Месечни архиви: юни 2021

Plenary round-up – June II 2021

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson.


© European Union 2021 – Source : EP/Alain ROLLAND

During the June II 2021 plenary session in Brussels, Parliament continued to debate and adopt programmes financed under the multiannual financial framework for 2021‑2027, specifically this session in the areas of regional development, with the Common Provisions Regulation, European Territorial Cooperation Regulation, European Regional Development Fund and Cohesion Fund all finalised. Important debates on Council and European Commission statements were held, in particular on the preparation of the European Council meeting on 24‑25 June 2021 and the relaunch of the Malta Declaration on external aspects of migration, on the urgent need to complete nominations for the full functioning of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, and on the future of EU-Swiss relations. Members also debated and adopted, inter alia, the proposed European Climate Law, the Public Sector Loan Facility, and discussed the Commission’s 2020 rule of law report. António Guterres, the recently re-elected Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed Parliament in a formal sitting.

Common Provisions Regulation

During a joint debate on cohesion policy, Members debated and approved an early second-reading agreement (without a vote, as no amendments were submitted) on the Common Provisions Regulation for 2021‑2027, which sets out new, simplified financial rules for eight EU funds in the light of the EU’s policy objectives for a greener, smarter, more social and connected Europe. Parliament has succeeded in raising co-financing rates for the regions, increasing resources earmarked for sustainable urban development, and ensuring the rules better reflect the EU’s new policy objectives.

European Regional Development Fund and Cohesion Fund

During the joint debate, Members also approved, at early second reading (without a vote), the agreement reached during negotiations on the proposed revised regulation on the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund. The compromise agreed between Parliament and Council follows Parliament’s focus on lower thematic concentration and greater funding for sustainable urban development. Funding should now be available for job creation and digital connectivity, with a focus on renewables under the Cohesion Fund. With around one third of the entire EU budget dedicated to reducing regional disparities and promoting cohesion during this seven-year MFF period, the Regional Development Fund seeks to support infrastructure and energy efficiency investment, as well as providing economic assistance for small businesses, while the Cohesion Fund should encourage environmental projects and transport infrastructure in the least-developed regions. In line with the EU’s climate ambition, fossil fuel and landfill-related investments will be ineligible for funding.

European Territorial Cooperation (ETC)

The third item debated during the joint debate was the revision of the regulation on European Territorial Cooperation, (‘Interreg’). Parliament approved the agreement on the compromise reached between the co-legislators on the changes at early second reading (also without a vote). Although Parliament has successfully secured the reintroduction of maritime border cooperation, as well as increased co- and pre-financing for Interreg programmes, the increased €8.05 billion budget for cross-border, outermost region and inter-regional cooperation nonetheless falls short of Parliament’s initial ambitions. The proposal is expected to launch a revamped cooperation programme, removing barriers to development and fostering innovation and joint strategies to help border regions find solutions to the issues they face in common, emphasising their proximity rather than their location in different countries.

European Climate Law

Members debated and adopted the compromise agreed with the Council on the proposed European Climate Law. The agreement reflects Parliament’s consistent demands for a higher net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2030, particularly as it states that the EU should advance the volume of reductions and removals of greenhouse gases, possibly to a net reduction of 57 %, by 2030. Achieving climate neutrality by 2050, however, is going to take concerted effort. The EU has proposed measures that should both assist the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and ensure that climate ambitions become reality. The European Green Deal provides an action plan for these efforts, and the European Climate Law creates the legal framework underpinning these measures.

Public Sector Loan Facility under the Just Transition Mechanism

Members debated and approved the provisional agreement on a Public Sector Loan Facility, which incorporates many of Parliament’s demands, including beneficiaries’ compliance with EU values, and a greater share of the loans going to the poorest regions. The Public Sector Loan Facility is the third pillar of the EU Just Transition Mechanism, part of the InvestEU scheme (a key financial element of the EU Green Deal), which aims at mobilising €25‑30 billion in public investment through grants and loans in 2021‑2027.

Northwest Atlantic fisheries management

Parliament approved a provisional agreement with the Council setting out EU compliance with the conservation and enforcement measures for the Northwest Atlantic fisheries. Under the agreement, EU fishing vessels will respect conservation measures when fishing outside national waters in the region. These include seasonal closure and bans on bottom-fishing in some locations. The measures aim at encouraging realistic measures to protect endangered species, such as the Greenland shark, as well as to ensure responsible management of cod fisheries.

EU Ombudsman’s Statute

The European Ombudsman is the EU’s independent guardian of accountability and transparency, ensuring EU institutions adhere to principles of good administration and respect EU citizens’ rights. In its 27 years’ existence, the role has developed considerably, leading to a need to revise the underpinning Statute, last amended in 2008. Following Parliament’s debate and vote to adopt a new statute for the European Ombudsman during the June I plenary session, and the Council’s subsequent consent, the plenary formally adopted the revised European Parliament Regulation governing the role of the Ombudsman. This completes the procedure, begun in 2019, to further strengthen and improve the Ombudsman’s role and effectiveness.

Opening of trilogue negotiations

Members confirmed the mandate for negotiations from the Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committee on the proposal for a regulation on the extension of the term of Community plant variety rights for the species asparagus and the species groups flower bulbs, woody small fruits and woody ornamentals. The committee can therefore launch negotiations as of now.


Read this at a glance note on ‘Plenary round-up – June II 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/26/plenary-round-up-june-ii-2021/

Peace and Security in the World Today: What difference is Europe making and how can we make its impact even bigger?

Written by Tania Latici with Mathilde Betant Rasmussen.

