Месечни архиви: юли 2021

Development of organic production in the EU: 2021-2027 action plan

Written by Anna Caprile and James McEldowney.

In May 2020, the European Commission published its ‘farm to fork’ strategy – ‘for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system’ – along with the EU biodiversity strategy, as part of the implementation of the European Green Deal. In those strategies the Commission set a target of 25 % of the EU’s agricultural land to be under organic farming by 2030, as well as a significant increase in organic aquaculture. These targets aim to contribute to improving the sustainability of the food system, to reverse biodiversity loss and to reduce the use of chemical substances in the form of pesticides and fertilisers. The Commission’s 2021 work programme set out its intention to prepare an action plan for the development of organic production for the 2021 to 2027 period, and the action plan was published on 25 March 2021.

Offering an initial analysis of the action plan, this briefing outlines the measures envisaged and the implications for different stages of the food chain in the EU. It also examines the results of the public consultation launched by the Commission in September 2020 to gather stakeholders’ views on the challenges and opportunities for the organic sector. The views of key stakeholders in response to the publication of the action plan are also covered, along with the initial views expressed by the advisory committees.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Development of organic production in the EU: 2021-2027 action plan‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Conference on the Future of Europe: EU in the World

Written by Lena Hirschenberger.

The Conference on the Future of Europe’s aim is to debate how the EU should develop in the future and to give European citizens a voice in the process, announced Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her inaugural address.

People’s ideas will be collected on the Digital Platform, in European Citizens’ Panels and de-centralised conference events all over Europe. The Conference Plenary – comprised of representatives of the Citizens’ Panels, the Parliament, the Council, the Commission, national parliaments, the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee, social partners and the European Youth Forum – will then discuss the ideas put forward. Launched in April 2021, the conference is expected to reach conclusions and provide guidance for the European institutions to follow up, by spring 2022.

The conference topics are divided into nine areas, with one additional ‘open’ area, reserved for out-of-the-box ideas. The topics are: ‘Climate change and the environment‘, ‘Health‘, ‘A stronger economy, social justice and jobs‘, ‘European Union in the world‘, ‘Values and rights, rule of law, security‘, ‘Digital transformation‘, ‘European democracy‘, ‘Migration‘, ‘Education, culture, youth and sport‘, and ‘Other ideas‘.

‘Europe in the world’ will look at the European Union’s global engagement and covers such questions as: What role should the EU play in the world? How can we ensure security? With which partners, and in which forms, do we want to trade? Who are our neighbours and how should we interact with them? Who do we want to include in the European Union? What should development cooperation look like and which humanitarian aid and civil protection actions should we take?

To support the proceedings of the conference, our EPRS policy analysts have prepared research material, available here in reverse chronological order. The following list will continually be updated as the conference unfolds:

Interactive Infographic on Peace and Security, 2020.

European Peace Facility – Investing in international stability and security
Briefing by Beatrix Immenkamp, June 2021, 12 pages.

European Peace Facility: EPRS Policy Podcast, 2021.

Peace and Security: Non-traditional threats, EPRS In-a-nutshell video, 2021

Critical raw materials in EU external policies: Improving access and raising global standards
Briefing by Marcin Szczepanski, May 2021, 12 pages.  

International trade dispute settlement: WTO Appellate Body crisis and the multiparty interim appeal arrangement
Briefing by Jana Titievskaia, April 2021, 8 pages.  

Understanding EU financing for external action
In-Depth Analysis by Velina Lilyanova, February 2021, 41 pages.  

Charting a course through stormy waters: The EU as a maritime security actor
Briefing by Tania Latici, Eric Pichon, and Branislav Stanicek, February 2021, 12 pages.

Support for democracy through EU external policy: New tools for growing challenges
Briefing by Ionel Zamfir, February 2021, 12 pages.  

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: An analytical overview
In-Depth Analysis by Issam Hallak, February 2021, 37 pages.

Qualified majority voting in foreign and security policy: Pros and Cons
Briefing byTania Latici,January 2021, 8 pages.

After Cotonou: Towards a new agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific states
Briefing by Eric Pichon, January 2021, 12 pages.

EU-Turkey customs union: Modernisation or suspension?
Briefing by Branislav Stanicek, December 2020, 8 pages.

Global mega-trends: Scanning the post-coronavirus horizon
Briefing by Danièle Réchard, November 2020, 7 pages.  

Understanding EU-NATO cooperation: Theory and practice
Briefing by Tania Latici, October 2020, 12 pages.  

On the path to ‘strategic autonomy’: The EU in an evolving geopolitical environment
Study by various EPRS authors, September 2020, 60 pages.  

Peace and Security in 2020: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future
Study by Elena Lazarou and others, September 2020, 112 pages.  

The future of multilateralism and strategic partnerships
Briefing by Elena Lazarou, September 2020, 12 pages. 

International trade policy
Briefing by Jana Titievskaya, July 2020, 11 pages.

The EU and Russia: Locked into confrontation
Briefing by Martin Russell, July 2020, 12 pages.  

EU-China relations: Taking stock after the 2020 EU-China Summit
Briefing by Gisela Grieger, June 2020, 12 pages.

Towards a new EU strategy with Africa: A renewed focus on outreach
Briefing byErich PichonJune 2020, 8 pages.  

A new approach to EU enlargement
Briefing by Branislav Stanicek, March 2020, 4 pages. 

Religion and the EU’s external policies: Increasing engagement
In-Depth Analysis by Philippe Perchoc et al, February 2020, 44 pages. 

The European Parliament’s evolving soft power – From back-door diplomacy to agenda-setting: Democracy support and mediation,  
Briefing by Naja Bentzen and Beatrix Immenkamp, September 2019, 8 pages.  

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Trade and Investment Agreements [Topical Digest]

Bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs) have proliferated globally in recent years as major initiatives to reform consensus-driven WTO system have stalled. The EU is working to secure the survival of the multilateral tradi ng system embodied in the WTO, while also seeking bilateral trade agreements with partner countries from Asia to Latin America. The European Parliament, which must give its consent to EU FTAs and investment agreements, has consistently promoted values-based trade, particularly when it comes to the issues of human rights, and social, labour and environmental standards. This topical digest summarises the most recent research written for Parliament policymakers. A topical digest on international trade is also available.

Legislative trains on trade
The Legislative Train Schedule – resembling the arrivals-departures board in a railway station – provides a summary of the state of play of trade legislation and international trade agreements all in one place. 

Trade agreements by continent

North America

Climate-proofing transatlantic trade: How green and how open?
Chapter 2.2 in Harnessing the new momentum in transatlantic relations: Potential areas for common action during the Biden presidency, in-depth analysis by Tania Latici, Suzana Anghel, Piotr Bakowski, Meenakshi Fernandes, Liselotte Jensen, Matthew Parry and Marcin Szczepanski, June 2021

EU-US dispute over civil aircraft subsidies
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, November 2020
A short background to the long-lasting WTO dispute, including tariffs, countermeasures and retaliation.

