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EVENT HIGHLIGHTS | The EU-China dialogue on cybersecurity and global tech governance: What perspectives ahead?

In September, PubAffairs Bruxelles organised an evening of discussion regarding the EU-China dialogue on cybersecurity and the question of global tech governance with our distinguished guests Ms Maria Spyraki MEP, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the People’s Republic of China, Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, Head of Global Risk and Resilience, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and Professor Bart Preneel, Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography Research Group (COSIC), KU Leuven.

Mr Abraham Liu, Chief Representative to the EU Institutions and Vice-President for the European Region, Huawei, gave the keynote speech.

The debate was moderated by Giulia Pastorella, Associate Director, Tech and Trade, Weber Shandwick.

Giulia Pastorella opened the discussion by drawing attention to the question of how tech governance can be facilitated on a global level amidst rising tensions between the United States (US) and China. She pointed to the challenges for the European Union to position itself on the global stage with regard to the question that is often described as the beginning of a “tech cold war”.

The moderator continued by introducing the panel and finalised her opening statements by giving the floor to Mr Abraham Liu.

Mr Abraham Liu initiated his keynote speech by stating that Huawei is employing 14,000 people across Europe and contributed around 16 billion euros to the GDP of the EU in 2019, while paying 1.6 billion euros in direct taxes. The speaker continued by mentioning that Huawei is planning major investments in Europe by building new production facilities, instead of acquiring European start-ups, while emphasising the high number of jobs which these investments are creating. Mr Liu subsequently stated that the 20 years of Huawei’s presence in Europe implies that the company is perceived as an established and trustworthy player across the old continent.

The speaker continued by expressing his concern about the challenges his company is facing due to the current disruptions in relations between China and the US. He elaborated on this matter by asserting that this dynamic, in his opinion, will have a negative impact on investments in the EU. The keynote speaker also expressed doubts over the idea that the tensions between the US and China will have positive effects for European companies, as well as for the EU strategic autonomy objectives. “Reducing competition is never a good idea”, he stated and urged for a Europe-wide engagement in preventing disruption to global supply chains as a result of current tensions. Mr. Liu subsequently stated that only a multi-vendor approach to technology, as opposed to protectionism, could guarantee security and digital sovereignty at the same time.

Going more into detail about Huawei’s cooperation with European governments, the speaker explained that there have been major efforts to verify Huawei’s equipment, creating deeper trust in its products and making the company the most tested company on the global tech market. He also stated that, in his opinion, the accusations against Huawei are part of a strategy for global tech dominance that is intended to damage Europe, as well. Mr Liu subsequently called European institutions to follow an approach based on Europe’s own rules and values.

Following these remarks, the speaker discussed the company’s position as a leader in the development of security standards. He asserted that the issue of security should not be exploited for internal political disputes and elaborated on how current tensions are interfering with the rollout of 5G technologies in Europe. He subsequently emphasised that Europe should have access to the most advanced 5G technology in order to increase its competitiveness, also given the necessity of a rapid global recovery from the Corona crisis.

In addition, Mr Liu explained that European consumers are also being harmed with regard to their rights and choices by the latest measures taken by the US and presented the opinion that digital sovereignty can only result from the freedom of choice granted by market competition. He continued by highlighting the importance of multinational trade frameworks and shared his preference for the setting of common global rules and standards based on open market access and fair competition. The speaker consequently referred to an initiative presented by the Chinese government which provides a framework for data security global standards with the aim of engaging other countries to follow a multilateral approach to this issue, while respecting their sovereignty and the right to manage their own data.

Mr Liu further emphasised the interdependent relationship between the EU and China in economic terms and drew attention to China’s growing role in the global value chain. He also expressed understanding for the EU’s orientation towards strategic autonomy, while emphasising that caution is advisable when drawing the line between strategic autonomy and protectionism. The speaker also shared his optimism on the fact that despite the pressure coming from the US, the conclusion of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment will strengthen multilateralism in international relations. He subsequently asserted that an agreement will give the industries of both negotiation parties new certainty and will show the important role globalisation continues to play in terms of economic growth.

The speaker reiterated that Huawei is a trusted commercial partner around the globe, while highlighting that trust must also be built at a government level in order to overcome trade disputes, foster technological collaboration and eventually avoid negative impacts for citizens. Mr Liu then moved on to listing additional challenges which Europe faces, namely the recovery from the Corona crisis and its role in technological innovation. He concluded his keynote remarks by confirming his company support for Europe’s efforts to accomplish its digital ambitions and shape the global economic recovery.

Giulia Pastorella opened the discussion by asking the panellists about the main challenges they anticipate in the developments of global tech governance.

