EU sustainability criteria for bioenergy [Policy Podcast]

Written by Gregor Erbach,

Tree stumps on the grass with recycle symbol

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Bioenergy, which is generally produced from plants such as agricultural crops or trees, comes in various forms. Wood and other solid biomass are commonly used for heating and electricity generation. Liquid biofuels for transport and other purposes are mainly made from food and feed crops, but can also be produced from waste and residues. Bioenergy can also be delivered in the form of gas. Bioenergy is a renewable but finite energy source, and considered as climate-friendly because the carbon which is emitted during combustion was removed from the atmosphere during growth of the biomass and will be removed again after some time if new plants are grown. However, its production and use has environmental impacts and the climate benefits may vary.

The existing Renewable Energy Directive sets mandatory sustainability and greenhouse gas saving criteria for biofuels. For forest biomass, the Commission issued recommendations, but these are not uniformly implemented in the Member States. In November 2016, the Commission proposed a revised Renewable Energy Directive which includes mandatory sustainability criteria for both biofuels and biomass.

The European Parliament supports sustainability criteria for bioenergy, and highlighted the sustainability issues of forest biomass in its June 2016 resolution on renewable energy.

Stakeholder reactions to the Commission proposal have been mixed. While environmental NGOs called for stricter criteria, the bioenergy industries warned that tighter limits on conventional biofuels hinder the decarbonisation of the transport sector. Farmers and forest owners expressed concern about additional economic and administrative burden and stressed the principle of subsidiarity in forest policies.

Read the complete briefing on ‘EU sustainability criteria for bioenergy‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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EU rules on control of arms exports [Plenary Podcast]

Written by Beatrix Immenkamp,

WW2 Series - American M24 Chaffee Tank

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The EU’s Common Position on arms exports is the only legally binding region-wide arrangement on conventional arms exports. While the Common Position has increased information-sharing and transparency of Member States’ arms exports, there is still scope for enhancing the convergence of national arms-exports policies and for stricter implementation of the criteria defined in the act.

EU Member States’ arms exports in 2015

According to the EU’s 18th Annual Report on arms exports, the value of arms export licenses by Member States in 2015 totalled €195.9 billion, double the amount of €98.4 billion licenced in 2014 (in 2011 – €37.5 billion; in 2012 – €39.8 billion; in 2013 EUR – €36.7 billion). Exports to other Member States made up about 15% of all EU arms exports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar were the main destinations of EU arms exports licenses in 2015, with total licences worth €22.2 billion, €19.5 billion and €16.6 billion, respectively. (NB: Normally, the value of export licences exceeds the value of actual exports, sometimes by a very significant amount. For example, in 2015 the licensed value submitted by France was 25 times the value of actual exports. However, while all EU Member States report on licensed value, not all report on the value of actual exports, making comparison of actual export figures difficult.) The combined exports by EU Member States of major conventional weapons accounted for 26% of the global total in 2012–16, making the EU Member States collectively the second largest exporter of major conventional weapons in the world, after the USA (33%), but before Russia (23%). Global transfers of major conventional weapons reached their highest volume for any five-year period since the end of the cold war in 2012-2016.

The Common Position: overview

In 2008, the Council adopted Common Position 2008/944/CFSP (CP) which lays down common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment, replacing an earlier political agreement, the EU Code of Conduct on arms exports (1998). At international level, all EU Member States have signed and ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), in force since 24 December 2014. The aim of the CP is to enhance the convergence of EU Member States’ arms-export-control policies, since arms exports remain ultimately a matter of national competence in accordance with Article 346 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. In this respect, the CP incorporates eight common criteria (minimum standards) to be taken into account by Member States when assessing export licence applications for military technology and equipment, but also for brokering, transit transactions and intangible transfers of technology. The EU List is aligned with the Wassenaar Arrangement (a voluntary export controls regime for conventional arms and dual-use items), and is regularly updated, most recently on 8 March 2017. The CP is implemented according to the User’s Guide developed within the Council’s Working Party on Conventional Arms Exports (COARM).

The common criteria defining rules on arms exports control

The eight common criteria for assessing arms export licences refer to: (1) respect for the international obligations and commitments of EU Member States, particularly sanctions (including arms embargos) and international agreements; (2) respect for human rights and international humanitarian law by the recipient country; (3) the internal situation in the recipient country; (4) risks to regional peace, security and stability; (5) national security of the Member States as well of their friends and allies; (6) behaviour of the buyer country towards the international community, including its attitude to terrorism and respect for international law; (7) risk of diversion towards an unauthorised end-user or end-use; and (8) compatibility of the arms exports with sustainable development in the recipient country. The assessments are made on a case-by-case basis.

