Category: Topic Overview Maastricht 2022

  • Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI)

    Who rules the world? Law! – In light of Poland and Hungary vetoing the NextGenerationEU recovery plan in 2020, debates about the connection between the rule of law mechanism schemes in the plan and the conflicts with their governments not acting according to democratic European values have been brought up. How should the EU protect the integrity of the EU’s Justice System and the rule of law across Member States?

    By Daria Pavlenko (UA) & Tomas Winegar (FI)


    Rule of law, being one of the five main values of the European Union (EU) and its ideological fundament, is argued to have recently been increasingly neglected by some of the Member States. With recently adopted legislation that explicitly contradicts the fundamental EU principles, Poland and Hungary have ended up in the spotlight of the fierce discussion. As stated by the Members of the European Parliament during a debate, such legislation, along with high rates of corruption and lack of transparency, can become substantial obstacles for the fair distribution of the recovery funds and hold the European Commission back from approving Hungarian and Polish recovery plans. The EU representatives argue that such rule of law breaches make it likely that the funds end up being appropriated by the elite.

    The position of Hungarian and Polish governments can be described as opposition to the suggested connection between the rule of law and the funding. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Balszczak stated that the conditionality mechanism in its present shape is unacceptable for Poland. By vetoing the EU budget plan, Poland and Hungary openly challenge the European values and threaten the unity of the EU, undermining its fundamental principles and bringing about the possible exit from the EU. In reality, where the withdrawal of Hungary and Poland from the union is becoming frequently discussed, more and more observers question the ability of the EU to ensure the rule of law in its Member States.

    Key Actors and Measures

    Member States

    Member States are the stakeholders most directly involved with the rule of law in the EU. Member States have agreed to operate by the founding values of the EU when joining the Union. The Rule of Law system is supposed to ensure that Member States abide by the principles of the EU. Non-cooperative Member States can be punished by losing their voting rights in the Council of European Union through the execution of Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU), which lays out the procedures for suspending certain rights of non-cooperative Member States. Article 7 TEU has never been pursued fully and is meant to act as a last result, being called “the EU’s nuclear option”. 

    The European Commission 

    The European Commission is the executive branch of the EU, and is tasked with drafting legislative proposals sent to the European Parliament and implementing legislation passed by the European Parliament. The European Commission conducts a yearly process called the European Semester, which aims to create country-specific recommendations for economic and structural issues related to rule of law. The European Commission visits each Member State for an annual Rule of Law report assessment.

    Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

    NGOs provide information to the European Commission about conditions in Member States which are used in legislative design. NGOs also provide written input for the Rule of Law Report. Rule of Law is especially relevant to NGOs, as freedom of NGO operations is one of the core values mentioned in the rule of law framework. Recently, NGOs including the International Federation for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Transparency International have provided information about the state of human rights and governmental transparency in Poland and Hungary.

    European Parliament

    The European Parliament consists of representatives elected by European citizens. The European Parliament co-decides with the Council of the European Union on legislative proposals from the European Commission. While most MEPs support upholding the values of the EU as declared in the TEU, there has been much confusion about what exactly these values are, and what approaches should be taken to ensure Member States abide by the rule of law, especially in terms of LGBTQ+ rights and refugee issues.

    Council of the European Union

    The Council of the European Union is an institution of the European Union which consists one minister from each Member States. The Council of the European Union co-legislates with the European parliament and therefore there needs to be agreement between MEPs and the Heads of Member States in order to pass EU wide legislation. The European council holds an annual rule of law dialogue discussing the findings of the rule of law report. Many leaders have been hesitant to introduce legislation penalizing non-cooperative states, as they fear it may punish EU citizens instead of non-cooperative governments and harm the  prosperity of the EU as a whole. This has been especially prevalent concerning the NextGenerationEU coronavirus recovery plan, as withholding economic relief to non-cooperative nations may cause indirect economic harm to neighboring nations

    Key words and Core Concepts

    • Article 2 TEU: is the article  outlining the founding  values of the EU that countries are expected to adhere to. Rule of Law violations often include actions conflicting with the values defined in Article 2 TEU.
    • Rule of Law Mechanism: is a strategic attempt by the EU to assess the state of rule of law across its Member States and initiate discussions about possible interventions if necessary. The  Rule of Law Mechanism works on a yearly basis and includes a written report combining accounts from Member States, NGOs, and the experts from the European Commission about the state of four main pillars of rule of law. The pillars include: justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom, and pluralism and institutional checks and balances.
    • Rule of Law Framework: is a pipeline of discussions and debates that the EU holds before launching sanctions or preventative methods against a non-cooperative state when a breach of the rule of law is detected. The process is based on Article 7 TEU and can be initiated through votes by the Council of the European Union or European Parliament, or by executive action of the European Commision. The Process includes dialogue with the governments accused Member States, with the aim being to reach a resolution without resorting to sanctions.
    • Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification: is a mechanism used by the EU to monitor the progress of judicial reform, anti-corruption efforts, and organized crime for Romania and Bulgaria. The mechanism was first implemented as a condition for Romania and Bulgaria to be able to join the EU. Like the rule of law mechanism, the mechanism for cooperation and verification generates a yearly report assessing development. The European Commision can, according to the mechanism for cooperation and verification, suspend states from the Schengen Area, the Economic and Monetary Union and the Area of freedom, security and justice if benchmark criteria concerning areas such as transparency and independence of the judicial system and anti-corruption efforts  are not met.
    • European sovereignty: is the idea that states within the EU maintain the majority of their sovereign rights when they join, including election processes, education, and broadcasting. While these areas are under legislative control of Member States it is expected that they abide by the values of the EU under rule of law.

    EU Rule of Law Framework

    Key issues and conflicts

    In light of several Member states, namely Poland and Hungary, continuously implementing legislations that contravene the fundamental values of the EU, the “rule-of-law conditionality mechanism” was introduced. This tool allowed the suspension of the distribution of the EU funds to the Member States that failed to comply with the main rule of law principles. 

    According to the 2021 Rule of Law report published by the European Commission, the situation in Hungary is worsening and it can be considered to be at risk of breaching the EU’s founding values. The Commission emphasised the lack of accountability for corruption and misuse of EU funding in Hungary. Moreover, the newly implemented controversial anti-LGBT law in Hungary has also been often brought up as a case proving the state’s failure to comply with the requirements of the EU. 

    The judiciary in Poland has also become an extensively discussed topic and is argued to lack independence. The judiciary reforms carried by Poland’s conservative Law and Justice Party government are claimed to harm the effectiveness and impartiality of the judicial proceedings related to the management of the Union funds, threatening the financial interests of the EU.

    However, several flaws have been revealed during the implementation of the rule of law mechanism. It has become the subject of contradiction between the Commission and the European Parliament, with the latter accusing the former of the tardiness in triggering the tool. At the same time, critics argue that this instrument is insufficient for defending the general principles of the rule of law and is limited to defence of the financial interest, while the existing legal order of the EU does not allow for any more radical action. The annual reports are also mentioned to be of limited use, contributing only to problem diagnosis, but not the ways of its solution.

