What if consumers could use devices to sequence DNA? [Science and Technology podcast]

Written by Lieve Van Woensel and Mihalis Kritikos with Sara Suna Lipp,

Sequencing and analysis of the human genome – all the genetic information stored in our DNA – provide us with understanding about a person’s ancestry, health and other traits. Thanks to DNA sequencing, medicine and the life sciences are able to predict and cure diseases. As DNA sequencing technologies continuously improve and become less costly, what if we all soon possessed our personal, smart DNA sequencers and apps to analyse our DNA?

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The genetic ‘alphabet’ contains four ‘letters’ or, in other words, four chemical codes for the information stored in DNA, representing a sequence that, if unwrapped, can stretch up to two metres and fill a book of one million pages. DNA contains complete hereditary information about a person, from their eye and hair colour to their sex, some personality traits and disease vulnerability. DNA sequencing is a method that determines the precise order of the ‘letters’ within DNA, allowing us to ‘read’ the information in a genome. While deciphering the human genome for the benefit of scientific research, medical applications and public health, DNA sequencing of other species is also important: to verify biodiversity, to gain knowledge of crops and farmed animals, and to learn about the origin of emerging pathogens. In the case of a public health crisis, such as the Covid‑19 pandemic, genomic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid‑19, facilitates the design of treatments and vaccines. It also aids in mapping the spread of the virus as it evolves and helps monitor containment measure effectiveness.

The Human Genome Project, which aimed to decipher the complete human genome, was completed in 2003. With the aid of international research, this took about three years and cost approximately three billion euros. However, the cost of and time needed for genomic sequencing are falling. Currently, it takes only about an hour and less than a thousand euros to sequence a complete genome. This technological progress has paved the way for the commercialisation of genome sequencing. Dozens of personal genomics companies, such as 23andMe or Ancestry, offer direct-to-consumer DNA testing, that can be bought online for less than fifty euros, offering to provide a range of information. As advanced genomics becomes more accessible and increasingly affects our daily lives, ethical concerns such as identifiability, consent, data privacy and security rise. It is therefore desirable to have regulation in place that keeps up with developments in technology before we all own our personal DNA sequencers, which could provide more than ancestry and disease risk information.

Potential impacts and developments

The decreasing cost and increasing speed of DNA sequencing techniques make genomics more accessible. Increasingly important worldwide, genomics offers more effective healthcare solutions. For example, if genomics analysis indicates a person’s genetic predisposition for type‑II diabetes, modifications in lifestyle, such as exercise and a healthy diet, could delay or prevent the onset of the disease. Genomics facilitates a more precise characterisation of medical conditions – such as cancers, some rare diseases and infectious diseases – and, accordingly, the choice of medication to target the disease. It can provide better diagnostics for disease prevention and has the potential to move personalised medicine and therapies forward. Prenatal genomic sequencing for every embryo may become a standard protocol, serving as a life-long health reference. Besides the benefit of assisting individuals to make decisions about their health, gathering information about genetic traits and diseases within populations, the field of public health genomics, could offer strategies for improving public health. This not only helps to access and monitor health problems, but also to frame public policy options.

DNA sequencing technologies can be used to scan and detect pathogens in real time and provide a surveillance system to prevent epidemic outbreaks. Portable DNA sequencers, smaller than a smartphone, such as MinION, which is the first of its kind, were used during the Zika virus epidemic in 2016 and the 2014‑2016 Ebola virus outbreak, to help identify and track the viruses. Farmers in Tanzania have benefited from portable DNA sequencing for the timely diagnosis of sick plants infected with viruses. IDseq, an open-source cloud-based platform defining itself as ‘infectious disease detectives’, launched a service where users can upload sequencing data for a free analysis. IDseq is also being used for molecular diagnostics to tackle Covid‑19. Genomic sequencing of SARS‑CoV‑2 is key to understanding the evolution and trajectory of the virus, assists containment measures, and has provided evidence that the virus is not a bioweapon. Recent research has even claimed that an on-the-spot DNA test integrated into smartphones could make real-time monitoring of diseases and pathogens possible.

The technology for pocket-size, portable, smartphone-integrated DNA sequencing is already available. This, together with improved mobile genome analysis applications, which enable the exploration of desirable genetic data, are opening an era of great possibility and risk. It is only a matter of time before personal DNA sequencers are commercialised and used to detect pathogens, food contamination or information about ourselves and others. In future, sequencers may be found in public spaces, such as hospitals or bathrooms, cars, or integrated into a fridge in our kitchens, to monitor genomes in real time. However, the interpretation of all this genomic information is not as easy as it may appear.

