Since its launch in November 2014, the Investment Plan for Europe (IPE) has had considerable success in mobilising private investment across Europe. Despite its success, investment levels in Europe remain below pre-crisis levels. There is therefore a need to provide for an extended EU investment programme under the new multiannual financial framework (MFF), which caters for multiple objectives in terms of simplification, flexibility, synergies and coherence across relevant EU policies. The InvestEU programme, expected to run from 2021 onwards, has been designed to address this challenge. It will bring diverse EU financial instruments within a single structure, making EU funding for investment projects in Europe simpler and more efficient and flexible. It will build on the success achieved by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) and consist of the InvestEU Fund, the InvestEU Advisory Hub and the InvestEU Portal.
The February plenary session highlights included a further debate on the Future of Europe, with Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s Prime Minister; debates on Syria, and the future of the INF Treaty and its impact on the EU; and discussions on Roma integration strategies, and on a reflection paper on a sustainable Europe by 2030. Parliament also held debates on the conclusion of three EU-Singapore agreements; the implementation of Treaty provisions; and the rights of LGBTI people. Members adopted legislative texts, inter alia, on a multiannual plan for stocks fished in the Western Waters; a Union civil protection mechanism; minimum requirements for water reuse; screening of FDI; electronic road toll systems; mutual recognition of goods; cross-border payments and currency conversion charges; and common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services. Finally, Parliament adopted positions on six further proposed funding programmes for the 2021-2027 period, clearing the way to the launch of negotiations with the Council.
Members supported conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement (425 votes in favour, 186 against, 41 abstentions) and the Investment Protection Agreement with Singapore (436 in favour, 203 against, 30 abstentions). They also gave the green light to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Bilateral negotiations with Singapore were launched in 2010, in place of negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a whole. The negotiations with Singapore were completed in 2014. However, a dispute over trade policy powers arose between the Council and the European Commission, which then sought the opinion of the European Court of Justice. Signed in 2018, the three agreements, on free trade, investment protection, and cooperation, will significantly increase the EU’s trading presence in the region, adding to the successful ratification of the EU-Japan free trade agreement. The Council can now proceed to conclude the three agreements. The Investment Protection Agreement also has to be ratified by each individual Member State, in accordance with its internal procedures.
Implementation of Treaty provisions
In a joint debate, Parliament discussed and adopted texts on implementation of the Treaty provisions on EU citizenship, enhanced cooperation, and political control over the Commission. Members debated EU citizenship issues, calling on the Commission to end disenfranchisement of citizens residing in another EU Member State; to improve political and legal follow-up to successful Citizens’ Initiatives; and to boost participation in European elections by improving gender-balanced representation, information dissemination, and intensifying dialogue with citizens. Members called on the Commission to propose a regulation simplifying the legal framework for enhanced cooperation, whereby groups of countries can act together in the absence of agreement among all Member States. Regarding Parliament’s political control of the Commission, Members called for the executive to convert more Parliamentary initiatives into legislative proposals; for reinforced capacity in scrutinising the preparation and implementation of delegated and implementing acts; for political dialogue on Parliament’s stalled proposal on the right of inquiry; and for the Commission to review its administrative procedures for senior staff appointments.
EU-Cote d’Ivoire fisheries agreement
Members debated and approved the EU’s conclusion of the new protocol to the EU-Côte d’Ivoire fisheries agreement, which determines the €682 000 financial contribution paid in return for fishing rights in the area. The protocol should promote genuine sustainable development in local fisheries, and increase the added value to Côte d’Ivoire, in exchange for this use of its natural resources. The new six-year protocol (2018-2024) provides fishing opportunities for the EU tuna fleet in Côte d’Ivoire waters.
Multiannual plan for fisheries stocks in the Western Waters
Parliament approved, by a large majority, the interinstitutional trilogue agreement on a multiannual plan for fisheries in the Western Waters, part of the north-eastern Atlantic. Once adopted by the Council, the new regulation is expected to enter into force in spring 2019. The proposed plan covers fisheries exploiting stocks of fish and crustaceans living close to the sea bottom (known as demersal species), including deep-sea stocks. Parliament is keen to minimise the socio-economic impact of the measures proposed, by ensuring recreational fisheries do not have significant impact on fish stocks, and by expanding the management area for seabass.
Members adopted the text agreed in trilogue on the creation of a framework for the screening of foreign direct investment into the EU. Under the framework, Member States would retain the power to decide on FDI in their countries, but the Commission will be able to screen and if necessary publish an opinion on FDI, particularly should the investment have a negative effect on another EU Member State. Such inward investments often concern sensitive areas such as water, health, media, aerospace, and election infrastructure, by foreign investors who may be directly or indirectly controlled by foreign governments.
