How coronavirus infected sport

Written by Ivana Katsarova,

Social distancing icon sport.People running.Keep Safe Distance to protect from COVID-19 coronavirus concept.

© Preeyanuch / Adobe Stock

Nearly a year after its initial outbreak, the deadly strain of the coronavirus, Covid-19, is still raging across the world and the sports ecosystem has not been spared. Whilst countries’ responses have varied widely, the global response prompted the almost total shutdown of competitions at all levels, including multiple postponements of mega sports events such as the Olympic Games and the European Football Championship. Estimates show that nearly a million sports-related jobs have been impacted in the EU, not only for sports professionals but also for those in related retail and sporting services such as travel, tourism, infrastructure, transportation, catering and media broadcasting, to name but a few. Additionally, Covid-related measures are estimated to have caused the loss of some €50 million in GDP across the EU-27.

The results of a 2020 survey among European national Olympic committees show that over 93 % have had to significantly review their work-related practices, and over two thirds (67 %) reported their elite athletes were unable to use training facilities. While larger clubs in major sports are likely to have the financial resources to cope with a temporary loss of income, the same is not true for grassroots sports facilities that rely on self-employed coaches and volunteers and face a greater risk of shutting down.

Even though its role in the area of sport is limited to ‘soft’ policy instruments, the EU has responded promptly to limit the spread of the virus and help EU countries to withstand its social and economic impact. In addition to the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) and the CRII+, both approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU in record time, the European Commission has set up a temporary framework allowing EU countries to derogate from State aid rules, and proposed a European instrument for temporary support (SURE) to help protect jobs and workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

To keep their players and fans engaged, traditional sports have had to adapt their models by blurring the lines between traditional sports and Esports. However, research reveals that Covid-19-related restrictions have only increased the appeal of outdoor activities and made initiatives such as the European Week of Sport more necessary than ever.

Read the complete briefing on ‘How coronavirus infected sport‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Crisis and force majeure regulation [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Nikolai Atanassov (1st edition),

© JEGAS RA / Adobe Stock

In September 2020, the European Commission proposed a new pact on asylum and migration. The legislative package related to the pact includes a proposal for a regulation dealing with crisis and force majeure in the field of migration and asylum, aimed at establishing a mechanism for dealing with mass influxes and irregular arrivals of third-country nationals in a Member State.

The regulation would set out the solidarity mechanism procedure in the event of returns of irregular migrants applying the possibility for return sponsorship on behalf of another Member State, as established in the Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMR). It would also provide for shorter deadlines in comparison to usual procedures under the AMR, when applicable in a crisis situation and for some derogations in crisis situations concerning the asylum crisis management procedure, the return crisis management procedure, and the registration of international protection applications in crisis situations.

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European Parliament Plenary Session – January 2021

Written by Clare Ferguson,

European Parliament building Brussels

European Union, EP

The New Year begins with Members of the European Parliament continuing to speak in debates from the Parliament’s external offices in European Union (EU) countries (and following the debates and voting from home). The agenda once again reflects the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on all aspects of Europeans’ lives. Driving the EU’s recovery efforts will be a key priority for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council, which took office on 1 January. Prime Minister Antonio Costa is due to present the presidency programme in plenary on Wednesday morning. As that is also the day of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, Members will hear statements on recent developments in the United States.

Two joint debates are scheduled for this session. During the first, on Tuesday afternoon, Members will discuss, and later vote on, annual reports on the implementation of the common security and defence policy (CSDP), the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), and democracy and human rights in the world. While common EU positions on foreign policy are increasingly the rule rather than the exception, the coronavirus pandemic and a new, sometimes confrontational, geopolitical situation led to a more challenging global environment in 2020. The AFET committee annual report on the implementation of EU CFSP reiterates the need for respect of basic EU principles and calls for greater ambition in CFSP. The committee notes that the EU’s credibility is in play and calls for debate on the question of qualified majority voting in some areas of foreign policy. An integral part of EU CFSP and the main instrument for intergovernmental defence cooperation between Member States, a second AFET annual report looks at implementation of EU CSDP. While the report is positive regarding the EU’s global presence, it calls for further development of capabilities, greater cooperation with strategic partners, and underlines the need for democratic oversight, notably through consultation with Parliament. In addition, Members will discuss the AFET annual report on human rights and democracy in the world and EU policy on the matter for 2019 (which also discusses the 2020 situation, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic). Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms have been considerably strained by the effects of Covid‑19, which have exacerbated anti-democratic measures, discrimination, violence and hate speech. Climate change and environmental destruction have also increased threats to human rights, particularly for refugees and human rights defenders. The report urges the EU to streamline and monitor human rights and democratic standards in all its policies, including in international agreements. Here too, Parliament seeks greater scrutiny, notably of measures proposed under the 2020-2024 EU action plan on human rights and democracy.

