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Budget 2021, Covid-19 measures, Gender Equality Week

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This week MEPs will decide on their priorities for the 2021 budget, consider how the pandemic has affected fundamental values and hold the first European Gender Equality Week.

Covid-19, rule of law and recovery

On Tuesday (26 October), the civil liberties committee assessed the impact emergency measures to tackle COVID-19 have had on fundamental rights and the rule of law.

The following day, Parliament’s budgets and economic affairs committees will vote to strengthen the InvestEU programme. This fund for 2021-2027 aims to ensure private investment for medium- and long-term priorities such as the digital transition and the Green Deal but needs to be reinforced to cope with the economic impact of COVID-19.

EU budget

The budgets committee will vote today (28 October) on Parliament’s priorities for the 2021 budget. Parliament has already said it wants more funding for young people, researchers, health workers, entrepreneurs, transport infrastructure and security.

Right to repair

In an effort to promote a culture of reuse, Parliament’s consumer protection committee called on Monday (26 October) for a “right to repair” for consumers. MEPs want to facilitate systematic and affordable repairs, encourage repair over replacement, and create a more sustainable single market for consumers and businesses.

Gender equality

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, Parliament will hold its first European Gender Equality Week. Taking place until Thursday, Parliament’s committees will host discussions on issues ranging from human trafficking and digitalization to breast cancer and reproductive health.

Internet access

The third in a serious of dialogues entitled Ideas for a New World takes place on Wednesday afternoon. This dialogue between Parliament President David Sassoli, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and former Commission president Romano Prodi will focus on access to the internet as a human right. There will also be interventions from inventor of the worldwide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and activist Simona Levi.

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Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected

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MEPs have welcomed attempts by Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected in its upcoming parliament elections. This comes  just ahead of the next elections, which have been set for January 10, 2021. This will elect members to the lower house of the country’s parliament, known as the Majlis. It will be the energy-rich Central Asian country’s first parliamentary elections since Kassym-Jomart Toqaev in 2019 succeeded Nursultan Nazarbaev, who resigned that year after nearly three decades in power, writes Colin Stevens.

In a departure from custom, the date falls at the end of the legislature’s five-year term,

President Tokayev says the electoral and political process has been liberalized to allow for more involvement from civil society.He refers specifically to what was dubbed the parliamentary opposition bill – a piece of legislation that he approved in June. Under this change to the law, non-ruling parties are supposed to acquire a greater say in setting the legislative agenda.

This is important in the context of the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, where the governing Nur Otan party won 84 out of the 107 seats up for grabs in the 2016 election.

Tokayev said another positive change was the mandatory 30 percent quota on party lists for women and youths. For the purposes of this requirement, a youth means anybody under 29-years-old.

Elections for local government bodies, the Maslikhats, are taking place on the same date.

There are currently six registered political parties in Kazakhstan. Nur Otan, which has as its figurehead the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, The other two forces in parliament are the pro-business Ak-Zhol, which bills itself as the “constructive opposition,” and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan, or KNPK.

A recent poll (in which 7,000 people were questioned) showed 77 percent of respondents plan to cast their ballot.

The last parliamentary elections were held in March 2016.

Ahead of the elections, this website canvassed the opinions of MEPs and others.

Andris Ameriks, vice chairman of the Central Asian delegation in the European Parliament, told EU Reporter: “During these elections, people of Kazakhstan will make their choice in electing deputies for the following 5 years. I believe that the nation of Kazakhstan will make the right choice, while Kazakh leadership will follow the democratic processes in the name of prosperity and wellbeing of the country and its people.”

He added: “I greatly welcome continuation of ex-President Nazarbayev’s established direction in the legal reforms and actions taken by the current Kazakh leadership in developing the country’s democracy, transparency and good governance.

“Introduction of a mandatory quota of 30% of women and young people on the party lists, signed by President Tokayev, is of  great importance for the further development of balanced political life in  Kazakhstan and for keeping the politics in line with the world’s practice.

