The EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) – A framework to promote shared values [International Agreements in Progress]

Written by Enrico D’Ambrogio,

Diplomatic handshake between countries: flags of European Union and Japan overprinted the two hands

© mattiaath / Fotolia

The EU and Japan share the same basic values, including on democracy, market economy, human rights, human dignity, freedom, equality, and the rule of law. Against a background of increasingly assertive neighbours, they are also putting emphasis on security issues. The EU has adopted a Global Strategy placing security and defence as a key strategic priority, and conclusions on ‘enhanced EU security cooperation in and with Asia’. Japan has reformed its security policy, aiming at becoming a ‘proactive contributor for peace’. In order to enhance their relations, in July 2018 the EU and Japan signed a binding Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), along with an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), negotiated in parallel.

The SPA represents a framework strengthening the overall partnership, by promoting political and sectoral cooperation and joint actions in more than 40 areas of common interest. Once adopted, the EU-Japan strategic partnership will become more operational. The agreement will facilitate joint EU-Japan efforts to promote shared values such as human rights and rule of law, a rules-based international system, and peace and stability across the world. It will allow EU-Japan security cooperation to reach its full potential.


Read the complete briefing on ‘The EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) – A framework to promote shared values‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Figure 1 – Japan, its neighbours and territorial disputes

Japan, its neighbours and territorial disputes


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The 2018 Sakharov Prize

Written by Naja Bentzen and Ionel Zamfir,

high fence with barbed wire

© andrys lukowski / Fotolia

Thirty years since it was first awarded, the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought retains all its symbolic meaning, as human rights continue to be embattled in many parts of the world. The courage of those who stand up for them therefore deserves to be widely recognised. By awarding the 2018 Prize to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov – who is currently an inmate in a penal colony in Siberia – Parliament aims to increase the pressure on Russia to release Sentsov. At the same time, the award also draws attention to the struggle of all Ukrainian political prisoners currently behind bars in Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula.


Significance of the prize

The Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament to individuals or organisations for their outstanding achievements in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms. Created through a Parliamentary resolution of 13 December 1985, the prize bears the name of prominent Soviet-era dissident, Andrei Sakharov, joint inventor of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, 1975 Nobel Peace Prize-winner and campaigner for human rights and nuclear disarmament in the Soviet Union. The prize was named after him in recognition of his courageous defence of human rights, among which the freedom of thought and expression, to the detriment of his professional career and personal freedom. The prize was awarded for the first time in 1988 jointly to Nelson Mandela and (posthumously) to Soviet dissident Anatoli Marchenko. Both Mandela and Marchenko embodied the bravery of the individual who stands up to the discretionary power of an oppressive regime and paying for it with their personal freedom. Mandela’s story is widely known. Marchenko was one of the best-known dissidents in the Soviet Union. He died in 1986 after a three-month-long hunger strike for the release of all Soviet dissidents. The public outcry caused by his death pushed Mikhail Gorbachev to authorise the release of political prisoners from Soviet jails. His courageous action prefigures the similarly brave standing of the 2018 laureate (see below).

The prize is awarded for a specific achievement in one of the following fields: defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly the right to free expression; safeguarding the rights of minorities; respect for international law; development of democracy and implementation of the rule of law.

Selection procedure

Nominations can be made by political groups or by at least 40 Members of the European Parliament, and are submitted during a joint meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Development (DEVE) Committees. This year, on 9 October 2018, the two committees shortlisted the following three finalists from among the eight nominees: Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film-director, convicted in Russia to 20 years in prison for his opposition to the annexation of Crimea (proposed by the EPP), NGOs protecting human rights and saving migrant lives across the Mediterranean Sea (proposed by S&D and the Greens/EFA), and Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of a mass protest movement in the Rif region of Morocco, sentenced to 20 years in prison (proposed by GUE/NGL). The Conference of Presidents, composed of President Antonio Tajani and the leaders of the political groups, chose Oleg Sentsov, the Ukraine filmmaker detained in Russia, as this year’s laureate. The prize, consisting of a certificate and €50 000, will be presented at a ceremony in the European Parliament during the plenary session in Strasbourg on 12 December 2018. All three finalists are invited to the award ceremony. This year’s laureate will be represented by a relative and by his lawyer. Other laureates in the history of the prize have also been prevented from attending because of detention, most recently Raif Badawi in 2015. Sentsov is the first laureate from eastern Europe since 2009, when the Russian human rights centre, Memorial, received the prize.

