EU institution news

The Week Ahead 26 October – 01 November 2020 | EU Parliament Press

MFF/Own Resources. Negotiations on future EU financing continue with two meetings scheduled between Parliament and Council. MEPs defend real top-ups for 15 flagship EU programmes for the benefit of citizens, students, researchers, businesses, health workers and many others, as well as new sources of revenue for the EU budget in order to save EU countries money (Monday, Wednesday).


Rule of Law. 
Parliament, Council and Commission will continue their talks on the rule of law conditionality regulation, which may lead to member states having their EU funding suspended or cut if they do not respect fundamental rights. Parliament’s key demand is an effective mechanism that can be applied in practice (Tuesday).

2021 EU Budget. The Budgets Committee will adopt Parliament’s priorities for next year’s EU budget. MEPs want to boost funding for programmes and projects that will support the young, researchers, health workers, entrepreneurs as well as transport infrastructure, agriculture, fundamental rights, security and external action (Wednesday).


InvestEU. 
The Budgets and Economic and Monetary Affairs committees will vote to reinforce the existing EU investment support mechanism for 2021-2027, to help EU companies and ensure private investment for medium- and long-term priorities, such as the Green Deal and the digital transition (Wednesday).


Protecting EU’s products in China. 
The International Trade Committee will have its final vote on the EU and China agreement to mutually protect over 200 products with geographical indications. These include Cava, Champagne, Feta, Irish whiskey, Münchener Bier, Ouzo, Polska Wódka, Porto, Prosciutto di Parma and Queso Manchego. For the agreement to enter into force, Parliament consent is required (Tuesday).


COVID-19 and EU values. 
The Civil Liberties Committee will vote on a report assessing the emergency measures adopted by EU countries to fight against the pandemic and their impact on democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights (Tuesday).


Migration/Greek islands. 
The Civil Liberties Committee will take stock of the situation at the Greek islands following the fire that destroyed the Moria refugee camp and left around 12,000 asylum-seekers homeless, most of whom were moved to the urgently-established, temporary Kara Tepe camp (Tuesday).


EU “right to repair”.
 The Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee will vote to ask the Commission to establish a consumers’ “right to repair”. This would aim to promote a culture of reuse, making repairs cost-efficient, as well as sustainable production, business models and consumption. (Monday)


Initiatives on Artificial intelligence. 
MEPs from the new special committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) will hold a debate with Commissioners Breton and Vestager on the EU data strategy and Commission’s white paper on AI. They will also discuss initiatives taken within the OECD with Andrew W. Wyckoff – its Director for Science, Technology and Innovation (Monday and Tuesday).


European Gender Equality Week
. To mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the European Parliament, at the initiative of its Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, decided to hold for the first time a European Gender Equality Week from Monday 26 to Thursday 29 October. Several EP Committees will hold debates and hearings on topics related to gender equality.


President’s diary
. President Sassoli will have a video meeting with the Presidents of Switzerland’s two Federal Chambers Isabelle Moret and Hans Stöckli, on Tuesday. He will have a video meeting with European Ombudsman, Ms Emily O’Reilly, and chair the third debate of the cycle “Ideas for a new world” on “Internet access as a human right” with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and former Commission President and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, on Wednesday.

Legislation with binding measures needed to stop EU-driven global deforestation | EU Parliament Press

  • EU consumption represents around 10 % of global deforestation
  • Voluntary initiatives have failed to halt deforestation
  • Traceability obligations for companies on the EU market must be set up
  • Since 1990, forests covering an area larger than South Africa have been lost

Parliament calls on the Commission to put forward rules to stop EU-driven global deforestation through mandatory due diligence for companies placing products on the EU market.

There is currently no EU legislation prohibiting products that contribute to the destruction of forests outside the EU from being placed on the EU market. Subsequently, European consumers do not know whether the products they buy contribute to deforestation, including of irreplaceable tropical forests that are crucial for fighting climate change or protecting biodiversity.

Therefore, the European Parliament on Thursday adopted a report with 377 votes to 75 and 243 abstentions calling on the Commission to present an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation. MEPs made use of their prerogative in the Treaty to ask the Commission to come forward with legislation.


Mandatory measures needed to halt deforestation

MEPs say that voluntary initiatives, third-party certification and labels have failed to halt global deforestation and are calling on the Commission to present EU legislation with binding measures to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation.