Peace and Security in the World TodayPeace and Security in the World Today

Achieving peace and security in the world is an increasingly complex task that relies on managing a number of changing and compounding threats, ranging from violent conflict and terrorism to global pandemics and climate change. The 2021 Peace and Security Outlook maps these threats in a global context and assesses the EU’s contribution to addressing a constantly changing global security landscape. To mark the 2021 edition of this publication, the EPRS organised an expert roundtable on Thursday 17 June 2021, entitled ‘Peace and security in the world today: what difference is Europe making and how can we make its impact even bigger?’ chaired by Etienne Bassot, Director of the Members’ Research Service at EPRS. Following an introduction to the topic and context for the event by Anthony Teasdale, Director-General of EPRS, David McAllister, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, opened the event with a keynote speech highlighting the need for the EU to speak with one voice on foreign policy issues. To increase the EU’s impact on peace and security globally, Mr McAllister emphasised the importance of aligning EU foreign policy goals with other policy areas, including trade, development and the environment. He also recommended wielding the EU’s human rights sanctions powers, as well as conducting thorough threat assessments. Finally, Mr McAllister outlined key foreign policy priorities for the EU, such as boosting the transatlantic partnership, strengthening security in the eastern and southern neighbourhoods, upgrading relations with Taiwan and implementing a new EU-China strategy.

Isabelle Arradon, Director of Research at International Crisis Group, launched the discussion that followed, by analysing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on peace and security in the world. The Crisis Group report ‘COVID-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch‘ reports that the pandemic has led to armed actors strengthening their grip over territories, particularly in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa; governments perpetrating increased human rights violations against their populations; and strained diplomatic relations, for example between China and the USA. Despite these trends, Ms Arradon emphasised that the pandemic has had little effect on the world’s major conflicts, such as in Yemen and Somalia, and that ceasefire commitments have not lasted. She concluded that foreign policy priorities should focus on increasing humanitarian assistance and international cooperation to address the continuing needs of conflict-affected populations.

René Van Nes, Head of Division for Conflict Prevention and Mediation Support at the European External Action Service reaffirmed that conflicts across the world have indeed been resilient to the pandemic. He outlined worrying trends arising from the crisis, namely the increase in online disinformation and gender-based violence globally. He then outlined the EU’s peace and security toolbox, including the new Global Europe Instrument, strong partnerships, and the EU’s strength in the peace and security sector as a widely recognised conflict mediator.

Deputy Leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and author of The EU as a small power: After the Cold War (2010), Dr Asle Toje, took a more historical perspective on the EU’s role in peace and security, stating that EU involvement in the security sector has become involuntary due to the pressing nature of ongoing conflicts at its borders. Evaporating trust in powerful neighbouring states such as Russia and Turkey, as well as increasing migration from neighbourhood, were seen as central issues for the EU’s foreign policy agenda. Dr Toje also stressed the importance of a unified EU voice on foreign policy matters, adding that timely reaction to external developments is greatly needed.

Finally, Elena Lazarou, Acting Head of the External Policies Unit at EPRS and co-author of the Peace and Security Outlook, discussed the lessons learnt on peace and security in the past year and ways forward to improve the EU’s impact as a security actor. She highlighted the increasingly complex and multidimensional nature of the peace and security landscape, including rising threats such as energy insecurity, disinformation and climate security. She also noted that the most vulnerable regions of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Central Asia, are those where most of these threats coincide. As responses to such threats, she highlighted the role of the new Global Europe Instrument, the EU’s human right sanctions regime, as well as the forthcoming Strategic Compass, while emphasising the need for foresight and anticipation, particularly in light of the pandemic, to address current threats while increasing resilience against future risks.

Tania Latici, Policy Analyst at the External Policies Unit of EPRS and co-author of the Peace and Security Outlook, opened the Q&A session by reflecting on the concept of resilience as an increasing part of security and defence policy and its implications for conflict resolution efforts. She introduced the new European Peace Facility into the debate and asked how it might contribute to the EU’s conflict mediation efforts. In light of a week of multiple international summits, she asked Elena Lazarou to weigh the implications of this renewed multilateralism on peace and security and then raised the concept of strategic autonomy in the context of peace promotion, asking Dr Asle Toje for his views.

The event can be viewed online on the EPRS YouTube channel.

David McAllisterDavid McAllister
David McAllister, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament

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Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/25/peace-and-security-in-the-world-today-what-difference-is-europe-making-and-how-can-we-make-its-impact-even-bigger/

How does the European Union regulate migration?

macro of a passport stampmacro of a passport stamp
© Adobe Stock

People often turn to the European Parliament to ask how the European Union manages migration. In recent years, the European Union (EU) responded to serious migratory challenges as it became a destination for people migrating for security, demographic, human rights, poverty and climate change reasons. In 2015, at the peak of the migratory crisis, 1.25 million first-time asylum applicants were registered in the EU and more than 1 million people reached the EU by sea.

EU migration policies

The Treaty of Lisbon introduced the ordinary legislative procedure to policies on both irregular and regular immigration, and stressed the principle of solidarity between EU countries.

The EU shares competence on migration and asylum policies with EU countries, in particular on managing regular immigration, promoting integration, combating irregular immigration and concluding readmission agreements with third countries.

A 2011 European Commission communication, Global approach to migration and mobility, establishes a general framework for the EU’s relations with third countries in the field of migration.

Legal migration

The EU measures on legal immigration cover the conditions of entry and residence for certain categories of immigrants, such as labour immigrantsstudents and researchersfamily members and long-term residents. The EU Immigration Portal provides information for foreign nationals interested in moving to the EU and for migrants who are already in the EU and who would like to move to another EU country. While highly-skilled workers benefit from a blue card scheme, EU rules do not yet include non-seasonal low- and medium-skilled workers, job seekers, investors and self-employed third-country nationals.

In May 2021, the European Parliament called for more avenues for legal migration for workers, noting that both sending and receiving countries benefit from orderly migration, which reduces irregular migration and undermines human traffickers. In its resolution, the European Parliament suggested promoting circular migration, in order to combat the ‘brain drain’ as well as address labour shortages in the EU.