Oleg Sentsov: Ukrainian filmmaker and symbol for political prisoners

Born on 13 July 1976 in Simferopol (Crimea), Oleg Sentsov studied marketing at Kyiv State Economics University. He did not particularly enjoy these studies, which he said ‘disillusioned’ him. After managing a computer club in Simferopol and playing online video games professionally for years – eventually becoming the champion of Ukraine – Sentsov became the leader of the Crimean gaming movement. This experience from the gaming world served as inspiration for his first feature film Gamer, which was released in 2011 and later screened at a number of international film festivals.

Euromaidan as a turning point for Ukraine — and for Sentsov

Sentsov’s work on his film Rhino, about children of the 1990s, was interrupted in 2013, when he joined the Revolution of Dignity (‘Euromaidan’) that broke out in Ukraine after pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovich decided to suspend talks on an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. In February 2014, the protests paved the way for a new pro-European government and the ousting of Yanukovich. When Moscow responded by illegally annexing Crimea and launching a hybrid war against Ukraine, Sentsov helped bring food to Ukrainian soldiers and organised rallies for a united Ukraine in Simferopol. Sentsov was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service in Crimea in May 2014, and deported to Russia. In what Amnesty International called a ‘cynical show trial’, a Russian military court in August 2015 convicted Sentsov to 20 years imprisonment for plotting terrorist acts. Sentsov denies the charges, which he and human rights groups call politically motivated. Sentsov said he was beaten for 24 hours in an attempt to force him to confess. Russian authorities have refused to investigate the allegations of torture.

Increasing concerns over Sentsov’s health after hunger strike

In May 2018, Sentsov began a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held on political grounds in Russia and annexed Crimea. Amid growing concern over Sentsov’s health, Ukraine’s Mission to the United Nations (UN) in June delivered an official letter on behalf of 38 countries to the UN Secretary-General. Sentsov ended the 145-day hunger strike on 6 October 2018. In a handwritten statement he explained that he had no choice but to halt the hunger strike to avoid being force-fed by Russian authorities due to the critical state of his health. Kyiv’s calls to swap Sentsov and Ukrainian journalist Roman Suschenko, arrested in Moscow in 2016 on espionage charges, for Russian prisoners, have so far been rejected by Moscow.

International support, including from the EU and the European Parliament

In addition to Ukraine, the European Union, the United States, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, human rights groups, filmmakers’ and writers’ associations and even Russian film-director Nikita Mikhalkov, who has close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, have requested Sentsov’s release. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini, has repeatedly underlined that Sentsov’s detention breaches international law, and urged Russia to return Sentsov and fellow activist Oleksandr Kolchenko to Ukraine. In a June 2018 resolution, Parliament requested the immediate release of Sentsov and the 70 other Ukrainian citizens illegally detained in Russia and Crimea. After Sentsov ended his hunger strike, the European External Action Service condemned Russian authorities’ refusal to provide Sentsov appropriate medical treatment. Announcing the Sakharov Prize laureate in Strasbourg on 25 October 2018, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani stated that Sentsov’s ‘courage and determination’ has made him ‘a symbol of the struggle for the release of political prisoners held in Russia and around the world’. With the award of the Sakharov Prize, Parliament is ‘expressing its solidarity with him and his cause’, Tajani said: ‘We ask that he be released immediately’.

