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Why Europe should support nuclear medicine Antonis Kalemis

Nuclear medicine is a discipline at the forefront of science and healthcare, providing remedies for previously untreatable conditions, and it deserves Europe’s support, writes Antonis Kalemis.

Nuclear medicine is a discipline at the forefront of science and healthcare, providing remedies for previously untreatable conditions, and it deserves Europe’s support, writes Antonis Kalemis.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock


Nuclear medicine is a scientific miracle. It is a way of using radiological technologies to see into the body, diagnose problems and treat or guide treatments with a precision that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

Nuclear medicine, also known as molecular imaging, is particularly useful in cancer care, offering solutions that reduce uncertainty, help select the right remedies, and help doctors save lives. And Europe is at the forefront of this revolution. 

Yet the chances are, you have never heard about nuclear medicine. Indeed, many of you will probably be wondering how medicine can even be associated with anything nuclear. 


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These technologies have a surprisingly long history that goes back to radionuclides experiments in the 1920s.

In 1934, Nobel Prize laureates Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie discovered artificially produced radionuclides. John Lawrence, the father of nuclear medicine, first applied these radionuclides to patients in 1936. A 1946 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) described the successful use of treating Graves' Disease with radioactive iodine. 

How does it work? Imaging agents mix radioactive isotopes with molecules that target specific physiological processes to highlight growths such as cancer, neurological, metabolic or other abnormalities at the cellular level.

In short, it reveals the body’s chemical and biological processes – contrasting it with other medical imaging modalities, such as X-rays, which provide just a snapshot of anatomy. Nuclear medicine does not just show how your body looks, but also how it functions.

The ability to accurately locate disease helps doctors make better and earlier diagnoses. Although nuclear imaging is commonly used for diagnostic purposes, it also has valuable therapeutic applications such as treatment of different types of cancer, hyperthyroidism and types of arthritis.

With therapy, radioactive atoms bind with highly specific molecules that identify and kill cancer cells, but not the surrounding healthy cells.

“Nuclear medicine is is particularly useful in cancer care, offering solutions that reduce uncertainty, help select the right remedies, and help doctors save lives”

Today, a new breed of nuclear-imaging cameras and tomographs promises even more accurate prognosis and treatment. The images themselves are now processed in a fraction of the time it took 10 years ago.

Tomography can now reconstruct promptly 3D or even 4D images of the body. Fusing morphological (CT, MRI) and functional imaging can precisely locate and measure changes in physiology accurately and reproducibly. 

Before we go any further, we should address the one question that is always about nuclear medicine. Yes, it is safe. Really. As with all ionising radiation applications, it should be used only when they are needed.

However, as it uses very small amounts of highly specific radioactive pharmaceuticals, called radiotracers. These are typically injected into the bloodstream, inhaled or swallowed.

The radiotracer travels to the area being examined and gives off energy in the form of gamma rays which are detected by a special camera. The radiation exposure is equivalent to that of an X-ray.

In more than half a century of diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures, there have been no known long-term adverse side effects. 

Nuclear medicine is an integrated discipline that covers the nuclear industry, the processing plants used to make pharmaceutical products, the heavily regulated transporters of the material, the technologically complex cameras used to perform the imaging, and the physicians and hospitals involved in performing the patient procedures.

“The ability to accurately locate disease helps doctors make better and earlier diagnoses”

And yet, there is very little public understanding of nuclear medicine, and many health authorities in Europe are reluctant to invest in the technology. 

Part of this is down to questions about cost. Some people see the imaging equipment as expensive to purchase and operate. But that is a short-sighted way of seeing the technology.

Nuclear medicine is today one of the closest paths to realising personalised medicine, i.e. detecting the extent of the disease, selecting the right patients that will benefit from a certain targeted therapy and monitor the course of therapy and recovery. It can eventually reduce costs from the health system as well as contribute significantly in patients’ quality of life.

As the EU begins its discussions on budgeting priorities, we need to promote innovative industry sectors in the EU like nuclear medicine. This is an area where Europe has taken a technological lead, with many of the world’s best research and strongest companies based here.

We have the manufacturing tools, reactors and accelerators, as well as the cameras for imaging. And we have the expertise in hospitals and in industry. 

Europe should speed up the new era of personalised medicine that delivers the right treatment at the right time to the right person, taking into account an individual’s health history, genes, environment, and lifestyle.

This already transforming the way diseases like cancer and mental health conditions are treated, allowing doctors to select treatments that improve chances of survival and reduce adverse effects. 

“Nuclear medicine is a discipline at the forefront of science and healthcare, providing remedies for previously untreatable conditions”

The EU is closely involved in the sector because it involves the transport of nuclear isotopes. But there is uncertainty about EU support for the next generation of imaging technologies.

For example, the rules for market authorisation of new products are slow and need to be streamlined. Nuclear research reactors need to invest in new technologies to produce medical isotopes. The EU is facing growing competition from other economies who are investing heavily in nuclear medicine infrastructure.

That is not to mention other challenges too, like the possible impact of a no-deal Brexit on cancer patients in the United Kingdom, which depends on radiopharmaceuticals and/or nuclear isotopes crossing into the country without delays.

This week, on November 14, the European Parliament is hosting a symposium on nuclear medicine. It will showcase the latest technologies and look at how they can continue to defeat cancer.

Nuclear medicine is a discipline at the forefront of science and healthcare, providing remedies for previously untreatable conditions. At the same time, it is cutting overall healthcare costs, as its precision ensures that the treatments go only where it is needed.

It is a safe, painless, and cost-effective way of looking inside the body. It deserves Europe’s support.

/articles/opinion/why-europe-should-support-nuclear-medicine-0 Wed, 13 Nov 2019 16:38:13 +0100
COP25 ‘critical’ in ensuring 2015 Paris Agreement put in place, says senior MEP Martin Banks

Senior UK Greens MEP Molly Scott Cato says the upcoming COP25 climate conference in Madrid "must pave the way for more ambitious commitments next year."

Senior UK Greens MEP Molly Scott Cato says the upcoming COP25 climate conference in Madrid "must pave the way for more ambitious commitments next year."

Photo credit: Press Association


The Spanish capital will now host the keenly-awaited event in mid-December due to civil unrest in Santiago, the original venue.

Speaking to this website, Scott Cato said, “For Greens, key to ensuring that we tackle the climate emergency is implementing a Green New Deal and we hope to see backing for this at these [COP25] climate talks.”

“This deal would involve large-scale public investment in areas such as home insulation, public and active transport and renewable energy technologies.”


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She says this would create “hundreds of thousands of new quality jobs” and allow for the transfer of skills from the “dirty industries of old to the new green businesses of the future.”

Scott Cato, who represents the south west of England, added, “It is also time to stop aviation free riding on the global climate. The sector needs to be taken under the wing of the Paris Agreement. Its emissions must count and we must find ways to curtail the perpetual growth in flights and send them into freefall.”

“A frequent flier levy would be a fair way to address this as the vast majority of flights are taken by a minority of people.”

