Loneliness is being increasingly recognised as a public health concern due to its detrimental effects on individual wellbeing and social cohesion. According to a report conducted by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) in 2018, 18% of Europeans experience social isolation. In this regard, what steps should the EU take to combat loneliness?Read more
With some European countries applying up to more than 20 percent tax on feminine hygiene products, classifying them as non-essential goods, what steps should the EU take to further fight the pink tax and period poverty?Read more
Recent advances in AI systems in Medicine and Healthcare present extraordinary opportunities in many areas of social interest together with significant questions and drawbacks, calling for a close consideration of their implementation. What stance and/or steps should the EU take in the near-future applications of AI in this particular sector?Read more
The 2020 Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) stated that existing problems regarding cybercrime have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With cybercriminals taking advantage of the crisis situation, what further steps should the EU take in the fight against internet crime?Read more
A 2020 European Parliament statistic revealed that more than 700,000 people sleep rough every night in Europe, an increase of 70% over the last 10 years. What measures can the EU adopt to reach its goal of ending homelessnes in Europe by 2030?Read more
MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION BY THE COMMITTEE ON EMPLOYMENT AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS (EMPL)
One in three workers worldwide are anxious about the future of their work due to the automation and digitalisation of increasingly complex tasks. How should the EU adequately equip citizens with the skills needed to adapt to the transformation of the job market and what should social welfare models look like in the future?
Submitted by: David Cvetkovski, Jason der Kinderen, Amy Tarling, Rebekah Tewelde, Daksh Khanna (Chairperson, NL)
The European Youth Parliament aims to propose feasible measures that aid workers in the transition to an increasingly digitised and automated job market in order to prevent employment inequality. We want to ensure that all workers benefit from equal opportunities to enter the job market, including those partaking in non-standard employment,
- Many medium skilled workers are at risk of losing their jobs due to automation and digitalization in the workplace,
- The welfare schemes of traditional workers are not equal to those of gig workers1Gig work is a type of employment wherein the worker is not consistently employed by someone, who pays then a periodical wage. Instead, they are ‘’independent contractors’’, who take on jobs as high-skilled workers. Some examples include writing or graphic design., putting the latter at a disadvantage in working conditions,
- Workers lacking technological and digital knowledge will experience limited employment opportunities,
- The automation and digitisation of jobs presents the risk of increased inequalities between EU citizens on the basis of their education levels
Therefore, the European Youth Parliament,
- Asks Member States to focus the implementation of new technologies on sectors such as healthcare, in which they will improve productivity and quality, rather than instantaneously replace jobs;
- Encourage the European Commission to further invest in the development of Vocational Education and Training (VET) systems2VET system: Vocational Education and Training (VET): responsible for the development of skills people need to be active in the workforce. Through teaching skills, but also reteaching skills, VET helps to lower dropout rates and the transition from school life to the labour market., such as those created by CEDEFOP, to equip citizens with the skills needed to partake in platform economy3Platform economies are circulations of the work that is based online. This work can be divided into two parts. The first one being platforms for companies to request work, and platforms for people who are offering their services.;
- Strongly encourages Member States to further develop their social welfare systems by adequately supporting previously self-employed and disabled unemployed people into increasingly digitised labour markets;
- Invites Member States to enforce a minimum wage for gig workers in order to ensure that they benefit from a decent standard of living;
- Calls upon Member States to aid in the training of future generations of workers by offering:
- courses in primary schools focusing on the usage of technology, for instance through computer science classes,
- high school students the opportunity to focus on more digital-oriented curricula;
- Requests Member States to further increase the taxation of higher-income workers in order to redistribute more funding towards the training of less educated workers.
Committee on Security and Defense (SEDE)
The 2020 Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) stated that existing problems regarding cybercrime have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With cybercriminals taking advantage of the crisis situation, what further steps should the EU take in the fight against internet crime?Chairperson: Jennah Said (NL)
During the pandemic, many European Union (EU) citizens turned towards the internet to find a sense of normality during times in which nothing felt normal. From shopping to working, everything had to be shifted to online platforms on a far larger scale than we have ever witnessed before. Unfortunately, the Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) that the Europol
During the pandemic, many European Union (EU) citizens turned towards the internet to find a sense of normality during times in which nothing felt normal. From shopping to working, everything had to be shifted to online platforms on a far larger scale than we have ever witnessed before. Unfortunately, the Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) that the Europol1The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, better known under the name Europol, is the law enforcement agency of the EU. published in 2020 showed that cybercriminals have been taking advantage of said citizens when they were at their most vulnerable and everyone’s attention was diverted to the health sector. As the existing problems regarding cybercrime have significantly worsened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity becomes relevant to our defense and security on individual, national and EU level.
published in 2020 showed that cybercriminals have been taking advantage of said citizens when they were at their most vulnerable and everyone’s attention was diverted to the health sector. As the existing problems regarding cybercrime have significantly worsened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity becomes relevant to our defense and security on individual, national and EU level.