While genomics holds invaluable information for scientists, doctors and others, it also provides much more information about who we are, how and even where we live, where we go and with whom we interact. In a human sample (e.g. saliva), genomics can also detect genomic sequences of the microbiome, microbes residing in the human body, which can reveal a lot about an individual. As data analysis advances, there will be much more to uncover in genomic data, and consumer genomics may possibly enable a person to be identified from anonymous DNA databases. We also know that investigation of the genomic information of a part of a population facilitates the inference of the DNA make-up of the rest of that population. All this information can be commercially relevant. The question of who owns the DNA sequencing data and who else has access to it after one has given consent over the data are therefore crucial. The consumer genomics business faces challenges regarding privacy, data ownership and sharing, as well as data security. Genomic databases have already been hacked. DNA testing services can be cracked, sometimes revealing email addresses alone, whereas, in 2020, hackers accessed an online DNA database used by police for criminal searches.

Anticipatory policy-making

Genomic sequencing unveils very rich data and raises considerable legal, security and private as well as societal and ethical issues, touching upon basic human rights. As genomic technologies are evolving rapidly, it is desirable that regulation match this pace and that adequate safeguards are put in place. It is also important to raise societal awareness about this technology, capable of revealing people’s identities, and as such open to misuse. The declaration on genomics cooperation, signed by 13 European countries in 2018, on cooperation in sharing their genomic information, aims at sequencing ‘1+ million genomes’ in the European Union (EU) by 2022, thereby linking genomic databases to create a secure health data infrastructure across Europe, while ensuring that ethical and legal aspects are covered and that Member States are aware of the opportunities and challenges of genomics. A 2018 JRC report provides a comparative overview of Member States’ legislation on genomics.

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is not currently harmonised at EU level. The legislative framework is fragmented and ranges from an absolute ban on these tests (France), to a complete lack of any legislative reference to this form of testing. At EU level, the revision of the In-Vitro Diagnostics Medical Devices Regulation that will come into force on 26 May 2022, will touch upon their clinical validity, meaning that EU Member States will continue to regulate medical supervision, genetic advice and monitoring and informed consent issues at the local and/or national level. In a future where personal DNA sequencers may be as common as smartphones, vigilance could be required on both legal and ethical issues. Genomic information is difficult to protect; we leave traces of our DNA, such as hair and fingerprints, wherever we go. Therefore, attention should be paid to data security, data ownership and sharing. Blockchain technologies may help to address some of these issues. Ethical issues such as individual autonomy and equality of access, as well as anti-discrimination laws and compensation for people affected by data abuse should also be considered.


Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘What if consumers could use devices to sequence DNA?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to Science and Technology podcast ‘What if consumers could use devices to sequence DNA?’ on YouTube.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/11/what-if-consumers-could-use-devices-to-sequence-dna-science-and-technology-podcast/

The rights of LGBTI people in the European Union

Written by David de Groot,

© Lisa F. Young / Fotolia

The prohibition of discrimination and the protection of human rights are important elements of the EU legal order. Nevertheless, discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people persists throughout the EU and takes various forms, including verbal abuse and physical violence.

Sexual orientation is now recognised in EU law as grounds of discrimination. However, the scope of the provisions dealing with this issue is limited and does not cover social protection, health care, education or access to goods and services, leaving LGBTI people particularly vulnerable in these areas.

Moreover, EU competence does not extend to recognition of marital or family status. In this area, national regulations vary, with some Member States offering same-sex couples the right to marry, others allowing alternative forms of registration, and yet others not providing any legal status for same-sex couples. Same-sex couples may or may not have the right to adopt children and to access assisted reproduction. These divergent legal statuses have implications, for instance, for partners from two Member States with different standards who want to formalise/legalise their relationship, or for same-sex couples and their families wishing to move to another Member State.

Combating discrimination has become part of EU internal and external policies, and is the subject of numerous resolutions of the European Parliament. However, action in this area remains problematic when it touches on issues pertaining to areas traditionally the preserve of Member States, such as marital status and family law.

This is a further updated version of a briefing originally drafted by Piotr Bakowski. The previous edition, from November 2020, was by Rosamund Shreeves.


