was welcomed by Ursula von der Leyen, who stressed that agreement was nevertheless still needed on how best to achieve the goals set. The Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, along with other members, questioned whether the European Council should continue with granular technical debates or allow the Environment Council to address climate-related technical matters. Perennial Member State sensitivities were reflected in the final conclusions, which were less ambitious than initially expected, providing no additional guidance to the Commission before its submission of the legislative package.
Main message of the Parliament’s President: David Sassoli stressed that Parliament was ‘working on legislative proposals’, negotiating the EU climate law and had reached an agreement with the Council on the 2030 climate target. He reminded the European Council that it should refrain from using its conclusions, which are not legally binding, to interfere with the legislative process.
Following events in the Mediterranean and the Spanish territory of Ceuta, EU leaders briefly addressed migration, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez providing an update on the situation in Ceuta. After the meeting, European Council President Charles Michel reported that EU leaders had reaffirmed full support for the Spanish Government and stressed that ‘Spanish borders are European borders’. The leaders agreed to return to migration at their 24-25 June 2021 meeting.
Main message of the Parliament’s President: To be able to ‘save human lives’, David Sassoli called for a European search and rescue mechanism at sea, a European resettlement system and a genuine European migration reception policy.
Belarus was a last-minute addition to the agenda at the request of Poland. EU leaders strongly condemned the Belarusian authorities’ action in diverting and forcing the landing in Minsk on 23 May of an Athens-Vilnius flight, operated by the Irish airline Ryanair using a Polish registered aircraft, as well as the detention of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, demanding their immediate release. Ursula von der Leyen stated that ‘in the European Council, the judgement was unanimous: This is an attack on democracy. This is an attack on freedom of expression. And this is an attack on European sovereignty’. In a communiqué prior to the meeting, Charles Michel had already spoken of an ‘unacceptable, shocking and scandalous’ event and a ‘threat against the safety of international civil aviation’, and condemned the detention of Raman Pratasevich. The President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, and the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, qualified Belarus’s behaviour as ‘state terrorism’. The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, called for ‘clear and severe consequences for Belarus’, this call was echoed by the Taoiseach of Ireland, Micheál Martin.
In its conclusions, the European Council called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the forced landing of the Ryanair flight, on the Council to ban Belarusian airlines from operating at EU airports and from using EU airspace, and on EU-based carriers ‘to avoid overflight of Belarus’. They expressed their intention to ‘remain seized of the matter’, expressed solidarity with Latvia for the ‘unjustified expulsion of Latvian diplomats’, and agreed that the Council should proceed ‘to adopt additional listings of persons and entities’ as well as targeted economic sanctions, for which the High Representative and the European Commission have yet to submit a proposal. President von der Leyen emphasised that the €3 billion investment and economic package planned for the country had been ‘frozen until Belarus turns democratic’.
Main message of the Parliament’s President: David Sassoli stated that the events in Minsk were of ‘unprecedented gravity’, demanding the ‘immediate and unconditional release’ of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega. He called for EU unity, and stressed that an international investigation was necessary to determine ‘if there has been a violation of the Chicago Convention‘.
As flagged up in the EPRS Outlook, EU leaders held a strategic debate on relations with Russia during which they reaffirmed ‘the EU’s unity and solidarity’ and reiterated their ‘commitment to the five principles‘ guiding the EU’s Russia policy since 2016. They tasked the High Representative, Josep Borrell, and the European Commission with preparing and presenting a ‘report with policy options’ for the European Council’s consideration at its meeting in June 2021. President Michel stressed that EU leaders condemned Russia’s ‘illegal, provocative and destructive activities’, and expressed solidarity and support for Czechia and Eastern partners. President von der Leyen pointed to Russia’s assertive behaviour, which ‘is consistently challenging both our interests and our values’.
Main message of the Parliament’s President: David Sassoli spoke of a ‘changeable moment’ in international relations, calling for a ‘common European voice’. He underlined that ‘an attack on a Member State is an attack on us all’ and that ‘the safety of one is the safety of all’. He demanded the immediate release of Alexei Navalny, pointed to the rise in disinformation activities and underlined that ‘Parliament has always stressed that our strategic interests go hand in hand with our values’.