The second joint debate, scheduled for Thursday morning, considers gender equality, and is likely to touch on both the effects of the coronavirus crisis and issues such as the digital gender gap. Progress to date on closing the gender equality gap has generally been slow in the EU. Women are also hit harder by the impacts of both climate change and digitalisation, where an opportunity to improve gender equality in the labour market has been missed. In addition, the health, social and economic crisis caused by Covid‑19 has led to consequences for women, including reduced income, domestic violence and shouldering much of the burden of care for others. A Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) Committee report welcomes the new EU strategy for gender equality for 2020‑2025, but underscores the need to tackle a recent backlash on equality with clear timescales, monitoring, and indicators of success. Two further FEMM own-initiative reports set out specific recommendations for responding to the effects of the coronavirus crisis and for promoting women’s and girl’s participation in the digital economy.

On Wednesday afternoon, Members are expected to debate and vote on a legislative-initiative report dealing with another issue exacerbated by the Covid‑19 pandemic – the blurring of the work/home boundary and the right to disconnect. While the digital transformation has meant that work schedules have become more flexible, workers’ rights to be able to disengage from work are under considerable strain. Although workers are protected in some EU countries, there is no legislation at EU level. Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs is calling for the European Commission to make a legislative proposal for a directive on the right to disconnect, and to reaffirm the right to no professional solicitation outside working time. The committee proposes minimum requirements on the use of digital tools for professional purposes outside working hours, emphasises the role of social partners, and the need for tailor-made solutions that meet specific sectors’ needs and constraints.

Members are scheduled to debate an own-initiative report on the implementation of the Framework Decision on the European arrest warrant (EAW) on Monday evening. Parliament has regularly called for a revision of this instrument (the first to allow judicial mutual recognition), due to issues regarding proportionality, judicial independence, prison conditions, and other problems. To date, the European Commission has declined to take up this invitation. While Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee recognises that the EAW is an effective instrument in combating serious cross-border crime and bringing perpetrators to justice, it nevertheless reiterates Parliament’s calls for a number of improvements.

For more than a year now, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement system has been unable to sit, owing to the refusal of the outgoing US administration to allow new judges to be nominated. The EU’s Enforcement Regulation enables the Union to take action to protect its trade interests following a ruling of the Appellate Body. In the absence of such a ruling, on the other hand, the regulation does not allow the EU to take action. The European Commission’s proposal to amend the Enforcement Regulation would allow for trade protection measures to be taken in cases where the WTO Appellate Body is blocked, and also in similar cases where dispute-resolution procedures under other trade agreements are unable to progress. With agreement on the proposal reached in trilogue in November, Parliament is due to debate on Monday and then vote on the agreed text at first reading.

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Understanding EU counter-terrorism policy

Written by Sofija Voronova,

© makaule / Adobe Stock

Faced with a persistent international terrorist threat, the European Union (EU) is playing an ever more ambitious role in counter-terrorism. Even though primary responsibility for combating crime and ensuring security lies with the Member States, the EU provides cooperation, coordination and (to some extent) harmonisation tools, as well as financial support, to address this borderless phenomenon. Moreover, the assumption that there is a connection between development and stability, as well as between internal and external security, has come to shape EU action beyond its own borders. EU spending in the area of counter-terrorism has increased over the years, to allow for better cooperation between national law enforcement authorities and enhanced support by the EU bodies in charge of security and justice, such as Europol, eu-LISA and Eurojust.

The many new rules and instruments that have been adopted in recent years range from harmonising definitions of terrorist offences and sanctions, and sharing information and data, to protecting borders, countering terrorist financing, and regulating firearms. However, implementing and evaluating the various measures is a challenging task. The European Parliament has played an active role not only in shaping legislation, but also in evaluating existing tools and gaps through the work accomplished by its Special Committee on Terrorism (TERR) in 2018.