Read the complete briefing on ‘The rights of LGBTI people in the European Union‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

See our video on ‘The road to LGBTI equality‘ on YouTube.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/11/the-rights-of-lgbti-people-in-the-european-union-2/

Delivering the 2021-27 MFF and NGEU: How to, match strategy, resources and expectations?

Written by Velina Lilyanova,

On 4 May 2021, EPRS held a second online policy roundtable dedicated to the new multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021‑2027. While the first event focused on lessons learned from the negotiations, this time the focus was on the outcome and the challenges of implementation, as the title ‘Delivering the 2021-27 MFF and NGEU: How to, match strategy, resources and expectations?’ suggests.

Etienne Bassot, Director of the Members Research Service, opened the event with a keynote speech by Johan Van Overtveldt (ECR, Belgium), Chair of Parliament’s Committee on Budgets. Fabia Jones, Head of the EPRS’ Budgetary Policies Unit, moderated the roundtable discussion featuring Hanna Jahns, Deputy Head of the cabinet of the Commissioner for Budget; Jorge Nuñez Ferrer, Senior Research Fellow at CEPS; Eulalia Rubio, Senior Research Fellow at the Jacques Delors Institute, as well as Alessandro D’Alfonso and Alina Dobreva, EPRS policy analysts.

Johan Van Overtveldt shared his view that the ultimate goal of the MFF negotiations was to ensure an EU budget optimally aligned with policies providing the highest added value for citizens. Ambitious plans go hand in hand with ensuring the necessary means to fulfil them. Should the means remain unchanged, the EU needs to rethink the direction in which they flow, he underlined. The need for an even more modern EU budget is evident; one area where Europe is lagging behind is investing in technologies of the future, for example. Johan Van Overtveldt assessed the way strategy, resources and expectations have been matched in the Next Generation EU (NGEU), and its main part, the Resilience and Recovery Facility (RRF) more positively, however. His key message was that the EU must deliver results for the resources invested. Thorough scrutiny, avoiding fraud and taking responsibility – at both the EU and national level – are key ingredients to ensuring a successful EU recovery.

Hanna Jahns detailed how the EU’s new financial package responds to current priorities. She outlined the stages of the negotiations from the initial proposal to the final deal, and assessed the MFF, together with the NGEU, as offering a solid basis to match the strategies with resources and expectations. However, in answer to the question the title of the event posed, Hanna Jahns noted that time is needed, as many of the sectoral programmes are still being prepared. She noted the example of the EU’s Covid‑19 response, for which the EU’s entire resources and resourcefulness have been mustered to support citizens. The pandemic has underlined that the EU budget is the best tool to combine with national measures to support a crisis.

Jorge Nuñez Ferrer flagged some of the challenges of implementing the recovery package. While conceived as an emergency fund, the RRF is essentially a redirection fund, meant to create systemic change in the way the economy works, and bring additionality to MFF funding. Acknowledging its broad scope, Jorge Nuñez Ferrer considers targeting financing to those areas most in need to be crucial, in particular to compensate for the difficulties incurred in structural reforms. He highlighted the need to build a good framework for a dynamic future economy and an asymmetric recovery process; transform the labour market, social policy and education with a longer term focus in view; to accentuate the additionally of the RRF projects and counter the risk of a renationalised recovery and a diminished European dimension.

Eulalia Rubio focused on innovation, research and digital policy in the new MFF, and reflected on the main qualitative changes and the new EU industrial strategy. Speaking of Horizon, Digital Europe, and InvestEU, she shared three main conclusions: a need to rescale the EU resources allocated to the later stages of innovation, i.e. deployment and commercialisation; focusing innovation and research, and coordination and alignment with the national level to boost synergies and compensate for the lack of sufficient resources at the EU level.

Alessandro D’Alfonso explained how the MFF package addresses challenges in the field of climate and border management and migration, the topic of his latest briefing. The fight against climate change is a major challenge of our times and citizens increasingly see green transition as a core EU mission. This calls for significant investment, which the new MFF and NGEU indeed offer: 30 % of their resources are targeted at climate related objectives. Moreover, at the Parliament’s initiative, a Just Transition Fund was created to finance decarbonisation efforts in the regions most exposed to the cost of transition, to ensure inclusive and sustainable recovery. Alessandro suggested introducing new own resources, linked to climate action as a potential solution to maintain the level of climate funding in the future. Migration and border management was also identified as an area in need of more resources and joint action, and as a result, resources have almost doubled.

