The challenges of regulating disinformation with artificial intelligence

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,


The spread of false information is not merely a reputational threat for news providers in general, but is a risk factor for democratic order. People are increasingly concerned about the influence of fake news on elections in the USA and Europe.

The recent surge of advances in artificial intelligence (AI) has opened up new opportunities in a wide range of different fields, including developments that suggest that the technology can be leveraged to tackle the ‘fake news’ problem. Given the limited capacity of manual fact-checking, automated content recognition (ACR) technologies have been promoted as a solution to identifying disinformation, fake news and other threats. Across the European Union, Member States, public bodies and private entities are combining technology and human expertise to tackle fake news. As they are based on algorithms, however, these technological initiatives may affect freedom of expression and media pluralism, and strengthen centralised control of what can be published online, given that the notion of ‘fake news’ is too vague to prevent a subjective and arbitrary interpretation.

The European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) recently published two studies on disinformation and artificial intelligence. The first study, under the title ‘Automated tackling of disinformation’, was carried out by EU DisinfoLab and managed by STOA. The study, requested by STOA panel member María Teresa Giménez Barbat (ALDE, Spain), maps and analyses current and future threats from online disinformation, alongside currently adopted socio-technical and legal approaches to countering these threats. The study also discusses the challenges of evaluating the effectiveness and practical adoption of these approaches. Drawing on and complementing existing literature, the study summarises and analyses the findings of scientific studies and policy reports in relation to detecting, containing and countering online disinformation and propaganda campaigns. It traces recent developments and trends, identifies significant new or emerging challenges, and addresses the potential policy implications of current socio-technical solutions for the EU.

This study first defines the technological, legal, societal and ethical dimensions of the disinformation phenomenon, and argues strongly in favour of adopting the terms ‘misinformation’, ‘disinformation’ and ‘malinformation’, instead of the ill-defined ‘fake news’. Next, it discusses how social platforms, search engines, online advertising and computer algorithms enable and facilitate the creation and spread of online disinformation. It also presents the current understanding as to why people believe false narratives, what motivates people to share them, and how they impact offline behaviour (e.g. voting). Drawing on existing literature, the study also summarises state-of-the-art technological approaches to fighting online misinformation. A brief overview of self-regulation, co-regulation and classic regulatory responses, as currently adopted by social platforms and EU Member States, complements the study. In addition, the study summarises civil-society and other citizen-oriented approaches (e.g. media literacy). The authors have also compiled a roadmap of initiatives from key stakeholders in Europe and beyond, spanning the technological, legal and social dimensions. Three in-depth case studies on the utility of automated technology in detecting, analysing and containing online disinformation complement their analyses. The study concludes with the provision of policy options and makes reference to the stakeholders best placed to act upon these at national and European level. The options include support for research and innovation on technological responses; improving the transparency and accountability of platforms and political actors over content shared online; strengthening media and improving journalism standards; and supporting a multi-stakeholder approach, including involving civil society.

The second study, entitled ‘Regulating disinformation with artificial intelligence’ was carried out by Vesalius College, Brussels, and managed by STOA. The study, requested by Isabela Adinolfi (EFDD, Italy) and Stelios Kouloglou (GUE, Greece), looks at the consequences of the use of AI and ACR systems in the fight against disinformation for freedom of speech, pluralism and democracy, reviews some of the key ideas from the field and highlights their relevance to European policy. The study examines the trade-offs involved in using automated technology to limit the spread of disinformation online and presents (self-regulatory to legislative) options for regulating ACR technologies in this context. The opportunities for the European Union as a whole to take the lead in setting the framework for designing these technologies in a way that enhances accountability and transparency, and respects free speech, are a particular focus.

The authors emphasise that disinformation is best tackled through media pluralism and literacy initiatives, as these allow diversity of expression and choice, whereas source transparency indicators are preferable over (de)prioritisation of disinformation. They advise against regulatory action that would encourage increased use of AI for content moderation purposes, without strong human review and appeal processes. The study argues that introduction, as soon as feasible, of independent appeal and audit procedures is necessary when platforms moderate content and accounts. There is scope for standardising notice and appeal procedures and reporting, and creating a self- or co-regulatory multi-stakeholder body, such as a ‘social media council’, as suggested by the UN Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council. As the Special Rapporteur, in the first-ever UN report that examines the regulation of user-general online content, recommends: this multi-stakeholder body could, on the one hand, have competence to deal with industry-wide appeals; and, on the other, work towards a better understanding and minimisation of the effects of AI on freedom of expression and media pluralism. The study concludes that, given the lack of independent evidence or detailed research in this policy area, greater transparency in the variety of AI and disinformation-reduction techniques used by online platforms and content providers must be introduced.