Electronic road toll systems
Parliament debated and adopted the text of a directive on electronic road toll systems following agreement with the Council. The updated rules will ensure vehicles do not need to carry large numbers of on-board devices, and improve information exchange on vehicle data, allowing for the pursuit of vehicle owners registered in another EU Member State for unpaid tolls.
Mutual recognition of goods
The principle of mutual recognition of goods crossing EU borders allows for frictionless trade in goods lawfully marketed in one Member State in any other EU country. Parliament debated and adopted a text agreed with the Council, to revise the current rules so as to address some shortcomings in their application. Member States will now have to justify any market access restrictions, speed up goods assessment, and improve problem-solving procedures. This could mean introducing SOLVIT-based procedures to resolve disputes between companies and authorities more quickly.
Cross-border payments and currency conversion charges
Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina: 2018 country report
Parliament adopted its report on the Commission’s 2018 country report on Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country has made little progress in its EU accession ambitions, with inter-ethnic tensions making headlines, political, judicial and public administration reforms still lacking, and corruption persisting.
Opening of trilogue negotiations
One parliamentary committee decision, to enter into interinstitutional negotiations regarding European Border and Coast Guard, from the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee, was confirmed.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, prepares to hold general elections on 16 February 2019 in an environment characterised by a struggling economy and a volatile security situation. After the first peaceful change of power following the 2015 elections, upcoming elections are expected to be tightly contested.
On 16 February, Nigerians will choose their president and the members of the National Assembly for the next four years. The president has significant powers in Nigeria’s presidential system, combining the functions of head of state and chief of the federal government. To win the presidency, a candidate needs to win the largest share of votes and at the same time obtain at least 25 % of the votes in at least two thirds of the federal states. The legislative body, the bicameral National Assembly, comprises a House of Representatives with 360 members and a Senate with 109 members (three from each state and one from Federal Capital Territory). Members of the National Assembly are elected through a system of first-past-the-post voting in single member constituencies. Two weeks later, on 2 March, Nigerians will vote again, this time in state elections for state governors and legislators.
This time, Nigeria seems better prepared to hold the elections on the planned date, unlike in 2015 when they had to be postponed due to the Boko Haram insurgency. Voter registration has improved: over 84 million voters have registered to vote in the 2019 elections, a 21 % increase compared to the 2014 electoral register. The widespread use of digital technologies is a central feature of the electoral process and, depending on their reliability, they can enhance or, conversely, undermine voters’ trust in the process. In 2015, biometric cards were used for voter identification for the first time, but with frequent technical failures. In the ongoing electoral process, voter registration and identification are based on biometric features – photograph and fingerprints, which are supposed to eliminate multiple registration and voting.
Some doubts linger as to the capacity of electoral and judicial bodies to play a fair and independent role. Following the re-run of the September 2018 Osun governorship election, opposition forces and other stakeholders have questioned the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) capacity and impartiality. The suspension of the Nigerian Chief of Justice in January 2019 by President Buhari also raised suspicions among civil society that judicial independence in the electoral process could be undermined. Fake news and disinformation, as well as hate speech, remain a major concern, given their potential to fuel electoral violence, a major issue in previous elections.
The electoral landscape is dominated by two major political forces. The governing party, All Progressives Congress (APC), was founded in February 2013 in anticipation of the 2015 elections. Left-leaning, it is affiliated, with a consultative status, to the Socialist International. In the run-up to the elections, the party has experienced infighting, with one faction splitting, as well as a number of defections to the opposition. All these moves were motivated by dissatisfaction with the record of the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari.
The opposition is organised in an electoral alliance, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) that comprises over 40 political parties. In fact, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) dominates. Founded in August 1998 by a group opposed to the military ruler General Sani Abacha, the PDP had dominated Nigerian politics until the last elections, governing with an absolute majority in the legislative assembly between 1999 and 2015. The CUPP has decided to support a single candidate, namely the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president from 1999 to 2007 to then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Abubakar is a long-time insider in Nigeria’s ruling political circles, having switched sides from PDP to APC and back. He is more popular with voters in the south and south-west of the country.
