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#Pesticides investigation: 'Health should be the priority'

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Eric Andrieu 

Parliament's pesticides committee has until the end of 2018 to investigate and propose improvements to the procedure for the authorization of pesticides. Find out more about its work.     

There are long-standing concerns about how some components of pesticides, such as glyphosate, might affect people's health. In October 2017 MEPs demanded a full ban on glyphosate-based herbicides by 2022 and immediate restrictions on using the substance. However, EU countries decided in November 2017 that the herbicide can be used in the EU for another five years, with no full ban in sight.

In 2018 the European Parliament set up a special committee to look into the issue. We talked about the tasks ahead with committee chair Eric Andrieu (pictured), a French member of the S&D group.

EU countries have decided to renew authorisation for glyphosates until 2022, so why has the Parliament decided to set up a special committee this year?

Renewing the authorization does not address the issue of the scientific controversy. It is irresponsible to renew without having more proof that the glyphosate molecule and its co-formulants are not health hazards. In order to safeguard the health of 500 million Europeans, we need to evaluate the existing process and check if improvements are needed.

What do you think the first tasks of the committee should be?

 One task would be to bring the knowledge of the committee members up to date. It will then be a question of evaluating each step of the authorization procedure by questioning the stakeholders: companies, NGOs, scientists. At the end we will put forward concrete proposals for improving the process.

This affects many people: farmers, companies and especially citizens. How will you balance their different interests?

For us the most important thing is safeguarding the health of 500 million Europeans.

Of course farmers use glyphosate, but when you ask them, “Would you continue to use glyphosate if they are found to be a health hazard?”, they say “no”. They will find a solution.

Some scientists are critical about the choice of studies by EFSA. We will have to see how this selection of studies is done. We also have to make the industry more aware of the health and ethics issues. We can’t tolerate everything in the name of boosting the economy. For me health should be the priority. It’s about getting the industry to act differently.

The Monsanto Papers scandal has raised a lot of interest. What can the European Parliament do to ensure  there are independent scientific studies?

More resources are certainly needed to ensure scientists are independent and we will need to look into that. What guarantees do we have that reports produced by EFSA are independent? How do we prevent lobbying from influencing the process? Therefore we need rules to ensure no-one can doubt the validity or the independence of the studies and the choices that have been made. The Monsanto-Bayer merger shows again how companies’ control over the living world is being concentrated in the hands of a few. To me this is unacceptable.

Glyphosates are now authorised until 2022. Can we expect changes before then?

The decision taken by the European Commission and the Council has not been challenged before the European courts.

I don’t have the means to challenge the decision myself, otherwise I would have done it. However, it’s possible we will ask for a scientific reassessment before the end of the mandate. In this case it is possible that glyphosates are banned.

The pesticides committee has until the end of 2018 to come forward with proposals. What would you consider a good outcome?

 We will have succeeded if we come up with concrete proposals in December showing the European Commission what needs to be done so that 500 million Europeans can eat, drink and breathe without having to worry about their health.

At the moment not a week goes by without a new health scandal making the headlines. We need to do everything we can to ensure a better protection of consumers’ health.

It’s our responsibility. We have to succeed. We do not have a choice.

On 15 May the pesticides committee organised a public hearing on the EU’s approval procedure for pesticides.

EU

AI rules: What the European Parliament wants

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Find out how MEPs are shaping EU artificial intelligence legislation in order to boost innovation while ensuring safety and protecting civil liberties.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a major part of the digital transformation. Indeed, it is hard to imagine life without the use of AI in many goods and services, and it is set to bring more changes to the workplace, business, finance, health, security, farming and other fields. AI will also be crucial for the EU's green deal and the COVID-19 recovery.

The EU is currently preparing its first set of rules to manage the opportunities and threats of AI, focusing on building trust in AI, including managing its potential impact on individuals, society and the economy. The new rules also aim to provide an environment in which European researchers, developers and businesses can thrive. The European Commission wants to boost private and public investment in AI technologies to €20 billion per year.

Infographic with facts and figures about artificial intelligence such the number of AI patent applications and the number of jobs that could be created by 2025AI patent applications

Parliament's work on AI legislation

Ahead of a Commission proposal on AI, expected in early 2021, the Parliament has set up a special committee to analyze the impact of artificial intelligence on the EU economy. "Europe needs to develop AI that is trustworthy, eliminates biases and discrimination, and serves the common good, while ensuring business and industry thrive and generate economic prosperity," said the new committee chairman Dragoș Tudorache.