Maria Spyraki MEP began her response by calling into question whether current global diplomatic trends are actually moving towards effective global tech governance, hinting at some possible developments that could be described as the “Balkanisation” of technology. She consequently warned of the dangers of fragmented European and international policy approaches and called for a consensus enabled by constructive global dialogue aimed at a pragmatic strategic cooperation. The MEP explained that the more citizens use digital technologies, the more added value is created from investments in these technologies, and also warned against a fragmentation of global investment policies. She subsequently elaborated on the importance of reciprocity in investments between Europe and China, as this factor plays a major role when it comes to public procurement for digital technologies, while emphasising how crucial a balanced market access for both parties is. The MEP finally drew attention to the topic of discrimination in market access and finalised her remarks by pointing to the question of the elimination of discriminatory rules as an important step towards a fair trade and investment balance between China and the EU, a state of play that would be highly beneficial to both parties. 

Dr Jean-Marc Rickli answered the moderator’s question by referring to the broader context of tech governance, which is defined by the changes in current international relations. With the rise of China, the speaker continued, the structure of the international system after the Cold War has evolved, while technology has emerged as a significant source of influence. He subsequently added that this creates a continuously growing competition over the definition of the rules for governance of technologies on a global scale. Moreover, Dr Rickli highlighted the two opposing positions of governance in cyberspace, namely the perspective that derives from a free market point of view and the perspective of sovereignty as a primary national interest. With reference to a study published by Harvard University, he stated that the US and Europe were originally dominant in the field of cyberspace, whereas China is gaining more influence. The speaker subsequently shared his insights into Europe’s position towards China in the 2010s. During this period, he clarified, the EU was divided into non-cooperative and cooperative Member States, the latter being particularly driven by their respective evaluation over the opportunities provided by the Belt-and-Road initiative. Dr Rickli continued by referring to a change in this dynamic as a result of the Corona crisis, when some European countries shifted towards a more critical stance towards China. The speaker substantiated this consideration with examples of recent diplomatic incidents between China and the EU, which he viewed as being in line with the trends of the current international system. Indeed, he explained, the US has taken a more isolationist and nationalistic stance, while China has adopted a more active global role at the same time. This has induced an open confrontation between Washington and Beijing. He then emphasised that the European model, defined as aiming at defining standard setting according to consensual rules and norms, lacks the industrial capacity necessary to have a peer-to-peer approach with both the American and Chinese counterparts. As a result, the panellist urged Europe to reflect on its own capacities, which must move beyond the setting of rules and facilitate the development of competitive technologies in Europe. He concluded his response by emphasising the importance of an effective global governance of emerging technologies, as current dynamics are emphasising more the respective actors’ competitive, rather than collaborative, approach.

Professor Bart Preneel began his response by drawing attention to cybersecurity as a multidimensional problem, rooted in the fact that technology is the main infrastructure of modern society. This consideration, the speaker continued, creates the necessity for an integrated strategic approach, as no nation state can cope with cybersecurity threats autonomously. He therefore called for international cooperation on the matter. Professor Preneel also described the most challenging aspects of cooperation on cybersecurity, such as the need for nations to protect their sensitive information in the context of intelligence work and, from a long-term perspective, their own cyber warfare capacities. This dynamic, the speaker explained, has also led to a lack of exchange of sensitive data, an “inherent weakness” of the EU’s cyber capacity. In addition, Professor Preneel expressed doubts as to the effectiveness of a fragmented approach to cybersecurity in dealing with cyber challenges on the global stage. The speaker continued by highlighting that digital technology touches every area of society and should be treated with a holistic approach. In his opinion, the separation of military and intelligence issues from consumer and infrastructure aspects of cybersecurity causes a conceptual fragmentation. Subsequently, he elaborated on the term ‘digital sovereignty’, which he described as being driven by a combination of political and economic interests. However, he also warned against a lack of necessary investment in key industries and an effective industrial policy. In addition, Professor Preneel drew attention to a phenomenon that is observed following cybersecurity incidents in Europe and around the globe when a given nation state takes the lead in responding to a threat, but a common response is missing. Following these explanations, the panellist focused on the question of how values are embedded in technologies. He explained that, compared to the US and China, the EU should take the chance to integrate its values into emerging technologies, particularly regarding the governance of citizen’s data such as on social media platforms. The cybersecurity specialist concluded his remarks by reiterating the importance of both a cyberspace free from warfare and the need to govern the digital world, while calling for balanced, global cooperation on these matters.

The moderator asked the panellists to give an overview of the relationship and the current dynamics between the EU and China with respect to cyber governance and security issues.

Ms Spyraki MEP replied to the question of the moderator by stating that one of the determining factors shaping the relationship between the EU and China is also the confrontation between China and the US. The MEP subsequently clarified her statement by describing the current implications for cybersecurity and the technology sector as spill-over effects from trade tensions between the US and China. She further exemplified her point of view by referring to the recent decision of the US Department of Commerce to prohibit companies from selling semiconductors produced with US software to Chinese companies without acquiring a respective licence beforehand. The speaker added that this is an example where a government restricted a company of another country to protect its own technological sovereignty. Ms. Spyraki then began explaining the cybersecurity state of play in the EU. With the implementation of the Cybersecurity Act in April 2019, she continued, EU Member States adopted EU-wide Cyber Security Certification Schemes to guarantee that products and services met common cybersecurity standards. This clearly shows the broad consensus on the matter between Member States, the MEP stated. She then mentioned how the Corona crisis creates difficulties with regard to the matter of European strategic autonomy, as the Covid outbreak has highlighted not only the need for self-sufficiency in medical supplies, but also in the domain of digital sovereignty. The speaker finally expressed that she perceives the crisis also as a chance for a fresh start in the relationship with China and called for an enhanced dialogue between the EU and China on the question of cybersecurity. 