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What role in European defence for a post-Brexit United Kingdom?

Written by Tania Latici,

brexit blue european union EU flag on broken wall and half great britain flag, vote for united kingdom exit concept

© donfiore / Fotolia

Despite the recent turmoil in Britain’s defence establishment, it is in both the European Union and the United Kingdom’s interest to continue to have a deeply interlinked defence partnership.

The 2018 British National Security Capability Review states ‘Europe’s security is our security’. The expected departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union will not alter geography, and the UK will remain a European country. The UK and the countries of the EU share the same strategic environment and, by default, the same threats to their peace and security. Historically, pragmatically and geographically, they remain deeply linked from a security and defence perspective, and there is political consensus on the need to nurture this linkage. Official documents from the British government also confirm this: the UK is exiting the EU, not Europe.

In legal terms, after leaving the EU, the UK will become a third country to the EU and cooperation will continue on that basis. While the EU’s common security and defence policy has an established precedent in cooperating closely with third countries on missions and operations, albeit without providing them with decision-making roles, the EU’s new defence integration initiatives are currently exploring third party cooperation. As the UK played a founding role in developing the EU’s security and defence policy, it is naturally deeply interconnected with the other EU Member States in this area. As one of the EU’s biggest military powers, the UK brings a particularly valuable contribution and know-how to the field.

Both parties have made commitments to ensure as close as possible a partnership in foreign policy, security and defence matters. Can cooperation in the area of security and defence result in a positive post-Brexit tale?

Read the complete Briefing: ‘What role in European defence for a post-Brexit United Kingdom?‘ on the European Parliament Think Tank website.

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The power of the European Parliament: Examples of EP impact during the 2014 2019 legislative term

Plenary session - Votes

© European Union 2019 – Source: EP – Daina Le Lardic.

As the only European Union institution elected directly, the European Parliament is at the heart of representative democracy, the foundation upon which the EU is built. Since its creation, the Parliament’s power and influence have evolved significantly, transforming it into a full-fledged legislative body and forum of discussion and engagement, whose influence is felt in virtually all areas of EU activity.

First of all, the Parliament does what most parliaments do – it adopts legislation, mostly together with the representatives of the national governments of the Member States (the Council). The number of areas in which the Parliament co-legislates with the Council has expanded greatly over time, and now includes policies concerning the EU internal market, environment, consumer protection, food safety, justice and home affairs, cohesion policy, transport, energy and many others. Law-making is also about international action. When the EU enters into an international agreement with a third country, for example, the Parliament must give its consent.

Next, the Parliament has power over the EU budget. This power is also shared with the Council, and its extent varies according to the different aspects of the EU financial system. Its role is less developed when deciding about the revenue side of the budget (own resources system), stronger in shaping the EU’s long-term spending priorities included in the multiannual financial framework, and stronger still in the context of the procedure for approving the implementation of the budget, known as the discharge procedure. The Parliament decides on the EU’s annual budget on equal terms with the Council.

a mapping of EP powers

a mapping of EP powers

Another important set of EP prerogatives concerns the scrutiny and control of the executive, namely the European Commission. The latter regularly reports to and informs the Parliament of its activities and responds to parliamentary questions. Moreover, the Parliament plays a crucial role in the appointment and dismissal process of the Commission. The most recent prominent illustration in this regard is the Spitzenkandidaten process, which led to the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President in 2014. The Parliament remains firmly committed to repeating and consolidating the process in 2019, and many European political parties have selected their lead candidates for the position of the next Commission President. After the election of the Commission President, and following parliamentary hearings with individual Commissioners-designate, the college of Commissioners as a whole must be approved by the Parliament before it can take office. The next Commission investiture process, which will take place not long after the 2019 European elections, will offer a major opportunity for the Parliament to shape the agenda of the Commission over the coming five years (2019-24). Besides its role in the Commission’s appointment, the Parliament may also force the resignation of the Commission (by a motion of censure), which is one of its oldest prerogatives.

In addition to adopting laws and overseeing the executive, the Parliament also has powers relating to the very nature of the EU and its institutional/constitutional foundations. Parliament’s consent is required before any new country joins the EU, and its consent to the withdrawal treaty is required before a country can leave the EU. The Parliament may initiate a Treaty revision process and must give its consent before it is decided that an EU Member State is breaching (or is about to breach) the values of the EU.