She also told The Parliament Magazine, “The move of the COP25 event from South America to Europe is a poignant reminder that social and environmental justice must go hand in hand in tackling the climate emergency.”

“The move of the COP25 event from South America to Europe is a poignant reminder that social and environmental justice must go hand in hand in tackling the climate emergency” Molly Scott Cato MEP

“COP has moved first from Brazil, where Bolsonaro is trashing the Amazon rainforest, and then from Chile due to civil unrest over inequality. Here again, we believe the Green New Deal holds the answer as it aims to address social inequality and poverty while drastically cutting emissions.”

Meanwhile, a leading environment group has voiced concern about switching the COP25 climate conference at short notice to Madrid.

Speaking to this website, Susann Scherbarth, climate justice campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said, "This last-minute move of the UN climate talks to Spain risks excluding voices from the Global South - what with wasted travel tickets and last-minute EU visas.”

“With four consecutive COPs now in Europe, attention could shift away from the regions most impacted by the climate crisis. We're also concerned that brutal repression of demonstrations in Chile could now increase.”

She added, “For the EU, however, this move to Spain puts extra pressure on EU leaders to step up climate leadership, especially on the just transition to fossil-free energy."

“With four consecutive COPs now in Europe, attention could shift away from the regions most impacted by the climate crisis” Susann Scherbarth, Friends of the Earth Europe

Elsewhere, the European Union has been accused of “knowingly missing the opportunity” to boost global climate ambition.

Climate Action Network Europe says that by failing to increase the EU’s 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target the EU has “turned a blind eye to the clear call from science that highlights the dangers of any further delay.”

Wendel Trio, director of CAN Europe, based in Brussels, told this website, “This failure ignores the increasingly enraged nature that is claiming ever more lives and livelihoods with fires, droughts and hurricanes, also in Europe.”

Trio added, “And it goes against the calls from the millions of European citizens, notably young people, who have taken to the streets to demand that climate action be treated with real urgency and seriousness.”

CAN Europe insists that the global emissions need to, at minimum, be halved by 2030 to keep temperature increase below 1.5°C.

“The time is up for any self-claimed leadership talk that is not backed-up by transformative action. We urge the European Union to announce at COP25 in Madrid its commitment to significantly improve its 2030 target” Wendel Trio, Director of CAN Europe

Trio said, “The time is up for any self-claimed leadership talk that is not backed-up by transformative action. We urge the European Union to announce at COP25 in Madrid its commitment to significantly improve its 2030 target.”

“The earlier the EU will do this the bigger impact it will have on the global climate ambition by incentivising further action from others.”

The group says that adopting an “ambitious and forward-thinking” position on climate finance is “crucial to the success” of the COP25 negotiations.

Its demand comes after a recent Eurobarometer survey said that 93 percent of Europeans are concerned or very concerned about climate change and support action across the EU to tackle it.

/articles/news/cop25-%E2%80%98critical%E2%80%99-ensuring-2015-paris-agreement-put-place-says-senior-mep Fri, 08 Nov 2019 17:13:11 +0100
Accelerating Green Finance Brian Johnson and Lorna Hutchinson

Participants at a recent event in Brussels were told that greening the financial system and financing the transition to a cleaner, zero-carbon economy, could be the investment opportunity of the 21st century. Brian Johnson and Lorna Hutchinson report.

Participants at a recent event in Brussels were told that greening the financial system and financing the transition to a cleaner, zero-carbon economy, could be the investment opportunity of the 21st century. Brian Johnson and Lorna Hutchinson report.

Photo credit: The Parliament Magazine


The potential impact of climate change is at a tipping point and set to become the major disruptor to global financial markets, businesses and politics.

This was the key message for participants at a green finance event in Brussels on 16 October. Keynote speaker Dr Rhian-Mari Thomas told the packed briefing, “Increasing awareness of the impact of climate breakdown, [as well as] the shift in the social zeitgeist means the need to demonstrably act to avoid the worst effects of climate change, is becoming the greatest disruption faced by business and finance today.”

Thomas, CEO of the UK’s newly-launched Green Finance Institute, also moderated the event entitled ‘Accelerating green finance: collaborating to drive action’, organised by the City of London Corporation.


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She starkly illustrated the threat of climate breakdown: “We are filling the atmosphere with planet-warming greenhouse gases at a higher rate than at any time in the last 66 million years.

The last time C02 levels were this high… forests grew across the Arctic and global sea levels were 25 metres higher.”

The impact of rising CO2 concentrations is unlikely to be felt until mid-century, but, Thomas warned, “Let’s be clear on those impacts … global temperatures rising higher than 3.5 or even 4 degrees more than pre-industrial levels during this century is a statistical likelihood and will render vast swathes of the planet uninhabitable during our lifetimes.”

Greening the financial system, and in particular, actively financing the “transition” to a cleaner, zero-carbon economy, represents a “profound” shift, presenting “the investment opportunity of the century.”

The common perception of the green economy as a small, low-yield, niche market focussed exclusively on renewable energy is misplaced.

"The Green Finance Institute’s operating model is based on bringing together global experts from industry, finance, academia, civil society and government in coalitions that focus on identifying and then unlocking the barriers to capital flows" Dr Rhian-Mari Thomas, CEO of the UK’s Green Finance Institute

Rather, at around $4 trillion, it represents six percent of the market capitalisation of listed companies globally – similar to the global fossil fuel sector.

However, the former is growing; large-cap companies (greater than $10bn) represent some two-thirds of the green market, while the green economy spans industrials, utilities, technology, chemicals, construction, minerals, materials and agriculture.

Thomas argues that, “Companies and financiers recognising both the risks and opportunities presented will prosper, while those who don’t will lose money, investors and credibility”.

She had become increasingly interested in Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of ‘Creative destruction’. “Investors are driven by growth, not size.

When challengers emerge, even those seemingly too small to matter to the incumbents, once they begin exhibiting accelerating growth then investors start shifting interest towards them.”

Thomas highlighted research by London-based financial think tank Carbon Tracker, which revealed that, “when a challenger captures just 3-5 percent of the market from an incumbent, moving from the innovation stage to early adopter phase and capturing the growth within that market, the incumbent’s sales often peak and begin to decline, signalling its eventual demise.”

Past examples include the move from gas lighting to electricity; demand for gas peaked in 1907 when electricity held only three percent of the market. Kodak’s fall is another famous example.

This was a business that had lost its previously formidable ability to generate growth.

Although the company developed the first digital camera in 1975, it failed to capitalise on it. When new digital technology players challenged their business model, it was all too easily dismissed by executives steeped in the world of film, chemicals and paper.

Kodak’s share price peaked in 1997, when digital camera sales were just under three percent of the total. Kodak fi led for bankruptcy in 2012.

In the electricity sector, wind provided six percent of global electricity demand in 2018, solar photovoltaic four and bioenergy three.

The market share of electric vehicles in Europe was about two percent - 30 percent higher than the previous year.