On 20 October 2020, Parliament adopted three reports outlining how the EU can best regulate AI while boosting innovation, ethical standards and trust in technology.

One of the reports focuses on how to ensure safety, transparency and accountability, prevent bias and discrimination, foster social and environmental responsibility, and ensure respect for fundamental rights. "The citizen is at the centre of this proposal," said author of the report Ibán García del Blanco (S&D, Spain).

Axel Voss (EPP, Germany) authored Parliament’s report on a civil liability regime for artificial intelligence. He explains the aim is to protect Europeans while also providing businesses with the legal certainty necessary to encourage innovation. "We're not pushing for revolution. There should be uniform rules for businesses, and existing law should be taken into account," he said.

Regarding intellectual property rights, Parliament stressed the importance of an effective system for further AI development, including the issue of patents and new creative processes. Among the issues to be resolved is the intellectual property ownership of something entirely developed by AI, said report author Stéphane Séjourné (Renew, France).

Parliament is working on a number of other issues related to AI, including:

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2021 Commission work programme: From strategy to delivery

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The Commission has adopted its 2021 work programme, designed to make Europe healthier, fairer and more prosperous, while accelerating its long-term transformation into a greener economy, fit for the digital age. It contains new legislative initiatives across all six headline ambitions of President von der Leyen's Political Guidelines and follows her first State of the Union Speech. While delivering on the priorities set out in this work programme, the Commission will continue to put all its efforts into managing the crisis, and into making Europe's economies and societies more resilient.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Our utmost priority will continue being to save lives and livelihoods threatened by the coronavirus pandemic. We have already achieved a lot. But Europe is not out of the woods yet and the second wave is hitting hard across Europe. We must remain vigilant and step up, all of us. The European Commission will continue its efforts to secure a future vaccine for Europeans and to help our economies recover, through the green and digital transition.”

Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said: “Whilst ensuring Europe can manage the pandemic and its devastating impact, we also continue to draw lessons from the crisis. Therefore, the priorities set out in this work programme will not only help deliver Europe's recovery but also our long-term resilience – through future-proof solutions across all policy areas. For that, we will make the best use of strategic foresight as well as our better law-making principles – evidence-based and transparent, efficient and fit for the future.”

Delivering on EU priorities

The 2021 Commission work programme sees a shift from strategy to delivery across all six political priorities. It confirms the Commission's resolve to lead the twin green and digital transition – an unparalleled opportunity to move out of the fragility of the crisis and create a new vitality for the Union.

  1. A European Green Deal

To achieve a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, the Commission will table a Fit for 55 package to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030. This will cover wide-ranging policy areas – from renewables to energy efficiency first, energy performance of buildings, as well as land use, energy taxation, effort sharing and emissions trading. A Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will help reduce the risk of carbon leakage and ensure a level-playing field by encouraging EU partners to raise their climate ambition. In addition, the Commission will propose measures to implement Europe's circular economy action plan, the EU biodiversity strategy and the farm to fork strategy.

  1. A Europe fit for the digital age

To make this Europe's digital decade, the Commission will put forward a road map of clearly defined 2030 digital targets, related to connectivity, skills and digital public services. The focus will be on the right to privacy and connectivity, freedom of speech, free flow of data and cybersecurity. The Commission will legislate in areas covering safety, liability, fundamental rights and data aspects of artificial intelligence. In the same spirit, it will propose a European e-ID. Initiatives will also include an update of the new industrial strategy for Europe, to take into account the impacts of the coronavirus, as well as a legislative proposal to improve the working conditions of platform workers.

  1. An economy that works for people

To ensure that the health and economic crisis does not turn into a social crisis, the Commission will put forward an ambitious action plan to implement fully the European Pillar of Social Rights, making sure that no one is left behind in Europe's recovery. The Commission will also come forward with a new European child guarantee, ensuring access to basic services like health and education for all children. To support our economies and strengthen the Economic and Monetary Union, it will revise the framework for handling EU bank failures, take measures to boost cross-border investment in the EU, and step up the fight against money laundering.