Dr Rickli began his reply by agreeing with Professor Preneel’s statement that emerging technologies serve also as an enabler of power in the domains of security and defence. He subsequently elaborated on this idea by referring to the Chinese concept called “Civil-Military-Fusion”, which he described as a program that integrates civilian and military efforts in key sectors to enhance the defence capacities of the country. Continuing with his remarks, the speaker explained how conflict escalation proceeds differently in the cyberspace rather than in the “physical world”. He illustrated this statement with a comparison to nuclear deterrence, notably based on the communication of one’s own missile capabilities to the respective counterpart. On the contrary, in the cyber domain, revealing its own capacities means disclosing vulnerabilities as well. He went on to explain that unveiling the state of the development of artificial intelligence, real or pretend, has also ended in an escalation of frictions for the governance dominance in the field of technology. However, Dr. Rickli warned against the rising potential risks resulting from the shift of the international system structure from multipolar to purely hegemonic. He continued by expressing concerns about possible military tensions stemming from the competition in the civil technological sector. Finally, the panellist reiterated that the differentiation between civil and military use of digital technologies is often difficult, while stating that the aim of being the dominant actor on a global scale is also pursued by the delegitimisation of the counterpart.

Giulia Pastorella followed up on these statements by asking Ms Spyraki MEP if there are more obstacles or opportunities for a dialogue between China and the EU, given the fact that the EU itself has recognised China as a “systemic rival”.

Ms Spyraki MEP started by reiterating her stance on the necessity of reciprocity-based relations between the EU and China. She subsequently highlighted the importance of mutual market access for investments and urged all concerned parties to focus more on common approaches, rather than emphasising differences. However, the MEP expressed satisfaction over China’s efforts to improve its data protection regulations and remarked that these efforts can contribute to creating trust between the two actors. She furthermore shared her opinion that both sides need to realise how crucial cooperation is in order to create mutual benefits. The speaker then described how different China and the EU are regarding governance and regulation of cyberspace. To overcome these differences, Ms. Spyraki urged both sides to accept mutual market access as a common goal. She then expressed hope for the easing of tensions between the US and China after the US elections and for the possible positive effects of tension de-escalation in international relations can have on EU-China relations. The MEP concluded her remarks by calling on all concerned parties to focus on common interests, reciprocity and mutual access to the markets for investment.

The moderator asked the panellists how cybersecurity standards can be used as non-tariff trade barriers and how this strategy affects efforts of global tech governance and which role the EU should take on the global stage.

Professor Preneel began his statement by confirming that cryptography is an effective barrier to protect intellectual property rights and to prevent market access. He referred to the example of different network standards, which are encrypted as part of licensing processes for building telecommunication networks. The speaker followed up on this elaboration by stating that, a decade ago, he was invited by the US trade delegation to China to convince the Chinese government of abstaining from building its own crypto standards. In fact, he explained, the global crypto standard AES was of a substantial economic value to the US industry. He subsequently remarked that China had proceeded in developing its own standards for encryption for all wireless Internet connections, a fact which allows the securisation of the national networks and the prevention of access from outside. Professor Preneel expressed his disappointment as to this development and declared that he is in favour of open standards applied in most parts of the world. He then moved on to explain that the trend on the cybersecurity market is developing towards certification schemes, which are used to protect the market by implementing price barriers for certificates. The speaker consequently raised the concern that EU countries might use this mechanism to protect their own companies from open competition. Additionally, he mentioned that cybersecurity companies are closely monitored with regard to their compliance with cyber standards, resulting in unimpeded access to new products for the monitoring authorities. Professor Preneel subsequently expressed doubted as to the EU Cybersecurity Scheme being able to solve these problems and reiterated his stance on open systems as the only solution to the certification issue. Only this way can the control over cryptography and cybersecurity be limited, the speaker asserted, while remarking that Europe should advocate on a global level for the common use of open systems, as major parts of the Internet run on open software. He added that cloud infrastructure is facilitated by open hardware and urged European governments to oblige market-leading phone producers to unlock their products for open software use to ensure that European digital solutions can be introduced independently from companies. With regard to data governance, the panellist confirmed the exemplary role of the GDPR, but also expressed concerns as to its limited means of enforcement, especially against major foreign actors. He also drew attention to the discrepancy between globally flowing data streams and the aim of making them a subject of national jurisdictions. He furthermore suggested establishing a European cyber ecosystem rather than searching control over the data of citizens of individual Members States. Subsequently, Professor Preneel indicated a common understanding between the EU and China that cyberthreats are leaving society vulnerable and that it requires long-term investment to cope with these threats. He elaborated on this notion by describing how technological advancements in fields such as robotics and mobility are progressing at a fast pace, making major efforts in cybersecurity necessary to avoid problems for these sectors in the future. Indeed, these circumstances provide a ground for cooperation on higher security standards between the EU and China, the professor said. He consequently mentioned the cooperation between Huawei and the Government of the United Kingdom on Internet router security, while highlighting this example as a model of cooperation between China and Europe on open cyber infrastructures. However, the speaker unveiled that abuse of digital technology is, to some extent, unavoidable and proposed to hand the control over these technologies to artificial intelligence, while warning against the potential surveillance of European citizens. The aim of preventing abuse of emerging technologies, he explained, will create different security architectures of the internet, based on divergent governament approaches. Professor Preneel concluded by stating that the architecture of the Internet holds the potential for disagreement between China and the EU, as both apply different concepts of governing technology.