Integration of migrants

In the field of integration, the EU supports EU countries and develops guidance, while national governments are primarily responsible for creating and implementing social policies. In November 2020, the European Commission published an action plan on integration and inclusion, setting out efforts to integrate migrants in the EU and foster migrants’ participation in society.

Irregular migration

Irregular migrants are more vulnerable to labour exploitation and other forms of exploitation. The EU is tackling irregular migration through specific measures against human trafficking networks and smugglers, setting up a humane and effective return policy and targeting employers who hire undeclared migrant workers.

Smuggling of migrants by sea is one of the most dangerous forms of migrant smuggling and often requires serious humanitarian assistance. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) supports EU countries in controlling the EU’s external borders and in their return-related activities.

The European Parliament has expressed concern about human rights violations, in particular in the context of informal bilateral agreements on the return and readmission of irregular migrants. In a May 2021 resolution, the European Parliament urged the European Commission to sign formal agreements with third countries, in order to ensure adequate monitoring and evaluation as well as accountability mechanisms in irregular migrant return procedures.

Reform of the Dublin system

Under the current Dublin Regulation, the country where an asylum seeker first entered the EU has the responsibility for examining his or her asylum application. The migration crisis highlighted the weakness of the system, however, which does not provide harmonised conditions of reception. This means a high pressure is placed on a small number of EU countries and imbalances exist in the distribution of asylum seekers.

As a reform of the common asylum policy stalled in September 2020, the European Commission presented a new proposal (New Pact on Migration and Asylum) to replace the 2013 Dublin Regulation. The proposal aims at integrating asylum procedures and border management, implementing a robust crisis preparedness and response system. It also aims at reinforcing the fight against migrant smuggling, working with international partners, attracting skills and talent, and supporting integration. In particular, the European Commission proposes a structured and flexible solidarity mechanism between EU countries and the development of legal pathways for migration to Europe.

This proposal is being put forward for adoption under the ordinary legislative procedure, in which the European Parliament and Ministers of EU countries take decisions on an equal footing. Updates on the legislative procedure are available here.

In December 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a solidarity-based mechanism to ensure the respect of the right to asylum in the EU and a distributed responsibility among EU countries. Moreover, the European Parliament adopted a second resolution stressing the need to allocate more funds to building an effective and sustainable EU return policy.

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/2021/06/23/how-does-the-european-union-regulate-migration/

Outlook for the meetings of EU leaders on 24-25 June 2021

Written by Suzana Anghel and Ralf Drachenberg.


© Adobe Stock

At its meeting on 24-25 June 2021, the European Council will pursue its coordination efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic, discuss the situation on the various migration routes, return to the strategic debate on relations with Russia, revert to their discussions on Turkey and assess progress with the EU’s economic recovery. ‘The European Council will likely also address Belarus, Libya, Ethiopia and the Sahel. Regarding the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the EU leaders are expected to address the lessons learned from the pandemic, vaccine production, international solidarity and vaccine sharing, as well as the remaining obstacles relating to the right of free movement across the EU. The strategic debate on relations with Russia will pick up from the EU leaders’ discussion on 24-25 May 2021, on the basis of a new Commission report on the matter. As regards the EU’s economic recovery, the EU leaders will discuss the recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area and review the implementation of Next Generation EU. A Euro Summit meeting on 25 June will review progress on banking union and the capital markets union.

1. European Council agenda points

The only agenda items planned in advance for this June European Council, under the Leaders’ Agenda for 2020-21, were the future of Schengen and relations with the UK. While the latter subject was already addressed at the special European Council meeting of 24-25 May, the former has been taken off the agenda as a point in itself, but Schengen will be an important part of the discussions on the pandemic and on migration. The June 2021 meeting is the last on the current Leaders’ Agenda for 2020-21; whether President Michel will continue using this tool or propose a different way of planning the key topics for the European Council remains to be seen.

(*) The 24-25 May 2021 European Council meeting also agreed to discuss migration in June but this was not part of the formal conclusions.

The Presidents of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will report on the G7 discussions of 11-13 June in the UK, and also on the EU-Canada and the EU-US summits, of 14 and 15 June respectively.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, has been invited to join the meeting to discuss EU-UN cooperation to confront global challenges.

2. European Council meeting

Coronavirus pandemic

The European Council will discuss the coronavirus crisis (for the 18th time) addressing lessons learned from the pandemic, vaccine production, international solidarity and vaccine sharing, as well as the remaining obstacles relating to the right of free movement across the EU.

Covid-19: Lessons learned and future preparedness

The European Council will discuss a report on lessons learned from the pandemic, which they requested in February 2021 from the European Commission. Based on this report, EU leaders will discuss improving the EU’s preparedness for future crises; including topics such as diversifying supply chains, EU coordination, joint procurement and strategic reserves, and an annual Commission ‘state of preparedness’ report for the European Council and the European Parliament.

Production, delivery and deployment of vaccines

EU leaders are expected to discuss the production, deployment and delivery of vaccines in the EU, with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen providing an update on the state of play (353 million doses delivered and 299 million doses administered as of 14 June 2021). She may also update them on developments regarding issues such as the European Medicine Agency’s approval of a new manufacturing site producing the Moderna vaccine in France, the evaluation and use of some vaccines for children under 18 years of age, the contamination of a batch of an active substance for the Janssen vaccine, and the Commission’s legal action against AstraZeneca.

International solidarity and vaccine sharing

The European Council is likely to reiterate its support for COVAX, the EU being a major contributor, and highlight the need to accelerate the production and delivery of vaccines worldwide. EU leaders may continue to discuss the intellectual property waiver from the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement proposed by South Africa and India, and the alternative proposed by the Commission. President Michel stated at the Global Health Summit on 21 May 2021 that the EU was in favour of a ‘third way’ public-private partnership. However, on 10 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution proposing to start negotiations on a temporary waiver of the TRIPS Agreement for Covid-19 vaccines and other related medical products.