Central issues in the electoral campaign
Economy in Nigeria
Despite the reform efforts promoted by incumbent President Buhari, the economy has failed to take off. In 2015, Buhari inherited an economy weakened by its over-reliance on oil (as the prices dipped), as well as by public debt and corruption. Nigeria’s economy experienced a period of sustained growth at 5 to 8 % per year from 2000 to 2014, as long as oil prices were high. Afterwards, the economy slowed down considerably, recording negative growth (-1.6 %) in 2016 and reverting to low growth in 2017 (0.8 %). The oil and gas sectors are extremely important for the economy as a source of foreign exchange and in terms of their contribution to GDP. Fuels accounted for 92 % of the country’s merchandise exports in 2017. Buhari’s administration has tried to implement a series of reforms such as fighting corruption, stimulating other economic sectors than oil (such as agriculture and solid minerals), improving tax collection and fiscal discipline, and investing heavily in infrastructure. However, the outcome has been mixed, with some macroeconomic indicators indicating an improvement such as a rise in foreign reserves; a current account surplus and a reduction in inflation. The opposition candidate has promised to cut federal spending and privatise the oil sector. He wishes to promote more investor-friendly policies, is considering an amnesty for corruption suspects to help recover billions of dollars deposited abroad, and wants to create a US$25 billion fund to support private sector investment in infrastructure.
With a population estimated at over 180 million in 2015, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the seventh most populous country in the world. Nigeria’s population is growing very quickly and the country could become the third most populous on the planet with almost 800 million inhabitants by the end of this century, according to United Nations projections. Due to this special demographic dynamic, most of the population is very young and will remain so in the foreseeable future. This poses challenges for the economy, which needs to create jobs for the numerous young people joining the labour force each year. Indicators do not bode well in this respect. Nigeria’s unemployment rate increased from 18.8 % in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 % in in the third quarter of 2018 according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The security situation remains very volatile in several regions, and critics point to Buhari’s record on security matters as problematic. After Buhari took power, Niger Delta insurgents intensified the country’s economic woes, disrupting oil extraction and transport. After the Buhari administration extended their reintegration programme, they agreed to a fragile peace, but the potential for a new crisis remains high and any troubles are considered a major threat to the country’s economy. In the south, Biafran separatism has again been gaining traction. In response, security forces have brutally cracked down on separatist leaders and protesters, possibly committing extrajudicial killings, according to Amnesty International. In the fight against Boko Haram, the Buhari administration’s record is also mixed. While the group has lost the control it held in 2014 over vast swathes of territory, it has preserved its capacity to conduct murderous attacks on the civilian population and the military outposts in the north-east. This reality contradicts Buhari’s claim that the terrorist group has been defeated. Another security issue that could have an impact on the electoral campaign is the intensifying conflict between Christian farmers and Muslim Fulani herders in the Middle Belt. Buhari, who comes also from the Fulani ethnic group, has being criticised for being biased towards the latter, as security forces have been unable or unwilling to stop most attacks against farmers.
EU democracy support for Nigeria
Against this very troubled background, the electoral stakes are high for Nigeria, but also for democracy in Africa in general. The European Union is committed to consolidate democratic progress in Nigeria. It will be the sixth consecutive time that the EU sends an Election Observation Mission (EOM) to observe Nigeria’s general elections, chaired by Maria Arena, (S&D, Belgium). Since the return of democracy to the country in 1998, EU observers have been present at every general election held from 1999 to 2019. The European Parliament has been involved in all EU EOMs to Nigeria.
The EU has also provided financial and technical assistance to electoral institutions and stakeholders since 1999. As an African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP) country, Nigeria is a beneficiary of the European Development Fund (EDF). According to the National Indicative Programme established with the country, 17.6 % (around €90 million) of planned EDF financing for the period 2014-2020 is reserved for rule of law, governance and democracy. The objective of EU support is to improve economic governance, consolidate the rule of law, enhance peace and security, reinforce democratic processes and help manage migration and mobility.
In 2017, the EU established a specific programme ‘Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria‘ endowed with €26.5 million from the EDF, for a five year period. It was launched at the beginning of 2018, with the stated purpose of contributing to the consolidation of democracy, while taking inspiration from the recommendations of the 2015 EU EOM. It provides funding to ten organisations that implement various activities (trainings, seminars, capacity development, awareness raising etc.) in support of the Independent National Electoral Commission (€13 million), Nigeria’s National Assembly (€3 million), political parties (€2.7 million), media (€2.6 million) and civil society organisations (€3 million).
The European Parliament is strongly committed to reinforcing electoral processes and democratic institutions and stakeholders in the country. The Parliament’s Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group (DEG) oversees and manages the activities carried out with Nigerian partners. Nigeria was added to the DEG list of priority countries in 2017. Under this framework, a comprehensive programme of capacity-building activities has been developed and implemented with the National Assembly of Nigeria. These have included several joint seminars between Nigerian parliamentarians and EP Members, a fact finding mission to Abuja, as well as training for the staff of the Nigerian parliament.