Finally, besides its formal legislative and scrutiny powers, the Parliament functions as a forum for debate and engagement, putting matters on the political agenda, debating and raising awareness. For example, since January 2018, the Parliament has hosted a number of national leaders invited to debate and share their visions on the ‘Future of Europe’.

Read the complete In-depth Analysis on ‘The power of the European Parliament‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Living in the EU

Written by Giulio Sabbati (EPRS) and Caterina Francesca Guidi (Globalstat, EUI),

European societies face a variety of political, economic, social and cultural challenges. The multiple crises that challenge Europe, from within and without, have recently put considerable stress on the solidarity between nations, one of the fundamental pillars of European integration. In the final approach to the 2019 European elections, the main objective of the ‘Living in the EU’ series is to highlight the relevance of solidarity within and across European societies, shedding light on the multifaceted state of wellbeing in EU Member States, and adding a global perspective whenever meaningful.

In any multilevel system of interconnected relations that builds on shared interests and security, such as that of the European Union, solidarity between nations supports the endurance of states and their stability thanks to negotiation, balancing, integration, and redistribution. Solidarity between EU Member States, alongside the desire for lasting peace between nations, was one of the driving forces, values and principles of the EU’s founding fathers. However, internal and external pressures are eroding the original idea of European integration, endangering solidarity in Europe, both as a constitutional value and as an administrative principle. Adding to the challenges of economic and social crises, populism and contestation in politics are attacking democracy, in several EU Member States, from within.

Against this backdrop, the democratic functioning of the European Union and its Member States, as well as their capacity to respond to the aspirations and needs of future generations are of central interest to the 2019 European election campaign. The new GlobalStat-EPRS series on ‘Living in the EU’ aims to inform citizens and policy-makers in the run-up to the 2019 elections of the central features that shape life in the EU. The series presents statistical data based on EPRS and GlobalStat research on six main themes:

Climate change and energy:

Economic prosperity and environmental protection are interdependent. Monitoring how Member States perform in terms of emissions and energy supply represents a key element in deciding upon action to prevent climate change.


European Elections and Democracy:

Many Europeans show an increasing attachment to the EU and to its democracy. Could this herald a turnaround in the hitherto declining electoral turnout in Europe?



The EU population is ageing dramatically. While population growth is slowing, increasing old-age dependency ratios and east-west movement have serious implications for the economy, labour market, healthcare and pensions.

Asylum and Migration:

Migration from third countries plays an important role in shaping demography in the EU, but whether this can mitigate demographic challenges remains an open question.

Asylum applicants per capita



The EU coordinates economic policy with its Member States annually. Trade, taxes, social contributions and consumption-related household expenditure combine to provide a picture of citizens’ wellbeing.

Education and Health:

Health and education are the responsibility of EU Member States, with the EU providing complementary support, particularly on cross-border issues. These indicators therefore demonstrate a range of national differences, with consequences for citizens.


The European Parliamentary Research Service has prepared these publications, in cooperation with Globalstat and the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, in preparation for the ninth edition of ‘The State of the Union’ address on 2-4 May 2019. Top leaders and thinkers will gather in Florence, just weeks before the pivotal European elections, to debate and reflect on the democratic functioning of the European Union, its Member States, and their capacity to respond to the aspirations and needs of future generations, with special emphasis on 21st-Century democracy in Europe.

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Journal of Common Market Studies Annual Review– 2019 Lecture: ‘How the EU 27 came to be’

Written by Joanna Apap,

EPRS - Journal of Common Market Studies Annual Review - 2019 Lecture - How the EU27 came to beOn 4 April, EPRS hosted, in Parliament’s Library Reading Room, the Journal of Common Market Studies Annual Review 2019 Lecture – ‘How the EU27 came to be’, this year delivered by Professor Dr Brigid Laffan, Director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence.

Following a warm welcome from EPRS Director General Anthony Teasdale, Dr Emanuele Massetti, Co-Editor of the JCMS Annual Review and moderator of the event, explained that the Annual Review is a key component of the Journal of Common Market Studies (JCMS). It shares the JCMS’ overall aim of publishing high quality, innovative and accessible articles that advance debates in European and comparative regionalism studies. Within this common endeavour, the specific role of the Annual Review is to provide rigorous analyses of the most important events and/or trends that emerge year by year in the context of the European Union, including an Annual Lecture delivered by a leading scholar or practitioner.

The Annual Review covers the key developments in the European Union, its Member States, and acceding and/or applicant countries in the previous year, including important developments in the domestic or external arena that shape the political debates in Europe. In line with the ethos and inspiring principles of the JCMS, the Annual Review is a multidisciplinary outlet, open to all methodological and theoretical approaches.