Unlike earlier examples of creative destruction, the shift to net zero carbon also has the additional driving forces inherent in “the scientific necessity to reduce emissions and the resulting tide of legislative and societal pressure.”

The Carbon Tracker concludes predicting that peak demand for fossil fuels will be as early as the 2020s.

Two current initiatives for bolstering the take-up of green financing, the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) and the EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy were discussed.

 

The NGFS, which includes 50 central banks, monetary authorities and international observers, exchange experiences, share best practices and drive green financing.

“In recognising that climate change represents the single greatest systemic risk to the stability of financial services [the NGFS group] are working together to mitigate risk using all the supervisory and regulatory levers at their disposal to drive change - governance, capital adequacy and weighting, stress testing, disclosures, data provision and so on,” said Thomas.

"Finance was late to the climate change party, but it’s now moving faster than any other sector we know" Nick Mabey, CEO and founder of E3G, a non-profit organisation dedicated to sustainable development

The Commission’s 2018 Action Plan on Sustainable Finance set out a comprehensive strategy to link finance and capital markets with sustainability.

Establishing a detailed EU taxonomy to cover all sustainable activities linked to financial systems is vital.

Thomas hoped that the EU Taxonomy will prove “the catalyst for a seismic shift” in sustainable investment.

“By providing a directory of economic activities that actively contribute to the transition to an emission-free society, the Commission’s EU taxonomy aims to expand the range of investments identified as drivers of the transition, answering investors and issuers concerns of what constitutes climate-aligned capital.”

She believes the taxonomy’s approach will help to create competition, forcing companies to invest in lowering emissions through investment in relevant products and encouraging investors to reward companies leading the way.”

As Chief Executive, Thomas provided an overview of how the recently-launched Green Finance Institute (GFI) will accelerate the mainstreaming of green finance. Its mission is to mobilise capital towards an emission-free and climate-resilient economy, providing th

e UK’s main green finance interface between public and private sector.

“Our operating model is based on bringing together global experts from industry, finance, academia, civil society and government in coalitions that focus on identifying and then unlocking the barriers to capital flows.”

In a lively panel discussion, attendees heard from several high-level experts. Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-president of the Club of Rome, argued that finance and capital markets should be vehicles to enable the green economy, with the EU’s taxonomy helping deliver the Commission’s Sustainable Finance package.

"In the City of London, we believe that finance has an important role to play in tackling climate change and other environmental challenges" Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the policy and resources committee at the City of London Corporation

However, she warned that political issues, based on national energy resources or dependencies within and between EU Member States, shouldn’t be ignored.

“There’s a political conversation going on, linked to what resources a Member State depends on. We’ve got real issues in terms of what they’re actually willing to move forward on.”

Marine de Bazelaire, head of sustainability at HSBC Continental Europe, said that the EU’s taxonomy must be considered a destination: “This is important, because it is easy to get a little lost over what’s green and what’s not, or what’s transition [finance] and what’s not. We need to work out the direction Europe’s economy actually seeks.”

She cautioned against a one-size-fits-all approach to taxonomy; factors involved in shifting the economy from one Member State to another differ greatly.

Aldo Romani, head of Sustainability Funding at the European Investment bank (EIB) said the bank’s president, Werner Hoyer, had recently announced his intention to strengthen the EIB’s role as the EU’s de-facto ‘Climate Bank’ at the UN Climate Action summit, allocating at least 50 percent of its balance sheet to green finance by 2025.

Romani argued that capital markets are important, but another key challenge is clarifying where capital should be deployed.

“[You want] as broad as possible spectrum of investors. For these people to be involved, you need three things: Clarity, comparability and reliability. And this can only be achieved by simplicity.”

Nick Mabey, CEO and founder of E3G, a non-profit organisation dedicated to sustainable development, argued that, “finance was late to the climate change party, but it’s now moving faster than any other sector we know.”

Mabey believes that next year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow could be the opportunity for the UK to place finance at the centre of the sustainability agenda.

He called on the financial services sector to get behind the Commission President-elect European Green Deal.

“For me, the biggest issue is how to ramp up reinvestment, which is quite hard to do. There are many distributed smaller investments that add up to huge amounts of money, but are actually hard to build as projects. That’s where the New Green Deal in Europe will be a huge opportunity.”

Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the policy and resources committee at the City of London Corporation, suggested that irrespective of the Brexit outcome, climate change requires international action and cooperation between the UK and EU.

“In the City of London, we believe that finance has an important role to play in tackling climate change and other environmental challenges. We’re going to remove barriers to investment and ultimately redirect more private capital towards climate change mitigation and resilience”.

That’s why, said McGuinness, the City of London Corporation helped launch the Green Finance Institute, “to work to accelerate the greening of the global financial system by bringing together the private and public sectors and scaling up financial solutions in areas such as the energy efficiency of buildings, resilient infrastructure and sustainable commodity production across the supply chains. I’m pleased Dr Rhian- Mari Thomas is leading this effort as the GFI’s first chief executive.”

/articles/event-coverage/accelerating-green-finance Fri, 08 Nov 2019 16:42:20 +0100
Movers and Shakers | 8 November 2019 Mia Bartoloni and Megan MacDougall

Keep track of developments in the European institutions and public affairs with our Movers and Shakers column.

Keep track of developments in the European institutions and public affairs with our Movers and Shakers column.

Today’s Movers & Shakers are about: Final vice-chairs for TRAN Committee elected, the new Romanian commissioner-designate, two member states gear up for elections this weekend, Slovak general election date set, latest Commission, public affairs appointments, and more!

 

European Parliament

Transport and Tourism Committee
Istvan UJHELYI (S&D, HU) has been elected 1st vice-chair, while Andris AMERIKS (S&D, LV) has been elected 3rd vice-chair.


Stay ahead of the game by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. 


European Commission

After Romania put forward the names of two MEPs Adina-Ioana VĂLEAN (EPP) and Siegfried MUREȘAN (EPP) as candidates to be the country’s next European Commissioner, president-elect Ursula VON DER LEYEN chose VĂLEAN for the transport portfolio. VĂLEAN’s confirmation hearing in Parliament is set for 14 November.

Uncertainty still surrounds the the UK’s involvement in the next Commission. On Wednesday, VON DER LEYEN wrote to UK prime minister Boris JOHNSON asking him to nominate a candidate and according to a transition official, a deadline has been set for Monday. JOHNSON has long said that he would not send a candidate and has so far resisted despite an extension to the Brexit date being set for 31 January 2020.

JURI Committee is expected to assess any possible conflicts of interests in these remaining candidates on 12 November with hearings following this on 14 November. On 19 November, the Conference of Committee Chairs is set to assess the outcome of all hearings. A vote on the whole college of Commissioners is then expected to take place in Plenary on 27 November.

Commissioners-designate cabinets

Ursula von der Leyen (president-elect)
VON DER LEYEN has chosen Lithuania’s current deputy finance minister Migle TUSKIENE as her economic adviser and Per HAUGAARD, currently a director at the DG for Mobility and Transport as her trade adviser.