The IOCTA 2020 report clearly identifies cybercrime as a major aspect of the European criminal scene. Cybercrime continues to be one of the most dynamic kinds of crime addressed by EU law enforcement. Criminals took advantage of the crisis as the rest of society was striving to contain it, from social engineering, in particular phishing2Phishing is a type of social engineering where an attacker sends a fraudulent message designed to trick a human victim into revealing sensitive information to the attacker or to deploy malicious software on the victim’s infrastructure like ransomware., to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)3A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is a cyber-attack in which the perpetrator seeks to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting services of a host connected to the Internet. attacks, and from ransomware to the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). While ransomware, corporate email breach, and social engineering are all well-known cybercrime concerns, their execution changes all the time, making them more difficult to identify and analyse. Ransomware, in particular, continues to be a top priority problem for EU cyber investigators. The quantity of online CSAM identified is continuing to rise, worsened by the COVID-19 epidemic, which has had major effects for law enforcement authorities’ investigation capabilities. The case studies that accompany this report highlight the importance and efficacy of international law enforcement collaboration in combating cybercrime, as well as the critical role that private-public partnerships play in this field.
- The Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) is Europol’s flagship strategic product, aiming to map the threat landscape of cybercrime and understand how law enforcement can counter it.
- Cybercriminals are individuals or teams of people who use technology to commit malicious activities on digital systems or networks with the intention of stealing sensitive company information or personal data, and generating profit.
- In the context of information security, social engineering is the psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.
- Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts data on a device, making them useless for the files and the systems that rely on them. Cybercriminals added a degree of complexity to this by threatening to auction off the sensitive information, increasing the pressure on victims to pay a ransom to prevent that from happening.
- Encryption is a method of safeguarding digital data that involves the use of one or more mathematical procedures, as well as a password or “key” to decode the data. The encryption procedure converts data using an algorithm that renders the original data unreadable.
- The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) is an agency tasked with ensuring a high level of cybersecurity across Europe by contributing to EU cyber policy and assisting Europe in preparing for future cyber threats. ENISA collaborates with its major stakeholders to keep Europe’s society and citizens safe online through knowledge sharing.
- The European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) was founded in 2013 by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, to “assist in the protection of European individuals, companies, and governments against online crime.” Since its founding, it has been involved in high-profile operations as well as on-the-ground operational assistance, and from 2018 to 2021, it has made cybercrime one of its top priorities.
- In October 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution on cybercrime, emphasising that combating cybercrime should focus first and foremost on securing and hardening vital infrastructures and other networked devices, rather than pursuing punitive measures.
- Internet users in the EU, generally EU citizens, who might fall victim to cyber criminals due to unawareness of the dangers that lure on the internet.
- Private industries that are in danger of getting their data stolen by cybercriminals with the use of malware.4Malware is any software intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, server, client, or computer network.
MEASURES IN PLACE
ENISA was given responsibility for improving operational collaboration at the EU level when the EU Cybersecurity Act was passed in 2019. The EU Cybersecurity Act strengthened ENISA and established a cybersecurity certification structure for goods and services. It offered the ENISA a permanent mandate, as well as increased resources and new responsibilities. ENISA is in charge of assisting Member States who request assistance in dealing with cybersecurity incidents and cyberattacks. ENISA plays a critical role in the establishment and maintenance of the European cybersecurity certification framework by laying the technological foundation for specialised certification schemes.5The certification framework will provide EU-wide certification schemes as a comprehensive set of rules, technical requirements, standards and procedures. It will attest that ICT products and services that have been certified in accordance with such a scheme comply with specified requirements. Through a dedicated website, it educates the public about the certification schemes and awarded certificates.
