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Posted on 29-07-2020

Linking the levels of governance in the EU

29-07-2020

The coronavirus crisis has further underlined the need for a more cohesive European Union (EU). Previous ideas about how best to link the levels of the EU's system of multilevel governance have become even more important, while new paths of cooperation have been opened by changes triggered by the crisis itself. Every level of governance, from the EU to the local, via the national and regional levels, has been affected by the crisis and all are involved in the response. This crisis has shown that ...

The coronavirus crisis has further underlined the need for a more cohesive European Union (EU). Previous ideas about how best to link the levels of the EU's system of multilevel governance have become even more important, while new paths of cooperation have been opened by changes triggered by the crisis itself. Every level of governance, from the EU to the local, via the national and regional levels, has been affected by the crisis and all are involved in the response. This crisis has shown that coordination between the levels can improve and should be improved. EU decision-making could become even more effective, efficient and legitimate if it draws appropriate lessons from the crisis. The first part of this paper focuses on the rationale for, and form of, an EU strategy to better connect the different levels of the multilevel system of governance in Europe. The second part assesses the consequences of the current crisis for the links between EU governance levels, reflecting on the various lessons to be drawn, for each level, and suggesting different practical implications for the process, such as the need to adjust the network of key partners and seize the moment to further incorporate digital technologies in partnership-building. Finally, the paper highlights the historic opportunity provided by the forthcoming Conference on the Future of Europe to develop and establish a more permanent system to link the levels of our Union. Concrete proposals are summarised in a table of potential initiatives.

International trade policy

29-07-2020

The coronavirus pandemic caused a significant collapse in international trade in the first half of 2020. Trade accounts for a higher proportion of the EU economy than that of the United States of America (US) or China, which can make the EU's economic model more vulnerable to import and export disruptions. In recent years, the multilateral liberal trading order has already been facing unprecedented turbulence. The rise of protectionism and zero-sum thinking, trade wars and the blockage within the ...

The coronavirus pandemic caused a significant collapse in international trade in the first half of 2020. Trade accounts for a higher proportion of the EU economy than that of the United States of America (US) or China, which can make the EU's economic model more vulnerable to import and export disruptions. In recent years, the multilateral liberal trading order has already been facing unprecedented turbulence. The rise of protectionism and zero-sum thinking, trade wars and the blockage within the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body have been severely undermining the basis on which trade had been conducted in recent decades. At the same time, the European Commission remains committed to the promotion of free and fair trade. Thus the five main priorities for EU trade policy after coronavirus will be economic recovery, re-establishing a positive transatlantic relationship, levelling the playing field with China, negotiating a fair new trade relationship with the United Kingdom, and improving enforcement and implementation of the EU's trade agreements with 76 countries around the world. Each of these priorities will need to be balanced against the requirements of the WTO, a comprehensive regulatory approach to digital trade and mainstreaming of sustainability objectives into trade policy. Creative solutions, such as instruments to tackle foreign subsidies and the WTO pharmaceutical agreement can also help Europe to navigate the new geo-economic and post-coronavirus era of global trade successfully.

Climate change and climate action

29-07-2020

The coronavirus crisis presents challenges as well as opportunities for policies to address the issue of climate change. Measures taken in reaction to the pandemic have led to a dramatic fall in economic and social activity, and to a corresponding temporary drop in greenhouse gas emissions. Certain behaviour changes adopted during the crisis, such as teleworking and video-conferences, may persist and lead to permanently reduced emissions related to commuting and business travel. On the other hand ...

The coronavirus crisis presents challenges as well as opportunities for policies to address the issue of climate change. Measures taken in reaction to the pandemic have led to a dramatic fall in economic and social activity, and to a corresponding temporary drop in greenhouse gas emissions. Certain behaviour changes adopted during the crisis, such as teleworking and video-conferences, may persist and lead to permanently reduced emissions related to commuting and business travel. On the other hand, use of private cars may increase if public transport is considered as unsafe. The economic crisis has had a negative impact on household or corporate finances, which may lead to reduction or delay to investment in low-carbon technologies. Recovery packages for restarting the economy offer an opportunity for promoting low-carbon investment, but also bring the risk of financing the continuation of emission-intensive products and activities. The postponement of the COP26 climate change conference by one year slows down international climate action, but also offers the opportunity for the Parties to develop ambitious long-term strategies in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.

EU civil protection capabilities

29-07-2020

Civil protection is the protection of people, the environment and property against natural and man-made disasters. The Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) is a highly visible and tangible promise by the European Union (EU) to its citizens to protect them when in need, and to act in solidarity in times of extraordinary suffering. It is a distinctively civilian approach to the problem. On the basis of Articles 196 and 222 (the 'solidarity clause') of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European ...

