The Commission announces today the extension of its Coronavirus disinformation monitoring programme for another six months until June 2022, as it publishes the latest reports by online platforms on their actions taken between September and October. Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said: “The pandemic is not over yet, this is why we want platforms to intensify efforts in addressing COVID-19 disinformation, including on vaccines and in all EU languages. We also expect the platforms to translate lessons learned from the COVID monitoring programme into a stronger monitoring framework for the new anti-disinformation Code”. Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, added: “Current and prospective signatories must work together efficiently and deliver a strong Code. Expectations are high given the stakes and time is pressing. This Code will be a clear game changer to adapt the responsibility of online platforms by ensuring timely, adequate and efficient measures to fight disinformation in the EU. The informational space should not be a Wild West exposing citizen to untamed disinformation flux.” The latest reports show that YouTube expanded its medical misinformation policy to include claims about vaccines that contradict local health authorities’ consensus or the WHO. TikTok increased the number of keywords / hashtags that can trigger tags and banners related to COVID-19 and vaccines. Twitter updated its policy on misleading information about vaccines. Microsoft’s LinkedIn has widened the collaboration with influencers in Europe to spread authoritative messages about vaccination. Meta / Facebook has updated its policies worldwide on COVID-19 vaccination for children, for example false content claiming that vaccines do not exist for children, or are unsafe and untested. Recently, 26 new prospective signatories have joined the drafting process for the strengthening of the Code of Practice on Disinformation which is now expected by the end of March 2022. The extended timeframe shall allow signatories to draft a strong instrument with granular commitments adapted also to the diverse services represented by the broader range of prospective signatories. The Commission urges the signatories to carry out the revision swiftly, respecting its Guidance, and step up their monitoring programme efforts, taking into account the recent recommendations from the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA)’s.
EU institution news
Today, Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, presents data on the Commission’s work on product safety and the EU Safety Gate Rapid Alert System. Fresh data from 2021 shows that this year so far more than 1,800 alerts between Member State authorities have been circulated on the system. Most of these alerts concern motor vehicles or related products (27%) and toys (19%). Christmas lights and candles have also been regularly notified. The most common risks related to dangerous products in 2021 were injuries (28%) or risks caused by chemicals (23%). Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice said: “Thanks to the Safety Gate Rapid Alert System, the European Commission and national consumer authorities work together every day to guarantee that the presents you give to your loved ones are safe. This is a very concrete example of cooperation at EU-level that benefits consumers.” When national authorities detect a dangerous product, they send alerts within the Safety Gate, with information on the product, a description of the risk and the measures taken by the economic operator or ordered by the authority, such as removing the product from the market. As a result, other authorities follow-up on the alert and take their own measures, withdrawing the same product on their national markets. The overall number of actions reported on the Safety Gate is growing year by year, confirming that national authorities prioritise consumers’ safety. Commissioner Reynders’s video messages, in which he provides illustrated examples of dangerous products, are available on EbS. All alerts can be found online on EU Safety Gate.
The EU is constantly working to build resilience to ever-increasing cyberthreats, and to keep our digital society and economy safe and secure.
Today, the Council agreed on its position (‘general approach’) on measures for a high common level of cybersecurity across the EU, to further improve the resilience and incident response capacities of both the public and private sector and the EU as a whole.
Once adopted, the new directive, called ‘NIS2’, will replace the current directive on security of network and information systems (the NIS directive).
We have seen a rapid increase in the number of cyberattacks on the public and private sector and on our citizens, and the significant impact which these attacks have on our society, not least because we live in an increasingly digitalised world. The stakes are high, and the new NIS directive will play a very important role in strengthening our cybersecurity. It will also show that Europe is a leader in legislation on cybersecurity.
Boštjan Koritnik, Slovenian Minister for Public Administration
Stronger risk and incident management and cooperation
NIS2 will set the baseline for cybersecurity risk management measures and reporting obligations across all sectors that are covered by the directive, such as energy, transport, health and digital infrastructure.
The revised directive aims to remove divergences in cybersecurity requirements and in implementation of cybersecurity measures in different member states. To achieve this, it sets out minimum rules for a regulatory framework and lays down mechanisms for effective cooperation among relevant authorities in each member state. It updates the list of sectors and activities subject to cybersecurity obligations, and provides for remedies and sanctions to ensure enforcement.
The directive will formally establish the European Cyber Crises Liaison Organisation Network, EU-CyCLONe, which will support the coordinated management of large-scale cybersecurity incidents.
