Category: Topic Overview Heemstede 2020

  • LIBE II

    LIBE II

    Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE II)

    Believe it or not: With a new era of heavily edited audiovisual content on their way, the intentional spread of fake news and misleading content has never been easier, affecting 4 out of 10 European citizens daily. What measures should the EU and its Member States do to minimise the circulation of disinformation via traditional and digital media?

    By: Esmée O’Connor (IE)

    Topic video

    Endless Curiosity: The Science of Fake News, Indiana University 

    The topic at a glance

    In a media landscape with rapid production and content made to be attention-grabbing, deceptive or incorrect information is easily spread. The difficulties of finding accurate information is a threat to the foundations of our democracies, as is the growing mistrust toward information. Referring back to sources and gaining trust through linking back to other sites, media sites easily spread information without proper fact-checking. Readers then base opinions and decisions on incorrect information, especially when polarisation is involved, and corrections or proof of falsity does little to change those opinions. Spread of fake news has been an issue previously, and the news industry has had to deal with the consequences of fast production before, but the spread and impact of disinformation today is unprecedented. The problem impacts every different sector: the educational system, media, social networks, online platforms, and the work of professionals as well as the everyday life of citizens.

    Topic Dictionary

    Fake news: false stories and information spread online. They are frequently perceived and deliberated distortions of news with the intention to affect the political landscape and exacerbate divisions in society. 
    Disinformation: false or misleading information spread deliberately to deceive.
    Deepfakes: highly manipulated videos or audio content. They are edited and created from scratch by deep learning  Artificial Intelligence (AI) software[efn_note]Artificial Intelligence is – with varied definitions – intelligence demonstrated by machines.[/efn_note].
    Iterative journalism: a model of reporting that uses audience interviews, surveys, analysis of comments, and observation to learn what readers are interested in regardless of the numbers. Its goal is to forecast the issues that truly matter and the context where news is useful for the audience. Content may be published early in the development of a story and corrected at a later point when more information has been gathered.
    Link economy: [efn_note]Ryan Holiday, “Trust Me, I’m lying”, 2013[/efn_note] a media environment in which trust is delegated by articles and writers linking to other articles as sources. Readers habitually do not check the links and a chain of linking without checking may result. Content and stories might move from lesser known sites to bigger ones as bigger sites link back to smaller ones, and it is therefore possible to plant content that then climbs the web.
    Media literacy: the ability to critically analyse content in different kinds of media for accuracy, credibility, evidence of bias.
    Post-truth: the disappearance of shared objective standards for truth and the slippage between facts or alternative facts, knowledge, opinion, belief, and truth.

    Key Actors

    The European Commission (EC) is the executive branch of the European Union (EU)  proposing and enforcing legislations. There are no specific competences confirmed upon the EU to regulate the media pluralism. However, the EC deploys a range of tools to tackle disinformation and funds research
    The European External Action Service (EEAS) is the diplomatic service combined with foreign and defence ministry of the EU. It is responsible for preparing acts to be adopted by the High Representative (HR), the EC or the European Council[efn_note]European Council is the EU institution representing the Member States’ governments. It defines the general political direction and priorities of the EU.[/efn_note] that has the responsibility for EU delegations, intelligence and crisis management structures.
    The East StratCom Task Force was created as a result of a European Council meeting in 2015 to develop dedicated communication material for political leadership, press services, EU delegations and the Member States as well as the wider public with the aim to challenge Russian disinformation campaigns.
    Member States are 27 countries that form the EU. They are  individually responsible for implementing legislations and policies regarding recongnising and combating disinformation. Member States such as Finland[efn_note]Liza Mackintosh, Edward Kiernan, Finland is winning the war against fake news. What it’s learned may be crucial to Western democracy, CNN[/efn_note], have already implemented policies  which have focused on media education for high school students and adults. 

    Measures already in place

    The EC’s Communication of April 2018 led to the establishment of a self-regulatory EU-wide Code of Practice on disinformation, which turned into the first worldwide self-regulatory set of standards to fight disinformation. Signatories- platforms, leading social networks, advertisers and advertising industry – presented detailed roadmaps to take action in different areas to minimise the spread of disinformation.
    EC measures to secure free and fair European elections are encouraging the Member States to set up a national election cooperation network of electoral, cybersecurity, data protection and law enforcement authorities. Member States are directed to participate in a European-level election cooperation network to quickly detect and deal with threats such as online mass disinformation campaigns. Among other things, greater transparency in online political advertisements and targeting was also recommended, and rules around European political party funding were tightened.
    Horizon 2020 is an innovative programme aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness while also tackling information accuracy for the media. This plan of action funded FANDANGO, which is a project collecting and verifying various typologies of news data, media sources, social media and open data to detect fake news and provide a more efficient and verified communication for all European citizens.
    EUvsDisinfo is a project of the East StractCom Task Force, keeping a blacklist of articles and media which it labels as disinformation.

    Key conflicts 

    Censorship vs free speech

    Definitions of fake news and disinformation vary, and separating fake news from extreme expressions of opinion – and at times from satire – is often difficult. Critics of regulations and taking down posted material may fear that freedom of speech could be threatened by such measures, and legal measures to stop disinformation must be carefully weighed as to not lead to unduly restriction of material. In Germany – a country with some of the strictest online hate speech rules in the Western world – rules on online hate speech coming into force in 2018 were criticised for leading to the removal of content that was neither hate speech nor fake news. The debate is often divided between the tech community supporting the platforms that have to adapt to the rules, and the broader public opinion. Moreover among those who support the taking down of content deemed as disinformation or as hate speech, views of to what degree this should be done and how it may impact groups of extreme opinions, vary.

