Citizens’ enquiries on the Patrick Zaky case

Man holding cardboard paper with HUMAN RIGHTS title, conceptual image

© igor / Fotolia

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

The President of the European Parliament has recently received a large number of messages calling on the Parliament to put pressure on the Egyptian government for the immediate release of Patrick Zaky, an Egyptian human rights advocate and researcher who was studying for a master’s degree on gender and human rights in Bologna. Arrested upon arrival at Cairo airport on 7 February 2020, Zaky was detained by the Egyptian authorities on charges including ‘disseminating false news’, ‘inciting to protest’ and ‘incitement to violence and terrorist crimes’. Citizens first began to write to the President on this subject in February 2020. The President of the European Parliament David Maria Sassoli issued a statement in which he called for the immediate release of Patrick Zaky.

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

Main points made in the reply in English

We would like to inform you that on 12 February 2020, President Sassoli issued a statement in which he called for Patrick Zaky, the Egyptian student who had been studying in Bologna and who was detained in Cairo, to be released immediately, returned to his loved ones and allowed to resume his studies.

You may also view the relevant video of the President if you wish to do so (video).

Main points made in the reply in Italian

La informiamo che il Presidente Sassoli ha rilasciato una dichiarazione il 12 febbraio 2020 in cui ha chiesto che Patrick Zaky, lo studente egiziano di Bologna detenuto al Cairo, venga immediatamente rilasciato e restituito all’affetto dei suoi cari ed ai suoi studi.

Se lo desidera, può altresì consultare il video afferente del Presidente.

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World Health Organization: Is it fit for purpose?

Written by Martin Russell,

© Ricochet64 / Adobe Stock

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19, the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus SARS-COV2, a pandemic on 11 March 2020, putting the United Nations (UN) agency in the global spotlight. The WHO is coordinating international efforts to fight the virus, for example by issuing guidelines on preventing and treating the disease, and coordinating research into testing and vaccines.

Critics argue that the WHO was overly accommodating of China, and as a result failed to handle the pandemic effectively in its early stages. According to them, the WHO too readily accepted Chinese reassurances that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. The WHO also failed to hold China to account for its initial cover-up, and even praised its transparency.

Even before coronavirus, the WHO already had a mixed track record, including, on the one hand, successful eradication of smallpox, and on the other, a delayed response to the West African Ebola epidemic of 2014, which may have cost thousands of lives. Its failures, both in the Covid-19 pandemic and in previous health crises, highlight long-standing problems: the agency is weak, underfunded, and its complex organisational structure can get in the way of effective action. Underlying such weaknesses is the fact that the WHO is entirely dependent on cooperation from its member states and can only act within the limits set by them.

While Covid-19 has highlighted many of the WHO’s weaknesses, it is also a reminder that diseases respect no borders, and that the organisation’s task of global coordination has become more necessary than ever.

Read the complete briefing on ‘World Health Organization: Is it fit for purpose?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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European Parliament Plenary Session – May 2020

Written by Clare Ferguson,

EP building in Brussels

© Architectes : Vandenbossche SPRL, CRV S.A., CDG S.P.R.L., Studiegroep D. Bontinck, ©Façade et Hémicycle – Arch M. Boucquillon Belgium – European Union 2019 – Source : EP

Parliament meets again in plenary from Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 May 2020, using the temporary alternative electronic voting procedure introduced since the coronavirus outbreak, with the agenda including up to three voting sessions. Owing to the many votes required – and depending on the number of amendments tabled – the announcement of the results of the final Friday votes may exceptionally take place only on the morning of Saturday 16 May. In contrast to recent sessions, where the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the agenda, Members now turn to ‘normal’ business and in particular, the thorny issue of the EU budget, in what promises to be difficult times ahead.

On Wednesday, following statements from the Council and the European Commission, Members will address the prospects for future financing for the EU and its coronavirus recovery plan. Parliament’s first legislative initiative report of this term requests that the European Commission make a legislative proposal seeks to set up a contingency plan for the EU multiannual financial framework (MFF), where lengthy negotiations in the European Council and Council have delayed agreement. The coronavirus outbreak of course exacerbates both this delay and its consequences. The Treaties provide for extension of the annual level of resources available in the final year of the current MFF, until agreement is reached. However, there is a risk to the smooth functioning of the EU budget, since many of the EU’s current programmes will expire at the end of 2020, unless a new budget, or contingency plan, are agreed soon. The report before Parliament calling on the Commission to make an urgent legislative proposal for such a contingency plan requires an absolute majority of Parliament’s 704 Members to vote in favour, under Article 225 TFEU.

The bulk of Members’ time this session will however be taken up in ensuring that EU funds were used correctly in 2018 by the European Commission and executive agencies, as well as the other EU institutions, the decentralised agencies and joint undertakings. This annual exercise involves consideration of 56 reports from Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT), which scrutinise each EU entity’s use of EU funding and recommend whether or not to grant approval (discharge). The Committee proposes that Parliament grant discharge for the European Commission, and six agencies, as well as (in a separate report) for the Commission’s disbursement of European Development Funds. However, while noting that the Commission intends to recover €1 billion from Hungarian programmes in which it discovered irregularities, the Committee highlights respect for the rule of law as a precondition of sound financial management, underlining that measures should be taken to ensure that active farmers benefit from agricultural funding. Regarding the rule of law, statements are also expected on Wednesday from the Council and the European Commission, on coronavirus related emergency legislation in Hungary and its impact on fundamental rights.