In her lecture, Professor Brigid Laffan explained how the ‘Brexit shock’ came at a time when the EU had endured a series of crises that had seemed too much for the weakened Union to bear. The evening of 23 June 2016, as Professor Laffan highlighted, was a momentous one in the history of European integration. The electorate of a Member State, the United Kingdom (UK), made the decision to leave the EU by voting 52 % ‘leave’ to 48 % ‘remain’. The Brexit shock came at a time when the EU had endured both the acute crisis in the euro area and the 2015 refugee crisis, and the immediate reaction from the media was that this third crisis might lead to the disintegration of the EU, representing a ‘final straw’ for the weakened Union. To the contrary, however, the EU responded to the Brexit shock with resolve and a determination to protect the polity.

The EU’s immediate responses featured:

  • Speedy EU collective framing on 24 June 2016:

    • President of the European Commission,
    • Presidents of the EU institutions,
    • Informal European Council at 27 on 29 June 2016.
  • Survival of the Union: ‘We will stand strong and uphold the EU’s core values of promoting peace and the wellbeing of its peoples. The Union of 27 Member States will continue’.
  • Unity: President of the European Council, Donald Tusk declared that ‘Today, on behalf of the 27 leaders, I can say that we are determined to keep our unity as twenty seven’.
  • Process and orderly withdrawal under Article 50,
  • United Kingdom as an embryonic ‘other’: the EU would negotiate the future relationship with the UK as a third country, and negotiations had to involve a balance of rights and obligations.

Professor Laffan explored what the EU response revealed about the Union, what membership means and the crucial difference between differentiation within the Union and as an external partner. Her aim was to understand and explain the Union response. Professor Laffan argued that Brexit is very revealing of the DNA of the European Union and the Union’s resolve to use its full capacity. In addition, Professor Laffan examined what Brexit helped reveal, through the EU’s response, about the Union, and the EU27’s actions since 2016 to reinforce its own inherent resilience.

Brexit revealed that the EU has become much more polity-like, unafraid of deploying power through the challenges of the multiple crises it faces. According to Professor Laffan, the EU showed a formidable capacity and is capable of deploying it collectively and strategically, particularly when its interinstitutional and Brussels/capitals networks work well – this enhances capacity. Finally, yet importantly, methods do matter. Unity after 2016 was not accidental – it was hard-won.

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Launch of the new ESPAS foresight report

Written by Eamonn Noonan, with Atte Ojanen,

EPRS round table - Study visit

EPRS round table – Study visit

April 2019 marked the launch of the new European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) report: ‘Global Trends to 2030: Challenges and Choices for Europe’. The report is a result of a multi-year joint effort by key European institutions. The collaborative nature of the ESPAS process was also reflected in the launch event, which featured variety of stakeholders as speakers.

Lead author of the report, Florence Gaub, from EUISS, highlighted the report’s structure, focusing on ‘mega-trends’, ‘catalysts’ and ‘game-changers’. ‘Mega-trends’ refer to decade-long trends, which are extremely hard to alter, such as climate change and increasing connectivity. ‘Catalysts’ on the other hand are short-term trends that are more easily influenced. These include trends like technological progress, increasing trade and migration. Finally, informed by mega-trends and catalysts, ‘game-changers’ are the key decisions that will shape our common future. The most pressing game-changers include responses to climate change and the populist threat to democracies.

ESPAS Chair, Ann Mettler, from EPSC, depicted the report as a call to action. Despite the somber challenges, we are still in a position to take action and shape the future for the better. Importantly, the ESPAS process has fostered the role of foresight and preparedness throughout European decision-making. Trends such as the decline of democracy, a global power shift towards China, and growth in connectivity, are now more widely acknowledged. The report helps frame the discussion concerning global challenges, which is crucial given the next institutional cycle. Not only can we shape our own future, but the European Union is also a normative superpower, standing for human rights, democracy and equality in an increasingly uncertain world.

The report lays the groundwork for a serious debate about the future, as expressed by Jim Cloos, Deputy Director-General for General and Institutional Policy at the General Secretariat of the EU Council of Ministers. It forces us to discuss Europe itself and its role in the world, rather than being trapped in a discourse on internal politics. Foresight is not a matter of predicting the future, but rather about framing issues, building a shared narrative and understanding. One cannot tackle the most challenging issues of the future without first agreeing what the problems themselves are. It is central therefore that the ESPAS report is not only circulated within the foresight community, but also finds its way into the hands of heads of states.