    Furthemore, the response of the countries accused of violations must be taken into account. Hungarian officials argue that the character of such measures is substantially political and the implementation of the mechanism has an explicitly political intent. The same point of view is held by the Polish lawyers who insist that the conditionality mechanism is used to administer political punishment and not to protect the EU budget. 

    Such a disagreement with the current measures has resulted in a formidable response which culminated in Hungary and Poland vetoing the EU budget. Such a decision that affects all of the Member states cannot be neglected, which initiates the debate on the suitability of the mechanism, its limits and possible improvements to the system of rule of law protection in the EU.

    Key Questions

    • How can rule of law breaches in the Member states be addressed by the EU taking into account its legal limitations?
    • Considering the cultural diversity of Europe, how can the EU ensure Member States agree on the union’s core values?
    • What can be done to ensure cooperative Member states have unimpeded access to funds provided by the EU?
    • How can the inclusiveness of the EU values be promoted?
    • How can the conditionality mechanism be modified to accentuate its functionality and avoid the accusations of its politicisation?

    Things to look at

  • Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy (ITRE II)

    I was like Watt: With the EU aiming to increase renewable energy production in its European Green Deal framework to respond to the climate crisis, it has proved challenging to achieve this without giving thorough consideration for energy security. What can the EU do to ensure stable energy generation, transmission, and distribution while balancing renewable energy and energy security goals?

    By Krista Bergmane (LV) and Teodor Borcan (RO)


    The EU is an active promoter of Europe’s shift to a carbon-neutral society. However, this process has proved to be an arduous one. One of the most effective ways to reach this goal is by increasing renewable energy production because, as of most recently, energy production and consumption accounts for 75% of EU greenhouse gas emissions. Aiming to transform the EU into the world’s first carbon-neutral continent, the European Green Deal features clean energy as one of its main priorities.

    Energy security is especially at risk in this context because the EU imports over 50% of its energy. Therefore, a balance should be struck between using renewable energy and ensuring that all Member States have stable access to energy sources. For example, even though the Union has a highly developed energy infrastructure, over 34 million people live in energy poverty. An overarching cause of the energy sector’s unreliability on a local level is that cooperation between Member States, which could take the form of Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) is lacking, along with poor development of infrastructure in rural or very remote areas. 

    What is certain is that there is a dire need for a shift towards carbon neutrality in accordance with the European Green Deal, whilst ensuring energy security across all Member States. Therefore, all relevant actors in the Union should come up with ways to balance these two goals in order to provide a stable environment for the proper infrastructure to develop. 

    Key Actors and Measures

    The Nord Stream 2 pipeline

    In 2019, around 40% of EU natural gas imports came from Russia and the EU’s dependence on Russian gas imports shows no signs of lessening. Although the Green Deal envisages a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050, natural gas remains a key part of the energy mix as coal is phased out and renewable energy production levels are not high enough yet to replace non-renewable energy sources. EU domestic gas production is declining, and there is not enough gas at affordable prices from alternative suppliers to replace Russian production. There are fears that Nord Stream 2 will reinforce Russia’s stranglehold on EU energy markets and compromise European strategic autonomy. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly, has often applied political pressure by using its market power to manipulate gas prices. And with gas prices in Europe skyrocketing, the Kremlin has openly stated that quick regulatory approval of Nord Stream 2 and its operation would reduce gas prices.

    European Green Deal

    Energy production and consumption accounts for more than 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Decarbonising the EU’s energy system is therefore critical to reach the 2030 climate objectives and the EU’s long-term strategy of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

    In 2019, renewable energy sources made up 19,7  % of electricity consumption in the EU, with the percentage of renewable energy produced and used differing for each Member State. 

    The European Green Deal focuses on 3 key principles for the clean energy transition, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance the quality of life of EU citizens by ensuring a secure and affordable EU energy supply, developing a fully integrated, interconnected, and digitalised EU energy market and prioritising energy efficiency, improving the energy performance of our buildings, and developing a power sector based largely on renewable sources.

    The European Union Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER)

    ACER was established in March 2011 by​ th​e Third Energy Package legislation as an independent body to foster the integration and completion of the Eu​​ropean Internal Energy Market for electricity and natural gas​. The agency focuses on  developing common network and market rules, coordinating national regulators at the European level, monitoring the well-functioning and transparency of the EU internal energy market, and advising the EU Institutions on trans-European energy infrastructural issues.

    ACER works very closely with the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER). The overall aim of CEER is to facilitate the creation of a single, competitive, efficient and sustainable internal market for gas and electricity in Europe. The CEER acts as a platform for cooperation and information exchange. It assists Europe’s national energy regulators when dealing with the EU and on an international level.

    Electricity market design

    At the end of 2018, the EU updated the EU electricity laws within the ‘Gas Market Design’ package. An integrated EU energy market is the most cost-effective way to ensure secure and affordable energy supplies to EU citizens. The aim is to bring the EU electricity law up to date, taking account of its aim to become completely decarbonised by 2050. The share of electricity produced by renewable energy sources is expected to grow to more than 50% in 2030. In order to increase the resilience of the EU electricity system, each EU country is in the future required to define Risk Preparedness plans to be ready to respond to unexpected situations, working closely with neighbouring member states.

    The European Commission.

    The European Commission is the executive of the European Union. The Commission helps to shape the EU’s overall strategy, proposes new EU laws and policies, monitors their implementation and manages the EU budget. It also plays a significant role in supporting international development and delivering aid.

    The Commission is organised into policy departments, known as Directorates-General (DGs), which are responsible for different policy areas. DGs develop, implement and manage EU policy, law, and funding programmes.

    Key words and Core Concepts

    • Energy poverty: refers to when low-income households have to pay a high percentage of their income on energy and is linked with poor energy efficiency. Given that income and energy prices may vary between Member States as well as within them, the EU has introduced policies to help local authorities to deal with this issue.
    • Cross-border cooperation (CBC): European Cross-Border cooperation, known as Interreg A, supports cooperation between at least two neighbouring Member States. CBC is also a key element of the EU policy towards its outside neighbours. As part of its objective to achieve a climate-neutral energy system, the EU has been encouraging regional cooperation on renewable energy. This may take the form of joint renewable energy projects, support schemes or statistical transfers. Despite the clear and abundant benefits of such cooperation, few Member States have embarked on cross-border projects.
    • Energy security: the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price. Energy security is achieved when stable sources of energy are available at affordable prices. It is possible to attain high energy security through internal (domestic) or external (imported) energy supplies. 
    • Climate neutrality: Carbon neutrality means having a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Becoming “climate neutral” means reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible, but it also means compensating for any remaining emissions. To reduce emissions from energy-intensive industries, the EU has set up an emissions trading system (ETS). The EU ETS is a market for carbon permits establishing the amount of emissions that power stations, industrial plants and airlines can release into the atmosphere. Permit levels are gradually reduced to cut the emissions of the participating industries.