For EU institutions other than the Commission, the CONT committee recommends granting discharge except, once again (as has been the case since 2009), the European Council and the Council. The committee proposes to postpone a decision in the light of continued lack of cooperation between the institutions. The committee also proposes to postpone a decision in respect of the Economic and Social Committee, until the Committee provides evidence that it has taken measures regarding cases of alleged harassment. For 32 EU decentralised agencies and 8 joint undertakings, the CONT committee recommends discharge in all cases, but nevertheless underlines the continued importance of the principles of good financial management.

Returning to the coronavirus pandemic, Council and the European Commission will intervene in plenary on Wednesday evening to provide statements on the conclusions of the European Council’s video-conference meeting of 23 April 2020, where European leaders discussed coordinated and common measures to address the outbreak and lifting lockdown measures. On Wednesday afternoon, Parliament will consider a proposal put forward by the European Commission, and tabled without a report by Parliament’s Committee on International Trade, that seeks to provide enlargement and neighbourhood partners with macro-financial assistance (MFA) to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. If agreed, the MFA package would provide €3 billion to help enlargement candidate countries such as Albania and North Macedonia, and those in the southern neighbourhood such as Jordan and Tunisia, which face a recession resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Statements are also expected on Thursday from the Council and the Commission on the use of contact tracing apps in the fight against the virus. Members will debate vaccines and therapeutics in the context of Covid‑19 on Thursday afternoon.

Members will vote on Wednesday afternoon on a report recommending that Parliament agree to an extension of the Protocol on the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the EU and Mauritania, currently under renegotiation. This would rollover an existing extension to the 2015 agreement whereby the EU gain access rights to Mauritania’s mixed fisheries in return for payment and for support for the country’s fisheries sector.

On Thursday morning, representatives of the Council and the European Commission are expected to return to the chamber to make statements on the recent 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, generally recognised as the founding document of today’s European Union.

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Coronavirus and the cost of non-Europe: An analysis of the economic benefits of common European action

Written by Tatjana Evas, Aleksandra Heflich, Niombo Lomba, Klaus Müller, Cecilia Navarra, Lauro Panella, Jérôme Saulnier,

© Adobe Stock

Although the European Union is about much more than economics – promoting peace, common values, democratic governance, international development, human rights, health, social protection, research and innovation, and many other public goods – the process of European integration has been key to driving economic growth for half a century, generating significant gains in gross domestic product (GDP) for EU Member States both collectively and individually.

This EPRS paper focuses on the economic benefits of common action and what is at risk if the current coronavirus crisis and its aftermath were to stall or reverse the process of European integration. It attempts to quantify the losses entailed if the economic downturn caused by the pandemic were to result in the gradual dismantling of the EU project and a parallel failure to take advantage of the unexploited potential of collective public goods that could yet be created. In this respect, the study makes use of two complementary concepts: European added value, which attempts to identify the benefit of existing collective action at European level, and the cost of non-Europe, which assesses the benefits foregone by not taking further action in the future.

Even cautious estimates suggest that dismantling the EU single market would cost the European economy between 3.0 and 8.7 per cent of its collective GDP, or between €480 billion and €1 380 billion per year. In parallel, the potential cost of non-Europe in 50 policy fields was identified by EPRS in 2019 as around €2.2 trillion or 14 per cent of EU GDP (by the end of a ten-year running-in period). It follows that if both problems were to develop at once, the EU economy would eventually be between 17.0 and 22.7 per cent smaller than might otherwise be the case. (This is in addition to any direct contraction of the economy as a result of the coronavirus crisis itself, which could be around 7.5 per cent of GDP in 2020, or €1 160 billion).

The potential figures for the first component would depend on the extent of any dismantling of the Union, which in this paper is analysed through various scenarios, such as the substitution of the EU with a standard regional trade agreement, further loosening of the Union by abandoning the Schengen Area and coordination in other areas, and/or full dissolution of the EU with a fall-back to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

Read this complete ‘in-depth analysis’ on ‘Coronavirus and the cost of non-Europe: An analysis of the economic benefits of common European action‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Mobility, transport and coronavirus

Written by Ariane Debyser,

© shintartanya / Adobe Stock

One of the first, and most visible impacts of the Covid-19 crisis was on transport, travel and mobility. In early March 2020, European Union (EU) Member States had already reintroduced border controls at internal Schengen borders on the grounds of an immediate threat to public policy and on 17 March 2020, the Heads of State or Government agreed to reinforce the external borders by applying a coordinated temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU. Travel restrictions and containment measures adopted to limit the spread of the disease, within and at the external border of the EU, have led to drastic reductions in traffic in all transport modes.

In a communication on the coordinated economic response to Covid-19 published on 13 March 2020, the European Commission underlined that the pandemic is having a major impact on transport systems and that disruption in the flow of goods leads to severe economic damage. The Commission mentioned that, in addition to the coordination and guidance efforts and the actions to limit the spread of the virus, it would act to tackle and mitigate the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic, which are exceptionally strong in the key areas of transport, travel and tourism.