EU-US trade and investment relations: Effects on tax evasion, money laundering and tax transparency
In-depth analysis by Isabelle Ioannides, March 2017
This study analyses EU-US trade and investment relations to assess whether and, if so, to what extent these relations have impacted on issues related to tax evasion, money laundering and tax transparency. Challenges remain on questions of beneficial ownership, cross-border exchange of information, privacy issues, and designated nonfinancial businesses and professions.

US: Economic indicators and trade with EU
‘At a glance’ note by Györgyi Macsai and Giulio Sabbati, June 2021

Asia and Pacific

EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment: Levelling the playing field with China
International agreements in progress, Gisela Grieger, March 2021
The lack of reciprocity in access to the Chinese market and the absence of a level playing field for EU investors in China have posed major challenges for EU-China investment relations in recent years, with the EU considering negotiation of a comprehensive agreement on investment (CAI) key to remedying the situation.

Trade negotiations between the EU and ASEAN member states
Briefing by Krisztina Binder, November 2020
In the longer term, these bilateral FTAs would allow the establishment of a region-to-region FTA, which remains the EU’s ultimate ambition. By bringing together two of the world’s largest economic areas, the agreement would establish a free trade area with a combined market of more than 1 billion people

State of play of EU-New Zealand FTA talks
‘At a glance’ note by Krisztina Binder, November 2020
Negotiations on an EU FTA with New Zealand, one of the fastest-growing developed economies in the world, were launched in June 2018. Eight negotiating rounds took place between July 2018 and June 2020, resulting in the closure of the future FTA’s transparency chapter.

State of play of EU-Australia FTA talks
‘At a glance’ note by Krisztina Binder, November 2020
In May 2018, the Council authorised the Commission to negotiate an FTA with Australia. Negotiations were officially launched in June 2018. Between July 2018 and September 2020, eight negotiation rounds took place. The first chapter of the prospective EU-Australia FTA, concluded at the technical level, concerns small and medium-sized enterprises. The ninth negotiation round started on 30 November 2020.

EU-China geographical indications agreement
‘At a glance’ note, by Gisela Grieger, September 2020
The reciprocal EU-China agreement seeks to protect 100 EU GIs in China and 100 Chinese GIs in the EU against imitation and usurpation. Council endorsed the agreement’s signature on 20 July 2020. The agreement could boost EU exports of high-quality foodstuffs, wines and spirits to the EU’s third-largest destination for agrifood exports, and also foster rural development. It should also expand global recognition of the EU’s GI protection regime, a key EU trade policy objective.

EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements
Briefing by Martin Russell, February 2020
In 2019, Vietnam became the second south-east Asian country after Singapore to sign trade and investment agreements with the EU. The agreements are expected to bring major economic benefits to both sides, but opinions are divided on whether Parliament should consent to them, owing to human rights issues in Vietnam.

EU free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand
Briefing by Vadim Kononenko, February 2018
This note offers an initial analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the European Commission’s impact assessment accompanying the FTA proposals, submitted on 13 September 2017 and referred to Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA). For the Commission, the proposals marked a step towards fulfilling key criteria for the EU’s trade relations with third countries.

International agreements in progress: EU-Singapore trade and investment deals pass major milestone
‘At a glance’ note by Krisztina Binder, April 2019
The EU-Singapore agreements are considered a reference as regards the EU’s ambition to conclude trade and investment agreements with other ASEAN members.

International agreements in progress: Bilateral trade deal with Japan – largest to date for EU
‘At a glance’ note by Krisztina Binder, February 2019
Following the signature of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in July 2018, and the conclusion of the ratification procedures by both partners at the end of 2018, the agreement entered into force on 1 February 2019. The agreement is the EU’s largest bilateral trade agreement to date. It establishes a free trade area with a combined market of around 640 million consumers, accounting for roughly a third of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

International agreements in progress: EU-Vietnam Trade and Investment Agreements
Briefing by Martin Russell, November 2019
The free trade and investment protection agreements with Vietnam have been described as the most ambitious deal of their type ever between the EU and a developing country. Not only will they eliminate over 99 % of customs duties on goods, they will also open up Vietnamese services markets to EU companies and strengthen protection of EU investment in the country.

India: Economic indicators and trade with EU
‘At a glance’ note by Giulio Sabbati, April 2021

Australia: Economic indicators and trade with EU
‘At a glance’ note by Nadejda Kresnichka-Nikolchova, February 2020

Indonesia: Economic indicators and trade with EU
‘At a glance’ note by Nadejda Kresnichka-Nikolchova, December 2019

China: Economic indicators and trade with EU
‘At a glance’ note by Nadejda Kresnichka-Nikolchova, December 2019

Latin America

EU trade with Latin America and the Caribbean: Overview and figures
In depth analysis by Gisela Grieger, December 2019
This publication provides an overview of trade relations between the EU and Latin American and Caribbean countries and groupings. The EU has fully fledged agreements with two Latin American groupings (Cariforum and the Central America group), a multiparty trade agreement with three members of the Andean Community (Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), and bilateral agreements with Chile and Mexico. Since November 2017, a new agreement governing trade relations with Cuba has also been provisionally applied.

Modernisation of the trade pillar of the EU-Mexico Global Agreement
Briefing by Gisela Grieger, October 2020
The trade pillar of the Global Agreement was the first trade liberalisation agreement the EU concluded with a Latin American country. It has contributed to a significant increase in EU-Mexico trade in services and industrial goods. However, it has become outdated, as both parties have entered into a wide range of preferential trade agreements with state-of-the art provisions reflecting new developments in trade and investment policies.

Amazon deforestation and EU-Mercosur deal
‘At a glance’ note by Gisela Grieger, October 2020
After coming to a political agreement on the trade pillar of the three-pronged EU-Mercosur association agreement in June 2019, the EU and the four founding members of Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) reached agreement on the political dialogue and cooperation parts in July 2020. However, as environmental deregulation and deforestation continue unabated in Brazil, opposition to the deal is growing. It is unlikely to be submitted to the European Parliament for consent in its current form.

The trade pillar of EU-Mercosur Association Agreement
Briefing by Gisela Grieger, September 2019
On 28 June 2019, the European Union (EU) and the four founding members of Mercosur (the ‘Southern Common Market’) – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – reached an ‘agreement in principle’ on a free trade agreement (FTA) as part of a wider association agreement (AA).

Modernisation of the trade pillar of the EU-Chile Association Agreement
‘At a glance’ note by Gisela Grieger, November 2018
In November 2017, the EU and Chile launched negotiations on a modernised trade pillar of the 2002 EU-Chile Association Agreement, based on a Council negotiating mandate which is the first-ever to have been published prior to the start of negotiations with a view to enhancing transparency and inclusiveness.

The trade pillar in the EU-Central America Association Agreement: European implementation assessment
Study by Isabelle Ioannides, October 2018
This evaluation assesses specifically the implementation of the trade and sustainable development (TSD) chapter of the trade pillar of this agreement during the five years of its operation. After briefly outlining the trade interests of this agreement, this study situates sustainable development by explaining its legal foundations in the Association Agreement and reviewing the ex-ante impact assessment conclusions on the issue. It then focuses on the monitoring mechanisms of the Association Agreement, including the European Commission’s annual reports, Parliament’s oversight work, civil society dialogue, and the results of the meetings of the specialised committee and annual Association Committee and Association Council meetings.