In line with the Parliament’s recommendations, as well as the priorities set by the new European Commission and its counter-terrorism agenda presented in December 2020, future EU counter-terrorism action will focus on better anticipating threats, countering radicalisation and reducing vulnerabilities, by making critical infrastructures more resilient and better protecting public spaces. Upcoming developments also include increased information-sharing, by means of better implementation and modernisation of existing tools, a reinforced mandate for Europol, as well as possible investigation and prosecution of terrorist crimes at EU level, through the proposed extension of the mandate of the recently established European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

This briefing builds on an earlier one, entitled ‘The fight against terrorism‘, published in 2019.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Understanding EU counter-terrorism policy‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Surveillance capitalism and Europe’s moral duty to shape a human-centric digital future

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

Surveillance capitalism and Europe's moral duty to shape a human-centric digital future

‘The European Union represents humanity’s best hope to prevent lawless, unprecedented computational concentrations of knowledge and power from becoming as irreversible and poisonous to our societies as the toxic concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have become to our earth.’ That was one the main statements made by Shoshana Zuboff, Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and award-winning author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’, at the STOA Annual Lecture 2020 that took place (virtually) on 9 December 2020. This year’s Annual Lecture, ‘Digital human rights and the future of democracy: Lessons from the pandemic’, was dedicated to the memory of the first Head of the STOA Secretariat, Richard (‘Dick’) Holdsworth. It focused on the disruptive effects of the digital revolution upon democracy and examined the challenges associated with the growing datafication and platformisation of our societies, and the need to reclaim data sovereignty in the era of artificial intelligence.

Given that the ongoing pandemic has accelerated our dependence on the digital world and our transformation from data subjects to data suppliers, the event proved to be a timely occasion to discuss how Europe could react to the uncontrolled extraction and use of data by technological giants. It took place only a few days before the publication of the European Commission’s proposals for a Digital Services Act and a Digital Markets Act. Both legislative proposals put forward a comprehensive set of new rules for all digital services – including online platforms – that operate in the European Union. Soshanna Zuboff referred to these legislative proposals as the EU’s chance to open the black box of surveillance capitalism and assert the right of democratic societies to control their own destinies – as regulators have done in countless other industries.

In her opening remarks, STOA Chair Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece) noted that digital processes and technologies are no longer simply monitoring our behaviour; through the use of predictive analytics, they are also pervasively influencing it. Expressing her concern about the accelerating commodification of personal data, Eva Kaili stated that the extensive use of highly targeted behaviour modification techniques have led to a threat of algocracy, i.e. ‘rule by algorithm’, which challenges the rule of law and erodes human agency, privacy and even democracy, in many ways. She noted that Shoshanna Zuboff’s participation in the 2020 STOA Annual Lecture as a keynote speaker marked an important milestone in STOA’s engagement with bold thinkers, whose critical views and ‘wake-up calls’ remind us of the fragility of our common values, as well as of our rights as citizens, our responsibilities as policy-makers, and our obligations to future generations.

Following the STOA Chair’s intervention, the European Commission Vice-President for the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, delivered the opening speech of the event. He noted the EU’s special responsibility to fit digitisation to our European values, to our democratic principles and to our European way of life. In his insightful speech, Vice-President Schinas highlighted the need to invest in people rather than in technologies or infrastructures. He placed a special emphasis on the need to chart a course for a digital transformation that is genuinely European – not as a matter of competitiveness but as an existential question. Vice-President Schinas then referred to the Commission’s various initiatives and legislative plans that will put in place a model that is human-centric and empowers Europeans as digital citizens.