The Commission has already adopted measures on mobility and transport and is working with Member States to stop the spread of the disease; ensure essential goods and services such as food, medicines and protective equipment circulate freely in the internal market; and to guarantee the free movement of workers, especially those that exercise critical occupations such as health professionals and transport workers. To tackle the risk of serious economic downturn, the Commission has adopted a temporary framework for State aid measures that allows EU countries to provide assistance to companies. Some sector specific measures have already been approved, including on transport.

Read the complete Briefing on ‘Mobility, transport and coronavirus‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Outcome of the Zagreb EU-Western Balkans video-summit of 6 May 2020

Written by Suzana Anghel,

© AdobeStock

The EU-Western Balkans Summit, which normally would have been held in Zagreb, took place by video-conference on Wednesday 6 May 2020. Twenty years after the Zagreb Summit in 2000, which first expressed the ‘European perspective’ of the countries of the Western Balkans, this video-summit aimed to stress unity and solidarity between the EU and the Western Balkans during the coronavirus crisis and beyond, underlining the region’s strategic importance for the Union. The focus was on a joint response to the crisis and on the common commitment to support the political, economic and social transformation of the region. The EU and Western Balkan leaders adopted the Zagreb Declaration, reconfirming the region’s European perspective, albeit without mentioning enlargement as a process. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, recalled the importance of pursuing reforms in the region, of building a strong democratic framework respectful of the rule of law, and of continuing to fight corruption. The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, sent a strong message of unity, stressing that the Western Balkans are part of Europe’s future and should be involved in the work of the forthcoming Conference on the Future of Europe.

1. Background

On 23 April 2020, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, announced that the EU-Western Balkans summit would take place on 6 May as initially planned, despite the coronavirus outbreak, but by video-conference. Holding the planned summit two decades after the 2000 Zagreb EU-Western Balkans summit, was, first and foremost, important for the current Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU, which regarded this year’s Zagreb summit as the highlight of its first six-month presidency. The summit – the first international event with external counterparts to be attended by (almost) all members of the European Council since the outbreak – allowed EU leaders to give a strong political message to the Western Balkans and signal the importance of the region for the EU at a time when both parties are severely challenged by the coronavirus crisis.

2. Agenda and participation

The summit was preceded by a preparatory meeting held in Brussels on 17 February 2020, which allowed the leaders of the Western Balkan countries, and the Presidents of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to consider the main agenda points for the summit. At that time, those included respect for the rule of law and the fight against organised crime. In the meantime, the coronavirus crisis shifted attention to the health crisis and its economic and societal consequences for both the EU and the Western Balkans, leaving almost no space for the consideration of other policy issues. The commitment to a European perspective for the region, included in the Zagreb declaration, is the main element of continuity between the preparatory meeting and the summit itself.

The summit brought together the leaders of the EU-27, including the Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, representing the Croatian Presidency of the Council, and of the Western Balkan countries, namely Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as Charles Michel, who chaired the meeting, Ursula von der Leyen, and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell. The meeting was also attended by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, while other institutions, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank were also represented.

3. Main results of the meeting

The summit delivered a message of unity and solidarity between the EU Member States and the Western Balkan countries, confirming the region’s strategic importance for the EU. Unity was found not just by placing the Western Balkans in the spotlight for the time of the summit, but through concrete actions, stepped up recently as part of the response to the coronavirus crisis.

Covid-19 joint response

The main focus of the summit was on the joint response to the coronavirus crisis. EU and Western Balkans leaders analysed the immediate response to the health crisis as well as the medium-term action needed to overcome the health, economic and societal aspects of the crisis. President von der Leyen stressed that the crisis had increased the feeling of unity between the EU and the Western Balkans, praised the support offered by countries in the region in the repatriation of EU citizens, and welcomed contributions pledged at the Coronavirus Global Response pledging conference initiated by the Commission. The High Representative, Josep Borrell, stressed that it was only by working together that the EU and the Western Balkans could overcome the coronavirus crisis.

The communication on ‘Support to the Western Balkans in tackling Covid-19 and the post-pandemic recovery’ represented the European Commission’s contribution to the summit, and the basis for the leaders’ discussion. The European Commission reaffirmed that the region is an integral part of Europe, and outlined concrete aid measures, including a €3.3 billion short- and longer-term assistance package, intended to address the Covid-19 crisis in the Western Balkan region. Both parties have acknowledged that aid and support provided by the EU ‘goes far beyond what any other partner has provided’ to the region. The Zagreb declaration adds that the EU is ‘determined to intensify its engagement at all levels’ in the longer term. The European Commission is expected to present a recovery plan later this year, funded under the EU’s 2021-2027 long-term budget (MFF), which is still under negotiation.

President von der Leyen stressed that the Western Balkans have been associated with programmes, including the Joint Procurement Initiative to buy medical supplies, usually only open to EU Member States. By doing so, the EU not only confirmed the strategic importance of the Western Balkans, but also applied the new methodology for enlargement which allows ‘phasing in’ to EU programmes.

Messages from the European Parliament President

President Sassoli praised the support received by the EU from the Western Balkan countries ‘in combating the coronavirus’, and stressed the amount of €3.3 billion in aid provided to the region by the EU, of which €38 million is immediate assistance to the public-health sector.