The proposal for an international treaty on pandemics was first announced by Mr Michel at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2020. At their meeting on 25 February 2021, EU leaders endorsed the suggestion, with a view to its being taken forward within the framework of the World Health Organization. It is expected that they will now also welcome the decision adopted by the 74th World Health Assembly to establish a Special World Health Assembly in November 2021 to consider the development of an international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response.

Remaining obstacles to the exercise of the right to free movement

The European Council is also due to discuss the remaining obstacles to the exercise of the right to free movement, and most likely it will welcome the adoption of the Council recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fewer and fewer Member States have temporary internal Schengen border controls as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic (Denmark, Finland, France and Hungary). At the same time, however, some of them (including Austria, Germany and Sweden) maintain controls at borders within the Schengen areas on grounds of secondary movements of migrants and/or risks relating to terrorists and organised crime.

In this context, on 2 June, with a view to reducing the need for temporary border controls, the Commission published a new strategy for the Schengen area. This strategy focuses on i) ensuring effective and modern management of the EU’s external borders; ii) reinforcing the Schengen area internally; iii) improving governance and crisis preparedness; and iv) completing the enlargement of the Schengen area. EU leaders might refer to this strategy and call for its rapid implementation.

Migration

Illegal border crossings 2009-2020Illegal border crossings 2009-2020
Illegal border crossings 2009-2020

For the first time since December 2018, migration will formally feature on the European Council’s agenda – although the Commission’s new communication on migration and asylum was submitted back in September 2020. EU leaders are not expected to discuss outstanding decisions on the asylum package, but will probably focus on the protection of the EU’s external borders and on cooperation with countries of origin and transit. They will also review the migration situation on the various routes.

While overall illegal migration flows remain low (see graph above), illegal border crossings between January and April 2021 increased compared to the same period last year:

This was the case notably for Spain and Italy, which experienced high numbers of irregular arrivals of migrants on their territories this spring. EU leaders are expected to call on the Commission and the High Representative to propose concrete action for cooperation with priority countries.

Economic recovery

EU leaders will assess progress made on implementation of the Next Generation EU recovery fund. While welcoming the entry into force of the Own Resources Decision on 1 June, which has enabled the Commission to start borrowing resources (€20 billion) for the recovery instrument, the European Council is expected to push for rapid implementation of the national recovery and resilience plans. EU leaders are likely to underline the need for timely implementation of these plans in order to allow Member States to make the most of Recovery and Resilience Facility funding. Furthermore, the European Council is expected to welcome the EU headline targets, in line with the Porto Declaration – an instrument through which, on 8 May 2021, EU leaders committed ‘to continue deepening the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights at EU and national level’. On the EU economy, EU leaders are also due to discuss the Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area for 2021, which encourages Member States to implement priority reforms and investments with the aim of making the euro area and its members more sustainable and resilient.

External relations

Russia

The European Council is expected to resume its May 2021 discussion on relations with Russia, on the basis of the joint communication and reiterating the five guiding principles identified in 2016. To uphold these principles the EU would have to simultaneously ‘push back’ against human rights violations, ‘constrain’ Russia’s attempts to undermine the Union’s interests, and ‘engage’ with Russia on subjects of common interest such as health and climate change. President Michel has stated that the EU stands united in condemning Russia’s illegal and provocative behaviour, and underlined that relations could improve ‘if Russia stops [its] disruptive behaviour’. EU leaders may once again express concern about the situation of Alexei Navalny, who is still imprisoned. Ahead of his 16 June meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, US President Joe Biden stressed that the possible death of Mr Navalny in prison would ‘hurt’ Russia’s relations with the ‘rest of the world’. Russia was discussed at the EU-US summit on 15 June, which confirmed the willingness of both the EU and the US to shape a renewed transatlantic policy agenda based on an enhanced dialogue on Russia.

Turkey

As regards Turkey, the European Council is expected to acknowledge the de-escalation efforts in the eastern Mediterranean. No further decisions are however expected for now since progress is still awaited regarding the resumption of negotiations on the settlement of the Cyprus problem as well as on human rights protection in Turkey. EU leaders might take note of the technical work being carried out to modernise the customs union and of the ‘preparatory work’ undertaken to establish high-level bilateral dialogues on health, climate change and counter-terrorism.  

EU leaders last discussed Turkey in March 2021, establishing the principle of ‘phased, proportional and reversed cooperation’, which will guide EU leaders when considering further cooperation depending on progress made on the normalisation of Greek-Turkish relations, on solving the Cyprus problem and on human rights protection in Turkey. Greece and Turkey have already held several rounds of ministerial-level talks, including on the delimitation of maritime zones, with the objective of ‘attempt[ing] an initial normalisation process’. There has been agreement on the need to ‘resolve differences within the framework of good neighbourly relations, international law and respect for mutual interests’. On the sidelines of the 2021 NATO summit, the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreed to a ‘quiet year’ for Greek-Turkish relations and to continued maritime delimitation talks and cooperation.

As regards the Cyprus problem, an informal 5+1 meeting was held in Geneva in April 2021, but ‘failed to achieve progress’. Antonio Guterres acknowledged that not ‘enough common ground’ had been found to resume negotiations formally and that another meeting, highly unlikely for now, would be convened ‘in the near future’. The President of Cyprus, Nikos Anastasiades, has stressed that stopping illegal drilling in the Cypriot economic exclusive zone is not sufficient to give a green light to a positive agenda with Turkey, which would require ‘positive behaviour’. He has warned that Cyprus could veto the positive agenda, pointing out that genuine progress on the Cyprus problem is among the conditions outlined by the European Council for further cooperation with Turkey.

3. Euro Summit

On 25 June, the Euro Summit will meet in inclusive format with all EU-27 leaders. The focus will be on economic challenges facing the euro area in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. EU leaders will receive an update on the state of play on banking union and the capital markets union.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/22/outlook-for-the-meetings-of-eu-leaders-on-24-25-june-2021/

European Parliament Plenary Session – June II 2021

Written by Clare Ferguson.