Alina Dobreva concluded the discussion by linking it with public opinion research. While too early to say how citizens evaluate the new MFF, she presented some key trends identified in her recent in-depth analysis. Alina Dobreva highlighted a positive trend of citizens increasingly supporting greater means for the EU budget (with considerable differences between Member States). According to Eurobarometer, citizens consistently want more EU funds to be spent on employment, social affairs and health, and increasingly on climate change. Just as consistent, however, is the misperception that the EU spends excessively on administration and ‘overspends’ in general, which calls for improved communication on the EU budget.

The whole discussion, followed by a lively Q&A session, is available on our YouTube channel. Those interested in the MFF negotiations can also watch the video of the 14 April debate hosted by EPRS’s European Council Oversight Unit and launched by President Sassoli.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/11/delivering-the-2021-27-mff-and-ngeu-how-to-match-strategy-resources-and-expectations/

National ratification of the Own Resources Decision: State of play on 5 May 2021

Written by Alessandro D’Alfonso,

© European Union 2021, EPRS

The Own Resources Decision (ORD) establishes how the EU budget is financed. Its entry into force requires approval by all EU Member States according to their constitutional requirements. In a majority of Member States, national parliaments are responsible for ratifying the decision. In the others, the government alone decides on the approval. Completion of the ratification procedure by all Member States has generally required more than two years. However, there is a greater sense of urgency for the ORD adopted by the Council in December 2020, since its entry into force is a pre-condition for the launch of the Next Generation EU (NGEU) recovery instrument. The objective is to complete the ratification procedure before summer 2021, with a view to ensuring the timely launch of NGEU. As of 5 May, 19 Member States have ratified the ORD. The ratification procedure is still ongoing in Austria, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania.

EU own resources: A ‘quasi-Treaty’ procedure

The Own Resources Decision (ORD) sets the financing system of the EU budget. It is one of the most complex pieces of legislation for the EU to adopt and modify, on account of the special legislative procedure set out in Article 311 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The Council unanimously adopts the decision after consulting the European Parliament. Before entering into force, the decision has to be approved by each Member State in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. National ratifications must then be notified to the Council.

In a majority of Member States, based on their constitutions, the responsibility for ratifying the Own Resources Decision lies with the national parliament. This approach is usually linked to parliaments’ budgetary powers and/or their role in approving agreements or treaties that have implications for public finances.

In a number of Member States, however, parliamentary approval is not required. In such cases, the government decides on the ratification of the decision; the parliament is informed, and it may hold a non-binding vote (in plenary or in a committee) on the Own Resources Decision.

Given the complexity of the procedure, EU own resources are deemed to have a quasi-Treaty status. Their reform, strongly advocated by the European Parliament, has proved difficult, leading to only minor changes being introduced in the system over more than 30 years.

Unlike the multiannual financial framework (MFF) that sets the maximum allocation of resources for each major area of EU spending over a period of at least five years, the Own Resources Decision has no end date. Its provisions, except those on time-limited corrections to some Member States’ national contributions, continue to apply indefinitely until all Member States have ratified a new Council Decision. This prevents the EU budget from being afflicted by a lack of financing. Once in force, the new decision applies retroactively from the start date of the new MFF, in order for the financing system to be aligned with the financial years of the MFF.

Historically, the ratification procedure has proved lengthy. The entry into force of the last three decisions (2000 ORD, 2007 ORD and 2014 ORD) always took place more than two years after the start of the corresponding MFF, but these time lags did not jeopardise the functioning of the EU budgetary system for the reasons detailed above. However, there is a greater sense of urgency for the Own Resources Decision adopted by the Council in December 2020 (2020 ORD), given that its ratification is a pre-condition for the launch of Next Generation EU (NGEU), the recovery instrument agreed by the EU to counter the severe socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.


Read the complete briefing on ‘National ratification of the Own Resources Decision: State of play on 5 May 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/08/national-ratification-of-the-own-resources-decision-state-of-play-on-5-may-2021/

European Pillar of Social Rights: Gothenburg, Porto and beyond

Written by Nora Milotay,

© pogonici / Adobe Stock

The proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights (social pillar) by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council in November 2017 was the fourth major attempt to strengthen the social dimension of the European Union since its inception.