The European Council reaffirmed the EU’s intention to have ‘as close as possible a partnership with the UK’, and committed to maintaining EU-UK relations on its agenda at future meetings. EU leaders reaffirmed that the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Withdrawal Agreement offered the basis for cooperation with the UK. They invited the European Commission to ensure the full implementation of the two agreements, in particular with respect to ‘EU citizens’ rights, fisheries and level playing field’. Ursula von der Leyen pointed to tensions ‘felt around the access for example of EU fishing boats’, while Charles Michel expressed the EU’s support for ‘fair implementation in the letter and the spirit of the [trade and cooperation] agreement’.
EU leaders briefly discussed the situation in the Middle East, welcomed the brokered ceasefire, committed to supporting a political solution, along with international partners, and reiterated, for the first time since their December 2017 meeting, the EU’s commitment to the ‘two-state solution’.
EU leaders supported the joint ECOWAS-AU-MINUSMA statement on Mali, condemned the kidnapping of Mali’s interim President, Bah N’Daw, and acting Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane, and stressed that targeted measures could be taken regarding those stalling the transition.
EU leaders prepared for the forthcoming meeting with the US to be held in June 2021. Ursula von der Leyen indicated the topics that could be discussed with the US President, Joe Biden, which might include external relations, security and defence, climate and trade.
Citizens frequently turn to the European Parliament to ask what the European Union is doing to fight cancer.
Cancer is the second cause of death in the European Union, after cardiovascular diseases. As far back as 1985, the European Union has been fighting the causes and consequences of cancer, even though the main responsibility for health policies lies primarily at national level. Thanks to the dedication of its Members, the European Parliament has passed legislation and made funding available that have helped improve national action plans on the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The EU has also invested in cancer research.
Members of the European Parliament against cancer
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have shown a genuine interest in the fight against cancer. They hold informal discussions in cross-party groupings such as the Cancer Intergroup (see the list of Members) and ‘MEPs Against Cancer (MAC) Interest Group’.
In June 2020, the European Parliament set up a Special Committee on Beating Cancer (see related press release). The main objective of the Special Committee is to enable the EU to take concrete actions on tackling cancer and its effects on people’s lives. Its work includes identifying legislation and other measures that can help prevent and combat cancer, and looking into the best ways to support research. The final report including findings and suggestions is expected to be adopted by the end of 2021.
The European Union has put in place many measures to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment outcomes of cancer, such as:
Patient’s safety and treatment
Improving healthcare systems, through standards on patient safety and quality of care and rules on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare.
Maintaining safety and quality standards of pharmaceuticals: rules on clinical trials of medicinal products and law on safety standards in EU clinical trials; rules on the authorisation, import and production of medicines; law on medicinal products for paediatric use; rules on safe production of medicines and experimental treatment.
In February 2021, the European Commission published its vision for the fight against cancer in ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer plan’. It aims to reduce inequalities between and within EU countries regarding screening, access to treatment, and social/financial support for patients after recovery. It has its own budget of €4 billion and will finance, amongst others: establishing an EU network of youth cancer survivors, addressing fair access for cancer survivors to financial services (including insurance), updating the 2003 Council recommendation on cancer screening and updating the European code against cancer.
In March 2021, the European Parliament also approved the EU4Health programme, which covers the 2021-2027 period with a budget of €5.1 billion (see press release); €1.25 billion of which will be allocated to the Beating Cancer plan.
In the field of cancer research, another €2 billion have been earmarked in the European research and innovation programme Horizon Europe (replacing the ‘Horizon 2020’ programme).
A number of important debates were held during the May 2021 plenary session, in particular on Parliament’s rights to information regarding the ongoing assessment of the national recovery and resilience plans, on a revised industrial strategy for Europe and on recent migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. Members also held a debate on possible waiving of the WTO TRIPS agreement on Covid‑19 vaccines to help developing countries fight the pandemic; on business taxation; and on Roma equality in the EU. Two joint debates took place, on hydrogen and energy strategies, and on data protection adequacy. Members debated a statement by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, on the EU position on the Israel-Palestine conflict. A number of programmes under the multiannual financial framework were approved, and debates and votes were also held, inter alia, on the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations in developing countries, on the digital single market, consumer use of artificial intelligence and on company liability for environmental damage.