In spite of the grave challenges, one can also find a positive and motivating tone in the report. As Christian Leffler of EEAS noted, the EU is well positioned to respond to these challenges and provide stability for the world. Many of the problems are recognised in the institutions and policies of the Union, especially when compared to other global actors. While preparation and adaptation are still needed, the structural framework for effective response is in place. This is important given the contested and fragmented global context. The rules-based international order and multilateralism are giving way to competitive multi-plurality. The response lies in the EU’s strategic autonomy, ensuring the Union’s capacity to choose its own path.

The launch event also generated lively discussion. The severity of climate change, ‘de-growth’, the potential of Africa, the future of trade, and gender-balance figured in the questions from the audience. The questions highlighted the essence of foresight – reconciliation and balancing conflicting views. Ultimately, foresight is not a mere intellectual exercise, as these challenges are already affecting us profoundly. The launch day of this second ESPAS report marked the beginning of a new discussion, which aims to strengthen the culture of preparedness and anticipation throughout Europe.

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Plenary round-up – Strasbourg, April II 2019

Written by Katarzyna Sochacka and Clare Ferguson,

Plenary session - Debate with Arturs Krisjanis KARINS - Latvian Prime Minister on the future of Europe

© European Union 2019 – Source : EP

Highlights of the April II plenary session (the last of the current legislature) included debates on the conclusions of the April 2019 European Council meeting on the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, and the final debate in the series on the future of Europe with the Prime Minister of Latvia, Kisjanis Karins. Important debates also took place on the rule of law in Romania; failure to adopt an EU digital services tax; protecting the European elections against international cybersecurity threats; and on the possible extradition of Julian Assange. Members debated a number of external relations situations: in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe after cyclone Idai; in Libya; in Sudan; and US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. The legislative proposals adopted included those on collective investment funds, banking reform, prudential requirements, covered bonds, CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles, and promoting clean, energy-efficient vehicles. Members voted on a number of legislative proposals (see below), including a partial agreement on the Horizon Europe programme.

Protection of whistle-blowers

By a large majority, Members adopted the agreement reached with the Council on the long-awaited proposal for an EU directive giving whistle-blowers greater protection when they report on breaches of EU law (such as money laundering, or contravening environmental or food safety regulations).

Collective investment funds

Members debated and voted on proposals on collective investment funds, which pool investment capital in collective securities portfolios. While the EU provides passporting to ensure a wide range of cross-border distribution of investment funds, the EU market remains both small and national. The proposals align national rules and harmonise verification, creating economies of scale and opening up the market.

Prudential requirements and supervision of investment firms

Parliament voted to agree to an update of the current complex and inefficient EU regulatory framework for prudential supervision and requirements of investment firms, which facilitates savings and investment in EU capital markets, to take account of the size and nature of investment firms and the risks involved.

Transparent and predictable working conditions

Members debated and approved an interinstitutional agreement on proposals to reform labour market rules, ensuring transparent and predictable working conditions in the EU, to end the unfair employment practices that have affected EU citizens in the wake of the financial crisis.

Horizon Europe

An EU success story – the key role played by the Horizon 2020 programme in the first ever observation of a black hole – underlines the importance of EU research funding. Members debated and approved a partial agreement to establish and implement Horizon 2020’s replacement, the Horizon Europe programme, which could generate 100 000 new jobs, and could see 35 % of its budget allocated to climate objectives.

Market surveillance and compliance of products

Members debated and voted to adopt proposals encouraging fair competition between businesses and protecting consumer health and safety, through the market surveillance and compliance of products, with greater coordination of rules on surveillance of harmonised industrial products in the single market.

Fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation platforms

After debating proposals for a regulation on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services, Members voted to adopt an agreement on the proposals, which seek fairer contractual relations between online giants (such as Amazon and Google) and other online businesses (such as hotels or restaurants).

Food chain risk assessment transparency

In a direct response to citizens’ demands for improved public access to the scientific studies carried out on sensitive products and substances, notably regarding a ban on glyphosate, Members debated and adopted an agreement reached during interinstitutional negotiations on a regulation concerning the transparency and sustainability of risk assessment in the food chain.

Supplementary protection certificate for medicinal products

Due to the lengthy testing and trials necessary to obtain EU market approval, pharmaceuticals firms can extend the patent protection on their products through a supplementary protection certificate (SPC) for medicinal products. Members debated and adopted a compromise on proposals to improve the intellectual property rights regime for the industry, which suffers from competitive disadvantage in export markets.