They call for a new EU legal framework based on mandatory due diligence for companies, meaning they must perform a risk assessment of their products to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address the issue of deforestation throughout the supply chain. All operators on the EU market must ensure that their products can be traced to be able to identify their origin and ensure the rules are enforced. However, the administrative burden for SMEs must be minimum and operators with large numbers of suppliers should focus on those where the risk of detrimental impacts is most significant based on a risk assessment. Companies that fail to do so and place products on the EU market derived from commodities that endanger forests and ecosystems should face penalties.

The legislative initiative refers to several studies showing that prohibiting the entry into the EU of products linked to deforestation will have no impact on volume and price and that any extra costs incurred by operators would be minimal. It would also benefit businesses, as it would level the playing field by holding competitors to the same standards.

MEPs state that such an EU legal framework should also be extended to include high-carbon stock and biodiversity-rich ecosystems other than forests, such as marine and coastal ecosystems, wetlands, peatlands or savannahs, to avoid pressure being shifted onto these landscapes. The Commission should also provide definitions of what constitutes deforestation and forest degradation. They also believe that ancient and primary forests should be considered global commons and protected as such, and that their ecosystems should be granted legal status.

Members finally underlined how EU trade and investment policy should include binding and enforceable sustainable development chapters that fully respect international commitments and regretted that such provisions have not been fully included in the EU-Mercosur agreement.


Quote

After the vote, the rapporteur Delara Burkhardt (S&D, DE) said: “Everyone agrees that voluntary measures to halt and reverse global deforestation have failed. The adoption of this report gives us the chance to create a functioning and fair framework, based on mandatory due diligence. It is another important step towards halting and reversing EU-driven global deforestation.”


Background

Since 1990, 1.3 million km2 of forests have been lost – an area larger than South Africa. Reversing deforestation is key to protecting biodiversity, creating carbon sinks and sustainably supporting local communities. It is estimated that EU consumption represents around 10% of global deforestation with palm oil, meat, soy, cocoa, eucalyptus, maize, timber, leather and rubber among the main drivers of deforestation.

Council adopts conclusions on the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 | EU Council Press

The Council endorses the objectives of the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 and the nature protection and restoration targets contained therein, which aim at setting biodiversity on the path to recovery.

The Covid-19 pandemic has once again shown us the fundamental importance of ecosystems and biodiversity for our health and economic and social stability. Biodiversity is our life insurance: it supplies clean air and water, food, building material and clothing. It creates jobs and livelihoods. With the destruction of nature there is also the risk of disease outbreaks and pandemics. Saving biodiversity and global nature conservation is a key to preventing new infectious diseases. As President of the Council I am pleased that today we reached unanimous agreement on stepping up our efforts to address biodiversity loss.

Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany

Member states are deeply concerned about the global rate of biodiversity loss and recognise the need to step up efforts by addressing the direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity and nature loss, such as overexploitation of natural resources, climate change, pollution, invasive alien species and the way we use land and sea. The Council stresses that protecting, maintaining and restoring biodiversity and healthy, well-functioning ecosystems will contribute to boosting our resilience and prevent the emergence and spread of new diseases.

The conclusions adopted today give political guidance as regards the implementation of the strategy.  

In its conclusions, the Council calls on the Commission to integrate EU biodiversity policy objectives in relevant future legislative proposals. It also reiterates the urgent need to fully integrate these objectives into other sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry and a coherent implementation of EU measures in these fields.

The Council welcomes the objective of creating a coherent network of well-managed protected areas and to protect at least 30% of the EU’s land area and 30% of the EU’s sea area. The Council emphasises that this is an objective to be reached by member states collectively, with all member states participating in this joint effort as well as taking into account national conditions. This network should be based on the Natura 2000 network and be complemented by additional designations by member states.

The Council reaffirms that more ambition on nature restoration is needed as proposed with the new EU nature restoration plan and awaits for the Commission to propose legally binding nature restoration targets, subject to an impact assessment.

The Council underlines that the new European biodiversity governance framework has to respect the subsidiarity principle and that all relevant proposals should be prepared and developed in cooperation with the member states.

The Council reaffirms the EU’s determination to lead by example in tackling the global biodiversity crisis and in developing an ambitious new UN global biodiversity framework at the UN Biodiversity Conference in 2021.  