The European Commission submitted a new cybersecurity strategy in December 2020. The goal of the plan is to strengthen Europe’s collective resistance against cyber attacks. This strategy strives to ensure that the internal market functions properly and that the Union has a high degree of cybersecurity, cyber resilience, and trust. During the adoption of the law, the European Parliament emphasised the significance of a coordinated response to cyber-attacks, which was
aided by the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity’s expertise. This will also make operational collaboration between EU nations easier. The Commission specifically proposed legislation on network and information system security, as well as critical infrastructure protection. Both proposals aim to address both cyber and physical resilience of vital entities and networks, and they are currently being worked on by the European Parliament and EU governments.
EU countries developed a sanctions framework for cyber-attacks originating outside the EU in May 2019, allowing them to impose sanctions on cybercriminals and acting as a deterrence by raising the repercussions of launching a cyber-attack against EU countries or international organisations.
Many organisations have been founded to fight against cybercrime. An example of such an organisation is the CyberPeace Foundation, which engages in policy advocacy, research, and training on all areas of cybersecurity and peace. Technology Governance, Policy Review and Advocacy, Capacity and Capability Creation and Building through collaborations with various government bodies, academic institutions, and civil society groups are key areas of activity for the CyberPeace Foundation.
Another example of such an organisation is the European Cybercrime Training and Education Group (ECTEG), which works in close cooperation with the EC3 and The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) 6CEPOL is an agency of the European Union dedicated to training law enforcement officials., both as advisory groups, and is funded by the European Commission. ECTEG is made up of law enforcement agencies from EU and European Economic Area member states, international agencies, academia, private sector, and experts.
Considering the magnitude of the damage that ransomware can inflict, victims seem to be hesitant to inform law enforcement or the general public when they have been harmed, making it more difficult to detect and investigate such incidents. Criminals continued to narrow the scope of their ransomware operations. By having the ability to attack supply chains and third-party service providers, ransomware has proven to be a substantial indirect danger to businesses and organisations, including essential infrastructure. One of the most important advancements is a new method of forcing victims into paying a ransom by stealing and then threatening to sell off their sensitive data. Re-victimising victims after a cyber-attack is counterproductive and a significant challenge, as law enforcement needs companies and individuals who have been subject of a crime to come forward. These challenges with the reporting of cybercrime hinder the ability to create an accurate overview of crime prevalence across the EU.
For numerous years, law enforcement’s capacity to get access to and acquire important data for criminal investigations has been challenged by the advancement and expanded use of certain technical innovations. One of the most notable instances in this respect is the widespread usage of encryption, which has numerous security benefits but has also been a development that criminals have eagerly taken advantage of.
The Domain Name System (DNS) over Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPs) is an example of extensive encryption use. The DNS is one of the most essential databases in internet infrastructure. Concerns about DNS traffic being monitored have led to the standardisation of current DNS resolution protocols that utilise encryption. “DNS over HTTPs” (DoH) is one of the protocols that has grown in popularity and usage since it was made the default configuration on the application level.
The utilisation of encryption in these systems has made it harder for law enforcement to access sensitive data and countries hosting the majority of DoH service providers will receive the vast majority of internet DNS lookups, as opposed to the previous national decentralisation of these sensitive queries. As a result, the majority of criminal investigations will include foreign legal petitions to those governments.
Furthermore, the use of encrypted chat and video apps and industry proposals to expand this market pose a substantial risk for abuse and make it more difficult for law enforcement to detect and investigate online CSA activities. Organised crime is increasingly lured to encrypted communication networks that are nearly impossible for law authorities to access, posing a significant threat to public safety. Because of the criminals’ use of developing technologies and the opportunity that new technology may provide for law enforcement, more serious thought is necessary outside law enforcement cooperation.
Ransomware was once again recognised as a top priority concern by the vast majority of law enforcement responders. Despite the fact that it has been included in previous editions of the IOCTA, ransomware remains one of, if not the most, prevalent risks, particularly for public and private organisations both inside and outside of Europe. Criminals have continued narrowing the scope of their ransomware operations. By having the ability to attack supply chains and third-party service providers, ransomware has proven to be a substantial indirect danger to businesses and organisations, including essential infrastructure. One of the most important advancements is a new method of forcing victims into paying a ransom by stealing and then threatening to sell off their sensitive data. Apart from ransomware, European law enforcement agencies noted that malware in general was prevalent in cybercrime cases. Some classic banking Trojans have been repurposed as more complex modular malware to cover a wider range of functions. These advanced kinds of modular malware are a major concern in the EU, especially because their adaptable and extendable nature makes them more difficult to tackle.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
As the pandemic has caused a rise in cybercrimes all over Europe and cybercriminals have taken advantage of the diversion of attention to the health sector, the EU has to step up and ensure the safety of not only their citizens, but of the private sector and governmental institutions too.
