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Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI)

Topic Overview Zeist 2021

No more time to lose: Despite strict nature protection laws, the EU is struggling to maintain its biodiversity, with unsustainable farming, fragmentation, habitat loss, and climate change being the biggest threats to biodiversity. What can the EU do in order to protect all species and habitats in Europe?

Chaired by Azra Özen (TR)

The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.’

– Charles Darwin, evolutionist and biologist

The Topic at a Glance

Nature is the fundamental source of human life. Without the goods nature provides, human life would not be possible. Thus, all kinds of life are dependent on nature and each other. We depend on nature for food, medicine, housing, clothing, and clean water. For instance, pollination by butterflies and bees provides us with the vegetables and fruits we need to survive. However, recent agricultural developments such as the utilization of pesticides threatens these vital insects, paving the way for food insecurity.

It is crucial to remember that all life comes from nature itself, therefore preserving natural sources and living creatures is a matter of life and death. Human health and well-being depend on the thriving of a biodiverse nature.

The living things sheltered by mother nature come in abundant characteristics. But why? Biodiversity is essential for the continuity of life. Biodiversity provides a functioning ecosystem that gives clean air, oxygen, plant pollination, and many more ecosystem services. Biodiversity also assists the continuity of the species itself. Biologically diverse species have a better chance of surviving changing ecosystems, for instance, climate change. One of the major threats to humanity is the reduction of biodiversity. Recently the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) revealed that up to 25% of European animal species are now threatened with extinction. Urgent action is required in order to get the biodiversity of the EU back on track. There are some ambitious attempts such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and Natura 2000 network. However, policies and legislations are not adequate alone. 

During the process of development, the objective should always be about working with nature rather than against it

Keywords

  • Biodiversity is defined as the variety of all kinds of life on Earth. Biodiversity can be addressed in three main pillars: genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity. Genetic diversity is differences in genes in one particular species. Species diversity refers to the variety of species given in one biological organisation. Variation of ecological processes and habitats defines ecosystem diversity. Biodiversity is a fundamental source of life on Earth. 
  • An ecosystem is the complex network formed by interacting organisms in a biological environment. An ecosystem comprises a variety of habitats and species. Terrestrial, forest, grassland, and desert are instances of some ecosystems.
  • Ecosystem services are benefits that flow from nature to humankind. Some examples of advantages these ecosystems provide are clean water, natural crop pollination, clean air, and waste decomposition. 
  • Natural capitals are the world’s stock of natural assets from which ecosystem services are provided from such as soil, atmosphere, plants, and animals. 
  • Habitat Loss is the degradation of where a plant or animal normally lives and grows. This decrease of types of natural habitats are often caused by climate change, overexploitation, pressure on habitats from industries such as agriculture, pollution, and urban sprawl.

Figure 1: Infographic on natural capitals and ecosystem services.

Key Stakeholders

This topic falls into the responsibility of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment (DG ENV). It ensures environmental protection with proposals for and the implementation of environmental policies. 

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) is the agency of the European Union whose goal is to be the primary source of environmental knowledge at the European level. It assists the Member States to be informed in order to make more sustainable environmental decisions. The gathering of data related to environmental issues also falls into the responsibility of EEA. 

The EEA coordinates its activities with the European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet). It is the EEA’s responsibility to develop Eionet and coordinate its activities together with National Focal Points (NFPs) in other countries. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an union that brings government and civil society organisations together to accelerate environmental protection. Assisting the implementation process of national conservation measures and supporting environmental research through the member organisations are some of IUCN’s responsibilities.

EUROPARC is a network whose aim is ​​to improve the management of Protected Areas in Europe through international cooperation, exchange of ideas and experience, and by influencing policy. 

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an organisation aiming to harness scientific expertise and policy making processes in order to ensure knowledge-based, scientific policies. Making assessments on specific themes, policy support, building capacity and knowledge, and ensuring wider outreach are the main responsibilities of the IPBES.

Environmental policy is a shared competence, meaning the Member States can adopt their own legislation, but are obliged to implement the binding policies adopted by the European Union. However this process can be challenging with the lack of coordination between the stakeholders, policy makers, and the public. Civil society organisations (CSOs) play a crucial role in order to enhance the communication between local actors and the governmental organisations. Implementation and monitoring processes highly depend on civil society organisations since they form a tangible connection between stakeholders. 

Figure 2: The Key Stakeholders of the Topic.

Key Conflicts

Capitalism versus Environmental Action

The conflict around implementing environmental action concerning biodiversity arises within economic doubts. Some say the application of environmental policies causes pollution-intensive companies to be exposed to cost imposements. Thus, policymakers shy away from implementing strict nature protection regulations due to the fear of possible alteration of companies’ competitiveness, job loss, and increased production costs. In a world dominated by capital flows, environmental protection can come across as sacrificing economic performance. However, economic development and environmental action are not as fully in opposition as they may appear. Environmental policies could also enhance productivity, increase the quality of employment, and encourage the transition to a resilient and sustainable economy.