EU strategies on hydrogen and energy system integration
Following a joint debate, Members voted on Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) own-initiative reports on developing EU strategies on hydrogen and on energy system integration. The transport, buildings and industry sectors still rely heavily on the use of fossil fuels, a situation that should change if the EU is to reach its climate-neutrality ambition. The ITRE committee report states that an EU hydrogen strategy should be based on clean hydrogen and requires measures to speed up hydrogen market and value chain development. The committee also underlined the need to balance energy systems and to ensure energy accessibility. Crucial energy efficiencies could be achieved through investing in upgraded EU energy infrastructure, storage and interconnections, as well as encouraging consumers to play their part too, for instance by contributing to energy production.
International transfers of personal data
Members debated and adopted two resolutions concerning international transfers of personal data. A first resolution, tabled by Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), concerned the Schrems II ruling, which forbids the transfer of personal data to a non-EU country (the United States in this case), without an equivalent level of data protection. The resolution maintains Parliament’s position that, without reform, surveillance laws in the USA prevent the European Commission adopting a new adequacy decision. The interim solution found since the United Kingdom became a third country runs out next month. In light of the Commission’s much-criticised draft adequacy decision, a second resolution calls for improvements to the draft decision before it can be adopted, in view of the UK’s level of data protection.
Draft amending Budget No 2/2021: Covid‑19 response, multiannual financial framework adjustment, and mobilisation of the EU Solidarity Fund
Parliament adopted draft amending Budget No 2/2021, along with a decision mobilising the EU Solidarity Fund to provide assistance to those hit by natural disasters in France and Greece, and to help 17 Member States and 3 accession countries face the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Among other issues, the amending budget sets aside financing for the EU Covid‑19 response, including the provisional deal on an EU digital Covid certificate to facilitate free movement in Europe during the pandemic. However, Parliament’s Committee on Budgets also regretted that the Commission had combined so many urgent issues and technical adjustments in a single amending budget.
Access to justice in environmental matters
Members debated and voted on the amendments adopted by the Environment Committee (ENVI) to the report on access to justice on environmental issues under the Aarhus Convention, as well as on plenary amendments, but postponed the vote on the legislative resolution. The file is therefore referred back to the ENVI committee for interinstitutional negotiations. Changes proposed by the Parliament would inter alia open up the review mechanism to allow qualified members of the public other than NGOs to challenge acts that breach environmental law.
Just Transition Fund
Members debated and approved the interinstitutional agreement on the Just Transition Fund, the compromise reached with the Council. Parliament has had considerable input in the final agreement, securing voluntary top-ups from cohesion policy, conditionality on climate neutrality, higher co-financing rates and a new Green Rewarding Mechanism. While Parliament’s ambitions for a larger budget did not prevail, the final agreement nevertheless allocates €17.5 billion to helping workers who lose their jobs in fossil fuel production, as well as the transformation to clean energy technologies.
Creative Europe programme 2021-2027
Parliament debated and approved the Creative Europe programme for 2021‑2027 at second-reading stage. Parliament is keen to continue support for the European Union Youth Orchestra and seeks a special focus on the music industry and cinema, with a €1 842 million budget (36 % more than the previous programme) to support cultural projects, in an area hard-hit by the Covid‑19 pandemic.
Members debated and approved one of the EU’s most known and best-loved programmes, the regulation on Erasmus+, at second reading. Parliament secured an extra €1.7 billion for the flagship policy and insisted on ensuring the inclusion of young people with fewer opportunities in the target of 12 million participants.
European Solidarity Corps 2021-2027
Parliament also debated and approved the proposed revision of the European Solidarity Corps Regulation at second reading. Parliament’s negotiators have secured a number of modifications to focus the programme on volunteering opportunities for young people in solidarity and humanitarian projects, particularly outside their home country, including a 15 % increase on the previous budget.