In her remarkable lecture, Professor Zuboff characterised the uncontrolled extraction and use of data by technology giants as an ‘epistemic’ coup, where digitally activated data extraction leads to an unprecedented dominance of knowledge by the private sector, and allows a few data-enabled individuals to disregard humanity, democratic values and the rule of law, in the name of increasing their profits. She attributed the creation of ‘hidden extraction mechanisms’ that exert a new kind of power over people to the economic imperatives of surveillance capitalism. Her exceptional analysis revealed that a group of corporate actors (along with their complex, far-reaching ecosystems) are ‘intent upon subordinating private human experience to the goals of datafication, computational production and sales’. The nub of Professor Zuboff’s argument is that surveillance capitalism’s target is human nature itself – with Shoshanna Zuboff calling out the ‘data business’ playbook of ‘hidden extraction mechanisms’, which she said is robbing us of the ability to fight back. Professor Zuboff argued that surveillance exceptionalism, as established in the United States of America after 9/11, has become a practice free of regulatory constraints, that steals private human experiences and transforms them into data. Prediction products extracted by surveillance capitalists from human behaviour data are then sold on what she calls ‘behavioural futures markets’. Shoshanna Zuboff further noted that ‘we are paralysed in the iron cage of an epistemic dominance that is based on unequal knowledge and produces unequal power, and that the pandemic has led to a growth in surveillance revenues and to epistemic chaos’. She suggested that Europe should take the lead in adopting strong laws that focus on upstream data extraction practices and on the formal recognition of epistemic rights.

Professor Zuboff’s keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion on various aspects of key new technologies, with the participation of two additional eminent experts: Fredrik Heintz, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Linköping University, Sweden, and Karen Yeung, Professor of Law, Ethics and Informatics at Birmingham Law School, United Kingdom. Fredrik Heintz noted that explicability and investing in education are key principles when designing a governance framework for artificial intelligence. Karen Yeung stated that legal institutions can help us maintain the social foundation of our democracy. In her closing remarks, Eva Kaili noted that Shoshanna Zuboff’s insightful and passionate voice is needed to help European law-makers set rules on algorithmic transparency and shape the digital age in an inclusive and responsible manner. In her view, Professor Zuboff’s keynote speech can also act as a reminder of the fact that we have a lot of work to do in regulating technology, and more particularly in protecting our citizens and our societies by taming the unaccountable power of tech companies.

If you missed the lecture this time, you can access the presentations and watch a recording of the Annual Lecture on the STOA page.

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Regulating digital gatekeepers: Background on the future digital markets act [Policy Podcast]

Written by Tambiama Madiega,

Businessman using mobile smartphone and icon network connection data with growth graph customer, digital marketing, banking and payment online, analysis and planning of business.

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The EU has unveiled an ambitious plan to regulate online platforms, and the European Commission is proposing to introduce ex ante regulation to ensure that markets characterised by large platforms acting as digital gatekeepers remain fair and competitive for innovators, businesses, and new market entrants. The introduction of an ex ante regulatory framework that could limit online platforms’ commercial freedom and give wide-ranging enforcement powers to regulators would be a far-reaching step. Against this background, this briefing explains the rationale for regulating digital gatekeepers in the EU and provides an overview of the key policy questions currently under discussion.

Recent reports and studies have shown how a few large platforms have the ability to apply a range of practices that raise significant competition issues. The limitation of competition law – essentially applied ex-post after the anti-competitive practices have been implemented – has sparked a debate on whether EU competition rules are still fit for purpose and whether such platforms should not instead be regulated ex ante so as to provide upfront clarity about what behaviour towards users and competitors is acceptable. In this respect, the policy discussion focuses on a number of issues, in particular, how to identify online gatekeepers that should be subject to ex ante regulation, what conduct should be outlawed for those gatekeepers, what obligations should be placed on them (such as data portability and interoperability), and how such innovative regulations should be enforced. Finally, the briefing highlights the initial views of a number of stakeholders.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Regulating digital gatekeepers: Background on the future digital markets act‘.

Listen to policy podcast ‘Regulating digital gatekeepers: Background on the future digital markets act’ on YouTube.

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What if AI took care of traffic as well as driving? [Science and Technology podcast]

Written by Andrés García Higuera,

While public discussion concentrates on the idea of autonomous driving as an added feature in a vehicle, could it turn out that the real advantage lies in interoperability?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is empowering what has arguably become one of the most important trends in the automotive industry: autonomous driving. Manufacturers are already equipping their entry-level vehicles with emergency braking, collision warning and blind spot monitoring, and offering other advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) as options, such as autopilot, auto lane change, autopark and summon. Even when these ADAS still require a human in the loop, they are clearly pushing towards level 5 vehicle automation.

research on autonomous driving

© THI-Carissma

A fully automated vehicle has to operate safely in all circumstances. It needs to adapt to a changing environment, in which other elements are also moving. Typically, the AI in the vehicle allocates ‘uncertainty areas‘ to other objects in the road depending on their possible movements. However, as the number of moving elements in that environment increases, the system begins to require a reduction in these ‘uncertainty areas’ to accommodate its own trajectory. In the absence of additional data, this can only be achieved on the basis of suppositions collected and encoded in rules used by algorithms, with the assumption of risks.