Coordination of social security systems

Parliament decided not to close the first reading procedure on a regulation on social security system coordination, but to leave it to the next Parliament. The European Commission proposal seeks to: ensure benefits do not overlap; secure equal treatment; allow for aggregation of insurance, work or residence periods; and ensure benefits from one country can still be received if the citizen moves to another country.

European Border and Coast Guard

Members debated and approved a provisional agreement to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard, including measures to engage 5 000 EU border guards (from January 2021), with a further 5 000 operational staff by 2027. The changes aim to ensure uniform border management standards throughout the EU, and to provide more support for national authorities involved in managing migration and the fight against cross-border crime at the EU’s external borders.

EU Visa Code

Parliament debated and approved an agreement on the revision of the EU Visa Code, which would increase the visa fee to €80, simplify the procedures for requesting visas and harmonise multiple-entry visa rules. The proposals also seek non-EU country cooperation in re-admitting their illegally staying nationals.

Adapting legal acts to Articles 290 and 291 TFEU

Members approved a revision that would adapt legal acts to the Treaty of Lisbon. The proposal aligns ‘regulatory procedure with scrutiny‘ (RPS) measures, from 64 basic acts, with the delegated acts procedure, where European Parliament and the Council have the right of veto and may revoke the delegation. However, agreement on a further 104 acts, and on acts in the justice policy field, will have to wait until the new legislative term.

Digital tools and processes in company law

Members debated and approved an agreement on measures to improve the use of digital tools and processes in company law, which should make it easier to set up and register a business in the EU, including greater use of online submission for official company documentation.

Covered bonds

Finally, Members debated and approved a compromise on proposals on covered bonds – debt securities issued by credit institutions, secured by a pool of mortgage loans or public sector debt. Covered bonds provide vital long-term finance for many EU Member States, channelling funds to the property market and the public sector. However, both use and regulation of these bonds varies greatly between EU countries, and a common definition is lacking.

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Does artificial intelligence threaten human rights?

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

Does artificial intelligence threaten human rights?Asking ‘Is artificial intelligence a human rights issue?’, the workshop co-organised by STOA with the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on 20 March 2019, gathered academic experts, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), practitioners and representatives of international organisations to share their perspectives on exactly how artificial intelligence (AI) affects the protection and enjoyment of human rights. Despite the speakers’ diverse experiences, there was a consensus that AI poses a wide range of new risks for human rights that need to be addressed immediately. The panellists also agreed that there are no established methodologies yet to track the effects on human rights and to assess the potential for discrimination in the use of machine learning.

The workshop opened with a welcome address from STOA Chair Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), who highlighted that the workshop followed up on the recently adopted European Parliament resolution on a comprehensive European industrial policy on artificial intelligence and robotics, and that its conclusions should feed into efforts to shape a socio-ethical framework for a human-centric approach to AI. She also emphasised the need to assess the capacity of the current universal human rights and EU ethical frameworks, to confront emerging governance challenges when it comes to the deployment and application of AI, and argued that Europe has the opportunity to shape the direction of AI, at least from a socio-ethical perspective.

Following the Chair’s remarks, the first panel kicked-off with Ekkehard Ernst, Chief Macroeconomist at the International Labour Organization analysing the four AI inequality challenges. He argued that AI intellectual property rights should be addressed as a way to decrease the unsustainable concentration of data and AI development in the hands of a few mega-corporations. Representing the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Joanna Goodey, Head of the Research and Data Unit, presented the work of FRA in this field, highlighting that the protection of human dignity should be prioritised and arguing that use of AI in the area of law enforcement can lead to discrimination. Dimitris Panopoulos, Co-founder of Suite5 Data Intelligence Solutions, presented the initial findings of the EU-funded project ChildRescue – Collective Awareness Platform for Missing Children Investigation and Rescue, emphasising that AI can also be used to protect the human rights of vulnerable population groups such as children.

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The second panel, which was moderated by Marietje Schaake (ALDE, the Netherlands) focused on the impacts of AI on human rights through the presentation of real life case-studies. The first panellist, Silkie Carlo, Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch, shared her experience of working on real case studies in the United Kingdom that undermine the protection of the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and non-discrimination. She highlighted that flaws in biometric facial recognition used by the Police in the UK can lead to misleading judgments, especially for minorities and women, and recommended that decisions that engage individuals’ human rights must never be purely automated. Lorena Jaume-Palasi, founder of the Ethical Tech Society a non-profit organisation analysing and evaluating processes of automation and digitisation regarding their social relevance, noted that it is not the technology itself, but its use that matters and argued for the need for more reflective oversight structures. In her presentation, she called for a paradigm shift in our approach towards information platforms’ terms of operation and in the principles and values that determine the access to platforms and the degree of their commercial character.

