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'Global challenges require investment in multilateral diplomacy'

EU Reporter Correspondent



09202013_AP900619379095-300The global challenges that nations face today require a determined investment in multilateral diplomacy, and the United Nations system is the best place for it, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Dean Pittman has said.

“As the president stated very clearly in 2009 when he made his first speech to the UN General Assembly, the US sees great value in engaging on the multilateral stage,” Pittman said in a recent wide-ranging interview from his office at the State Department in Washington. “Not only to help join with our allies to provide global solutions to these global challenges, but also to help advance US interests.”

“It is in our interests to build more secure, stable states overseas,” Pittman said. Providing better health care globally, protecting the environment and related issues are “all benefits to Americans as well as to the rest of the world.”

Pittman, who heads the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, noted that these are issues that the United States cannot resolve unilaterally or bilaterally, but must work in a “concerted effort with our global partners.”

“The U.N. system is the best place to do that,” he added.

What President Obama and the United States will do at the opening of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly September 23–27 and after will be to emphasize the importance of multilateral diplomacy and the U.S. commitment, Pittman said. General debate among the nations begins September 24. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host a high-level meeting on disabilities on the opening day, September 23.

“There are challenges, but none represents a threat too dangerous to diminish our commitment to building and employing multilateral institutions that serve our national interests,” Pittman said in a recent speech at Georgetown University in Washington.

“In fact, in spite of these challenges there is more than ample evidence that US leadership, in combination with efforts by our allies across the U.N. system, is making a critical, positive difference,” he said.

Traditionally, the US president addresses the gathering of world leaders on the first Tuesday morning of general debate, and President Obama is scheduled to make his address on 24 September. The week of general debate is one of the more intriguing moments at the United Nations, because the leaders of the 193 member nations are invited to address the General Assembly. The subjects and themes presented are often as broad as the membership.

Pittman says the United States has three broad objectives for the new session:

• Fostering a more peaceful, secure world.

• Advancing efforts on sustainable development and human rights.

• Working “very hard” to make the U.N. a more effective system.

“One of the key elements that will be the focus for this year’s [General Assembly] will be the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals [MDG] agenda, which have been successful but not completed,” Pittman said.

“And so as we move forward with how we’re going to address sustainable development, environmental issues, global health, the whole range of issues to help improve the lives of people around the world, we’ll be looking at the framework of the 2015 agenda as a way to define that going forward,” he said. “It’s critical that we look at this in a holistic way, because there’s so much interconnection between development and stability and education and economic opportunity.”

Pittman noted in his Georgetown speech that the first MDG target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was actually met and exceeded in 2010. Another example is an MDG goal of reducing the mortality of children under 5 from 12 million children in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011, he said.

President Obama will participate in an event on civil society that emphasizes how the United States views the importance of individual citizens and non-governmental organizations to the work that the United Nations and others do around the world. “It really is the involvement and engagement of civil society that is a critical element,” Pittman said.

He also noted that significant progress has been made across the MDG spectrum on access to education, combating HIV/AIDS and malaria, and reducing hunger.

Pittman said the United States is striving to strengthen UN peacekeeping missions, working closely with the United Nations and troop-contributing nations to help improve their capacity, provide training and ensure that they have the tools and the mandate necessary to accomplish what is everyone’s objective. “And that’s really providing the space to build stable societies,” he said.

Pittman also said there is a noticeable increase in the meaningful voice of young people in foreign affairs. “I think we can safely say that every generation since the end of World War II has been more internationally engaged than the previous,” he said.

“We know what is important to young people: opportunities for effective political engagement, access to education, the hope for meaningful employment, and the desire for a safe and healthy future for themselves and their families,” Pittman said in his Georgetown speech.

For that reason the United States sponsors a US Youth Observer program to amplify the youth voice in US multilateral diplomacy efforts. Tiffany Taylor, a US college student, will be traveling to the UN General Assembly, participating in meetings and events and engaging in other UN venues throughout a one-year period, he said.

The State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs is the US government’s primary representative in the United Nations and international organizations through a host of U.S. missions with teams of diplomats.


European strategy for data: What MEPs want

EU Reporter Correspondent



Find out how MEPs want to shape the EU's rules for non-personal data sharing to boost innovation and the economy while protecting privacy.

Data is at the heart of the EU's digital transformation that is influencing all aspects of society and the economy. It is necessary for the development of artificial intelligence, which is one of the EU's priorities, and presents significant opportunities for innovation, recovery after the Covid-19 crisis and growth, for example in health and green technologies.

Read more about big data opportunities and challenges.

Responding to the European Commission's European Strategy for Data, Parliament's industry, research and energy committee called for legislation focussed on people based on European values of privacy and transparency that will enable Europeans and EU-based companies to benefit from the potential of industrial and public data in a report adopted on 24 February 2021.