The Climate Is Changing Why Aren’t We

Biodiversity and climate change are immensely interconnected. Tackling the issue of climate change cannot be achieved without protecting biodiversity, and protecting species and habitats is impossible without mitigating climate change. Climate change puts pressure on biodiversity, causing species to decline. At the same time, climate change will accelerate further if biodiversity and ecosystems are not effectively protected. Humanity is facing a problem in which the cause and the outcome should be addressed in an integrated manner

Biodiversity maintenance has the utmost importance in mitigating climate change since it increases resilience by ensuring that there are enough different species to sustain ecological processes in the event of unforeseen disturbances. Terrestrial and marine ecosystems play a crucial role in regulating climate, currently absorbing roughly half of manmade carbon emissions. Trees purify the air, provide carbon storage, cool the surrounding area, and prevent floods by storing water. However, biodiversity’s role in mitigating climate change is often neglected.

However, some actions aimed at combating climate change can cause the loss of biodiversity, if not properly designed. For instance, bioenergy sources like wind turbines can be dangerous for bird species. This again indicates the need for integrated action against climate change and biodiversity, such as with ecosystem-based approaches, including green infrastructure.

More, More, More

Humanity is paying the price of a major economic and industrial development. The global population has increased from 3 billion to 7.8 billion people since World War II, which raises the consumption demand. Simultaneously, as stated at the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than half of the world’s total GDP is dependent on nature and its services.

Consequently, overexploitation of natural resources is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, alongside being an obstacle to sustainable development. Sustaining a long-term use of natural resources while maintaining economic growth remains a challenge. Humanity has been exploiting natural resources faster than the earth’s rate of regeneration since 1970 due to the enormous rate of economic growth and consumer demand. If exploitation continues at this rate, we would need 2.5 earths to sustain humanity by 2050

Agriculture must be taken into consideration while addressing biodiversity. A balance between improving food production and consumption and nature protection is required to turn the tide of biodiversity loss. Agroecological approaches are one of the ways of sustaining this balance. 

Sustainable management of resources such as improving restoration of degraded ecosystems or promoting the use of renewable resources is crucial to tackling the issue of overexploitation. Educating the public and raising awareness about biodiversity is also critical. This can be achieved with proper data collection and data viability which is currently lacking

Figure 3: Humanity’s footprint exceeds the Earth’s biocapacity. 

Alien Species are Taking Over

Simply increasing biodiversity is not always advantageous. Invasive alien species cause harm to the existing ecosystem by pressurising the native species. Invasive Alien Species (IAS) are animals and plants introduced into an environment where they are not normally found. For instance, trade with ships can transfer species to other continents. This often has serious negative consequences for the existing ecosystem. The effect of invasive alien species cannot be neglected. The European Union is exposed to annual damages worth EUR 12 billion attributable to Invasive Alien Species’ effects on human health, damaged infrastructure, and agricultural losses.

Measures in Place

Nature and biodiversity are protected under various legislations in the European Union. 

The Birds Directive supports protection for bird species’ biodiversity. According to the Commission, at least 32% of the EU’s bird species currently do not have a good conservation status. This directive establishes a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs), prohibits hunting when birds are most vulnerable, and promotes research to underpin the protection of all species listed. 

The Habitats Directive established the Natura 2000 Network and protects over 1000 species of animals, plants, and over 200 types of habitats. This directive lists criteria for the selection of sites, introduces both economically and ecologically sustainable conservation measures, obliges EU countries to apply proper management of the sites, and prohibits any deliberate capture or killing of the listed species. 

Natura 2000 Network is the largest network of protected areas around the world. 18% of Europe’s land area and more than 8% of the marine territory is protected under this network, although not all human activities are prohibited in these areas such as agriculture which don’t cause harm to the species. The goal of this network is to establish a protection system for Europe’s vulnerable species and habitats as defined by the Birds and Habitats Directives.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 is a long-term strategy aiming to put Europe’s biodiversity back on track by 2030. A core part of the EU Green Deal, it aims to build resilience to climate change, forest fires, food insecurity, and disease outbreaks. This strategy contains commitments such as enlarging the existing protected areas, establishing an EU Nature Restoration Plan which includes proposing binding restoration targets, introducing measures to have a better tracking and implementation process, and improving research. 

Figure 4: Factsheet on EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030’s key commitments.

The Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE) is the main entry point for data and information on biodiversity in Europe, strengthening the knowledge base and supporting decision-making on biodiversity. The information BISE organises is revived under five pillars: supporting activities related to EU policy, information on a variety of topics concerning biodiversity, data sources and statistics, research projects improving science-policy interference, and information sharing networks across borders.

Key Questions

  • How can the EU better support the appliance of environmental policies without causing economic burden?
  • What are some possible ways to promote biological diversity strategies in order to better mitigate climate change?
  • How can the public become more informed and involved about threats of biodiversity loss?
  • Since one of the main obstacles against proper policy implementation of environmental regulation is lack of stakeholder coordination, how could the cooperation of authorities be enhanced globally?
  • Europe has one of the best policies about environment and biodiversity protection, yet biodiversity is shrinking. What could be done in order to augment the efficiency of the regulations?

Further Reading

Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL)

Topic Overview Zeist 2021

No one left behind: The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately hit research and development in some Member States. Students and early-career scientists are leaving their regions in order to obtain better funding in others, resulting in a vicious cycle of brain drain. How can the EU stop this trend whilst treating all regions fairly?

Chaired by Nikoleta Chapanova (BG)

Innovation is the only way to win.’

– Steve Jobs

The Topic at a Glance

Innovation is the engine of economic growth, leading to significant benefits for workers and companies, and especially in times of crisis, innovation is an essential part of ensuring a smooth recovery. According to the EU, innovation is the main building block in creating a sustainable, digital and resilient recovery from the pandemic. To support this statement, the EU plans to invest up to EUR 95.5 billion in supporting researchers and entrepreneurs, making research and development one of the main pillar’s in the EU’s recovery plan. 