    Key issues and conflicts

    Energy Poverty 

    Energy poverty is an ongoing issue, with multiple underlying causes, such as low income, spending a high amount of disposable income on energy, and energy inefficiency. The lack of a common definition for this concept across the EU makes it difficult to combat it on a larger scale and there are very few statistics on it. Moreover, many households do not identify as energy-impoverished, despite fitting into the local category and even if they do, the fact that people are not educated on this matter makes it almost impossible for them to seek out the needed help from local authorities, such as subsidies or schemes devised to help them. 

    Issues of integration

    Another challenge for the European Green Deal is the lack of integration between Member States’ grids. Therefore, countries surrounded by water and those in Eastern Europe are in what is called energy isolation. They are dependent upon energy imports, which makes it harder for them to achieve energy security. Implementing clean and renewable energy in these grids has proved to be more challenging because of other primary issues. For instance, the public might not support the interconnection of grids due to misinformation, there may be a lack of funding opportunities for the different energy mixes, and the geographical location of the states’ grids might make it difficult to implement the needed measures.

    Lack of cooperation

    Despite the advantages obtained through cross-border cooperation projects, such as lower energy prices and market stability for investors, very few states have managed to successfully implement them. Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) and other cooperation endeavours have yielded results which would be virtually unachievable otherwise, reaching higher levels of efficiency. Many such activities, however, are cut off by inefficient negotiations regarding time, strategy, and money. Cooperation between stakeholders and states requires a great deal of trust, will, and an all-encompassing approach. In the current political climate, this type of relationship may be harder to build. 

    Energy Security

    Energy security is a complex issue, tying both into the lack of integration and cooperation between Member States. In the context of this topic, it refers to the situation where a country’s climate means that it cannot source all of its energy from renewable sources, forcing it to import energy from a neighbouring EU state. In theory, this should encourage states to participate in cross-border cooperation so that, in the case of a crisis, the energy supply is more diverse, allowing for power to be distributed more evenly in the Union. Currently, compromises must be made when it comes to how much a country spends on developing or improving its renewable energy infrastructure, in order to provide stable access to energy from other sources. The need for energy security especially slows down the shift towards carbon neutrality in the case of countries whose clean energy infrastructure is less developed or those which do not have access to reliable enough renewable energy sources. This calls for close cooperation between Member States, which, as stated in the two previous sections, is still a work in progress, with the European Commission launching offers for infrastructure development projects.

    Key Questions

    • What has led to the EU’s dependency on energy import from outside sources?
    • How should the EU policies be implemented for an efficient use of renewable energy resources?  
    • How can the EU guarantee energy accessibility for every citizen?
    • Should the EU have more aggressive punishments towards countries not meeting  set energy goals?
    • Is every Member State equally equipped and prepared  for the switch to renewable energy?

    Things to look at

  • Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy (ITRE I)

    One small step for Europe: The USA currently spends almost six times as much on space research and exploration as the EU does, not to mention private investment from companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. Acknowledging how space is becoming an ever more critical geopolitical theatre, what should the EU do to ensure it is not left behind in the new space race?

    By Gerrard Drishti (AL)

    Infographic: EU in Space


    Historically, the European space programme was overshadowed by other big space agencies such as NASA or the Soviet space agency, but today the European Space Agency (ESA) is one of the biggest space agencies in the world, with its own spaceport, rocket launcher technology, and 2200 employees from every Member State. Despite this, only one-third of satellites are manufactured in the EU. Europe also falls behind in manned space travel. As of today, the EU has no plans for manned space travel, while its American counterpart NASA has plans for a Moon landing as soon as 2025, with the Chinese and Indian space agencies not falling behind. In 2040, the market of space is projected to be about EUR 1.2 trillion, and space is becoming ever more important in the geopolitical scene because of the observational and monitoring opportunities it offers for areas like science and security. Should the EU change its current 2027 plan and what should the EU do to not fall behind its competitors?

    Key Actors and Measures

    The European Space Agency (ESA)

    The ESA has 22 Member states and is independent of the EU. Despite this, the EU funds 26% of ESA’s budget. The Agency is responsible for most space programmes within European Borders. Its main goal is to frame and execute Europe’s space missions while ensuring that its investments benefit Europeans and people around the world. 

    European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA)

    The EUSPA is responsible for ensuring the implementation of the European Space Programme of Europe’s space missions. This agency works closely with the ESA in ensuring the safety of current space programs such as Galileo and EGNOS. The EUSPA is also responsible for delivering Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and works on the Secure Connectivity Initiative.

    The European Parliament 

    The European Parliament has the power to agree to or change proposals from the European Commission and can make EU-level decisions. In April 2021 new regulations regarding the European space program for the upcoming six years were adopted. These new regulations are set to simplify the current legal framework while standardising the security framework of the European Space Program.

    The European Commission

    The European Commission is the EU institution whose primary function is to propose legislation. This institution provides important political guidance to space activities such as setting the budget for flagship programmes like Galileo and EGNOS. The Commission’s Space Strategy sets goals for the EUSPA for the upcoming six years to improve the European presence in space while ensuring a safe and gradual improvement in this field.

    The United Nations (UN) is an international organisation that consists of 192 member states, 27 of which are part of the EU. The UN has been a key regulator when it came to space ever since the first space race between NASA and the Soviet space agency. Its main contribution to regulating space is the United Nations Treaties and Principles on Outer Space. This treaty ensures that space is a safe place for all humans and ensures equal grounds for all space agencies to work on their space programmes.

    Key words and Core Concepts

    • The flagship EU space programmes are the three main satellite programmes which the ESA and the EUSPA have launched into space. These three programmes have a large impact on the life of many Europeans and beyond.
      • Copernicus is currently the most advanced Earth observation system and collects data on topics such as atmospheric gases, marinelife, and climate change.
      • Galileo, the EU’s own global navigation satellite system, provides highly accurate GPS data.
      • EGNOS provides navigation data which is important to aviation, maritime, and land-based users throughout the EU.
    • A space agency is a government or private agency which is engaged in all activities related to space and space exploration. Europe’s most important space agency is the ESA followed by the EUSPA which is the European Union’s space agency.
    • Space exploration is the discovery and observation of other non-terrestrial objects, including other planets, satellites, asteroids, and solar systems. Space exploration can be done either by sending humans or robots into space. The most common way of space exploration today is through satellites or sending rovers to nearby planets. The last time humans stepped on another orbital object was in 1972.
    • An Orbit is an elliptical path that an object follows around a planet or star because of its gravitational effect. Orbiting Earth is very important for satellites to stay in place. Currently, European satellites are spread between different Earth orbits, mainly low Earth ones, but the huge number of satellites being sent into space is making it more difficult for institutions to track or correctly deploy new satellites.
    • The International Space Station (ISS) is a large spacecraft that orbits Earth where up to seven astronauts live in order to complete scientific research. The ISS welcomes astronauts from every space agency and is a neutral place for agencies to research. The ISS contains 16 pressurised modules only one of which comes from the ESA. As a contributor, the ESA has frequently sent its astronauts to the ISS. 