Fiscalis programme 2021-2027
Parliament debated and approved Council’s first-reading position, without amendments, as an early second-reading agreement on the Fiscalis programme for 2021‑2027. The programme’s goal is to improve the operation of tax policy (including administrative cooperation with regard to taxes) and support tax authorities. The €269 million budget will enhance administrative and information technology capacity, as well as operational cooperation.
Turkey: 2019 and 2020 country reports
Members debated and adopted a resolution on the European Commission’s latest country reports on Turkey. The 2019 and 2020 reports on Turkey reflect the strained nature of EU relations with the country in the light of backsliding on democratic values and tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. While Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) has many concerns regarding Turkey’s commitment to the rule of law, democratic values and women’s rights, it has also pointed out that Turkey is hosting some 4 million refugees. Until relations improve however, accession talks are effectively at a standstill, and prospects for modernisation of the Customs Union remain suspended.
Montenegro: 2019 and 2020 country reports
Members debated and adopted a resolution on the European Commission’s latest country reports on Montenegro. A candidate for accession since 2008, the Commission’s reports on Montenegro show progress in accession negotiations and demonstrable respect for democratic standards in recent elections. Nevertheless, the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) is critical of the lack of progress on freedom of expression and media freedom in the country.
The special European Council meeting of 24-25 May 2021 will concentrate on climate policy, hold a strategic debate on relations with Russia, continue its coordination efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic and review the implementation of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Regarding climate, EU leaders are expected to take stock of progress made in adopting the EU climate law and give further guidelines on and impetus to EU climate action and policy. The strategic debate on relations with Russia comes at a moment when bilateral relations have reached a new low, and the EU is reviewing its threat perception as part of the ongoing Strategic Compass exercise. The leaders’ discussions on the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic will include vaccines, international solidarity and the EU Digital Covid Certificate, which has recently been provisionally agreed on by the co-legislators.
Background and agenda of the special European Council meeting of 24‑25 May 2021
On 23 April 2021, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called a special European Council to be held on 25 May 2021; it was subsequently announced on 9 May, that the meeting would commence on the evening of 24 May. The European Council’s rules of procedure permit the European Council President to convene a ‘special’ meeting of the European Council ‘when the situation so requires’. Special European Councils are ‘formal’ meetings, as are ‘ordinary’ European Council meetings, and generally deliver a set of conclusions. Two key differences however are that special meetings are usually not planned long in advance, and the President is not obliged to submit an annotated draft agenda four weeks in advance of a special meeting.
The 24‑25 May special meeting needs to be seen in the context of the forthcoming ordinary European Council meeting of 24‑25 June 2021. Some of the agenda points of the May European Council, notably Russia and the implementation of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, were scheduled to be discussed in June, but have been brought forward. This is probably both an attempt to lighten the June agenda and to give EU leaders the possibility to return to one of these issues for further discussion if needed.
In light of recent developments in the Spanish territory of Ceuta, where 6 000 migrants from Morocco illegally entered Spain, EU Heads of State or Government might also address migration in this specific context. The European Council President, Charles Michel, has already expressed the European Union’s support to Spain.
One outstanding task for the European Council is to define the strategic guidelines for legislative and operational planning within the area of freedom, security and justice, as required by Article 68 TFEU. The European Council had been expected to adopt the new ‘strategic guidelines for legislative and operational planning‘ within the area of freedom, security and justice in spring 2020, but more than a year later and despite the 15 European Council meetings held in the meantime, EU leaders have still not complied with this Treaty obligation.
EU coordination efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic
This will be the 17th time the European Council addresses the coronavirus crisis in a period of just over 12 months, underlining its role as Covid‑19 crisis manager. EU leaders will most likely refer to the improved general epidemiological situation and the accelerated pace of vaccinations, but also call for vigilance regarding the emergence and spread of virus variants.