European union flag against parliament in Brussels, BelgiumEuropean union flag against parliament in Brussels, Belgium
© artjazz / Fotolia

For this second session of the month of June, Parliament sits in Brussels, with formal agreement on funding for the European Union’s green ambitions top of the agenda. António Guterres will address the plenary on Thursday, following his re-appointment to a second term as UN Secretary-General, on his priorities for a fair and sustainable post-pandemic recovery.

On Wednesday afternoon, Members will take part in a joint debate on three regulations in the proposed cohesion policy package under the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) that together ensure the EU continues to fulfil its goals in strengthening development of its regions through targeted Union funding.

The proposed Common Provisions Regulation for 2021‑2027 sets out new, simplified financial rules for eight EU funds in the light of the EU’s policy objectives for a greener, smarter, more social and connected Europe. Parliament has succeeded in raising co-financing rates for the regions, increasing resources earmarked for sustainable urban development, and ensuring the rules better reflect the EU’s new policy objectives. Parliament will consider formal adoption of the compromise text at second reading during this session.

The debate will also consider the proposal for a regulation on the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund, with Members also due to vote on these proposals at second reading during this session. With around one third of the entire EU budget dedicated to reducing regional disparities and promoting cohesion during this seven-year MFF period, the Regional Development Fund seeks to support infrastructure and energy efficiency investment, as well as providing economic assistance for small businesses, while the Cohesion Fund should encourage environmental projects and transport infrastructure in the least-developed regions. In line with the EU’s climate ambition, fossil fuel and landfill-related investments will be ineligible for funding. The compromise agreed between Parliament and Council takes up Parliament’s focus on lower thematic concentration and greater funding for sustainable urban development. Funding should now be available for job creation and digital connectivity, with a focus on renewables under the Cohesion Fund.

A third element of the proposed package is the revision of the regulation on European territorial cooperation, or ‘Interreg’, with Parliament expected to vote at second reading on the compromise reached between the co-legislators on the changes. Although Parliament has successfully secured the reintroduction of maritime border cooperation, as well as increased co- and pre-financing for Interreg programmes, the increased €8.05 billion budget for cross-border, outermost region and inter-regional cooperation nevertheless falls short of Parliament’s initial ambitions. If agreed, the proposal will launch a revamped cooperation programme, removing barriers to development and fostering innovation and joint strategies to help border regions find solutions to the issues they face in common, emphasising their proximity rather than their location in different countries.

On Thursday morning, Members attention turns to another opportunity to assist EU regions, specifically those facing the greatest challenges to surmount the transition to climate neutrality. The public sector loan facility within the EU Just Transition Mechanism, part of the InvestEU scheme (a key financial element of the EU Green Deal), aims at mobilising €25‑30 billion in public investment through grants and loans during the 2021‑2027 period. Members are expected to vote on formal agreement of a compromise that incorporates many of Parliament’s demands, including beneficiaries’ compliance with EU values, and a greater share of the loans for the poorest regions.

Achieving climate neutrality by 2050, however, is going to take concerted effort. The EU has proposed measures that should both assist the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and ensure that climate ambitions become reality. The European Green Deal provides an action plan for these efforts, and the proposed European Climate Law creates the legal framework underpinning the measures. On Thursday morning, Members are expected to consider adoption of the compromise agreed with the co-legislators. The agreement reflects Parliament’s consistent demands for a higher net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2030, particularly as it states that the EU should advance the volume of reductions and removals of greenhouse gases, possibly to a net reduction of 57 %, by 2030.

As other human activities also threaten biodiversity, Parliament is keen to encourage realistic measures to protect endangered species, such as the Greenland shark, as well as to ensure responsible management of cod fisheries. Parliament has therefore negotiated a provisional agreement with the Council setting out EU compliance with the conservation and enforcement measures for the Northwest Atlantic fisheries. Under the agreement, EU fishing vessels will respect conservation measures when fishing outside national waters in the region. These include seasonal closure and bans on bottom-fishing in some locations. Members are expected to vote on the compromise on Wednesday evening.

In a debate on Wednesday afternoon on the preparation of the next European Council, Members will hear statements from the Council and Commission on the preparation of the European Council meeting scheduled for later in the week, on 24‑25 June 2021.

Finally, the European Ombudsman is the EU’s independent guardian of accountability and transparency, ensuring EU institutions adhere to principles of good administration and respect EU citizens’ rights. In its 27 years’ existence, the role has developed considerably, leading to a need to revise the underpinning Statute, last amended in 2008. Following Parliament’s debate and vote to adopt a new statute for the European Ombudsman during the June I plenary session, and the Council’s subsequent consent, the plenary is expected to formally adopt the revised European Parliament regulation governing the role of the Ombudsman on Wednesday evening. This completes the procedure begun in 2019 to further strengthen and improve the Ombudsman’s role and effectiveness.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/22/european-parliament-plenary-session-june-ii-2021/

Priority dossiers under the Slovenian EU Council Presidency

Written by Lucienne Attard (The Directorate-General for the Presidency).

© tanaonte / Adobe Stock© tanaonte / Adobe Stock
© tanaonte / Adobe Stock

Slovenia will, in the second half of 2021, hold its second Presidency of the Council of the EU since joining the EU in 2004. It will conclude the work of the Trio Presidency composed of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia.

Slovenia is a democratic parliamentary republic with a proportional electoral system. The Slovenian parliament is bicameral, made up of the National Assembly (composed of 90 members) and the National Council (composed of 40 members). In the National Assembly, there are 88 representatives of political parties and two representatives of the Italian and Hungarian national communities, the latter two elected to represent their interests.