    Belief vs mistrust in existing media business models

    While many within the media industry see iterative journalism and the link economy as safeguarding efficiency and relevance, and claim that the continuous corrections involved in the process of this kind of reporting result in efficiently getting to the facts of the story.  On the other hand, others from within the industry criticise this model as leading to low quality reporting and lacking source checking. Bigger news and media providers may have the opportunity to switch from a page view business model to a subscription model – which decreases the need for rapid production and enhances quality reporting – but the same is rarely possible for smaller providers, making change of the media landscape difficult.

    What is next?

    The European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) is a recently started EU project bringing together fact-checkers and academic researchers, collaborating with media organisations and media literacy practitioners. This kind of promotion of knowledge on disinformation, intensified development of fact-checking and support of media literacy programmes is in line with the future plans of many in the field, seeing intensified collaboration between EU institutions and fact checkers, as crucial.
    Additionally the empowerment of users, as well as the development of media literacy, is something that is likely to be focused on in the close future. Innovation both from projects such as EDMO, and within the private sector, are probable to play a large role in the development of tools to tackle disinformation. For example startups like the Netherlands-based Sensity work on monitoring deepfakes and developing solutions within Europe.
    It has further been recommended that national governments create protocols and communication channels in order to have an adaptable toolbox abaling responding rapidly to large spreads of disinformation. For this, the development of methodological approach and exploration of hypothetical scenarios will be required, and strategic decisions (such as whether looking at all incidents of deepfakes is worth it or whether focus should be solely on the most dangerous ones) must be made.

    Key questions 

    • What other forms of fake news are there?
    • What further steps should be taken to combat fake news in its various forms?
    • How may the development of a culture of disbelief by default be prevented?
    • With measures involving the removal of online content, how can fairness and trust be promoted and upheld?
    • How can the EU and its Member States work to root out disinformation without limiting the civil liberties of its citizens?

    Links for further research:

    Action Plan Against Disinformation – Report on progress”, The EC
    Deepfakes and elections: should the EU be worried?”, Democracy Reporting International
    Europe’s failure on ‘fake news’”, Politico
    How to Destroy the Business Model of Breitbart and Fake News”, The New York Times
    Questions and Answers about the East StratCom Task Force”, European Union External Action

  • DROI

    DROI

    Committee on Human Rights (DROI)

    #Fundamental rights and statelessness: With an estimated 600,000 stateless individuals living in Europe today, how should Member States ensure the protection of their fundamental rights and access to health care and other basic needs such as shelter and food during the COVID-19 pandemic?

    By: Carla Sava (RO)

    Topic video

    Statelessness explained by #IBelong

    The topic at a glance

    I question my very existence, my very essence of being human. We don’t want to live or die as ghosts.”
    – Stateless person from the former Soviet Union

    In a world where having one or more  nationalities is usual, it is almost impossible to imagine that people without citizenship exist. However, there are 10 million stateless individuals in the world – infants, children, adults and elderly living without the protection and rights granted by citizenship. In the European Union (EU) alone, there are over 600,000  people not recognised as nationals by any State. Whereas migration is one of the main issues  where statelessness arises, not all refugees[efn_note]Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. They are defined and protected in international law.[/efn_note] are stateless as most stateless people have never crossed an international border. These people become ‘citizens of nowhere’ because of a variety of circumstances, most of them being related to the incompatible and discriminatory legal systems across Europe. 
    By the end of the 20th century, the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the breakup of Yugoslavia caused over 80% of the reported statelessness cases across Europe. This led to the concentration of a vast population of stateless individuals in just four countries: Russia Federation, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine. Statelessness, albeit on a smaller scale, has been reported in countries such as Sweden, Germany, Poland and Italy, with over 40,000 stateless individuals.
    The impact of statelessness can be severe, hindering access to fundamental human rights that are usually taken for granted. For example, stateless people in Italy, Portugal and Spain face challenges when pursuing their education, are forced to turn to emergency shelters and lack access even to emergency healthcare.
    These people are having a common burden of not belonging anywhere. At such a critical time, in the middle of a global pandemic, they now are at great risk of being left behind. This year, stateless people have been facing a lack of access to basic needs, most notably food and adequate shelter. How can, and should, the EU ensure a solution to the urgent problems of a long-term issue?

    Topic dictionary

    Stateless person:  someone who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.
    Nationality/citizenshipthe legal bond between the State and a person. It provides the State jurisdiction over the person and further insuresthe person’s protection. 
    Birth registration: the process through which a childʼs birth is recorded in the civil register by the government authority.  It is a fundamental human right,  ensuring that other rights are upheld and is a requirement for the issuing of a birth certificate.
    Naturalisation: the legal process through which a non-national individual obtains citizenship of a country.
    Statelessness determination procedures (SDP): process that serves to identify stateless persons among migrant populations ensuring that they live by the rights to which they are entitled until they acquire a nationality. Only a small number of countries, such as France, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria have established SDP’s.
    De jure statelessness: refers to stateless people who have no legal nationality, meaning they are not recognized as citizens under the laws of any State. Conversely, de facto stateless are those who have no “effective” nationality meaning they are not recognized as citizens by any State even if they have a claim to citizenship under the laws of one or more States.
    Jus sanguinis (Right of the Blood): means that parents are provided with the opportunity to pass their citizenship onto their children, even if their children are not born in that country. Jus soli (Right of the Soil) implies that nationality is acquired through birth on the territory of the state. No European countries grant citizenship based solely on jus soli.