Who sets these rules and programs the algorithms? How can anybody decide what risks are acceptable? There may be grounds here to decide on liability in cases of damage due to the system taking the wrong decision while following its program, rather than malfunctions where insurance companies could step in (in March 2017, the German Road Traffic Act was adapted to open the way for autonomous driving, and some manufacturers already contemplate facing this responsibility).

As traffic increases and the vehicle enters the uncertainty area of other moving elements, some level of interaction becomes necessary. In the same way as human drivers need to communicate and exchange signals by means of indicator lights or acoustic devices, such as the horn, autonomous vehicles need to gather information on the trajectories to be followed by other vehicles in order to reduce uncertainty. If no risks are acceptable at all, autonomous vehicles will not be able to operate in heavy traffic on their own. To reduce the uncertainty areas of other vehicles, the system needs to increase the amount of information it has on them. Thus, vehicles need to be connected and closely cooperate with each other, so that all of them can accommodate their own trajectories according to those of others.

Potential impacts and developments

As with all AI applications, autonomous vehicles require abundant data. Information external to the vehicle is crucial, as it needs to know the structure of the road and the presence of obstacles or other vehicles in its path. Internal information is also essential, as the vehicle needs to know its own status and the reliability of critical elements, such as brakes. Even if autonomous vehicles need to detect traditional signals and allocate uncertainty areas while sharing the public thoroughfare with non-autonomous vehicles, pedestrians and even animals, an efficient exchange of information with as many other vehicles as possible will greatly increase their safety, as well as their performance.

It follows that the more information the system can gather from other vehicles, the better (V2V). And this information can refer to the path other vehicles intend to take, as well as to their reliability. A path will be less reliable if a human driver is likely to be operating the controls to change the predefined trajectory, and it would also be useful to know the status of the steering system and brakes of that other vehicle. Road infrastructure such as signals can also be involved and coordinate with the flow of vehicles, knowing their intended trajectories (V2I). The autonomous vehicle thus becomes connected and operates as a part of its environment and traffic (V2X). Mostly sharing of operational information is contemplated for this, however privacy concerns still apply to specific questions, e.g. vehicle tracking and driver monitoring systems (DMS).

Intelligent transport systems (ITS) are a technological revolution in the transportation and automotive sector. The main goal of ITS is interconnecting all vehicles in a network so that safety and efficiency measures can be deployed in coordination. Besides, ITS can offer additional services. In fact, these technologies are evolving into an adaptation of the internet of things (IoT) to the automotive field, which is emerging as one of the most important technological trends for coming years.

Recent advances on smart vehicles and ITS give rise to the idea of the connected car as a central paradigm of new propositions aimed at introduction of collaborative systems and interoperability. In this context, many solutions for fleet control are already commercially available, whereas traffic optimisation is considered a realistic option for the near future. However, all these systems rely on information that is often internal to the vehicle and controlled by its manufacturer. For collaborative traffic to be really effective, AI systems in all vehicles need to be open to free exchange of internal data and connected to a global network.

Manufacturers tend to use proprietary systems to ensure their revenue from maintenance operations in their vehicles. However, while manufacturers may arguably have a claim to this maintenance revenue, the way in which some of them are limiting remote connection and the access to the information gathered by the vehicle and necessary for diagnosis and repair operations, constitutes a serious drawback to the development of new solutions for traffic control that aim for safer and more efficient vehicle circulation.

Anticipatory policy-making

For these new solutions on collaborative systems to work, it is necessary that all of the information concerning every vehicle is made available, e.g. through the on-board diagnostic (OBD) port. Most industrial vehicles already incorporate telematics systems such as smart tachographs (now compulsory) and others, to report on their status for fleet management and maintenance. Today, only limited specific legislation regarding automated mobility exists. However, seven big vehicle manufacturers have agreed on a standard protocol regarding basic parameters for fleet management systems. This protocol, identified as the fleet management system (FMS), is not backed by any European regulation and only allows for basic interoperability between management systems operating with vehicles from different manufacturers.

