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Women continue to lose out in gender pay gap

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Today is EU Equal Pay Day.

On average, women in the European Union earn 14% less than men and for every €1 men earn, women earn 86 cents, equating to two months working for free in a calendar year.

The European Union marks November 10th as the day when women symbolically stop getting paid less compared to their male colleagues for doing the same job.

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Grace Bolton from the European Commission Office in Dublin says a gender-sensitive recovery is needed to address the pay gap.

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Belarus

International sanctions: Easy to misapply and hard to reverse

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In June of this year, after the Lukashenko government’s forced grounding of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, the EU announced that 78 persons and seven entities would be added to their sanctions against Belarus. Following suit this Monday (13 September), the UK government imposed a raft of trade, financial, and aviation restrictions in response to the abuses of the Lukashenko regime. One controversial inclusion in both rounds of sanctions was Mikhail Gutseriev, the Russian entrepreneur and philanthropist, who has business interests in the Belarusian energy and hospitality sectors. Many have been puzzled as to why Gutseriev, as a businessman with investments all over the world, has been targeted in connection to his relatively limited involvement in Belarus. His case has also raised broader questions and initiated a debate about the efficacy of sanctions which confer guilt by association, rather than punish known lawbreakers, writes Colin Stevens.

The EU’s ‘restrictive measures’

Starting with the EU’s approach, the block has a well-established process for executing ‘restrictive measures’, the primary tool of its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). European sanctions have four key objectives: safeguarding the EU’s interests and security, preserving the peace, supporting democracy and human rights, and strengthening international security. If sanctions are imposed, they can fall on governments, companies, groups or organisations, and individuals. In terms of ratification, the EU’s Foreign Affairs and Security representative, and the European Commission, make a joint sanction proposal, which is then voted on by the European Council. If the vote is passed, the EU’s court will then decide if the measure protects ‘human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular due process and the right to an effective remedy’. Note that the European Parliament, the EU’s democratically elected chamber, is kept informed of the proceedings but can neither reject nor ratify the sanctions.

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The difficulty of application

When adding an individual or entity to their sanctions list, the EU sets out why they deem the measure to be appropriate. Returning to the controversial case of Mikhail Gutseriev, the block has accused Gutseriev of ‘benefitting from and supporting the Lukashenko regime’. They describe him as a ‘long-time friend’ of the President, the supposed smoking gun being two times when both men were confirmed to be in the same vicinity. The first was at the opening of a new Orthodox church, which Gutseriev had sponsored, and the second was at Lukashenko’s swearing-in as President, what the EU describes as a ‘secret’ event, despite it being broadcast on TV and being open to the public. The EU also reports that Lukashenko once thanked Gutseriev for the money he had given to Belarusian charities and the billions of dollars he had invested in the country.

Taking a step back, it’s clear that the EU is working on the basis of guilt by association – Gutseriev has been in Lukashenko’s orbit, ergo he is a supporter of his regime. However, the problem with the EU’s approach is that there is little hard evidence of a genuine closeness between the two men. What is there to say that Gutseriev did not simply maintain a working relationship with the President so that he could continue to invest and run his businesses in Belarus? In a communication explaining its internal process, the European Commission states that restrictive measures are imposed ‘to bring about a change in policy activity…by entities or individuals’. To change a harmful policy is of course desirable, but the EU must be careful not to disincentivise the small group of investors who take the risk of operating in, and making charitable donations to, low-income countries with unstable leaderships.

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The UK’s position

Considering this potential drawback in their approach, the EU will undoubtedly have been pleased that the British government has likewise targeted Lukashenko and those deemed to be close to him. Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, accused the Belarusian President of crushing democracy and outlined that action would be taken against the country’s state-owned industries and aerospace companies. In general, the UK’s sanctioning process has similar objectives to the EU’s, and both favour trade and financial measures, such as arms embargoes and asset freezes. Like their partners in Europe, the British government will be hoping that they can change Lukashenko’s policies and approach, without inflicting unnecessary economic harm on ordinary Belarussians. Yet history shows that finding this balance is far from easy. Going back to the early 2000s, the British government and the EU imposed sanctions on Belarus and Zimbabwe, and on their wealthy elites. Judging by the positions of both countries now, with Belarus under Lukashenko, and Zimbabwe still beset by economic woes and internal conflict, one would be hard pressed to say that such an approach had been a success.

Getting things right

In fairness to the EU and the UK, they have clarified that they want to avoid adverse consequences for those not responsible for the policies and actions in question. However, by ascribing sanctions on the basis of guilt by association, both parties run the risk of doing exactly that. Hassan Blasim, the celebrated Kurdish film director who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime, said that the West’s economic sanctions meant that ‘life was almost dead’ in Iraq in the 1990s. What’s more, it was a hugely controversial invasion, not the regime of sanctions, which eventually led to Hussein’s downfall. Western diplomats may be trying their best to avoid doing similar damage today, but they should be careful not to undermine the investment and enterprise, the lifeblood of any economy, that Belarus will need to rebuild in the future.

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Cancer

EAPM: Headline event on the crest of a wave in fight against cancer!

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Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – the upcoming EAPM event is tomorrow, 17 September! It’s called ‘The need for change: Defining the health-care ecosystem to determine value’ and it will take place during the ESMO Congress, details below, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Cancer screening, cancer priorities at the political level

The EAPM event comes at a propitious time for forward progress on cancer - Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced a new initiative to update a 17-year-old Council recommendation on cancer screening. The new 2022 initiatives were proposed in a letter of intent published during the president’s State of the Union address yesterday (15 September).  