    Key issues and conflicts

    Public interest 

    Most Europeans are interested in space and want the Union to continue its approach in space, but on the other hand, many are sceptical about Europe further investing in space. The financial costs that space programmes bring with them are huge, and for many Europeans, their opinion lies in firstly fixing problems that we currently have within the atmosphere rather than out of it. 

    European Satellites

    However, that’s exactly what the ESA together with the EUSPA are doing. The EU’s flagship programmes like Galileo and EGNOS focus on monitoring and predicting weather conditions, giving users a better GPS experience, and increasing security both for people on earth and satellites orbiting it. These satellites have helped thousands of Europeans and have helped in preventing millions of euros in damage. These advancements have put Europe in an important position regarding space but still, Europe falls behind in comparison to other space agencies. Space X, a private American space agency, is planning on sending 30.000 satellites into earth orbit with its Starlink project, making European connectivity satellites less important in the satellite scene.


    European space projects are small compared to other space agencies’ space programmes. One of the main reasons for this is the way the ESA is funded. Private investment from the ESA is a tenth of what it is in the USA. The difference in funding also comes from the different views countries have on space. The US sees space as a key economic asset to be exploited. ESA funding comes at a set percentage of a member country’s GDP while the EUSPA is funded in the same way as other EU institutions are funded, whereas the US sets new funding for NASA each year based on its ambitions.

    The ESA has its own spaceport from which it can launch its latest and most advanced rocket, Ariane 6. This rocket is planned to launch many important EU space missions into space and is one of the biggest technological advancements of the ESA, but launching Ariane 6 comes at a huge cost. Compared to competitors such as Space X whose rockets are reusable, the number of missions launched from the ESA is very limited compared to the ones from Space X, which also takes public contracts from NASA for its missions. 

    Extended Infographic: EU in Space

    Space exploration and Space security 

    While European satellites are the pride of the ESA, Europe falls behind in space exploration. In its current 2027 programme, the ESA, together with the EUSPA, has no clear goals in terms of sending rovers or even humans to the moon or nearby planets. Despite the ESA having seven astronauts in its staff, this trained crew has never made it past the ISS. With the operations of the ISS going as soon as 2024 out of service the EU is going to have no way of sending its own astronauts into orbit. This could mean that it might fall behind as it won’t have the trained staff for future interplanetary missions.

    With the USA and China planning to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars, the EU is trying to catch up. With space becoming an evermore important geopolitical asset, many countries are racing into having their own piece in space. The EU as an important player in space should ensure its position and security for its and other agencies satellites in pact with the United Nations Treaties and Principles on Outer Space. Currently, France is the only member in the EU which has its own Space Force which aims to keep track of important satellites and monitor other agencies activity in space.

    Key Questions

    • What approach should the ESA and the EUSPA take on their space programmes?
    • How can the EU further increase public interest in space exploration?
    • How can the ESA and the EUSPA fully benefit from each other while keeping their independence?
    • Should the ESA look for different ways of funding to further boost its research?
    • Should the EU change its current 2027 plan and what should the EU do to not fall behind its competitors?
    • How can the EU prepare for an ISS shutdown?
    • In which way can the EU ensure security in space for itself and fellow agencies?

    Things to look at

  • Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM)

    Are you a STEMinist?: Regardless of long-standing ambitions for increased involvement of women in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) occupation field, they still only account for 36% of graduates in the sector in the EU. Considering the importance of both societal and policy actions, how can the EU ensure gender equality and representation in STEM jobs?

    By Virginia Herce (ES), Maša Veble (SI)

    Figure 1: Women in STEM


    Despite the general progress of our society towards gender equality, women are still underrepresented in STEM education and career fields today. Although girls’ scores in scientific literacy are equal or better than boys’ at secondary level education, women later account for roughly one-third of the graduates and workers in STEM. This issue prevails due to a number of factors, including existing gender stereotypes, a lack of role models, an inaccurate perception of women’s abilities in STEM, male dominance, and sex-based discrimination. With quite a disparity in the number of women in STEM among Member States, it is evident that some of them are doing better in reaching gender equality in education and employment, and that certain measures are working better than others.

    However, we know that reducing the gender gap in STEM would increase employment and boost economies, contributing to the improvement of EU GDP per capita by EUR 610-820 billion in 2050. Reaching gender equality would improve the lives of many women in Europe, by enabling and encouraging them to work in their desired sectors, providing equal opportunities and fighting sex-based discrimination, thus positively impacting the economy and contributing to the progress of society.

    Key Actors and Measures

    The European Commission 

    The EU’s executive branch is responsible for proposing and enforcing EU laws and legislation. By adopting the education and training 2020 (ET2020) framework, they allowed Member States to exchange their best practices, while mainstreaming gender equality. By setting up an annual monitor as a way of tracking yearly progress on the matter, they gained cross-country statistics and confirmed that gender differences in tertiary education are reflected in labour market imbalances. In the Digital Education Plan 2021-2027 they collaborated with the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and set out measures, like digital and entrepreneurial skill training for girls, to encourage women’s participation in STEM education. The European Commission also launched a number of initiatives, as Science: it’s a girl thing, which is a campaign aimed at promoting STEM among young girls, and programmes like the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) for training and career development of researchers, where MSCA boasts nearly 40% female fellows.

    European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)

    An autonomous body of the EU, established to strengthen and promote gender equality in all EU policies, to fight sex-based discrimination, and raise awareness about the issue among EU’s citizens. They carry out research, provide data, produce studies, and collect statistics about gender equality in the EU. Their goal is to support well-informed policy-making, by delivering high-quality reports on the progress of the issue of gender equality in areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). Their Gender Equality Index enables the monitoring of the progress of gender equality in different areas of each Member States’ working, such as money, health, work, and knowledge.

    UN Women

    An entity of the United Nations dedicated to gender equality, the empowerment of women and advocating for their equal participation in all areas. They support UN Member States in achieving gender equality and designing policies and programmes to do so. The UN Women advocates for equal participation through campaigns like the International Day of Women and Girls in Science which takes place every year, and highlights the importance as well as promotes women’s full and equal participation in science.

    Member States

    Member States are crucial, as they are the ones with the competencies to create national legislation, encourage and fund different programmes and initiatives with regards to education and training. Additionally, Member States’ Ministries in charge of education are responsible for drafting the education curricula. The EU supports the sharing of good practices among its Member States, such as the Woman in Digital declaration designed to encourage women’s participation in digital and technology sectors, and Estonia’s Nudging to Support Stereotype-free Career Choices and Working Conditions, a research project aiming at developing encouragements for teachers and advisers in promoting stereotype-free career choices. However, there is still a large discrepancy among Member States and the number of women working in STEM, from 57% in Lithuania to 29% in Finland.