Wider scope of the rules as amended by the Council
While under the old NIS directive member states were responsible for determining which entities would meet the criteria to qualify as operators of essential services, the new NIS2 directive introduces a size-cap rule. This means that all medium-sized and large entities operating within the sectors or providing services covered by the directive will fall within its scope.
While the Council’s position maintains this general rule, it includes additional provisions to ensure proportionality, a higher level of risk management and clear-cut criticality criteria for determining the entities covered.
The Council text also clarifies that the directive will not apply to entities carrying out activities in areas such as defence or national security, public security, law enforcement and the judiciary. Parliaments and central banks are also excluded from the scope.
As public administrations are also often targets of cyberattacks, NIS2 will apply to public administration entities of central governments. In addition, member states may decide that it applies to such entities at regional and local level too.
Other changes introduced by the Council
The Council has aligned the text with sector-specific legislation, in particular the regulation on digital operational resilience for the financial sector (DORA) and the directive on the resilience of critical entities (CER), to provide legal clarity and ensure coherence between NIS2 and these acts.
A voluntary peer-learning mechanism will increase mutual trust and learning from good practices and experiences, thereby contributing to achieving a high common level of cybersecurity.
It has also streamlined the reporting obligations in order to avoid causing over-reporting and creating an excessive burden on the entities covered.
Member states would have two years from the entry into force of the directive in which to incorporate the provisions into their national law.
The general approach reached today will allow the Council presidency to start negotiations with the European Parliament. Both the Council and the European Parliament will need to agree on the final text.
Today’s decision targets prominent members of the judicial branch, including the Supreme Court, and the State Control Committee, as well as propaganda outlets, contributing to continuing repression of civil society, democratic opposition, independent media outlets and journalists.
The decision also targets high-ranking political officials of the Lukashenko regime, as well as companies (such as Belavia Airlines), tour operators and hotels that have helped incite and organise illegal border crossings through Belarus to the EU, and in this way participated in the instrumentalisation of migration for political purposes.
Altogether, EU restrictive measures on Belarus now apply to a total of 183 individuals and 26 entities. Those designated are subject to an asset freeze and EU citizens and companies are forbidden from making funds available to them. Natural persons are additionally subject to a travel ban, which prevents them from entering or transiting through EU territories.
The European Union will not tolerate the orchestrated and politically motivated instrumentalisation of human beings by the Lukashenko regime. This cynical strategy of exploiting vulnerable people is an abhorrent attempt to deflect attention from the regime’s continued disregard for international law, fundamental freedoms and human rights in Belarus. The EU stands united in facing this challenge and is using all the tools at its disposal to push back against attempts to create a crisis at EU borders. We continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus. This fifth round of sanctions is another example of our determination to act when human rights are violated.
Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
The EU has strongly condemned the Lukashenko regime for deliberately putting people’s lives and wellbeing in danger and stirring up the crisis at the EU’s external borders, in an attempt to detract attention from the situation in Belarus, where brutal repression and human rights violations are continuing and worsening. The Council is closely monitoring the internal situation in Belarus and will continue to counter the state-sponsored illegal migration organised by the Lukashenko regime.
The relevant legal acts, including the names of the persons concerned, have been published in the Official Journal.
The EU stands ready to support a peaceful, democratic transition with a variety of instruments, including a comprehensive plan of economic support for a democratic Belarus. We also stand ready to adopt further measures, including against other economic actors, if the situation in Belarus does not improve.
Background and next steps
Since October 2020, the EU has progressively expanded its restrictive measures in light of the situation in Belarus.
On 21 and 22 October 2021, the European Council adopted conclusions in which it declared that it would not accept any attempt by third countries to instrumentalise migrants for political purposes, condemned all hybrid attacks at the EU’s borders and affirmed that it would respond accordingly. The conclusions stressed that the EU would continue to counter the Belarusian regime’s ongoing hybrid attack, including by adopting further restrictive measures against persons and legal entities, in line with its gradual approach, as a matter of urgency.
On 15 November 2021, the Council amended the designation criteria to allow targeted restrictive measures to be applied against individuals and entities organising or contributing to activities carried out by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate the illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders.
EU rules on animal transport are out-dated, misleading and poorly enforced
EU needs to step-up efforts in respecting animal welfare during transport
Favour the transport of meat over live animals, more control on exports and a ban on transporting very young animals
After 18 months of fact-finding, Parliament’s committee of inquiry into the protection of animals during transport adopted its conclusions and recommendations.