The uneven development of innovation systems among Member States and regions is not a new problem. In some Member States, a lack of political strategies combating youth unemployment, poor infrastructure, bureaucracy, and a lack of access to high quality services have been the leading causes for slowing down innovation and increasing migration to other countries and regions. Those effects can be seen in countries such as but not limited to Southern Italy, Greece, and Romania.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our lives, affecting living and working conditions. This has increased disparities between different countries, regions, and sectors. With increased public debt, especially in countries hit hard by the pandemic such as Italy, Spain, and Greece, the funding for research and development might be limited, resulting in a tangible need for the EU to act.

Keywords

  • Innovation is the evolution of ideas and technologies into better goods, services, or production. 
  • Brain drain is a term regarding emigration and immigration of highly-skilled individuals from one country or region to another in search of better living conditions or due to the existence of better professional opportunities in other countries. 
  • Brain Gain is when a country takes advantage of the immigration of highly skilled people from other countries. 
  • The European innovation scoreboard (EIS) provides an analysis of innovation performance in EU Member States and regional neighbours, through evaluating strengths and weaknesses of national innovation systems.
  • Entrepreneurship is the activity of setting up a business, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.
  • National innovation systems are the flow of technology and information among people, enterprises and institutions which is key to the innovative process on the national level.
  • ‘Multi-speed Europe’ is the idea that individual Member States can have the opportunity to group together to work on specific goals or projects and implement legislation, even if not all Member States join. It is already a reality with the existence of the Eurozone or the Schengen area.

Key Stakeholders 

The European Commision is the executive body of the EU, which executes policy and initiates legislation. The Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC) is a department of the Commision responsible for developing policies on education and youth and supporting research through programs such as the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions or the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT). 

The Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) is responsible for fostering entrepreneurship and growth to guarantee a sustainable and inclusive EU economy by providing funding and reducing the administrative burden on SMEs. The Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) aims to provide better working conditions for EU citizens and address challenges linked to globalisation.

Member States are responsible for their own national innovation systems or policies regarding living and working conditions. Member States can be mainly divided into two groups, those experiencing brain gain like Sweden, Ireland, Estonia, and Denmark, and those suffering from brain drain such as Romania, Poland, Italy, and Portugal.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Italian ‘Resto al Sud’ work on providing better opportunities for young people in less developed regions. 


Figure 1: The Key Stakeholders of the Topic.

Key Conflicts 

I can devote every minute to science.

The pandemic has been a catalyst for the wider establishment of remote working systems, which allow for more flexible working arrangements and people with care responsibilities or located in remote areas to have greater involvement in the labour market, thus improving diversity among research teams. The creation of open data systems like the European COVID-19 Data Platform allowed for more cooperation and transparency on an international level, minimising duplicated research efforts. Also, remote working reduces the time spent travelling as noted by Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunobiology, in the quote above.

Remote working gave many people the opportunity to return to their home regions, as shown in the cases of Italy, Romania, and Greece. At least 45 000 Italians moved from the well developed Northern regions to the central and Southern parts, while as many as 1.3 million Romanians returned home from countries like Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France

The pandemic created a divide between different sectors, regions, and countries. While the demand for health and digital products is increasing, leading to more investments in the technology, pharmaceuticals, and biotech sectors, other sectors such as the automotive and aerospace industries are struggling. COVID-19 is also affecting more countries that were already hit harder by the financial crisis in 2007-2008, affecting living and working conditions. 

The one who is ahead does not hear the one who is behind him, but if you are walking next to me, we can communicate and exchange our opinions.

In 2007, only 4.8% of the funding from Horizon 2020, the predecessor of Horizon Europe, went to countries from the Eastern regions of the Union, even though they account for 17% of the EU population. While traditional innovation hubs like Paris, Berlin, and Stockholm thrive, those in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe lack behind

With a number of countries, the so-called ‘core’, wanting to move forward as fast as possible, the concept of “enhanced cooperation” is not new, the fear of ‘a new kind of Iron Curtain between East and West’ has already been mentioned by Jean-Claude Juncker. 

With brain drain mostly affecting Member States with a weak research and innovation performance, establishing a working research environment requires reforms of national innovation systems and improving working conditions for highly-skilled workers. It should be noted that each country has a unique set of challenges and there is no ‘one fits all’ solution. 

‘Science knows no country.’ – Louis Pasteur

National innovation systems play a key role in enhancing innovation and boosting a country’s economy, allowing for more cooperation between universities, research institutions, and enterprises. Reforming innovation systems on a national level can facilitate better policies and support for researchers. Through national systems, governments can provide targeted support for research and development. 

Member States like Sweden, Ireland, Estonia, and Denmark offer higher employment rates and salaries, overall higher quality of life, and better funding for research, attracting mainly young researchers and students from countries such as Romania, Poland, Italy, and Portugal, where youth unemployment and enterprise death rates are higher. 