The STOA workshop ‘Responding to public opposition to low-carbon energy technologies’ gathered academic experts, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), regulators and grid operators to share their perspectives on managing public opposition to and support for low-carbon energy technologies. The event also served as the launch of a new STOA study, which examined a broad range of academic perspectives on the issue. Despite the diverse experiences of the speakers, there was a consensus on the need to translate broad public support for renewable energy into acceptance of the infrastructural developments that are needed to deliver it. The panellists also agreed that public responses are more nuanced than simple support or opposition, and that the key factors for fostering support for infrastructural development are trust, transparency, fairness and cooperation.
Workshop moderator Jens Geier (S&D, Germany) opened the meeting with a reference to the urgent need to decarbonise society, highlighting that support for a clean energy transition is found across Europe, even in areas with a strong mining tradition. Introducing STOA, Paul Rübig (EPP, Austria) explained the importance of gathering evidence and examining all options, taking account not only of technical possibilities, but also of wider social, economic and environmental issues, including how these issues are communicated.
The first panellist – Antonella Battaglini – represented the Renewables Grid Initiative, which brings European NGOs and grid operators together to enable transparent collaborative development of the energy system towards a renewable energy future. She argued that opposition to local projects need to be considered in the context of longer-term issues, such as the future that is desired for the next generations and the actions that are required to achieve it. Environmental NGOs and grid operators need to work together, because clean energy requires infrastructural development, which in turn requires widespread cooperation and support. Her concluding message was that the best strategy cannot come from any single actor, but must be developed through collaboration.
Sarah Mander from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, is the lead author of the STOA study on ‘Understanding public responses to low carbon technologies’. In her talk, she showed that there is widespread support across Europe for low-carbon energy, while there is often local opposition to projects that could help to deliver it. However, as outlined in the report, characterising such opposition as a selfish ‘not in my back yard’ attitude or as misinformed judgement of the technology is both inaccurate and ineffective. Instead, she argued, responses are on a continuum with many shades of opposition and support for many different reasons, including cultural, symbolic and procedural factors. Often, opposition to specific development is rooted in wider dissatisfaction about citizens’ representation and engagement in wider social, political or economic decision-making. To overcome these issues, she highlighted the role of a ‘social licence to operate’, which goes beyond legal permission to achieve tacit acceptance of local communities.
Representing the European Commission Directorate General for, Catharina Sikow-Magny argued that the need to transform our energy economy is an opportunity for innovation and job creation, but effective transformation will require careful management, with transparency and fairness described as key factors in the success of projects. This is why the European Commission’s ‘projects of common interest‘ (cross-border infrastructure developments to link the energy systems of EU Member States) engage communities continually and provide reliable information to citizens on the expected outcomes of projects. Her concluding message was that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, so strategies for managing acceptance need to reflect the individual circumstances.
The next two speakers represented the Irish and Belgian energy grid systems. Rosemary Steen noted that, in her experience as Director of External Affairs at EirGrid, people will support projects that are genuinely in the common interest. Following the trend of consumers increasing becoming ‘prosumers’, more actively involved in decisions about how their energy is delivered to them, she argued that continuous dialogue is the best way to ensure common interest. As Director of Public Acceptance of the Belgian grid operator, Elia, Ilse Tant shared her experience of working together with citizens, mayors and other key stakeholders to design the infrastructure needed to deliver low-carbon energy. She showed how this kind of deep dialogue and cooperation was a constructive means of fostering both understanding and acceptance of the need for energy infrastructure projects.
Following the panel presentations, several interesting questions from the audience were raised, in particular regarding how to rebuild trust in institutions when it is broken. In response, the panellists highlighted that energy transition is not only a motivation to foster public support for low-carbon energy technologies, but is also an opportunity to change the way decisions are made, which could help to rebuild trust in wider institutions.
If you missed out this time, you can access the presentations and watch the webstream of the workshop via the event page.
The European Parliament regularly receives enquiries from EU citizens living abroad about how to vote in the European elections.
Voting in the country of citizenship
EU citizens living abroad (whether in another EU country or outside the EU) may have the right to vote, under certain conditions, in the European Parliament elections in their country of citizenship.
Practical arrangements to vote in the European elections for people living abroad vary a great deal among EU countries: most countries allow voting at embassies or consulates, several countries allow citizens living abroad to vote by post, a few countries allow voting by proxy, and one (Estonia) allows e-voting. Some countries (such as the Czech Republic, Ireland, Malta and Slovakia) do not allow their citizens living outside the country to vote in the European elections.
Some EU countries require voters to pre-register with their national electoral authorities to be eligible to vote from abroad. Several EU countries (such as Bulgaria, Greece and Italy) grant the right to vote only to their citizens living in another EU country. In addition, most EU countries make special arrangements for diplomats and military personnel serving overseas. For some countries’ citizens (for instance Denmark), voting at embassies takes place prior to election day.