    Key actors

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been involved in statelessness issues since its formation in the 1950s. Being fully mandated by the United Nations (UN), this agency is the main international body to tackle the problem of eradicating statelessness. UNHCR’s four key areas are identification, prevention, reduction, and protection. 
    European Commission (EC) is the executive branch of the EU, proposing legislation and supporting the Member States in their work and promoting dialogue with non-EU countries.  It works in collaboration with the Member States to ensure the integration of stateless people and building a common asylum policy. The EC also works alongside and cooperates with the UN refugee agency.
    Member States (MS) have the power to establish their own SDP, implement international agreements and enact a solid body of rights granted to a stateless person in their territory. 
    The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) is a network of 150 non-profit organisations (NGOs) and experts in 41 countries committed to protecting stateless people’s human rights through awareness-raising, training and by supporting the development of the legal framework.
    The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) is a NGO  addressing the security of the stateless on a global level. Their strategic plan 2018-2023 aims to achieve a more inclusive society with the use of technology, research, innovation and advocacy.
    Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency coordinates and controls the European border management, identifying both migratory patterns and criminal activities. Monitoring the situation on the borders includes evaluating the capacity and readiness of each Member State to face challenges at its external borders, including migratory pressure.
    Grassroots organisations and local advocacy are a strong asset in the fight to end statelessness. For example, Roma Advocacy Network Netherlands addresses the issue of Roma statelessness at a national level, providing round the clock services and multilingual information to individuals. They promote an inclusive approach to addressing statelessness and put pressure on the authorities to develop SDPs in line with UNHCR guidelines.

    Measures already in place

    The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons is a UN multilateral treaty providing a definition of statelessness and guaranteeing a set of minimum standards for their treatment.  It states that within signatory States, stateless people should, at minimum, have the same rights as other non-nationals – including the right to education, employment and housing. 
    The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness is another UN multilateral treaty, proposing a series of impactful measures to combat all forms of statelessness.  One of its most important provisions is that stateless children should acquire the nationality of the country in which they are born. Additionally, the convention covers instances of state succession or renunciation of nationality.  In Europe, 12 countries are still to accede to the 1954 Convention and 20 countries are not yet part of the 1961 Convention.

    The Council of Europe’s (CoE) 1997 European Convention of Nationality and the 2006 Convention on the Avoidance of State Successions are legal instruments clarifying and enforcing the importance of ending statelessness. 
    In 2004, the UNHCR launched the decade-long #IBelong Campaign, with the goal of eradicating statelessness by 2024. The Global Action Plan of the campaign aims to resolve existing situations of statelessness, prevent new cases, and improve identification and protection of stateless persons. It set out 10 actions needed to end statelessness, examples being mandatory birth registration, increasing the numbers of signatories to the UN conventions and collecting more accurate data on statelessness. 
    COVID-19 Emergency Statelessness Fund (CESF) [efn_note]Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).[/efn_note] is an initiative of the ISI that aims to raise funds in order to address the issue of statelessness during  COVID-19 pandemic. While the CESF primarily focuses on areas outside of Europe, its structure represents a clear example of how humanitarian relief confronts the practical, legal and political barriers that stateless people face, working towards systemic solutions.

    Key conflicts

    1. Lack of SDP’s vs the need for naturalisation procedures

    Before obtaining a nationality, stateless people must be identified by the State so that they can have basic human rights and residence until their situation is resolved. An SDP is the mechanism to facilitate naturalisation of the stateless people, however 15 EU Member States lack SDPs. Although the need for naturalisation is enshrined in the aforementioned UN Conventions, some EU countries still fail to identify nationality problems. A  vicious cycle is created: the lack of recognition as stateless means that one can not be protected under international law either, and without international protection, stateless people are unable to take any step towards being identified as stateless in the first place. While the development of effective naturalisation processes is crucial, without establishment and improvement of SDPs, they are of little use.

    2. Granting citizenship vs the universal right to nationality 

    Individual countries have almost exclusive competence when it comes to granting and withdrawing nationality. Individuals may therefore be denied nationality of a State despite having strong ties to that State. Reasons for their application being rejected differ, and are in many cases controversial and claimed to be discriminatory. Therefore, there is an incompatibility between the authority of national governments to grant citizenships, and Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR), which declares the right to a nationality. In Europe, Roma people are often seen as “a criminal minority who refuses to integrate”, leaving them undocumented and stateless in Italy, Ukraine and Bulgaria.

    3. Lack of birth registration systems and the insufficient reliable data

    Birth registration is fundamental to prevent a child from becoming stateless, yet one in four children under age 5 (166 million) are not registered in the world today, having 40 million births going unregistered annually. Without functioning birth registration systems, civil protection cannot achieve universal coverage. Moreover, collecting data on the occurrence of stateless people is almost impossible. This problem causes the statistics to be misleading, showing that there are only 3.7 million stateless people in 78 countries, however UNHCR estimates that at least 10 million people are in this situation worldwide. 

    4. Eradicating statelessness vs ensuring other fundamental rights for stateless individuals

    Legal recognition is essential to addressing Statelessness, as it is virtually the only way out of this condition. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that access to proper health care is impetuous to stateless persons. The lengthy procedure for acquiring a nationality fails to address the necessities stateless people have on a daily basis: proper education, health care coverage and civil protection.

    What’s next

    The statelessness problem will get resolved until the States succession, lengthy administrative and legal procedures and forced migration pursue. A world where no child is born stateless, discrimination from nationality laws no longer exists, naturalization is facilitated, and quantitative and qualitative data on stateless populations are improved is a world “towards zero statelessness”. For them, contributing personally and culturally to their homes is impossible without a formal connection with the State by which they are not recognised. 
    The EU has the ability to have a leading role in eradicating statelessness inside and outside its borders. Their goals alongside UNHCR include implementing discussions between the EU and partner countries; improving data collection and analysis; putting the necessary laws and determination procedures in place ensuring that stateless people can be identified and protected.
    Therefore, how should the EU use its policy making power to establish a common set of values among Member States which will help eradicate statelessness absolutely. What might these values be, and how should Member States ensure that the fundamental rights and practical needs of stateless individuals are fulfilled?