“The results of the elections are highly important for Kazakhstan, Central Asian region and for the EU as for a close partner of Kazakhstan, therefore I hope that people of Kazakhstan will be active and responsible in deciding who will represent them in the Majilis during the next five years.

“At a time when the whole world is struggling with a pandemic that has caused great social turmoil and provoked national governments, it is vital that these elections provide a real example of mutual trust between the people and the authorities.”

Slovenian RE member Klemen Groselj, who is parliament’s standing rapporteur on Kazakhstan, said: “Kazakhstan is already an important partner of the EU in Central Asia, especially in the energy field, but there are also other possibilities of cooperation that have not been fully exploited yet.

“Looking at recent events in the South Caucasus, I believe there is now more than ever a mutual interest in a further development and strengthening of existing relations. I see a wide range of concrete opportunities for cooperation in the near future, for instance in the framework of the Green Deal and Digitalization.”

On the election, he added: “I expect the Kazakh authorities to guarantee the necessary conditions for a free and fair election process while providing adequate precautionary measures in light of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Open, safe, transparent and fair elections can be a solid foundation for the future growth of our economic and political cooperation with Kazakhstan.”

Greens MEP Viola von Cramon noted: “With decreasing Russian influence and progressively aggressive China, central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan are signalling some openness to the EU. It is a positive sign.

"There had been positive steps were made in guaranteeing the basic right of assembly and investigating tortures by law enforcement officials. The question is now how far will the controlled democratization will go.

“In regard to the upcoming elections, having a mandatory 30% quota for women and young people as well as an increased role of opposition in the legislative process is a welcome change. How will the rankings in the list be distributed and whether we will see truly critical opposition gaining ground in the lower house of the Parliament? We will be very closely following these changes.”

Peter Stano, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. told this website: "The EU welcomes the invitation extended to OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and members of the European Parliament to observe the 10 January 2021 Kazakhstan parliamentary elections. In light of the ongoing  reform and modernization processes in Kazakhstan, in particular the  adoption of laws on elections and  political parties (May 2019), the EU expects the elections to be conducted in a free, open and transparent manner, fully respecting the freedoms of expression and assembly."

He said: "The EU welcomes that for  the  first  time  a  30  percent  quota  will  be  introduced  in  party  lists  for  women  and youth jointly. The EU encourages Kazakhstan to avail of the advice and expertise of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and to fully implement the recommendations made previously and any that may be forthcoming."

Fraser Cameron, director of the Brussels-based EU/Asia Centre, said that the elections “should mark another step forward in Kazakhstan’s  steady progress towards a more open and democratic society”.

The former European commission official added: “It would be important to allow more parties to compete than was the case during the last parliamentary elections.”

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Proposed France security bill leads to protests over press freedom

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Thousands of French people took to the streets on Saturday (21 November) to protest pending legislation that aims at protecting police officers and increasing public surveillance, writes .

The legislation, dubbed the 'Global Security Act', is a comprehensive security law that is supported by MPs from the governing party. The draft contains numerous stringent provisions, amongst which Article 24 has become the chief cause of protests. It would apply to civilians and journalists alike and would make it a crime to show images of an officer’s face unless it has been blurred. Publication on social media or elsewhere with the intent of undermining an officer’s “physical or psychological integrity” could be punished by a year in prison or fines of up to €45,000 (USD $53,000). Other concerning provisions of the draft bill include Article 21 and Article 22, which aim to increase surveillance by utilizing drones and pedestrian cameras.

According to the government, the law is intended to protect police officers from online calls for violence. However, the critics of the law fear that it would lead to endangering journalists and other observers who record police at their work. This becomes critically important during violent protests. It also remains to be seen how courts would determine whether images or videos were actually posted with intent to harm the police. The protest was encouraged by organizations like Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International France, the Human Rights League, journalists’ unions and other civil society groups.