In addition, member states want a significant proportion of the 30% of the EU budget and Next Generation EU expenditures which are dedicated to climate action to be invested in biodiversity and nature-based solutions fostering biodiversity.

European climate law: Council reaches agreement on large parts of the proposal | EU Council Press

Today, the Council reached agreement on a partial general approach on the proposed European climate law. The aim of the proposal is to set in legislation the objective of a climate-neutral EU by 2050, which was endorsed by the European Council in December 2019.

The EU is firmly committed to becoming climate neutral by 2050. While the European Council has announced that it will return to the greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2030 at its December meeting with a view to agreeing on a new target, I am pleased to announce that today we were able to reach agreement among member states on large parts of the European climate law proposal. It is important that we make as much progress as possible on this key piece of legislation. Last week, the European Council invited the Council to take work on this agenda forward, and today, after an intense discussion, we were able to reach an important milestone as regards the proposal for a European climate law.

Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany

In its position, the Council stresses the importance of promoting both fairness and solidarity among member states and cost-effectiveness in achieving the climate neutrality objective.

The Council’s position is partial because it does not yet specify an updated 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target, given that further work is needed to reach agreement among member states in this regard. Agreeing a partial Council position is an opportunity to consolidate the progress achieved during months of intense negotiations among member states – discussions at expert level started in March 2020 – and can help the Council to finalise its (full) general approach once agreement on the outstanding issues has been reached.

The Council has amended the part of the original proposal which would have allowed the Commission to adopt, by means of delegated acts, a trajectory for achieving climate neutrality. Instead, the Council asks the Commission to propose an intermediate target for 2040 after the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement. The Council retains the concept of an indicative, linear trajectory but only as a tool to help the Commission in assessing progress.

In order to ensure that in the years to come the EU will remain on track to achieve its climate-neutrality objective, the Council tasks the Commission with reporting on the operation of the European climate law within six months after each global stocktake under the Paris Agreement. Where appropriate, the Commission may make proposals to amend the European climate law.

Background and next steps

The EU’s and the member states’ climate action aims to protect people and the planet, welfare, prosperity, health, food systems, the integrity of eco-systems and biodiversity against the threat of climate change, to maximize prosperity within the planetary boundaries and to increase resilience and reduce vulnerability of society to climate change.

According to the European Environment Agency and its latest available data, by 2019 the EU had reduced its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 24% compared to 1990 levels. This means that the EU is set to surpass its 2020 emission reduction target of 20%. In addition it has currently in place a binding target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030.

The European Council, in its conclusions of 12 December 2019, agreed on the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, while also recognising that it is necessary to put in place an enabling framework that benefits all member states and encompasses adequate instruments, incentives, support and investments to ensure a cost-efficient, just, as well as socially balanced and fair transition, taking into account different national circumstances in terms of starting points.

On 4 March 2020, the Commission adopted its proposal for a European climate law and presented it to ministers at the Environment Council on 5 March 2020. The proposal is part of a broader package of ambitious actions announced in the Commission’s European Green Deal communication.

On 17 September 2020, the Commission published a communication on the 2030 climate target plan, accompanied by a comprehensive impact assessment. The Commission also adopted a proposal amending the initial Commission proposal on the European climate law to include a revised EU emission reduction target of at least 55% by 2030.

Discussions on the proposal started during the Croatian Presidency and have continued under the German Presidency, including more recently on the amended proposal.

The European Council discussed the topic of increasing the EU’s 2030 target at its meeting on 15 October. It decided to return to the issue at its December meeting with a view to agreeing a new emissions reduction target for 2030.

President von der Leyen at the EU Green Week 2020: on the way to Kunming | EU Commission Press

“Check against delivery”

Dear Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP),

Dear Inger,

Dear Commissioners,

Dear Jutta and Virginijus,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Congratulations to the organisers of the 2020 European Green Week for a very successful edition.

You have built a fantastic program. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved. It makes the closing of this year’s Green Week the opening of a new chapter.

This European week takes place as we are paving the way to Kunming. We need and we want a successful outcome of the global biodiversity negotiations.

Until not so long ago, biodiversity loss was discussed by a minority of devoted conservationists. Today, we all understand it is a very serious subject for everyone: Young people and students have understood: biodiversity is at the heart of their future and the future of our planet. The most active ones are mobilising and rallying the other generations.