    Key questions 

    • How can Member States reframe “jus soli laws” in order to better resonate with the situations of the stateless?
    • Are there any examples of European countries with functioning birth registration systems? If so, what may be the key element for these systems? If not, what do you think is missing for them to function?
    • What criteria, in your opinion,  should determine the eligibility for nationality? 
    • Do you think that there are stateless people who are neither de jure, neither de facto? 
    • Are there any cases of stateless people who can’t even establish their nationality?  Will they ever be able to do so?

    Links for further research 

    Stateless in Europe: ‘We are no people with no nation’”, The Guardian
    Statelessness in the EU“, European Commission
    The Impact of COVID-19 on Stateless Populations: Policy Recommendations and Good Practices”, UNHCR
    Ending Statelessness Within 10 Years”, UNHCR 
    A story on statelessness”, European Network on Statelessness

  • ENVI

    ENVI

    Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI)

    Turning tides: With more than 150 million tonnes of plastic still existing in the oceans today and an estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes entering the ocean annually, causing harm to marine life as well as human health, how can the EU and Member States simultaneously prevent further plastic waste polluting the ocean whilst ensuring the sustainable restoration of marine ecosystems?

    By: Gabriele Rimkute (IE)

    Topic video

    The Problem with Ocean Plastic, Canadian Geographic

    The topic at a glance

    Around the time plastic first made its way onto the shelves of supermarkets, there were 2.5 billion people on Earth and the global production of plastic was 1.5 million tonnes. Today there are more than 7 billion people and plastic production exceeds 300 million tonnes annually. If this rapid growth continues, additional 33 billion tonnes of plastic will have accumulated around the planet by 2050. With the increase of consumption and global standard of living, the amount of plastic produced, used and simply thrown away has skyrocketed.
    The presence of marine litter in birds, turtles and mammals is well documented. A recent comprehensive review revealed that marine litter was discovered in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabirds. Swallowing or getting caught in the rubbish represents only one aspect of a problem nowadays. Organisms at every level, living on the seabed or in the water column, can be affected. Apart from the physical risk from plastic, there is also concern with the threat of the ingestion of hazardous chemicals in the plastic. The ability of plastic particles in the ocean to attract organic chemicals that do not dissolve, including many toxic substances, leading to a raised number of studies looking at plastics as a source of toxic chemicals in marine organisms. It creates a great concern of how eating the food from sea affects the health of the people.

    Topic dictionary

    Marine Litter: a range of materials which have been deliberately discarded, or accidentally lost on shore or at sea. It includes materials that are carried out to sea from land, rivers, drainage and sewerage systems, or the wind.
    Single-Use Plastic: goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel based chemicals and are meant to be disposed of right after one use. They are most commonly used for packaging and service ware, such as bottles, wrappers, straws, and bags.
    Microplastics: extremely small pieces of plastic debris in the environment, resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste.
    Marine Life: the plants, animals and other organisms that live in the sea or ocean.
    Circular Economy: a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible, extending the life cycle of products.

    Key actors

    The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.
    The Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) is a multi-stakeholder partnership that brings together all actors working to prevent marine litter and microplastics. It was launched at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012.
    The European Commission (EC) is an executive body of the European Union (EU) that has implemented many directives and strategies to help reduce the amount of plastic that enters our oceans. European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius heads the Directorate-General for the Environment (DG ENV) and is responsible for promoting plastic-free oceans and proper implementation of legislation on plastics, particularly microplastics among other things.
    The European Environment Agency (EEA) is an EU agency, whose task is to provide information on the environment. The EEA aims to support sustainable development by helping to achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe’s environment, through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy making agents and the public.
    Member States have a duty to follow laws put in by the European Parliament (EP). Some have taken further steps and implemented their own regulations, such as Spain where in June of this year the Cabinet approved a draft law which will introduce a tax on plastic waste that requires payment of 45 cents per kilogram of plastic packaging. Germany, on the other hand, has decided to focus on recycling packaging waste where over two-thirds ended up being recycled, but this has shown a 17.9% increase in the consumption of plastic packaging since 2010.
    The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit foundation with more than 90 engineers, researchers, scientists and computational modellers working daily to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.
    Clean Coasts is an Irish based programme that works with communities to help protect and care for Ireland’s waterways and marine life. They organise hundreds of beach clean-ups annually, work with thousands of volunteers who remove large quantities of marine litter from the Irish coastline and promote and facilitate coastal clean-ups and marine litter surveys. Clean Coasts also operate several international campaigns such as #2minutebeachclean and Beat the Microbead.

    Measures already in place

    The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires Member States to ensure properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment by 2020. However, on the 25th of June, there was a report published explaining that Member States will not achieve the Good Environmental Status, which they were legally required to do across all their marine waters. 
    The European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy is transforming the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU. In 2018, as stated in the strategy, the EC put forward a legislative proposal seeking to address the issue of marine litter from plastics. The proposal focuses on the top ten single-use plastics items found on beaches, which accounts for 43% of total marine litter, as well as on fishing gear which accounts for a further 27% of all marine litter. After completion of the legislative procedure, the final act was signed in 2019 and published one week later in the EU Official Journal. 
    Directive (EU) 2015/720 was brought in 2019 by the European Parliament and European Council in regard to reducing the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags. By the end of 2021, the EC will present a report to the EP and to the European Council assessing the effectiveness of the measures taken by Member States in combating littering, changing consumer behaviour and promoting waste prevention. In this report the EC will also take into account the implementation measures taken by Member States under the Single-Use Plastics Directive. 

    Key conflicts

    There are numerous problems and threats caused directly and indirectly by marine litter, including social, economic and environmental impacts. These impacts are diverse and usually interconnected and are therefore harder to tackle separately. Despite this, our overall understanding of these issues is limited in some areas, particularly the indirect and socio-economic effects of marine litter.