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In addition, political party the EPP has made clear its cancer policy priorities in a 15-point programme. The policy document outlines proposed amendments to the Cancer Committee’s own initiative report. This, along with reform of the cross border health care directive — which in theory allows for patients in one member country to be treated in another — and data sharing being key to applying artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to research, and to enable the digital transformation of health care, have been issues very much at the forefront of EAPM’s recent work, to tackle disparities in cancer prevention, use of data, diagnosis, and treatment around Europe. 

The event will take place from 8h30–16h CET tomorrow; here is the link to register and here is the link to the agenda

Parliament passes two more European Health Union files

Two more European Health Union proposals will move to trilogues after passing in the Parliament’s plenary today (16 September). The proposals for the regulation on serious cross-border health threats passed with 594 votes in favor, 85 against and 16 abstentions. Meanwhile, the mandate change for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Council (ECDC) passed with 598 votes in favor, 84 against and 13 abstentions.

The first proposal to increase the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is already in trilogues. The second meeting will be held later this month.

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Data Governance Act

In preparation of a proposal for a new Data Act expected by December 2021, the European Commission has opened a public consultation.

The main objective of this initiative is to support data sharing within the EU economy, in particular business-to-business and business-to-government, with a horizontal scope (e.g., covering industrial data, Internet of Things, etc.). 

It aims at complementing other data-related files, such as the Data Governance Act, the GDPR and ePrivacy Regulation, Competition Law (e.g. the Horizontal Cooperation Guidelines) and the Digital Markets Act. As reported in politico, this will be tackled by deputy ambassadors in Coreper I on 1 October. An EU official familiar with the process said a few countries asked for minor changes on data intermediaries and international data transfers.

‘Risky’ artificial intelligence 

The U.N. human rights chief is calling for a moratorium on the use of artificial intelligence technology that poses a serious risk to human rights, including face-scanning systems that track people in public spaces. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, also said Wednesday that countries should expressly ban AI applications which don’t comply with international human rights law. Applications that should be prohibited include government “social scoring” systems that judge people based on their behavior and certain AI-based tools that categorize people into clusters such as by ethnicity or gender. 

AI-based technologies can be a force for good but they can also “have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said in a statement. 

Her comments came along with a new U.N. report that examines how countries and businesses have rushed into applying AI systems that affect people’s lives and livelihoods without setting up proper safeguards to prevent discrimination and other harms. “This is not about not having AI,” Peggy Hicks, the rights office’s director of thematic engagement, told journalists as she presented the report in Geneva. “It’s about recognizing that if AI is going to be used in these human rights — very critical — function areas, that it’s got to be done the right way. And we simply haven’t yet put in place a framework that ensures that happens.”

EU digital targets for 2030

The Commission has proposed a plan to monitor how EU countries move forward on the bloc’s digital targets for 2030. The EU will promote its human-centred digital agenda on the global stage and promote alignment or convergence with EU norms and standards. It will also ensure the security and resilience of its digital supply chains and deliver global solutions. 

These will be achieved by setting a toolbox combining regulatory cooperation, addressing capacity building and skills, investment in international co-operation and research partnerships, designing digital economy packages financed through initiatives that bring together the EU and combining EU internal investments and external co-operation instruments investing in improved connectivity with the EU’s partners. The Commission will soon launch a wide-ranging discussion and consultation process, including with citizens, on the EU vision and the digital principles.

EIB backs money for vaccines 

The European Investment Bank’s (EIB) board of directors have approved €647 million to help countries buy and distribute COVID-19 vaccines and other health projects. Vaccine distribution will benefit Argentina, as well as South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. At the start of the crisis, European Investment Bank staff started working on the health emergency and the economic downturn at the same time. The Bank divided its support for biotechnology and medical companies into three main sectors: vaccines, therapies and diagnostics. The aim: to track infections, stop the spread of the disease and care for those who get sick.

Earlier this year, the Bank approved €5 billion in new financing to support urgent action in fields such as health care and medical innovation for COVID-19. Since then, more than 40 biotechnology or medical companies and projects have been approved for EIB financing worth about €1.2 billion. This put the Bank at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19.

The European Investment Bank is also backing global programmes to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, especially in the developing world. For example, the Bank recently approved a €400 million deal with COVAX, a global initiative supported by hundreds of countries, the private sector and philanthropic organisations to promote equal access to a vaccine.

Good news to finish - Coronavirus vaccines cut risk of long Covid, study finds 

Being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 not only cuts the risk of catching it, but also of an infection turning into long Covid, research led by King's College London suggests. It shows that in the minority of people who get Covid despite two jabs, the odds of developing symptoms lasting longer than four weeks are cut by 50%. This is compared with people who are not vaccinated. 

So far, 78.9% of over-16s in the UK have had two doses of a Covid vaccine. Many people who get Covid recover within four weeks but some have symptoms that continue or develop for weeks and months after the initial infection - sometimes known as long Covid. It can happen after people experience even mild coronavirus symptoms. The researchers, whose work was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, say it is clear that vaccinations are saving lives and preventing serious illness, but the impact of vaccines on developing long-lasting illness has been less certain.

That is all from EAPM for this week – we look forward very much to the event tomorrow, and will be reporting on it next week. Until then, stay safe, well, and here is the link to register and here is the link to the agenda

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coronavirus

Commission approves €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support cattle farmers affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support farmers active in the cattle-breeding sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure aims at mitigating the liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing and at addressing part of the losses they incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Latvian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The Commission found that the scheme is in line with the conditions of the Temporary Framework.

In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €225,000 per beneficiary; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the scheme under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64541 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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