European perspective of the Western Balkans

The EU leaders reaffirmed their support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans through the Zagreb declaration. The declaration, similar to the Sofia declaration adopted in 2018, does not include the word ‘enlargement’, a sign of persistent sensitivity on this topic among EU Member States. This development is fully in line with previous European Council conclusions, which in 2017 and 2018, also mentioned a European perspective for the Western Balkans without mentioning the word ‘enlargement’, this despite an attempt by the then European Council President, Donald Tusk, to push for more clarity.

A reference to enlargement as a process, and not as a political end-point, was made in the European Council conclusions of October 2019. At the time, the European Council was faced with deadlock and no progress could be made on greenlighting the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. In the interim, the introduction of a new enlargement methodology in February 2020 allowed the deadlock to be overcome, and, as of March 2020, the two countries have been invited to open accession negotiations. This is a recognition of progress made on reforms by the two countries, progress noted several times since 2018 by the European Commission in its reports. It is also, in the case of North Macedonia, a recognition of the normalisation of relations with Greece, through the ratification of the Prespa Agreement, and with Bulgaria, following the ratification of a friendship treaty. In the latter case, hiccups are not to be excluded, as Bulgaria could be tempted to delay the actual date of the start of pre-accession negotiations with North Macedonia pending the result of the work of the mixed history committee mandated to consider the common history of the two countries.

Prime Minister Plenković rightly noted that enlargement was a lengthy process and that, 20 years back, at the first Zagreb EU-Western Balkans summit, his country, Croatia, was among those aspiring to full membership. He stressed that, for the Western Balkan countries, the natural path is to join the EU and added that, from Croatia’s perspective, the decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia had ‘taken too long’. Despite this recent critical step of the EU with respect to the Western Balkans, the opening of accession negotiations with the two countries is not mentioned in the Zagreb declaration. The North Macedonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Dimitrov, said that he would have wished for more clarity and ‘been even happier with a reference to enlargement or completion of the European Union’.

The Western Balkan states are at different stages in the enlargement process, some –Montenegro and Serbia – are well advanced in their accession negotiations whilst others – Albania and North Macedonia – are to open accession negotiations in the months to come. Two other counties from the region, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, are further behind. Prime Minister Plenković said that Bosnia and Herzegovina ‘deserved to be granted candidate country status. The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez – the first ever Spanish Prime Minister to attend, under a carefully negotiated framework, a European summit at which Kosovo was represented – encouraged both Serbia and Kosovo to make progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which is an essential element in allowing both parties to move forward on their respective enlargement paths.

Messages from the European Parliament President

President Sassoli praised enlargement as ‘one of the EU’s greatest triumphs’ and wished to assure the Western Balkan partners of the European Parliament’s intention ‘to remain a reliable partner standing alongside candidate countries’. He stressed that the EP had welcomed the decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, and referred to the Speakers’ Summit he had organised in January 2020 in Brussels with the speakers of the Western Balkan parliaments.

EU values and norms and the continuation of reforms

An essential part of the discussion focused on the respect of EU values and norms, on democratic institution-building and on the continuation of reforms. The new enlargement methodology strengthened the political dimension of the process and has introduced a reversibility mechanism in case of stagnation or backsliding in the reform process, in particular on rule-of-law-related reforms. President Michel recalled the importance of preserving the rule of law, and stressed the need to continue the fight against corruption. President von der Leyen mentioned freedom of the press, which she qualified as ‘a cornerstone of democracy and in Europe’s DNA’. She warned that a ‘strong and free press’ was the best rampart against disinformation.

Messages from the European Parliament President

President Sassoli warned that the ‘more political nature’ of the new enlargement methodology ‘must not undermine the EU’s commitment to step-by-step accession on the basis of the individual merits of each candidate country’.

4. The Zagreb declaration and its Sofia predecessor

The Zagreb declaration is in many points similar to the Sofia declaration adopted in 2018. At the political level, both declarations confirmed the European perspective of the Western Balkans, while neither of them mentioned enlargement. With respect to the guiding principles, both declarations speak about unity and solidarity, whilst expressing attachment to European values and principles, including to the rule of law, democracy, good governance, good neighbourly relations, and political, economic and societal transformation of the region. As regards policy priorities, most of those mentioned in the Sofia declaration – economics, connectivity, counter-terrorism, foreign and security policy, migration, countering disinformation and hybrid threats – were confirmed in the Zagreb declaration. A notable difference, due to the coronavirus outbreak, is the high profile of the health dimension in the Zagreb declaration, an aspect absent from the Sofia declaration.

Another common point of the Zagreb and Sofia declarations is their timeliness, reflecting the exceptional circumstances under which the respective summit declarations were adopted. The Sofia summit took place at a moment when there was a real risk for the Western Balkans to depart from their European path due to domestic political fragility, an accumulated fatigue among the population with uncertainty about the European perspective for the region, and mounting external interference, in particular from China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Some of these fragilities persist, and the coronavirus crisis, with its horizontal impact on all government policies, could have deepened them; hence the importance of maintaining the Zagreb summit, even in the video-conference format.