There is a growing new market for telematics solutions, some of which are already being developed by companies emerging in this sector. However, these solutions require access to diagnostic data through the OBD port without the restrictions set in place by some vehicle manufacturers. On the other hand, these may arguably have a legitimate right to include restrictions and they are also concerned about possible safety issues related to open access to vehicle data.

The maintenance sector (represented by associations such as EGEA) makes a claim for specific regulation on these issues. EGEA argues that manufacturers frequently set security gateways (SGW) restricting access to OBD vehicle information. This practice is contrary to Regulation (EC) No 595/2009 on type-approval of motor vehicles and engines and on access to vehicle repair and maintenance information, which specifies that ‘unrestricted access to vehicle repair information’ must be allowed at all times, and to related regulation (EU) No 2018/858, which makes specific reference to OBD systems, and even rules on how this must be done. According to the regulation, the OBD data has to be available for reading while the vehicle is in motion. This prevents tampering under these conditions, thus eliminating possible concerns related to vehicle safety. Restricting access to vehicle information results in a dominant position for manufacturers that is contrary to free competition and EU market rules. Facilitating remote access to this information would allow the transport industry to become more proficient by improving fleet management through predictive maintenance. It would also create the required conditions for the development of new solutions based on Big Data and AI that will make transport safer and more efficient. Enforcing the sector’s compliance with existing regulations and extending its scope (e.g. to increase references to remote data access), will help create the proper conditions for this sector to develop and grow with new solutions and service companies.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘What if AI took care of traffic as well as driving?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to policy podcast ‘What if AI took care of traffic as well as driving?’ on YouTube.

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Artificial Intelligence in road transport: Cost of Non-Europe report

Written by Tatjana Evas and Aleksandra Heflich,

© Adobe Stock

Transport is one of the sectors in which artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are seeing rapid uptake. AI systems can detect patterns in a large volume of data and model complex solutions that enable increased efficiency in decision making and better resource allocation. The biggest transformation in the sector, yet to come, would be the deployment and uptake of highly autonomous vehicles and enhanced traffic management systems.

Many estimations show that the application of AI systems in the transport sector can bring some important benefits to the economy and create jobs, which could help balance out the negative effects that automation brings, such as loss of low-skilled jobs (Chapter 1).

For several years now, the European Parliament has been indicating that the transport sector is key for AI and has been advocating the harmonisation of rules to enhance the cross-border development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). This could fully exploit their economic potential and enable the EU to benefit from the positive effects of technological trends. In 2021, the European Commission is planning to address the current legal vacuum and will make a number of horizontal legislative proposals addressing AI (Chapter 1.2).

Against this backdrop this report analyses enablers for the development and deployment of AI in road transport. These are: (i) infrastructure, (ii) technology, (iii) investment, (iv) ethics, (v) the legal and policy framework and (vi) social acceptance. Next it identifies the gaps and barriers that still persist and hamper the potentially beneficial development of AI (Chapter 2).

Finally, the report estimates the cost of non-Europe (CoNE) – the cost of not acting at EU level – for AI in road transport (Chapter 3). This calculation is based on the study that underpins this report (see Annex 1). For this purpose, the report analyses in detail only selected AI enablers (EU policies and legislation, and how they could increase social acceptance of AI with regulatory rules). The report presents three sets of EU policy actions ranging from least ambitious – no additional intervention at EU level – to most ambitious, which addresses current weaknesses in the liability regime and strengthens the trust and safety of AI users in road transport.

Figure 1 – Proposed policy actions at EU level that could address some of the identified gaps that hinder the development and deployment of AI in road transport in the EU

Proposed policy actions at EU level that could address some of the identified gaps that hinder the development and deployment of AI in road transport in the EU

Calculations made as part of the study underpinning this CoNE report (Annex 1) point to a potential cost of non-Europe relating to AI in road transport. In 2030, the benefits lost if no further action is taken at EU level on liability in AI and on enhancing the trust of users of AI in road transport could amount to between €231 097 and €275 287 million, were none of the gaps and barriers analysed addressed. This EU action would be also beneficial for employment and could create between 5.181 and 6.147 million jobs.

