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#EAPM - Oh, brother! UK science minister Jo Johnson quits, as his sibling struggles



Greetings! Of late, it’s been very difficult to write an EAPM update without referring at some point to Brexit. So we won’t stop now…. As most of you may now know, the pro-Remain brother of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that he won’t stand at the next general election - although the word is that he’s not resigning straight away, thus avoiding the need for a by-election, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Jo Johnson was science and education minister and, in a tweet, said hes been torn between family loyalty and the national interest -its an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP and minister”.

Scientists for the EU tweeted in response: “You were an excellent Minister of State for Universities and Science. You will be missed by the UK science community -a community that you understand well. We, in turn, understand this choice you made. You did the right thing.

With Jo apparently not resigning as an MP straight away, this throws up the intriguing prospect of him being able to vote against his brother. Well, what’s the worst that can happen? He loses the Tory whip, he’s de-selected (he’s not standing anyway) and he may end up off the Downing Street Christmas card list.

The timing is quite incredible, and surely doesn’t help the prime minister. However, there’s still all to play for with the result, as ever, unpredictable.

What can be confidently predicted, though, is that a general election will be in the offing, certainly this year. All to play for…

Meanwhile, the Leader of the House of Commons,pro-Brexit Jacob Rees-Mogg caused ructions in Westminster when, under Parliamentary privilege, he called neurologist David Nicholl, who wrote the Yellow hammer Brexit-impact report for medicine supplies, as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield”.

Andrew Wakefield is the discredited author of a notorious study wrongly linking the MMR jab to autism.

In response Chaand Nagpaul, who is chair of the British Medical Association council, said the comments were “utterly disgraceful and totally irresponsible”.

Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies meanwhile tweeted that she’d written to Rees-Mogg to express her sincere disappointment” in his disrespectful” comments, which went “too far” and were frankly unacceptable”.

For his part, Nicholl said: “I challenge [Rees-Mogg] to repeat outside the chamber the allegation that I am comparable to Andrew Wakefield - lets see what happens.” 

Finally on Brexit for this ‘edition’, Lithuanias new president, Gitanas Nausėda has said: “We try to make it an opportunity.” 

We are one of the most friendly countries to fintech companies,” Nausėda said, adding: “Weve got about 150 companies from the UK and US-I can say it really works.

 He went on to say that: “Brexit with an agreement is the best solution. But the no-deal scenario looks quite realistic too.”

Shock EU ‘death’ figures   

In a new survey, Eurostat tells us that, among people under 75, two-out-of-three deaths in the European Union could have been avoided in 2016. 

It explains that 1.2 million from 1.7 million deaths could have been avoided. Many (741,000) through effective public health and primary interventions, and 422,000 deaths through timely and effective health-care interventions.

Such public health interventions ahead of heart and lung disease, as well as stroke, accounted for most of the avoidable deaths. More emphasis on prevention, anyone?

The ENVI of us all 

The European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) is back at work and has quickly proposed to carry out an in-depth review of the safety of vaccines. 

The Petitions Committee heard six similar petitions from Italy, all of which opposed the compulsory vaccination of children up to the age of 16.

One petitioner, Roberto Ionta, who is a prominent anti-vaccine campaigner, told the committee that Italian children are being discriminated against” because they are excluded from school if they have not been vaccinated. 

However, UK MEP Jude Kirton-Darling was against giving the anti-vaccination lobby too much time in the committee, saying: “I think theres a grave danger that we feed and continue to feed a campaign of misinformation, which is actually putting all of our children at risk across the entire world.”

Its seems likely that the proposed study will land on the desk of the European Medicines Agency down the line.

Meanwhile, the committee discussed the EU Court of Auditors’ review of the bloc’s cross-border health-care efforts, which soon switched to medicines shortages, with French MEP Michèle Rivasi propounding the theory that some Europeans are engaging in cross-border travel to get medicines that are in short supply in their own country. 

EAPM’s good friend Romania’s Cristian-Silviu Bușoi tied this in with crossing borders for orphan drugs. The Commission representative present, DG SANTE’s Ioana-Maria Gligor, reminded the MEP that the review of the EUs orphan incentives is due later this year.

Peter Welch, directorof the ECA, explained that national contact points could give better information on rare diseases. The ECA’s recommendation is that the Commission should do more to support these, he added.

On cross-border exchange of health data, he said that the Commission has not achieved what it wanted, and that more member states are ready to receive data than are equipped to actually send it. 

German MEP Tiemo Wölken (more of whom below) said that it is clear that goals are not being achieved, while Poland’s Sylwia Spurek quoted Eurostat figures on the small percentage of patients that takeadvantage of the cross-border health-care directive. The current system effectively discourages EU citizens getting health care in another state, she said.

Another EAPM champion, Malta’s Miriam Dalli said only a small amount of patients know their rights, and that action needs to be taken on an EU-wide basis. Miriam mentioned delays in information exchange and data exchange and asked how this can be addressed. The financing mechanism needs to be simpler, she said.

Meanwhile, on HTA, which rumbles on in Brexit-esque fashion, ENVI confirmed that the aforementioned Tiemo Wölken will be rapporteur for the health technology assessment brief.

Congratulations, Tiemo!

Incidentally, ENVI is now Parliaments biggest panel, with 76 members. This is up from 64 in 2009 and 69 in 2014. Let’s hope that size does matter…

Health in brief

Sweden has said it will host an international high-level conference on antibiotic resistance monitoringand the World Health Organization Global Resistance Monitoring System. 

Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said: “It is important that Sweden drives the issue forward internationallyby promoting enhanced surveillance.”

And in Germany, several top doctors’ groups have co-sent an open letter to Stern magazine warning that economics are overriding patients’ needs under the current accounting systems for hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Part of the letter reads: “It is negligent to leave hospitals and thus the fate of patients to the laws of the free market,” adding that patientswell-being should be the most important goal.

At the same time, the authors urged the government to abandon fixed-rate payments per patient because it would offer many incentives to generate returns on unnecessary action to the detriment of patients”. 

And finally…

It was revealed this week that scientists have found the first genetic instructions in human DNA that link to being left-handed.

The University of Oxford team say that left-handed people may have better verbal skills because the DNA instructions seem to be involved in the structure and function of the brain.

Roughly one-in-10 people are left-handed. For the record, Boris Johnson isn’t. 


AI rules: What the European Parliament wants



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



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.


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




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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