Trade agreement between the EU and Colombia and Peru
Study by Anna Zygierewicz, July 2018
This European implementation assessment consists of two parts. The in-house opening analysis (Part I) presents briefly the signature of the trade agreement between the EU and Colombia and Peru. The research paper prepared by external experts (Part II) presents detail analysis of trade in goods and services and foreign direct investments. The paper also evaluates in detail the implementation of the trade and sustainable development chapter of the agreement in both Colombia and Peru.

The effects of human rights-related clauses in the EU-Mexico Global Agreement and the EU-Chile Association Agreement
Study by Isabelle Ioannides, February 2017
The democracy clause in the EU-Mexico Global Agreement and by extension the EU-Mexico Free Trade Agreement calls for respect for fundamental human rights. If these are breached, a sanctioning clause can be invoked. The widely reported violations of human rights in Mexico are tackled through political dialogue. The agreement includes cooperation articles on social policy, the results of which are non-binding. Against this background, it is difficult to make a clear link between the potential effects of human rights-related clauses in the Global Agreement on the human rights situation in Mexico. The EU-Chile Association Agreement (AA) also includes a comprehensive free trade agreement, which is subject to the democracy clause.

Mercosur: Economic indicators and trade with EU
‘At a glance’ note by Giulio Sabbati, December 2021

Africa

An overview of the EU-ACP countries’ economic partnership agreements: Building a new trade relationship
Briefing by Ionel Zamfir, July 2018
In line with the objective enshrined in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (signed in 2000), the EU has sought to update its preferential trade relationship with the ACP countries by establishing free-trade areas with regional groupings. The negotiation process has been longer and more complicated than initially expected. So far, it has ushered in nine agreements covering more than half (51) of the ACP countries.

International agreements in progress: Economic partnership agreement with the East African Community
Briefing by Eric Pichon, April 2018
The current ACP-EU Partnership Agreement (the ‘Cotonou Partnership Agreement’) features a provision making it possible for the EU to negotiate different economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with regional ACP sub-groups. This provision was needed for the partnership to be brought into compliance with the World Trade Organization’s rules. Negotiations for an EPA with the members of the East African Community (EAC) – at the time: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda – were finalised in October 2014.

Europe

The level playing-field for labour and environment in EU-UK relations
Briefing by Issam Hallak, April 2021
Although the TCA LPF provisions on labour and environment are in many respects similar to those in the EU’s new generation FTAs, they strengthen the enforcement of non-regression provisions by allowing for remedial measures, and also reinforce the precautionary approach. The TCA also represents a notable innovation with its rebalancing and review provisions.

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: An analytical overview
In-depth analysis by Issam Hallak et al, February 2021
This agreement is the institutional framework, that governs the new EU-UK relationship. It establishes trade on zero-tariff/quota terms and covers a wide range of areas, including energy, transport and fisheries.

UK trade agreements with third countries: Implications for the EU
Briefing by Issam Hallak, December 2020
The UK is aiming to become a champion of free trade. As expressed by Secretary of State Liz Truss in February 2020, the UK’s objective is to ‘secure free trade agreements with countries covering 80 % of UK trade within the next three years’ – which leaves no alternative but to secure a deal with the EU. By placing the Pacific area among its highest trade priorities, the UK is also proving to be seeking to ‘diversify [its] trading links and supply chains’, as mentioned in the CPTPP position statement, thus reducing its dependence on the EU.

Excluding Northern Irish imports from EU tariff rate quotas
Briefing by Issam Hallak, December 2020
To address the problem of the proper functioning of the EU single market and to provide legal clarification, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal on 14 August 2020 stipulating that goods imported into Northern Ireland from non-EU countries would not benefit from EU tariff rate quotas or other import quotas unless ultimately destined for the EU.

Association agreement between the EU and Ukraine: European implementation assessment (update)
Study by Anna Zygierewicz, July 2020
The EU recognises the progress made in implementing the association agreement in Ukraine, but still points to the efforts needed in order to achieve the expected results. According to the latest EU association implementation report, Ukraine successfully completed the presidential and parliamentary electoral cycles and continued to implement several important reforms, with significant involvement of civil society in the process

Association agreement between the EU and the Republic of Moldova: European implementation assessment (update)
Study by Anna Zygierewicz, July 2020
Moldova’s implementation of its association agreement/deep and comprehensive free trade agreement (AA/DCFTA) with the EU is progressing and is influencing the country’s development positively. Despite Moldova being ‘the poorest country in Europe’, various reports underline that it is enjoying economic growth of around 5 % a year and ‘has made significant progress in reducing poverty and promoting inclusive growth since the early 2000s’.

Association agreement between the EU and Georgia: European implementation assessment (update)
Study by Anna Zygierewicz, July 2020
According to the 2019 association implementation report on Georgia by the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR/VP), Georgia is continuing to implement the AA/DCFTA within the time limits agreed with the EU, and with ‘extensive commitments in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law’.

UK: Economic indicators and trade with EU
‘At a glance’ note by Giulio Sabbati, February 2020

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International Trade [Topical Digest]

Trade policy has continued to occupy international headlines since President Trump imposed US tariffs leading to ‘trade wars’; the pandemic has meanwhile highlighted the need to ensure supply chain resilience. In this context, the EU is working to secure the survival of the multilateral trading system, embodied in the WTO, while also seeking bilateral and regional trade agreements with partner countries from Asia to Latin America. The European Parliament promotes values-based trade and the importance of a level playing field, not least when it comes to human rights and social, labour and environmental standards. This topical digest summarises the most recent research written for European Parliament policymakers to help understand this complex and dynamic field, including: horizontal international trade overviews; publications on thematic areas such as the economics of trade, the WTO, investment, trade and sustainable development, digital trade and export control; and overviews of legislation. For an outline of analyses on the EU’s bilateral trade negotiations and relations, see the topical digest on trade and investment agreements.

Legislative trains on trade
The Legislative Train Schedule – resembling the arrivals-departures board in a railway station – provides a summary of the state of play of trade legislation and international trade agreements all in one place.

Horizontal overviews

EU trade policy: Frequently asked questions
In-depth analysis by Jana Titievskaia, October 2019
Offering explanations of key trade concepts, this paper seeks to provide immediate answers to the most commonly asked questions relating to EU trade policy: from the evolution and scope of EU common commercial policy to the role of different EU institutions and the economics of trade. In addition, the paper covers the procedures for the conclusion of international trade agreements, types of trade relationship, and the specific characteristics of EU legal instruments in the area of trade. Lastly, it addresses the issues of trade and sustainable development, which have grown into a key area of concern for Parliament.