Janusz Wojciechowski (Agriculture)
WOJCIECHOWSKI has appointed Magdalena MAJERCZYK, a Polish European Parliament official, to lead his Cabinet until the new European Commission takes office. Maciej GOLUBIEWSKI, Poland’s consul in New York, will take up the post once the new Commission is in place.

Directorates-General

Eurostat
Antigone GIKAS replaces Anne CLEMENCEAU as Head of Unit F5 (Education, health and social protection).

Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SME’s (GROW)
Valentina SUPERTI replaces Eric MAMER as Director (acting) of Directorate A (Competitiveness and European Semester).

Office for Administration and Payment of Individual Entitlements (PMO)
Lambros PAPADIAS becomes Head of the Secretariat of the Supervisory Committee of OLAF, taking over from Isabel VICENTE CARBAJOSA.

Regional and Urban Policy (REGIO)
Witold WILLAK takes on the role of Head of Unit F1 (Closure and Major Projects) in an acting capacity, replacing Deša SRSEN.

Wolfgang MUNCH takes on the role of Head of Unit G4 (Italy and Malta) in an acting capacity, replacing Nicolas GILBERT-MORIN.


Want to know more? Click here for more information on our Dods People EU service. 


Public Affairs

European University Association
The board has appointed Amanda CROWFOOT as new secretary-general, taking office on 6 January 2020. CROWFOOT will replace Lesley WILSON.

GPLUS
GPLUS and Portland Communications have announced the formation of a strategic partnership from January 2020.

Stenström Consulting
Cecilia THORN – formerly with the UK Financial Reporting Council - has partnered with Stenström Consulting, a boutique lobbying firm in Brussels, where she will act as Special Advisor with focus on sustainable finance, financial and professional services.


Got a new appointment you would like us to include in our next newsletter? Click here to let us know about it! 


National News

Netherlands
Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and Deputy Prime Minister Kasja OLLONGREN is temporarily stepping down due to health reasons. State Secretary for the Home Affairs Ministry Raymond KNOPS will take on the Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relation portfolio, and Minister for Social Affairs and Employment Wouter KOOLMES is taking over the portfolio of Deputy Prime Minister. Minister of Defence Ank BIJLEVELD takes over OLLENGREN’s responsibility for the General Intelligence and Security Service. Stientje VAN VELDHOVEN is being appointed as the temporary Minister for the Environment and Housing.

Romania
Ludovic ORBAN, leader of the National Liberal Party (EPP) had his center-right government voted in on Monday evening by MPs. The move was supported by 240 MPs. The government consists of fifteen portfolio ministers and one deputy prime minister.

For a complete list of the new Romanian cabinet, visit Dods People EU.

The first round of the presidential election take place this Sunday. Incumbent President Klaus IOHANNIS is standing for re-election. There are thirteen candidates in the race, however only three candidates are predicted to make it to the second round; former Prime Minister Viorica DANCILA, Save Romania Union leader Dan BARNA and Mircea DIACONU, who is running as an independent. The second round is set for the 24 November.

Slovakia
The speaker of Parliament Andrej DANKO has announced the next general election will take place on 29 February 2020.

Slovenia
The Left Party have withdrawn from Slovenia’s five-party ruling coalition. The move has affected the parliamentary majority of the Prime Minister’s coalition, who now hold 43 out of 90 seats. Prime Minister Marjan SAREC will have to find support on a case by case situation for individual legislation, or face calling an early election.

Spain
Spanish voters head to the polls on the 10 November, for the fourth time in four years. However, three polls released early this week indicate that the election will be unlikely to break the gridlock.  The Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (S&D) of caretaker prime minister Pedro SANCHEZ are on course to retain their numbers as the largest party, but are predicted to fall short of a majority.

United Kingdom
Labour MP Sir Lindsay HOYLE was elected this week as the new House of Commons Speaker.

/articles/news/movers-and-shakers-8-november-2019 Fri, 08 Nov 2019 15:20:17 +0100
Civil society bemoans increasing difficulty in performing role ‘effectively’ Martin Banks

The groups in various EU countries say this is partly due to “insufficient meaningful participation” of civil society in the decision-making process.

The groups in various EU countries say this is partly due to “insufficient meaningful participation” of civil society in the decision-making process.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock


It is also claimed that national authorities do not “prioritise sufficiently” the funding of “vital” civil society tasks, such as monitoring and watchdog activities.

These are among the key findings of a delegation the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) sent to probe civil society rights in five countries: Poland, Hungary, Romania, Austria and France.

The focus was on areas of “particular” importance for civil society, including freedom of assembly and association, freedom of the media, non-discrimination and the rule of law. Governments in each of the five countries were given the right to reply although their responses have not been made public.


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A report on the visits in 2018 and earlier this year, entitled "National developments from a civil society perspective", was debated at an EESC conference in Brussels earlier this week (5 November). The EESC delegation spoke to civil society organisations, media and legal professionals and human rights groups in each country.

Some of the fiercest criticism is reserved for Hungary whose government, led by Viktor Orban, has been at loggerheads with the EU over perceived civil and human rights abuses for some time.

The EESC report, seen by this website, states that “Civic space has been shrinking in recent years in Hungary and civil society organisations (CSOs) have claimed significantly fewer possibilities to carry out their advocacy activities.”

Limitations on freedoms particularly affect the media and academic world and the Hungarian government “seems to stigmatise those CSOs that carry out advocacy and watchdog activities.”

“What we need is an ambitious and comprehensive response to challenges to fundamental rights and the rule of law. This should concern every Member State, all EU institutions and civil society” EESC President Luca Jahier

It says, “Several participants said that the media was a propaganda machine aimed at controlling public discourse and that those who are critical of the government face negative treatment. CSOs raised concerns about the general decrease in support for human rights protection and non-discrimination, including in relation to Roma, disability and gender issues.”

“Participants indicated that there is a need to control the use of EU funds better to ensure that such funding does not end up abetting corruption.”

On Poland, the report says it has “become difficult to obtain permissions to march in favour of politically-controversial issues” and “public authorities refused to grant access to information and that ad revenue has been used as a tool to put pressure on the media.”

In France, freedom of association is facing “challenges due to lack of funding and attempts to stop or hinder activities through threats of legal proceedings, particularly for those providing assistance to migrants.”

The conclusion on the situation in Austria, meanwhile, is also critical, stating that CSOs have faced “severe cuts” and this has indirectly weakened the judiciary “with a significant impact on the length of proceeding for asylum applications.”

In Romania, CSOs have been subjected to a “negative image”, particularly those performing watchdog activities or criticising the government. “There is a “lack of transparency, adoption of legislation without consultation and pressure on the judiciary.”

The visits were organised by the EESC group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law (FRRL). A similar fact-finding mission to Italy is scheduled for December and the group plans to visit all Member States in the next few years.