Table 1 – Estimated direct cost of non-Europe, in 2030, EU-27

Estimated direct cost of non-Europe, in 2030, EU-27

Read this complete ‘in-depth analysis’ on ‘Artificial Intelligence in road transport: Cost of Non-Europe report‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Digital revolution and legal evolution: Athens Roundtable on the Rule of Law and Artificial Intelligence

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

Artificial intelligence (AI) is affecting the architecture and implementation of law in several ways. AI systems are being introduced in regulatory and standards-setting bodies and courts in several jurisdictions, to advance the functions of the la w and facilitate access to justice. Sound standards and certifications for AI systems need to be created so that judges, lawyers and citizens alike know when to trust and when to mistrust AI. Within this frame, several questions arise: Do we need ‘legal protection by design’? What are the legal and ethical boundaries to AI systems? Are existing legal frameworks adequate to cope with the challenges associated with the deployment of AI?

To respond to these questions and in view of the recent launch of its new Centre for Artificial Intelligence (C4AI), STOA co-hosted the 2020 edition of the Athens Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence and the Rule of Law, on 16‑17 November 2020 with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other prominent institutions. Co-founded in 2019 by IEEE SA, the Future Society, and ELONtech, the Roundtable was held virtually, from New York, under the patronage of H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou. The mission of the Athens Roundtable is to advance the global dialogue on policy, practice, international cooperation, capacity-building and evidence-based instruments for the trustworthy adoption of AI in government, industry and society, under the prism of legal systems, the practice of law and regulatory compliance. The two-day event, which attracted more than 700 attendees, reviewed progress on the AI governance initiatives of key participating legislative, regulatory and non-regulatory bodies, exchanged views on emerging best practices, discussed the world’s most mature AI standards and certification initiatives, and examined those initiatives in the context of specific real-world AI applications.

The event featured prominent speakers from international regulatory and legislative bodies, industry, academia and civil society. There was consensus that, to protect our democracies, it is imperative to ensure the deployment of AI in ways that do not undermine the rule of law. The speakers agreed that the trustworthy adoption of artificial intelligence is predicated on a thorough examination of the effectiveness of AI systems and on constant review of their legal soundness, especially in high-risk domains. This is critical to ensure that societies capture the upsides of AI while minimising its downsides and risks. During the discussion, the use of algorithmic systems to support or even to fully assume the function of the decision-making process in legal questions directly affecting humans emerged as a key issue: ‘black box’ algorithms, possibly developed on the basis of potentially biased data, and with no clear chain of accountability should be considered as unacceptable. The representatives of all major international organisations agreed on the need for a strengthened working relationship between the EU, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), UNESCO and the Council of Europe – as a critical success factor in establishing impactful governance frameworks and protocols leveraging the entire policy toolbox smartly from ‘self’ to ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ regulation.

In both her opening and closing remarks, STOA Chair Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece) highlighted that Europe should lead these efforts and pave the way for the establishment of a legal framework on human-centric AI that is similar to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and for the development of some commonly agreed metrics for ethical AI. In her view, the rule of law will have to be synonymous with governments and big corporations being prevented from using AI technologies to gain access to citizens’ sensitive personal data or from using perception manipulation techniques to that end. The panellists also agreed that enhanced algorithmic scrutiny is necessary, combined with a thorough assessment of the quality of such computer-based decision-supporting systems, with regard to their level of transparency, to the provision of a meaningful scheme of accountability and to assurance of minimisation of bias.

The discussion also focused on the various ways AI can be regulated, as well as on how algorithmic decision-making systems can be controlled and audited, including the methodologies needed to analyse automated systems for possible flaws and to identify common ways of risk calibration. Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, recommended that the EU should closely cooperate with organisations like UNESCO to specify its ethical principles and should create, along with its transatlantic partners, equivalent systems of trust for all parts of society. Algorithmic bias in legal and judicial environments became a topic of discussion across almost all panels and most recommendations agreed on the necessity to build AI systems that are as diverse as our societies, given that technology can become a magnifier of social inequalities.

The speakers also emphasised the need to intensify efforts to regulate weaponised AI and reach an international agreement on definitional issues and the red lines that should be drawn when developing and deploying AI applications in critical domains. In several sessions, the issue of training and education to enhance algorithmic literacy was advanced as a key requirement for safeguarding citizens’ trust as well as for allowing users to exercise, in an meaningful way, their right to be forgotten, their right to an explanation when their data are being used for AI algorithms, and the right to redress against decisions made by AI systems. Several regulators also highlighted the mismatch between the traditional regulatory approach and the fast pace of technology developments in the domain of AI that point to the urgent need to introduce smart regulatory instruments, including ethical impact assessments.