Review of EU Enforcement Regulation for trade disputes
Briefing by Gisela Grieger, March 2021
The Enforcement Regulation enables the EU to suspend or withdraw concessions or other obligations under international trade agreements in order to respond to third country breaches of international trade rules that affect the EU’s commercial interests. The proposed amendments were aimed at empowering the EU to impose counter-measures in situations where EU trade partners violate international trade rules and block the dispute settlement procedures included in multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements thus preventing the EU from obtaining final binding rulings in its favour.

EU trade policy review
‘At a glance’ note by Krisztina Binder, December 2020
In June 2020, the European Commission launched an EU trade policy review that will lead to a revised strategy to be adopted early in 2021. The aim is to set a new course for trade policy in a changing global context, aligned with EU priorities and supporting recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Parliament contributed to the process with a resolution on 26 November 2020, and will continue monitoring implementation of the new policy in 2021.

Key issues in the European Council: State of play in December 2020
In this quarterly updated publication, the European Council’s commitments are scrutinised and assessed for accountability purposes. The trade chapter (from page 74) provides a useful angle on the European Council’s position with regard to international trade.

Slowing down or changing track?: Understanding the dynamics of ‘Slowbalisation’
Section on ‘Slowing international trade’ by Jana Titievskaia (pp. 5-7), EPRS in-depth analysis, December 2020 Since the aftermath of the global financial crisis, year-on-year annual growth in international trade has been falling. This trend was exacerbated by the onset of US-China trade tensions in 2019. This is striking, given that trade has consistently outpaced GDP since the mid-1800s, with the exception of the interwar years. In nominal terms, trade appears even weaker, failing to keep up with GDP growth owing to the fall in the relative prices of traded goods and services, particularly commodities.

International trade policy
Briefing by Jana Titievskaia, July 2020
In recent years, the multilateral liberal trading order has already facing unprecedented turbulence with the rise of protectionism and zero-sum thinking, trade wars and the blockage within the WTO.

EU international procurement instrument
Briefing by Jana Titievskaia, March 2020
The EU has opened up its public procurement markets to third countries to a large degree, yet many of these countries have not granted the EU comparable access. In 2012, the European Commission tabled a proposal for an international procurement instrument (IPI). It then revised the proposal in 2015, taking on board some recommendations from Council and Parliament.

Trade and competitiveness policies in the European Council: background, current developments and way forward
In-depth analysis by Izabela Bacian and Marko Vukovic, March 2020
In recent years, international trade has gained increasing visibility on the European Council agenda. Profound changes have occurred in the global trading landscape, with common rules and standards questioned and new actors entering the world stage. A high level of economic interconnectedness and the ineluctable rise of emerging economies on the world stage, notably China, have highlighted differences across economic systems and divergences over the impact of certain policies and practices in the global economy.

Delivering for citizens: International trade and globalisation
Briefing by Jana Titievskaia and Roderick Harte, February 2019 Offering a comprehensive summary of the last five years of EU trade policy and detailing what the EU has been doing for citizens on trade and globalisation during the 2014-2019 parliamentary term, this briefing sets out the legal basis for EU trade policy, and the underlying strategies and discourses that drive the EU’s trade policy. It also outlines the state of play in trade negotiations, trade agreements concluded, and the key trade-related legislative developments of the last term.

The power of the European Parliament: Examples of EP impact during the 2014-2019 legislative term,
Chapter on Trade (CETA), pp. 8-9; by Jana Titievskaia, EPRS, April 2019
A good example of the Parliament’s role in trade from the last term is the shift from the controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism to a more institutionalised international court system under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between EU and Canada

Economics of trade

Distortive foreign subsidies regulation: A level playing field for the single market
Briefing by Marcin Szczepański, June 2021
In May 2021, the European Commission published a draft regulation designed to tackle those foreign subsidies that have a distortive effect on the single market. The plan is to give the Commission powers to investigate subsidies granted by non-EU public authorities to companies operating on the internal market. If these are found to be distortive, the Commission would be able to apply redressive measures.

Critical raw materials in EU external policies: Improving access and raising global standard
Briefing by Marcin Szczepański, May 2021
lobal demand for critical raw materials (CRMs) is rising, but export restrictions imposed by resource-rich countries are intensifying the competition for these materials. To boost its access to CRMs, the EU has a dedicated strategy based on three pillars: two internal ones (increasing domestic sourcing and circularity) and an external one, focused mainly on securing supply from third countries.

Understanding trade balances
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, February 2019
A focus on export-import trade balances can be misleading in the trade policy context. Trade balances need to be considered as an integral part of a larger whole, the balance of payments of an economy.

Global and regional value chains: Opportunities for European SMEs’ internationalisation and growth
Briefing by Ioannis Zachariadis, February 2019
International value chains have emerged as the new paradigm for the organisation of production globally. Today, most production processes across the world are vertically fragmented as a result of the increased unbundling of tasks and functions and their sourcing from different geographical locations. This briefing analyses how this situation affects small and medium-sized enterprises in particular.

The added value of international trade and impact of trade barriers: Cost of non-Europe report
Study by Risto Nieminen and Laura Puccio, October 2017
This cost of non-Europe report analyses the economic framework of international trade. The first part contains an overall presentation of international trade and a brief description of the significance of global value chains. The second part analyses the benefits of international trade and the consequences of protectionism.

World Trade Organization

World Trade Organization TRIPS waiver to tackle coronavirus
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, June 2021
Despite embedded flexibilities in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), India and South Africa, co-sponsored by a large number of developing countries, submitted an initial proposal for a temporary waiver in response to Covid-19 in October 2020 that met with divided opinions.

International trade dispute settlement: WTO Appellate Body crisis and the multiparty interim appeal arrangement
Briefing by Jana Titievskaia, April 2021
To find a temporary solution to the United States’ blockage of appointments to the WTO Appellate Body, the EU and a number of trade partners set up a multiparty interim appeal arbitration arrangement (MPIA). The parties are continuing to seek resolution of the Appellate Body crisis, and have agreed to use the MPIA as a second instance until the situation is resolved.

WTO e-commerce negotiations
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, October 2020
Members are seeking a high-standard outcome building on WTO agreements, but the legal form of the deal is not yet clear. Participants wish to modernise trade rules to fit the digital age and show that the WTO’s negotiating function can deliver. Key issues in the negotiations include e-contracts and e-signatures, data flows, data localisation requirements, disclosure of source code, and customs duties on electronic transmissions.

US duties on imports of Spanish ripe olives
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, March 2019
In January 2019, the EU launched a case before the WTO against the US challenging duties on imports of Spanish ripe olives. Given the importance of such support for EU farmers, the US measures could have far-reaching consequences for the EU’s agricultural model and set precedents in the WTO.

Multilateralism in international trade: Reforming the WTO
Briefing by Roderick Harte, October 2018
Despite having achieved various successes since its creation, the WTO is currently facing major challenges that undermine its status as the world’s primary forum for negotiating trade rules, settling trade disputes and addressing trade issues. The EU is a strong supporter of the rules-based trade system and therefore has a strong interest in preserving the WTO.