    Social

    A lot of marine litter comes from human behaviour, whether accidental or intentional. The greatest sources of it are land-based activities, such as the littering of beaches, tourism, recreational use of the coasts and fishing industry activities. Storm-related events, such as floods, flush the resulting waste out to sea where it sinks to the bottom or is carried on ocean currents. The major sea-based sources include abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear, shipping activities and legal and illegal dumping.

    Economic

    This extensive issue can and it is causing serious economic losses. Coastal communities are facing increased expenditure on beach cleaning and waste disposal. The tourism sector has to deal with the loss of income and bad publicity. The shipping industry is impacted by higher costs associated with fouled propellers and damaged engines, removing litter and managing waste in harbours. The fishing industry faces reduced and lost catch, damaged nets and other fishing gear, fouled propellers and contamination.

    Environmental

    Marine litter can additionally result in a huge loss of biodiversity. For example, discarded, lost, or abandoned fishing gear are continuing to fish and trap animals. This is known as ‘ghost fishing, it entangles and kills marine life, smothering habitat and acting as a hazard to navigation. Microplastics are also raising concerns. Toxins including DDT, BPA and pesticides are sick to these tiny particles of plastics that can be accidentally ingested by small aquatic organisms. Once ingested, the toxins biomagnify as they move up the food chain, ending up in birds, sea life and possibly humans.

    What is next?

    In relation to the MSFD report, Hans Bruyninckx, the Executive Director of the EEA, said “Our seas and marine ecosystems are suffering as a result of years of severe over-exploitation and neglect. We may soon reach a point of no return.” However, he believes that there is still a chance to restore our marine ecosystems if the EU acts decisively, coherently and strikes a sustainable balance between the way we use our seas and our impact on the marine environment. The MSFD must be reviewed by mid-2023 and where necessary, amendments will be proposed.
    Member States have until 3 July 2021 to transpose the single-use plastic ban into national law. The Directive aims to, by 2030, reduce marine litter on EU beaches by about a quarter, avoid the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, avoid environmental damages which would cost the equivalent of €22 billion and save consumers a projected €6.5 billion.
    In 2018 UNEP published a report about the legal limits on single-use plastics and microplastics. The report provides a global overview of what progress each country has made in passing laws that limit the manufacture, import, sale, use and disposal of selected single-use plastics and microplastics which have had a huge impact in the production of marine litter. It mentions laws and regulations that some EU Member States are stating to and are in the middle of implementing.

    Key questions

    • Why does so much of the plastic that we use end up in our oceans?
    • How can the EU make the switch from plastic to reusable materials such as metal, glass or paper?
    • What measures should the EU and its Member States implement to tackle throwing away so much of the plastic in the oceans?
    • Who is most affected by the results of marine litter? Which of these is affected the most by marine litter, the environment, public health or food safety?

    Links for further research:

    A Whale’s Tale, CBC Kids
    What really happens to the plastic you throw away, Ted-Ed
    A Plastic Ocean, Craig Leeson
    Ocean Plastics, Clean Coasts
    Our Oceans, Seas and Coasts, European Commission

  • ECON

    ECON

    Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON)

    #Sustainable future post-Corona: With 2 364.3 billion euros made available for Covid-19 economic relief, taking into account the different scenarios for economic recovery strategies, as well as the long term goals and priorities of the EU, should European Member States use the disruption caused to the economy by Covid-19 to restructure its economy in a more resilient, climate-friendly, and equitable way, and if so, how?

    By: Joshua Kamer (NL) and Sarah Challoner (IE)

    Topic video

    Coronavirus: EU leaders agree huge rescue package – BBC News, BBC News

    The topic at a glance

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past year has changed not only Europe, but the world as a whole, in every way imaginable. The economy, as every other aspect of our lives, has been impacted drastically. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the European Union (EU) is projected to be impacted, on average, -6.44%. However it is important to note this can vary to great extents between different regions. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, 5.5 million jobs were lost in the EU labour market. This stands to greatly impact the population of Europe, with a predicted 5.9% decrease in disposable income for the average EU household if policies are not put in place to soften the economic blow of this pandemic. Not only is the EU now tasked with building the economy of Europe back up, it has been provided with a unique  opportunity to reassemble it in a new and improved way. 
    To effectively mitigate the damage of the COVID-19 crisis, the European Council has adapted the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), their long-term financial budget, labelled as the recovery package that tackles the pandemic specifically. The MFF is split up into sections where €100 billion is dedicated for employees, ensuring they are not laid off immediately; €240 billion dedicated for governments, who can lend up to 2% of the GDP to spend on healthcare. The EU ought Member States to specifically  focus on reducing deaths and infections hospitals’ ability to cope with a surge of infections and the capacity to test and quarantine new infections. 
    With millions of potential deaths to follow, the stakes have never been higher for the EU to act in solidarity with each other. Should and will all countries be helped equally? Should all Member States have a say in the spending of the package?