Lofred Madzou, Project Lead, AI & Machine Learning at the World Economic Forum, presented the work of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and analysed the policy concerns associated with AI, such as the erosion of privacy, algorithmic bias and the abuse of surveillance that could, in his opinion, ‘affect our rights to stand up and protest if AI remains unregulated’. Marietje Schaake noted that algorithmic oversight for AI is urgently needed and that it is essential to ensure that the process of embedding ethical principles and values in AI-based decision-making systems is transparent and inclusive.

The third panel focused on the possible measures and remedies for safeguarding the protection of human rights in the context of AI. The panel was moderated by Michał BONI (EPP, Poland), who noted that Member States are gradually adopting their national AI strategies, but that this could lead to regulatory fragmentation. He therefore argued for the need for ethical certainty and stability for AI. Professor Aimee van Wynsberghe of TU Delft and Member of the High-Level Expert Group on AI, presented the preliminary results of the ongoing STOA study on a new ethical framework for AI. She noted that context and practice matter in our ethical analysis of AI, and recommended the introduction of data hygiene certification, ethics impact assessment and accountability reports. Fanny Hidvegi of Access Now and Member of the High-Level Expert Group on AI, presented a case study examining the use of AI-powered facial recognition tools for law enforcement purposes and recommended the adoption of strict standards for government use of AI. She emphasised that the design, development and deployment of AI and any AI-assisted technologies must be individual-centric and respect human rights. Can Yeginsu a Barrister with 4 New Square Chambers, noted that we do not yet have the potential to leave AI without any human intervention, and may need to ensure individual access to justice and even consider the establishment of an AI ombudsman to handle individual complaints associated with the use/misuse of AI.

Following the panel presentations, the audience raised several interesting questions, in particular regarding how to establish connections between AI, consent, surveillance and human rights, as well as whether the various EU-level ongoing or planned policy initiatives (such as the ethics guidelines for trustworthy artificial intelligence produced by the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on AI, the Commission communication on artificial intelligence for Europe, and the European Parliament resolution on a comprehensive European industrial policy on artificial intelligence and robotics), are sufficient to safeguard a human rights lens in the governance of AI. In response, the panellists advocated an ethics-by-design approach that will facilitate the embedding of values such as transparency and explainability in AI development. They also noted that legally binding norms are needed in the field of AI-based decision-making processes, rather than soft-law instruments, and that EU legislators should consider the possibility of integrating a requirement for systematic human rights impact assessments, or even developing new legal mechanisms for redress/remedy for human rights violations resulting from AI.

If you missed out this time, you can access the presentations and watch the webstream of the workshop via the STOA events page.

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How the EU budget is spent: EU cooperation with Greenland

Written by Naja Bentzen and Alessandro D’Alfonso,

National flag of Greenland on a flagpole in front of blue sky.

© millenius / Fotolia

Having been a part of the European Community since 1973 through Denmark’s membership, Greenland withdrew from the European Community in 1985 after the island secured home rule from Denmark. Since then, Greenland has been associated with the European Union as an Overseas Country and Territory (OCT). The purpose of this association is ‘to promote the economic and social development of the countries and territories and to establish close economic relations between them and the Union as a whole’.

Various documents cover Greenland’s relations with the EU, including the 2014-2020 EU-Greenland Partnership Agreement that aims to contribute to the diversification of Greenland’s economy. The explicit political ambition is to ensure policy dialogue on global issues of common interest. The main areas of cooperation include education and training, energy, climate, environment and biodiversity, natural resources, maritime transport and research and innovation, in addition to Arctic issues.

As part of the partnership, and taking Greenland’s needs into account, the focal point of EU-Greenland financial cooperation is education and training, with a special emphasis on boosting the pre-school and elementary school system, as well as on providing support for vocational education and post-elementary education.

The EU allocates an indicative amount of €217.8 million (current prices) for financial cooperation with Greenland for the 2014-2020 period. The overarching aim of this financial cooperation is to contribute to an inclusive and coherent education system, while specific objectives focus on reducing inequality, improving the quality of the education system, and making it more efficient.

The EU budget channels financial cooperation with Greenland, contrary to the case for all other OCTs, which receive support from the European Development Fund. As regards the aid modality, the European Commission grants budget support for the implementation of the Greenland education programme, which is led by Greenland’s Ministry of Education, Church, Culture and Gender Equality, in cooperation with other ministries and stakeholders.