The social pillar is to be the fifth pillar of the economic and monetary union. It is to serve as a compass for updating the EU’s welfare states and labour markets to the new realities of life and work in the 21st century. Its holistic approach puts upward social convergence at its centre and can help to put economic and social considerations and rights across EU policies on a more equal footing. Its implementation has mainly been the task of the Member States in strong collaboration with the social partners and with the support of the European Union. The social pillar’s very broad interpretation of the social dimension, pointing beyond social and employment policies, means that it has been regarded by some simply as the starting point for new initiatives in a number of policy fields, and by others as a potential game-changer that can bring about a genuinely new policy dynamic around the EU’s social dimension.

The new action plan on the further implementation of the social pillar’s principles continues along this complex path. It also proposes three new headline targets and the redesign of the social scoreboard to make monitoring of the implementation process more detailed and accurate. At the Porto Social Summit to be held on 7-8 May 2021 the action plan will be one of the major inputs into discussions on the social aspects of medium- to long-term recovery from the coronavirus crisis, including unemployment, education and training, social protection and poverty. The objectives include clarifying issues around: the enforceability of the social pillar’s principles and rights, how to achieve a genuine European social protection floor for all, and governance, monitoring and funding in the context of the EU social dimension.


Read the complete briefing on ‘European Pillar of Social Rights: Gothenburg, Porto and beyond‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/07/european-pillar-of-social-rights-gothenburg-porto-and-beyond/

Conference on the Future of Europe

Written by Silvia Kotanidis,

© iQoncept / Adobe Stock

After many debates and statements of principle in recent years, the time for a more structured discussion on the future of Europe’s development has arrived. The Conference on the Future of Europe, announced by the Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen in her inaugural address, is set to start after a long period of standstill owing not only to changed priorities brought by the coronavirus pandemic, but also to lengthy negotiations among the institutions.

The aim of the conference is to debate how the EU should develop in the future, identify where it is rising to the challenges of current times, and enhance those areas that need reform or strengthening. A key aspect of this initiative is to bring the public closer to the EU institutions, listen to people’s concerns, involve them directly in the process of the Conference and provide an adequate and meaningful response. In this respect, the ambition is to set up pan-European forums for discussion, for the first time ever, where citizens of all Member States can debate the EU’s priorities and make recommendations, to be taken into account by the political-institutional powers that be and, ideally, translated into practical measures.

The pandemic hit as the preparation of the conference was just beginning and inevitably caused a delay. In March 2021, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission agreed on a joint declaration, laying down the common rules and principles governing the conference. It was agreed that the leadership of the conference would be shared by the three institutions, with the conference chaired jointly by their three presidents.

The Conference on the Future of Europe has all the prerequisites to be an excellent opportunity to engage in a more structured debate between institutions and citizens, and arrive at concrete proposals to improve the way the EU works, in terms not only of institutional dynamics, but also of policies. Some have cautioned however that the initiative must be conducted with the utmost care, in particular as regards the follow-up, so that it remains a meaningful endeavour.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Conference on the Future of Europe‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/07/conference-on-the-future-of-europe/

Digital markets act [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Tambiama Madiega (1st edition),

© Sashkin / Adobe Stock

In December 2020, the European Commission published a proposal for a regulation on contestable and fair markets in the digital sector, otherwise referred to as the digital markets act (DMA). The proposed legislation lays down harmonised rules aimed at regulating the behaviour of digital platforms acting as gatekeepers between business users and their customers in the European Union (EU). This approach entails a shift from ex-post anti-trust intervention to ex-ante regulation, and would enshrine within EU law a set of ex-ante rules that would radically change how large digital platforms are allowed to operate in the EU. While there seems to be strong support for this approach in the EU, a number of issues regarding the designation of gatekeepers, the design of ex-ante obligations and prohibitions, and enforcement mechanisms have already been raised. As the EU lawmakers, Parliament and Council will now assess whether the Commission’s proposal is an appropriate response to the challenges identified and work towards defining their positions on the proposal.

Versions

Timeline

Timeline

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/06/digital-markets-act-eu-legislation-in-progress/

Story of the European Anthem

Written by Etienne Deschamps,

© L’hymne européen. Disque produit par la Commission européenne et par le Conseil de l’Europe, 1995. Dessin de Jean-Michel Folon © Union européenne

In the inter-war years, advocates of European unity began pondering the choice of an anthem that would convey the feeling of sharing a common destiny and common values. The creation of the Council of Europe in 1949 spurred further calls to this end. Proposals for scores and lyrics for an anthem for Europe began appearing spontaneously. It was not until 1972, however, that the Council of Europe formally adopted the prelude of Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as the European anthem.