5. The way forward

Prime Minister Plenković expressed the wish that the pattern of EU-Western Balkan summits be continued and that another summit be organised in two years’ time. In the interim, the next major step in EU-Western Balkan relations will be the beginning of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. The European Commission is to prepare the negotiating framework in view of its adoption by the Council. The start of accession negotiations is dependent on continued delivery of reforms and, in the case of North Macedonia, on the successful implementation of good neighbourly agreements, in particular the friendship treaty with Bulgaria.

Read this briefing on ‘Outcome of the Zagreb EU-Western Balkans video-summit of 6 May 2020‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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The impact of coronavirus on media freedom

Written by Naja Bentzen,

© artyway / Adobe Stock

Media freedom has increasingly come under the spotlight in recent years. In its 2019 report on media freedom, Freedom House argued that media freedom around the world was coming under growing threat both in democratic and non-democratic countries, whilst in its 2020 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) argue that the next decade will be pivotal in ensuring the preservation of media freedom. This threat to media freedom is often attributed to the recent rise of populist and authoritarian governments, with many world-leaders – including leaders of major democracies – increasingly seeming to view free media as an opponent, rather than a fundamental aspect of a free society.

The knock-on effects of such actions can be grave, particularly given the important role that a free media plays in upholding democracy and democratic freedoms. Media freedom and pluralism are part of the rights and principles enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the European Convention on Human Rights.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to have significant ramifications for public health, social welfare and the economy, the crisis also presents a significant threat to media freedom. Media freedom proponents have warned that governments across the world could use the coronavirus emergency as a pretext for the implementation of new, draconian restrictions on free expression, as well as to increase press censorship.

In many countries, the crisis has been exploited for just such reasons, with political leaders using it as a justification for additional restrictions on media freedom. In its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, RSF argues that certain governments have used the crisis to impose media restrictions that in ordinary times would be impossible. The Council of Europe (CoE) Platform for the Protection of Journalists has warned that the fresh assault on media freedom amid the Covid‑19 pandemic has worsened an already gloomy media freedom outlook.

Read the complete briefing on ‘The impact of coronavirus on media freedom‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Schuman Declaration: 70 years on

Written by Christian Salm,

© European Communities, 1950; Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

Aiming to secure peace in Europe after the horrors of the Second World War, the Schuman Declaration proposed cooperation among European countries in two key economic areas central to rearmament and warfare: coal and steel. As an institutional framework for this cooperation, the Schuman Declaration proposed the creation of the first supranational organisation in Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Established in 1952, the ECSC laid the foundations for today’s European Union (EU). The Schuman Declaration is therefore seen as the EU’s founding act. Presented by the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, on 9 May 1950, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration.

Europe in the mid-20th century

In the middle of the last century, coal and steel played a significant political and economic role in Europe. As essential elements in national defence industries, in the potential to wage war, and in economic growth, they were seen as indicators of state power. After the Second World War, however, coal, one of the most important energy sources for steel production, was a scarce resource. American and British intentions to lift production limits for the German steel industry from mid-May 1950 therefore put pressure on France to find a swift solution to the ‘German issue’. In other words, France had to define a strategy to safeguard itself against potential German aggression and to make sure to benefit in political and economic terms from the German economic resurgence. From the end of the war, France had followed a policy aimed at preventing Germany from getting back on its feet, through territorial fragmentation and disarmament. From 1949 on, however, French foreign policy on the ‘German issue’ became increasingly shaped by moves towards Western European integration. Similarly, in Germany, plans for Western European integration were also discussed, as a way to abolish the Occupation Statute and to obtain sovereignty for the Federal Republic founded in 1949. The Schuman Declaration provided a simple but convincing answer as to how to secure peace in Europe by combining the difficult ‘German issue’ with thinking on the new political architecture of post-war Europe.

Schuman Declaration: Monnet’s supranational innovation

Jean Monnet, guiding light of the Schuman Declaration and first President of the ECSC High Authority, alerted Schuman and French Prime Minister George Bidault to the possible consequences for the French economy of an unimpeded German economic recovery, in an urgent appeal in early May 1950. At that time, Monnet was Head of the French Planning Committee and familiar with contemporary thinking on transnational cooperation in the coal and steel sectors. He worked from mid-April 1950 on the text which later became the Schuman Declaration. There are a total of nine recognised versions of the text. Its main objectives were to ensure: peace, security, European unification, modernisation of the French economy, and improvement of industrial production conditions, especially for steel production. This was to be achieved by the establishment of a common market for coal and steel, and equivalent production conditions for France and Germany. The really innovative element of the Schuman Declaration, however, was the institutional creation of a new European political organisation. This encompassed a supranational design in the form of the High Authority (today’s European Commission), equipped with real competence and independent of any direct influence from the participating Member States.

Monnet could not convince Bidault to agree to his plan. Schuman, in contrast, saw it as an opportunity for French foreign policy. Having obtained agreement in principle from German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Schuman presented the Declaration in a press conference at the Quai d’Orsay on 9 May 1950. As the text, marking a turning point in European history, was read out by Schuman, it was thereafter known as the Schuman Declaration.