The evaluation of the 2014 Greenland Decision, which lays down rules for the EU-Greenland Partnership, fed into the mid-term review of the EU’s 2014-2020 external financing instruments (2017). This deemed the choice of education as the focal sector to be relevant to beneficiaries’ needs in Greenland: there is a broad consensus in Greenland that education is ‘the most relevant growth parameter’. The evaluation stressed that the fact that the education sector had been chosen by the Greenland government ensured strong support and ownership.

According to the evaluation, attempts to expand the official policy dialogue to include areas of mutual interest other than education had not yet been achieved. The document added that, while it was still too early to see a significant impact in terms of diversifying Greenland’s economy, the instrument had triggered positive dynamics and contributed to sustainable development by improving educational attainment.

On the basis of the assessment of current external financing instruments, the European Commission has proposed to streamline funding for OCTs and channel it entirely through the EU budget for the post-2020 programming period, with special arrangements for Greenland. The proposed resources for the years 2021 to 2027 amount to €500 million for all OCTs, including Greenland.

Read this briefing on ‘EU cooperation with Greenland‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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How the EU budget is spent: Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived

Written by Marie Lecerf,

Homeless man searching for empty bottles and other stuff for recycle.

© Svyatoslav Lypynskyy / Fotolia

In 2014, around 122 million people were ‘at risk of poverty or social exclusion’ (AROPE) in the 28 EU Member States– a quarter of the population. This means they were in at least one of the following situations: at risk of monetary poverty (17.2 % of the total population); living in households with very low work intensity (11.1 %); or severely materially deprived (9.0 %).

Since the onset of the 2008 financial and economic crisis, fighting poverty and social exclusion is a key priority for the European Union. One of the aims of the Europe 2020 strategy is to reduce the number of people ‘at risk of poverty or social exclusion’ by at least 20 million by the end of the decade. Consequently, on 24 October 2012, the European Commission announced a proposal to set up a new Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) for the 2014-2020 period, to replace the EU’s food distribution programme for the most deprived (MDP).

The fund’s general objective is to promote and enhance social inclusion and therefore ultimately contribute to the goal of eradicating poverty in the Union. It seeks to alleviate the worst forms of poverty by providing non-financial assistance for the most deprived in conjunction with other EU funds, such as the European Social Fund (ESF), and with Member States’ national poverty eradication and social inclusion policies.

The EU contribution to the FEAD is more than €3.8 billion (in current prices) for the 2014‑2020 period. In addition, Member States are to co-finance at least 15 % of the costs of their national operational programmes (around €674 million), bringing the total resources channelled through the fund to approximately €4.5 billion.

The principal measures undertaken under the FEAD are:

  • food support (distribution of food packages and meals to people in deprived situations, school lunches for children at risk of poverty or social exclusion, collection and distribution of donated food, etc.);
  • material assistance (basic hygiene items for adults and children, basic household items, clothing, sleeping bags for the homeless, school supplies, etc.);
  • accompanying measures to alleviate adversity through advice and guidance (regarding basic rights, nutrition and health, available social services and access to education services, temporary shelter for the homeless, etc.);
  • social inclusion activities (improving access to existing support and social services, psychological support, training in self-reliance, language courses, etc.).

FEAD assistance is delivered via partner organisations (public bodies or non-governmental organisations (NGOs)), selected by Member States on the basis of objective and transparent criteria.

On 27 March 2019, the mid-term evaluation of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived was published. It presents the FEAD’s main achievements for the period up to the end of December 2017. According to the report, between 2014 and 2017, the FEAD supported more than 12 million people per year and, during this period, more than 1.3 million tonnes of food were distributed. Social inclusion measures, meanwhile reached about 66 000 people. Given the FEAD’s very limited resources compared with other EU funds, the main conclusion of the mid-term evaluation is that there are strong arguments in favour of continuing the programme.

The European Court of Auditors is, however, much more severe in its evaluation of the programme’s first results. In its Special Report No 5/2019: FEAD-Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, published on 3 April 2019, the Court assesses whether the initial set-up of the FEAD and the Member States’ operational programmes effectively target the most in need and do contribute to the Europe 2020 poverty-reduction target. The Court points out that the fund remains primarily a food aid scheme, with 80 % of its budget devoted to food support. As a result, although the FEAD offers Member States the possibility to focus on social inclusion, those measures are scarcely implemented. The Court concludes by stating that the ability of the fund to reduce poverty has yet to be demonstrated.

Read this briefing on ‘Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD)‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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