For their part, the institutions representing what would become the European Union chose the debates on a citizens’ Europe held in the mid-1980s to adopt Ode to Joy as their anthem too. On 29 May 1986, the European flag and the European anthem were officially adopted at a ceremony held in Brussels. Although the version of the anthem chosen had no lyrics, it has come to symbolise the European Union. It is played at official ceremonies attended by the representatives and/or leaders of the European Union, and more generally at many events with a European theme.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Story of the European Anthem‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/05/story-of-the-european-anthem/

Communicating and perceiving the EU budget: Challenges and outcomes

Written by Alina Dobreva,

© calvste / Adobe Stock

This paper presents the issues related to communicating the EU budget, outlining its importance for the perception of democratic legitimacy of the EU and the challenges involved in presenting it to citizens in clear, comprehensible terms. The EU budget is a financial translation of the objectives and strategy of the EU and the means to execute its policies. Therefore, the EU budget has a key role in framing and building the image and perception of each EU policy and the EU as a whole. Given the difficulties associated with communicating the EU budget, it is ever more important to put emphasis and efforts on presenting it to the public in the best possible way.

Part 1 analyses the main features of the EU budget from the point of view of communication opportunities and challenges. It furthermore addresses some of the most popular myths regarding the EU budget and answers questions such as whether its size is justified and who decides on it.

The extension of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) to seven years has had a positive impact on the predictability and stability of EU spending. However, it has also led to misalignment with the electoral cycles, which makes it harder to communicate the link between Europeans’ political choices and the political priorities of the EU budget. The introduction of new genuine own resources has the potential, on the one hand, to make Europeans see a clearer link between their own money and the EU budget, and, on the other, to weaken the strongest point associated with presenting the budget to citizens – the net balance of Member States.

While the expenditure side of the EU budget is what citizens are most familiar with, it is also the subject of misperceptions, among other things, as to who actually manages it. The language and structure of EU budget expenditure is a message in its own right and has an impact on citizens’ perception of EU spending. Each of the following institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, as well as the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Court of Auditors (ECA) and the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) – has a role in communication addressed at citizens as regards the EU budget. It is paramount to ensure that this communication delivers what it promises to do. The performance of the EU budget and, even more importantly, the information that citizens have about it, play a key role in how people perceive and evaluate the EU budget. Therefore, the current emphasis on performance budgeting has strong potential to alter citizens’ views of the EU budget.

Part 2 presents the current outcomes of the process linked to communicating the EU budget, based on Eurobarometer data. It analyses two key questions – do Europeans support a bigger EU budget, and what is the picture of the EU budget drawn by citizens – as a perceived and as a desired EU budget. In 2020, support for attributing greater financial means to the EU stood at 48 %, at its highest since 2005, when Eurobarometer surveys on this topic began. It varied between 69 % in Portugal and 16 % in Denmark. The data show that public opinion does not strictly follow the dominant narrative of beneficiaries and contributors. Citizens of beneficiary countries such as Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia consistently offer much weaker support for increasing the EU budget than the EU average. At the other end is Italy – a contributor Member State, whose citizens consistently voice stronger support for increased funding than the EU average.

Citizens have been asked what they think the EU budget is spent on and what they would like it to be spent on. The pictures drawn by their perceptions and their desires are very different. Citizens considered employment, social affairs and public health as the top priority areas of EU spending in 2020. It had been an overwhelming priority for them for the entire period covered by the surveys and was the unanimous choice as a top priority for citizens in all EU Member States in 2015. Citizens’ preference for EU spending on climate change has grown, and demonstrates potential for an even stronger preference for financial backing in the future.

The difference between citizens’ perceptions of what the EU budget is spent on and their desired EU spending priorities creates two types of gaps. One is the ‘underspending perception gap’ – the share of people who perceive a certain policy to be an EU spending priority is lower than the share of people who express a desire for that policy to be an EU spending priority. The largest underspending perception gap is in the area of employment, social affairs and public health. The ‘overspending perception gap’ is when a bigger share of citizens perceive a policy to be an EU spending priority than the share of people who want it to be such a priority. Here, the largest one is as regards administrative and personnel costs.

Despite some fluctuations over time, Europeans have very stable perceptions about what the EU’s spending priorities are. The biggest increase in the share of people perceiving a category to be an EU spending priority is related to immigration issues, and the biggest decrease is related to assistance to EU neighbours, including candidate countries. In both cases, perceptions shift with some delay relative to the actual events linked to the change in EU spending on the respective policy areas. It would be fair to say that the shift in citizens’ perceptions of EU spending is rather slow even in the case of sudden events related to an actual change in EU spending.