Voting in the country of residence
EU citizens living in an EU country of which they are not nationals have a right to vote in the European Parliament elections in the country where they live, under the same conditions as nationals. Special rules may apply in countries where non-nationals make up more than 20 % of the total electorate.
One citizen = one vote
Double voting in European elections (in the country of residence and in the country of citizenship) is strictly forbidden and subject to penalties. EU countries are required to exchange information at least six weeks before European elections to prevent double voting.
For further details, please refer to the national authorities organising the elections in your country.
Continue to put your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.
The European Parliament regularly receives enquiries from citizens about how to stand as a candidate in the European elections.
The conditions people must meet to stand as a candidate in the European elections are set out both by national legislation, and by European legislation, with certain common rules applicable in all EU countries.
Under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, citizens of a European Union country have the right to vote and to stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in the Member State where they live, under the same conditions as nationals of that State. The detailed arrangements for exercising this right are laid down in 1993 legislation, amended in 2012 (see Article 10).
Nationals of another EU country must be resident in the EU country where they wish to stand as a candidate and comply with the same conditions as set out for nationals. No person may stand as a candidate in more than one EU Member State at the same election.
For specific countries’ electoral procedures, please refer to the national authorities organising the elections in the country where you live.
Continue to put your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.
At the 72nd United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 18 September 2017, 120 countries expressed their commitment to the reforms proposed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Since 1946, the UN has undergone a number of reforms either in whole or in part. The term ‘reform’ has proved troublesome for UN member states on account of its lack of clarity and the lack of consensus as to execution. This is particularly apparent in the scepticism expressed by the United States (US) in 2018 regarding the need for global governance, the importance of UN Security Council decisions such as the Iran nuclear deal, and the efficiency of the United Nations.
This briefing explains how the current reform differs from previous ones, in as much as it focuses on management and addresses the criticisms of a lack of accountability and transparency, ineffectiveness, and the deficit in trust between the organisation and its member states in the current system. The United Nations reform agenda centres on three key areas: development, management, and peace and security. First, development reform will bring a bold change to the UN development system in order to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This will be centred on the creation of a new generation of country teams led by an independent team of UN country experts (‘resident coordinators’). Second, the simplification of processes, increased transparency and improved delivery of mandates will form the basis of a new management paradigm for the secretariat. Third, peace and security reform will be underpinned by placing priority on conflict prevention and peacekeeping, increasing the effectiveness and coherence of peacekeeping operations and political missions.
Two years after its launch, the reform process is starting to bear fruit, with implementation set to begin in 2019 and a focus on streamlining, accountability, transparency and efficiency. However, the reform process does not make explicit mention of bolstering human rights. This briefing also explores the possibility of capitalising on the current reforms so as to boost the indivisibility of human rights, while taking stock of stakeholders’ reactions to the UN reforms under way.
Read the complete briefing on ‘United Nations reform‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
The European Union is strongly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances, and fighting it is a foremost priority of its external human rights policy. While most countries in the world have abolished capital punishment, death sentences continue to be handed down and carried out in a number of countries. The Union uses its diplomatic and political weight to encourage these countries to join the abolitionist ranks, or at the very least to respect international minimum standards. It funds campaigns to increase awareness of the need to end capital punishment, and restricts trade in substances that could be used for executions.
The controversy around capital punishment
In history, the death penalty was applied across the world, in various cultures and religions, for the most serious crimes such as murder, and sometimes also for more trivial ones. For more than two centuries, it has been a matter of vivid philosophical and ethical controversy whether it should be preserved or abolished. Arguments have focused on delivering appropriate retribution and deterring other criminals, among other things. After the end of the Second World War, the abolitionist movement gained momentum, driven by increased public awareness about the value of life and the right to life, the dignity of human beings, the risk of judicial errors and the fact that execution involves torture. A milestone was reached with the adoption by the Council of Europe in 1982 of Protocol No 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights – the first legally binding instrument abolishing the death penalty in peacetime. This protocol has been ratified by 46 of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states; all but Russia. A few years later, in 1989, the first international document aiming at worldwide abolition was adopted by the UN: the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To date, it has been ratified by 86 states.
Executions per country in 2017
Today, the abolitionist position has prevailed worldwide, with most countries being abolitionist (106 countries for all crimes, plus 8 for ordinary crimes only, as of July 2018). The latest countries to abolish the penalty, in 2017-2018, were Burkina Faso and Guatemala (for ordinary crimes only), and Guinea and Mongolia (for all crimes). In 2018, the Roman Catholic Church decided that the death penalty is inadmissible under all circumstances. A number of countries are considered ‘abolitionist in practice’ (28 according to Amnesty International, but the number could be higher depending on how this is defined). Around 56 states still retain the penalty, but fewer than half of those actually carry out executions (23 in 2016 and 2017). The trend towards abolition is not linear. In the United States, support for capital punishment is growing again, after a sharp decline from 1996 to 2016, with 54 % of persons surveyed in favour in 2018. In India, capital punishment has recently been extended to certain types of rape after a series of cases that shocked public opinion across the country and in the wider world.