Objective: Peace in Europe

To find a way to secure peace in Europe in the post-war era was a difficult task. Nevertheless, it was precisely this task to which the Schuman Declaration attempted to find an answer. The Declaration’s first two sentences made this absolutely clear. They read: ‘World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it. The contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.’ It is thus safe to say that the Schuman Declaration was, in essence, a peace project. This was furthermore underlined by the day chosen to present the Declaration, 9 May 1950, exactly one day after the fifth anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany. Without the establishment of a common market for coal and steel, the creation of a strong supranational institution and the possibility for mutual monitoring, it is possible that the European countries might have sleepwalked into another war. The 1951 Paris Treaty founding the ECSC adopted the essence of the Schuman Declaration, putting securing peace in Europe first and foremost.

Negotiating the European Coal and Steel Community

On 3 June 1950, the six participating countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – announced the launch of an intergovernmental conference to flesh out the Schuman Declaration. The countries’ agreement to start negotiations was due to both political and economic reasons. Politically, no country wanted to remain outside the newly developing Europe represented by the ECSC. Economically, Italy and the Benelux countries especially, sought solutions to energy issues due to the lack of coal and emerging globalisation, which put European energy sectors under pressure from cheaper energy sources coming from non-European countries.

See also the interactive infographic on EP Network of Political Houses and Foundations of Great Europeans

Intensive negotiations started on June 1950 in Paris and took almost one year. For example, various changes to the ECSC’s institutional form were made during the negotiations. While Monnet had designed the High Authority as a small, completely independent and highly powerful body, the Benelux countries in particular demanded the creation of various control bodies. Therefore, further entities were added to the institutional set-up, including the Court of Justice, a special Council of Ministers (equivalent to today’s Council of the European Union), and the ECSC Common Assembly, the forerunner of the European Parliament. The High Authority’s competences softened, the Paris Treaty establishing the ECSC is not therefore identical to the institutional framework envisaged by Monnet when preparing the Schuman Declaration. Signed on 18 April 1951, the Paris Treaty entered into force after ratification on 23 July 1952. (Concluded for a fixed period of 50 years, the Treaty expired in July 2002, although its provisions had by then largely been subsumed into the EU Treaties.)

Historical significance

By creating the ECSC, for the first time in European history, participating states voluntarily gave up part of their sovereignty to an organisation at European level. The Schuman Declaration thereby allowed the establishment of the present-day EU by preparing its historical institutional framework. This included, as one of the most important Schuman Declaration achievements, the breakthrough in Franco-German reconciliation. Clearly its most important legacy, however, is that the supranational institutions for which the Declaration paved the way have contributed a great deal to guaranteeing the peaceful co-existence of European Union Member States over the last 70 years. It is therefore fitting to call the Schuman Declaration an innovative and visionary peace treaty.

Further material

The ‘digital exhibition’ prepared for the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration:

Read this ‘At a glance’ on ‘Schuman Declaration: 70 years on‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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What if we could fight antibiotic resistance with probiotics? [Science and Technology podcast]

Written by Gianluca Guaglio,

Recent research suggests that the future combat against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) may involve probiotic-based approaches. Their use in our microbial ecosystems, including humans, animals and the healthcare environment, may provide a novel approach which deserves exploration.

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Antimicrobials are agents that kill or prevent the growth of micro-organisms, such as antibiotics which target bacteria. The rampant and sometimes inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans, animals, and the environment has led to the growing global health threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This refers to the natural adaptation of bacteria to survive antibiotic attack. When resistance has been acquired, it can spread quickly among species. Once such resistance mechanisms exist, it is very difficult to get rid of them.

Multi-drug resistant (MDR) micro-organisms have appeared, making therapeutic treatments difficult, and some of them may become untreatable. More than 33 000 deaths from drug-resistant bacterial infections alone are reported every year in Europe. This figure could rise tenfold by 2050. Targeting AMR is a critical focus for sustainable healthcare in the EU and worldwide. Antibiotic use and AMR are not only related to human health but also to veterinary medicine, agricultural livestock management, and food production. As the antibiotic-resistant strains continue to grow, the use of probiotics as a potential substitute for antibiotics is becoming more popular for human, veterinary and environmental application.

Potential impacts and developments

The microbiota is a collective term referring to the reservoirs of micro-organisms living in the human body, in animals, and within the environment. Although the terms are used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between microbiome and microbiota. In fact, ‘microbiota’ refers to the actual organisms (‘bugs’), and ‘microbiome’ to the organisms and their genes. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. They are ‘live micro-organisms that confer a health benefit to the host when administered in adequate amounts’, according to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization guidelines. Commonly used probiotics include Lactobacillus, Bacillus, Escherichia or Streptococcus, however combinations of more than one are common, to achieve maximal effects. Probiotic use is increasingly practised for human, veterinary and environmental applications. Consumption via the gastrointestinal route is the most common application in both human and veterinary uses.

The use of probiotics instead of antibiotics for treating infectious and non-infectious diseases to address the problem of AMR has been explored. Briefly, the idea is that instead of using antibiotics to kill pathogenic microbes, the establishment of commensal and sometimes mutualistic microbes may hinder the growth of disease-causing microbes found in the same host microbial environment. By limiting the use of antibiotics, probiotic use may help to decrease the rate of development of antibiotic-resistant strains resulting from widespread antibiotic use. In addition, there is evidence that maintaining what is considered ‘normal’ microbiota for certain host microbial environments may prevent diseased conditions – that are not necessarily of infectious etiology – and may improve general health outcomes.