“Civic space has been shrinking in recent years in Hungary and civil society organisations (CSOs) have claimed significantly fewer possibilities to carry out their advocacy activities” EESC report

Commenting on the findings, EESC president Luca Jahier said, "What we need is an ambitious and comprehensive response to challenges to fundamental rights and the rule of law. This should concern every Member State, all EU institutions and civil society.”

He said that the EU's values could “no longer be taken for granted” as they were being “violated across the EU”, with media coming under attack, hate speech rising, independence of the judiciary being “compromised and civil society organisations and human rights groups stigmatised.”

"When democracy is in danger it is not only our institutions that are at stake: it is everybody, including civil society. By pointing out critical aspects of government action or policy, civil society helps to improve them. Governments and EU institutions have to welcome critical voices, and even protect them, because without them, dialogue disappears and this puts us on the road to autocracy.”

Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law (FRRL) group president José Antonio Moreno Díaz said the report was not meant as a legal analysis or to “single out and criticise” any particular country but, rather, to highlight trends in fundamental rights and the rule of law in the EU.

He said, "We give an opportunity to members of civil society to be heard. Our mission is to bring to Brussels the voice of civil society working on the frontline. The facts and the data we have collected raise the question: when did it go wrong in the EU? How can we, in 2019, have governments that do not respect fundamental rights or the rule of law?”

“We need to reflect on this and we need to find concrete measures," he said.

Jacek Krawczyk, who heads the EESC employers' group, said, “The rule of law was important for the economy as a whole, and a precondition for the mutual trust on which the internal market relies.”

“The facts and the data we have collected raise the question: when did it go wrong in the EU? How can we, in 2019, have governments that do not respect fundamental rights or the rule of law?” José Antonio Moreno Díaz, FRRL group president

Oliver Ropke, who leads the institution’s workers' group, said, “Civil and political rights cannot be separated from social and labour rights, such as the right to strike and freedom of expression, which are necessary to fight for better working and living conditions.”

Meanwhile, a new report by the Open Society Foundations examines attitudes towards politics and civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, 30 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 1989 revolutions.

The report draws on YouGov polling in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, and seeks to provide a snapshot of opinion towards democracy, the media and social freedoms.

The study says that in six of the seven polled countries – Slovakia (61 percent), Hungary (58 percent), Romania (58 percent), Bulgaria (56 percent), Germany (52 percent) and Poland (51 percent) – a majority of respondents believe democracy is under threat.

Three quarters of respondents in Bulgaria, (76 percent), over half of those polled in Hungary (52 percent) and Romania (54 percent), a third in Poland (34 percent) and a fifth of Germans feel elections are not free or fair in their country.

A majority of citizens in every country apart from Germany – where the figure is almost half – distrust the media in their country to report news in a fair and honest way. However, older people (those over 40) who remember the fall of the Berlin wall are generally more likely to say that media coverage has improved in the last 30 years.

A plurality of those polled in Hungary and Poland think it is likely the media in their country will no longer be able to criticise the government in ten years’ time.

/articles/news/civil-society-bemoans-increasing-difficulty-performing-role-%E2%80%98effectively%E2%80%99 Fri, 08 Nov 2019 12:18:11 +0100
Macron’s clandestine gangs comments reminiscent of ‘darker times in French history’ says Bulgarian MEP Martin Banks

ECR group deputy Angel Dzhambazki has sent an open letter to European Parliament president David Sassoli calling for an apology from French president.

ECR group deputy Angel Dzhambazki has sent an open letter to European Parliament president David Sassoli calling for an apology from French president.

Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual


A centre-right Bulgarian MEP has added to the widespread criticism of Emmanuel Macron following the diplomatic rift provoked by the French President’s comments about Ukrainians and Bulgarians.

The row flared after Macron spoke of "clandestine gangs" of Bulgarian and Ukrainian migrants.

The right-wing French magazine Valeurs Actuelles published an interview with Macron who said he favoured legal quota-based migration to illegal workers, contrasting Guinean or Ivorian migrants who work legally to "clandestine gangs of Bulgarians and Ukrainians."


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The comments triggered an outcry across the EU’s eastern member states as well as Ukraine, where the Kyiv government summoned France's ambassador.

Bulgarian ECR MEP Angel Dzhambazki has now sent an open letter to the president of the European Parliament David Sassoli and all MEPs. In it, Dzhambazki demands an apology for the “defamatory comments” made by Macron. 

He also insists that the European Parliament “as an institution should support Bulgaria and call for an explanation.” The Bulgarian member also questions the “pro-European stance” of Macron “as there have been numerous cases of discrimination and double standards against Eastern Europe.”

The letter, seen by this site, reminds MEPs of “the darker times in French history” and warns against “dangerous generalisations” and calls Macron’s comments “ugly manipulation” which aims to “stigmatise and link Bulgaria to organised crime.” 

“This is pure racism and xenophobia. Macron’s statement is a scandalous demonstration of reverse discrimination. It is outrageous he claims the moral high ground when hundreds of thousands of French people have been protesting against his policies for months” Bulgarian ECR MEP Angel Dzhambazki

He writes, “This is pure racism and xenophobia. Macron’s statement is a scandalous demonstration of reverse discrimination. It is outrageous he claims the moral high ground when hundreds of thousands of French people have been protesting against his policies for months.”

Dzhambazki adds, “The statement is offensive to the presidential institution and France as a European leader.”

Sassoli, from Italy, is yet to comment on the issue but critics have accused Macron of playing up his antipathy towards illegal migration in an attempt to appeal to supporters of far-right leader Marine Le Pen. 

Le Pen, who leads the populist National Rally party, recently declared that she would stand against Macron in France's 2022 presidential election. The pair faced off in the second round of the 2017 vote.

Bulgaria's president last Sunday slammed the remarks and Macron and Bulgaria's leaders are due to meet soon to discuss the country's ambitions to join the Schengen area of visa-free travel and begin the process towards joining the euro.

Bulgaria’s populist Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, however, has downplayed the scandal, saying he had had a telephone conversation over the controversial quote with Macron who assured him that he had not meant to criticise Bulgarian citizens, migrant workers, or institutions, and reiterated his support for Bulgaria.

Borisov said that Macron had been active in the recent election of Bulgaria’s former EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva as head of the International Monetary Fund.

/articles/news/macron%E2%80%99s-clandestine-gangs-comments-reminiscent-%E2%80%98darker-times-french-history%E2%80%99-says Thu, 07 Nov 2019 17:03:27 +0100
2020 can be the start of a new Greens decade, says Monica Frassoni Martin Banks

Outgoing Green party co-leader says the EU has a key role in tackling climate change but still has much to do.

Outgoing Green party co-leader says the EU has a key role in tackling climate change but still has much to do.

Monica Frassoni, European Green Party co-chair | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual


Monica Frassoni has said, “2020 can be the start of a new Greens decade,” at a press briefing in Brussels ahead of the upcoming Green party conference in the Finnish city of Tampere.

“We want to show that the next decade can be a ‘green’ decade. We’ve had very good results in some, though not all, recent elections at EU, national and regional level and these represent a significant step forward for us,” said the Italian.

