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Joint Research Centre report: Loneliness has doubled across the EU since the pandemic

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One in four EU citizens reported feeling lonely during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report from the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC). The report contains the latest scientific evidence on loneliness and social isolation in the EU, and analyzes the survey by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, showing that feelings of loneliness doubled across all age groups in the early months of the pandemic.

There was a four-fold increase in loneliness among 18-35 year olds, compared to 2016. Media coverage across the EU on the phenomenon of loneliness also doubled during the pandemic, with awareness of the issue varying widely across member states. The JRC report explores initiatives to tackle loneliness in 10 EU member states.

Democracy and Demography Vice President Dubravka Šuica said: “The coronavirus pandemic has brought problems like loneliness and social isolation to the fore. These feelings already existed, but there was less public awareness of them. With this new report, we can start to better understand and tackle these problems. Together with other initiatives, like the Green Paper on Ageing, we have an opportunity to reflect on how to build together a more resilient, cohesive society and an EU that is closer to its citizens.”

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Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel added: “Loneliness is a challenge that is increasingly affecting our young people. But to address any challenge effectively we first need to understand it. Our scientists at the Joint Research Centre are providing valuable insights into loneliness and how people have been impacted by the pandemic. This new report gives us a baseline for broader analysis, so that loneliness and social isolation can be fully understood and addressed in Europe.”

The report is the first step of broader collaborative work between the European Parliament and the Commission. The project will include new EU-wide data collection on loneliness, to be carried out in 2022, and the establishment of a web platform to monitor loneliness over time and across Europe. Read more here and the full report here.

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European Commission

Poland ordered to pay the European Commission half a million euro daily penalty over Turów mine

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The European Court has placed a daily fine of €500,000 on Poland to be paid to the European Commission over its failure to respect an order from 21 May to stop extraction activities at Turów open-cast lignite mine, writes Catherine Feore.

The mine is located in Poland, but is close to the Czech and German borders. It was granted a concession to operate in 1994. On 20 March 2020, the Polish climate minister granted permission for an extension to lignite mining until 2026. The Czech Republic referred the matter to the European Commission and on 17 December 2020, the Commission issued a reasoned opinion in which it criticized Poland for several breaches of EU law. In particular, the Commission considered that, by adopting a measure allowing a six-year extension without carrying out an environmental impact assessment, Poland had breached EU law. 

The Czech Republic asked the court to make an interim decision, pending the final  judgment of the Court, which it granted. However, since the Polish authorities failed to comply with its obligations under that order, the Czech Republic, on 7 June 2021, made an application seeking that Poland be ordered to pay a daily penalty payment of €5,000,000 to the EU budget for failure to fulfil its obligations. 

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Today (20 September) the court rejected an application by Poland to overturn the interim measures and ordered Poland to pay the Commission a penalty payment of €500,000 per day, one tenth of what was requested by the Czech Republic. The Court said that they were not bound by the amount proposed by the Czech Republic and thought the lower figure would be adequate to encourage Poland “to put an end to its failure to fulfil its obligations under the interim order”.

Poland claimed that the cessation of lignite mining activities in the Turów mine could cause an interruption in the distribution of heating and drinking water in the territories of Bogatynia (Poland) and Zgorzelec (Poland), which threatens the health of the inhabitants of those territories. The court found that Poland had not sufficiently substantiated that this represented a genuine risk.

Given Poland’s failure to comply with the interim order, the Court found that it had no choice but to impose a fine. The CJEU has underlined that it is very rare that a member state brings an action for failure to fulfil obligations against another member state, this is the ninth such action in the history of the Court.

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€7 billion for key infrastructure projects: Missing links and green transport

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A call for proposals launched under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for Transport programme is making €7 billion available for European transport infrastructure projects. The majority of projects funded under this call will help to increase the sustainability of our overall transport network, putting the EU on track to meet the European Green Deal objective of cutting transport emissions by 90% by 2050.

Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, said: “We are massively increasing funds available for deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure, to €1.5 billion. For the first time, we are also supporting projects so that our trans-European transport networks are suitable for civilian-defence dual-use and improve military mobility across the EU. Projects funded under yesterday's call will contribute to the creation of an efficient and interconnected multimodal transport system for both passengers and freight, and the development of infrastructure to support more sustainable mobility choices.”

The EU needs an efficient and interconnected multimodal transport system for both passengers and freight. This must include an affordable, high-speed rail network, abundant recharging and refuelling infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles, and increased automation for greater efficiency and safety. Further information is available online.

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REACT-EU: € 4.7 billion to support jobs, skills and the poorest people in Italy

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The Commission has granted €4.7 billion to Italy under REACT-EU to encourage the country's response to the coronavirus crisis and contribute to a sustainable socio-economic recovery. The new funding is the result of the modification of two operational programs of the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). The Italian national ESF program ‘Active employment policies' will receive €4.5bn to support employment in the areas most affected by the pandemic.

The additional funds will increase the hiring of young people and women, allow workers to participate in training and support tailor-made services for job seekers. In addition, they will help protect jobs in small businesses in the regions of Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia.

Employment and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “The European Union continues to help its citizens overcome the COVID-19 crisis. The new funding for Italy will help create jobs, especially for young people and women, in the regions most in need. Investments in skills are another priority and are essential to master the ecological and digital transitions. We are also paying special attention to the most vulnerable people in Italy by strengthening the funding of food aid."

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Cohesion and Reform Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “Regions are at the heart of Europe's recovery from the pandemic. I am delighted that member states are using the Union's emergency aid to tackle the pandemic and initiate a sustainable and inclusive recovery for the long term. REACT-EU funding will help Italians in the worst-hit regions recover from the crisis and create the foundations for a modern, forward-looking economy. As part of NextGenerationEU, REACT-EU is providing additional funding of €50.6bn (at current prices) to cohesion policy programs during 2021 and 2022 to support labor market resilience, jobs, small and medium-sized businesses and low-income families."

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