    Figure 2: Proportion of women scientists and engineers in the EU

    Keywords and Core Concepts 

    • STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and encompasses all the subjects from these categories, including ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). The EU has a STEM coalition that monitors and supports Member States individual actions in promoting and facilitating access to STEM careers.
    • Occupational gender segregation occurs when one sex dominates in a particular field of study or profession. In STEM it refers to the small proportion of women compared to men in these careers which can lead to discrimination against women, since it reinforces gender stereotypes, and worse job prospects for them as it narrows their employment choices
    • Digitalisation refers to the integration of digital technologies into everyday life, which is a growing trend globally. The European Investment Bank (EIB) analysis into the digitalisation of Europe shows digital firms have been a motor of innovation and job creation, especially within the STEM field, in Europe in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the digital transformation, as a way of ensuring equality of access to education, so that anyone, regardless of their circumstances, can have the same learning opportunities.
    • Gender mainstreaming involves integrating a gender perspective at all stages and levels of policies, programmes, and projects. The aim of gender mainstreaming is gender equality and overcoming discrimination. The EU institutions and the governments of Member States implement it via the gender mainstreaming cycle, where they define the relevance of gender in a certain policy, plan the process of implementing it, implement it, and then monitor the progress.
    • Sex-based discrimination is discrimination on the basis of sex is when one is treated differently due to being a woman or a man. The most intensive forms of sex discrimination are misogyny and misandry.
    • The gender pay gap (GPG) refers to the difference between the gross hourly earnings of men and women. In the EU, the average stands at 14.1%, meaning women earn 86 cents for every one euro a man makes.

    Key issues and conflicts 

    Nowadays, the number of women who pursue, and achieve, tertiary education, meaning beyond high-school level, surpasses that of men in Europe. Women dominate in areas such as healthcare, the humanities, and law. The degrees in STEM are the exception, as out of every three STEM graduates, only one is a woman. Despite the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showing an almost equal performance of boys and girls aged fifteen in science literacy, there is, nonetheless, a gap between men and women in STEM at the tertiary level.

    Figure 3: From every 100 women who enter college only 3 end up working in STEM 

    It is the feeling of not being prepared, rather than an actual incapacity to obtain a STEM degree, that might be keeping some women away. In the assessment of their own abilities, girls are often influenced by the existing gender stereotypes and the lack of female figures in STEM careers when they are publicised. The way jobs are portrayed in the media, such as only showing men as engineers and only women as nurses, reinforces the idea that some careers are for women and some for men and deprives young girls of the possibility of having women role models in STEM. This leads to young women ruling themselves out of careers in which they might be successful. Research suggests that when young female students were given the opportunity to engage in talks with successful women professionals in STEM, their perception about their capabilities in the subject increased.

    The presence of gender bias, the tendency to prefer one gender over another, also needs to be addressed. Studies have shown that a female postdoctoral applicant has to publish at least three more papers in a prestigious science journal to be judged as productive as a male applicant. This bias is even more prevalent in hiring processes: on average, employers in the STEM sector are less likely to hire a woman than a man with identical qualifications

    Many job positions within the STEM sector are not being filled. Twenty-one Member States have reported a shortage of STEM graduates, which is alarming considering it has the greatest growth predictions due to the digitalisation of our society. Increasing the number of women in STEM is, therefore, beneficial not only to help raise the total EU employment but also to lessen occupational segregation in this area.

    Moreover, certain conditions of the field such as male dominance, the still-existing gender pay gap and fewer promotion opportunities can result in women being dissatisfied with their job and therefore leaving it. This is especially true for Engineering, which has the highest women exit rate from all careers. 

    Key Questions

    • How can the EU institutions encourage Member States to implement more measures and programmes to ensure gender equality and representation in STEM jobs?
    • Bearing in mind the low number of women pursuing degrees in STEM, in which ways can these programs be made more attractive to women?
    • How can we ensure that women already working in STEM-related positions are encouraged to continue and develop instead of leaving the field?
    • When will gender equality be reached?  What conditions should be met for the EU to consider that gender equality has been achieved? 
    • What actions could be taken so young girls perceive STEM careers as a possible and rewarding path as a woman?

    Things to look at

  • Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL)

    Honey, I’m not home!: Europe is a growing and attractive continent, but this also has its downsides. Rent and housing prices in the EU have risen by 16% and 34% respectively since 2010. Considering the needs of students and locals, what stance should Member States adopt towards housing market intervention to ensure access to affordable homes in urban areas for their citizens?

    By Nina Tsoutsanis (NL)

    Police forcibly removing squatters from the squatted “Hotel Mokum” in Amsterdam. Source: Het Parool


    For the last few decades, staggering housing prices, increasing homelessness rates and poor living conditions have been the reality of urban areas. Through this, urban areas have become too expensive for most inhabitants. Although the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union defines housing and housing assistance as one of the fundamental rights of the European Union’s (EU) citizens, safe and sustainable living conditions are not a given. Not only is there an apparent lack of houses in certain cities, the commodification of the housing market, referring to the treatment of housing as a financial product, has led to overly expensive urban areas. In 2020, over 12.3% of the citizens living in urban areas spent more than 40 per cent of their disposable income on housing, leading to an inability to pay for other basic necessities. 

    As lockdowns and COVID-19 regulations have significantly impacted the income of urban inhabitants and thus their ability to pay their increasing rent, the situation has only gotten worse. In order to adequately ensure that every person has equal access to safe housing, the EU should keep in mind socioeconomic discrepancies and implement practical and structural measures that tackle the housing problem from the root up.

    Key Actors and Measures 

    Directorate-General on Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL)

    DG EMPL is a part of the European Commission, the executive body of the EU. DG EMPL has a zone of responsibility surrounding employment, social inclusion, labour mobility, and social affairs. It is tasked with implementing the European social model, which lays a focus on European social protection and social justice. 

    Measures surrounding housing implemented by DG EMPL have been primarily about homelessness instead of the housing crisis at large. For instance, the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness and the 2021 Lisbon Declaration striving to fight homelessness in Europe through a series of shared objectives. 

    Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament (EMPL)

    The European Parliament is one of the two legislative bodies of the EU tasked with rejecting, accepting, or amending EU policies. The EMPL Committee published the report on Access to Decent and Affordable Housing for All in 2020, which builds on their 2020 Resolution on tackling homelessness rates in the EU. Seven important measures are mentioned in this report, ranging from fighting evictions and combating housing discrimination to prioritising the European Green Deal and devising an integrated European housing strategy. The report has been crucial in the current European debate surrounding the housing crisis, but it sadly lacks structural implementations

    EU Housing Partnership 

    The EU Housing Partnership is a European collective of actors surrounding the housing market, such as NGOs, national governments, social housing providers, and private corporations. It acts as a communication platform between its participants. An important part of the Housing Partnership is Housing Europe, which is the European federation of public and social housing. The Housing Partnership has published the 2018 Action Plan, which aims to improve knowledge regarding affordable housing through a series of recommendations, policy proposals, and European-wide exchange of affordable housing. Although the plan sets a clear plan combatting the social needs of the current housing crisis, it has not yet been ratified through legislation

    Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

    Non-governmental organisations, such as the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and to the City, World Habitat and Eurocities, are crucial in the decision making process, as they can represent the interests of different societal groups. Eurocities is an important representation of the voice of cities and local governments in EU policy, as they represent many cities and countries, and strive towards urban areas that are sustainable, affordable, and inclusive. For instance, in their Report on housing and homelessness, Eurocities calculates the cost of inclusive housing and paints a clear picture of what the Housing First approach towards eradicating homelessness entails. 