Its electoral successes started with the European elections in May and came, she said, most recently in Poland and Switzerland.


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Frassoni, due to step down shortly as European Green Party co-chair, added, “These results show that the Greens are not some incomprehensible entity but are significant. We now need to take stock of these results and try to improve on them and ensure that our proposals come to fruition.”

Describing this as a “pivotal time for the Greens and the beginning of a new chapter in European politics,” she said the congress will be an opportunity to debate the European Green Party’s priorities in the wake of a string of Green victories at local, national and European level.

 “We stand on the cusp of a new decade and, in Tampere, Greens from all over Europe will join forces with the Finnish Greens who hold important portfolios as part of the coalition government.”

These include Finnish Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo and Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. Finland also currently holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of the year and Frassoni said that the Greens, as part of the Finnish coalition government, will “oversee crucial decisions affecting the EU’s future.”

“This makes Tampere an ideal place to unite forces and trace a united path forward for a new Green decade defined by social and ecological transformation.”

"We want to show that the next decade can be a ‘green’ decade"

At Tampere, the party will elect new European Green Party co-chairs to succeed Frassoni and Reinhard Bütikofer with two candidates in the running: Tomas Waitz, from Austria, and Evelyne Huytebroeck, Brussels’ former environment minister.

However, the top priority at the Tampere event, she said, will be tackling the “climate emergency” followed by issues such as trade, human rights and migration.

On trade, she said, “Global trade deals are being attacked by some, including Donald Trump, but we are not amongst them.”

She also said there had been “no progress” in ongoing talks between the Greens and the Five Star Movement in Italy about a possible new alliance in the European Parliament.

Frassoni told reporters, “There has, traditionally, been cooperation between the two sides but there’s been no further progress and the reason is always the same: the way Five Star works.”

"We stand on the cusp of a new decade and, in Tampere, Greens from all over Europe will join forces with the Finnish Greens who hold important portfolios as part of the coalition government"

Frassoni also welcomed European Commission President-elect Ursula von de Leyen’s recent commitment to tackling the climate “emergency.”

She said, “Climate action can be a real game changer and the EU of course has a key leadership role to play in all this, but it is not utilising this role at present. There are lots of challenges remaining at all levels and we in the EU are not there yet.”

Von der Leyen has pledged to introduce a “European Green Deal” within 100 days of taking office, laying out a holistic vision for a just transition that will aim to cut carbon emissions and reverse the planet’s ecological breakdown, while ensuring social justice.

But Frassoni warns, “It will take more than a ‘green deal’ for the EU to show that it has credible policies in this area.”

The former MEP’s comments come just ahead of the eagerly-awaited COP25 climate conference next month, which will now be held in Madrid, Spain, instead of Santiago, Chile, as originally planned.

/articles/news/2020-can-be-start-new-greens-decade-says-monica-frassoni Thu, 07 Nov 2019 15:56:56 +0100
On the threshold of a circular economy Nils Torvalds

Innovation will bring us the future we aspire to, if we provide the transparency and freedom needed to unleash our full potential, writes Nils Torvalds.

Innovation will bring us the future we aspire to, if we provide the transparency and freedom needed to unleash our full potential, writes Nils Torvalds.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock


Occasionally, developments take strange twists and turns. I recently met with a delegation from a company in charge of waste.

In my youth, such an activity was probably the lowest form of work you could find. In my neighbourhood, we had different dreams for our future. Some wanted to become fire fighters, some soldiers (this was just after WWII). Some wanted to become doctors, dentists or pilots. Nobody, however, dreamed of becoming the garbage man.

The company sitting in my office had taken a new and challenging turn. They had been in charge of collecting waste, but when the refugee crisis erupted, they found themselves collecting clothes for migrants coming from Africa.


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All of a sudden, they had more clothes than they could ever distribute. So, what were they to do? 

They are now setting up a factory for sorting textiles and making them into pure fibres for new clothes. The most interesting part of this endeavour is that they consider themselves to be at the forefront of development - trailblazers for a new society.

And the story becomes more interesting still. In the last few months, I have met with people from many different walks of life. There is one common feature in almost all of these meetings: they believe in innovation.

Around ten years ago, I felt increasingly irritated by all the seminars where some consultant, over and over again, spoke about innovation, without even once mentioning something that applied in the real world.

Now, I see and hear something very different; innovation is everywhere. I think this phenomenon is immensely interesting, because it touches so many strands of development and changes in the pattern of values.

“The more open and transparent society is, the easier it will be to find solutions”

The first steps in the direction of a circular economy are taken in kindergarten. The better the educational system works (and the better and better-paid teachers we have), the easier it will be to change patterns of behaviour and patterns of thought.

The more open and transparent society is, the easier it will be to find solutions.

When we speak about trust in a society - and it is a basic feature of a functioning society - we are able to check this trust with a very easy question: How do the inhabitants of your country trust the police? In Finland, this trust figure is very high. That figure correlates with an Eco-Innovation index that you can find in national reports on the implementation of environmental legislation.

So, what does this line of reasoning boil down to? The circular economy is a product of two - seemingly opposite - powers in society.

You must have the power to make the decisions, and you must have a trustworthy civil society that does not prevent you from taking these decisions. The decisions should not just look at the result.

“You must have the power to make the decisions, and you must have a trustworthy civil society that does not prevent you from taking these decisions”

I used to say that when we stand at Saint Peter’s Gate, all the problems are solved. The challenges are no longer there. In reality, you have them in all the small decisions leading up to the gate.

That is the reason the decisions should be practical and not ideological. Thereafter we have the issue of transparency. A functioning civil society rests on transparency; it is the great trust builder. It is also an accelerator for decisions.

In the Commission, the Parliament and the Council, we can technically make many wonderful decisions. However, the practicality of those decisions comes with the implementation at company level. There you face some well-known difficulties.

In the case of this waste management firm, it looks like this; you have a well-motivated workforce with a hands-on attitude. They love their job and they are - due to a good education and a right to go into the processes of production without always having an (authoritarian) boss looking over their shoulder - making continuous small innovations.

When they come to a point where the production process has to be radically changed, they are on par with the main office engineers doing the practical work of turning the process around.

We are on the cusp of something great. We are able to see production process not as mechanical methods, but rather as molecules put together in different patterns to create new materials. That is actually the essence of a circular economy.

/articles/opinion/threshold-circular-economy Thu, 07 Nov 2019 14:17:04 +0100
Greening the economy The Parliament Magazine

As he prepares to take on the role of Commission Vice-President for An Economy that Works for People, Valdis Dombrovskis tells us why sustainable finance is essential both in safeguarding our planet’s future and making the financial sector a part of the green transition.

As he prepares to take on the role of Commission Vice-President for An Economy that Works for People, Valdis Dombrovskis tells us why sustainable finance is essential both in safeguarding our planet’s future and making the financial sector a part of the green transition.

Photo credit: Natalie Hill


How would you define sustainable finance and why is it important to the European Commission’s climate agenda?