Investment

Multilateral investment court: Framework options
Briefing by Issam Hallak, June 2021
The intergovernmental talks at United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) are aimed at reforming the system with a view to establishing a fully-fledged permanent multilateral investment court with an appellate mechanism and tenured judges. Also see

Multilateral Investment Court: Overview of the reform proposals and prospects,
briefing by Issam Hallak, January 2020

CETA: Investment and the right to regulate
‘At a glance’ note by Laura Puccio, February 2017
Under international public law, states can be asked to compensate investors whenever regulatory measures become expropriation measures or violate standards of treatment, such as the ‘fair and equitable treatment of investors’ obligation. The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) takes a relatively restrictive approach to these investor rights.

Trade and sustainable development

Trade policy for the biodiversity strategy 2030
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, June 2021
The EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030 commits to doing more to assess trade agreements’ potential impact on biodiversity and to enforce biodiversity-related provisions. Parliament’s Trade Committee has adopted an opinion on the trade aspects of the new strategy.

Using trade policy to tackle climate change
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, October 2019
European leaders have called for urgent action against climate change. Since the Paris Agreement is binding only in part and aspirational concerning national emissions targets, there are calls to use trade policy instead

Human rights in EU trade agreements: The human rights clause
Briefing by Ionel Zamfir, July 2019
The clause, which also covers democratic principles and often the rule of law, is more than just a legal mechanism enabling the unilateral suspension of trade commitments in times of crisis.

Human rights in EU trade policy: Unilateral measures applied by the EU
Briefing by Ionel Zamfir, May 2018
The generalised system of preferences, which grants certain developing countries preferential trade access to the EU market, covers 90 third countries. The scheme includes explicit human rights conditionality, providing that preferences can be withdrawn in cases of systematic violations of core human or labour rights norms.

Gender equality and trade
‘At a glance’ note by Ionel Zamfir, January 2019
The EU has established specific mechanisms in its trade policy to enforce women’s labour and human rights, and monitor the gender impact of its trade preferences

The Generalised Scheme of Preferences Regulation (No 978/2012): European implementation assessment
Study by Isabelle Ioannides, December 2018
This evaluation is organised in two parts. The first part, which has been prepared internally, focuses on the incentives in the GSP provisions that aim to push beneficiaries to comply with human rights and the extent to which these have been implemented and have had an impact on poverty reduction and good governance

EU aid for trade: Taking stock and looking forward
Briefing by Marta Latek, April 2018
Most commentators agree that aid for trade investments have helped developing countries to improve and diversify their export and trade performance. Its impact on poverty reduction has been much less clear

Trade and sustainable development chapters in CETA
The inclusion by the EU of sustainable development chapters in the free trade agreements concluded with its partners plays a role in ensuring that trade and investment liberalisation does not lead to a deterioration in environmental and labour conditions 

Digital trade

WTO e-commerce negotiations
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, October 2020
Members seek a high-standard outcome building on WTO agreements, but the legal form of the deal is not yet clear. Participants wish to modernise trade rules to fit the digital age and show that the WTO’s negotiating function can deliver. Key issues in the negotiations include e-contracts and e-signatures, data flows, data localisation requirements, disclosure of source code, and customs duties on electronic transmissions

Blockchain for supply chains and international trade
Study for the Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA), May 2020
This study provides an analysis of blockchain technology in the context of international trade. It analyses the potential impacts of blockchain development and applications in eight use cases for supply chains and international trade. It also provides an analysis of the current legislative framework and existing initiatives. Based on this analysis, and following a broad consultation of relevant organisations, the study identifies several challenges in international trade documentation and processes, and presents a range of policy options for the European Parliament

The advent of blockchain in trade
‘At a glance’ note by Krisztina Binder and Angelos Delivorias, July 2018
The use of blockchain in supply chains and trade-related business processes has gained ground in recent years. Start-ups and large companies exploit a wide range of blockchain-based applications in these areas

Export control

Review of dual-use export control
Briefing by Beatrix Immenkamp, January 2021
The proposed regulation will recast the regulation in force since 2009. Among other elements, the proposal explicitly defines cyber-surveillance technology as dual-use technology and introduces human rights violations as an explicit justification for export control. It also includes provisions to control emerging technologies. The proposed regulation introduces greater transparency into dual-use export control by increasing the level of detail Member States will have to provide on exports, licences, licence denials and prohibitions

EU imports and exports of medical equipment
Briefing by Issam Hallak, October 2020
A mapping of EU trade in four categories of product – pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, personal protection and medical supplies – shows that, in all four categories, as few as five trade partners provide about 75 % of EU imports. Exports are more diffuse, with five partners receiving approximately half of EU exports. In 2019, the EU was a net exporter of medical products in all four categories, with pharmaceutical products representing most of its trade surplus of medical products

EU export authorisation scheme for personal protection equipment
Briefing by Issam Hallak, May 2020
A mapping of exports and imports of PPE subject to authorisation shows that, even though the EU runs a large trade surplus for medical products in general, it had been running trade deficits on these specific products for the last decade. The scale of trade in these products is also very small since imports represented as little as 0.05 % of EU gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. This all goes to show how what amounts to a tiny portion of international trade can have dramatic consequences

Food trade and food security in the coronavirus pandemic
‘At a glance’ note by Krisztina Binder, May 2020
Not only has the pandemic created a global public health crisis, it has also had a significant impact on the global economy and international trade. Measures to deal with the consequences of the pandemic, while affecting food trade have also impacted on the world’s food systems and raised concerns for global food security. The EU is committed to keeping trade flowing and supply chains functioning, and supports international cooperation to promote food security.

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Conference on the Future of Europe: Climate Change and the Environment

Written by Lena Hirschenberger.

The Conference on the Future of Europe’s aim is to debate how the EU should develop in the future and to give European citizens a voice in the process, announced Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her inaugural address.

People’s ideas will be collected on the Digital Platform, in European Citizens’ Panels and de-centralised conference events all over Europe. The Conference Plenary – comprised of representatives of the Citizens’ Panels, the Parliament, the Council, the Commission, national parliaments, the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee, social partners and the European Youth Forum – will then discuss the ideas put forward. Launched in April 2021, the conference is expected to reach conclusions and provide guidance for the European institutions to follow up, by spring 2022.

The conference topics are divided into nine areas, with one additional ‘open’ area, reserved for out-of-the-box ideas. The topics are: ‘Climate change and the environment‘, ‘Health‘, ‘A stronger economy, social justice and jobs‘, ‘European Union in the world‘, ‘Values and rights, rule of law, security‘, ‘Digital transformation‘, ‘European democracy‘, ‘Migration‘, ‘Education, culture, youth and sport‘, and ‘Other ideas‘.

‘Climate change and environment’ will look at how we can provide healthy and sustainably produced food, how we can power our lives through clean energy, how we can adapt our production, construction and transportation methods all while preserving the balance of our ecosystems and cutting pollution.

To support the proceedings of the conference, our EPRS policy analysts have prepared research material, available here in reverse chronological order. The following list will continually be updated as the conference unfolds:

Climate Change

European climate law
‘EU Legislation in Progress’ briefing by Gregor Erbach, June 2021, 12 pages.