Measures in Place 

NextGenerationEU is the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan and the largest stimulus package in Europe with an investment of EUR 806.9 billion

One component of the plan is Horizon Europe, the world’s largest research and innovation program with a budget of over EUR 95.5 billion for 2021-2027. It builds on its predecessor, Horizon 2020, by making the application process easier and focusing on more small-scale projects, referred to as missions. The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions is a funding programme for doctoral education and postdoctoral training of researchers and part of Horizon Europe, with a budget of EUR 6.6 billion

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is an independent EU body and part of the Horizon Europe program. It aims to support entrepreneurship and develop regional outreach strategies to increase Europe’s competitiveness. In 2014, the EIT Regional Innovation Scheme (EIT RIS) was introduced to boost the performance of countries with moderate scores on the European Innovation Scoreboard in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, and Slovenia , with a budget from EUR 300 million to EUR 450 million

The European Research Area (ERA) is a set of policies launched in 2000 with the idea of creating a single borderless market for research and innovation, thereby improving circulation of researchers. It seeks to work alongside Member States to address challenges on national and European level. 

Key Questions

  • How can the EU ensure equally strong national innovation systems in all Member States?
  • How can the EU guarantee equal distribution of its funds? 
  • Should the EU continue to focus on borderless innovation or should it help improve innovation systems on a national level?

Further Reading

Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO)

Topic Overview Zeist 2021

Pacta sunt servanda: According to Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, aimed at ensuring compliance with basic European values in all Member States, a breach of European law can only be determined by a unanimous vote of the EU’s heads of state and government. Given the lengthiness of the Article 7 procedure and the possibility of alliances among Member States, how can the EU enforce its basic values?

Chaired by Sebastian Ohlig (DE)

‘If one system of judiciary is broken, the entire EU is broken.’

– Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency

The Topic at a Glance

At the heart of the European Union’s legislative system, one finds the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which delineates the fundamental rights and obligations of the Member States and details the structure of the EU. Enshrined in Article 2 at the very beginning of the TEU are certain foundational values of the EU: ‘respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the respect for human rights’.
The importance of the aforementioned values for the EU cannot be overstated. But what is to be done if a Member State infringes on these inalienable rights?

For a long time, in the times of the Schumann declaration and for the first EU treaties, compliance with the fundamental values of the European Union was tacitly taken for granted. It is not until the draft Treaty on European Union of 1984 that one finds the first mentions of rule of law provisions, from which point onward they became a standard fixture in European law. Yet Europe had to wait for the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice to have a tool to prosecute infringement of these European values.

Fast forward to Article 7. This Article was created to determine explicit measures against a breach of the values delineated in Article 2. Yet the process described in this article involves many steps and is hence rather slow, even in the best case scenario. The EU is still in want of an effective mechanism for policing the rule of law.

Keywords

  • Article 2 TEU details the values the European Union is based upon. European values is an umbrella term for the values of ‘human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’. These values are intended to be the fundament of EU policy and are also part of the Copenhagen Criteria, i.e. requirements for EU accession.
  • Rule of law, as mentioned in Article 2 of the TEU, refers to the fact that ‘all public powers [must] always act within the constraints set out by law, in accordance with the values of democracy and fundamental rights, and under the control of independent and impartial courts.’ In other words, the rule of law paradigm means the existence of equality and accountability in the legal system.
  • Article 48 TEU details the process necessary for amending the treaties of the European Union. The government of any Member State, the European Commission or the European Parliament may submit amendment proposals. After some negotiation, the change agreed to will enter into force after being ratified by all national parliaments of the Member States.
  • Article 7 is a tool for the EU to be able to react to Member States violating EU values, some say a ‘defense mechanism’ for Article 2 TEU. It encompasses a theoretical worst-case penalty of suspension of EU Council voting rights. The Article has two tracks, one for a ‘clear risk of a serious breach’ and one for a ‘serious and persistent breach’. The exact procedure, involving many steps and actors, is nicely shown here. The exact procedure and consequences of the application of Article 7 is shown in Article 354 TFEU.

Figure 1: The two tracks of Article 7 TEU.

Key Stakeholders

Central to the topic is the European Commission. The Commission can initiate Article 7 procedures, can propose to change the TEU, allocates funds, and can sue for infringement of the EU treaties.

In case of such a lawsuit, one proceeds to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which decides on the lawsuit. 

The European Council, (often referred to as the EU Council), judges on the validity of the Article 7 procedure as outlined above, and, as the Commission, it can initiate the Article 7 process.

The European Parliament also has the capacity to begin Article 7 procedures and can propose amendments to the EU treaties in accordance with the procedure of Article 48 TEU.

Lastly, the Member States are subject to these proceedings and require funding, supplied by the Commission. However, as they form the EU Council, they have an active say in the process.

Figure 2: The Key Stakeholders of the Topic.

Key Conflicts

Better safe than sorry

While the consequences of Article 7, if it were to be applied in its full breadth, would be extreme, the road to that point leads steeply uphill.
Even In its ideal form, the process leading up to an application of Article 7 is long: first, a ‘clear risk’ must be diagnosed, then the European Parliament must put the issue to a vote, after which the country against which proceedings are being held must be heard until finally the Council can issue its decision. Clearly, this procedure inhibits any form of swift action.