Active are mayors and local politicians, because biodiversity concerns every village and every city. The most active ones are already hiring biodiversity officers. They want to make sure that we have green urban spaces, from parks and gardens to green roofs and urban farms. This provides benefits for people and a refuge for nature.

Active are also Farmers and producers, because biodiversity affects every step, from our fields to our food. And the most advanced ones have already embraced it. They deploy precision agriculture, organic farming, or low-intensive permanent grasslands. By doing so, they help us bring nature back and preserve biodiversity.

Active are also Businesspeople and leaders, because biodiversity has a huge potential in terms of jobs and opportunities for our economy and the society as a whole. The most active ones have already invested time, energy and money in this promising field. They know, that restoration can lead to a significant creation of employment in sectors, such as construction and landscaping work. And natural capital investment, including restoration of carbon-rich habitats and climate-friendly agriculture, is among the five most important fiscal recovery policies.

They have understood that there is no choice between nature on the one hand and the economy on the other. What is good for  nature is good for the economy.

Yes, we are living a special moment. And your work and engagement is central to that. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Climate change and biodiversity loss are happening before our eyes. They amplify each other. The need to act has never been clearer. This is what is driving me as President of the European Commission. That is why we presented the European Green Deal, last December, after just 11 days in office.

The European Green Deal is our vision and roadmap for making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. In March, we proposed the first ever climate law. 

Then came the pandemic. Now, should we stop our course because of the pandemic? Of course not. To the contrary.

This is why we also presented our ‘EU biodiversity strategy for 2030’ in May. It will scale up our work on this.

Let me take as an example: protection of nature. If we act decisively, we can make a difference. The Iberian lynx for example: hanks to a series of projects supported by EU LIFE, one of the most threatened animal in Europe is recovering. There were only 100 Iberian lynx alive 20 years ago. Today we have more than 600 of them.

When we give a chance to nature, see what positive return we get.

Let me take another example with nature restoration. By restoring floodplains, peatlands, and other carbon-rich habitats, we can increase our carbon sinks as well as bring back biodiversity. There is a clear triple win at stake here: Win for the climate, win for biodiversity, and win for jobs.

For example, the restoration of damaged coastal habitats would create jobs in coastal safety, marine and terrestrial ecology, hydrology, geochemistry, engineering, governance and maintenance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, we are calling on all to join our action to halt biodiversity loss.

You are numerous today, coming from all parts of Europe, public and private sectors, small villages and big cities, start-ups, SMEs and multinationals.

And there are more and more allies in the world: Development and humanitarian organisations; companies and cities; Youth and faith organisations; and of course all countries and regions around the world who want to address biodiversity loss.

It is at events like this Green Week that one feels the energy. That one gets the resolve to transform our economy and society.

We are teaming up. We are providing leadership to help us agree on a new Global Biodiversity Framework in Kunming next year.

Global rules that are clear, measurable that allow us, to hold each other accountable. 

Let us act, each of us, with no delay.

You can count on my commitment.

Thank you.

Malicious cyber-attacks: EU sanctions two individuals and one body over 2015 Bundestag hack | EU Council Press

The Council today imposed restrictive measures on two individuals and one body that were responsible for or took part in the cyber-attack on the German Federal Parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) in April and May 2015. This cyber-attack targeted the parliament’s information system and affected its ability to operate for several days. A significant amount of data was stolen and the email accounts of several members of parliament, including that of Chancellor Angela Merkel, were affected.

Today’s sanctions consist of a travel ban and an asset freeze imposed on the individuals, and an asset freeze imposed on the body. In addition, EU persons and entities are forbidden from making funds available to those listed.

The Council’s decision means that a total of 8 persons and 4 entities and bodies have been targeted by restrictive measures in relation to cyber-attacks targeting the EU or its member states.

Sanctions are one of the options available in the Union’s framework for a joint diplomatic response to malicious cyber activities (the so-called cyber diplomacy toolbox), and are intended to preventdiscouragedeter and respond to continuing and increasing malicious behaviour in cyberspace.

The relevant legal acts, including the names of the individuals and the body concerned, have been published in the Official Journal.

Background

The legal framework for restrictive measures imposed in response to cyber-attacks was put in place by the Council in May 2019 and first used in July 2020. The application of the sanctions regime is reviewed by the Council on a yearly basis, and was last extended until May 2021.