Exchange of information and transparency

The Common Position establishes mechanisms for the exchange of information on arms export licences and on actual exports (including their financial value). It also institutes the obligation to notify licence denials and bilateral consultations when a Member State intends to grant approval for an export licence ‘essentially identical’ to one already denied by another Member State. In 2011, COARM also created an information exchange system between the EU and third countries which aligned themselves with the CP. EU Member States are required by the CP to publish national reports on their arms exports. Moreover, they are required to provide information for the EU’s annual reports on arms exports (published since 1999). These contain data provided by Member States on the financial value of their arms export licence approvals and actual arms exports, broken down by destination and the categories of the EU Military List, as well as information on licence denials and the criteria invoked for the denials. The 18th Annual Report on arms exports, published in May 2017, includes data on arms exports for the 2015 calendar year. Only 23 Member States publish a national report and most Member States submit only partial information to the EU report.

Assessment of the implementation of CP 2008/944/CFSP

The CP is considered to have had a positive impact on EU national arms export policies, through better exchange of information and increased transparency. At the same time, implementation is still the responsibility of the Member States and there is still room for further convergence of national policies, both as regards implementation and the interpretation of the criteria. Recommendations for enhancing compliance with the CP include (i) a peer review process to compare the different systems and methodologies for implementation adopted by the MS; (ii) more sharing of information on recipient countries in COARM; (iii) greater information sharing among Member States on cases of diversion, companies involved in criminal activities, and suspended and revoked licences; (iv) the quarterly exchange of information on licences issued per type and quantity of equipment and technology, as well as information on end-use and end-users for destinations that had recently been subject to en EU embargo; (v) discussions and consultations at Council level in the event of a major policy change by one or several Member States; and (vi) strengthening the language of the CP on human rights evaluations.

Concerns have grown over the past few years over arms exports by EU Member States to countries in the Middle East which are engaged in armed conflict or use imported weapons for internal repression, which constitutes a violation of the criteria laid down in the CP. The Middle East was by far the most important region in terms of arms exports for the EU Member States in 2015, with the value of arms export licences for the region reaching €78.8 billion, up from €31.5 billion in 2014, and €7.6 billion in 2013.

The review of the Common Position

A review of the CP was initially scheduled to take place three years after its adoption. However, in its November 2012 Conclusions, the Council concluded that the CP was still suited for its stated objectives. At the same time, the Council resolved to provide additional guidance regarding the application of the export criteria, to refine the information exchange mechanism, to improve denial notification and consultation mechanisms and to ensure compatibility between the ATT and the CP. On 20 July 2015, the Council adopted new Conclusions on the CP’s review, emphasising the development of an IT platform for information-sharing on licence denials and the adoption of an updated User’s Guide to incorporate ATT-related guidelines. The next review is scheduled to take place in 2018.

The European Parliament (EP) adopted resolutions on the Common Position in 2008, 2013, and 2015, in which the EP called for a strict application of the common criteria and improved transparency. A motion for a new EP resolution on Arms export: implementation of Common Position 2008/944/CFSP (rapporteur Bodil Valero, Greens/EFA) was approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 July 2017 by 36 votes to 14, with 14 abstentions. The EP plenary will vote on the resolution on 13 September 2017. The motion calls for the setting up of an arms control supervisory body; the creation for a mechanism which sanctions Member States that do not comply with the CP; an expansion of the list of criteria to include the risk of corruption; increasing the transparency of arms export reporting; and creating effective post-shipment controls. The motion notes that arms exports to Saudi Arabia breach the EU’s Common Position and repeats the European Parliament’s call for an EU arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, first made on 25 February 2016.

Read this Plenary At a Glance note on ‘EU rules on control of arms exports‘ in PDF on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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WIFI4EU – Promotion of internet connectivity in local communities [Plenary Podcast]

Written by Christian Scheinert,

Fun on the net

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The Commission’s initiative aims at providing free access to fast internet in local communities. The European Parliament will discuss and vote on WIFI4EU in its September plenary.