Evidence from human studies has shown the potential of probiotics to tackle a number of pathological conditions. Probiotic supplementation may reduce episodes of common infectious diseases, including respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea, particularly for a specific condition, such as Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhoea. In addition, probiotic supplementation may reduce the duration of symptoms in otherwise healthy children and adults with common acute respiratory conditions. By decreasing the incidence and severity of common acute infections, probiotic supplementation could be associated with decreased antibiotic use.

Specific sets of subjects – critically ill and oncology patients – may have higher risks of microbiome perturbation leading to infectious disease. Although still unclear, probiotics exert a heterogeneous positive influence in preventing adverse outcomes in these patients. In addition, it is considered that a proportion of antibiotic prescriptions may be a response to emotional rather than medical factors. The recommendation to take a probiotic may offer a ‘tool’ for doctors, fulfilling the need to reduce patient anxiety. Other human health conditions – not of infectious origin – are now being connected to the human gut microbiota. A common pathophysiological element of these diseases is the deviation from the ‘normal’ human gut microbial ecology. Obesity, diabetes mellitus, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, necrotizing enterocolitis, and several other pathological conditions, are currently being associated with dysbiosis in the human gut microbiota.

Listen to policy podcast ‘What if we could fight antibiotic resistance with probiotics?’ on YouTube.

In recent decades, antibiotics have been exploited as livestock feed additives due to their effectiveness in increasing weight gain and preventing disease through modifications of the gastrointestinal flora. Since 2006, due to their harmful effect on AMR, the EU banned the use of antibiotics in animal feed, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has instituted guidelines on the use of food additives in animal products that may potentially spread AMR genes. However, other developed nations, such as the United States of America, have not imposed strict regulatory policies on antibiotic use for livestock. Probiotics, on the other hand, are among the approved additives allowed in animal feed to promote gut flora equilibrium/symbiosis and health. Some beneficial effects of probiotic use in animal feed have been noted. For example, probiotic use in livestock farming of chickens and turkeys shows an increased resistance to Salmonella infections. In addition, probiotic administration reduced overall costs of production of chickens and turkeys. Aquaculture provides another case, where the need to improve safe aquatic production for human consumption has stimulated probiotics development and applications. Probiotics are also applied during all phases of swine production, to mitigate disease, increase product quality and reduce environmental pollutants.

In the healthcare environment, AMR can also contribute to serious healthcare-associated infections (HAI). Persistent contamination of surfaces contributes to infection transmission, which cannot be completely controlled by conventional cleaning. In fact, micro-organisms have the ability to survive for long periods of time on surfaces, from where they are easily transmitted. A review of recent evidence has shown support for a probiotic cleaning hygiene system (PCHS). There is evidence that instead of trying to eradicate all pathogens, for example on hospital surfaces, it may be more effective to replace them with beneficial bacteria, in order to prevent infections. Replacing conventional cleaning with a PCHS is associated with a significant decrease in HAI incidence and a stable decrease in surface pathogens.

Anticipatory policy-making

There is still a lack of clear evidence on how exactly probiotics produce their benefits. It has been suggested that they can act by different mechanisms, comprising secretion of antibacterial chemicals, stimulation and modulation of the immune responses, competition between nutrition and specific adhesion sites, and inhibition of toxic protein expression in gastro-intestinal pathogens. Probiotic use is not exempted from complications: a major issue being acquired antibiotic resistance genes. A risk of pathogenic microbes acquiring antibiotic-resistance genes from probiotic microbes exists, and vice versa, and researchers advise renewed efforts to examine this risk in view of the growing global concern regarding antimicrobial resistance. For example, if undercooked meat is consumed by a livestock animal fed with probiotics containing antimicrobial-resistant genes, this could also be a potential source of AMR in human microbiota. A combined effort at a global level is necessary to implement probiotic screening and regulation for those used in both livestock and human applications. Increased and long-term exposure of probiotics also needs further research. As such, it is imperative to screen microbes effectively for antibiotic resistance genes before using them as probiotics. So far, no worldwide health authority (e.g. WHO, FAO) has taken full responsibility for screening for antibiotic resistance genes in probiotic micro-organisms.

It should be emphasised that the overall success of probiotics in replacing or reducing the need for antimicrobials may be modest, conditional, strain-dependent, and transient. However, any alternative which may reduce the rise of AMR is worth investigating. In addition, there is no one-size-fits-all probiotic that works well for everyone, as the gut microbiome differs between individuals. However, with the development of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, engineering of probiotics opens up possibilities to design microbes to target specific tissues and cells rather than the whole body and to create novel probiotics with desired characteristics and functionalities. Increasing evidence endorses the role of ecological interactions among humans, animals, and the microbial environment in influencing antibiotic-resistance genes. As such, in addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance, an ecological approach is needed, where both the agricultural use of antibiotics and the clinical prescription of antibiotics in humans and at an environmental level is properly regulated.