    Key words and Core Concepts 

    • Commodification of housing: means the treatment of housing as a means to financial gain, instead of a human right. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union marks having a roof above one’s head as one of the most crucial fundamental rights, while the housing market is treated as a playing field by rich investors. 
    • Gentrification: refers to the displacement of lower-income residents from their original neighbourhoods through seemingly revitalising or renovating certain areas. This leads to more affluent families moving in, which increases the housing prices and forces the original inhabitants to move out. Gentrification runs rampant in European cities. Prominent examples being Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona, where entire neighbourhoods have been gentrified to fit the aesthetic of the young upper-middle class. 
    • The ‘Airbnb’ effect: is linked to the commodification of housing, as the popularisation of platforms such as Airbnb have led to an influx in the popularity of the so-called landlord-industry, where apartments and houses, mostly in city centres, are bought up in order to be rented to tourists. This leads to empty, gentrified, and expensive cities reserved for tourists. The ‘Airbnb’ effect is one of the consequences of the privatisation of the housing market, subsequently leading to unregulated segregation, housing prices and gentrification, as real estate value rises while citizens are excluded and are unable to adapt to these changes.
    • Social housing: includes housing that is provided by the local government, municipality or housing association, which is usually cheaper, longer-term, and better protected from renting price fluctuations than housing provided through the private market.
    • Homelessness: can be defined as not having a (stable) home, but includes many situations like living in hotels or hostels, living in temporary shelters or short-term housing, living in adverse living conditions, or squatting. Homelessness has more than doubled in the last decade, leaving more than 700,000 Europeans without a home. 

    Key issues and conflicts  

    As social inequality continues to thrive in urban areas, the treatment of housing as a financial commodity instead of a human right has steadily changed the look of cities. A key conflict is the difference between the interests of wealthy investors and local residents. Mostly foreign investors continue to buy a large number of apartments in city centres which they use as a financial investment in the area. This is called the ‘Airbnb effect’, which refers to residences being used as passive income by people who have the financial means to do so, which has led to a popularisation of the landlord-industry. 

    The ‘Airbnb effect’ has also created an increase in gentrification, where historically poor areas are commodified to fit the aesthetic of a richer population, leading to the displacement of the original citizens. Rising housing and rental prices have clearly affected marginalised parts of urban populations, like young families, workers, and students. These vulnerable groups do not always fit the strict criteria for social housing, as families might exceed the income limits for social housing, but still not be able to afford living in these areas. Evictions targeting vulnerable groups have become a regular occurrence during the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rising of housing prices, gentrification and overtourism have led to empty cities, where urban areas are no longer a home for the original population, but instead a playing field for rich investors

    While the overall quality of inner-city areas through gentrification might have increased, clear discrepancies can be found between different areas. Poor living conditions in less affluent urban areas have led to unsafe living circumstances. Increasing poverty and even the rise of urban slums, like the Cañada Real Galiana in Madrid, in European cities have led to unsustainable and unsafe areas. As compliance with the European Green Deal is one of the important measures mentioned in the report for Access to Decent and Affordable Housing for All published by the European Parliament, the overall improvement  of living conditions in lower-income neighbourhoods is crucial. 

    Although the European Parliament has set a goal to eradicate homelessness in the entire EU by 2030, homelessness has largely been criminalised by local governments through anti-homelessness architecture, lack of shelters, and the criminalisation of the squatters movement. An example of the latter includes the forceful removal of squatters from Hotel Mokum  in Amsterdam by the police. This ambitious goal of eradicating homelessness can only be reached if the EU actually strives towards this by implementing comprehensive measures

    A huge issue in effectively tackling the housing crisis on a European level is the lack of European competences regarding the housing market. This connects to the balance between the need for public interference versus the interests of a private market. Although European officials have called interference in the market a necessary means towards a fair market, this does not immediately equate to possible actions  on a legal level, as most of the competence surrounding housing is in the hands of individual Member States.

    Key Questions

    • Should the EU prioritise economic growth or the needs of European citizens, or rather try to keep a balance between the two?
    • What should the EU do in order to tackle homelessness by 2030?
    • How can the EU implement or incentivise social policies in the private housing market?
    • Considering discrepancies between Member States and socioeconomic groups in the EU, how can the EU best structurally reform social housing programs?
    • How can accessible housing be ensured for people just entering the market, like students, young families or first-time homeowners?

    Things to look at

  • Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET)

    Bless the trade down in Africa: The EU is Africa’s largest trading partner, with the EU trading EUR 225 billion worth of goods in 2020 with the continent. Bearing in mind the adverse history between the continents, the effects of which are still being felt, what should the EU do to improve relations and boost equitable trade with Africa?

    By Raphael Gross-Chartuni (NL)


    Africa and Europe have a shared history that spans over millennia. However, much of that history has included horror and inhumane practices such as slavery and genocide. The negative effects of Western colonialism and imperialism are profound and are still being felt. The current situation has improved, but the benefits brought by modern trade and investment in Africa are not felt by African nations. Over the past 20 years, the EU has tried to improve their relations and aid the African continent, but despite billions of foreign aid and countless policies, minimal progress has been made. In 2020, the Commission published a strategy paper on renewing their ties with the African continent, aiming towards the creation of equal partnership rather than a donor-recipient relationship. However, such plans have yet to become concrete strategies and many talks are yet to be had.

    Key Actors and Measures

    African Union (AU)

    Africa has its own union called the African Union (AU), which was founded in 2002 and consists of 55 members. The AU aims to create an autonomous continent, foster international and internal trade as well as create homologous legislation. The AU represents the continent and collaborates with the EU for deals and legislation.  The EU and AU collaborated to create the Joint-Africa EU strategy (JAES), seven years after the initial partnership in 2000. 

    The Commission

    The Commission and the AU collaborated to create the Joint-Africa EU strategy (JAES), seven years after the initial partnership in 2000. The JAES outlined the shared goals and values between the EU and AU, such as trade and peace. The enforcement of this strategy has been undertaken in many ways, such as advisory groups and foreign aid. 

    JAES is enforced according to certain timeframes. The first six years were defined under two Action Plans while the 4th AU-EU summit prompted a plan for 2014 to 2017. The priority areas have decreased since the first Action Plan as the political and economical landscape changed. Areas such as energy and climate change were merged, for instance. 2014 also brought forth the Pan-African Programme, which was a financial instrument for the execution of JAES, with an allocated budget of EUR 845 million. This financial instrument ceased in 2020. In 2018, the Commission aimed to renew its strategy in several steps. The first of which being the Africa-Europe Alliance.

    Africa-Europe Alliance

    The Alliance was launched after the AU-EU summit. It aims to improve the AU’s economy and labour market through capitalising on strategic investment, creating a dynamic which reinforces the labour market by providing new job opportunities and increasing financial autonomy. In 2020, the Alliance was decentralised into four individual task forces, which will all publish research on problems in their respective fields and offer recommendations in 2022. 