Just to get you to think some more about this topic, here are some questions you can ask yourself. Think carefully and decide on the most suitable course of action:
- There is a need to foster a culture of acceptance and transparency when organisations or individuals fall victim to cybercrime. How can the EU encourage the creation of such a culture so that law enforcement agencies can detect and investigate cybercrime incidents easier?
- Despite the growing sophistication of cyber criminals, the majority of successful social engineering and phishing attacks are due to insufficient awareness of users. How can the EU ensure that users of the internet become more aware of the dangers that lurk there? How can the EU successfully protect these users, especially regarding the fact that more advanced forms of malware have emerged?
- With the use of video chat applications in payment systems, it is harder for law enforcement agencies to apprehend offenders that deal with CSAM as the material is not recorded. What methods could the law enforcement agencies apply in order to still be able to apprehend these offenders?
- It is becoming more and more challenging for law enforcement agencies to access and gather relevant data for criminal investigations due to the widespread use of encryption in private industry. What could the EU do to ensure that law enforcement agencies will be able to access the data that they need for crucial breakthroughs in their investigations?
LINKS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
- INTERNET ORGANISED CRIME THREAT ASSESSMENT (IOCTA) 2020 (2020) – this video gives a clear explanation and expansion of what is discussed in the IOCTA and the site has a link to the IOCTA document underneath the video
- COVID-19 SPARKS UPWARD TREND IN CYBERCRIME (2020) – this article clearly states the most important threats stated in the IOCTA
- Cybercrime – this page explains what cybercrime is and gives an overview of all that is happening in the EU relating to cybercrime
- The EU Cybersecurity Act – this page explains what the EU Cybersecurity Act is and what its objectives are
Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs II (LIBE II)
With the availability of drugs remaining high across Europe and countries such as Norway planning on decriminalising their recreational use in small quantities, what stance should the EU take on the decriminalisation of drugs keeping in mind their possible medical applications?Chairperson: Carlos Drexhage (ES)
There is an ever growing presence of illicit substances within Europe, between 2010 and 2014 alone the number of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) discovered within Europe more than doubled. Moreover, the potency of recreational drugs had been increasing steadily with drug related hospitalisations also rising. There seems to be a disparity between our current knowledge of how addiction works and our approach to treating the issue. Modern research has shown the medical benefits of various substances such as cannabis, the fact that these substances remain illegal mean that medical research are severely impaired when investigating possible beneficial uses for these substances and the general public doesn’t have access to new groundbreaking treatments. Other substances such as ketamine have shown promise in treating mental illnesses such as depression, however the research remains narrow due to the illegal status of the drug.
- EWS (early warning system): This system is designed to detect the presence of illicit substances across Europe and report it to the authorities. The EWS has been responsible for discovering various new substances, proving to be an essential tool for drug researches within the European Union
- NPS (new psychoactive substance): These are substances that mimic established illicit substances such as cannabis or LSD, by creating combinations that mimic these illegal drugs but remain chemically different, allowing drug producers to stay ahead of the law.
- EMCDDA (the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) serves as a reference point for information on drug usage, addiction, and drug related health issues. The EMCDDA produces research for European lawmakers and Member States to use in enveloping their approach to drug policy.
- Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) is the European Union’s law enforcement agency, it tackled criminal issues such as possession and trading of illicit substances. Europol has a department dedicated to drug issues.
- EMPACT (European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats) provides a platform for an integrated approach to the EU’s internal security. This institution is vital for any European wide security or criminal policy.
- The Pompidou Group is a platform that is part of the Council of Europe and seeks to encourage intergovernmental cooperation on drug policy.
MEASURES IN PLACE
The primary onus for the development of drug policy rests on the individual Member States. There are, however, various European laws dedicated to monitoring illicit substances and sharing information between different national authorities. In 1993, the EMCDDA was established, its role is to provide policy makers with information on drugs, drug addiction, and emerging trends within the drug market.
The EU council has approved the EU Drug Strategy 2021-2025, this 4 year plan aims to improve public health and provide appropriate care to those affected by drugs, raise awareness on drug use, and tackle illegal drug trade and production in the EU. The EMCDDA had developed an Early Warning System designed to detect illicit substances and bring them to the attention of authorities as soon as possible. This system has been helpful in tracking drugs across Europe and it can provide essential knowledge to lawmakers and researchers.