The Commission is of the opinion that the EU lags behind other industrialised nations, such as South Korea and Japan, when it comes to the access to fast fixed and wireless internet. Closing this gap is one of the Commission’s highest priorities. The intention is to create a European gigabit society by improving internet connectivity using optical fibre and wireless networks.

Commission proposal

The WIFI4EU proposal is part of that strategy to create a gigabit society, and effectively aims at creating some demand pull. The initiative is meant as a way to boost the awareness of the advantages of high speed internet access with the users, by mounting a scheme offering free WIFI connections in spaces where public services are offered, such as public administrations, libraries and hospitals, but also outdoor spaces accessible to the general public. Targeted financial support would be provided in the form of grants and/or financial assistance for the deployment of local wireless access points. Over a period of three years a total of €120 million of EU investment would be mobilised through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), both through the increase by €50 million of its financial envelope, and the reallocation of €70 million inside the CEF. In addition, planning procedures would be simplified and regulatory obstacles reduced. It is intended to avoid the crowding out of commercial efforts and the distortion of competition.

European Parliament position

The ITRE committee adopted its report (rapporteur Carlos Zorrinho, S&D, Portugal) on 25 April 2017. The report broadly supports the Commission’s initiative, including the financial framework. The committee insisted on the connectivity being delivered free of charge and free of restrictions. It also encouraged to prolong the financing beyond the time span of three years foreseen in the proposal. The scope of potential recipients was slightly modified. A geographical balance should be achieved and the digital divide addressed. Local SMEs should be favoured in procurement. A single authentication system should be used across all Member States, and the mining of data for commercial use should be prohibited, as would be commercial advertisement. The approval of applications should be simplified, and the financial assistance should be done through a system of vouchers. Particular efforts should be made to make potential users aware of the availability of this services, and to insure that the users will be aware it is financially supported by the EU.

Outcome of the trilogue negotiation

A series of trilogues were held. The result, as agreed between EP and Council, reflect most of Parliament’s demands. The most prominent departure from Parliament’s position is a more modest increase of the financial envelope, of €25 million instead of €50 million, although with the possibility to increase it to the full €50 million if that was needed. Also, there is no explicit extension of the scheme past the three years foreseen so far. There is no mention of favouring local businesses. On 29 May 2017 the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee agreed on the draft compromise text. On 21 June the ITRE committee approved the text as agreed in the trilogues, thus paving the way for the final adoption of the legislative act.

First reading: 2016/0287(COD). Committee responsible: ITRE; Rapporteur: Carlos Zorrinho, S&D, Portugal. For further information see the EPRS ‘EU Legislation in Progress’ briefing, WIFI4EU.

Read this Plenary At a Glance note on ‘WIFI4EU – Promotion of internet connectivity in local communities‘ in PDF on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Reform of the e-Privacy Directive [EU Legislation in Progress][Policy Podcast]

Written by Shara Monteleone,

Privacy policy word cloud concept

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In January 2017, the Commission tabled a proposal for a regulation on privacy and electronic communications which would replace the current 2002 e-Privacy Directive. The main objectives of the review are: enhancing security and communications confidentiality; defining clearer rules on tracking technologies such as cookies; and achieving greater harmonisation among Member States.

Stakeholders are divided on certain issues, including on the basic need for a new measure to protect confidentiality in e-communications. Some national parliaments have made comments on the proposal, and discussions are progressing in Council. In the European Parliament, rapporteur Marju Lauristin (S&D, Estonia) presented a draft report to the Civil Liberties Committee on 21 June 2017, and this is expected to be voted in October 2017.


Stage: Committee vote

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Single digital gateway [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Christian Scheinert,

Arrow upright across labyrinthe

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As part of the ‘compliance package’, the Commission intends to provide a single digital entry point to offer easy and efficient online access for businesses and citizens, comprising: (1) information about Union and national law and administrative requirements, (2) procedures, such as company registration, and (3) services providing assistance upon request. The portal would serve start-ups and growing companies, as well as helping companies conducting business in another country. Access to these services would be non-discriminatory, i.e. citizens and businesses from other Member States would have full access to the information and services, and this not only in the language used in the country in which they want to do business. The proposal builds on several existing schemes, such as single points of entry at national level; these cover only a few fields, are not always interconnected, suffer from being little known and are therefore under-utilised. The idea is part of a wider Commission plan to digitise public administration and increase the effectiveness of the internal market.