Responses to the 2018 Sakharov Prize

While Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticised Parliament’s decision as ‘absolutely politicised’, others hailed it. PEN America called it ‘a powerful statement in defence of writers, artists, political prisoners, and all those … actively fighting for free thought and free expression in a time of creeping – and not so creeping – authoritarianism around the world’. Human Rights Watch said the award would help increase the pressure on Moscow to release Sentsov. European Council President Donald Tusk renewed his call on Moscow to ‘free Sentsov and all other political prisoners following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea’. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman expressed gratitude to Parliament for the award, which he called ‘a strong message highlighting the necessity of democracy protection in the world’.

Read this At a glance note on ‘The 2018 Sakharov Prize‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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International Human Rights Day

Written by Joanna Apap,

Man holding cardboard paper with HUMAN RIGHTS title, conceptual image

© igor / Fotolia

The promotion and protection of human rights is a core and founding value of the EU and is at the heart of multilateralism – a central pillar of both the European Union and the United Nations system.

The international community observes 10 December annually, since 1948, as Human Rights Day – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, the celebrations will be even more significant, as 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and the 20th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration. It is also the 30th anniversary of the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize. Awarded since 1988, the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is one of the ways that the European Parliament (EP) supports human rights.

The Sakharov prize is awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause. Oleg Sentsov (1976-), this year’s Sakharov prize laureate is a Ukrainian film director, who was detained on 10 May 2014 at Simferopol, Crimea, and sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of plotting terrorist acts against Russian ‘de facto’ rule in Crimea. Amnesty International described the court process as ‘an unfair trial before a military court’. Sentsov was sentenced because he opposed the illegal and forced annexation of part of his country by its belligerent neighbour, in a blatant violation of international law, and Russian international and bilateral commitments. His conviction has become a powerful symbol of the fate of the approximately 70 Ukrainian citizens illegally arrested and convicted to long prison sentences by the Russian occupying forces in the Crimean peninsula following its annexation

As part of its actions in support of human rights, the European Parliament debates and adopts an annual report on human rights and democracy in the world. Human rights and the promotion of democracy worldwide are top priorities for the EP, and fall under the remit of its Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), together with its sub-committee on Human Rights (DROI). AFET’s own-initiative report on the 2017 annual report on human rights and democracy in the world and the European Union’s policy on the matter (rapporteur: Petras Auštrevičius, ALDE, Lithuania) was adopted by the Committee on 12 November 2018, and is due to be debated and voted in plenary session on 11 and 12 December respectively. The report includes the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). In 2017, human rights were very much at the heart of the European Union’s external action. However, 2017 also saw a continued backlash, worldwide, against civil society, particularly journalists, a rise in misinformation and growing populism. The AFET reports calls for the continuous mainstreaming of human rights throughout the EU’s work both internally and externally. To improve the EU’s response to human rights challenges in third countries and in its neighbourhood, the report emphasises such areas as development, migration, security, counter-terrorism, women’s rights, combatting all forms of discrimination, enlargement and trade, as these require further political commitment and additional efforts to empower local actors, including the reinforcement of civil society and the protection of human rights defenders.

Further to its previous resolutions on annual reports on human rights and also its recent resolutions (amongst others): Addressing refugee and migrant movements: the role of EU external action (5 April 2017); Addressing shrinking civil society space in developing countries (3 October 2017); Progress on UN Global compacts for safe, orderly and regular migration and on refugees (18 April 2018); Media pluralism and media freedom in the European Union (3 May 2018); Parliament remains committed to improving its own procedures, processes and structures on human rights, to ensure that human rights and democracy are at the core of its actions and policies.

See below for the European Parliamentary Research Services most recent publications on human rights, which provide background information and analysis on the core principles in this area:

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What if we genetically engineered an entire species? [Science and Technology Podcast]

Written by Lieve Van Woensel,

‘Gene drive’ is best known for its capacity to suppress malaria by eradicating mosquito populations. However, its applications reach even further, including through its potential to eliminate other insect-transmitted diseases, erase herbicide and pesticide resistance in weeds and pests, and remove invasive species from ecosystems. It is worth looking into these potential benefits, while also weighing the significant risks involved in gene drive use.