Production, delivery and deployment of vaccines
The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, is expected to update the EU Heads of State or Government on the production and delivery of vaccines in the EU. On 18 May 2021, 237.5 million doses of vaccine had been delivered to the EU Member States, 199.6 million administered, and 38.7 % of the adult EU population had received at least one dose. EU leaders will most likely be informed about the Commission’s second legal action of 11 May (the first was introduced on 26 April 2021) against the vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca over delayed deliveries.
To complement the EU strategy for Covid‑19 vaccines, on 6 May 2021, the European Commission published a new EU strategy on Covid‑19 therapeutics, a reinforced and strategic approach to developing, manufacturing and procuring safe and effective Covid‑19 therapeutics at EU level.
EU digital green certificate
As flagged up in the EPRS briefing on the 7-8 May Porto Summit, EU leaders will revert to the topic of the proposed regulation on the digital green certificate, now to be called the EU Digital Covid Certificate. Following the breakthrough in interinstitutional negotiations (trilogue meetings) between the co-legislators on 20 May 2021, after three inconclusive trilogue meetings, EU leaders are expected to welcome the deal reached between the European Parliament and the Council and call for its rapid implementation.
The co-legislators had each adopted very different negotiating positions (Council on 14 April and Parliament on 29 April 2021), and in bridging these views the compromise reached covers:
Charges for the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test: While ‘free of charge testing’, a key demand of the Parliament, was not agreed on, at least €100 million from the Emergency Support Instrument will be made available to purchase tests. The average cost for a travel-related PCR test currently differs significantly across the EU, costing between €100 and €160 in the Netherlands or Ireland, but less than €50 in Belgium.
Additional requirements: The co-legislators agreed that Member States should refrain from imposing additional restrictions unless necessary in order to protect public health, however EU governments can decide if certificate-holders arriving on their territory have to quarantine or get tested.
Data protection safeguards:The deal provides for strong data protection safeguards, as the personal data obtained from the certificates cannot be stored in destination Member States and there will be no central database established at EU level.
International solidarity on vaccines
EU leaders will continue their debate on intellectual property rights for Covid‑19 vaccines, largely triggered by the United States’ 5 May 2021 announcement that it would support a temporary waiver of patent rights. Member States are divided on this proposal. Several of the European Parliament’s political groups have called on the Commission to ask for a waiver of intellectual property rights (IPR) for Covid‑19 vaccines to support global vaccination efforts. Parliament discussed the issue of a waiver on Covid‑19 vaccine patents on 19 May, and a vote on a resolution on this matter is planned for the Parliament’s June plenary session.
The European Council will most likely also reiterate its support for COVAX’s leading role in ensuring equitable global access to Covid‑19 vaccines, and stress the EU’s commitment to stepping up vaccine sharing to support third countries. To date, the EU and the Member States have pledged over €2.2 billion to COVAX.
Back in December 2020, EU leaders took a landmark decision for the EU’s efforts to fight climate change and committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 % by 2030, as compared to 1990. They invited the co-legislators to include this target in the forthcoming European climate law and to adopt it ‘swiftly’. In the interim, the European Parliament and the Council have reached a provisional agreement, which confirms the 2030 target and tasks the European Commission with proposing ‘an intermediate climate target for 2040’, which should enable the EU to meet its long-term collective objective of climate-neutrality by 2050. However, Member States seem to be pursuing different strategies when it comes to collectively achieving climate targets. Spain, for instance, has committed ‘to end fossil fuel production by 2042’. At the same time, Poland has extended the lifespan of the Turów open-pit coal mine until 2044, despite an ongoing lawsuit filed with the European Court of Justice by Czechia for breach of EU law.
At the same meeting in December 2020, EU leaders also committed ‘to adopt additional guidance’ and consider the future of the Effort-sharing Regulation. They are thus likely, during the special meeting of 24‑25 May 2021, to discuss national targets and efforts undertaken by the Member States to comply with the criteria of the Effort-sharing Regulation. EU leaders might also consider the European Commission’s communication on the blue economy, which aims to bring all partners together, including industry, to contribute to coastal and ocean development and fight climate change.