    A key part of this alliance is the External Investment Plan (EIP), which aims to increase and improve public and private investment in the AU. The European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), aimed towards financially aiding third nations, is the platform that finances the EIP’s plans. EIP is founded under three pillars, which consist of the EFSD, technical assistance to aid projects to ensure financial prosperity, and creating an environment ideal for further and sustainable investment.

    Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa

    The task forces were not the only initiative taken in 2020. The Commission published a white-paper named “Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa” which outlines the EU’s vision for future relations with the AU. It focuses on creating sustainable industries, digitalisation, improved job availability in accordance with sustainability, peace and good governance and migration policies. Much focus is given on the sustainability of Africa’s industries, in light of the European Green Deal, which aims to turn the EU climate neutral by 2050. The contents and strategy is planned to be further discussed during the sixth AU-EU summit, but due to COVID-19 it has been indefinitely delayed and the contents of the white-paper are yet to be revised.

    Key words and Core Concepts

    • COVID-19: A disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which has become a pandemic. Vaccines minimise the risk of infection. As infection leads to the mutation of the virus, it can prompt the existence of variants. Variants are genotypes coined by the WHO as worrisome and distinct as they have increased virulence or infectivity.
      External factors such as HIV infection, quantitative or qualitative malnutrition, stress and immunodeficiency can severely worsen the prognosis of COVID-19 and enable higher infection rates, as well as promoting mutagenesis, which has been showcased in Africa, especially due to low vaccination rates because of privatised inoculations. 
    • Cycle of poverty: There are many variables or factors which induce poverty, but generally speaking there is a cycle which positively reinforces itself. A person in poverty has less access to education and healthcare due to financial restraints, like privatised schemes or the necessity to work. This in turn creates a situation where an adult is stuck with low-paying jobs due to the subsequent educational restraints, which severely restrict social mobility. This mechanism prohibits sufficient pay to allow their children to have adequate access to education and healthcare, which then elicits a vicious cycle of poverty. Nations are affected in a similar way, where they can only export cheap raw material in exchange for expensive imported goods, which takes away the profit and introduces debt and dependency. 
    • Colonisation and imperialism: Is the act of oppressing and controlling a demographic by a foreign entity, often for financial gain. Onwards of the 15th century, European nations and kingdoms invaded African nations and enslaved the people. European nations set up trans-atlantic empires for the trade of slaves and resources taken from African colonies. Furthermore, certain mechanisms were created where African colonies solely provided rough materials for the industrialising Western (mostly European) nations, thus enabling innovation and growth while enslaving, exploiting and killing African people. While slave-trade slowly became illegal in the 19th century, this exploitation mechanism has persisted until this very day, now recognised as neo-colonialism or neo-imperialism. The 20th century was marked by decolonisation efforts, which took roughly until 1975. Although the slave trade was eventually banned, the exploitation and oppression by European nations continued. By the 20th century, almost all of the African continent was controlled by Europe. These nations had partitioned Africa on a map to indicate ownership, with complete disregard to the genuine boundaries set by African nations. This has  catalysed regional conflicts that have persisted to the modern day.

    Key issues and conflicts  

    Africa is a large continent  with a population three times that of the EU. However, dissimilar rates of economic growth have been reported when compared to other previously colonised nations in Asia. African countries rely on the export of raw materials to industrial nations, a persistent phenomenon designed during the colonial age. The reliance on their previous colonisers is highlighted as almost all products are imported from foreign nations. Not only does this chronic dependency on singular export goods pose a threat due to the ever-changing future of the market, it also creates a clear disparity between import and export value. This gap in value prevents growth as raw materials are low-profit commodities and thus only allow marginal or non-existing profits. Furthermore, frustration has been expressed as African leaders feel that the EU is playing a dominant role in maintaining and shaping relations, especially towards certain climate-related regulations. Some of them believe that Africa should be exempted from them as the content only contributes 2-3% to global warming.

    This economic burden supersedes Gross Domestic Product and average wage. Less than half of all people in Africa have access to modern healthcare facilities, which leads to an average health expectancy of 63 and 66 years respectively for men and women. The lack of healthcare facilities is made worse by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Africa has been hit exceptionally hard. Despite promises from the Covax platform and the EU, minimal quantities of western vaccines have been given to Africa, while the UK and Member States received a surplus. To combat this shortage, some nations and organisations called upon the EU to ignore Intellectual Property (IP) patent laws to enable worldwide production of vaccines, including in certain African nations. However, the EU did not, which prompted African leaders to express their discontent, labelling these measures as “global Appartheid”. To combat the void of inoculations, many African nations received vaccines from Russia and China instead. Still, the vaccination rates in Africa remain below 80%. The combination of ill-equipped hospitals, low vaccination rates and vast-spread immunodeficiency has contributed to COVID-19 mortality and SARS-COV-2 mutagenesis, as HIV causes immunodeficiency and is widespread in Africa, particularly the south. Not only is this harmful to the African people, but SARS-COV-2 can easily mutate, an example of which is the Omicron variant. The spread of this variant is a consequence of the discrepancy in worldwide COVID-19 vaccination rates and AIDS medication distribution, and shows the increasingly dire and global nature of these healthcare crises.

    In recent years, the dire situation created by Western corporations has been highlighted by corporate crime. African nations miss out on tens of billions of euros each year due to corporate tax-evasion, money that is vital for infrastructure, improving healthcare, and providing welfare – the very things needed to break the cycle of poverty.  The lack of corporate taxation leads to further taxation of the African population to compensate for lost income, which only increases poverty. The necessity to borrow from other nations or rely on foreign aid creates a stronger mechanism for Africa’s chronic dependence on other nations.

    Corporate exploitation does not just involve taxes, however. Africa counts over 9.2 million slaves. Most products available in today’s market involve slavery somewhere down the pipeline. This is especially true for products containing cocoa, as many plants are harvested through child slavery or exploitation. Further labour exploitation in other industries is rampant as well. A notable example is the industry behind batteries, which relies on cobalt mining. As digital innovation grows and the need for alternative energy resources grows, such as windmills and electric cars, the necessity and demand for cobalt to manufacture such goods poses serious questions to both the human and environmental sustainability of these supply chain. The labourers in these mines are exposed to toxic gases, endure chronic physical pain, have violent conflicts with other mine personnel, and are underpaid severely. The negligence that these workers have to face has caused lung disease and occupational deaths, even among children who are paid less than one or two dollars a day. Despite this, the need for cobalt has increased in the past few years and will continue to do so in light of climate-change initiatives, such as the European Green Deal.Despite the direct and indirect roles that European corporations play in labour exploitation, slavery, and the health and environmental crises in Africa, very little accountability is held or mandated by law. Justice cannot be served and the status-quo broken if corporate invincibility is not diminished.

    Key Questions

    • Should the EU take a completely new approach to African development?
    • Which steps should the EU take to ensure that the cooperation is not one-sided?
    • What role can the EU play in aiding Africa’s development and pursuit of economic autonomy?
    • How can the EU ensure that European corporations no longer exploit African nations while still maintaining economic stability?
    • What can the EU do to improve vaccination distribution, as was promised?