DNA shaped tree with trunks forming the double helix


A gene drive is a technique for manipulating ecosystems by introducing self-propagating custom genes among a population of sexually reproducing organisms, using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology. This recent revolutionary technology grants scientists nearly endless possibilities for manipulating genes and genomes with high efficiency and ease, and at a low cost. The specific CRISPR-Cas9 set-up used can subvert normal inheritance rules in order to bias a custom gene so that it is inherited at a frequency higher than the normal 50 % (sometimes up to 100 %) – an effect produced by other genetic mechanisms in nature as well. Researchers can then insert this set-up into the genome of a number of initiator organisms and release them into the wild, causing the custom gene to spread and perform its function throughout a growing fraction of the population. This gene may induce a variety of effects on the targeted organism, such as fatal development problems, change of sex, sterility, increased resistance to parasites, decreased resistance to pesticides or herbicides, etc. Instead of introducing a custom gene, the drive may also alter the organism by disrupting a natural gene, such as one that performs a critical development role.

While the idea of gene drives has been around since 2003, they only became practicable in 2013 with the advent of CRISPR-Cas9. Gene drives have proven to be successful in lab tests on mosquitoes and fruit flies, but less so on mice, showing room for improvement. So far, no gene drives have been released into wild populations. Current research focuses on combating malaria by reducing mosquito populations or their ability to transfer the malaria parasite, and on eradicating rodents that cause major damage to the endemic flora and fauna on the islands they invade.

Since the above-mentioned technology modifies the germline of the species, i.e. the genetic material that passes onto the next generation, this practice raises a host of ethical considerations. Are we willing to take on the risk of introducing irreversible and unintended changes in the genome of a species, or even of unleashing an environmental catastrophe through carelessness? Is assuming such a risk justified by the fact that in so doing we could eradicate insect-transmitted diseases and thereby prevent 700 000 deaths per year? Or by the fact that we could manipulate ecosystems to better withstand invasive species – eradicating them in a humane way – and thereby increase productivity of farmland? Many feel that using gene drive technology to eradicate species or populations of organisms is wrong, but others argue that it can help us prevent the extinction of others. In any case, an open, well-informed debate including all stakeholders is crucial before deciding on regulation and implementation.

Potential impacts and developments

Potential gene drive applications include reducing or eradicating insect-transmitted diseases such as malaria, dengue, Zika, Lyme, schistosomiasis and others; removing herbicide resistance in weeds or pesticide resistance in insects; inserting pesticide or parasite resistance in vulnerable populations (think of bees suffering from Varroa mites and pesticide use, and the decline of amphibia due to Chytrid fungus); inserting vulnerabilities to harmless molecules in pests, making (local) eradication easier; and suppressing populations of invasive species, weeds and pests (e.g. fruit flies, aphids). However, these potential benefits are not free of hazards. Ecologists are very unsure about the potential impact of suppressing or eradicating populations of organisms on ecosystems. The gene drive may spread globally and cause unwanted extinctions; accidental releases from research labs are likely; failure of the drive to eradicate a population may leave genetic residues such as a skewed sex ratio; and the still significant off-target effects of CRISPR-Cas9 may cause unwanted mutations. Furthermore, harmful mutations could occur in the gene drive itself that would ride along and spread, and possible non-target effects may cause the gene drive to spread horizontally to other species. Lastly, drives might be used as a biological weapon or in bioterrorism.

As an answer to these risks, scientists are developing safeguards and preventive measures in the form of temporally and locally limited gene drives (known as daisy drives); reversal drives that use a second gene drive to reverse effects of a first drive; and immunising drives that spread through a population of organisms and immunise them against other drives. Future research may also produce drives that respond to certain environmental stimuli that are triggered, for example, when the targeted pest eats certain crops. In addition, nature has its own defences in the form of evolution. Resistance to drives will often already be present in wild populations or will occur after some time, by rapidly spreading through populations and stopping the drive systems. With this in mind, gene drives may be better suited as an additional tool alongside traditional approaches to fighting diseases and conservation, with new drives designed whenever resistance is acquired. There are ways to increase the potency of a drive so as to make resistance unlikely to evolve in the first place, but this may bring along consequences we are not willing to face.