  1. A stronger Europe in the world

The Commission will ensure that Europe plays its vital role in this fragile world, including by leading the global response to secure a safe and accessible vaccine for all. It will propose a Joint Communication on strengthening the EU's contribution to a rules‑based multilateralism, a renewed partnership with our Southern Neighbourhood and a Communication on the Arctic. A new strategic approach to support disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants will also be presented. A Communication on the EU's humanitarian aid will explore new ways of working with our partners and other donors.

  1. Promoting our European way of life

In the face of COVID-19, the Commission will propose to build a stronger European Health Union, notably by strengthening the role of existing agencies and establishing a new agency for biomedical advanced research and development. To preserve and improve its functioning, a new strategy for the future of Schengen will be tabled. The new pact on migration and asylum will be followed up with a number of proposed measures on legal migration, including a ‘talent and skills' package. Other elements include an action plan against migrant smuggling, as well as a sustainable voluntary return and reintegration strategy. The Commission will continue to strengthen the Security Union, addressing terrorism, organised crime and hybrid threats. It will also present a comprehensive strategy on combating antisemitism.

  1. A new push for European democracy

To build a union of equality, the Commission will present new strategies on rights of the child and for persons with disabilities, as well as a proposal to combat gender-based violence. It will also propose to extend the list of euro-crimes to include all forms of hate crime and hate speech. The Commission will propose clearer rules on the financing of European political parties and take action to protect journalists and civil society against abusive litigation. A long-term vision for rural areas will propose actions to harness the full potential of these regions.

Given the long-term and transformative nature of the initiatives planned, it is more important than ever to legislate in the most impactful way and with the future in mind. The upcoming Communication on Better Regulation will renew this emphasis. It will focus on simplification and burden reduction, notably by introducing a ‘one-in-one-out' approach. The Fit for Future Platform will support the Commission in this ambition, particularly needed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. To deliver on the ground, the Commission will also step up its outreach, with the Conference on the Future of Europe playing a central role.

A full list of the 44 new policy objectives under the six headline ambitions are set out in Annex 1 of the 2021 work programme.

Next steps

The Commission's 2021 work programme is the result of close co-operation with the European Parliament, member states and the EU consultative bodies. The Commission will now start discussions with the Parliament and Council to establish a list of joint priorities on which co-legislators agree to take swift action.

Background

Every year, the Commission adopts a work programme setting out the list of actions it will take in the coming twelve months. The work programme informs the public and the co-legislators of our political commitments to present new initiatives, withdraw pending proposals and review existing EU legislation. It does not cover the ongoing work of the Commission to implement its role as Guardian of the Treaties and enforce existing legislation or the regular initiatives that the Commission adopts every year.

The 2021 Commission work programme is closely linked to the recovery plan for Europe, with the NextGenerationEU recovery instrument and a reinforced EU budget for 2021-2027. The Recovery and Resilience Facility will channel an unprecedented €672.5 billion of grants and loans in the crucial first year of recovery. Meanwhile, Member States are drawing up recovery and resilience plans that set out reforms and investments aligned with the EU green and digital policy objectives: with a minimum 37% of green transition expenditure, and a minimum 20% related to digital. To repay the funds raised under NextGenerationEU, the Commission will put forward proposals for new own resources starting with a revised Emission Trading System, a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism and a digital levy.

More information

2021 Commission work programme, annexes and factsheets

Adjusted 2020 Commission work programme

Recovery plan for Europe

A European Green Deal

Shaping Europe's digital future

 

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Brexit

EU says Britain must respect withdrawal pact, deal or no deal

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Inter-institutional Relations and Foresight Commissioner Maros Sefcovic addresses lawmakers during a plenary session of Work Programme 2021 at the European Parliament in Brussels. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Britain must implement the Withdrawal Agreement on its exit from the European Union, regardless of the outcome of ongoing trade talks between the two sides, a senior European commissioner said on Wednesday (21 October), writes Kate Abnett.

“Deal or no deal, the Withdrawal Agreement must be respected,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (pictured) told the European Parliament.

Sefcovic said the EU is committed to reaching a deal on the trade agreement and other aspects of their future relationship, but that the two sides remain “far apart” on the issues of fisheries and the so-called level playing field of fair competition.

“Our objective is still to reach an agreement that will pave the way for a new fruitful relationship between the EU and UK. We will continue to work for such an agreement, but not at any price,” he said.

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