On the other hand, there may be some merit in not acting overly hastily. One key reason for this is the Haider affair and its subsequent diplomatic aftermath. After a sequence of bilateral sanctions against Austria outside of the EU framework in the early 2000s after the election of the right-wing populist party Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) which were later judged to have been excessive, the right for a country to defend itself was introduced into Article 7. The trauma of this incident still lingers in the European subconscious.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice

The above refers only to Article 7 in its ideal form. In reality, the application of Article 7 is often bogged up by alliances between Member States which block any form of significant accountability in the Article 7 process, rendering it mostly ineffective in practice.
Still, in the press, Article 7 is often dubbed ‘the nuclear option’.
The motivation for this name stems not solely from the potential breadth of consequences of its application, but more from its fallout. Indeed, many EU diplomats fear a significant deterioration in the quality of relationships between Member States and a violation of the goodwill mentality that is supposed to be intra-state relations in the European Union. They are concerned that the damage inflicted would be irreversible and long-term, an outcome most would like to avert in the aftermath of having already lost one EU-member. Conflicts also arise between different notions of what a hearing should be. As opposed to the ‘traditional’ hearing form, the interpretation of EU law currently used by the European Commission views hearings as a ‘peer-review exercise’, a process some say comes with an imbalance between powers and questionable prioritisation.

It is in fact all about the money, money, money

Due to the fact that many EU Member States rely heavily on EU funding for economic growth, withholding such funds might work as a potent deterrent/retaliatory mechanism for countries in violation of EU principles. Here is where another key conflict arises on the ethics of withholding funding from Member States as punishment for their rule of law proceedings. Just recently, the Polish president accused the EU of ‘blackmail’ in the light of their threats to withhold funding from the Next Generation EU recovery fund on the basis of democratic governance. Yet it is not only affected countries which have stated their concerns about such procedures, with the Lithuanian President stating that ‘linking issues about rule of law to funding would entail inflicting ‘unimaginable harm to the European unity’’.

Measures in Place

In academia, the debate on what should be done to ensure rule of law and European values has been raging for a long time and a variety of suggestions have been proposed.
Some authors argue the EU should make the rule of law requirement more explicit in its budgeting proposals, even going as far as wanting to force Member States to sign up to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), an EU-wide body prosecuting crimes against the EU’s financial interest. Others also advocate for a ‘EU Copenhagen mechanism’, an EU-wide supervisory and monitoring mechanism tracking the rule of law in Member States with the possibility of ‘freezing’ contested practices and policies in cases of suspicion of EU law breaches. Some even go as far as to suggest financially rewarding Member States for good behavior with respect to European law, a controversial take.

In 2016, the Civil Liberties Committee recommended the establishment of an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights, a proposal the Commission rejected seeking to avoid duplication. Yet, after this initial setback, many steps have already been made toward the use of funds as a tool for enforcing rule of law.
In 2019, the Commission published a communication in which it outlined its vision for rule of law processes in the European Union. After extensively recognizing the importance of the rule of law for the European Community and acknowledging a variety of stakeholders, the Commission vowed to further support civil society organisations active in the field and intensify its collaboration with national and EU-wide governmental actors. Furthermore, it implemented the ‘Rule of Law Review Cycle’, an extensive monitoring program and the EU Justice Scoreboard, accepting calls out of academia. Lastly, it vowed to pursue a strategic approach to infringement proceedings, as opposed to a case-by-case approach, in order to create legal precedents for future disputes. Reacting to this, in early 2020, the European parliament approved the rule of law conditionality for EU funds yet the ensuing debate about the Covid recovery funds shows the controversies surrounding this step are far from settled. Also questions of reform of Article 7 have still not been breached. There remains a lot of work to do.

Key Questions

  • What stance should the EU take on going forward against existential conflicts between EU and national law?
  • Which stance should the EU take on requiring concordance with EU values for funding mechanisms?
  • Should the EU attempt to reform its value enforcement-system following the ideas of the ‘Copenhagen mechanism’
  • Should the EU attempt to reform the Article 7 process, changing the TEU in the process? If yes, how should this change be orchestrated?

Further Reading

Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA)

Topic Overview Zeist 2021

The age of cancer: February 2021 saw the release of the ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ by the European Commission. With cancer poised to become the EU’s leading cause of death by 2035 and with treatment and survival rates varying dramatically between Member States and societal groups, how should the EU ensure equal access to cancer treatment?

Chaired by Raphael Gross-Chartuni (NL)

Declare the past, diagnose the present, and foretell the future .’

– Hippocrates, Ancient Greek physician

The Topic at a Glance

Cancer is older than humanity itself. Despite countless advancements in oncology and biopharmaceutics, cancer remains an inevitability.

In 2020, over 2.7 million people in the EU were diagnosed with cancer and 1.3 million lives were taken by it. The European economy is impacted as well, with an annual sum of over EUR 100 billion lost due to cancer. Moreover, some reports estimate the cancer incidence will increase by as much as 24%, making it the primary cause of death in the EU by 2035.  

In response to this prospect, the EU has set out a new goal in which cancer is defeated. On 21 of February 2021, the EU announced the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. This entails a budget of EUR 4 billion, allocated towards the plan’s four pillars: prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, and the well-being of both patients and survivors.

Combating cancer, a multifaceted and complex disease, requires tremendous efforts and a wide range of solutions. These range from information campaigns and taxation schemes for tobacco and alcohol consumption to complex data networks to centralise cancer research and treatment. However, when looking at cancer diagnosis and survival rates, there are major discrepancies between the Member States. Similar differences can be seen between age groups, socioeconomic, and even racial demographics. This inaccessibility of treatments based on income or geographical factors poses a threat to the lives of many European citizens. Furthermore, inequality is not only observed with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer itself, as many patients are met with workplace discrimination. The war on cancer is fought on all fronts and requires sufficient legislation to turn each battle into a victory. This not only entails treatment for individual patients, but efforts from Europe united as one.

