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Growing pressure for Europe to investigate mistreatment of women in #Kuwait

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An important trading partner and investment destination for EU goods, Kuwait is being challenged to show that it is not turning a blind eye to human rights abuses at home. Following a series of reports by this newspaper and other international media highlighting growing cases of women in Kuwait being made targets for persecution, MEP David Martin this week wrote to the EU's foreign policy chief demanding a full accounting by the Kuwaiti authorities and an investigation by the European Parliament – writes Josie Simmons

Martin, an MEP for almost 35 years and with a seat on the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights, wrote to Federica Mogherini that the treatment of prisoners and complaints by human rights groups of poor justice and “disproportionate” sentences, especially against minorities and foreigners, are a reason to be “very concerned”.

Martin's raising the alarm about violations of due process and infringement of liberty have been echoed by Transparency International, Amnesty International and most recently Human Rights Watch in their 2018 report, which highlighted ongoing concerns about overcrowding in prisons and the treatment of minorities and especially foreign women.

Martin’s letter added: “With six to seven in a cell and only a small window for ventilation in the blistering heat of Kuwait, it’s a perfect depiction of mistreatment and a clear breach of human rights. It’s a wonder people aren’t dying in these types of conditions”.

Martin and other prominent international voices across Europe are drawing particular attention to the plight of Marsha Lazareva, who he says has been sentenced to 10 years of hard labour in a “controversial decision by the courts, and where basic needs such medical care and even a bible are arbitrarily denied.”

Martin said, “For people like Marsha, access to medicine and adequate care for an ongoing illness is essential.  The degradation suffered by many of the women prisoners is truly shocking. For a nation which prides itself on being a signatory to conventions on human rights, it must be alarming to other nations that these practices are allowed to go on unchecked.”

He says Lazareva “is one of many foreign nationals left to rot” in Kuwait’s female prison, explaining: “Often kept in cells together, they are victimised for being foreign and of different religions. Moreover, access to children is a top concern for human rights groups, and for people like Marsha, a mother of a 4-year-old and daughter of an elderly mother, this causes unnecessary harm to families.  As a father myself I know that it must be difficult for a young child to have to deal with their absence of a parent but to not be in a position to have proper access when legally allowed must go beyond frustration.”

The letter ends, “I call upon the Commission to look into this case and open dialogue on these alleged human rights abuses in Kuwait.”

 

coronavirus

Lockdown part two: Resilience is key

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As lockdowns and travel restrictions are reintroduced around the world, it is essential that businesses, governments and charities work in close co-operation to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable. COVID-19 and its consequences will clearly be with us for some time to come, so building our long-term resilience is fundamental. These measures must be formed in a calm, reasoned manner and with the long-term implications in mind, writes Yerkin Tatishev, founding chairman of Kusto Group.

My generation in the former Soviet countries went through a similar experience of massive economic and social shock in the 1990s when the USSR collapsed. Having grown through those difficult years, we perhaps have a better sense of perspective now. We know that in order to survive a crisis and flourish afterwards, patience and a plan for the future is required.

Quick wins are always in demand, often without any real consideration for their long-term impact. One can see this in business and politics across all societies, only exacerbated in times of crisis. Amid the general panic, the idea that “something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it” often takes hold.

At Kusto Group, we already had established a charitable foundation #KustoHelp, which enabled us to deliver $2,4 million of aid to at-risk populations during the pandemic. That we had this structure in place was due to long-term thinking and the recognition that our company has a social responsibility to help those less fortunate.

In business you learn that when you have steady processes already ingrained - you have all systems in place, the right leaders, the right specialists, local competencies - you can adapt far better to a disaster or disruption. If anything, a crisis is a perfect moment to remove all unnecessary procedures, meetings, layers and bottlenecks. In other words, companies that have effective structures in good times, are in a much better position to handle the bad times. In many markets I see divisions of Kusto Group, such as agriculture and construction materials, continue to perform well for this very reason.

The same can be applied to governments and public administration. While no country or company has handled the pandemic perfectly, it has been easy to see that those with good governance have come out much stronger than those without. This learning is a perfect illustration of the need to reform structures if we are to be resilient in the long term.

The World Bank’s chief economist warned two weeks ago that countries would have to take on additional debt to help fight the economic impact of the coronavirus. As undesirable as this normally is for public finances, supporting our industries is an essential investment in the long term. Businesses take years to build up, involving massive investments of time, money and effort. The cost of letting them collapse is far greater than supporting them through the crisis. They also of course have a responsibility to support their workforce, local communities and partners through these difficult times.

Helping businesses survive the crisis is one element, but for the longer term we also have to look at areas that provide future resilience. Education and digitalisation are key to this. Young people and their education are key to a society’s fortunes, but it’s always one of the first places that cutbacks are made when the going gets tough.

With schooling and university now largely being held online, poverty has become a greater predictor than ever of success, as good access to the Internet becomes a necessity. The rapid digitalisation of our economies likewise means that those countries, businesses, and workers with poor connectivity will struggle to keep up. Investment in both these areas will be absolutely essential to a durable recovery. With the Yerzhan Tatishev Foundation, focusing on tech and innovation, and the High Tech Academy I have tried to make my own modest contribution to this effort.

This pandemic is a crisis of a scale not seen in recent memory. Mitigating its impact will require an equally unprecedented level of cooperation between stakeholders across our society. Beyond providing vital support to businesses, we have to look to our long-term resilience and growth, through education and digitalization. This pandemic will be with us for some time now. There will be other crises ahead. Are we ready for them?

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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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