The EU remains committed to a global, open, stable, peaceful and secure cyberspace and therefore reiterates the need to strengthen international cooperation in order to uphold the rules‑based order in this area.

Member states must stop selling EU passports immediately, MEPs demand | EU Parliament Press

EU citizenship cannot be traded as a commodity, according to a majority of speakers, who want to end the “golden passports” schemes currently in place in some member states.

In a plenary debate with Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, MEPs stressed the inherent risks that these programmes give rise to, namely money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. They insisted that Europe must not have “a fast-track entrance for criminals”.

MEPs underlined that granting EU citizenship to third-country nationals without proper checks and transparency has negative consequences in other member states, eroding mutual trust and undermining common values.

Several speakers referred to the recent scandal in Cyprus, where high-ranking officials – including the Speaker of the national parliament – were secretly recorded offering to assist a fictional Chinese executive with a criminal record in getting a Cypriot passport through the national “citizenship by investment” scheme. They also acknowledge the Commission’s decision to open infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta, though some complained that it has taken too long to act.

Some MEPs noted that the share of revenues from these programmes is significant for countries such as Cyprus, whilst many argued that EU values and rights should not be for sale.

Background

Cyprus, Malta, and Bulgaria are the three EU countries where it is possible to get citizenship in exchange for an investment, the so-called “golden passports”. As many as 19 EU countries operate “residence by investment” programmes, known as “golden visas”.

In January 2019, the European Commission established a group of experts with representatives from all EU member states to develop common standards and guidelines in this area. After four meetings last year, the group has so far not met in 2020.

Joint press statement EU – Western Balkans Ministerial forum on Justice and Home Affairs | EU Council Press

The Minister of Justice of Germany and the State Secretary for Home Affairs, representing the Presidency of the Council of the EU, together with the European Commission, represented by the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship and the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, met via videoconference on 22 October 2020 with their counterparts from the Western Balkans at the annual EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the incoming Portuguese and Slovene Presidencies. The following matters were discussed:

HOME AFFAIRS

Increasing information exchange and cooperation for better migration management

The EU and the Western Balkans reaffirmed their common interest in increasing bilateral cooperation for more efficient migration management, involving also EU Member States and EU agencies. The ministers expressed support for increasing regional information exchange in the Western Balkans region on the subject of migration. In this context, the ministers exchanged views on the idea of developing interoperable domestic information systems, modelled on Eurodac standards, in the Western Balkans to record data on migrants. The Commission reiterated its readiness to provide technical support.

The ministers agreed that the Western Balkans region continues to be under considerable migratory pressure and discussed the current challenges for their migration systems, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the movement of people. They discussed in particular the gaps in the reception and asylum systems in the Western Balkans region, and committed to taking further steps to improve reception conditions before winter. On that matter, the EU called for immediate action to be taken to prevent the humanitarian situation from worsening any further. The ministers acknowledged the significant support for migration management that the EU provides to the region and agreed on the need to intensify cooperation, especially at operational level. In that context, they highlighted the growing cooperation with Frontex, including the need that the remaining Status Agreements should enter into force as soon as possible. The ministers also pointed to specific areas where further EU support would be beneficial, including the support for the proper implementation of bilateral readmission agreements, as well as EU support to Western Balkans partners for the return of irregular migrants who do not have the right to stay, to their countries of origin.     

Terrorism and violent extremism: implementing the priority actions

The EU and the Western Balkans welcomed the progress made on achieving the objectives of the joint action plan on counter-terrorism for the Western Balkans and reaffirmed their commitment to implementing its objectives beyond 2020. The action plan remains a framework for joint work on common security objectives and for the protection of our citizens. The EU called on the Western Balkans partners to make progress on the outstanding actions, and in particular on the robust application and implementation of adopted legislation. The Western Balkans partners agreed to continue reporting on the implementation of the action plan. The EU and Western Balkans agreed that preventing radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism is of key importance for the region’s security as well as for the EU’s internal security.

Enhancing operational cooperation to tackle organised crime

The EU highlighted the importance of enhancing the participation of the Western Balkans in EMPACT’s operational actions to further collectively address organised and serious international crime, building on recent successful joint operations against illegal immigration, trafficking of firearms and drug trafficking. The EU also reiterated the crucial importance of the relevant EU JHA agencies such as Europol, CEPOL and Frontex in strengthening the operational cooperation framework with the Western Balkans. Broader efforts, including alignment of operational standards and capacities should be pursued to that end.