    Topic dictionary

    Gross Domestic Product:  the total value of goods and services produced in a country within a certain timeframe
    Bonds: small loans to countries or companies. The investor pays the loan, receives interest over a period of time (‘the maturity’), and at the end of that period the investor receives the initial loan back. The difference between a bond and a loan[efn_note]A loan is a sum of money that is lent to another party in exchange for future repayment of the value over time, often plus interest. The terms of the loan are negotiated between the involved parties.[/efn_note] is that bonds are often given out at a fixed rate, which in turn means that the terms for bonds are not up for negotiation.
    Grant: a sum of money given by a government, company, organisation or other entity, that does not have to be paid back. In order to be received, often, receivers of grants often are required to meet certain conditions. Grants are often received in parts.
    Equitable Economy: essentially means that everyone is treated fairly and equally, and receives the specific resources and support that they require. An equitable economy is one that raises the living standard and opportunities for all, not just for a privileged few. 
    COVID-19 package: refers to the sum of money reserved by the EU for supporting Member States in their handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

    Measures already in place

    NextGenerationEU (NGEU) is the European Commission’s economic recovery plan, created to help ease the impact of the pandemic on the economies of Member States, as well as working towards a “green, digital, social and more resilient EU.” The NGEU will be funded by the borrowing (buying of bonds) over the next 6 years. Bonds with maturities extending to 2058. 
    Multiannual Financial Framework  (MFF) is theEU’s budget plan, which includes the NGEU and other expenditure. The long-term budget lasts from 2021 to 2027. The total recovery package will consist of €750 billion, of which €390 billion will be grants, and the other €360 billion will be loans in the form of bonds.
    European Green Deal is an EU initiative that provides an action plan to create a more sustainable and circular economy[efn_note]Circular economy defines an economy which focuses on consumption of renewable resources. This system aims to minimize waste and pollution, keep materials in use and regenerate natural systems. This stands opposed to an economic model in which materials are extracted, produced, consumed and thrown out as waste.e[/efn_note] within the EU, in keeping with the EU’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The EU has identified the principles of the Green Deal as central to recovering the EU economy in a climate-friendly way.

    Issues with the quality of the spending: terms and conditions

    The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, wants 30% of the combined NGEU and MFF to be devoted to climate action. However, several Member States, especially the Netherlands, want more control over the spending of the recovery package than the Commission. Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, even ensured that the package includes an “emergency brake”, meaning any Member State involved can object to another State’s usage of the money. This effectively grants veto rights to all Member States for the total recovery plan.
    Hungary and Poland announced that they did not agree with the conditions of the NGEU and MFF,  due to issues with the conditions of the loans and grants concerning the rule of law. Both countries had issues with the EU, where last April the European Court of Justice[efn_note]The European Court of Justice is the highest court within the EU, and enforces EU law. The Court can hold the EU itself accountable, defines the application of EU law and answers questions concerning EU law from judges within Member States.[/efn_note] ruled that Hungary and Poland violated EU law by failing to fulfil their obligation to take in refugees. On the denial of the package by Poland and Hungary, German ambassador Michael Clauss warned that, if the  financial package was not adopted quickly, the EU would face “serious crisis”. In September of this year, Poland and Hungary went as far as to say that they themselves wanted to set up a rule of law institute to keep check of all Member States regarding the rule of law, ensuring that they were fairly treated.
    The European Parliament[efn_note]The European Parliament supervises the work of the European Commission and other EU bodies. Moreover, it holds the legislative power to adopt or amend proposals for EU laws.[/efn_note] has already decided to sanction both countries on the grounds of article 7 of the Maastricht Treaty. This article grants power to the European Parliament to sanction a Member State when they do not comply with one of the core values of the EU, one of which is the rule of law.
    Should the package of grants and loans be freely accessible to all Member States, or should the rule of law be a condition on which the package is contingent? The EU should consider what is currently more crucial: ensuring good short-term health care in the Member States, or ensuring long-term compliance of the Member States now that it has considerable leverage.

    What is next?

    The economy is already starting to take further steps towards finding a new commonplace . Industrial production rates within the EU are currently increasing and  Member States along with the economies within them, will begin to open back up once they can, preventing further financial hardship. Therefore it is vital that efforts by the EU to use this opportunity to shape our newly-rebuilt economies into resilient, climate-friendly and equitable ones, come into play subsequently. Should Member States’ have a say in others’ spending of the recovery package? Is  individual States’ sovereignty or Union-wide solidarity?

    Key questions

    • Should the European Council make strict terms and conditions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic package? 
    • What should the EU’s priority be when it comes to the various aspects of economic recovery?
    • What are the major issues that currently existed within the way Europe’s economy was structured?
    • Having those issues in mind, what can the EU and its Member States do to tackle those issues and try to prevent them in the future?

    Links for further research:

    Topic Kahoot!
    The Economy, Europa
    Jobs and Economy During the Coronavirus Pandemic, European Commission
    COVID-19: how to fix the economy,The Economist
    Hungary and Poland block EU coronavirus recovery package, Politico
    Why has COVID-19 hit different European Union economies so differently?, Bruegel

  • LIBE I

    LIBE I

    Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs I

    Building bridges, not walls: with rising cultural tensions and increasing polarisation across the continent, how can the EU aid Member States in ensuring cultural integration of people with a migratory background?

    By: Stella Naudts (NL)

    Topic video

    Message by Ylva Johansson on the occasion of the launch of the consultation on integration and migrants expert group”, European Commission

    The topic at a glance

    The number of refugees and migrants coming to Member States is increasing rapidly. Recent reports say many refugees are taking a chance at crossing the Channel and the Atlantic Ocean  into European countries. The Canary Islands alone became the refuge for less than 17,000 refugees in this year alone, a record number since 2006. Whilst there is an issue of finding adequate help for them, there are millions of citizens of the Member States  who have migrated years ago. People with a migratory background often experience extreme difficulty with cultural integration and finding suitable jobs. This is often caused by discrimination and stereotypes, due to huge differences in Western and third country cultures, norms and values.  the economy and its development, immense numbers of them are without jobs. Integration into the labour market, meaning getting those with a migratory background jobs to their full potential, forms the foundation of the cultural and social integration of migrants in Member States.