Amnesty International France has said: "We believe that this proposed law would lead France to be out of line with its international human rights commitments. We alert parliamentarians to the serious risks of such a proposal for the right to freedom of expression and call on them to mobilise in the context of the parliamentary review to delete Article 24 of the proposal."

Lawmakers in the National Assembly are scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday, after which it will go to the Senate.

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Cancer

EAPM: Keeping tabs on lung cancer and Commission pharma strategy

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Good day, and welcome, health colleagues, to the first European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of the week. We have more news on the upcoming EAPM round table on lung cancer, as well as all the usual health-care updates, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Lung-cancer screening and European Beating Cancer Plan

Yes, we are all aware that by far the best way to reduce numbers of lung cancer patients is to persuade smokers to stop. Although not all sufferers are, or have ever been, smokers. High-risk groups exist, of course, and early diagnosis is vital. Currently, five-year survival rates stand at a mere 13% in Europe and 16% over in America. This will be discussed in our upcoming event on 10 December. 

It is the most commonly found cancer in men and lung cancer in women is being represented by a “worrying rise” according to the World Health Organization.  Some one billion people on the planet are regular smokers. And figures show that lung cancer causes almost 1.6 million deaths each year worldwide, representing almost one-fifth of all cancer deaths. 

The European Respiratory Society and the European Society of Radiology (also a supporter of the event, as is the European Cancer Patient Coalition - ECPC), the societies have recommended screening for lung cancer under the following circumstances: “In comprehensive, quality-assured, longitudinal programmes within a clinical trial or in routine clinical practice at certified multidisciplinary medical centres.”

NELSON and victory?

The NELSON study into computed tomography (CT) screening of lung cancer showed that such screening reduces lung cancer deaths by 26% in high-risk asymptomatic men.  The findings also indicated that, with screening, the results could be even better in women.

For screening to be cost effective, it has to be applied to the population at risk. For lung cancer, this is not simply based on age and sex, as it is in the majority of breast or colon cancer screening. Europe needs to involve all key groups in developing recommendations and guidelines for implementation, adapted according to the healthcare landscape of individual countries. 

Various member states have already shown a willingness to move forward in lung-cancer screening, and several countries representatives will take part in the event.

The Alliance and its stakeholders realize that, among other elements, what is required in Europe is: continuous screening monitoring, with regular reports; assured consistency and enhanced quality of commented data for the screening reports; reference standards for quality and process indicators should be developed and adopted. 

All of the above will be discussed at the lung-cancer screening event, and it is envisaged that a coordinated plan will emerge, which will make its way to Commission and Parliament policymakers and member state health system chiefs.

You can check out the agenda of the 10 December conference here, and register here.

EU Pharma strategy on the horizon 

Affordability, availability and sustainability are the main focus points of the EU’s new pharmaceutical strategy, due to be published tomorrow (25 November). Coming in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU’s pharmaceutical strategy aims to “future-proof” the European health-care sector. The new strategy, set to be unveiled on Wednesday, is designed to improve and accelerate patients’ access to safe and affordable medicines while also supporting innovation in the EU pharmaceutical industry. 

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has previously described the strategy as a “cornerstone” of health policy over the next five years. It is considered a key pillar of the Commission’s vision to build a stronger health union, as President von der Leyen set out in her 2020 State of the Union speech. It will also inform the newly proposed EU4Health Programme and align with the Horizon Europe programme for research and innovation, as well as contribute to Europe’s Beating Cancer plan. 

And the European Commission has unveiled the first building blocks of a broader health package aimed at increasing the range of preparedness tools to respond to future cross-border health threats. Patient-oriented approach A first part of the strategy underlines that “research priorities should be aligned to the needs of patients and health systems.” 