Civil protection is the protection of people, the environment and property against natural and man-made disasters. The Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) is a highly visible and tangible promise by the European Union (EU) to its citizens to protect them when in need, and to act in solidarity in times of extraordinary suffering. It is a distinctively civilian approach to the problem. On the basis of Articles 196 and 222 (the 'solidarity clause') of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), it relies on a voluntary system of mutual assistance and on capacity pre-committed by the Member States. In 2019, this was complemented by dedicated EU capacities via a new tool, called RescEU, and improvements in risk prevention and preparedness. However, the current coronavirus crisis has shown that the current structures and processes might still not be fit for purpose or in the required state of readiness. The EU needs to broaden and increase its capabilities. This paper explores the issue and identifies potential initiatives to further improve the structural and capability components of EU crisis response. They include options for streamlining civilian and military crisis response and management, improving cooperation with industry, enhancing foresight, war-gaming, international exercises and cyber capabilities, and the development of capability goals, readiness monitoring, and ensured mobility of urgently needed assets.

Posted on 28-07-2020

The EU and Russia: Locked into confrontation

28-07-2020

Following the post-Cold War reset of the 1990s, EU-Russia relations have become increasingly tense. Although initially seen as a pro-Western reformer, since the start of his first presidency in 2000 Vladimir Putin has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies, and his efforts to assert Russian influence over post-Soviet neighbours threaten the sovereignty of those states. Russia's 2008 war against Georgia led to no more than a temporary cooling of relations with the European Union (EU). However ...

Following the post-Cold War reset of the 1990s, EU-Russia relations have become increasingly tense. Although initially seen as a pro-Western reformer, since the start of his first presidency in 2000 Vladimir Putin has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies, and his efforts to assert Russian influence over post-Soviet neighbours threaten the sovereignty of those states. Russia's 2008 war against Georgia led to no more than a temporary cooling of relations with the European Union (EU). However, its 2014 annexation of Crimea caused a more permanent rupture. Responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the EU adopted hard-hitting sanctions. In 2016, the EU decided to base its Russia policy on five principles, which remain as valid as ever in 2020. They are: insistence on full implementation of the Minsk Agreements on eastern Ukraine as a condition for lifting sanctions against Russia; efforts to strengthen relations with Russia's former Soviet neighbours; greater EU resilience to Russian threats; selective engagement with Russia on certain issues such as counter-terrorism; and support for EU-Russia people-to-people contacts. After six years of deadlock, French president Emmanuel Macron is among those calling for renewed EU-Russia dialogue. Improved relations between Ukraine and Russia following the election of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in spring 2019 raised hopes of a solution to the Donbass conflict, which is still the main obstacle to better relations between the two sides. However, there is still no sign of a breakthrough.

Posted on 27-07-2020

Road and rail transport and coronavirus: Mapping the way out of the crisis

27-07-2020

In the first weeks of the coronavirus crisis, the lockdown and border closures halted most passenger services in road and rail transport and left road hauliers to face uncertainty and very long waiting times at many border crossings. With the pandemic easing, some passenger services resumed in certain EU countries from late April onward, and with the introduction of 'green lanes' the situation at border crossings stabilised allowing smoother passage for road hauliers. Nonetheless, the initial estimates ...

In the first weeks of the coronavirus crisis, the lockdown and border closures halted most passenger services in road and rail transport and left road hauliers to face uncertainty and very long waiting times at many border crossings. With the pandemic easing, some passenger services resumed in certain EU countries from late April onward, and with the introduction of 'green lanes' the situation at border crossings stabilised allowing smoother passage for road hauliers. Nonetheless, the initial estimates of the costs to the transport sector are immense and the impact is expected to continue well beyond 2020. The EU took a number of steps in the early stages of the crisis to alleviate the situation and to provide relief to the transport sector. As the situation progressed, the European Commission introduced further measures to help coordinate the exit from confinement and safely restart transport services. The Commission has also tabled a European recovery plan with a number of new instruments, which will allow the provision of assistance to key sectors, including the transport sector. The European Council reached a political agreement on the recovery fund on 21 July. To support their economies, EU governments have introduced a number of economy-wide measures, but also sector-specific measures, including for transport and tourism, as well as support for individual transport companies. The Commission has further enabled governments to use State aid to help firms in difficulty by putting in place a temporary framework for State aid.

EU public health policy

27-07-2020

This paper explains the origins and current role of public health policy at European Union level, details how the Union has responded to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic to date, and analyses the European Commission’s recent proposal for a flagship policy initiative in this field, the EU4Health programme, which could represent a 'paradigm shift' in how the EU deals with health. It then goes on to explore a range of possible further initiatives that could be taken to over the medium- to long-term to ...

This paper explains the origins and current role of public health policy at European Union level, details how the Union has responded to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic to date, and analyses the European Commission’s recent proposal for a flagship policy initiative in this field, the EU4Health programme, which could represent a 'paradigm shift' in how the EU deals with health. It then goes on to explore a range of possible further initiatives that could be taken to over the medium- to long-term to strengthen healthcare system across Europe. In the context of the Franco-German proposition that the EU should acquire some form of ‘health sovereignty', it looks at the possibility of developing a more comprehensive vision for, and strengthening of, public health policy, in order to better respond to current and future needs.