The National Assembly elects the Prime Minister and the government. The current government is a four-party coalition, made up of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS); the Modern Centre Party (SMC), the Democratic Party of Slovenian Pensioners (DeSUS) and New Slovenia—Christian Democrats (NSi). The Prime Minister, Mr Janez Janša from the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), was elected to office on 3 March 2020. The next general elections in Slovenia will take place no later than 5 June 2022.

Other political parties represented in parliament are the List of Marjan Šarec (LMS), Social Democrats (SD), Party of Alenka Bratušek (SAB), The Left, and the Slovenian National Party (SNS).


Read this complete briefing on ‘Priority dossiers under the Slovenian EU Council Presidency‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/22/priority-dossiers-under-the-slovenian-eu-council-presidency/

Microbiomes: Small little things that run life on Earth

Written by Gianluca Quaglio with Virginia Mahieu.

health and economic benefits of microbiomeshealth and economic benefits of microbiomes

‘Microbiota’ is a collective term referring to the reservoirs of micro-organisms living in the human body, in animals and in the environment. They are nearly ubiquitous, both in our soils and in our gut, working behind the scenes, but providing vital support to our health and well-being. Micro-organisms always live in microbial communities, which are quite diverse. Although the terms are used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between microbiome and microbiota. In fact, ‘microbiota’ refers to the actual organisms (‘bugs’) within a microbial community, and ‘microbiome’ to the organisms of a microbial community in its ‘theatre of activity’, i.e. taking environmental conditions into consideration, for example.

The human being has evolved with microbiomes and they are an integral part of life on Earth, although they have been relatively absent from the public consciousness. Scientific evidence of the last two decades shows the vital importance of microbiomes in our lives. The STOA workshop on the ‘Health and economic benefits of microbiomes‘ , held online on 21 May 2021, provided an insight into the importance of microbiomes in human, animal and environmental health, and how they could contribute to mitigating pollution and climate change, and boosting the European economy. Speakers illustrated the wide variety of applications and impacts of microbiomes and highlighted the ways in which their regulation at EU level could be improved.

STOA Chair Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece) opened the workshop by setting the scene on the role of microbiomes in health and the issues related when their balance is upset, as well as the related threats of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). She noted the current lack of EU regulation directly pertaining to microbiomes and stressed that it is crucial in the areas of healthcare and environmental sustainability that policy-making is guided by scientific and clinical evidence.

Microbiomes are vital to human, animal and environmental health

Emmanuelle Maguin, senior researcher at the French Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRAE), provided an insight into the roles that microbiomes play in the human being. Microbiomes and the host-microbe interplay are well documented. The human body offers microbiomes a sort of ‘shelter’, and in return they provide a number of ‘services’, such as protection against pathogens and support to our immune system and metabolism, breaking down fibre that we cannot digest, synthesising essential compounds such as vitamins, even metabolising drugs.

In the last 60 years, industrialised societies have markedly changed our lifestyles in terms of nutrition, food systems and food, physical activity, childbirth, drug treatments (including antibiotics), exposure to environmental factors etc. All these recent modifications are putting the human-microbe symbiosis at risk of progressive functional alterations.

The recent accumulation of knowledge on microbiomes radically transforms the human health paradigm inherited from our experience with infectious diseases and other pathological conditions. From a linear vision of one microbial agent and its ability to generate a disease, we have moved to a more complex situation, where the interactions between numerous environmental, host and microbiome factors determine the risk of developing a disease and possibly even the response to a given therapy.

The recent concepts of the One-Health approach and personalised medicine are integrating this complexity considering the specific history of the host, environmental exposure, and sometimes microbiome specificities and modifications over a human lifespan. However, there is still a need to advance knowledge on these multifactorial interactions. A key prerequisite for producing robust data and providing meaningful analyses is the availability and large-scale use of harmonised standards and operating procedures, as well as access to unified repositories.

This new vision necessitates reconsideration of our current health and medical approaches. This should enable us to integrate the environment-microbiome-host interactions as key elements in prevention of disease and maintenance of a healthy state, to re-examine and to create new diagnostic and therapeutic tools, and to devise the required regulatory framework for microbiome-based innovations and increase awareness of, as well as information and training in this paradigm.

The balance of microbiomes is important not only in our bodies and in nature, but also in ‘built environments’, as Elisabetta Caselli, from the University of Ferrara pointed out. Hospitals have their own microbiome, and persistent use of chemical disinfectants on surfaces leads to the selection for multi-drug antimicrobial resistant (AMR) pathogens that can cause HAIs. HAIs are a global concern, each year affecting over 4 million patients in the EU, with about 90 000 avoidable deaths and €1.1 billion of extra sanitary costs.

Modulating the hospital microbiome by using probiotic cleaning hygiene systems to reduce pathogens and AMR in clinical settings could be a new and effective method. This system, called probiotic-based sanitation (PBS), contains selected probiotic bacteria, which are non-pathogenic and also present in the human gut and diet. A number of studies that applied PBS showed a massive decrease in pathogens on surfaces compared to using chemical-based sanitation, as well as a decrease in AMR genes, while presenting no risk to hospital patients. Furthermore, it led to a considerable decrease in costs related to HAIs. The PBS approach could open new perspectives in the fight against infections of bacterial, fungal and viral origin, including SARS‑CoV‑2.

Shifting the focus from human health to that of animals and the environment, Lene Lange, of BioEconomy Research & Advisory, explained that the gut microbiome is highly relevant for the agricultural industry, particularly in the breeding of pigs, chicken and fish. Harnessing it can give a better life to livestock with less inflammation and a lower mortality rate, and could reduce the use of antibiotics and thus the threat of AMR. Animal health can be improved by analysing the gut microbiome and producing feed with beneficial effects: probiotics (beneficial microbes) and prebiotics (fibre) are anti-inflammatory components that can be added to or released through fermentation of the feed, producing a cascade of good products that strengthen the gut flora. She recommended making these gut microbiome-improving animal feed additives a part of dietary requirements in industrial animal breeding.