Keywords

  • Cancer is a disease in which unregulated cell-growth causes tumours. The subsequent complications are deadly if left untreated.
  • Substances like formaldehyde and benzene, which cause cancer, are called carcinogens.
  • Therapeutics are medicines used for treatment.
  • Cancer incidence is the relative occurrence of cancer in a demographic. Incidence rates depend on the amount of diagnosed cancer per predetermined population. 
  • Cancer mortality refers to death attributed to cancer. Mortality rates depend on the amount of mortality per predetermined population.

Key Stakeholders

As cancer affects us all, everyone from both the individual and the societal level is a stakeholder. Yet, there remain prominent groups and entities which play a significant role.
The European Commission is responsible for the execution of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. The Commission is the executive organ of the EU which proposes and enforces EU legislation.
This plan receives funding from primarily two sources: EU4Health and Horizon Europe. The former is led by the European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA), the latter directly by the Commission. Horizon Europe is the primary funding programme for innovation and research in the EU, allocating a portion of its EUR 95,5 billion budget to cancer research as well.
Additionally, the Commission set up a Knowledge Centre on Cancer in 2021. It will play an important role in the fight against cancer as it manages large databases containing patient and cancer data and develops both guidelines and quality assurance schemes on a European level. 
Representing the (bio)pharmaceutical industry in the EU, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) communicates with EU bodies on pharmaceutical matters. The EFPIA contains a board with representatives from European pharmaceutical companies, as well as a delegation with members from international corporations, primarily non-EU. The Commission has expressed the need for better communication and integration with the pharmaceutical industry for the development and distribution of new therapeutics, meaning that the EFPIA will play a significantly bigger role in the future.
This role is in close relation to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which approves novel therapies and monitors currently used drugs on the EU-level.
Considering the rise in the exchange of patient data, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which harmonises the gathering and exchange of data from European citizens by corporations and governments. The EDPB advises the Commission on cases of data protection and resolves legal disputes between national supervisory authorities.

Figure 1: The Key Stakeholders of the Topic.

Key Conflicts

A remedy to disharmony

While the EU pushes for solidarity in the war against cancer, the battle is not fought equally on each front. Significant discrepancies are found in both cancer mortality and incidence across the Member States. Generally speaking, the number of people with a predisposition for breast cancer who are tested varies from 6% to 90% among Member States, and the subsequent survival rate by 20%. Statistical analyses show that in all Eastern European Countries, aside from Cyprus, the mortality rates are significantly higher than in Western Europe when compared to the same incidence rates.
One reason for this seems to be that Western European countries have higher expenditures towards healthcare than Eastern Europe, which results in more available treatment options for patients and more early screenings.
On the other hand, the cancer incidence in Eastern Europe is generally lower than in Western Europe, despite the higher mortality rates. What can the EU do to minimise the inconsistent mortality gaps between the Member States while respecting their autonomy? What can the EU further do to close the cancer data gaps and minimal screening across certain Member States?

A prayer to Panacea

A major issue is the (in)availability of cancer therapies. Reports have shown that EMA approval of medication does not equate to immediate access across Europe. There are major differences between drug approval rates between the Member States. For instance, patients in Germany have full access to all drugs approved by the EMA between 2006-2016 against several types of cancer, while Scotland only allows access to less than 40% of those same drugs.
According to Lung Cancer Europe (LuCE), Eastern European countries often do not reimburse treatments, while Western European countries usually offer full subsidies. In the event where a patient can afford such expensive therapies, treatment is not always guaranteed due to national legislation. For instance, patients in Poland have minimal access as treatment from self-paid drugs is not covered by the state either, which prompts hospitals to deny such requests. This increases the need to go abroad for therapy, thereby adding additional costs and restraints like language and cultural barriers.
As drug responses are based on countless factors, including a patient’s individual biology and type(s) of cancer, a wide range of medications must be available to maximise the odds of survival. What role can the EU play to further diminish the dire dissonance in drug availability between the Member States? What can the EU do for those whose treatment is denied?

To cause or not to cause

Controlling environmental factors is a necessary tool to prevent cancer caused from airborne matter. Initiatives such as smoke-free policies in Ireland and Scotland have improved indoor air quality by as much as 85%, with major effects on the occurrence of oral, throat, and lung cancer. In Eastern Europe, however, only minimal efforts have been taken to improve air quality and reduce tobacco consumption and exposure to airborne or particulate carcinogens. This has led to air pollution levels being far above the guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2016, 87,4 per 100.000 people died from lung cancer in Hungary, while in Sweden that rate was only 35,3.
However, not all carcinogenic exposure is derived from tobacco consumption or air pollution. Occupational exposure is a major problem in the EU. Many jobs are linked to several types of cancer. For instance, pesticides such as glyphosate are used in the agricultural sector in Germany and the Netherlands, despite being controversial due to potential cancer risk. While the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved its use, a scientific analysis declared that 34 out of the 53 industry-backed studies cited by the EFSA were unreliable.
In other parts of Europe, the economy relies on different industries and thus presents its own unique set of workplace carcinogens. What can the EU do to tackle occupational carcinogenicity as a whole, while tailoring its approaches to individual Member States? What measures can the EU take to avoid further discordance between legislators and experts on carcinogenic substances?