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Single digital gateway

Stage: National parliaments

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New ways to finance cross-border transport infrastructure

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

STOA workshop Cross border transport infrastructure, 6 June 2017

STOA workshop Cross border transport infrastructure, 6 June 2017

Border regions face considerable challenges when it comes to cross-border transport infrastructure. These regions therefore need Member States’ support to develop their own unique mobility and transport plans. Publication of a forthcoming STOA study on innovative transport infrastructure funding, expected in November 2017, will follow a presentation to the STOA Panel on 14 September 2017. STOA’s recent workshop on innovative financing for cross-border transport concluded that small cross-border projects could form part of a bigger investment package, tapping into a greater diversity of EU funding instruments.

Cross-border projects are a vital issue for an efficient and sustainable transport system that contributes to strengthening the economic, social and territorial cohesion of the European Union (EU) and regional development across borders. A wide range of financing options for transport infrastructure is currently available at EU level, such as the numerous European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) that aim particularly at enhancing the technological infrastructure of cross-regional transport. Nonetheless, regardless of this diverse funding and financing landscape, the cross-border context generates important externalities (e.g. recognising the environmental benefits of rail vs road), which make cross-border investments less appropriate and attractive for mainstream financial instruments, especially for small scale projects that are not immediately bankable. Indeed, Claudia Schmidt (EPP, Austria), a member of the STOA Panel, has highlighted that, when it comes to cross-border interconnections, the problem is rail, not road, stressing that the EU has neglected small-scale cross-border rail. EU funds tend to favour large-scale projects focusing on the core TEN-T (Trans-European Transport Networks) corridors, and ex-ante conditionality for Member States’ access to EU funds, could be strengthened in terms of simplifying the procurement and licensing procedures for cross-border projects and promoting cross-financing.

Technology provides new opportunities to connect regions across borders, and sufficient connectivity can provide new prospects for border regions, for example by providing opportunities to access two markets at once. However, investment transport infrastructure needs vary, according to the particular border, but also within border regions.

National governments also prefer large investment in major infrastructure projects, rather than in small border crossings of 60-90 km. Currently, regional development programmes stop at the border, as small-scale links in cross-border regions are often unattractive in terms of public/private investment, and cost-benefit analyses and public-private partnerships for small-scale cross-border links absent. Small-scale projects are either too minor or not bankable, and there is a shortage of economic studies on most of the missing small-scale links. STOA’s workshop on the issue emphasised the need to focus on small-scale rail connections that are not currently part of the Trans-European transport network (TEN-T). European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation can play a bigger role in coordinating investment to enhance cross-border transport infrastructure, especially if individual cross-border programmes merge, retaining sufficient flexibility to tailor priorities to different border areas. Furthermore, cross-border technology projects can be a vehicle for fulfilling other regional development goals. This is especially the case when investments in transport and tourism are coupled, for example, with other sources of funding, provided, by the European Investment Bank (EIB), or with innovative financing instruments, such as blending, to combine EU grants with loans or equity from public and private financiers.

If you missed the STOA workshop, watch a recording.

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Understanding the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)

Written by Marcin Szczepański,

Understanding the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)

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Euratom was created in 1957 to further European integration and tackle energy shortages through the peaceful use of nuclear power. It has the same members as the European Union and is governed by the Commission and Council, operating under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Euratom regulates the European civil nuclear industry, which produces almost 30 % of energy in the EU. Euratom’s work safeguards nuclear materials and technology, facilitates investment, research and development, and ensures equal access to nuclear supplies, as well as the correct disposal of nuclear waste and the safety of operations. Its main instruments are the Euratom Supply Agency, and its research and nuclear safeguard activities. Notably, Euratom is involved in developing atomic fusion technology which has the potential of delivering abundant sustainable energy in the future.

In March 2017, the United Kingdom officially notified the EU of its intention to withdraw from the Union and the Euratom Community. In the context of the negotiations which commenced in June 2017, the Commission has published a position paper outlining the main principles of the EU position concerning Euratom. Possible impacts on both Euratom and the UK nuclear industry are yet to be determined.

Read this briefing on ‘Understanding the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Foresight: a policy tool for anticipating technology trends

Written by Lieve Van Woensel with Victoria Joseph,

Foresight: a policy tool for anticipating technology trends

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Since early 2015, the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel at the European Parliament, has been experimenting with science and technology foresight, to provide Members with insights that will help them anticipate possible future developments.