Ms Spyraki MEP took on the moderator’s question by suggesting that the EU should play the role of an “honest broker” in the international arena and pointed at the outcome of the upcoming Presidential elections in the US as the decisive factor for the future relations between the US and China. She subsequently highlighted the importance of market access to both the US and China for the EU and advocated for an improved dialogue to foster pragmatic strategic cooperation and suggested the market access of all three actors be enhanced instead of narrowed down. On the matter of security, she reiterated the importance of the Cybersecurity Act as a pan-European measure and asserted the need for cooperation on cybersecurity standards, the open Internet and common rules of tech governance. The speaker additionally emphasised the importance of data exchange around the world, whilst upholding the idea of data protection granted by the GDPR. The MEP explained that these measures can not be enforced by one actor over the others, but have to be implemented based on consensus. In fact, she described her previous elaboration as the only way to create a level-playing field in the cyberspace and for creating trust between stakeholders. She concluded her response by warning against the alternative of weaponising both the economy and technology developments. 

The Q&A session covered the following issues: The role of the EU in mediating the tensions between the US and China; the question of balance between market and security needs; the role of data sovereignty in the relation of the EU with the US and China; the implementation of the GDPR; the vulnerabilities of cloud services; the dispute over the 5G roll-out in Europe; areas of common interest and disagreement between China and the EU and the bifurcation of the IT stack.

Want to know more about the issues discussed in this debate? Then take a look at the selected sources provided below!

EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, European External Action Service

EU strategy on China, European Commission

European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the People’s Republic of China

The European Digital Strategy, European Commission

Delegation of the European Union to China, European External Action Service

EU-China leaders’ meeting via video conference, 14 September 2020, European Council

EU Cyber Forum – Promoting a free, open, safe and secure cyberspace, European External Action Service

Cybersecurity – review of EU rules on the security of network and information systems, European Commission

National Cyber Power Index 2020, Harvard Kennedy School for Science and International Affairs

Surrogate Warfare: The Transformation of War in the Twenty-First Century, Paperback by Andreas Krieg and Jean-Marc Rickli

How Restricting Trade with China Could End US Semiconductor Leadership, Boston Consulting Group

The Impact of Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence on Strategic Stability, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

The Increasing Importance of Hybrid Politics in Europe: Cyber Power is Changing the Nature of Politics, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Read out of the phone call between President Charles Michel and US President-elect Joe Biden | EU Council Press

The President of the European Council Charles Michel spoke today Monday 23 November 2020 with President-elect Joe Biden and congratulated him on his election as the 46th President of the United States and Kamala Harris as the future Vice-President.

During the call President Michel proposed to rebuild a strong transatlantic alliance based on common interests and shared values. He welcomed the strong commitment of the President-elect Biden to America’s allies and his support for European cooperation.  

President Michel invited the President-elect to a special meeting with the members of the European Council in Brussels in 2021 to discuss shared priorities.

The EU stands ready to tackle together with the US today’s pressing challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recovery, climate change, security, and multilateralism.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council: “Now is the time to join forces. In a changing world, our partnership will be more important than ever to protect our citizens, relaunch our economies, stop global warming and create a safer world. The EU and the US will always have more impact when taking steps together.”

President Michel also thanked the President-elect for his clear support regarding the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement the EU concluded with the UK last year. This agreement preserves peace and stability in Ireland and fully respects the Good Friday Agreement.

EU consumers will soon be able to defend their rights collectively | EU Parliament Press

Parliament today endorsed a new law that will allow groups of consumers to join forces and launch collective action in the EU.

The new rules introduce a harmonised model for representative action in all member states that guarantees consumers are well protected against mass harm, while ensuring appropriate safeguards to avoid abusive lawsuits.

All member states must put in place at least one effective procedural mechanism that allows qualified entities (e.g. consumer organisations or public bodies) to bring lawsuits to court for the purpose of injunction (ceasing or prohibiting) or redress (compensation). This legislation aims to improve the functioning of the internal market by stopping illegal practices and facilitating access to justice for consumers.

More rights for consumers and safeguards for traders

The European class action model will allow only qualified entities, such as consumer organisations, to represent groups of consumers and bring lawsuits to court, instead of law firms.

In order to bring cross-border actions to court, qualified entities will have to comply with the same criteria across the EU. They will have to prove that they have a certain degree of stability and be able to demonstrate their public activity, and that they are a non-profit organisation. For domestic actions, entities will have to fulfil the criteria set out in national laws.