European Union position
All EU Member States have abolished the death penalty. They are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), particularly its Article 2, which states that ‘Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law’, and by its Protocols No 6 and No 13. The European Union is required by its Treaties to respect and promote human rights in all its internal and external policies. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights echoes the ECHR in underlining the inalienable right to life in its Article 2. The EU institutions are obliged to take this into account, both in internal and external policies.
To this end, the EU pursues the abolition of the death penalty in the world as a matter of the utmost priority. The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2015-2019) includes an objective (No 15) on combatting torture, ill-treatment and the death penalty. In order to streamline all its efforts to fight the death penalty across the world, the Council adopted EU guidelines on death penalty in 1998. These were the first human rights guidelines ever adopted by the Council. They were subsequently updated in 2001, 2008 and 2013. The first point of the guidelines states that, ‘The European Union has a strong and unequivocal opposition to the death penalty in all times and in all circumstances.’ The guidelines set out a list of actions the EU should undertake, such as raising the issue of the death penalty in EU dialogues and consultations with third countries, intervening in legal proceedings on a case-by-case basis (as amicus curiae, or otherwise), encouraging states to ratify the relevant international texts, providing assistance to civil society to promote abolition, and providing assistance in the legal field to enhance the right to a fair and impartial trial. According to these guidelines, in countries that still retain the death penalty, the EU should advocate the establishment of a moratorium, and if this is not possible, for its increasingly restrictive use and for the respect of minimum standards, in line with international law.
In its trade policy, the EU has adopted legislation that prohibits trade in goods that can be used for torture or execution. Such goods include barbiturate agents, used in lethal injections for the execution of human beings. The EU ban caused a shortage of lethal injection materials and considerable hurdles for executions in the United States. The EU contributed to the launch in 2017 of a new global alliance, whose aim is to ban trade in goods that can be used for torture or executions. The Alliance for Torture-Free Trade is an initiative of Argentina, the European Union and Mongolia, bringing together countries from around the world to end the trade in goods used for capital punishment and torture.
The EU also uses its trade policy to encourage countries to comply with their international human rights obligations. The GSP+ system provides trade preferences to countries that ratify and comply with a range of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which outlines minimum standards on the use of the death penalty. The 2018 European Commission GSP+ report on Pakistan for example highlighted that the application of the death penalty there remains a grave concern.
The EU is the largest donor in the fight against the death penalty worldwide. According to the Commission, from 2008 to 2016, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) allocated more than €22 million to projects supporting the fight against the death penalty around the world. The instrument funds civil society organisations that advocate abolition and the establishment of moratoria and, where the death penalty still exists, the observance of international minimum standards.
The EU raises its opposition to the death penalty in international fora, where it aims to build alliances to this end. It has supported the adoption in the UN General Assembly of several resolutions on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty (the last one in December 2018, with the support of 121 nations).
European Parliament position
The European Parliament is strongly opposed to the death penalty, a position it has expressed repeatedly in various resolutions, for example in its December 2018 resolution on the annual EU report on human rights and democracy in the world in 2017. In its 2015 resolution on the death penalty, the Parliament expressed its strong opposition to this type of punishment, and condemned its use to suppress opposition, or on grounds of religious belief, homosexuality or adultery. It also expressed its conviction that death sentences fail to deter drug trafficking or to prevent individuals from falling victim to drug abuse. It has also addressed the death penalty in debates and resolutions on individual countries such as on the death penalty in Indonesia (2015) and on executions in Kuwait and Bahrain (2017).
Due to the recessions brought about by the financial crisis from the end of the past decade, more and more EU companies and citizens have faced economic difficulties in recent years and have been unable to repay their loans. As a consequence, many EU banks have accumulated high volumes of non-performing loans (NPLs) in their balance-sheets. Although almost halved in comparison to December 2014, the ratio between NPLs and the total loans extended by EU banks (NPL ratio) remains historically high when measured against the ratios of other advanced economies. High levels of NPLs require banks to hold higher amounts of regulatory capital and pay a risk premium on liquidity markets, as a result of which their profitability and growth prospects diminish. To tackle this issue, a number of different initiatives have been adopted both at national and EU level. Within this context, in March 2018 the Commission adopted a comprehensive package of measures including a proposal for a directive aimed at fostering NPL secondary markets and easing collateral recovery from secured loans.
technology (fintech) sector encompasses firms that use technology-based systems
either to provide financial services and products directly, or to make the
financial system more efficient. Fintech is a rapidly growing sector: in the
first half of 2018, investment in fintech companies in Europe alone reached US$26
sector brings rewards including innovation and job creation, but also
challenges, such as data and consumer protection issues, and the risk of
exacerbating financial volatility or cybercrime. To tackle these
multi-disciplinary challenges, policy- and lawmakers in the European Union (EU)
have adopted and announced several initiatives, for instance on intra-EU
payment services, data protection, crowdfunding and regulatory sandboxes.