The EU Justice Program provides a platform for judicial cooperation and provides funding to support criminal and judicial matters. The Internal Security Fund serves to support the implementation of the Internal Security Strategy. It provides funds for issues related to drug crimes and the supply of illicit substances.
The EU’s Health Programme seeks to improve health in the EU by assisting cooperation and promoting effective healthcare practices. The programme can help victims of drug use by providing rehabilitation and encouraging healthier lifestyles, it has a large budget, part of which is used for health-related drug projects.
With drug related health issues, drug potency, and new psychoactive substances rising across Europe, the EU’s drug policy is proving to be inadequate. The disparity between drug policy in different countries had become an obstacle to tackling this problem on a continent-wide level.
Freedom of movement in Europe has become beneficial for drug trade while countries like the Netherlands have become popular destinations for drug tourism. Any legalisation of drugs in any given European country will likely result in another hotspot for drug tourism, highlighting the need for an international approach to the issue.
Drug use is a cross-border issue that national governments haven’t been able to tackle. While other developed nations such as Canada and various parts of the United States have made strides in legalising various hard drugs for personal and medical use, yet Europe seems to be falling behind in formulating a more modern approach to drug policy based on our current understanding of addiction and drug use.
Moreover, the internet has become a useful tool for the distribution of drugs, posing a new problem for authorities and lawmakers. Any drug policy aimed at thwarting trade must contain an important digital element. Cooperation with non-European countries is also badly needed, the EU cooperates little with important exporters of NPS such as China.
On the flip side, modern research has shown that cannabis has the potential of alleviating chronic pains and easing insomnia and anxiety. Meanwhile substances such as LSD or ketamine have shown promising therapeutic potential. However, the illegal status of these substances across most of Europe has severely narrowed the research on the potential medical benefits of these substances.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The EU has so far failed at addressing drug issues on a continent-wide scale. With drug policy being mostly dictated by Member States, the EU could use its vast legal and economic capabilities to formulate an effective and homogenous drug policy common for all its members. Drug policy in the EU has for the most part been a side issue that has been only partially addressed by other larger programmes that are not entirely focused on drug issues, such as the justice and health programmes. With drugs becoming a cross border issue, an international approach should be sought.
- What can the EU do to improve the lives of people affected by drug addiction?
- What can EU institutions do to reduce the demand for recreational drugs and reduce the production of NPS?
- What approach should the EU and its Member States take regarding the potential medical benefits of various substances that are currently illegal in most countries?
- How should the EU and its Member States cooperate with other nations and international institutions to tackle the production and trade of illicit substances?
LINKS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
- EU Drug Policy – This site has a good overview of the European Union’s approach to drug policy.
- EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin – Here you can find various data sets about drug use across Europe.
- European Drug Report – This report analyses the situation of drug related issues across Europe. It reviews trends and developments in drug consumption and drug related health issues.
- A review and assessment of EU drug policy – This report provides an overview of current drug policy in the EU, it also includes various case studies of drug policy in EU Member and non-Member States.
- Legalisation of cannabis in Luxembourg – Luxembourg recently legalised cannabis in a huge step forward towards comprehensive drug policy
- The legalisation of drugs in Portugal – This article analyses the long term effects drug legalisation in Portugal over the past 20 years.
- Best Practice Portal – This portal contains evidence based recommendations on what constitutes efficient drug policy
- Polish drug policy – An analysis of the failure of Poland’s hard-line drug policy
Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE I)
A 2020 European Parliament statistic revealed that more than 700,000 people sleep rough every night in Europe, an increase of 70% over the last 10 years. What measures can the EU adopt to reach its goal of ending homelessnes in Europe by 2030?Chairperson: Martha Barlogianni(GR)
Over the last decade, homelessness has proven to be one of the most difficult problems the EU has had to tackle. Homelessness levels have risen in most parts of Europe, with almost 700,000 people sleeping rough or living in emergency accommodation living on the streets every night, with Germany and Slovakia leading and having the largest homeless population per 10000 people. Factors such as the growing housing costs1Housing cost is the total of the monthly housing expenses divided by the monthly income expressed as a percentage and the cut in social programmes over the past years, have proven to play a major role in this issue. According to a 2020 statistic published by Eurostat, housing costs have shown a huge increase in the last decade, presenting almost a 5% growth each semester.