The rules also introduce strong safeguards against abusive lawsuits by using the “loser pays principle”, which ensures that the defeated party pays the costs of the proceedings of the successful party.

To further prevent representative actions from being misused, punitive damages should be avoided. Qualified entities should also establish procedures to avoid conflict of interest and external influence, namely if they are funded by a third party.

Collective actions can be brought against traders if they have allegedly violated EU law in a broad range of areas such as data protection, travel and tourism, financial services, energy and telecommunication.

Finally, the directive also covers infringements that have stopped before the representative action is brought or concluded, since the practice might still need to be banned to prevent it from recurring.

Quote

The rapporteur Geoffroy Didier (EPP, FR) said: “With this new directive, we found a balance between more consumer protection and giving businesses the legal certainty that they need. At a time when Europe is being severely tested, the EU has demonstrated that it can deliver and adapt to new realities, better protect its citizens and offer them new concrete rights in response to globalisation and its excesses”.

Next steps

The directive will enter into force 20 days following its publication in the Official Journal of the EU. Member states will then have 24 months to transpose the directive into their national laws, and an additional six months to apply it. The new rules will apply to representative actions brought on or after its date of application.

Background

The Representative Action Directive, presented in April 2018 by the European Commission, was agreed by EP negotiators and EU ministers in June 2020. The bill, which is part of the New Deal for Consumers, comes as a response to a recent series of scandals related to breaches of consumers’ rights by multinational companies. In some member states, consumers can already launch collective action in courts, but now this option will be available in all EU countries.

EU should set goal to end homelessness by 2030 | EU Parliament Press

  • 70% increase in homelessness in the EU over past 10 years
  • Homelessness is one of the most severe forms of poverty, caused by a combination of structural, institutional, and personal factors
  • Members states should decriminalise homelessness and provide equal access to public services such as health care, education, and social services

On Tuesday, Parliament approved a series of recommendations to combat homelessness and end housing exclusion in the EU.

In the resolution adopted with 647 votes in favour, 13 against and 32 abstentions, Parliament highlights the precarious living situation of over 700,000 persons who face homelessness each night in Europe, a 70% increase over a decade. It stresses that housing is a fundamental human right and calls for stronger action from the Commission and member states to end homelessness in the EU by 2030.

More measures needed at both EU and national level

To put an end to homelessness, the European Commission should support member states, improve monitoring, continue to provide funding, and present an EU Framework for National Homelessness Strategies. Member states should also adopt the principle of Housing First, which helps reduce homelessness significantly by introducing action plans and innovative approaches based on the concept of a home being a fundamental human right.

Supporting and reintegrating homeless people

The text sets out a series of recommendations for member states, including:

  • taking responsibility in tackling homelessness and working on prevention and early intervention;
  • exchanging best practices with other member states;
  • decriminalising homelessness;
  • providing equal access to public services such as health care, education, and social services;
  • supporting integration into the labour market through specialised assistance, training, and targeted schemes;
  • improving measures to gather relevant and comparable data to help assess the extent of homelessness;
  • providing financial assistance to NGOs and supporting local authorities to secure safe spaces for those who are homeless and preventing evictions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • implementing long-term, community-based, housing-led, integrated national homelessness strategies;
  • providing constant access to emergency shelters, as a temporary solution;
  • promoting social entrepreneurship and activities that foster active inclusion.

Finally, Parliament calls on the Commission and member states to use instruments available under the long-term EU budget (2021-2027) and the Recovery and Resilience Facility to improve employment opportunities and social integration for jobless households.

Background

The Committee on Petitions has received multiple petitions drawing attention to the massive spike in homelessness in the European Union brought about by higher housing costs, economic crises, reduced social protection, and inadequate policies.

Reports on how the COVID-19 crisis has affected the affordability of housing in the EU indicate that economic recession and loss of jobs and income may further increase housing costs and homelessness rates in Europe. While housing policy does not fall under the EU’s jurisdiction, it can affect housing conditions indirectly through regulations (e.g. state aid rules, fiscal law and competition law) and measures, notably recommendations and guidelines.

Inclusion for all: Commission presents action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027 | EU Commission Press

Today, the Commission is presenting the action plan on Integration and Inclusion for the period 2021-2027. The action plan promotes inclusion for all, recognising the important contribution of migrants to the EU and addressing the barriers that can hinder participation and inclusion of people with a migrant background, from newcomers to citizens, in European society. It is built on the principle that inclusive integration requires efforts from both the person and the host community and sets out new actions that build on the achievements of the previous action plan from 2016.

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Inclusion is the embodiment of the European way of life. Integration and inclusion policies are vital for newcomers, for local communities, and contribute to cohesive societies and strong economies. Everyone who has the right to be in Europe should have access to the tools they need to realise their full potential and assume the rights and obligations governing our Union.”