In her concluding remarks, STOA Chair Eva Kaili underlined that a privacy-by-design and ethics-by-design approach should be followed throughout the entire lifecycle of AI systems, from their initial development to actual implementation especially in the legal domain. In a period of intense digital interdependence, where AI strategies and ethical principles are increasingly adopted at an organisational level worldwide, multi-stakeholder engagement, such as the Athens Roundtable, is critical to identifying and disseminating widely adopted practices for operationalising trustworthy AI.

The full recording of the meeting is available here.

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The Twitter activity of members of the European Council

Written by Ralf Drachenberg,

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Over recent years, the members of the European Council have, in a number of landmark declarations such as the Bratislava Declaration, pointed to the need to improve communication with citizens, as part of the process of building greater trust and confidence in the European Union and its institutions. As social media, and notably Twitter, have become an important part of politicians’ communication strategy generally, this study looks specifically at how EU leaders in the European Council communicate on Europe via Twitter. The objective is to identify the EU topics they tweet about, outline the differences between the EU Heads of State or Government, and explore the ways in which they communicate and engage with their target audiences.

This study analyses 31 004 tweets by 34 EU Heads of State or Government, posted between January 2019 and June 2020. It shows that the use of Twitter by EU leaders as a communication tool is, on average, comparable to other international political leaders. However, the intensity of use of the platform still varies significantly among them. A similar variation exists for their tweets on European issues: for many, Europe represents a significant proportion of their overall Twitter activity; however, it appears that those who tweet most in general, mention EU issues considerably less proportionally.

One of the main findings is that, if communication is understood as ‘reporting on’, EU leaders certainly communicate frequently on Europe. They do this mainly in the context of events or meetings, including the European Council. However, a striking feature is apparent in the way individual EU leaders’ communicate on Europe via their Twitter accounts: as a general pattern, EU leaders inform people about, or report on, their various meetings, mentioning the main topics discussed, however, EU leaders do not generally explain Europe and the substance of what is going on within the EU institutions, nor do they outline their own positions and priorities or try to convince their audience of their position.

The study shows that the individual issues EU leaders tweet about most are ‘interactions between EU leaders’, followed by combined tweets on (before, during and after) European Council meetings; tweets on ‘interaction with EU representatives’ are also frequent. When grouping the individual issues together into clusters, the ‘policy’ areas which are by far most often the subject of tweets are external relations, the multiannual financial framework and climate issues, which in turn also shows that EU leaders often tweet about topics linked to specific national interests.

Almost all EU leaders announce upcoming European Council meetings, mentioning the main agenda points, but they also tweet about preparatory meetings between individual EU leaders, regional alliances (such as the Visegrád Four), and the meetings of their European political parties. Tweets regarding the European Council President are less frequent, with EU leaders instead tweeting more about other EU representatives (such as the European Commission President). Furthermore, examining Twitter activity over time shows peaks and downturns in the level of interest in a topic, closely connected to the occurrence of milestone events. Finally, there is a strong connection between the intensity of EU leaders’ Twitter activity on EU issues and whether they hold the rotating Council Presidency or not.

This analysis of EU leaders’ Twitter accounts provides a unique overview of their bilateral meetings and how they communicate about them via Twitter. Diversity is evident when looking at the amount of tweets dedicated to communicating on bilateral meetings, with some Heads of State or Government often issuing several tweets per meeting held and others not being nearly as active. Variances in tweeting on the same bilateral meetings are also evident and leaders who held fewer meetings were not always those from smaller Member States.

When examining the methods EU leaders apply to engage their Twitter audience, the analysis shows that most tweet primarily in their native language, indicating that their main target audience is at national level. However, when they want to put an important message across, many do translate their messages into other EU languages to reach beyond their own Member State. A few EU leaders also tweet mainly in English (as a non-native language), suggesting a more European target audience on Twitter. While hashtags are frequently used by nearly all EU leaders, many are linked to specific events or locations. The findings also show that, in general, the leaders’ EU-related tweets do not generate the same level of interaction (retweets and likes) from their audience as do their tweets on national issues.

Read the complete study on ‘The Twitter activity of members of the European Council‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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