So what are the potential positive impacts for the EU? There are currently 49 invasive alien species of Union concern causing damage worth billions of euros to the EU economy. Suppressing or eradicating these species from EU soil would improve ecosystem services crucial to many sectors. Drives may also reduce our reliance on herbicides and pesticides in agriculture, by removing tolerance in weeds and pests. Among the diseases within the EU that are targetable by gene drives, Lyme disease occupies a prominent place, given that more than 360 000 cases of persons suffering from it have been reported over the past two decades. When it comes to negative impacts for the EU, hostile nations could use gene drives as a biological weapon to target keystone species in order to damage European ecosystems (e.g. pollinators such as bees). As gene drives are so inexpensive and relatively easy to engineer, bioterrorism is also an issue the EU should consider. As a side note, no major risks are attached to gene drives being released in crops and livestock or humans, since these are slow to spread and easy to monitor due to the long reproduction cycles.

Anticipatory policy-making

There are concerns that the privatisation of gene drive technology without strict regulation could lead to an ecological cacophony of drives targeting whatever insects or plants industry labels as ‘pests’. Agribusiness incentives tend to focus on the short term and are of a profit-driven nature. Mainstreaming the use of gene drives will therefore likely happen through the prevalence of economic interests over those of local communities, which will have to face the potential harms or side effects. In this context, one of the inventors of the CRISPR-based gene drive calls for the exclusive non-profit exploitation of the technology.

Gene drives fall under EU GMO legislation, which includes Regulation (EC) 1946/2003. The latter translates the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity into EU law, and details procedures for handling transboundary movements of GMOs. In November 2018, the convention refrained from establishing a moratorium on gene drive, instead building stronger precautions in terms of research. Risk assessment/management and the consent of involved communities are now central to regulation.

As regulation will always lag behind technological developments, researchers’ responsibility is important, making sure there are possibilities for cooperation among them, rather than incentives to conceal results and information for fear of being ‘scooped’ and of missing the chance to see one’s work published.

Read this At a glance on ‘What if we genetically engineered an entire species?‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Outlook for the European Council and Euro Summit, 13-14 December 2018

Written by Ralf Drachenberg,

European grunge flag


On 13 and 14 December, EU Heads of State or Government will hold their last meeting of 2018. Their discussions will mainly focus on the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the single market and migration. EU leaders will hold their first substantial exchange of views on the 2021-2027 MFF, debating its political priorities, the overall level of expenditure and the timetable for the MFF negotiations. On migration and the single market, the European Council will review the implementation and state of play of its previous orientations. Other items to be addressed include the challenge of disinformation, the fight against racism and xenophobia, climate change and external relations, in particular preparation of the EU-Arab summit on 24-25 February 2019. Leaders will also be informed on preparations for the 2019-2024 Strategic Agenda. The Euro Summit is expected to discuss the reform of Economic and Monetary Union, as well as the taxation of digital companies.

1. Implementation: Follow-up on previous European Council commitments

At the start of the meeting, following European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani’s address, the Austrian Chancellor and President-in-Office of the Council of Ministers, Sebastian Kurz, will provide an overview on the progress made in implementing previous European Council conclusions. In terms of previous European Council commitments, the most relevant for this meeting is the call for an EU action plan for a coordinated EU response to the challenge of disinformation.

2. European Council meeting

Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF)

For the first time since the publication of the Commission’s proposal on 2 May 2018, the European Council will discuss the 2021-2027 MFF. EU leaders had already addressed the issue at their informal meeting of 23 February 2018. At their formal meeting in June 2018, they had invited ‘the European Parliament and the Council to examine the proposals in a comprehensive manner and as soon as possible’. Following an update from the Austrian Presidency on the state of play, discussions are expected to focus on three areas:

1) Political priorities for the 2021-2027 MFF

At their informal meeting on 23 February 2018, EU-27 Heads of State or Government already agreed that ‘the EU will spend more on stemming illegal migration, on defence and security, as well as on the Erasmus+ programme’. Therefore one can expect discussions to focus on other possible priorities for the MFF, such as cohesion policy and agriculture policy. On 29 November 2018, the ‘friends of cohesion group’ (i.e. Member States which had, during the previous MFF negotiations, advocated the importance of adequate funding for cohesion policy) adopted a declaration on the 2021–2027 MFF, which calls for sufficient resources for the cohesion and common agricultural policies, with financing for both areas at the 2014-2020 MFF level.