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “Migrants are ‘us’, not ‘them’. Everyone has a role to play in making sure our societies are cohesive and prosperous. Integration and inclusion mean listening to migrant communities and ensuring that everyone can enjoy rights, regardless of background. Inclusive integration is giving the same tools and support needed to contribute to society, so that migrants can reach their full potential and our societies benefit from their strength and skills.”

 A European approach to integration and inclusion

As emphasised in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, successful integration and inclusion is an essential part of a well-managed and effective migration and asylum policy. It is also essential for social cohesion and for a dynamic economy that works for all.

The action plan proposes targeted and tailored support that takes into account individual characteristics that may present specific challenges to people with a migrant background, such as gender or religious background. Successful integration and inclusion depends both on early action and on long-term commitment.

Although national governments are primarily responsible for creating and implementing social policies, the EU plays a key role in supporting Member States through funding, developing guidance and fostering relevant partnerships. The main actions are:

  • Inclusive education and training from early childhood to higher education, focusing on facilitating the recognition of qualifications and continued language learning, with support from EU funds.
  • Improving employment opportunities and skills recognition to fully value the contribution of migrant communities, and women in particular, and ensure that they are supported to reach their full potential. The Commission will work with social and economic partners and employers to promote labour market integration, support entrepreneurship and make it easier for employers to recognise and assess skills.
  • Promoting access to health services, including mental healthcare, for people with a migrant background. In addition to dedicated EU funding, the action plan seeks to ensure people are informed about their rights and recognises the specific challenges faced by women, in particular during and after pregnancy. The action plan also supports Member States to exchange best practice.
  • Access to adequate and affordable housing funded through the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund Plus, Asylum and Migration Fund and Invest EU, as well as funding platforms to exchange of experience at local and regional level on fighting discrimination on the housing market and segregation.

The action plan will be implemented by mobilising EU funding and by creating partnerships with all those involved: migrants, host communities, social and economic partners, civil society, local and regional authorities as well as the private sector. It will empower host communities and support their role in the design and implementation of integration measures and programmes, while also emphasising the responsibility of the people concerned in participating in the host society. It will seek to modernise access to services by using digital tools. Finally, it will improve the evidence base to help further development of policies and to ensure good monitoring of results.

Background

Today, around 34 million EU inhabitants were born outside the EU (around 8% of the EU population), and 10% of young people (15–34 years) born in the EU have at least one foreign-born parent. Migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background play a key role in  European society and in different sectors of our economy, including as essential workers. However, they continue to face challenges in terms of access to education, employment, healthcare and social inclusion (see statistics).

The action plan on Integration and Inclusion complements existing and upcoming EU strategies to foster equality and social cohesion to ensure everyone is fully included and able to participate in European societies. It will be implemented with the forthcoming action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights and the EU’s anti-racism action plan. It will also be closely linked with the EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation; the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025; the LGBTIQ equality strategy 2020-2025, the forthcoming strategy to combat antisemitism and the EU citizenship report.

For More Information

Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027

Staff Working Document

Report on the consultation on the integration and inclusion of migrants and people with a migrant background

Analysis of the responses to the public consultation on the integration and inclusion of migrants and people with a migrant background Synthesis report

MEMO: Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027: Questions and Answers

Factsheet: Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027

Website on Integration

Statement by President von der Leyen on Moderna | EU Commission Press

The coronavirus pandemic has affected our lives severely. Many people are ill and have lost their jobs. And right now, many Europeans are worrying that they cannot see their families or their friends over Christmas.

While restrictive measures can slow down the spread of the virus in this very difficult situation, we all know that only a safe and effective vaccine will provide a lasting, a sustainable solution to this pandemic. Vaccination can help and is crucial to end the pandemic, that we overcome this virus. And here, I have today good news: I am happy to announce that tomorrow we will approve a new contract to secure another COVID-19 vaccine in our vaccine portfolio.

This contract allows us to buy up to 160 million doses of a vaccine produced by Moderna. According to the results of clinical trials, this vaccine could be highly effective against COVID-19. Once the vaccine is indeed proven as safe and effective, every Member State will receive it at the same time, on a pro-rata basis, at the same conditions.

With Moderna now, this is the sixth contract we have with a pharmaceutical company for our COVID-19 vaccine portfolio. We are working on yet another one. By this, we are setting up one of the most comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine portfolios in the world.

This provides Europeans access to the most promising future vaccines under development so far. Of course, all vaccines from our portfolio will be evaluated very carefully by our European Medicines Agency (EMA). They will only be authorised and placed on the market if they are safe and if they are effective.  Transparency here is crucial and of utmost importance.

Securing rapidly vaccines for European citizens is one priority. But our other priority, at the same time, is to make sure that everyone has access to vaccines, everywhere in the world. It has to be an affordable and equitable distribution of the vaccines.

This is why we have raised, by pledging, EUR 16 billion since May for tests, treatments and diagnostics and vaccines against the coronavirus worldwide. And as Team Europe, we have contributed close to EUR 800 million to the COVAX Facility. The COVAX Facility is responsible through high-income countries donations – here the EUR 800 million by Team Europe – to make sure that low- and middle-income countries have access to the vaccines that are being produced now and in the future. The aim is to serve the world with these vaccines to end the pandemic.