The priorities of EU budget spending, as perceived by the citizens, are also very different from the real EU budget priorities, which accounts for a significant ‘reality gap’ between citizens’ perceptions of EU spending and real EU spending. For example, data show that the perception of an overgrown EU administration is rather strong and stable over time. Citizens’ perceptions and desires regarding EU spending on three policy areas – administrative and personnel costs and buildings, employment, social affairs and public health, and agriculture and rural development, is examined in detail in this paper. These categories present examples of very diverse patterns of preferences and perceptions about EU budget spending.

Knowledge and perceptions about the elements that make up the EU budget are shaped through various channels, many of them dependent on the national, rather than the European, public sphere and portrayal of the EU budget debate. However, differences in the way the EU budget is perceived cannot be explained only by national factors. Further research is needed on the personal-level determinants of these perceptions to account for the growing influence of the European public sphere and cross-border communications, as well as to bring messages closer to citizens by fine-tuning them to their interests and concerns. The build-up of communication challenges related to the EU budget outlined in this paper has contributed to the misconceptions of citizens and the gaps between their perceptions and the reality of EU budgetary affairs. Some of the misconceptions could be addressed through a dedicated and well-targeted communication strategy. Other reasons, irrespective of their political and/or financial justification, create communication complexities that will continue to be beyond the reach of the public. These can only be addressed through the concerted efforts of policy-makers in bringing the EU budget closer to EU citizens in communication terms. Significant steps in this direction are the growing focus on results in budgetary reporting and the reform of the own resources system, both of which have the potential to contribute positively to communication on the EU budget and make it more comprehensible to citizens.


Read this complete in-depth analysis on ‘Communicating and perceiving the EU budget: Challenges and outcomes‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/04/communicating-and-perceiving-the-eu-budget-challenges-and-outcomes/

The six policy priorities of the von der Leyen Commission: State of play in spring 2021

Written by Etienne Bassot,

© European Union 2021 – Eric Vidal/EP

When Ursula von der Leyen took office as President of the European Commission on 1 December 2019, she and her fellow Commissioners did so on the basis of certain key political priorities which she had set out in statements to the European Parliament in July and November 2019, first as candidate for Commission President and then as President-elect. Her six priorities were to pursue ‘A European Green Deal’, ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’, ‘An economy that works for people’, ‘A stronger Europe in the world’, ‘Promoting the European way of life’ and ‘A new push for European democracy’.

During the new European Commission’s first one hundred days in office, however, the European Union, and indeed the whole world, were to be profoundly affected by the sudden outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, with the developing pandemic soon evolving into a multi‑faceted global crisis. This crisis has inevitably had an impact on the Commission’s six priorities and its practical capacity to pursue them over its five-year term (2019-24), but the interesting feature is that the Commission has not chosen to abandon or significantly change these priorities – simply adding a de facto seventh priority to its existing portfolio, namely action to contain the coronavirus crisis and promote economic recovery from it – nor has it significantly reconfigured the portfolios of members of the College, in response to the crisis, as some might have expected. (For example, there was no move to give greater responsibilities to the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety).

The European Commission has made it clear that it sees the coronavirus crisis as reconfirming the relevance of its existing priorities, rather than eclipsing or recasting them. It also sees the crisis as offering an opportunity to move further and faster in certain fields, talking about ‘the great acceleration of change’ which the crisis has unleashed and ‘the great opportunity it [has] paradoxically presented’. This attitude is notably the case with the two most ambitious of the six priorities – ‘A European Green Deal’ and ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’ – where the Commission has sought to use the momentum of events surrounding the crisis not only to assert the increased relevance of these priorities – suggesting that radical changes in human behaviour are possible and that these are likely to be driven in large measure by digital innovation – but to operationalise them further through the €750 billion ‘Next Generation EU’ (NGEU) recovery fund, which itself helps carry forward the third priority, ‘An economy that works for people’. Defined percentages of the recovery and resilience facility are to be used for investment in initiatives that will advance Europe’s move to climate-neutrality as a continent by 2050 and in digital modernisation of various kinds (37 and 20 per cent respectively).