    Topic dictionary

    Cultural integration: is the integration of non-EU citizens into the culture of the Member States. It consists of several categories and processes. The most prominent are labour market, cultural activities, social inclusion and active participation, community and politics, health and housing.
    Migratory background: someone with a migratory background is officially defined by migrating into their current country of residence, previously having a different nationality than their current country of residence or having at least one parent that migrated into the current country of residence.
    A migrant: someone who has either moved to a Member State and is expected to live there for at least 12 months after leaving a different country, or has lived in a Member State and has not lived there for at least 12 months.  
    A refugee:  someone with a third country nationality [efn_note]Third country national is a term often used in the context of migration, referring to individuals who are in transit and/or applying for visas in countries that are not their country of origin. In the EU, the term is often used, together with non-EU nationals, to refer to individuals who are neither from the EU country in which they are currently living or staying, nor from other Member States.[/efn_note], who comes to a Member State due to having a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership with a certain social group and is unable or unwilling to return.

    Key actors

    The Directorate-General of Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) is a department of the European Commission (EC)[efn_note]European Commission is the executive body of the EU that can propose and enforce legislation.[/efn_note] responsible for taking actions on matters in direct regard to policies on migration, border security and asylum.  However, integration of people with migratory background does not figure among the objectives of the immigration policy listed under Article 79, meaning that integration is not an immediate objective of legislative intervention by the EC.
    Member States: are 27 countries which form the EU. These Member States are individually responsible for their legislation regarding the cultural integration of inhabitants with migratory backgrounds. They are following their own refugee policies, subject to the international agreements they have committed to. However,  the EU can certainly aid and encourage Member States, especially in diminishing differences between them.
    The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) is an agency of the EU dedicated to develop, implement and coordinate training for law enforcement officials. This agency’s aims are to offer law enforcement professionals opportunities to grow personally and professionally through training and contributing by learning to solve issues related to European security. 
    The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) is an agency created by the EU to increase the cooperation of EU Member States on asylum, improve the implementation of the Common European Asylum System, and support Member States under pressure.
     The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) addresses all migrant and refugee issues on an international level, but is not actively involved in policy making. They cover issues ranging from advocacy, inclusion, assistance, shelter, to public health.

    Measures in place

    The Action Plan on the integration of third-country nationals is an important legislation, which shows the concrete plans and agreements of the EC and EU. It focuses on five main aspects of successful integration, namely the preparation of both migrants and the community for departure and arrival, education, labour market, training, access to basic services, active participation and social inclusion. 
    The Common Basic Principles (CBPs) for immigrant integration policy is a report which lists the basic agreements of the EU regarding integration. Some are regarding employment being the key part in the integration process and being central to the participation of immigrants,  as well as enabling immigrants to acquire this basic knowledge being essential to successful integration.
    Common Agenda for Integration is a framework for the integration of third-country nationals in the EU. It proposes concrete measures at EU and national level, such as mainstreaming integration in all relevant policies and developing cooperation among responsible institutions and services.  
    The Europe 2020 Strategy is the most recent plan of action emphasising smart, sustainable and inclusive growth to better Europe’s competitiveness and productivity. It also focuses on education, employment, poverty and social exclusion.  

    Key conflicts

    Due to immense groups of migrants coming into the Member States, the problem of insufficient integration of migrants into the EU will only become worse.  At the moment, policies and legislation in the EU regarding the integration is inadequate, resulting in unnecessarily high levels of unemployment and homelessness among migrants. Due to the influx of migrants into the EU will continue to grow, the problem of insufficient integration of migrants will also grow unmanageable.
    The cause for the difficulties in the integration of migrants is most often discrimination and stereotypes. Every culture holds different norms and values, especially in Western countries and third world countries these differences are huge. When there are big contrasts between two cultures, it becomes difficult for natives to respect another culture, resulting in discrimation and negative stereotypes. This is the main cause for the difficulties that migrants have when integrating into the culture of the Member States.

    What is next?

    On the 24th of November 2020 the EC released the new EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion for the coming years, 2021 – 2027. Four main points are covered in this action plan: the education of migrants, from basic until higher education, improving employment opportunities at an appropriate skill level, improving sufficient health access and available affordable housing. This plan continues to build upon the 2016 Action Plan on Integration, however the new action plan lays the focus on long-term integration and solutions. The EC has also recently made new funds of 32,7 million euros available for projects on migration and integration. There is currently an open call for these funds, which are intended for the improvement of migrants’ access to basic services and integration programmes.

    Key questions

    • How will the Member States ensure the successful integration of current inhabitants with migratory backgrounds as new migrants are further coming?
    • How can the EU work closer with third-party countries to ensure responsible sharing?
    • What measures should the Member States take to decrease the inequality between natives and migrants when it comes to employment?
    • How will the EU encourage the Member States enough  to take action when it comes to integrating people with migratory background?

    Links for further research:

    “EU Actions”, European Commission
    What Actually Is the European Union?”, TLDR News EU
    Integration in the labour market”, European Commission
    Integration”, European Commission
    EU work and activities on integration”, European Commission
    Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy in the EU”, European Commission (for the short version see pages 17-18, for further explanation see pages 19-24)
    Statistics on migration to Europe”, European Commission
    Agencies”, European Commission

  • CULT

    CULT

    Committee on Culture and Education (CULT)

    Not an issue to tackle alone: In 2019, more than 75 million European adults met with family or friends at most once a month and around 30 million European adults felt frequently lonely. Considering the impact of loneliness on health and life satisfaction, what should be done to turn the tide of increasing loneliness in the EU?