The speaker also noted that the same concept as HAIs, mentioned above, can be applied to natural ecosystems: ‘undisturbed’ nature offers insight into a healthy balance of microbiomes in soils, and can inform biological measures to strengthen them and reduce pesticide use (crucial for halting biodiversity loss), improve nutrition efficiency, and mitigate climate change. Furthermore, estimates of emissions from permafrost melt can be made by monitoring the soil microbiome, and study of bacteria-rich wastewater can inform soil-improvement products and track the spread and development of AMRs. Dr Lange concluded by saying that microbiomes present a scientists’ dream pool for the discovery of new enzymes, recommending that their research would benefit from becoming more cross-sectorial with EU support and given a high priority.

Microbiomes could support a circular bio-economy, but currently face regulatory gaps

To elaborate on the crucial roles of microbiomes in maintaining life on Earth and their potential role in the economy, Angela Sessitsch from the Austrian Institute of Technology spoke about how these ‘tiny little things run the Earth and the circular economies’. Microbiomes are key for ecosystem function and can be considered a natural resource. In soils, they perform vital functions: contributing to growth and nutrient cycling by fixing nitrogen and methane, breaking down plant cells, and through fermentation, all reducing expensive fertiliser needs and greenhouse gas emissions. They have a variety of important environmental uses such as breaking down organic waste, toxic compounds and plastics, and they can improve sustainable food, feed and biofuel production. Specifically, agricultural management practices can favour microbiome conditions and thus improve food production.

These potential applications for better, more sustainable agriculture and recycling can contribute to a circular bio-economy, which has been acknowledged by several organisations including the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and microbiomes can substantially contribute to Sustainable Development Goals and EU Green Deal ambitions. Their many applications are also extremely promising for market growth in medical areas: they can generate economic value through products and therapies, diagnostics, predictions and personalised medicine and food. To best exploit microbiomes, the EU needs to increase awareness about them and integrate them into cross-sectorial policies.

Indeed, microbiomes are not yet regulated at the EU level. Marta Hugas from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) spoke about the safety and regulatory challenges of microbiome innovations. One of EFSA’s core tasks is to assess risks to human, animal and environmental health from substances linked to food and feed production The increasing role of microbiomes in health calls for a prospective mapping of their various roles into regulatory assessment, with a view to understanding their potential health impact in the various hosts.

Legal requirements under EU food law do not specify that risk assessments account for microbiomes. There is currently also no internationally agreed guidance or methodology in place to systematically assess possible effects on the microbiomes, or caused by the microbiomes, on human, animal or plant health. Translating a decrease in microbiome diversity into a functional effect is challenging, as there are currently no standards for defining a healthy microbiome.

EFSA is currently working on integrating the new scientific information on microbiomes and clarifying how it can be applied. There are suspicions that differences between animal and human microbiomes could be the reason for the differences that sometimes exist between studies and clinical trials, which raises questions as to how to interpret toxicological studies. Further questions include determining criteria for when an effect becomes adverse and establishing causality between metabolic pathways and microbiota (i.e. if a disease is the cause or the effect of microbiome imbalance). Research does not usually focus on regulatory science. EFSA will therefore soon publish the research questions the EU and Member State levels need to address from a regulatory perspective, such as the link between microbiomes and diet/toxicology.

While the field of microbiomes holds genuine promise, it is also subject to hype. Challenges remain with regard to the standardisation of terms and protocols, and credible and well-tailored information is needed. These issues were addressed by Kathleen D’Hondt, from the Department of Economy, Science and Innovation of the Flemish Government. For example, many health claims ascribed to food products targeting the microbiome lack sufficient scientific substantiation and are merely associative, with no established causal pathway. For such a promising scientific field to lead to innovative applications, policies on science and innovation could be improved in several areas: (1) international research should be strengthened, with common access to a large interconnected data infrastructure; (2) standard protocols are required for clinical design and marker validation, as better characterisation of a healthy gut will be important for establishing disease biomarkers; (3) public-private collaboration could be reinforced; (4) the framework for evaluating health claims for new food products and new dietary approaches needs to be improved. Finally, (5) healthcare professionals and the public should be informed in a clearer and more understandable way.

In his closing remarks, Othmar Karas, Vice-President of the European Parliament (PPE, Austria) and STOA Panel member, noted how microbiomes dominate every aspect of our lives. Studying microbiomes and their effects opens a range of new possibilities in medicine, agriculture, the circular economy, waste decomposition, recycling, and sustainable energy generation. The last few years have seen a number of tools put forward such as the circular economy action plan, the Farm to Fork Strategy, and the EU4Health programme. Nevertheless, he concluded, a lack of EU regulation persists around microbiomes and these gaps must be filled: ‘Now we need to act’.

The full recording of the workshop is available here.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/21/microbiomes-small-little-things-that-run-life-on-earth/

Data Governance Act [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Hendrik Mildebrath (1st edition).

© ra2 studio / Adobe Stock© ra2 studio / Adobe Stock
© ra2 studio / Adobe Stock

Data is a key pillar of the European digital economy. To unlock its potential, the European Commission aims to build a market for personal and non-personal data that fully respects European rules and values. While the volume of data is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years, data re-use is hampered by low trust in data-sharing, conflicting economic incentives and technological obstacles. As the first of a set of measures announced in the European strategy for data, the Commission put forward its proposed data governance act on 25 November 2020. It aims at facilitating (largely) voluntary data sharing across the EU and between sectors by strengthening mechanisms that increase data availability and foster trust in intermediaries. It establishes three principle re-use mechanisms and a horizontal coordination and steering board. While there seems to be considerable support for data governance rules, the appropriate approach remains fundamentally disputed. Issues have been raised concerning, for instance, the ineffectiveness of labelling and registration regimes to foster trust and data re-use, the uncertain interplay with other legislative acts, the onerous rules on international data transfers and the vulnerability of certain mechanisms to commercial exploitation. The co-legislators, the European Parliament and Council, are in the process of assessing whether the Commission’s proposal presents an adequate response to the challenges identified and are working towards defining their respective positions.