The Commission has also sought to use the climate and digital agendas as a means to assert its fourth priority, ‘A stronger Europe in the world’. They offer an opportunity for the Commission to try to lead opinion on two major areas of policy where it has a global agenda for change – even if the geo-political setting was largely inhospitable until the replacement of Donald Trump by Joe Biden as US President, and still remains complex and challenging. With the spotlight on the causal link between the loss of biodiversity and the pandemic, the Commission President has set Europe the objective of leading the world at the conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity, scheduled for October 2021 in China.

Under the fifth priority, ‘Promoting our European way of life’, which includes migration and health, the impact of the crisis has been paradoxical: although it delayed several initiatives planned for 2020, it has greatly increased the likelihood of the Commission achieving the ambition of building a ‘European health union’. Here it has outlined pro-active initiatives to strengthen the EU’s crisis-preparedness and management of cross-border health threats, and to reinforce the mandates of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The Commission’s sixth priority – ‘A new push for European democracy’ – was initially set back by the coronavirus crisis, with the Conference of the Future of Europe stalled for some time. However, even here, the relevance of the Conference now appears to have been enhanced by debates about whether Europe is adequately equipped to address new global challenges (such as health pandemics) where expectations of common European action can be high. Delayed due to lack of agreement among the three main EU institutions on a series of procedural issues, a joint declaration between them was finally signed on 10 March 2021 – captured in the photograph on the front cover of this publication – paving the way to the official launch event of the Conference on 9 May 2021.

The successive annual Commission work programmes for 2020 – published in January 2020 and updated in May 2020 – and for 2021 – published on 19 October 2021 under the title ‘A Union of vitality in a world of fragility’ – show a surprising degree of continuity. Even if some legislative proposals (notably in the digital field) have been introduced later than originally anticipated – there were delays on 12 of the proposals originally flagged up in January 2020 – very little has fallen by the wayside and some new, ambitious elements have been added, most notably the introduction of a more stringent climate target (55 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030) and the launch of NGEU.

The von der Leyen Commission's six priorities: Legislative delivery to 31 March 2021

The von der Leyen Commission’s six priorities: Legislative delivery to 31 March 2021

Our assessment is that of the nearly 400 initiatives foreshadowed by the von der Leyen Commission on taking office or since (397), almost half have already been submitted (192). Among these, one in five has already been adopted (43), while the great majority of the remainder are either proceeding normally in the legislative process (97) or are close to adoption (26). Conversely, a certain number are proceeding very slowly or are currently blocked (26). While the Commission’s first priority, the European Green Deal, ranks highest in the number of initiatives announced (87), the third priority, ‘An economy that works for people’, has the greatest number so far actually adopted (15). It is worth noting that almost one in six of the Commission’s initiatives are non-legislative in character, such as strategies, action plans and other communications. (All figures here relate to the situation as of 31 March 2021).

This paper forms part of a series that monitors the stay of play on the achievement of Commission priorities and which is published, in principle, once every six months. There has been a significant increase in the number of initiatives submitted by the Commission under each of its six priorities, compared with only six months ago – an increase of one-third overall, compared with early September 2020. This confirms that the Commission has now entered the very active phase, in the early middle part of the five-year EU political cycle, during which the executive keeps coming forward with a large number of proposals, whilst simultaneously the twin branches of the legislature (the European Parliament and the Council of the EU) are fully engaged in considering and (very often) amending them.

One underlying condition for the success of the von der Leyen Commission’s priorities is, of course, having the financial means to implement the various initiatives tabled. In December 2020, the adoption of an unprecedented budgetary package for the years 2021 to 2027 brought new momentum to the financial front. The new Own Resources Decision will introduce important changes to the system and significantly increase resources for the next seven years. However, it still needs to be ratified by all the Member States, and completing that process is the next major challenge that the European Union faces in spring to summer 2021.

The following sections of this paper analyse, for each of the Commission’s six priorities, the state of play on its initiatives, reporting progress made, delays suffered, and any specific impact as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The infographic featured on the next page illustrates, in condensed form, on one page, the degree of progress so far made – both overall and under each of the six priorities. It is based on a proposal-by-proposal assessment which is available on the European Parliament’s ‘Legislative Train Schedule’ website, also developed by EPRS and available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/

The next edition of this paper will be published in September 2021, in advance of President von der
Leyen’s annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament.


Read this complete in-depth analysis on ‘The six policy priorities of the von der Leyen Commission: State of play in spring 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

 

Source Article from https://epthinktank.eu/2021/05/04/the-six-policy-priorities-of-the-von-der-leyen-commission-state-of-play-in-spring-2021/