This briefing outlines current and upcoming fintech-related laws at EU level. It follows on from a March 2017 EPRS briefing that focused, inter alia, on the evolution, scope and economic prospects of fintech.
Fintech, short for financial technology, is a broad term used mainly to refer to firms that use technology-based systems either to provide innovative and cheaper financial services directly (i.e. without the involvement of banks or other intermediaries) or to make traditional financial business more efficient. Fintech covers a range of services and products, such as cashless payments, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms, robotic trading, robo-advice, crowdfunding, and virtual currencies.
With investment in fintech companies hitting US$26 billion in Europe in the first half of 2018, this dynamic and rapidly growing sector is attracting increasing interest at political level. In the EU, attention is being paid to the contribution that fintech could make to increasing efficiency, strengthening financial integration and enhancing the EU’s role in financial services. Meanwhile, there is a pressing need for safe and effective common rules supporting innovation and protecting consumers.
Indeed, in the EU, areas remain where Member States can
choose to apply individualised or less strict rules at national level (e.g. peer-to-peer
lending and virtual currencies). This
can result in a fragmented environment, preventing businesses from expanding
across borders, or an uneven playing field and arbitrage opportunities,
incentivising companies to obtain permits in less restrictive jurisdictions so
as to minimise red tape while operating internationally.
Fintech-related laws at EU level
No one piece of EU legislation covers all aspects of fintech. Fintech companies providing financial services (e.g. lending, financial advice, insurance, payments), must comply with the same laws as any other firms offering those services. Therefore, different laws apply depending on the activity (e.g. payment services, crowdfunding), such as Directive 2000/31/EC (e-commerce), Directive 2002/65/EC (distance marketing of consumer financial services), Directive 2009/110/EC (electronic money), Directive (EU) 2015/2366 (payment services), etc.
The Payment Services Directive (PSD I) (Directive 2007/64/EC) established the single European payments area (SEPA) in 2007. While SEPA has been successful in harmonising card and bank-to-bank payments, online payments remain fragmented.
In July 2013, the European Commission announced a new financial regulation package including PSD II, the updated Payment Services Directive (Directive (EU) 2015/2366), which repealed PSD I, and a proposal for a regulation on interchange fees for card-based payment transactions (Regulation (EU) 2015/751). PSD II came into force on 12 January 2016; the deadline for implementation in national law was 13 January 2018.
PSD II is designed to respond to technological changes in the payments industry. In this context, the definition of payment services has been expanded, and the diversity of traditional payment service providers (PSPs), such as banks and financial institutions, has increased. PSD II classifies both types of provider, i.e. account information service providers (AISPs) and payment initiation service providers (PISPs), as third-party service providers (TPPs). Under the new directive, payment service providers are subject to the same rules as other payment institutions. In return, banks are obliged to provide third parties with API (application programming interface) access. Non-banks would then have the right to access customers’ data (provided they have the customers’ permission).
One particular set of regulatory technical standards (RTS), concerning the processes and data structures of communication between parties, is key to achieving the objectives of PSD II. Mandated by PSD II, the European Banking Authority (EBA) drafted these standards in cooperation with the European Central Bank (ECB). The European Commission adopted the final RTS proposal in November 2017, the RTS are due to apply from September 2019. According to the new rules, banks will have to set up a communication channel that would allow third-party service providers to access the data they need. This would also allow banks and TPPs to identify one another when accessing customer data, and to communicate through secure messaging. Banks may establish this communication channel either by adapting their customer online banking interface or by creating a new dedicated interface. Should they opt for the latter, banks will have to provide the same level of availability and performance as the interface offered to, and used by, their own customers, and provide the same level of contingency safeguards.
While some experts argue that PSD II would level the field and might be a ‘key change’ towards the creation of an open banking system, there is, however, criticism of PSD II. Some experts note that access to bank account information raises the question as to who should pay for the infrastructure needed for such interconnectivity. In addition, the sharing and use of client identification details would heighten the threat of cyber-attacks. To this end, banks are calling for tighter security regulations for newcomers, and have raised concerns about the authentication systems they use.