As part of the EU’s commitment to climate diplomacy and multilateralism, EU leaders are also likely to welcome the return of the United States to the Paris Agreement. Earlier this year, President Michel stressed that the EU was ‘the first bloc to commit to climate neutrality by 2050’, and welcomed the decision of the US President, Joe Biden, to ‘bring America back to the Paris Agreement’. Furthermore, EU leaders may use the meeting to prepare their position for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow in autumn 2021, and call for more ambitious international action on fighting climate change. European Commission Executive Vice-President, Frans Timmermans recently stressed that ‘climate change has a geopolitical dimension, climate policy is also security policy’. He warned that, unless effectively addressed, climate change may lead to future conflicts over ‘water and food’ in a generation or two.
EU leaders are expected to hold a strategic debate on relations with Russia. This debate was first scheduled to take place during the March 2021 ‘ordinary’ meeting of the European Council. Following the change of format from an in-person to a video-conference meeting owing to the challenging epidemiological situation across the EU, the Heads of State or Government agreed to postpone their discussion to ‘a forthcoming European Council meeting’ and were thus then only informed of the state of play of EU-Russia relations. The last time the European Council held a strategic debate on relations with Russia was in October 2016, when the tense situations in Syria and Ukraine overshadowed the debate. No conclusions were adopted at that time, a pattern which EU leaders might follow once again unless, as recently decided in the case of Turkey, they agree to task the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission and the High Representative with producing a paper outlining policy options for the European Council’s further consideration.
The ‘five guiding principles’ defined in 2016, pursued since and reconfirmed earlier this year by the Foreign Affairs Council, frame the EU’s relations with Russia. Those principles are: i) the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements prior to the lifting of economic sanctions against Russia, ii) countering hybrid threats and disinformation originating in Russia, iii) support to civil society, iv) closer cooperation with Eastern Neighbourhood and central Asian countries, as well as v) cooperation with Russia on issues of mutual interest such as climate change.
In past years, EU leaders have monitored the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, deplored the lack of progress, expressed support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and denounced Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, whilst setting and maintaining sanctions. They have repeatedly called for a transparent, open and fair inquiry into the downing of flight MH17. They have also condemned disinformation activities; hybrid warfare tactics; human rights abuses, including the treatment of Alexei Navalny; as well as international law violations, notably the Salisbury attack. More recently, the Prime Minister of Czechia, Andrej Babiš, asked the European Council to condemn Russia for its involvement in explosions at an arms depot in his country in 2014. The leaders of the Bucharest Nine (B9) condemned Russia’s actions, whilst the Foreign Affairs Council expressed ‘solidarity’ with Czechia, a state Russia has recently declared as ‘unfriendly’. President Michel expressed ‘full solidarity with [the] Czech Republic’ and considered Russia’s decision regarding ‘states committing unfriendly acts’ as yet ‘another escalatory step’ undermining bilateral relations. EU Heads of State or Government could possibly condemn recent, as well as recently revealed, illegal and provocative Russian activities in Member States and beyond.
Implementation of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement
Finally, the European Council will discuss the state of EU-UK relations and review the implementation of the trade and cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom (UK). The Trade and Cooperation Agreement was signed on 30 December 2020 by the European Union and the UK and was provisionally applied from 1 January 2021. It came fully into force on 1 May 2021, after the Parliament had formally approved, on 28 April 2021, the Council’s conclusion of the agreement. The debate in the European Council was initially scheduled for June 2021, but the item has been brought forward at the request of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, following recent disputes between the UK and France over vaccine distribution and fisheries.
The European Council is expected to reiterate its desire to maintain as close as possible a partnership with the UK, and that it sees the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, together with the earlier Withdrawal Agreement and its Protocols, and their full implementation, as the foundation for this relationship.
Written by Mathilde BETANT-RASMUSSEN and Branislav STANICEK.