Parliament‘s inquiry into the protection of animals during transport (the ANIT committee), set up in June 2020 to investigate alleged violations of EU rules, wrapped up its work on Thursday. It concluded that EU provisions in this area are not always complied with in member states and do not fully take into account the different transport needs of animals.
MEPs gathered information from citizens and NGOs on animal welfare violations during transport. These violations included a lack of headroom, water or food supply, the shipping of animals being unfit for transport, overcrowding, the use of inappropriate vehicles, transport during extreme temperatures and extended journey times.
The report, elaborating the main findings of the investigation, was adopted by 30 votes in favour and one abstention.
Based on the findings, MEPs on ANIT committee approved a set of draft recommendations by 24 votes to 1, with 5 abstentions. These include a call on the Commission and EU countries to step up their efforts to respect animal welfare during transport and update EU rules.
CCTV cameras, proper temperature and a ban on transporting very young animals
MEPs want CCTV cameras on transport vehicles, especially for loading and unloading operations, to safeguard operators who comply with the rules. They also ask national authorities to approve animal travel plans only if the forecasted temperature is between 5ºC and 30ºC. New rules should introduce temperature, humidity and ammonia recording devices in vehicles.
MEPs also urge the Commission to establish journey time limits covering all animal species and ages, and a ban on the transport of very young animals below the age of 35 days. The transport of unweaned animals over the age of 35 days should be avoided and allowed only in cases where the journey is under two hours.
Transport meat over live animals
MEPs advocate a transition to a more efficient and ethical system, that favours the transport of semen or embryos over breeding stock, and carcasses and meat over animals being moved for slaughter. They call on the Commission to urgently present, no later than 2023, an action plan to support this transition, including a proposal on a specific fund to minimise the socio-economic impacts of the changes that need to be made.
Put a break on live animal export
There is no control system in place, MEPs say, for the transport of animals to non-EU countries. They demand member states inspect all consignments to non-EU countries, with a special focus on the access of animals to feed and water, the functioning of drinking devices, and the space and headroom for the animals. Live animal export should be approved only if it complies with European animal welfare standards.
EP rapporteur Daniel Buda (EPP, RO) said: “Proper animal welfare during transport is in the shared interest of farmers, consumers and the whole supply chain. Decisions taken in the European Parliament must take into account of the realities around us.”
“The transport of live animals is an important branch of the EU’s economy, and important for the financial survival of our farmers. The transport of live animals both within the European Union and in third countries must continue while, of course, respecting legislation and improving welfare standards.”
Co-rapporteur Isabel Carvalhais (S&D, PT) added: “We want this committee to make a real difference in defending the welfare of animals during live transport. This is an ambition built on the respect of the different geographical realities in the EU, for our rural communities, and for the continued differences in infrastructure development across the continent.”
The full House is to discuss both documents and vote on the draft recommendations at the Strasbourg plenary session in January 2022.
The Commission welcomes the provisional agreement reached yesterday between the European Parliament and the Council on the 8thEnvironment Action Programme (EAP). The 8th EAP anchors the Member States’ and Parliament’s commitment to environmental and climate action until 2030, guided by a long-term vision to 2050 of wellbeing for all, while staying within the planetary boundaries. The agreed 8th EAP builds on the European Green Deal. Welcoming the agreement, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “The 8th Environment Action Programme is the EU’s joint programme for implementing the European Green Deal on the ground until 2030. It enshrines in a legal framework EU environment and climate objectives, as well as a mechanism to monitor progress “beyond GDP”. This further strengthens our collective capacity to tackle the interlinked crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution in order to create a truly sustainable future for the generations to come”. The agreed 8th EAP has six priority objectives related to climate neutrality, climate adaptation, circular economy, zero pollution, protecting and restoring biodiversity, and reducing environmental and climate pressures related to production and consumption. In addition, the programme sets out an enabling framework and a monitoring framework to measure progress towards the required systemic change. More information is in the news item.
The European Commission launched a targeted consultation to gather information about developments related to the rule of law in the Member States, in view of the 2022 Rule of Law Report. The consultation is addressed to stakeholders such as judges associations, civil society, NGOs, international organisations and EU agencies, among others. The information received will feed into the Commission’s assessment of the situation in Member States. The Rule of Law Report is at the centre of the Rule of Law Mechanism, a yearly cycle to promote the rule of law and prevent problems from emerging or deepening. As announced by President von der Leyen in her 2021 State of the Union Address, the 2022 Report will come with specific recommendations to Member States. For the previous editions of the Rule of Law Report, the targeted stakeholder consultations provided valuable horizontal and country-specific information. The consultation is available online until 24 January 2022.