Data and consumer protection
The legal cornerstone for data protection (in terms of ‘personal data protection’) is Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data. This directive was repealed by the General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679 (GDPR). This regulation entered into force in 2016 and became applicable from 25 May 2018. Some experts say that current EU legislation on data protection, competition and consumer protection is noticeably lacking in its definition of ‘big data’, creating a regulatory blind spot that needs addressing. Here, the European supervisory authorities (ESAs) – i.e. the European Banking Authority (EBA), the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) – on financial issues have evaluated the fintech-specific additions to the GDPR and/or other general consumer protection regulations.
In their March 2018 report on big data, the ESAs state that the existing legislative requirements constitute an ‘already quite solid framework to mitigate the risks identified’. They also note that this framework will be further strengthened with the entry into application of several key pieces of legislation in the financial sector as well as in the data protection sector. The ESAs consequently consider that a legislative intervention at this point would be ‘premature’.
In the field of virtual currencies, the EU has not yet adopted any specific regulation. However, following up on a June 2017 Commission report, in December 2017, European legislators agreed to extend the scope of the Anti-money-laundering Directive to virtual currency exchanges and wallet providers. Member States must bring the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this directive into force by 10 January 2020.
Fintech action plan and crowdfunding
Having been invited by Parliament in a May 2017 own-initiative resolution to take more action in fintech sectors such as big data, cybersecurity, blockchain, interoperability, financial stability, financial and IT skills, the European Commission presented a fintech action plan in March 2018. The plan sets out 19 steps to promote innovative business models, the uptake of new technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence and cloud services), to increase cybersecurity and the integrity of the financial system, and to enhance further investor, consumer and data protection. It promotes innovation and regulatory certainty. It also envisages the introduction of regulatory sandboxes, which can be considered ‘safe spaces’ where (national) supervisors apply rules to fintech firms in a more flexible way so that businesses can test their models, products and services for a limited time and without being exposed to red tape. The EU FinTech Lab was set up to build capacity and knowledge among regulators and supervisors. It held its first meeting in June 2018.
In this context, the Commission has put forward new rules to help EU crowdfunding platforms scale up. In March 2018, it tabled a proposal for a regulation aimed at introducing an optional EU regime to enable crowdfunding platforms to operate easily across the EU. Instead of facing differing regimes, platforms would have to comply with one set of rules only, both in their home market and in other Member States. The accompanying proposal for a directive amends the scope of Directive 2014/65/EU (MiFID II), adding crowdfunding service providers authorised under the proposed regulation to the list of exempted entities to which the scope of the directive does not apply.
In its action plan, the European Commission mandated the ESAs to report on best practices and issue guidelines. The Commission also encouraged competent authorities to take initiatives to enable innovation on the basis of these best practices and invited the ESAs to facilitate supervisory cooperation and the consistency of supervisory practices. Following up on the Commission’s recommendations, in March 2018 the EBA published a fintech roadmap setting out its priorities for 2018 and 2019. The roadmap addresses the challenge of appropriately regulating innovation in finance. It also envisages the establishment of a fintech knowledge hub to improve expertise sharing and promote technological neutrality in regulatory and supervisory approaches.
In its 2019 work programme, one of ESMA’s key objectives for fintech is to achieve a coordinated approach to the regulation and supervisory treatment of new or innovative financial activities and provide the EU institutions, market participants and consumers with advice. It is also committed to implementing the framework for the use of the product intervention powers provided by the Markets in Financial Instruments Regulation (MiFIR).
To tackle issues stemming from insurtech, EIOPA set up the InsurTech Task Force (ITF) to analyse the use of big data by (re-)insurance undertakings and intermediaries. It maps the initiatives taken at national level in this area, with a view to establishing efficient and effective supervisory practices. At a later stage, the ITF will also focus on the convergence of algorithm supervision and investigate the benefits and risks arising from the use of blockchain and smart contracts in insurance activity.
In their January 2019 report, the ESAs set out a comparative analysis of innovation facilitators, and describe best practices for their design and operation. According to the report, a lack of cooperation between financial regulators across the EU could be hindering businesses from expanding their innovative new fintech services beyond national borders. Twenty-one EU Member States and three European Economic Area (EEA) countries currently have innovation hubs, while only five Member States (Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, and the UK) have fully operational regulatory sandboxes. Based on the ESAs’ report, the European Commission is expected to present a report with best practices for regulatory sandboxes in the first quarter of 2019.
The European Commission is also monitoring the development of crypto-assets and initial coin offerings (ICOs) with the ESAs. Based on an assessment of risks, opportunities and the suitability of the applicable regulatory framework, the Commission will assess whether regulatory action at EU level is required.
Regarding payment services, the Commission (together with market players) is aiming to develop, by mid-2019, standardised application programming interfaces that are compliant with the PSD II and the GDPR as a basis for a European open banking eco-system, covering payment and other accounts.