Twenty-five years after the establishment of the Barcelona Declaration, the Mediterranean region remains characterised by major security, political, economic and humanitarian challenges, both long-standing and of recent concern. The new EU agenda for the Mediterranean, presented by the European Commission in February 2021 and approved by the Council in April 2021, addressed both internal and external determinants, such as the pandemic, with the aim of relaunching the Barcelona process. The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) roundtable on ‘The new agenda for the Mediterranean: Building peace and resilience through dialogue and cooperation’, held on 12 May 2021, discussed strategies and challenges to overcoming the multifaceted challenges of the Mediterranean and achieving lasting regional stability. Etienne Bassot, Director of the Members’ Research Service introduced the event, which was moderated by Elena Lazarou, Acting Head of the External Policies Unit.
In her keynote speech, Roberta Metsola (EPP, Malta), First Vice-President of the European Parliament, emphasised the strategic importance of the Mediterranean region at the convergence between three continents and several global powers. Vice‑President Metsola outlined key priorities for the EU in the region, namely addressing climate change, migration, the division of Cyprus, Turkey’s increasingly aggressive unilateral actions and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Furthermore, she highlighted the EU’s potential to become a catalyst for peace processes in the Mediterranean, recalling that such involvement could only be successful if the EU managed to speak with one voice as an actor fostering a common foreign policy.
Olivier Roy, Professor and Chair of Mediterranean Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, opened the discussion, declaring that migration is the most pressing challenge in the Mediterranean. Professor Roy highlighted the importance of addressing the needs of second-and third-generation immigrants in the EU through integrating Islam as a European religion. He also touched upon the increasing ‘gatekeeper’ role EU migration policy played by transit countries and the urgent need for tailored migration policies that address different types of migration, including labour force migration, political refugees and irregular migration.
Pierre Mirel, an Associate Professor at Sciences Po Paris and Honorary Director-General of the European Commission, followed with a pertinent critical analysis of the EU’s new agenda for the Mediterranean. He outlined the ‘genealogy’ of the new communication and its relations with previously adopted EU strategies for the region. He echoed Professor Roy in highlighting migration as a central point of the new agenda and welcomed the inclusion of new priority elements, such as climate change, post‑coronavirus recovery and digital policy. However, Professor Mirel regretted the omission of some crucial aspects, including trade, regional economic cooperation, demographic challenges and the discrimination of minority groups from the new agenda, as well as a relatively low budget of €7 billion for the Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours covering all Southern Neighbourhood countries for 2021‑2027.
Daniel Fiott, Security and Defence Editor at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris, delved into the security and defence situation in the Mediterranean. He pointed out that eastern and southern security challenges are often interrelated and involve major regional and external players. He listed examples, including the Russian presence in Libya, Turkish troops in Libya and Syria, and Chinese investment in strategic Mediterranean ports. Any EU action must take account of the threat of external powers and the spillover effects of conflicts in providing a comprehensive and effective approach to regional security challenges.
Branislav Stanicek, Policy Analyst with the EPRS External Policies Unit, continued with an analysis of the geopolitical dimension of the new agenda, highlighting contested claims on eastern Mediterranean exclusive maritime zones. In facing the presence of global and regional powers, such as Russia, China and Turkey, the EU needs to secure its maritime presence in the Mediterranean. In the words of Paul Valéry, if the EU were lose its influence in the Mediterranean, its ‘Atlantic facade’ would be its only remaining maritime sphere and Europe would risk being reduced to ‘a small cape of the Asian continent’. On a cautionary yet optimistic note, he concluded by pointing to several upcoming elections in the region that could open up opportunities for political change, and potentially, peace. However, for successful EU action in the Mediterranean, increased cooperation and dialogue with civil society actors, including mayors and representatives of regions and cities is suggested. Furthermore, he recommended deeper engagement with religious actors and churches, which remain important anchors of peace and resilience.
The Covid-19 crisis has had a severe impact on free movement in the EU. To address this issue, on 17 March 2021 the Commission issued a proposal to establish a ‘digital green certificate’ – a common framework for issuing, verifying and accepting interoperable health certificates. The certificate would include proof of vaccination, Covid-19 test results, and/or information that the holder has recovered from being ill with Covid-19. The proposal has been given priority by the co-legislators with a view to seeking to reach agreement and launch the certificate before summer 2021.