Now more than ever, the absence of adequate housing has become a major issue for European Countries, since all the previous factors have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeless people find themselves in a vulnerable position as they are a medically high-risk population with a high prevalence of respiratory diseases and less access to medical care and public health information. The pandemic also had a serious impact on many EU countries’ economies, which resulted in increased unemployment rates. Consequently, as housing costs are getting higher, so are the homelessness rates, since many people can’t afford the rising costs.
- Homelessness: The situation of someone without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect means and ability of acquiring it.
- Social Programme: Programmes that aim to promote employment, improve living and working conditions, provide adequate social protection and combat social exclusion.
- Adequate housing: Housing that is not requiring any major repairs. Housing that is inadequate may have excessive mould, inadequate heating or water supply, significant damage, etc and it is one of the main types of homelessness.
- European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA): a non-profit organization that focuses on homelessness at the European level and receives financial support from the European Commission. FEANTSA also has a consultative status2Consultative Status provides NGOs with access not only to the Economic and Social Council, but also to its many subsidiary bodies, to the various human rights mechanisms of the United Nations, as well as special events organized by the President of the General Assembly. at the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
- International Union of Tenants (IUT): a non-governmental organisation that aims to safeguard the interests of tenants and promote affordable, healthy housing throughout the world. IUT also has participatory status3Participatory status is granted to INGOs which are particularly representative in the field of their competence at European level, and which through their work are capable of supporting the achievement of closer unity, by contributing to its activities and by publicising its work among European citizens. with the Council of Europe, since 2005.
- Caritas Europa: A non-profit organization consisting of 48 national member organisations that are working in 44 European countries. Caritas Europa is active in combating poverty and social exclusion, providing social and welfare services, dealing with migration among other quests.
- Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion: The directorate- general of the European Commission responsible for EU policy on employment, social affairs, skills, labour mobility and the related EU funding programmes. It is also the Directorate-General responsible for the issue of homelessness. However, the EU has supporting competence, which means that the EU can support, coordinate or supplement the action of EU member states but cannot adopt legislation.
MEASURES IN PLACE
Many actions to fight homelessness and housing exclusion have been taken by individual organisations. For instance, Caritas Europa took action through the Trochę ciepła dla bezdomnego (A bit of warmth for a homeless person) project, which has provided food and other necessities for homeless people in Poland for a whole year, helping to ease the problem.
The Housing First approach was first developed by FEANTSA alongside the Y-Foundation (Finland). Not only does it help homeless people find a house but also provides them with support in order to remain housed. This initiative was also adopted by many European countries and has been proven very successful in helping homeless people to get and maintain a home of their own.
Until now, the European Union does not have a common policy to tackle inadequate housing and homelessness. Nevertheless, Member States have developed and implemented individual policy frameworks. Specifically, Denmark was one of the first countries to adopt such a policy, funding it with EUR 65 million and implementing the “Housing First” principle. It also strengthened its Assertive Community Treatment for mental health, case-by-case management and Critical time intervention.
This summer the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, the European Commission and the FEANTSA launched the European Platform on Combating Homelessness. This platform aims to promote policies based on a people-centred, housing-led and integrated approach, to aid the sharing of experiences and measures from different cities but also offers Member States the possibility of engaging and working with local actors.
Lastly, the European Union offers financial help to the Member States for homelessness and housing exclusion through the social investment package, and also supports them with funding through the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD).
A major conflict when addressing the issue of homelessness is the process of building new houses that could be provided to people in need, and the amount of empty properties around the EU. It has been proven that there are about 11 million empty houses around the EU and approximately 4.1 million homeless people. The numbers suggest that this could permanently solve the problem of homelessness. However, these houses are mostly owned by banks or individuals and cannot be provided by the government to those in need.
On the other hand, building new houses would not only need a large amount of funding, but also have a huge impact on the environment and energy consumption, resulting in worse living conditions for many people impacted by the industrialisation of the natural environment.
Moreover, the funding of aid programmes for homeless people would lead to a cost for all the country’s citizens. A Member State has two major ways to raise money and fund its policies: taxation and borrowing. Both ways demand that citizens pay a larger amount of money to the government each year and also allow the government to have a bigger control over consumer behavior by driving the prices up, creating discomfort to the citizens.