2) Overall level of expenditure for the 2021-2027 MFF

While tensions between EU Heads of State or Government regarding the overall level of expenditure for the 2021-2027 MFF are expected to be lower than during previous negotiations, this will nevertheless be the most contested aspect of the MFF discussion. Those Member States which stress the importance of cohesion and agricultural policy also plead for an ambitious long-term 2021-2027 budget, providing ‘the European Union with sufficient resources’. By contrast, many of the Member States wanting to concentrate on more ‘modern’ policy areas, are also net contributors (i.e. Member States who contribute more to the EU budget than the amount of EU funding they receive), often referred to as ‘friends of better spending’. They favour a reduction in, or at least no expansion of, the total amount of the EU budget. A prime example is the view of the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, that ‘a smaller EU as a result of Brexit should also mean a smaller budget’.

While the European Commission proposed a commitments ceiling for the 2021-2027 MFF at 1.11 % of gross national income (GNI) , the European Parliament reiterated, in its resolution of 14 November 2018, that ‘the level [of commitments…] should be set at €1 324.1 billion in 2018 prices, representing 1.3 % of the EU-27 GNI.’

3) Timetable foreseen for the MFF negotiations

The EU Heads of State or Government are expected to sketch out their expectations on the timeline for the MFF negotiations. The General Affairs Council meeting of 12 November 2018 revealed a variety of views on this point. Some Member States called for rapid agreement on the post-2020 MFF, even hoping for the European Council to set a deadline, while others argued against any artificial timetables, stressing that content must take precedence over speed. The European Council is expected to welcome the preparatory work done by the Austrian Presidency and to invite the incoming Romanian Presidency to continue the work and develop an orientation for the next stage of the negotiations, with a view to an agreement in the European Council in autumn 2019.

The European Commission and the European Parliament had originally expressed their preference for a more ambitious calendar, and strongly stressed the need to finalise the negotiations on the post-2020 MFF ahead of the European Parliament elections in May 2019. In its contribution to the December European Council, the Commission calls for a political agreement on the new long-term budget at the European Council meeting in October 2019.

Single market

Instead of a strategic discussion on the future orientations for the European single market (beyond 2018), as indicated in the Leaders’ agenda, the European Council is expected to take stock of progress achieved in the implementation of the EU single market strategies. Following a European Council request at its March 2018 meeting, the European Commission submitted a communication in November assessing the state of play on the single market. The report stresses the need to close the delivery gap, since 44 of the 67 single-market related proposals are still to be adopted by the co-legislators. As a further contribution to the December discussion, the report commissioned by Ireland, Finland, Denmark and the Czech Republic could be mentioned; it argues for more ambitious measures to remove obstacles to the cross-border provision of services in the EU.

The European Council is expected to underline the key role of the single market in boosting inclusive growth and creating jobs in the EU, whilst reiterating its call for adoption of pending proposals by the end of the current legislature, as well as for the implementation of measures at all levels of government.


The European Council will return to the implementation of its comprehensive approach to migration. Following up on its conclusions of 28 June 2018, the meeting will most likely address both the external and internal dimensions of migration policy, review the effectiveness of the return policy and the protection of the EU’s external borders, and elaborate on the support given to partner states. Regarding the internal dimension of migration, Heads of State or Government are expected to refer to the Commission’s communication of 4 December 2018, ‘Managing migration in all its aspects’, which invites the European Parliament and the Council to ‘adopt before the European elections the five legislative proposals [out of seven] on the reform of the Common European Asylum System on which agreement is within close reach’, thereby breaking up the overall package. Regarding the remaining two, the Commission calls on the Council to ‘adopt its negotiating position on the Asylum Procedure Regulation by the end of the year and to find a way forward on the Dublin Regulation by identifying the core elements of a solidarity and responsibility mechanism so that the reform can be completed in co-decision with the European Parliament as soon as possible’.