A temporary digital health certificate is seen as a less restrictive measure than others currently in place, such as entry bans, quarantine and business closures, and may allow for a gradual reopening of the economy. Whereas the initiative has been welcomed by some (such as the tourism and transport sectors), the certificate raises a number of concerns, in relation to its design, fundamental rights implications and overall usefulness.
This briefing discusses the Commission’s proposals and the initial positions of the EU co-legislators in the broader context. It analyses a number of key issues raised by the certificate, namely: its legal scope, the different types of certificates included in the overall digital green certificate, the risk of discrimination, data protection concerns, technical aspects, the timeframe and the overall added value of the certificates.
The Roaming Regulation established the ‘roam like at home’ (RLAH) rule that mandated the end of retail mobile roaming charges as of 15 June 2017 in all EU Member States and EEA countries. The regulation is currently in force until 30 June 2022. The application of the RLAH rule has been a success, boosting the use of mobile devices while travelling to other EU/EEA countries. For instance, the use of data roaming increased 17 times in the summer of 2019 compared with the summer preceding the abolition of roaming surcharges. However, in 2020, owing to the pandemic, the number of travellers across the EU decreased along with the need for roaming.
Nevertheless, five years after its implementation, the Commission needs to review the Roaming Regulation, with a view to extending the roaming market rules by 10 years. The Commission is also seeking to continue lowering wholesale roaming charges, improve the quality of roaming services offered to travellers, and provide access to all available network generations and technologies and improved transparency, including free access to emergency services and information on any cost incurred accessing value added services, among other things.
Within the European Parliament the file has been allocated to the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE).
On 22 March 2021, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced sanctions on 10 individuals and 4 entities in the EU, including Members of the European Parliament and of the Council’s Political and Security Committee, that it said ‘severely harm China’s sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation’. It described the sanctions as a response to EU sanctions imposed the same day on a Chinese entity and individuals accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang (PRC). The dispute comes at a sensitive time in EU-China relations, raising questions about approval of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), a proposed EU-China bilateral investment treaty.
Sanctions and counter-sanctions
The EU sanctions against which China retaliated with counter-sanctions were among the first uses of the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (GHRSR) established in December 2020. The GHRSR allows the Council of the EU to target foreign individuals and entities – both state and non-state actors – that it holds responsible for human rights violations. Targets of the 22 March sanctions included four Chinese individuals and one entity connected to the reported mass detention and persecution of the Uyghur ethnic minority in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and were coordinated with equivalent sanctions by the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Third-country individuals listed under the GHRSR are subject to EU asset freezes and a travel ban to the EU, and EU entities are prohibited from making funds available to those listed. China’s counter-sanctions targeted, inter alia, Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights; MEPs Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens/EFA, Germany), Michael Gahler (EPP, Germany), Raphaël Glucksmann (S&D, France), Ilhan Kyuchyuk (Renew, Bulgaria) and Miriam Lexmann (EPP, Slovakia); the Council’s Political and Security Committee, and a number of EU Member State Members of Parliament, think-tanks and academics. The counter-sanctions prohibit targets from entering PRC territory and from doing business with China. In a statement on Twitter later the same day, European Parliament President David Sassoli said the PRC’s sanctions were ‘unacceptable’ and would have ‘consequences’. On 23 March, Bütikofer, Chair of Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the PRC, published a statement in which he declared it ‘obvious that the Delegation cannot go back to normal in its work’ until the counter-sanctions were lifted. He also co-signed a statement with other targeted MEPs reiterating ‘serious concerns’ about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, and urging the EU to keep human rights ‘at the core’ of its foreign policy.
Talks on approving the CAI unofficially on hold
The statements by Sassoli, Bütikofer and other MEPs were widely understood to have implications for the proposed EU-China CAI, agreed to ‘in principle’ in December 2020. Although neither the Council nor the European Commission has formally suspended the CAI approval process, Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said in early May that the political context was ‘not conducive‘ to ratification, suggesting CAI approval could be put on hold. This interpretation was however later denied by a Commission spokesperson. Parliament has tabled a motion for a resolution on the sanctions, due to be voted in plenary on 20 May.