Foresight is a fundamental path in policy-making, as policy-making is often about preparing for the future. The scenario-based foresight approach used by STOA has the potential to inspire anticipatory policy-making and support the EP’s preparedness for future challenges and opportunities related to long-term trends in the field of science and technology.

The first scientific foresight pilot project helped Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) and the working group on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence to prepare a legislative initiative resolution, adopted in the EP plenary in Strasbourg on 16 February 2017, through which MEPs called on the European Commission to propose rules on robotics and artificial intelligence.

Besides foresight-based policy, other ideas inspired by the STOA study on robotics, fuel public debate, for instance a tax on the added value of robots as compensation for possible job losses, and the calls for ethical guidelines for robot designers and users.

Foresight essentially has the power to teach us about the possible opportunities and challenges that may be the consequences of ongoing techno-scientific developments. It helps us feel more comfortable with uncertainty, because we know more about the types of consequences we have to prepare for, and how we can work towards desirable futures and avoid undesirable ones.

This briefing explains how STOA uses the originally designed scientific foresight approach in practice.

The first key element of the approach is choosing topics which might cause disruptive societal changes in the future. We make sure that we have the most accurate and up-to-date information on the topic. Analysis of possible impacts follows – in a facilitated brainstorming environment – from multiple perspectives, involving experts from multiple disciplines, especially social scientists, to discuss the state of the art and possible impacts with technical experts, and involving relevant stakeholders. Multiple perspectives are guaranteed by ‘STEEPED’ (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Ethical and Demographic), a scheme which is used as a checklist to provide seven different lenses for a topic, to ensure that all possible outcomes are explored. The outcomes of the facilitated brainstorming sessions are usually long lists of hopes and fears, potential intended and unintended impacts of possible future developments of these techno-scientific trends, including soft impacts (those impacts that are not easy to measure – for example affecting health, environment and safety – and for which it is not easy to assign responsibility). The identified possible consequences of future technology developments are incorporated in a set of diverse imagined scenarios, constructed with the help of professional scenario developers. Finally, exploring these imagined possible future scenarios results in a list of opportunities and challenges.

It is these opportunities and challenges that provide guidance for MEPs in anticipating possible future developments through the work they do today.

Read this briefing on ‘Foresight: a policy tool for anticipating technology trends‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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EU strategy on cooperative intelligent transport systems

Written by Marketa Pape,

Communication that connects cars to devices on the road, such as traffic lights, sensors, or Internet gateways. Wireless network of vehicle. Smart Car

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Digital technologies, and systems based on them, are being rapidly introduced in transport all over the world. Cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS) in road transport are part of this development, and one element in a wider drive towards vehicle automation. These systems use technologies allowing road vehicles to communicate with other vehicles or road users and roadside infrastructure. By increasing the quality and reliability of information, C-ITS can improve road safety and traffic efficiency as well as reduce energy consumption and emissions from transport, provided that cyber security and data protection are ensured.

The European Commission has put forward a strategy outlining the path towards commercial deployment of C-ITS in the EU by 2019, seeking to avoid market fragmentation and maintain EU competitiveness. The main steps proposed are to adopt a legal framework for providing investors with legal certainty, to make EU funding available for projects, and to continue cooperation with EU stakeholders and international partners. The strategy addresses key issues such as data protection and cyber-security, systems interoperability and technical specifications. In the meantime, several ongoing pilot projects are consolidating the experience to be shared.

The European Parliament, a long-time supporter of C-ITS and defender of personal data protection, is preparing a report on the strategy.

Read this complete briefing on ‘EU strategy on cooperative intelligent transport systems‘.

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Reform of services notification procedure [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Marcin Szczepański,

Services on Business Folder in Multicolor Card Index. Closeup View. Blurred Image. 3D Render.

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The 2006 Services Directive requires Member States to notify the European Commission of changes to national rules on services, providing the EU executive and other Member States with the opportunity to examine potential incompatibility with EU legislation early in the process. Based on its own assessments and public consultation, the Commission proposed in January 2017 to reform the current procedure in order to address various shortcomings identified in the preparatory process. The new procedure seeks to allow intervention by the Commission or other Member States before the law is adopted. The Council reached its general position in May 2017 proposing a number of modifications with regard to the scope, timing and requirements concerning the Member States and the Commission. The rapporteur published his draft report on 19 June 2017 and a deadline for amendments has been set for 6 September 2017.

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Reform of services notification procedure

Stage: Committee vote

new notification procedure for better implementation of EU services rules

new notification procedure for better implementation of EU services rules

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