Today, the EU Industrial Forum is holding its third virtual meeting, in the presence of Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and Commissioner Thierry Breton. The Forum gathers experts from various fields to help the Commission implement the EU’s New Industrial Strategy and its update. Today’s meeting focuses on the work to address Europe’s strategic dependencies and develop transition pathways to facilitate the green and digital transitions across industrial ecosystems. The Forum is also expected to make recommendations on Key Performance Indicators in key areas for the implementation and monitoring of the EU industrial strategy and prepare its contribution to the 2022 Industry Days in February. Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, said: “We have already set Europe on a strong path of green and digital transformation. This forum offers a crucial space where key industrial and societal stakeholders can exchange expertise, experience and talent to help shape our way forward towards this common aim.” Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said: “The Industrial Forum can help the Commission pool talents from companies, big and small, from research institutions, from civil society. And all these talents should be used to support industrial ambition: a Europe that has leadership on technologies central to the green and digital transition of our economy and society. A Europe where we move from innovation excellence to facilitating mass deployment, creating export potential and quality jobs.” The Industrial Forum is an inclusive and open mechanism for co-designing solutions with stakeholders, announced in the EU Industrial Strategy. It gathers a wide array of stakeholders, including industry, NGOs, research institutions and social partners from different industrial ecosystems identified in the EU’s updated industrial strategy with the aim of facilitating dialogue and coordinating advice to the Commission.
The Commission has published the Annual Summary Report on the implementation of financial instruments in 2020. The report shows that financial instruments have supported European small and medium sized companies (SMEs) and other recipients for a total of €29 billion in 2020. Out of these, €21.6 billion (of which €7 billion for working capital) under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) have underpinned 478,000 SMEs, including 375,000 microenterprises.
Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “Financial instruments can deliver cohesion policy investments in a flexible and cost-efficient way and attract additional investments. During the coronavirus crisis, they helped to swiftly support small businesses to survive and to keep their employees. For the 2021-2027 period I am encouraging Member States and regions to make an increased use of financial instruments and their benefits.”
Financial instruments as a crucial means to help mitigate the economic effects of the crisis
Financial instruments such as equity and debt, loan guarantees, venture capital and risk sharing facilities have proved to be a resource-efficient way of using Cohesion policy resources, even more in times of crisis. The coronavirus pandemic hit SMEs particularly hard, and many workers were at risk of losing their jobs where businesses were struggling to survive. Financial instruments have been crucial to deploy support to the SMEs most in need and thus helped to mitigate the negative economic effects of the coronavirus crisis on regions and cities in the EU. In particular, financial instruments under the European Regional Development Fund provided help in the form of financial products like loans, guarantees and equity. Compared to 2019, 365,000 additional SMEs received support via financial instruments, meaning about 1000 more SMEs per day, for a total of 478,000 SMEs in 2020.
Additional flexibility thanks to the EU
Financial instruments have proved to be an asset, especially thanks to the additional flexibility provided by the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) and Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus (CRII+), where Member States could address resources to the changing needs of the recipients. Another key characteristic of financial instruments is their leverage effect as they can attract additional investments from private or public investors. Finally, they are a cost-efficient delivery mechanism with very low management costs and fees.
Financial instruments can be provided by the EU through financial intermediaries in Member States under shared management to support their policies and programmes. Start-ups, micro companies, and larger businesses can all benefit from this type of funding. There are various types of financial instruments: equity and debt, loan guarantees, venture capital and risk sharing facilities. The EU has doubled the use of ESIF financial instruments in the programming period from 2014 to 2020 compared to 2007-2013.
The ‘Annual Summary Report on the implementation of financial instruments’ presents data on the progress made in financing and implementing financial instruments supported by European Structural and Investment Funds in the 2014-2020 programming period (until 31 December 2020). It is based on data reported by the managing authorities in accordance with Article 46 of Common Provisions Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and the Council (CPR), the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 821/2014, and fund-specific regulations.
For More Information
Today, the Commission takes legal action against 18 Member States for failing to ensure proper implementation of the EU rules for assessing the proportionality of new regulation of professions.