Aesculapian bias

While cancer does not discriminate, the people who suffer from it are discriminated against. Despite access to medicines being a fundamental aspect of human rights, the availability is heavily dependent on economic factors. Many novel therapeutics are not fully covered by insurance and require additional or full payment.
But not all costs are related to the treatment itself. Much of these out-of-pocket expenses are directed towards caregivers, transporting patients, and drugs such as painkillers.
This brings up the point of workplace discrimination. Many patients and survivors receive unfair lay-offs or are denied promotions, as is common with most chronic or long-term diseases. Furthermore, the prospect of the Europe’s Beating Cancer plan revolves around generating and distributing large amounts of clinical and genetic patient data. This brings the danger of discrimination of patients applying for contracts such as mortgages, health insurance, or loans. What steps can the EU take to nullify the socioeconomic and geographical burdens of patients? What can the EU do to prevent workplace discrimination and future financial discrimination from creditors?

Measures in Place

Prior to the new Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, many systems and schemes have been put in place in the fight against cancer. As cancer diagnosis and treatment must be tested empirically, the need for data gathering is big. Several organisations monitor cancer cases across Europe, the most prominent being Eurostat, the European Cancer Information System (ECIS), and the European Network of Cancer Registries (ENCR). They collect and make data available for research. In 2017, a five-year joint effort between 30 countries, the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the Commission commenced under the Horizon Europe programme. The goal of HBM4EU was to monitor European citizens’ exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.
Additionally, the EU has made headway in reducing tobacco usage. In 2001, the EU adopted a directive regulating the manufacturing, presentation, and sale of tobacco products in the EU. A significant rework was established in 2014, aimed at reducing the discrepancies in tobacco regulation among Member States. The EU also promotes healthy lifestyles, such as with the HealthyLifeStyle4All campaign. Part of this initiative is the due introduction of an EU mobile app for cancer prevention to aid the novel cancer plan.
In 2021, the European Commission presented the Europe’s Beating Cancer plan. This entails a complex variety of initiatives to decrease the cancer burden in the EU. Most notably, the Commission will push cancer-screening across Europe to enhance early diagnosis. Preventive measures are accentuated by the proposal to vaccinate 90% of girls and a substantial number of boys against human papillomavirus (HPV) while patient care is facilitated through a ‘Cancer Survivor Smart-Card’, which provides patient history and monitors follow-up care. Many of the Cancer Plan’s initiatives have yet to be solidified as it was only recently adopted.

Key Questions

  • What can be done for those with rare cancers which have little to no treatment available?
  • How will the EBDP ensure patient data privacy? Should any leniency be shown for cancer studies or should patients have full control?
  • Is a future free from cancer possible?
  • Should the financial burden from foreign patients be placed upon their own insurance or on the host nation?
  • Should a focus be placed on the mobility of patients rather than the availability of treatment when pertaining to shortages in personnel or drugs?

Further Reading

Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET)

Topic Overview Zeist 2021

West Balkan woes: Though the EU has committed to starting accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania last year, it remains unrealistic that any Western Balkan country will join the EU within the next years. Taking this into account, how can the EU still facilitate regional economic growth and revive the European perspective for these countries?

Chaired by Jędrzej Cader (PL)

Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.’

– Henry Ford II, US-American industrialist

The Topic at a Glance

The Western Balkans are a culturally diverse region that has been plagued by local political disputes and economic instability. The dynamics between the individual countries are often historically complex. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on the region as a whole, aiming to aid it in dealing with economic struggles, stabilise it politically, and only engage in local disputes when absolutely necessary. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the Balkan region especially hard, and the economy is only now slowly recovering. Moreover, countries like Albania suffer from a sluggish economy ranking terribly on human trafficking indexes and money laundering rankings, which blight the region as a whole. 

Serbia and Kosovo, despite engaging in the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, appear to be nowhere closer to reaching an agreement on the legal status of Kosovo, a fact that is putting a stop to both countries’ EU accession negotiations. 

North Macedonia has had its negotiation progress blocked by the bilateral disagreement with Greece regarding the former naming itself “Macedonia”, with Greece only lifting its veto against North Macedonia entering the EU in 2019. However, the enlargement talks are being stalled as the nation is haunted by similar economic problems as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, namely rising unemployment rates and increasing government debt. The North Macedonian economy shrank by 4.5% in 2020, and with the COVID pandemic still not completely over, the country, and region, will struggle to recover without EU help.

Figure 1: The West Balkans within Europe. 

Keywords 

  • EU enlargement is the collection of policies adopted by the EU in efforts to expand to potential candidates – notably Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey.
  • West Balkans is a neologism in current politics referring to the six countries Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo.
  • In the context of the EU, accession is a new country becoming a member of the European Union, after having fulfilled the accession criteria, also called the Copenhagen Criteria. These include having stable institutions guaranteeing democracy and human rights, a competitive market economy, and adherence to the EU’s political and economic goals and policies. 
  • A political summit is a pre-planned meeting between two or more heads of state or government, usually in the form of a conference. They are the primary source of progress in integrating the West Balkans into the EU. 
  • Open Balkan is the name for the “Mini Schengen Area”, established in 2021, whose members are Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia. Its aims include free access to the labour market of the region and deepening the economic and political ties within the region. 

Key Stakeholders

The focal point of this topic are the West Balkan States, who are each facing numerous obstacles on their path to join the EU. 

Following that, the next key stakeholders are the various bodies of the European Union itself, which each have a different degree of say in the region’s politics. The European Council consists of the heads of the Member States, and is responsible, together with the European Commission and the Member States, for deciding with which countries the EU should open any type of accession negotiations.