    By: Muna Shaiye (NL) and Aya Bennis (NL)

    Topic video

    ’Managing anxiety, stress and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic’’, CBC News: The National

    The topic at a glance

    Loneliness is a feeling of despair as a result of lack of experienced connection to those around you. In Europe, 7% of adults report that they frequently experience loneliness, amounting to a striking number of 30 million individuals.
    Loneliness can occur when an individual loses their job, is not active in their community nor is frequently in contact with acquaintances and does not engage in normal societal activities. It is a negative mental situation in itself, can be the basis for a chain reaction of a further concern for mental illnesses such as depression. There is a clear difference between regions where as in the Czech Republic and Hungary, 10% of adults report being lonely, compared to 3% in the Netherlands and Denmark. 
    Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has prohibited many from social and leisure activities. Therefore, most humans will be heavily impacted by this change, as social contact and connection is scientifically proven to enable us to endure. With physical distancing leading to social isolation, more people are at risk of loneliness than before, and the pandemic has shed a light on the issue of loneliness at any age.

    Topic dictionary

    Loneliness: an unpleasant feeling derived from low frequency and/or low quality of a person’s social network. 
    Social isolation:  a lack of social interaction and a  position in which someone is disconnected from societal networks. It is frequently initiated when a person is not active in social activities that are deemed to be usual such as going to work, school, being physically active, having insufficient contact with beloved acquaintances and lacking the access to community involvement.
    Social distancing: the objective situation of a person that suggests that they must minimize the frequency of their social interaction to a large extent.
    Quality of life: the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group, measured by taking into consideration life satisfaction, feelings and emotions.
    Depression: a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how one feels, thinks and behaves and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Loneliness is in many instances a symptom of depression and has an effect of weighing down the depressed individual.

    Key actors

    National Governments have the power and influence in respect to the issue of loneliness. They have the possibility to directly affect and tackle the issue of loneliness, by ensuring that relevant research is conducted, making policies and other initiatives. 
    The European Commision (EC) the executive branch of the European Union (EU), setting up strategies, working in collaboration with the Member States and organising for example exchanges for knowledge. 
    Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as The Campaign of loneliness, which promotes connection between elderly individuals. It also plays an important role in the process of lessening the issue, as they promote social participation, often on a local level.
    The Social Protection Committee (SPC) is an advisory policy committee to the Ministers in the Employment and Social Affairs Council (EPSCO). Some of the fields that the SPC encompasses are social protection, social inclusion, healthcare, and long-term care.

    Measures in place

    A fair amount of measures have been considered in European countries to lessen loneliness, such as technologically based programmes, digital approaches, coordinated care led by nurses, and dynamic policies tailor made by governments for their own citizens. The United Kingdom has taken an even more focused step announcing its Minister for loneliness in 2018.  

    There have also been several national and local initiatives to combat loneliness. In Ireland, Friends of the Elderly has set up regular phone calls between older adults and trained volunteers. The Norwegian company no isolation developed a programme to teach inexperienced people to use gadgets such as smartphones to be able to connect with acquaintances. In the Netherlands, Proactive Primary Care Approach for the Frail Elderly (U-PROFIT), a primary care model,  is used by nurses to critically evaluate the health of patients regarding physical, mental and social needs, including loneliness, that is done by a format of questions. 
    URBACT programme is an EU-funded initiative under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The programme addresses isolation in cities by engaging locals to tackle issues that are important to them together. VulnerABLE is a pilot project established by the EC aimed to improve isolated and vulnerable people’s health. 
    Better Together in Amsterdam North , is a programme that relies on the integration of external information such as health and social services. After gathering information, an assessment including scales in the gravity of loneliness is used. The primary care practitioners work closely with the case manager, the patient, and local social service providers to develop an individualized health and social care plan.

    Key conflicts

    With regards to loneliness, the feeling of responsibility often emerges. Within the welfare state, the responsibility for loneliness is either laid on the individual or other institutions by not taking enough measures to reduce risks, creating questions who is more responsible for it.. On the other hand, as  mentioned before, loneliness can occasionally progress and lead to several psychiatric and physical disorders. Should we prioritise improving the patient care with the help of health care providers or should we improve the patient’s community by getting them help from the surrounding people in the community?
    Due to COVID-19 pandemic, people tend to worry more over the overwhelmed hospitals and the exposure of coronavirus in particular areas rather than their own mental health. They have a tendency  to think as they are not feeling sick enough, while there are people. In addition, many people lost their jobs and avoided hospitals due to the hospital’s costs. These combined causes a grave issue as these people do not seek the right medical help regarding their problem of loneliness. Their physical and mental health is not maintained and therefore risked developing psychiatric and physical disorders which creates troublesome problems to treat. How should the EU and other European countries ensure other medical cases are treated equally next to the COVID-19 treatments?

    What is next?

    Loneliness and social isolation correlate with feelings of vulnerability, threat and anxiety levels. Loneliness is hence potentially associated with and social dynamics of a society. The Joint Research Center (JCR) is currently examining loneliness and how social cohesion could be negatively affected by it. This brief is one of a series of ‘’science for policy briefs’’ which report the research the JRC has done related to fairness. Among other aspects, it includes how fairly the issue of loneliness is being dealt with where  a comprehensive report on fairness was published in 2019. To combat loneliness, we need to acquire a better understanding of the hidden drivers of loneliness. This way solution forming will be more adequate resulting in more effective measures. There is an graveneed to consider the mental situation of EU citizens when implementing economic and social  policies related to the surge of COVID-19 pandemic.

    Key questions

    • What was the effectiveness rate of previous measures? How can they be improved? 
    • What do you see as possible solutions for the rising loneliness? What measures should the EU with its Member States and other European  countries implement? 
    • How does loneliness negatively impact the dynamics of our society?
    • Is there enough research done on loneliness? What aspects  should be more  looked into?
    • Who do you consider accountable for the issue of loneliness in our society?

    Links for further research:

    Loneliness – an unequally shared burden in Europe”, European Commission
    How lonely are Europeans?”, EU Science Hub 
    ‘’A BRIEF VIEW ON LONELINESS’’, Loneliness in Europe
    ‘’The impact of COVID-19 restriction measures on loneliness among older adults in Austria’’, Erwin.S et al.