The ministers also underlined the importance of a strong international legal framework for tackling cybercrime. In that context, the EU reiterated the importance of finalising the current revision of the second additional protocol to the Budapest Convention and called on the Western Balkans partners to also engage in efforts to guarantee that the Budapest Convention remains the reference instrument for fighting cybercrime.

JUSTICE      

The EU and the Western Balkans during the COVID-19 pandemic: impact on justice systems and fundamental rights

The ministers discussed the impact of the urgent measures taken to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic on the functioning of the judiciary. They acknowledged the importance of balancing the need to ensure the continued functioning of the judiciary with the imperative to guarantee respect for fundamental rights.

Citizens are guaranteed civil liberties, fundamental rights and citizens’ rights to ensure personal freedoms, to enable participation in social life, and to allow for political and democratic debates and democratic decision-making. The EU and the Western Balkans therefore concurred that the measures taken to mitigate the crisis should be necessary, proportionate and temporary and that they should be implemented in a non-discriminatory way, subject to judicial and democratic oversight and, overall, in line with European standards. Every effort should be made to make the rule of law more crisis-resilient. 

The ministers acknowledged that, even in times of crisis, fair trial rights and defence rights of suspects and accused persons should be respected. They pointed to the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic, and acknowledged that support for and protection of victims of domestic violence warrants particular attention and dedicated measures.

The Commission underlined that ensuring respect for fundamental rights is a key factor in encouraging people to accept the measures and do their part. Specific attention should be paid to the protection of personal data and the need to guarantee the exercise of freedom of expression while trying to prevent disinformation.

Access to justice in the digital age

The ministers acknowledged the importance of digitalisation to ensuring the quality, efficiency and accessibility of the judiciary, as well as its resilience. The EU and the Western Balkans reaffirmed that basic judicial rights and procedural principles, such as the right to a fair trial, must be ensured when employing digital solutions, and discussed the next steps to digitalise justice systems further. As part of this process, the ministers highlighted the importance of operationalising a number of tools such as online databases and computerised case management systems, with the objective of having the latter in place by the end of 2021. The EU expressed its continued financial and technical support for the Western Balkans partners in further developing digital tools for the justice system. The EU and the Western Balkans suggested enhancing cooperation on that point. The Commission reiterated the importance of having a sound strategic and legislative framework, and of allocating adequate resources.

The EU and the Western Balkans also discussed how digital solutions can safeguard rule of law principles and foster equal access to justice. Concrete solutions and examples were presented by both sides.

Rule of law and judicial reforms: key developments

The Commission provided an update on the first rule of law review cycle in the EU and underlined that it will continue to pursue a strong and consistent approach to its internal rule of law policies and the way the rule of law is embedded in the accession process.

The ministers took note of the Commission’s presentation of key recent case law of the Court of Justice on judicial independence, which is an important element of EU acquis in this area.

The EU pointed out that the economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans, adopted on 6 October, refers to the need for Western Balkan partners to make more decisive progress on fundamental reforms and in particular on the rule of law. The EU also underlined the  importance of creating a framework for fruitful cooperation with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which is expected to become operational soon. The Commission invited the Western Balkan partners to work in the coming months to establish such a framework.

Fostering gender equality in the EU’s foreign and security policy | EU Parliament Press

  • Women play a pivotal role as peace brokers in conflict-ridden countries
  • Gender mainstreaming should be systematically integrated into the EU’s foreign and security policy
  • 85% of official development assistance should go to programmes that include gender equality as one of the main objectives

MEPs call on the EU to recognise the pivotal role women play in foreign policy and international security and to adapt its policy accordingly.

The text, adopted by 477 votes in favour, 112 against and 94 abstentions on Friday, calls on the European External Action Service (EEAS), the Commission, the EU agencies and member states to systematically integrate gender mainstreaming into the EU’s foreign and security policy. MEPs also insist that the multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) experienced by marginalised individuals and groups be taken into account.

They welcome the Commission’s proposal to present a new Gender Action Plan on gender equality and empowerment in external relations (GAP III 2021-2025) in 2020 and state that 85% of official development assistance (ODA) should go to programmes that include gender equality as a significant or main objective.