The abovementioned Commission is the most important executive organ of the EU. It decides where to allocate funding and develops schemes like the most recent Economic Investment Plan, granting EUR 28 billion to the Western Balkan region, however it is also responsible, together with the Council and Member States, for the opening or suspending of negotiations between Member States and the states applying for EU accession, as well as those already in the accession plan.

The  EU’s existing Member States play a twofold role in this debate: On the one hand they, by virtue of being in the EU, can veto any suggestion of opening or continuing the EU enlargement negotiations, like France, Denmark, and The Netherlands did in 2019 regarding negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. On the other hand, specifically the Member States geographically closer to the Balkan region, are crucial when discussing the political landscape of the region. For example, the dispute between Greece and North Macedonia regarding the latter’s name was holding up any multilateral negotiations until as late as 2019.

Figure 1: The Key Stakeholders of the Topic.

Key Conflicts

The Local Landscape

A  major hurdle the West Balkan states have to overcome in order to accede to the EU is stabilising their volatile economies. The region is notorious for its high unemployment rates (male youth unemployment being as high as 33% in the region), which sap the nations of opportunities and fuel economic decline. What is more, countries like Albania are infamous for their drug trafficking. In 2019 alone, marihuana trafficking was projected to account for over 25% of the country’s total gross domestic product (USD 15.3 billion). Human trafficking is also a major problem, with both of these issues paralysing the region’s chances of applying to join the EU. 

Countries like Montenegro, on the other hand, also suffer from a lack of media freedom and disagree with the European Commision urging it to accelerate its reforms in the fight for judiciary freedom and against corruption. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is only a potential candidate to join the EU, is experiencing the same political volatility and unrest. Lastly, the country is split between different religions, the main ones being Christian Ortodox, Catholic, and Muslim. These religious divides lead to a fascinating cultural diversity, but are sadly often the grounds for political or social conflict in the area

Political Instability

To make matters worse, or rather, more complicated, the region is not only littered with internal disputes, but also challenged by its neighbours regarding land claims and name issues. As mentioned above, Greece had been vetoing what was then Macedonia’s accession attempts until it changed its name to North Macedonia, as Greece claimed it had the right to the name “Macedonia”, pertaining to a northern region of Greece. In addition, a North Macedonian accession is also being vetoed by Bulgaria, which, in turn, has only cited vague reasons of ‘culture, language’ and ‘identity’. Lastly, as mentioned before, Serbia is facing mounting pressure from Brussels over it not recognising Kosovo as an independent state, and the ineffectiveness of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. 

Measures in Place

Major developments in a matter such as this one are difficult to come by, and progress is gruelling and slow. It is made almost exclusively following different summits organised between the Western Balkan countries and the EU, of which there have not been many. 

The first of these summits was the Thessaloniki Summit of 2003, where little substantive development was made, but which established the grounds to start future discussions between the then ex-Yugoslavian nations and the EU. During this summit, countries like Albania and Croatia were already identified as potential EU member candidates, however, no legal action was taken to integrate or help them. Following Thessaloniki, there was a period of stagnation when it came to multilateral agreements and development.

A second conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2018, yielding similarly fruitless results. Meanwhile, individual countries, such as Serbia, had made small progress regarding a potential EU accession, e.g. in 2008, when the EU granted Serbia a so-called ‘partnership status’, before adopting an official intergovernmental negotiation framework with the country in 2013.

Fast-forward to 2020 and 2021, where there have been a couple of notable strides towards both inner stability and development, and towards accession. Kosovo and Serbia resumed their Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in 2020, but progress is unlikely, as the countries’ troubled pasts stand in the way of a united future.  

The final two most recent summits during which most progress was made were Zagreb 2020 and Brno 2021. The former only served as a re-opening of the multilateral discussions since their post-2003 quiescence, but did promise a grant of EUR 3.3 billion to the Western Balkans with the aim of boosting the pandemic-stricken economy.

However, the more recent Brno Summit was more hopeful, with more considerable advancements being made. The main focus of the summit was the pledged EUR 28 billion under the Economic Investment Plan, with EUR 9 billion coming from grants, and the rest from public and private investments. The hope is that this money, provided to the West Balkan region over the next seven years, will help it boost its economy and lift itself out of its current slump. Another crucial result of the Brno summit is the commitment of the heads of state to partake in summits regularly, with the next one being already scheduled for 2022

A last development achieved outside of the EU-Western Balkan tug of war has been Open Balkan, a mini-Schengen Area for three of the Western Balkan states. Its creation in 2021 was preceded by a three year long series of negotiations between Albania, Serbia, and North Macedonia and it offers, i.a., free access to the labour market of the three member countries. The ambitious goal of having all of the West Balkans join and fully open their borders, however, has been stopped by the dangers of increased drug trafficking and corruption, and the political tensions between current and potential future Member States. 

Key Questions

  • What can the EU do to reduce political turmoil between countries like Kosovo and Serbia without compromising the rest of the region?
  • What are some of the measures the EU can take to foster economic growth in the West Balkans without being overly reliant on grants and donation plans?
  • What could a long term plan regarding the total integration of the region into the EU look like?
  • How can the EU engage in more successful and efficient ways to further the accession progress in the region, following the example of countries like Croatia, which successfully became an EU member in 2013?

Further Reading