Other items


The European Council has already discussed disinformation twice in 2018, at its June and October meetings. It stressed the importance of a coordinated response between external and internal actions aimed at countering disinformation and ensuring online transparency. It has requested that by December 2018, the EU institutions assess the implementation of the Code of Practice on disinformation and produce a Joint Action Plan facilitating a coordinated response to countering the phenomenon. EU leaders are expected to take stock of progress made and adopt new strategic guidelines.

External relations

Following up on their October 2018 meeting, EU leaders will discuss progress made in preparing their summit with the League of Arab States, to be held in Egypt in February 2019. As announced by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, at the informal European Council meeting held in Salzburg in September 2018, the summit will focus on the external dimension of migration.

President Tusk recently called on the international community to explore solutions to end the crises in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine. The European Council might discuss some of these crises, in particular, the uncertain situation in the Azov Sea. EU leaders could ‘greenlight’ the renewal of economic sanctions on Russia, imposed following the illegal annexation of Crimea.

Climate change

The Heads of State or Government will most probably take note of the 28 November 2018 European Commission ‘strategic vision for achieving a climate neutral economy by 2050’. To meet this objective, the EU Member States would have to overcome persistent ‘divisions’ between those in favour of (for example, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark), and those hesitant about, setting more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets. The outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) taking place in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018, may also be touched upon.

Citizens’ Dialogues and Consultations and preparations for the Strategic Agenda

The European Council will be informed on preparations for the next Strategic Agenda, including the outcome of Citizens’ Dialogues and Consultations.

Fight against racism and xenophobia

The European Council will condemn any form of racism and xenophobia, and welcome the adoption of the recent Council declaration on the fight against anti-semitism, which invites Member States to endorse the working definition of anti-semitism employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

3. Euro Summit

On 14 December, EU leaders will meet for a Euro Summit in an inclusive format (19 euro-area members, as well as those Member States which have ratified the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the EMU, plus the Czech Republic). President Tusk, in his letter to EU leaders of 21 September 2017, called for a first set of concrete decisions on EMU reform to be taken in June 2018. Given the modest progress registered, however, the June Euro Summit invited the Eurogroup and co‑legislators to continue their work, with a view to further discussion in December 2018.

The Eurogroup meeting on 3 December agreed on a framework to strengthen the euro. This sets out, i) the conditions under which the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) will be able to provide precautionary loans to countries facing adverse economic shocks; ii) that the ESM will serve as a backstop of last resort to the Single Resolution Fund; and iii) that the possibility of establishing a euro-area budget will be further explored. Thus, reform of the ESM and the establishment of a euro-area budget will be high on the agenda of the December Euro-Summit.

In the Meseberg Declaration of June 2018, France and Germany called for a stronger ESM role in crisis prevention and the monitoring of Member States receiving financial assistance. The main point of contention is about who, and under what conditions, will pay in case of financial problems in other countries. Some governments insist on a more significant reduction of non-performing loans (NPLs) burdening banks in the euro area before the ESM backstop to the SRF can be made operational. France and Germany also supported the establishment of a euro-area budget. A group of fiscally conservative countries led by the Netherlands, the ‘new Hanseatic League’, questions its necessity altogether, stressing that Member States should cut debt and deficits immediately, instead of relying on a euro-area budget. While supporting a stronger role for the ESM, this group insists that it should stay an intergovernmental institution accountable to its shareholders.

The Euro Summit is also expected to discuss proposals for taxing revenues of big digital companies. While most Member States support such digital taxation, a minority insists it could lead to double taxation and retaliation from the US.