We all know, we are all together in this.

Frank Elderson recommended as member of European Central Bank Executive Board | EU Parliament Press

On Tuesday, Frank Elderson from the Netherlands received Parliament’s green light to sit on the ECB’s Executive Board, despite misgivings about gender imbalance.

The plenary voted by 319 votes in favour, 202 against and 171 abstentions to give its approval to Mr Elderson, following a hearing two weeks before in the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee where he received a positive recommendation.

Mr Elderson’s appointment now needs to be formalised by the European Council. He is due to take over from Yves Mersch on 14 December when the latter’s term of office ends.

Notwithstanding the positive opinion on Mr Elderson, Parliament has repeatedly expressed its disaffection regarding the appointment procedure for members of the ECB’s Executive Board. MEPs have called for better procedures in this regard – including that they be sent a gender-balanced shortlist of at least two candidates. They also deplore the fact that member states have not taken this request seriously and call on national and EU institutions to work actively towards achieving gender balance in the next nominations.

COVID-19 and natural disasters: €823 million in EU aid for eight member states | EU Parliament Press

  • Most of the aid, over €692 million, will assist Croatia in rebuilding following the March earthquake and in dealing with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • €124 million for Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Hungary, and Portugal to tackle the COVID-19 health emergency
  • €7 million for Poland for reconstruction following June floods

On Tuesday, Parliament approved €823 million in EU aid for the Croatia earthquake, floods in Poland, and the response to the coronavirus crisis in seven EU countries.

The €823 million in aid from the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) will be distributed as follows:

  • More than €132.7 million to be distributed in advance payments to Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Hungary, and Portugal in response to the major public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
  • Croatia will receive €683.7 million to help the country deal with the devastating effects of the earthquake in Zagreb and the surrounding area in March 2020. A first disbursement of €88.9 million was already released in August 2020.
  • More than €7 million will go to Poland to assist reconstruction efforts following floods in the Podkarpackie Voivodeship province in June this year.

EU Solidarity Fund modified in response to COVID-19

As part of the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII), in 2020 the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund rules was extended, enabling the EU to help countries respond to major public health emergencies.

Overall, 19 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain) and three accession countries (Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia) have requested assistance in tackling the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Of these, seven countries requested that the payment be made in advance, which Parliament approved with this vote.

Background information on the EU Solidarity Fund

More information and a table with precise amounts per country can be found in Parliament’s report and the Commission’s proposal.

The report, drafted by Olivier Chastel (RENEW, BE), recommending the approval of the aid was adopted by 682 votes in favour, 8 against and 2 abstentions.

The report approving the accompanying draft amending budget, by rapporteur Monika Hohlmeier (EPP, DE), was adopted with 682 votes in favour, 8 against and 2 abstentions.

Next steps

The Council of Ministers approved the advance payments on 30 October, which can now be disbursed following the plenary vote. The Commission is currently assessing the applications received. Once this assessment has been completed, the Commission will put forward a proposal to make the final payments.

Marked improvement in Europe’s air quality over past decade, fewer deaths linked to pollution | EU Commission Press

Better air quality has led to a significant reduction of premature deaths over the past decade in Europe. However, the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) latest official data show that almost all Europeans still suffer from air pollution, leading to about 400,000 premature deaths across the continent.

The EEA’s ‘Air quality in Europe — 2020 report‘ shows that six Member States exceeded the European Union’s limit value for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2018: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Italy, Poland, and Romania. Only four countries in Europe — Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Ireland — had fine particulate matter concentrations that were below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) stricter guideline values. The EEA report notes that there remains a gap between EU’s legal air quality limits and WHO guidelines, an issue that the European Commission seeks to address with a revision of the EU standards under the Zero Pollution Action Plan.

The new EEA analysis is based on the latest official air quality data from more than 4 000 monitoring stations across Europe in 2018.

Exposure to fine particulate matter caused about 417,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2018, according to the EEA assessment. About 379,000 of those deaths occurred in EU-28 where 54,000 and 19,000 premature deaths were attributed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3), respectively. (The three figures are separate estimates and the numbers should not be added together to avoid double counting.)

EU, national and local policies and emission cuts in key sectors have improved air quality across Europe, the EEA report shows. Since 2000, emissions of key air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (NOx), from transport have declined significantly, despite growing mobility demand and associated increase in the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. Pollutant emissions from energy supply have also seen major reductions while progress in reducing emissions from buildings and agriculture has been slow.

Thanks to better air quality, around 60,000 fewer people died prematurely due to fine particulate matter pollution in 2018, compared with 2009. For nitrogen dioxide, the reduction is even greater as premature deaths have declined by about 54 % over the last decade. The continuing implementation of environmental and climate policies across Europe is a key factor behind the improvements.

“It is good news that air quality is improving thanks to the environmental and climate policies that we have been implementing. But we can’t ignore the downside – the number of premature deaths in Europe due to air pollution is still far too high. With the European Green Deal we have set ourselves an ambition of reducing all kinds of pollution to zero. If we are to succeed and fully protect people’s health and the environment, we need to cut air pollution further and align our air quality standards more closely with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. We will look at this in our upcoming Action Plan,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.