President Biden’s climate summit
‘At a Glance’ note by Liselotte Jensen and Matthew Parry, May 2021, 2 pages.

EU climate action in ocean governance and fisheries policy
Briefing by Frederik Scholaert, April 2021, 12 pages.

EU hydrogen policy: Hydrogen as an energy carrier for a climate-neutral economy
Briefing by Gregor Erbach and Liselotte Jensen, April 2021, 8 pages.

Cohesion policy and climate change
‘At a Glance’ note by Agnieszka Widuto, March 2021, 1 page.
Available in Spanish, German, English, French, Italian and Polish

EU climate action policy: Responding to the global emergency
Study by Gregor Erbach et al., March 2021, 112 pages.

Carbon dioxide removal: Nature-based and technological solutions
Briefing by Gregor Erbach, February 2021, 8 pages.

What if we could engineer the planet to help fight climate change?
‘At a Glance’ note by Lieve Van Woensel, February 2021, 2 pages.

Reducing methane emissions: A new EU strategy to address global warming
Briefing by Henrique Morgado Simoes, December 2020, 8 pages.

EU climate target plan: Raising the level of ambition for 2030
Briefing by Liselotte Jensen, December 2020, 8 pages.

Sustainable aviation fuels
Briefing by Jaan Soone, November 2020, 10 pages.

European climate pact – Pre-legislative synthesis of national, regional and local positions on the European Commission’s initiative
Briefing by Claudio Collova and Vera Vikolainen, October 2020, 12 pages.

A Just Transition Fund for climate-neutral EU regions
Infographics by Sorina Ionescu, Giulio Sabbati and Frederik Scholaert, October 2020, 4 pages.

Transport CO2 emissions in focus
Infographics by Eulalia Claros Gimeno and Marketa Pape, October 2020, 2 pages.

Climate change and climate action
Ideas Paper by Gregor Erbach, July 2020, 11 pages.

EU agricultural policy and climate change
Briefing by James McEldowney, May 2020, 12 pages.

Climate Action: Latest state of play
Briefings by various EPRS authors, 6 pages.
Available for: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Spain

Environment

Biodiversity protection: Where do we stand?
Briefing by Vivienne Halleux,  June 2021, 8 pages.

Trade policy for the Biodiversity Strategy 2030
‘At a glance’ note by Jana Titievskaia, June 2021, 2 pages.

LIFE programme for 2021-2027
‘At a glance’ note by Dessislava Yougova, April 2021, 2 pages.
Available in Spanish, German, English, French, Italian and Polish

Green and sustainable finance
Briefing by Stefano Spinaci, February 2021, 12 pages.

EU policy on air quality: Implementation of selected EU legislation
Study by Ekaterina Karamfilova, January 2021, 200 pages.

Sustainable Development Goals in EU regions
Briefing by Agnieska Widuto, December 2020, 8 pages.

Forest fires: Environmental stakes
Briefing by Vivienne Halleux, November 2020, 8 pages.

Palm oil: Economic and environmental impacts
‘At a Glance’ note by Martin Russell, November 2020, 2 pages.

Amazon deforestation and EU-Mercosur deal
‘At a Glance’ note by Gisela Grieger, October 2020, 2 pages.

Towards a mandatory EU system of due diligence for supply chains
Briefing by Ionel Zamfir, October 2020, 10 pages.

An EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU driven global deforestation
‘At a Glance’ note by Vivienne Halleux, October 2020, 2 pages.
Available in Spanish, German, English, French, Italian and Polish

An EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation: European added value assessment
Study by Tatjana Evas, Aleksandra Heflich and Cecilia Navarra, September 2020, 132 pages.

Decoupling economic growth from environmental harm
‘At a Glance’ note by Eamonn Noonan, July 2020, 2 pages.

Coronavirus and the trade in wildlife
Briefing by Vivienne Halleux, May 2020, 6 pages.

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What if we could fight coronavirus by pooling computing power?

Written by Mihalis Kritikos.

Distributed computing has accelerated Covid‑19 research in molecular dynamics as it allows people to voluntarily make their computers available to scientists for effective virtual screening of chemical compounds. As computing initiatives grow to meet the increasing demand for massive computational power, this analysis examines the current applications and the surrounding legal and policy questions.

Computer simulations and their capacity to process inconceivable amounts of data in a very short time can be extremely effective in helping scientists map the behaviour and reveal the three-dimensional shape of all protein structures of a virus. The need for vast processing power to simulate the folding of the virus proteins can be met in two ways: by using the world’s fastest supercomputers and/or by seizing the opportunities that grid/distributed computing offers.

Edge computing carries the capacity for efficient processing of massive data sets and performing multifaceted simulations of the dynamics of protein molecules to understand the process of protein folding, which could serve as a basis for developing effective therapies. It is based on the integration of distributed resources of many computers into a single unit that effectively takes the form of a ‘virtual supercomputer’. As a form of citizen science (citizens participating in the scientific process via crowd-sourcing without any particular cognitive involvement), distributed computing that enables concurrent computation has been invaluable during the pandemic. It operates on the basis of allocating large computing tasks to different users on the grid and allowing anyone to contribute computing power to a common cause. In the context of Covid‑19, distributed computing has been used extensively to allow millions of volunteers worldwide to lend their processing power to scientists who require borderless access to distributed computing infrastructures and massive amounts of computational power to run complex simulations to model molecular dynamics.

Potential impacts and developments

The scientific community has mobilised a series of voluntary computing initiatives, such as Folding@home and Rosetta@home that simulate protein dynamics to help with the design of drugs to fight Covid‑19. The Folding@home project is by far the most powerful crowd-sourced supercomputer in the world, involving more than 1 000 000 computers, while, before the pandemic, 30 000 devices were running for Folding@home. It currently encompasses approximately 2.4 exaflops of computational power which is more raw computing power than the world’s 500 largest traditional supercomputers combined. The combined computing power of Folding@home, which also makes use of CERN’s computing resources, has been used to virtually screen 800 potential drug compounds.

Rosetta@home is another massive network of volunteer computers that allows citizen scientists to lend their computers’ CPUs and RAM for protein analysis tasks. Currently, Rosetta@home comprises nearly 4 406 203 hosts across 151 countries, collectively enabling an estimated 473 petaflops of volunteer cloud computing power, setting another successful example of donation of computing power for Covid‑19 research. Moreover, it is worth mentioning the OpenPandemics-COVID-19 project coordinated by the World Community Grid, an IBM social impact initiative that is currently screening hundreds of millions of molecules. This grid has accelerated the process of tackling Covid‑19 through the involvement of 7 047 819 devices and aims to develop an open source toolkit that could be used as a basis for seeking treatments in the event of future pandemics. Οther distributive initiatives include DreamLab, a specialised application developed by Vodafone, which accumulates the processing power of smartphones to analyse coronavirus-related complex data while phones are being charged, the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid at CERN, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, SiDock@home COVID Moonshot and the Open Science Grid.