Therefore, the whole EU system of pharmaceutical incentives should be reoriented to stimulate innovation in areas of unmet medical needs, such as neurodegenerative and rare diseases as well as pediatric cancer. An example of unmet medical needs mentioned in the document is antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which decreases a doctor's ability to treat infectious diseases and perform routine surgery. By 2022, the Commission will explore new types of incentives for innovative antimicrobials, as well as measures to restrict and optimise the use of antimicrobial medicines.

COVID 'mabs'

The US drug regulatory agency, FDA (Food and Drug Administration), has just issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the treatment of mild to moderate intensity COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients who they have not been hospitalized. The therapy, still under investigation, is based on monoclonal antibodies and goes by the name of bamlanivimab. This therapeutic agent, developed by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, is a monoclonal antibody (mab) similar to those that were part of the cocktail of drugs for COVID-19 that was administered to Donald Trump. 

Beginning EU Health Union

The European Commission is beginning the building of the new European Health Union to help strengthen the EU’s health security framework, and to reinforce the crisis preparedness and response role of key EU agencies. The creation of the European Health Union was announced by the European Commission‘s President, Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the Union address. The Commission is putting forward a set of proposals to reinforce Europe’s health framework as more co-ordination is needed at an EU level in order to step up the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies. 

Protecting the health of European citizens

The proposals focus on revamping the existing legal framework for serious cross-border threats to health, as well as reinforcing the crisis preparedness and response role of key EU agencies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen stated: “Our aim is to protect the health of all European citizens. 

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for more coordination in the EU, more resilient health systems, and better preparation for future crises. We are changing the way we address cross-border health threats. Today, we start building a European Health Union, to protect citizens with high quality care in a crisis and equip the Union and its member states to prevent and manage health emergencies that affect the whole of Europe.” 

Von der Leyen urges gradual lifting of coronavirus lockdowns

European governments should lift coronavirus lockdowns and other social restrictions gradually to prevent a third wave of infections, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Europe has been grappling with a second surge in Covid-19 infections since September which has led to the re-introduction of lockdowns in certain countries and an overall stepping up of restrictions across the region. 

Despite a slowdown in cases in some countries in recent days, the numbers are still high and are not yet showing clear signs of a cresting. In the meantime, Europeans are pondering whether they’ll be able to gather with their families over the holiday period.

Vaccine hope

News that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is effective and could have up to 90% efficacy was met with widespread joy on Monday (23 November). “We expect COVID-19 vaccines to develop into a significant market as new products gain approval and begin to meet the high demand for protection from the disease,” according to a brief analysis by Fitch Solutions. It notes that with more products looking likely to pass regulatory hurdles, “these products will help to develop COVID-19 vaccines into a multi-billion-dollar commercial opportunity”. 

Prices are expected to rise in the short-term as countries look to secure access in light of positive Phase 3 trial results, but over the long-term are expected to fall back as new products enter the market,” the briefing added. “Companies will soon be in a position to capitalize on success in Phase III trials through commanding high prices for vaccines,” the analysis states.

Extra plenary session between Christmas and New Year’s Eve

The European Parliament is preparing for an extra plenary session between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to give its consent to a possible post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, according to several EU officials and diplomats. It is likely to be held on 28 December, to give EU governments the opportunity to have the very last say, as foreseen by the bloc’s procedures, before the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period on 31 December.

Private Greek hospitals compelled to take COVID-19 patients

The Greek government took over two private hospitals in Thessaloniki on 19 November in which transmission of the coronavirus has been particularly widespread. The decision was reached after the private clinics failed to voluntarily provide 200 beds for COVID-19 patients despite appeals by the Health Ministry. Public hospitals in Thessaloniki and other parts of northern Greece have been struggling to cope with the influx of coronavirus patients, adding beds from other wards and setting up isolation tents after reaching their official capacities. .

And that is everything from EAPM for now, do stay tuned during the week for further updates on all health-related issues, stay safe, and remember to check out the agenda of EAPM’s 10 December lung cancer round table here, and register here.

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