 

I see sustainable finance as any form of financial investment, service or product that builds environmental, social or governance factors into business or investment decisions.

 

It should reduce pressure on the environment and social inequalities and lead to more investment in longer-term sustainable activities that benefit society as a whole.

For example, green finance is essential for safeguarding our planet’s future. Not only because of the urgency of fighting climate change but also because of the need for private capital to fund the massive amount of investment needed to transition to a low-carbon economy.

It aims to raise financing to pay for everything from small-scale energy efficiencies to national low-carbon transport systems and sustainable infrastructure projects.

The EU remains committed to meeting the Paris Agreement targets and the new Commission intends to go further still and achieve a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

There is no time to lose. Sustainable finance is policy that will help us to shift the trillions of euros needed to make one of the greatest transformations in history.


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One of the aims of Commission President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, is to create a climate bank. How do you plan to achieve this?

Since funding will be vital for the green transformation, Europe will need to make much larger amounts of investment available.

The plan is to turn parts of the European Investment Bank (EIB) into a Climate Bank. I believe that the EIB’s current mandate and institutional set-up is broad enough to cover this increased climate ambition.

The EIB has a long history of financing climate action. Ten years ago, it played a pioneering role on the green bond market by issuing the world’s first climate awareness bond.

Of all multilateral lenders worldwide, it is the largest provider of climate finance – and therefore best placed to become Europe’s Climate Bank.

Since 2010, the bank has had a target dedicating a minimum 25 percent of lending to climate action projects.

Each year, lending reported under this objective has exceeded the target. We want this figure to double by 2025.

"There is no time to lose. Sustainable finance is policy that will help us to shi­ft the trillions of euros needed to make one of the greatest transformations in history"

How will you dissuade Member States from investing in fossil fuel projects, particularly those that rely heavily on coal-produced energy?

To succeed in making the transition to a climate-neutral economy, we need to have EU Member States on board.

EU funding programmes are one example where a shared vision is necessary and where we have already earmarked funding for climate-friendly projects.

Taxation, carbon pricing and subsidies have an important role to play in setting long-term signals to guide investors towards sustainable investment and steer changes in the behaviour of firms and households.

However, we also have to address the legitimate concerns of certain countries and regions when it comes to the transition. They do not want to lose out or become marginalised.

This is why we will work to make sure that the transition is fair for everyone. We will propose a Just Transition Fund to help these regions and countries develop viable projects as well as design additional ways to facilitate the transition.

It will not happen overnight; it may take a good deal of time, perhaps decades. But we need to move now, because the cost of not moving could be even greater.

To create a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, how does the EU envisage raising the required goal of €1 trillion; doesn’t it need to create a fully-fledged Capital Markets Union first?

The Sustainable Europe Investment Plan will need to play a major catalysing role, supporting about €1 trillion in investment over the next decade everywhere in the EU.

For that we also need good projects and a clear understanding of what is green. What we really need now is to reach agreement on an EU classification of green economic activities or, as we call it, the EU taxonomy.

I would say that this is the single most important piece of legislation for our future policies as well as for providing guidance to market participants.

It will provide us with a common language of what a green investment is in practice. And it will end greenwashing - a current practice where financial products are sold as sustainable or green but are, in fact, not.

We are now implementing our Action Plan on Sustainable Finance. Its main objective is to facilitate private capital flow to sustainable and green projects.

Everyone involved in capital markets has a role to play: exchanges, institutional investors, asset managers, financial advisers, companies issuing shares and green bonds.

In that sense, capital markets and the broad financial sector are already contributing to the green transition. The demand for green financial products is growing.

"EU funding programmes are one example where a shared vision is necessary and where we have already earmarked funding for climate-friendly projects"

In order to reach zero emissions within Europe, what kind of tools is the EU considering in partnership with the financial markets, beyond the issuing of green bonds?

There are several areas where we could go further to stimulate investment for the green transformation.

Along with looking at the idea of green bond standards, the Commission will soon start preparing other green finance initiatives.

Buildings, for example, are the EU’s single largest energy consumer – but about 35 percent of them are over 50 years old and almost 75 percent of the building stock is energy-inefficient.

So, we will look at incentivising tools such as a green mortgage standard to help people improve the energy efficiency of their houses, and possible ways to encourage banks to issue these loans.

Another area of work will focus on expanding the EU ecolabel to financial products.

Why is ‘taxonomy’ important to sustainable finance, and how do you plan to reconcile differences in the Council, given, for example, problems caused by including nuclear power which has divided the council?

The EU is the first jurisdiction to legislate on green and sustainable finance. The taxonomy will define green and sustainable economic sectors and activities, and translate EU and international environmental, climate and energy standards into a language that investors and consumers can use everywhere.

That way, they can more easily channel their funds into sustainable and green projects. The same goes for policymakers.

As regards the divergent positions in the Council, I believe that the taxonomy should be science-based, technology-neutral and consistent across sectors – and that there should be a transparent process for developing it.

Any economic activity, including nuclear energy, needs to be assessed in line with these principles.

We are pleased to see that Member States also share the sense of urgency on the need to put the taxonomy in place as soon as possible.

So, I hope that MEPs and Member States will reach final agreement in trilogue by the end of this year.

In your upcoming new mandate as Vice-President for An Economy that Works for People, how will you tackle tax evasion and deal with concerns that multinationals are not paying their fair share?

The Commission and the EU have already been instrumental in addressing corporate tax avoidance, with far-reaching measures to introduce more transparency and close loopholes.

We launched a debate on an EU-wide tax system for multinationals and initiated a global discussion about how digital giants are treated for tax purposes.

Our rules have simply not kept pace in a world where companies are increasingly turning digital, a trend that is unlikely to slow down.

Our work has been a catalyst at the OECD, where there is now real momentum and progress: we should see tangible results for a future-proof international tax reform by 2020. But any new system must work for everyone.

The EU needs a common approach which incorporates views from all Member States, including those that would otherwise find it difficult to have their say around the table.

That said, work on international tax reform should continue to address the challenges of the digital economy.

If the negotiations do not lead to real systemic change, we will revisit the proposals that we designed specifically for the Single Market.

Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has been clear that if no consensus is found in 2020, we must move forward with measures designed for the EU’s Single Market.

"What we really need now is to reach agreement on an EU classification of green economic activities or, as we call it, the EU taxonomy"

Finance is increasingly becoming digital with the rapid rise of fintech and the use of cryptocurrencies. You said a common approach is needed - how will this look, and which new measures/ policies will you consider?

Technological innovation can bring great economic benefit for the financial sector, promoting competition, broadening consumer choice, increasing efficiency and saving costs.

Stablecoins, for example, present opportunities for cheap and fast payments as well as financial inclusion - with many people in Europe still without a basic bank account.

At the same time, we should acknowledge the risks that relate, for example, to consumer protection, privacy, taxation, cyber security, money laundering and terrorist financing.

I think we should differentiate between smaller-scale FinTech activities and stablecoin cryptocurrency initiatives, which have the potential to reach a global scale.