    Things to look at

  • Committee on Environment, Public health and Food Safety (ENVI)

    Sink or swim: Highlighting the correlation between air pollution and extreme weather phenomena, the severe floodings experienced in Western Europe in 2021 are a natural consequence of the 2.54 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide the EU emits annually. What steps should the EU take to prepare for more frequent flooding?

    By Alina Akural (FI) and Storm Kamerbeek (NL)


    Flooding, the phenomenon of water overflowing due to extreme rainfall, is becoming more frequent and intense in Europe. As the temperature of the earth rises due to climate change, so does the number of catastrophic floods, with a recent study finding that intense rain events are now up to nine times more likely in western Europe as a result of global warming. Because warmer air holds more moisture, the rainfall experienced gets heavier as the temperature rises. Even in Europe, flooding annually leads to loss in human lives and destruction of infrastructure, and caused a loss of EUR 52 billion between 1998 and 2009.

    A recent example of the intensifying extreme weather phenomena in Europe is the record breaking floods experienced in the beginning of July 2021. In Western Europe storms dropped up to 15 centimetres of rain in 24 hours, with Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands being worst affected. In these recent floods and the landslides they triggered, over 220 people died with houses and cars being demolished and washed away. As severe flooding is becoming more frequent in Europe, it is crucial to take measures to prevent losses like seen last summer.

    Number of reported floods between 1980 and 2010

    Key Actors and Measures

    The European Commission 

    The Commission is the EU body which proposes and enforces legislation. Regarding water management and flooding, the Commission has created directives such as the EU Floods Directive and the Water Framework Directive. The Water Framework Directive focuses on the protection of inland bodies of water and their sustainability, aiming to ease the effects of floods on the environment. The EU Floods Directive works towards better flood risk management by requiring Member States to assess the flood risk of all water courses and coast lines, and map the vulnerable areas. Additionally, it requires Member States to take concrete action to reduce the risk of floods. Furthermore, the Commission has information networks, such as the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS), which aims to support the preparation for major flood events throughout Europe by monitoring, forecasting, and warning about flood risks. In regards to climate change, the European Green Deal aims to decrease greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030, and the Clean Air Program aims to improve Europe’s air quality by 2030. 

    The European Environment Agency (EEA)

    The EEA is the agency of the EU which provides independent data and information on the environment as well as the relevant EU policies. The EEA publishes regular scientific reports for example on the impacts of the recent natural disasters, including floods. It also works together with national environmental agencies to coordinate information. The EEA aims to help both policymakers and the general public be more informed on environmental topics, such as air pollution and flooding. 

    The International River Basin Committees

    These Committees are independent bodies established by neighbouring countries on European rivers, such as Elbe river and Rhine river, which aim to ensure coordinated river basin management and flood protection plans in the area. The International River Basin Committees concentrate on the protection of rivers, analysing the risk of flooding and reducing the damage caused by flooding in the multinational rivers of Europe. These committees have working and expert groups, who meet and discuss approaches in annual meetings.

    Member States

    In addition to EU wide legislation, Member States can have national laws regarding environmental topics, such as air pollution and flooding, due to these topics being shared competences of the EU. Therefore, taking the EU Floods Directive as an example, although the Commission requires Member States to create measures in areas with flood risks, the implementation is up to Member States. Therefore, Member States have freedom and differences between each other regarding flood management actions. An example of national flood risk management is the Netherlands’ Delta Project, which aims to achieve better control of rivers in the Netherlands  with risk of flooding by infrastructure such as dams and barriers.

    Key words and Core Concepts

    • Air pollution: Polluted air refers to the air condition in which damaging particles, such as exhaust fumes, are released that modify our atmosphere. According to the EEA, air pollution causes the death of over 300,000 people per year. The WHO has recommended a maximum annual air pollution level to help fight climate change and protect global health, yet this is often exceeded

    Exposure of air pollution in the EU

    Results CO2 analysis worldwide

    • Global warming: Global warming is the long-term heating of the Earth’s climate system. Global warming is part of the bigger process of climate change. In the future global warming will get worse, which will increase global temperatures and affect our lives negatively. The world is trying to keep the global warming between 1.5°C and 2°C. The Sustainable Development Goals and the European Green Deal are trying to meet that threshold. The Carbon Brief predicts that the temperature rise of 2°C will cause the Rhine to be 39% more likely to experience extreme high flows. Additionally, the frequency of rainfall will increase by 45% across Northern Europe.

    Extreme weather events in Europe since 1980

    Key issues and conflicts  

    Global warming

    One of the main issues with flooding is that its frequency and intensity is set to increase in the future. Flooding will become an important topic because it will influence more and more people’s lives. The Commission predicts that the global temperature will rise which will increase the sea level by melting ice and increasing rainfall. This is caused by global warming which is worsened by air pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Global warming/climate change and extreme weather, like flooding, have a strong correlation. The relevance of flooding was recently highlighted due to some heavy flooding in Europe in the summer of 2021The EU is already focusing on climate change and global warming. However, the SDG’s, which also focuses on many different areas of the climate, does not strongly highlight the concerns about flooding events. This results in a lack of awareness of flooding. 

    Sustainable vs practical

    The population of Europe is growing, and more housing is needed to meet this demand. Many Member States such as the Netherlands and Germany are currently facing a housing shortage. This is also seen furthermore through Europe.  New houses are built, and need to be built fast. A regular house consists of 16.4% cement, which is an ingredient in concrete. Concrete is cheap and a fast building material, but far from sustainable. The manufacturing of concrete produces high levels of CO2 and pollutes the air. On top of that, concrete prevents water from being absorbed by the ground. Unabsorbed water then flows to the sewer system and with high rain intensity can cause potential flooding, putting areas near rivers or at low lying areas at risk. The balance between keeping up with the housing demand and choosing sustainable options is hard.

    Flash floods vs river flooding

    There are different types of flooding, such as flash floods and river flooding. A flash flood is a flood caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than 6 hours. Flash floods account for an average of 70% of the total number of flood-related deaths in Europe. Due to the sudden and fast nature of the flash floods they are difficult to analyse. River flooding is more common for larger rivers and refers to the overflow of water onto normally dry land. A problem that arises with these different types of flooding is that they both are caused by different things and need to be dealt with differently. They both, however, have been increased in frequency and intensity by the effects of global warming. Despite the increasing frequency of floods in Europe, the countries below 60°N have experienced a strong increase in flood magnitudes. Countries such as Germany and France lay in this area. While above the 60°N mark, there is a relatively strong decrease in flood magnitude. Most of these countries are Scandinavian, such as Finland.

    Key Questions

    • What key factors are causing flooding to intensify?
    • What can or should the EU do to help minimise the effects of floods?
    • In which ways could Member States prepare more efficiently for floods?
    • Keeping in mind the growing need for housing, how can the necessary sustainability of infrastructure be reached? 
    • What further measures should the EU take to minimise the air pollutants produced?

    Things to look at