Lastly, the problem of inadequate housing cannot be solved only by offering more affordable houses to people in need, but also by providing them with the ability to sustain that household. People living on the streets have no access to education and are often discriminated against when they are seeking employment, meaning their possibilities to be able to live up to the housing costs are very scarce.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Homelessness and inadequate housing has been a major issue for the European Union in recent years. Many people find themselves living in inadequate housing being vulnerable, especially now with the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic threatening them more than anyone else. Consequently, many actors try to contribute in order for a solution to be found that not only provides them with a home but also a way to be able to keep it. Nevertheless, there is still no common European policy or an actual solution to the problem, only temporary attempts of helping these people. A permanent solution for homelessness may not seem possible due to lack of education of the homeless people and consequently incapability of keeping their houses, environmental problems and the unwillingness of individuals and banks to offer their empty properties. However, Finland’s Housing First approach as well as other examples such as the New York and federal housing assistance have proven that reducing homelessness to a minimum can be a reality. Homelessness is a complex problem to tackle as it has a lot of factors contributing to its increase but it undoubtedly needs to be addressed now more than ever.
- What are factors that can lead to homelessness?
- What contributes to the increase of inadequate housing?
- What risks do rough-sleepers/homeless people face?
- Are temporary solutions actually useful?
- Can a permanent solution be found and is it going to be the same for every country?
LINKS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
- Fighting homelessness with compassion – TEDxTalk from Owain Astles, a filmmaker that tried to make a difference by challenging the negative attitudes towards homeless people that are prevalent amongst many today. His speech focuses on how people can help those sleeping rough through compassion.
- Ending homelessness in Europe – Informative video made by the European Parliament explaining the current situation in Europe today regarding the issue of homelessness and also refers to the most important consequences that derive from homelessness.
- The way we address homelessness in Europe must change in the wake of the pandemic – Article published in FEANTSA’s website regarding the increase of vulnerability of homeless people due to COVID-19, that also includes 9 proposals in order to slowly reduce homelessness.
- European Platform on Combating Homelessness – Article about the recently launched European Platform on Combating Homelessness.
- What can cities do to fight homelessness? – Informative video published by Eurocities giving examples of current measures in European cities for fighting homelessness.
Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM)
With some European countries applying up to more than 20 percent tax on feminine hygiene products, classifying them as non-essential goods, what steps should the EU take to further fight the pink tax and period poverty?Chairperson: Pol Sanmartí (ES)
With the rise in the feminist wave throughout Europe, the Pink Tax still poses an obstacle to obtaining gender equality. In the EU, although countries can apply super-reduced tax rates to feminine sanitary products since 2007, countries like Hungary (27% tax), the Scandinavian Region (25% tax), or Greece (23% tax) maintain higher taxes on them, according to Eurostat. Some countries such as Greece justify this as austerity measures1Austerity measures are economic policies implemented by governments to reduce public debt and to shrink the budget deficit.. Regardless, seeing how 1 in 10 girls can not afford sanitary products in Europe, the “tampon tax” raises a question on financial and social equality.
Some EU countries have started tackling the problem with the reduction of Value Added Tax (VAT)2VAT is a consumption tax added to every product at every point of the supply process where value is added to it. It is therefore paid for by the consumer, adding to a product’s original production price. on feminine hygiene products. France (5.5% tax) and The Netherlands (6% tax) are such examples. But seeing how VAT legislation is in Member States governments’ competencies, within some limits set by the EU, equity throughout Europe can not be ensured. As long as EU countries treat period products as luxury goods, there will be no room for change. The question raised is thus of both economic and social importance: on the one hand, there is a higher burden on women for their hygiene products. On the other hand, a breach in Article 23 or the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFR), can be argumented, raising ethical implications of gender-based discrimination.
- Luxury versus essential goods: Luxury goods are not necessary to live, but deemed highly desirable. On the other hand, essential goods are crucial for day-to-day life. EU VAT policy distinguishes between rates for both types of goods.
- Pink Tax: The tax is a gender-based price discrimination3Price discrimination happens when a seller charges customers a different fee for the same product or service. practice that causes women to pay higher prices than men for identical or substantially similar goods and services. It also happens with period hygiene products as they are considered luxury instead of essential goods by many countries.
- Gender equality: as defined under Title III of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, all men and women shall be equal in all areas, which includes VAT taxing on goods.
- Reduced, super-reduced, and zero rates: Reduced rates are applied to goods specified under Annex III (referring to Article 98) of the VAT Directive, which allows up to two reduced VAT rates of 5%. Moreover, super-reduced rates and zero rates allow for exceptionally reduced rates on sales for EU members. Some EU countries use these on period products.
- European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE): is a European agency that works to promote and ensure equal opportunities for women and men across Europe through quality evidence for better policy making. It works on four main areas: gender mainstreaming, gender-based violence, gender statistics, and the Beijing Platform of Action (the emphasis shall be put on the two latter for this committee).