Read this ‘At a glance’ on ‘What if we could fight antibiotic resistance with probiotics?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Coronavirus: From lock-down to de-confinement, and beyond [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

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A number of European countries have now started, or will soon start, relaxing the lock-downs put in place to slow the spread of the lethal coronavirus. The goal is to begin the process of reviving their economies, which have been hit very hard by the crisis, without prompting a further upsurge in the pandemic. While still assessing the immediate impacts of the crisis and actively examining various ‘exit strategies’, analysts are also shifting their focus towards identifying the medium- and long-term legacy of the crisis, the likely shape of the ‘world after coronavirus’, and the best policies for the future.

This note offers links to recent commentaries and reports from international think tanks on coronavirus and related issues. Earlier publications on the topic can be found in the previous edition in this series, published by EPRS on 28 April.

Salvaging globalisation
European Council on Foreign Relations, May 2020

IMF needs new thinking to deal with coronavirus
Chatham House, May 2020

Coronavirus has shown us a world without traffic. Can we sustain it?
Brookings Institution, May 2020

Inequality and repression undermine democracy and market economy worldwide
Bertelsmann Stiftung, April 2020

Covid-19 provides China a historic chance to tilt the world in its favor, but it may not last long
Atlantic Council, May 2020

The health and economic impacts of Covid-19 interventions
Rand Corporation, May 2020

Le déconfinement: Quelques enjeux
Institut français des Relations internationales, April 2020

Where in the world is the EU now?
Carnegie Europe, April 2020

Saving European defense from the coronavirus pandemic
Carnegie Europe, April 2020

Facts, not words: The EU role in the de-confinement phase
Bruegel, April 2020

Europe’s hidden weapon in combatting Covid-19: The Single Market
European Policy Centre, April 2020

Racing against Covid-19: A vaccines strategy for Europe
Bruegel, April 2020

Can protest movements in the MENA region turn Covid-19 into an opportunity for change?
Chatham House, April 2020

Covid-19: Le monde d’après est déjà là…
Institut français des Relations internationales, April 2020

Building a post-pandemic world will not be easy
Bruegel, April 2020

Covid-19 bends the rules on internal border controls: Yet another crisis undermining the Schengen acquis?
Finnish Institute for International Affairs, April 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic is a defining moment for the EU and its relations with China
German Marshall Fund, April 2020

The Hong Kong way to combat Covid-19: ‘Take things in our own hands’
Heinrich Böll Stiftung, April 2020

Le Covid-19 dans la relation Europe-Chine
Institut français des Relations internationales, April 2020

The national debt dilemma
Council on Foreign Relations, April 2020

How is the Coronavirus pandemic changing thinking on security?
German Marshall Fund, April 2020

Latin America’s Covid-19 moment: Differences and solidarity
Chatham House, April 2020

La défense française face au Covid-19 : Quels défis par-delà l’horizon?
Institut français des Relations internationales, April 2020

Les crises du Covid-19 en Afrique australe : Inquiétudes et premières conséquences
Institut français des Relations internationales, April 2020

What world post-Covid-19? Three scenarios
Atlantic Council, April 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on emerging markets
Bruegel, April 2020

Assessing the early response to Beijing’s pandemic diplomacy
Council on Foreign Relations, April 2020

How testing can provide a way out of coronavirus shutdowns
Atlantic Council, April 2020

Society max: How Europe can help Syrians survive Assad and coronavirus
European Council on Foreign Relations, April 2020

Showing true illiberal colours: Rule of law vs Orbán’s pandemic politics
Centre for European Policy Studies, April 2020

A Covid-19 moment for technological sovereignty in Europe?
Istituto Affari Internazionali, April 2020

Covid-19: N’enterrons pas trop vite l’Occident !
Institut Montaigne, April 2020

La Russie face à un triple défi : réforme constitutionnelle, chute du prix du pétrole et Covid-19
Institut français des Relations internationales, April 2020

A global agreement on medical equipment and supplies to fight Covid-19
European Centre for International Political Economy, April 2020

Covid-19 and Europe-China relations
Clingendael, April 2020

The revived centrality of the G20
Bruegel, April 2020

COVID-19 is causing the collapse of oil markets: When will they recover?
Bruegel, April 2020

The economic impact of Covid-19 on the EU: From the frying pan into the fire
European Policy Centre, April 2020

Governing in times of social distancing: The effects of Covid-19 on EU decision-making
European Policy Centre, April 2020

EU trade in medical goods: Why self-sufficiency is the wrong approach
Bruegel, April 2020

How is EU cooperation on the Covid-19 crisis perceived in member states?
Centre for European Policy Studies, April 2020

We can afford more stimulus
Brookings Institution, April 2020

Coronavirus and farmworkers: Is the food supply at risk?
Council on Foreign Relations, April 2020

Bankruptcy and the coronavirus
Brookings Institution, April 2020

India: Fighting Coronavirus in an informal economy
Council on Foreign Relations, April 2020

Will the Coronavirus endanger foreign aid?
Council on Foreign Relations, April 2020

Coronavirus has exposed the United States’ own political virus
Atlantic Council, April 2020

Putin’s societal distancing: Prioritizing power in the corona pandemic
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, April 2020.

Read this briefing on ‘Coronavirus: From lock-down to de-confinement, and beyond‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Read all EPRS publications on the coronavirus outbreak

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