The European Union has been supporting several citizen science actions, such as the active and voluntary public participation in research as part of its Open Science policy. In the context of Covid‑19, the support has taken many forms and the promotion of distributed computing is one of the most prominent. Among others, Europe-based distributive computing projects include the work carried out by the Slovenia-based COVID.si, the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics and the HADDOCK service on the WeNMR platform supported by the European Grid Infrastructure, which is the largest distributed computing infrastructure for research, bringing together hundreds of data centres worldwide.

Anticipatory policy-making

The distributed nature of the underlying computing network, where data are processed using computing resources anywhere, carries multiple policy challenges that involve questions about restricting access to the distributed computing system, safeguarding network security and privacy, and ensuring the smooth integration of computing, software and storage resources. More concretely, heterogeneity can become a challenge in the operation of these networks, as a varied group of hardware devices running various operating systems communicate among themselves to serve a particular purpose. Further, network security poses a fundamental challenge in terms of possible data leakage software piracy, integrity infringement and denial of service. The integration of different distributed components and possible malicious devices also creates privacy challenges in addition to more difficulty in troubleshooting and diagnostics due to distribution across multiple servers.

These challenges can be tackled efficiently if policy-makers aim to render distributed computing an essential part of high-computing frameworks and an attractive and trustworthy option for individuals who could donate spare computing power for a social reason. To achieve this, a series of requirements need to be met. First, an EU-wide registry of scientific projects that require computing power for massive and immediate processing could be created. Further, incentives that could bring thousands and/or millions of individual users under the same computing ‘roof’ would also need to be developed. Τhese incentives could take the form of tailoring applications and services to particular users’ specific requirements, and of promoting the benefits of open science and citizen science including the training of users, the empowerment of distributed digital infrastructures and the development of open-source software. Additionally, open-source components that could enable the access and processing of data collected/stored in different platforms and formats could be further developed. The European Commission’s adoption of its new open source software strategy 2020-2023 makes explicit reference to the need for sharing and reusing of software solutions, knowledge and expertise to benefit society.

The European Commission could develop funding schemes for the development of open and flexible distributed computing architecture based on common standards for the smooth integration of hardware and software components, on user-friendly and comprehensive repositories as well as on standards-based common interfaces that could address the challenges of privacy and cybersecurity. Fostering the development of data and computing e-infrastructure at the EU level and achieving their accessibility and interoperability – independent of the different data-driven technologies used – should be prioritised. Ensuring the connectivity of all European households and populated areas, which could further enhance the effectiveness of distributed computing initiatives, is an essential part of the Commission’s vision for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030, as was recently presented in the form of a digital compass. The success of the distributed projects to tackle Covid‑19 illustrates the need for the EU to invest further in the development of efficient, sound and user-friendly crowd-sourced distributed computing projects and for an in-depth examination of the factors that could increase the involvement of volunteers in these bottom-up efforts. This should be seen as part of a broader strategy for enhancing lay participation in scientific endeavours by facilitating digital accessibility and removing computational obstacles for communities and user groups that face serious technical and financial difficulties. The ultimate aim should be the gradual creation of a trustworthy federated European data and distributed computing infrastructure that is based on optimised access to IT equipment and services, on a clear definition of the goals and the objectives of each and every distributed computing project, as well as on the acknowledgment of the cost-effective character of distributed systems compared with the use of expensive supercomputers.


Read the complete ‘at a glance’ on ‘What if we could fight coronavirus by pooling computing power?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Understanding initial coin offerings: A new means of raising funds based on blockchain

Written by Angelos Delivorias.

Initial coin offerings (ICOs) are a relatively new method of raising capital for early-stage ventures. They allow businesses to raise capital for their projects, by issuing digital tokens in exchange for crypto assets or fiat currencies. They constitute an alternative to more traditional sources of start-up funding such as venture capital (VC) and angel finance.

ICOs can potentially offer advantages in comparison with traditional ways of raising capital. At the same time, their opacity and the general tendency for issuers to exploit regulatory loopholes can carry significant risk for investors, may make ICOs vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing, and could even create financial stability concerns.

ICOs have been met with a wide range of initial regulatory responses: from an outright ban in the case of China and South Korea, to more supportive approaches in other jurisdictions, with Singapore in Asia and Switzerland in Europe leading the way. As for the European Union (EU) and the United States, the relevant regulatory agencies initially published warning notices, reinforced by statements that securities laws could apply and registration be necessary. The EU went a step further and is currently seeking to partially regulate ICOs, with a proposal for a regulation on markets in crypto-assets (MiCA regulation). Meanwhile, some Member States are currently implementing regulatory sandboxes, to provide an impetus for innovation without imposing the immediate burden of regulation.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Understanding initial coin offerings: A new means of raising funds based on blockchain‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Re-starting tourism in the EU amid the pandemic

Written by Maria Niestadt.

Tourism plays an enormously important role in the EU economy and society. It generates foreign exchange, supports jobs and businesses, and drives forward local development and cultural exchanges. It also makes places more attractive, not only as destinations to visit but also as locations to live, work, invest and study. Furthermore, as tourism is closely linked with many other sectors – particularly transport – it also affects the wider economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the tourism sector hard. The impact on various tourist destinations in the EU has been asymmetrical and highly localised, reflecting differences in types of tourism on offer, varying travel restrictions, the size of domestic tourism markets, level of exposure to international tourism, and the importance of tourism in the local economy. At the beginning of summer 2021, several EU Member States started to remove certain travel restrictions (such as the requirements for quarantine or testing for fully vaccinated travellers coming from certain countries). However, all continue to apply many sanitary and health measures (such as limits on the number of people in common areas, and cleaning and disinfection of spaces). Such measures and restrictions change in line with the evolving public health situation, sometimes at short notice, making recovery difficult for the sector. The EU and its Member States have provided the tourism sector with financial and other support. Some measures were already adopted in 2020. Others were endorsed only shortly before the beginning of summer 2021. One flagship action has been the speedy adoption of an EU Digital Covid Certificate. This certificate harmonises, at EU level, proof of vaccination, Covid-19 test results and certified recovery from the virus. However, it does not end the patchwork of travel rules. Despite efforts to harmonise travel rules at Council level, Member States still apply different rules to various categories of traveller (such as children or travellers arriving from third countries).


Read the complete briefing on ‘Re-starting tourism in the EU amid the pandemic‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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STOA meets its International Advisory Board to discuss the Artificial Intelligence Act

Written by Philip Boucher and Carl Pierer.

The European Commission published the much-anticipated Artificial Intelligence Act (AIA), an ambitious cross-sectoral attempt to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) applications on 21 April 2021. Its aim is to ensure that all European citizens can trust AI by providing proportionate and flexible rules – harmonised across the single market – to address the specific risks posed by AI systems and set the highest standards worldwide.