- The European Commission is the executive branch of the EU, in charge of proposing legislation, implementing decisions and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. By promoting initiatives on gender equality in collaboration with the EIGE or the CSW, the European Commission seeks to tackle gender-related issues. They are currently abiding by a 5-year plan called the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025.
- Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the main global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality. In collaboration with the EU and based on the Beijing Platform for Action, they work on the implementation of Goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the EU.
MEASURES IN PLACE
The EU Gender Equality Strategy is the main EU-driven project concerning gender equality issues. Although it takes gender issues as a whole, abiding by the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, it includes all issues regarding equality. As stated in the CFR, the right to gender equality is a key pillar of the EU. However, no specific committees or legislation has been drafted on the topic of the ‘pink tax’ at EU level.
Another EU initiative is the Gender Action Plan II (GAP II). Their role is to oversee that all development programmes, projects and action documents deliver more effectively on the commitments towards gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment. Although it ensures EU’s willingness to further gender equality internationally, the framework is broadly defined and does not offer concrete deadlines and objectives.
The Beijing Platform for Action is relevant as an international conference on women rights of the UN, held in 1995. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action resulted from the conference, providing a guideline for change in terms of gender equality around the world. The importance of this document is in how it serves as a starting point for EU dealings on the topic, seeing how the EIGE is partly dedicated to it.Finally, concrete VAT measures are taken by national and regional governments, as specified throughout this document. France and Ireland would be examples of countries that apply reduced and 0% VAT rates respectively. But with the current situation, no EU-wide action has been taken on the issue, leading to very heterogeneous taxing strategies and creating inequalities between women in different EU States.
“I think the motivations around the pink tax come more explicitly from a classic capitalist stance: If you can make money off of it, you should,” explains Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Vice-President of the Brennan School of Justice at NYU School of Law. It is clear that being in a union of capitalist countries, although to different degrees, it can be argued that a tax on feminine hygiene products is appealing for governments, knowing that the demand elasticity4Low demand elasticity refers to the situation when demand for a good is not greatly influenced by a change in the price of said good. will be low. Consequently, they are viewed as a reliable source of income for governments. Nonetheless, seeing how the EU has introduced low VAT rates for goods deemed necessities, would it not be ethical to consider hygiene products, such as period products especially, as essential necessities for women and consequently apply reduced taxes? It becomes a question of whether a free market economy should prevail, or whether human rights and equality should do so?
With the EU having limited restrictions and rules on VAT taxing, and currently having no competence on Member States taxing, an issue appears. The Pink Tax burdens all EU States, but whether this burden is or not tackled, depends on local governments’ projects and views. Consequently, some countries perpetuate gender inequality by allowing the tampon tax and fostering period poverty. This also perpetuates cross-national inequality, as different countries tax differently, or do not tax at all, on feminine hygiene products. But should the EU transgress into national competences for the particular case of the tampon tax? Is this case of gender inequality enough to justify a possible change in EU competences in national economic policies?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Seeing how some EU citizens are still subject to unequal taxing on products targeted to their specific gender, having to spend more money than their male counterparts, this is an issue of both economic and social nature that concerns human rights. Both ends of the spectrum should be considered: both the profit-based capitalist vision and the gender-equality-oriented stance. Moreover, seeing how taxing policies differ between regimes and governments, and how little power the EU holds on policy proposals regarding those topics, an innovative approach has to be taken if a solution has to be found.
- Can the Pink Tax be attributed to free-market capitalist mechanisms? And if so, does this justify its existence?
- To what extent are high VAT rates for feminine hygiene products linked to gender discrimination?
- Should there be EU-level legislation concerning the taxing of feminine hygiene products specifically?
LINKS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
- Why you should keep paying the ‘tampon tax’ (2018) article by Jessica Irvine on some benefits of having a tampon tax.
- VAT rules and rates: standard, special & reduced rates – official website with explanations about European VAT rules and rates.
- Periods aren’t a luxury. Why are they taxed like one? (2018) TED Talk by Linda B. Rosenthal on why the tampon tax should be eradicated.
- Period Poverty : Breaking The Silence (2017) – TEDx Talk by Amika George on period poverty and its repercussions.
- Does Ireland Have A Tampon Tax? We Investigate (2020) article by Kate Demolder for the Irish Tatlet on what is the tampon tax and why do people pay it in Ireland.
- Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025
- VAT Directive