The benefits of an EU data economy

MEPs said that the crisis has shown the need for efficient data legislation that will support research and innovation. Large quantities of quality data, notably non-personal - industrial, public, and commercial - already exist in the EU and their full potential is yet to be explored. In the coming years, much more data will be generated. MEPs expect data legislation to help tap into this potential and make data available to European companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, and researchers.

Enabling data flow between sectors and countries will help European businesses of all sizes to innovate and thrive in Europe and beyond and help establish the EU as a leader in the data economy.

The Commission projects that the data economy in the EU could grow from €301 billion in 2018 to €829 billion in 2025, with the number of data professionals rising from 5.7 to 10.9 million.

Europe's global competitors, such as the US and China, are innovating quickly and applying their ways of data access and use. To become a leader in the data economy, the EU should find a European way to unleash potential and set standards.

Rules to protect privacy, transparency and fundamental rights

MEPs said rules should be based on privacy, transparency and respect for fundamental rights. The frree sharing of data must be limited to non-personal data or irreversibly anonymised data. Individuals must be in full control of their data and be protected by EU data protection rules, notably the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The committee called on the Commission and EU countries to work with other countries on global standards to promote EU values and principles and ensure the Union’s market remains competitive.

European data spaces and big data infrastructure

Calling for the free flow of data to be the guiding principle, MEPs urged the Commission and EU countries to create sectoral data spaces that will enable the sharing of data while following common guidelines, legal requirements and protocols. In light of the pandemic, MEPs said that special attention should be given to the Common European Health Data Space.

As the success of the data strategy depends largely on information and communication technology infrastructure, MEPs called for accelerating technological developments in the EU, such as cybersecurity technology, optical fibres, 5G and 6G, and welcomed proposals to advance Europe's role in supercomputing and quantum computing. They warned that the digital divide between regions should be tackled to ensure equal possibilities, especially in light of the post-Covid recovery.

Environmental footprint of big data

While data has the potential to support green technologies and the EU's goal to become climate neutral by 2050, the digital sector is responsible for more than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As it grows, it must focus on lowering its carbon footprint and reducing E-waste, MEPs said.

EU data sharing legislation

The Commission presented a European strategy for data in February 2020. The strategy and the White paper on artificial intelligence are the first pillars of the Commission's digital strategy.

Read more about artificial intelligence opportunities and what the Parliament wants.

The industry, research and energy committee expects the report will be taken into account in the new Data Act that the Commission will present in the second half of 2021.

Parliament is also working on a report on the Data Governance Act that the Commission presented in December 2020 as part of the strategy for data. It aims to increase data availability and strengthen trust in data sharing and in intermediaries.

Parliament is set to vote on the committee report during a plenary session in March.

A European strategy for data 

Data Governance Act: European data governance 

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Aviation Strategy for Europe

Commission approves €26 million Irish aid scheme to compensate airport operators in context of coronavirus outbreak

EU Reporter Correspondent



The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a €26 million Irish aid scheme to compensate airport operators for the losses caused by the coronavirus outbreak and the travel restrictions imposed by Ireland to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The aid consists of three measures: (i) a damage compensation measure; (ii) an aid measure to support the airport operators up to a maximum of €1.8 million per beneficiary; and (iii) an aid measure to support the uncovered fixed costs of these companies.

The aid will take the form of direct grants. In case of support for the uncovered fixed costs, aid can also be granted in the form of guarantees and loans. The damage compensation measure will be open to operators of Irish airports that handled more than 1 million passengers in 2019. Under this measure, these operators can be compensated for the net losses suffered during the period between 1 April and 30 June 2020 as a result of the restrictive measures implemented by the Irish authorities in order to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The Commission assessed the first measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and found that it will provide compensation for damage that is directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damage. With regard to the other two measures, the Commission found that they are in line with the conditions set out in the state aid Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021 and (ii) will not exceed €1.8 million per beneficiary under the second measure and will not exceed €10 million per beneficiary under the third measure.

The Commission concluded that both measures are 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 three measures 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.59709 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Aviation: Slot relief enacted

EU Reporter Correspondent



Following a proposal by the Commission from December 2020, the Council has adopted the amendment to the Slot Regulation that relieves airlines of airport slot-use requirements for the summer 2021 scheduling season. The amendment allows airlines to return up to half of the airport slots that they have been allocated before the start of the season.

Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said: “We welcome the final text of the amendment which allows to better adjust slot rules to consumer demand for air travel, fosters competition and sets the path for a gradual return to normal rules. I expect that this initiative will incentivise airlines to make efficient use of airport capacity, and that it will ultimately benefit EU consumers.”

The Commission has delegated powers for one year after the amendment enters into force, and so can extend the rules until the end of the summer 2022 season, if necessary. The Commission may also adapt the use rate within a range of 30-70%, depending on how air traffic volumes evolve. The legal acts will be published in the EU Official Journal in the coming days and enter into force the day after their publication. You will find more details here.

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