The proposal sets out a risk-based approach to regulating AI applications: those presenting an ‘unacceptable risk’ would be banned, those presenting a ‘high-risk’ would be subjected to additional requirements before entering the market, and others, such as chatbots and ‘deep fakes’, would be subject to new transparency requirements. Applications presenting ‘low or minimal risk’ – the vast majority of AI applications – could enter the market without restrictions, although voluntary codes of conduct may be developed. Other proposed measures include a European AI Board to monitor implementation and regulatory sandboxes to facilitate innovation.

In the context of the legislative proposal, STOA convened a meeting with the members of its International Advisory Board (INAB) on 24 June 2021, inviting Board members to present their views on the AIA and discuss them with the STOA Members. Participants welcomed the proposal as a timely and necessary step in the right direction. The Board members broadly agreed with the aims and approach of the AIA, but raised several points that they felt might require further reflection and discussion during the negotiation period.

Continuity from the AI White Paper’s focus on ‘AI Excellence’

Several key elements of the AIA were first set out in the AI White Paper. Some participants noted that the White Paper’s ambitious support for ‘AI excellence’ figures less prominently in the legislative proposal. Others highlighted what they saw as a missed opportunity to align AI development to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Other participants responded that the AIA focused upon product safety, and that support for innovation would be provided through other mechanisms. While many participants were pleased that the AIA proposed sandboxes for controlled experimentation with novel AI applications, they suggested that the explanation of how they would function in practice was insufficient. The Commission has indicated that further details would be set out in implementing acts.

List-based approach

The AIA includes list-based approaches to two of its key elements. First, the definition of AI technologies makes use of a list of techniques set out in Annex I. Second, the definition of high-risk applications includes safety components of products that are already subject to conformity assessment due to sectoral rules, as well as a list of additional applications categorised as high-risk applications, which is provided in Annex III. The Commission can update both annexes. Several participants argued that such an approach could lead to the AIA quickly becoming outdated, forcing the institutions into a constant ‘catch up’ stance following the emergence of new technologies, applications, and risks. It was suggested that, instead of lists, it may be better to rely upon criteria or principles to determine whether a specific piece of software would be defined as AI and to which risk category its applications may belong.

Some participants highlighted that the risk-based approach might not be appropriate for managing applications that are low-risk but high-frequency, such as targeted content delivery. It was suggested that low-risk applications could cumulate and interact to generate high-impact outcomes, some of which may be as serious as high-risk applications. Furthermore, high-risk applications in the AIA focus upon ‘critical’ domains of activity, such as essential services, infrastructure, employment and law enforcement. However, it was highlighted that AI systems that reinforce gender and racial discrimination remain an extremely serious risk, even in non-critical domains of activity. In this sense, the AIA may underestimate the pervasive character of the serious risks posed by AI throughout all domains of activity. It was also suggested that the focus on specific applications could represent a missed opportunity to address general purpose AI, which could become increasingly important in the years to come.

Governance and enforcement

A substantial part of the discussion focussed on enforcement and oversight, with several participants agreeing that reflection on the rules should go hand in hand with reflections on their enforcement. In the proposed AIA, national authorities would be responsible for enforcement of the AIA. An AI Board would be set up to monitor implementation and provide guidance. This Board would be comprised of Member State representatives and the European Data Protection Supervisor. Some participants were concerned that this approach could lead to uneven enforcement across the EU. In addition, some participants proposed that a group of experts could assist and advise the Board in their decisions on technically complex matters. Indeed, while it is not present in the AIA itself, the Commission has indicated its intention to establish such an expert group during the implementation process. Moreover, several participants highlighted the need for innovative approaches to regulation and implementation to keep up with the rapidly developing technology, welcoming the sandbox approach and calling for the elaboration of a wider range of innovative regulatory tools.  

Conformity assessment

Several participants raised issues relating to conformity assessment, in particular the question of who would be responsible for conducting it. For example, since the developers and deployers of AI systems are not always the same, it was suggested that the AIA should make a clearer distinction between these roles and their respective responsibilities when it comes to compliance and conformity assessment. Participants were concerned that failure to do so could have a chilling effect upon open source innovation.

Many participants commented on the need for access to data and algorithms in order to assess their conformity with the new rules. While AI providers may have the most profound understanding of their own data and algorithms, their role in assessing their own conformity may give raise to conflicts of interest and enforcement issues. On the other hand, it was suggested that some firms might be unwilling to provide authorities with access to their data and algorithms without guarantees about their use and safeguarding. Some participants stated that the key to conformity assessment would be to foster a healthy market for high-quality independent third party auditors, capable of assessing compliance while protecting firms’ data and algorithms. There was broad agreement on the importance of reflecting upon the role of data spaces and wider data governance issues, which are subject to other complementary initiatives.

Consumer protection

Some participants regretted the limited reference to consumer protection, as this could weaken the AIA’s effectiveness. They mentioned in particular the lack of mechanisms to address economic harms, to notify consumers of breaches, and to enable complaints and legal remedies. Furthermore, by prohibiting applications that intentionally manipulate behaviour in a way that gives rise to harms – rather than restricting any application that has this effect, regardless of intentions – some participants felt that the regulation might fail to effectively protect consumers. The AIA also includes specific protections for people with age-related or physical or mental vulnerability. While some participants suggested that the AIA should go further to protect vulnerable citizens, in particular children, others reasoned that the complexity of AI systems makes all consumers vulnerable in the sense that they struggle to make informed choices, and that the protections set out for vulnerable people in the draft AIA should apply to all citizens.

Next steps

The AIA is now subject to negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council. Meanwhile, other relevant legislative files are also under discussion, including the Data Governance Act, Digital Services Act, and a forthcoming Data Act.

There will be further opportunities for STOA and INAB members to discuss these proposals in the coming months. Meanwhile, stay informed about STOA’s Centre for AI and the International Advisory Board on the STOA website, or by following us on Twitter at @EP_ScienceTech.

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

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Mental health and the pandemic

Written by Nicole Scholz.

While the pandemic is primarily a physical health crisis, it has also had widespread impact on people’s mental health, inducing, among other things, considerable levels of fear, worry, and concern. The growing burden on mental health has been referred to by some as the ‘second’ or ‘silent’ pandemic.

While negative mental health consequences affect all ages, young people, in particular, have been found to be at high risk of developing poor mental health. Specific groups have been particularly hard hit, including health and care workers, people with pre-existing mental health problems, and women. The pandemic has also appeared to increase inequalities in mental health, both within the population and between social groups.

To address the population’s increased psycho-social needs, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe established an expert group on the mental health impacts of Covid-19 in the European region. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has issued analyses and guidance on mental health in general and the pandemic’s impact on mental health in particular.

At European Union level, a December 2020 European Commission communication addressed the pandemic’s impact on mental health. In May 2021, the Commission organised a major online stakeholder event, and published best practice examples of solutions presented.

A July 2020 European Parliament resolution recognises mental health as a fundamental human right, calling for a 2021-2027 EU action plan on mental health. Members of the European Parliament have also called on the Commission to put mental health at the heart of EU policymaking. Stakeholders broadly rally around calls for programmes and funding to improve citizens’ mental health, not least to respond to the pandemic’s long-term implications.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Mental health and the pandemic‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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