On the one hand, we do not want to harm our growing fintech hotspots; we want to help innovative European companies to develop and create more jobs.

On the other hand, global initiatives such as Libra, the blockchain digital currency proposed by Facebook, could create risks to monetary policy, financial stability, fair competition and monetary sovereignty.

So global stablecoin projects should not enter into operation until all of these concerns are properly addressed.

How will you drive economic growth in the next few years, given the major differences in the economic conditions of Member States, with some countries running huge deficits while others run surpluses?

It is true that there are clouds on the horizon and all international organisations have revised the economic outlook downwards due to persistent uncertainty.

The main reason is prolonged trade tensions. Geopolitical conflicts, for example, in the Middle East, do not help. Brexit is an additional source of uncertainty for the UK and European economies.

While the European economy is expected to grow in the second half of 2019, this will be at a slower pace than previously expected.

Due to the external environment, I would say that prospects for 2020 remain cloudy. However, I would like to emphasise that our economies are showing resilience – for example, jobs are still being created and EU28 unemployment stands at the lowest rate recorded since the start of the century.

The service sector is currently showing resilience. But it is true that not all high-debt countries have used good economic times to bring down their debt levels.

I would urge countries that have fiscal space to use it now – this is the right moment to do so.

/articles/interviews/greening-economy Thu, 07 Nov 2019 13:01:54 +0100
Von der Leyen Commission already historic, says former EU employment chief László Andor

László Andor says the structure of the new EU executive potentially opens the door to much greater pluralism.

László Andor says the structure of the new EU executive potentially opens the door to much greater pluralism.

Photo credit: Press Association


Establishing a new European Commission is always a bumpy ride. Collecting enough votes in the European Parliament, receiving the right nominations and allocating the commissioner-designates to their future portfolios in a convincing way is a multidimensional chess game that brings daily excitement to the Brussels ‘bubble’.

But a new commission is never the same as the one that came before it, neither in terms of personal composition or organisational structure, and the political programme changes as well, depending on the challenges of the time.

The next Commission will work with a more pluralistic (and less duopolistic) European Parliament. The other major development is that – for the first time in post-war history – the EU cannot really count on the positive attitude of the United States’ ruling circles.


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For example, because of this, the EU now needs to make greater efforts to assume global leadership in the field of climate policy. It also has to get its act together when it comes to reform of the Economic and Monetary Union, because in the next financial crisis we cannot take for granted that there’ll be a supportive approach from the US and the UK, including through the International Monetary Fund.

The term “geopolitical commission” was rightly coined - and at the best time - by Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen when she announced her new team earlier this year. Five years ago, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s executive called itself a “political commission” and a “commission of the last chance.”

The Juncker Commission also started to phase itself out much earlier than others normally do. At the end of the cycle there is an inevitable winding down phase of about 9-12 months, when fewer proposals are made and some are even withdrawn. Some commissioners prepare for transferring themselves to the European Parliament, while many leading officials start thinking about their next job. This time around, the winding down started very early.

“The next Commission will work with a more pluralistic (and less duopolistic) European Parliament”

There are also signs suggesting the new leadership cannot change course on everything so easily. Juncker introduced a rather hierarchical system within the Commission by elevating the vice-presidents to a coordinating role.

Vice-presidents also existed under the previous Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, but this only meant that those with this title were sitting closer to the President in meetings and received a slightly higher salary.

Juncker, on the other hand, agreed to a real hierarchy, which meant that the line commissioners were subordinated to vice-presidents with a coordinating role.

But Juncker’s vice-presidents had no directorates-generals attached to them and could not rely on the support of a significant apparatus in their coordinating and policy work. So, the seeds of controversy were sown, resulting in an unnecessarily bruising experience for many. But creating a more hierarchical commission is a solution to a problem that may not even exist.

Nevertheless, instead of correcting the mistake, von der Leyen is going even further, adding one additional layer: the executive vice-presidents. Considering some of the personal choices, portfolio decisions and PR-driven job titles, the result is a frontloaded turf war with possibly even more dog fights down the road.

However, the von der Leyen Commission may undergo a major organisational overhaul half-way through its cycle, once she really takes things into her hands. For now, correcting some of the job titles is more urgent, which most of all applies to the notorious “Protecting our European Way of Life” portfolio, which raises the fear that the next idea would be to appoint a “Commissioner for Delivering Us from Evil”.

However, some of the noise that accompanied the birth of the von der Leyen Commission is the product of anger around the Spitzenkandidat experience.

The Spitzenkandidat or lead candidate system means that each of the European Parliament’s groups put forward a candidate for the presidency of the Commission – with the one securing the most votes from MEPs being elected to the position. It was invented to address the perceived democratic deficit of the EU.

In reality, neither the democratic deficit nor the potential of the Spitzenkandidat process should be exaggerated. If the Spitzenkandidat process gets interpreted too strictly, it becomes a blank check to the European People’s Party (EPP), which is the strongest European political family for structural reasons.

Whoever the EPP pick will become Commission president and, as we saw twice, the EPP just cannot choose the better candidate out of two. In 2013, they could have opted for French commissioner Michel Barnier, but they chose Juncker.

“Whenever it enters office, von der Leyen’s Commission is already a historical one since it is led by a woman and aims at delivering full gender balance”

In 2018, they could have come forward with former Finnish prime minister Alex Stubb, but they stuck to EPP group leader Manfred Weber, who had been endorsed by German chancellor Angela Merkel a few months earlier when she wanted to pacify the Christian Social Union (her coalition party) following a spat over immigration.

The reality is that European Parliament election campaigns change voting preferences minimally and the names and personalities of lead candidates are not too well known outside their own countries and the Brussels bubble.

Nevertheless, those particularly keen on the Spitzenkandidat process were upset when von der Leyen emerged as a compromise candidate.

With the German Social Democratic Party and others in the European Parliament withdrawing their support for von der Leyen, she had to rely on the backing of Hungarian President Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, Polish political leader Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party and Italy’s populist Five Star Movement - all of whom come with a price tag attached to their support.

Whenever it enters office, von der Leyen’s Commission is already a historical one since it is led by a woman and aims at delivering full gender balance. If, on the other hand, gender policy stops here, it will be seen as a token action and will damage rather than enhance the credibility of the college.

This puts the portfolio for equality into a strategic position and calls for substantial initiatives tackling the gender gap in labour market participation, pay, promotion as well as pensions. It is not only the gender balance that has improved but the Commission’s political balance is also better than it has been for a long time.

The presence of Social Democratic commissioners in key areas such as foreign affairs and partnerships, economic and cohesion policies, as well as social and home affairs, in addition to two strong vice presidents, potentially opens the door to much greater progressive influence than any time in recent memory.

(This article first appeared in The Progressive Post, FEPS' weekly opinion newsletter)

/articles/opinion/von-der-leyen-commission-already-historic-says-former-eu-employment-chief Wed, 06 Nov 2019 17:47:27 +0100