Protecting women’s rights and promoting women’s participation

The report stresses that women play a pivotal role in bringing peace to conflict-ridden countries. Women’s equitable participation in EU foreign policy negotiations, and peace and security processes is linked to greater economic prosperity and advancement of global security, democracy and sustainable peace, MEPs say. Therefore, they call on the EEAS and member states to ensure women’s full participation in the various stages of the conflict cycle, in the context of EU conflict prevention and mediation activities.

Parliament also calls on the Commission and the EEAS to systematically support sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as access to family planning, contraception and safe and legal abortion services. To address poverty among women, fight exploitation, and promote a more inclusive labour market, MEPs also urge member states and EU institutions to increase financing, e.g. providing microcredits.

A gender focus in EU institutions and delegations

In order to facilitate gender mainstreaming in foreign and security policy, but also in all other EU policy areas, MEPs ask for a new Council configuration to be set up, bringing together EU Ministers and Secretaries of State responsible for gender equality.

They regret that women only account for 31.3% of middle-management positions and 26% of senior management positions at the EEAS, compared to 40% at the Commission, and call on the current EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to take the necessary steps to remedy this situation.

Quote

Rapporteur Ernest Urtasun (Greens/EFA, ES) said: ‘‘Parliament adopted the first ever report calling for gender equality in the EU’s foreign and security policy. While several countries around the world have already adopted a foreign policy with a strong focus on gender equality, the EU still does not have one. This is why we call on the EU and its leaders to promote a gender transformative vision of foreign policy that protects and promotes women’s human rights. At the same time, we call on the EU to give women a voice and a seat in foreign and security policy by ensuring their representation and involvement in political leadership and decision-making at all levels. The EU should lead by example on gender equality and start by applying these principles within its own institutions. There’s still a long way to go and we hope the recommendations and call to action addressed to the EU and its Member States will be heard and enforced.”

Background

Women remain largely underrepresented and undervalued in politics and decision-making processes in the EU and worldwide, notably in the areas of foreign policy and international security. Within the EU, six women hold the post of Defence Minister and only three out of 27 Foreign Ministers are women.

GAP II set the target of mainstreaming gender actions across 85% of all new initiatives by 2020 but in 2018, only between 55% and 68% of the new programmes incorporated gender.

Safe and clean drinking water: Council adopts strict minimum quality standards | EU Council Press

The EU is ensuring that tap water across the EU is safe to drink. Today, the Council formally adopted its position at first reading to revise the drinking water directive, based on the compromise reached in the negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament.

Under the new rules, the quality standards for drinking water are brought up to date, and a cost-effective risk-based approach to monitoring water quality is introduced. The Council also introduced hygienic requirements for materials in contact with drinking water, such as pipes. The aim is to improve the quality of such materials to ensure that human health is protected and no contamination takes place.

Safe and clean drinking water is essential. I am pleased that we were able to propose an update of water quality standards, introduce a risk-based approach to the monitoring of water, improve water quality information that is provided to consumers and improve the access to water for EU citizens.

Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany

The Council’s position also addresses growing concern about the effects of endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals and microplastics on human health by introducing a watch list mechanism. The watch list will allow the EU to follow up, in a dynamic and flexible way, on new knowledge about these substances and their relevance for human health.

Background and next steps

The revision is a direct result of the first-ever successful European citizens’ initiative ‘Right2Water’. The Commission adopted its recast proposal for the drinking water directive on 1 February 2018. The Council adopted its position on the proposal on 5 March 2019. Negotiations between the co-legislators followed. On 18 December 2019, a provisional agreement was reached between the Council and the European Parliament, which was confirmed by the EU ambassadors of the member states on 5 February 2020.

The Council position at first reading on the drinking water directive adopted today reflects the compromise reached in the negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament, facilitated by the Commission. Once adopted, the modifications to the current drinking water directive will address all the shortcomings identified in its REFIT evaluation and considerably increase the level of protection of the environment and of human health from the adverse effects of contaminated drinking water.

This position will now be transmitted to the European Parliament for announcement at the EP Plenary, vote at the Environment Committee and then, as a final step, vote by the EP Plenary. In accordance with the letter of 18 February 2020 sent by the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety to the Chair of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, the European Parliament should, at second reading, approve the Council’s position at first reading without amendment.

This directive will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.