“The EEA’s data prove that investing in better air quality is an investment for better health and productivity for all Europeans. Policies and actions that are consistent with Europe’s zero pollution ambition, lead to longer and healthier lives and more resilient societies,” said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director.

The European Commission has recently published a roadmap for the EU Action Plan Towards a Zero Pollution Ambition, which is part of the European Green Deal.

Air quality and COVID-19

The EEA report also contains an overview of the links between the COVID-19 pandemic and air quality. A more detailed assessment of provisional EEA data for 2020 and supporting modelling by the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS), confirms earlier assessments showing up to 60 % reductions of certain air pollutants in many European countries where lockdown measures were implemented in the spring of 2020. The EEA does not yet have estimates on the potential positive health impacts of the cleaner air during 2020.

The report also notes that long-term exposure to air pollutants causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which both have been identified as risk factors for death in COVID-19 patients. However, the causality between air pollution and severity of the COVID-19 infections is not clear and further epidemiological research is needed.

Background

The EEA’s briefing, EEA’s health risk assessments of air pollution, provides an overview of how the EEA calculates its estimates on the health impacts of poor air quality.

The health impacts of exposure to air pollution are diverse, ranging from inflammation of the lungs to premature deaths. The World Health Organization is evaluating the increasing scientific evidence that links air pollution to different health impacts in order to propose new guidelines.

 In the EEA’s health risk assessment, mortality is selected as the health outcome that is quantified, as it is the one for which the scientific evidence is most robust. Mortality due to the long-term exposure to air pollution is estimated using two different metrics: “premature deaths” and “years of life lost”. These estimates provide a measure of the general impact of air pollution across a given population and, for example, the numbers cannot be assigned to specific individuals living in a specific geographical location.

The health impacts are estimated separately for the three pollutants (PM2.5, NO2 and O3). These numbers cannot be added together to determine total health impacts, as this may lead to double counting of people who are exposed to high levels of more than one pollutant.

Remarks by Commissioner Sinkevičius, in charge of Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, at the Press Conference on the occasion of the launch of the EEA’s ‘Air Quality in Europe – 2020 Report’ | EU Commission Press

“Check against delivery”

Hello everyone and thank you for tuning in,

As my first point I would like to thank you Hans, and thanks to your colleagues in Copenhagen and across Europe for this 2020 Report on Air Quality. It’s exactly the sort of high quality evidence we need to inform EU policy-making. 

There are things to welcome here. Air quality is improving across the EU thanks to the policies we have been implementing for the past decades. We came to a similar conclusion with the Fitness check of the Ambient Air Quality Directives last year, and in the next Clean Air Outlook report, that we’ll publish shortly. It’s clear that these policies deliver when they are fully implemented.

But we can’t ignore the downside. The number of premature deaths in Europe due to air pollution is decreasing, but it is still far too high. And with close to 400 000 premature deaths each year in the EU linked to air pollution, we know that the cost to society is extremely high. Air pollution affects all of us, but especially the most vulnerable ones – older people, children and those with pre-existing health conditions. It also affects our everyday lives, our economies and our biodiversity.

The report is a useful reminder of the causes. In many regions, the way we source our energy and heat our homes still leads to pollution from particulate matters. In cities across the EU, our mobility and travel systems are still causing pollution from nitrogen dioxide. And the way we grow our food, especially in large scale farming activities, is leading to pollution from ammonia and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, which ends up deep in our lungs.   

This is why, in the European Green Deal, we have set ourselves a Zero Pollution Ambition. Work has started on the Zero Pollution Action Plan for air, water and soil, and we launched a public consultation a few days ago. We’re hoping for contributions from all interested sectors. That will help us identify the most effective solutions, put them forward and dramatically increase our efforts to cut pollution.

The Action Plan will include a drive to modernise the Ambient Air Quality Directive, and I hope to table the proposal in the second half of 2022.

There is plenty to do in the meantime. The current EU air quality standards are still exceeded far too often. So we will continue our resolute action to ensure full implementation of the existing legislation, with the full range of legal tools.

Solving the air quality challenge is not easy. It takes concerted action across sectors and across policies. It means getting everyone on board – citizens, entrepreneurs, researchers and policy-makers. And it means developing a new reflex – learning to ask a new question in transport, energy, industry, agriculture, and urban development. Asking – what does it mean for the air?

Here at the European Commission we have that question in mind in our policy-making. We fully understand the need for a zero pollution ambition for toxic-free environment, this is an important part of our efforts for climate neutrality and supporting competiveness and innovation. The European Green Deal is our compass for delivering this, together with our recovery plans that provide Member States the opportunities to start to build back better, with the ‘do no harm’ principle embedded in that work.

Recent months have reminded us how important clean air is: Air pollution makes us more vulnerable to diseases. It makes so much sense to tackle this challenge decisively. And, with everyone’s engagement, we will.

And now I leave the floor to Hans, who will share some more details on the report.

Thank you.