The 2018 Directive on a proportionality test before adoption of new regulation of professions requires Member States to make sure that any requirements for professions they introduce are necessary and balanced. The Directive provides a set of criteria to prevent unnecessarily burdensome national rules, which can make it difficult for qualified candidates to access or exercise a wide range of professions. The lack of proper implementation of the EU rules on proportionality tests could ultimately disadvantage consumers in the form of excessive prices, undermine the development of innovative services or even lead to insufficient access to important services. The Directive is a powerful tool for facilitating access to and exercise of regulated activities by professionals across the EU. The action taken today to ensure its proper implementation will help to prevent or dismantle disproportionate barriers in the Single Market, in line with the objectives of the EU Single Market Enforcement Action Plan.
The issue affects many Europeans: around 50 million people, 22% of the European labour force, work in professions to which access is restricted to those holding specific qualifications or for which the use of a specific title is protected, e.g. lawyers or pharmacists. Often there will also be specific requirements on how the profession can be exercised, such as limitations on who can hold the shares of those companies or how these services can be advertised. Ensuring that such rules are justified and proportionate creates concrete benefits for European citizens, both for professionals as well as for consumers.
Having thoroughly assessed national transposition measures, the Commission found that various requirements had not been properly implemented by some Member States and that there was a risk that the Directive would not be effective in practice. It has therefore decided to open infringement proceedings against Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.
The most significant problems identified by the Commission are the following:
- failure to sufficiently capture all types of regulations such as those adopted by professional associations.
- failure to accurately transpose the criteria of the proportionality test, such as the need to ensure necessity of the new regulation in view of other rules already in place.
- failure to ensure the necessary procedural guarantees, such as objectivity of assessments, effective ex-post monitoring mechanisms, and effective information and involvement of stakeholders.
All Member States concerned have two months to respond to the arguments raised by the Commission. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to send them a reasoned opinion.
Working together to simplify the regulatory framework for professional business services
While legal action is sometimes warranted, the Commission also works hand in hand with the Member States to ensure that professional regulation is ‘fit for purpose’.
In July 2021, the Commission adopted updated reform recommendations on the regulation of seven professional business services: architects, engineers, lawyers, accountants, patent agents, real estate agents and tourist guides. These recommendations help identify opportunities for reform of the national regulation currently in place.
Although the Commission concluded that progress had been very limited since the adoption of the first set of recommendations in 2017, some Member States did introduce useful reforms:
- Poland abolished the minimum tariffs that Polish patent agents were obliged to charge to consumers.
- Belgium reformed the accounting profession, opening up shareholding to investors from outside the profession, accounting firms will now be able to more easily attract finance.
- Croatia abandoned its plans to impose on accountants the obligation to obtain a license based on a pre-defined set of qualifications.
The Commission and the Member States also work together in the context of the Single Market Enforcement Task Force (SMET) to address single market barriers, including, among others, prior checks of qualifications for temporary service provision and excessive requirements for documents that have to be supplied for the recognition of professional qualifications.
In September 2021, SMET published its first report, showing tangible results: after only a few months of operating of the Task Force, requirements for prior checks of qualifications had been abolished for over 210 professions. Member States are also screening their rules and practices in place to identify those that can be abolished.
Individual assistance to citizens and businesses
EU citizens or businesses facing obstacles in another Member State can get concrete help via the SOLVIT network. This network of centresin national administrations solves problems related to incorrect application of EU rules by national authorities. In the area of recognition of professional qualifications, SOLVIT has helped more than 260 professionals in 2019-2020 with problems related to the recognition of their professional qualifications and obtained satisfactory solutions in 80% of the cases.
As a concrete recent example, SOLVIT helped a qualified food technologist in Estonia with several years of professional experience in this field. He was seeking recognition of his professional qualifications in Cyprus, but Cypriot authorities required an academic recognition of his diploma. SOLVIT stressed that this was not in line with EU rules aiming to facilitate access to the labour market in another country. The Cypriot authorities recognised this, accepted the Estonian qualifications and proceeded with the professional recognition procedure. Thanks to SOLVIT, the qualifications were recognised and the applicant could start working in his line of work in Cyprus.
The Directive on a proportionality test was adopted on 28 June 2018 as one of the four initiatives of the 2017 Services Package. The deadline for Member States to implement the new rules was 30 July 2020.
The Directive aims to prevent unnecessary barriers for access to and exercise of regulated activities by professionals, by requiring Member States to assess the proportionality of any new regulation of professions on the basis of a common set of criteria, before the adoption of that regulation. In addition, the Directive contributes to the transparency of the rule-making process by requiring these assessments to be made publicly available via the database of regulated professions. It asks Member States to appropriately inform and involve all relevant stakeholders during the proportionality assessment. Furthermore, Member States need to continue monitoring the proportionality of their rules after adoption and take into account any relevant developments such as technological innovation.