Sustainable finance – EU taxonomy: A framework to facilitate sustainable investment

27-07-2020

In March 2018, the European Commission presented an action plan on sustainable finance, in order to facilitate investments in sustainable projects and assets across the EU. In May 2018, the Commission put forward a package of three proposals, including measures to create a sustainable taxonomy for the EU; provide clarity on how environmental, social and governance factors can be taken into account for investment decisions; and establish low-carbon benchmarks. The first proposal focuses on establishing ...

In March 2018, the European Commission presented an action plan on sustainable finance, in order to facilitate investments in sustainable projects and assets across the EU. In May 2018, the Commission put forward a package of three proposals, including measures to create a sustainable taxonomy for the EU; provide clarity on how environmental, social and governance factors can be taken into account for investment decisions; and establish low-carbon benchmarks. The first proposal focuses on establishing a common language for sustainable finance (e.g. a unified EU classification system, or taxonomy) through a framework of uniform criteria, as a way to determine whether a given economic activity is environmentally sustainable. On 11 March 2019, the ECON-ENVI joint committee adopted a report on the Commission proposal, calling for a number of changes. On 28 March 2019, the Parliament adopted its position at first reading. After interinstitutional negotiations, on 17 June 2020, the Parliament adopted the compromise text at second reading. The final act was published in the Official Journal on 22 June, and applies as of 12 July although certain provisions apply only as of January 2022 or January 2023. Third edition. The 'EU Legislation in Progress' briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

Nutrition labelling schemes used in Member States

27-07-2020

The controversial issue of ‘front-of-pack nutrition labelling’ (FOP labelling) has been high on the agenda of those following European food labelling issues for many years. With half of adults in the European Union being overweight and with many health problems related to unhealthy diets, making the healthy choice the easy choice for consumers has been advocated as one of the means that could help to solve problems. Front-of-pack nutrition labelling is simplified nutrition information provided on ...

The controversial issue of ‘front-of-pack nutrition labelling’ (FOP labelling) has been high on the agenda of those following European food labelling issues for many years. With half of adults in the European Union being overweight and with many health problems related to unhealthy diets, making the healthy choice the easy choice for consumers has been advocated as one of the means that could help to solve problems. Front-of-pack nutrition labelling is simplified nutrition information provided on the front of food packaging, aiming to help consumers with their food choices. Under the current EU rules, the indication of nutrition information on the front of packaging is not mandatory but could be provided on a voluntary basis. Some Member States have already introduced voluntary schemes to help consumers to identify healthier products. The Commission announces in its new ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, launched in May 2020, that it will propose a mandatory harmonised front-of‑pack nutrition labelling system by the end of 2022. Consumer and health associations broadly consider that FOP nutrition labelling plays a key role in helping consumers make more informed, healthier food choices. There is, however, also criticism of such schemes, arguing that they are over-simplified and can mislead consumers. In its resolution on the European Green Deal, adopted in January 2020, the European Parliament welcomes the plan for a sustainable food system strategy, as well as the Commission’s intention to explore new ways to give consumers better information, and calls on the Commission to consider improved food labelling.

Posted on 24-07-2020

Textile workers in developing countries and the European fashion industry: Towards sustainability?

24-07-2020

As fashion becomes increasingly globalised, garment and footwear production has shifted to low-wage, mostly Asian countries. Thanks to lower manufacturing costs, clothes have become increasingly affordable for European consumers. For developing countries, fashion exports create jobs and growth, helping to bring poverty rates down. While there are benefits on both sides, the fashion industry highlights inequalities between the global North and South. With almost unlimited flexibility between countries ...

As fashion becomes increasingly globalised, garment and footwear production has shifted to low-wage, mostly Asian countries. Thanks to lower manufacturing costs, clothes have become increasingly affordable for European consumers. For developing countries, fashion exports create jobs and growth, helping to bring poverty rates down. While there are benefits on both sides, the fashion industry highlights inequalities between the global North and South. With almost unlimited flexibility between countries and factories, European and North American brands and retailers can dictate conditions to developing-country manufacturers, forcing them to cut costs in order to compete. The ultimate victims are factory workers, toiling long hours in harsh and sometimes dangerous conditions, for wages that barely enable subsistence. In many countries, restrictions on trade unions make it harder for workers to assert their rights. With employers reluctant or financially unable to invest in safety, many have died in industrial accidents, such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which claimed over 1 000 lives. Decent work has become a priority for the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and other international organisations. The EU supports decent work, for example through its international trade agreements. European consumers and companies are also increasingly interested in sustainable fashion. After the Rana Plaza disaster, over 200 mostly European companies joined the Bangladesh Accord, which has helped to eliminate some of the worst safety hazards. While these are positive developments, a lot more still needs to be done.

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The content of all documents contained in the Think Tank website is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work.

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