Versions

EU Legislation in progress: Committee voteEU Legislation in progress: Committee vote

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/21/data-governance-act-eu-legislation-in-progress/

New STOA study ‘Carbon-free steel: Cost reduction options and usage of existing gas infrastructure’

Written by Andrés García Higuera.

hydrogen steel makinghydrogen steel making
© VITO/EnergyVille

To assess the prospects of success for Europe’s Green Deal policies (most importantly, the transition to a carbon-neutral EU economy by 2050), it is necessary to address the evolving technological and behavioural trends and their impact on the implementation of the Green Deal.

With this in mind, the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) has published a new study exploring the options for decarbonising the iron and steel production processes, focusing on the use of renewable hydrogen as an alternative to fossil coal. This study was commissioned by STOA from VITO/EnergyVille, following STOA Panel approval of a proposal submitted by Panel member Tiemo Wölken (S&D, Germany). The study explains the basic physical and chemical differences between alternative processes, their cost structures and the potential for further cost reductions, as well as the larger implications and longer-term consequences of switching to hydrogen in this key industrial sector.

Steel is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise and has recently received special attention due to the potential use of low-carbon hydrogen to reduce fuel combustion and process-related carbon emissions in the industry. This study addresses concerns that might arise while evaluating the potential and limitations of the future role of hydrogen in decarbonising the iron and steel industries. The sector is one of the pillars of the European industry and job market, supporting approximately 2.7 million (direct and indirect) jobs. In 2019, the production of crude steel in Europe was 157 Mt, which accounted for 4 % of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Europe.

Investment decisions in the steel sector are challenging, since margins are tight and competition is fierce. The slowdown due to the pandemic has worsened the situation, resulting in a reduction in demand for steel products in 2020. In Europe alone, prices have fallen nearly 30 % since 2018. Furthermore, manufacturing sectors are now including carbon neutrality in their strategies, putting pressure on steel producers to embrace these commitments while remaining competitive and maintaining their place in the supply chain. In Europe, some blast furnaces are almost 25 years old, making them suitable candidates for technology replacement, while others have recently undergone refurbishments that entailed large investment. In the coming decades, this situation could open a window of opportunities to replace current assets with cleaner, novel technologies. Nevertheless, the decision to shift to a cleaner route is site-specific and will come at different times.

Currently, 60 % of steel produced in Europe originates from the integrated blast furnace/basic oxygen furnace route (BF/BOF), which emits around 1.9 tCO2/tsteel. Other routes, for instance, the natural-gas-based NG‑DRI and Scrap‑EAF generate lower emissions, with 1.4 tCO2/tsteel and 0.4 tCO2/tsteel, respectively. Of the total steel produced in Europe, 60 % (94 Mt) originates from the BF/BOF route and is more suitable for the hydrogen direct reduction route (H‑DRI). Estimates suggest that 94 Mt of ‘green steel’ would require approximately 37‑60 GW of electrolyser capacity, producing approximately 6.6 Mt of hydrogen per year.

By comparison, the EU hydrogen strategy aims at installing 40 GW of electrolyser capacity within the EU by 2030. The authors estimate that these electrolysers would consume approximately 296 TWh of green electricity per year; as a reference, Germany produced 176 TWh of green electricity in total in 2020. Several H‑DRI projects have been backed by iron and steel producers across Europe. The companies involved expect the technology to reach commercialisation at large capacities by 2035. This transition will create demand for low-carbon hydrogen (60‑80 kgH2/tsteel). This hydrogen could be supplied by installing electrolysers on-site, in which case the storage of hydrogen could guarantee an uninterrupted hydrogen supply. An alternative is the use of pipelines to link the hydrogen production sites with consumption locations. Both methods are challenging and the prevalence of one over the other depends strongly on the location of the steel plant and access to low-cost renewable energy.

This study was preceded by the STOA briefing ‘The potential of hydrogen for decarbonising steel production‘ and some of its results were presented at the STOA online workshop ‘Decarbonising European industry: hydrogen and other solutions‘ held on 1 March 2021. True to its mission of providing Parliament’s committees and other parliamentary bodies with independent, high-quality and scientifically impartial studies, STOA continues working on this strategic topic and exploring the potential of hydrogen for decarbonising other sectors of EU industry.

Read the full report to find out more.

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

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/18/new-stoa-study-carbon-free-steel-cost-reduction-options-and-usage-of-existing-gas-infrastructure/

Community sponsorship schemes under the new pact on migration and asylum: Take-up by EU regions and cities

Written by Anja Radjenovic.

© Riko Best / Adobe Stock© Riko Best / Adobe Stock
© Riko Best / Adobe Stock

The number of people in the world that are forcibly displaced inside or outside their home country has risen significantly in recent years, as also showcased by the unprecedented arrival of refugees and irregular migrants in the EU since 2015. This highlights an urgent need to ensure organised, legal and safe pathways for protecting migrants who embark on dangerous journeys in an attempt to enter countries of destination irregularly, or find themselves in protracted refugee situations.

A potential solution is the community sponsorship scheme, understood as encompassing several different approaches for refugee admission to third countries other than countries of origin or transit. The concept includes a shared responsibility between civil society and the state when engaging in refugee admission efforts, by providing financial, emotional, social and/or settlement support to help newly arrived refugees integrate in a third country.

Community sponsorship for integration is particularly important in the EU, where local and national governments, alongside civil society, have been pondering how best to support newcomers and ease integration and social cohesion. Since 2015, the concept has been piloted and launched in several EU countries, including through the active input of regions and cities.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Community sponsorship schemes under the new pact on migration and asylum: Take-up by EU regions and cities‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/06/18/community-sponsorship-schemes-under-the-new-pact-on-migration-and-asylum-take-up-by-eu-regions-and-cities/