Read this briefing on ‘Outlook for the European Council and Euro Summit, 13-14 December 2018‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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Brexit: The endgame? [What Think Tanks are thinking]

Written by Marcin Grajewski,

Brexit Concept - National Flag Gold Coin and English Words

© ilolab / Fotolia

Prime Minister Teresa May faces an uphill struggle to convince the British House of Commons to back the agreement she has reached with the EU27 on withdrawal from the European Union, in a crucial vote set for 11 December. Although the deal was approved by her Cabinet and all EU leaders, the divorce terms have been criticised by many Members of Parliament, both advocates of a no-deal departure from the Union and those who would like the United Kingdom to remain within th Union or have the closest possible ties with it from outside.

In a parallel development, an Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union has issued an opinion that the UK government may unilateraly withdraw its notification of intent to leave the EU, where the departure date is currently set for 29 March 2019. In the past, the Court has followed its advocate generals’ opinions in most cases.

This note offers links to reports and commentaries from some major international think-tanks and research institutes on Brexit negotiations and related issues. More reports on the topic can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think Tanks are thinking’, published in October 2018.

Can the UK unilaterally revoke its notification to exit the EU?
A UK in a Changing Europe, December 2018

The proposed UK-EU Brexit deal: An explainer
Open Europe, November December 2018

Le Brexit dans tous ses états
Institut français des relations internationales, December 2018

How to exit the backstop
Policy Exchange, December 2018

Brexit, Black Pete and Bannon are testing Europe: But can’t defeat it
Friends of Europe, December 2018

Brexit brief: Special edition
Institute of International and European Affairs, November 2018

New research shows economic and fiscal consequences of the Brexit deal
A UK in a Changing Europe, November 2018

Which Brexit deal, mad, implausible, plausible or desirable?
Scottish Centre on European Elections, November 2018

The Brexit ‘future relationship’: Not a deal, but a half-blind date
Centre for European Policy Studies, November 2018

The November Draft Withdrawal Agreement
Institute for Government, November 2018

The Brexit deal and the UK-EU security relationship
DCU Brexit Institute, November 2018

What happens if Parliament rejects May’s Brexit deal?
Centre for European Reform, November 2018

What impact would a No Deal Brexit have on European Parliament elections?
Institut Jacques Delors, November 2018

Brexit and Scotland: The row over the backstop
Scottish Centre on European Elections, November 2018

Parliament’s ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit
Institute for Government, November 2018

Brexit-Sondergipfel des Europäischen Rates
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, November 2018

Brexit is where Scottish and English nationalism meet
A UK in a Changing Europe, November 2018

Loss adjustment: European politics realigns for Brexit
European Council on Foreign Relations, November 2018

Brexit deal series: Ireland’s great Brexit achievement and challenges ahead
Scottish Centre on European Elections, November 2018

LSE blog: Brexit
London School of Economics, November 2018

Theresa May plays Brexit chicken
Peterson Institute for International Economics, November 2018

Why be afraid of no deal?
Policy Exchange, November 2018

The Westminster politics could be unpredictable to the end
Scottish Centre on European Elections, November 2018

Brexit, les leçons de la négociation pour l’Union européenne
Fondation Robert Schuman, November 2018

Meeting the EU’s military level of ambition in the context of Brexit
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, October 2018

The Brexit withdrawal agreement
Bruegel, November 2018

In Brexit negotiations, both sides have now compromised
Chatham House, November 2018

Brexit: An unprecedented journey
European Policy Centre, November 2018

Endorsing Brexit or preparing for ‘No Deal’? A Belgian perspective
Egmont, November 2018

The Withdrawal Agreement and devolution
A UK in a Changing Europe, November 2018

Cancelling Brexit: Possible theoretically, but difficult politically
Finnish Institute for International Affairs, November 2018

Brexit deal done: Now for the hard part
Centre for European Policy Studies, November 2018

Northern Ireland and the Withdrawal Agreement
A UK in a Changing Europe, November 2018

Loss adjustment: European politics realigns for Brexit
European Council on Foreign Relations, November 2018

An effective UK trade policy and a customs union are compatible
Centre for European Reform, November 2018

Brexit and the future of European energy integration
Institute Affari Internazionali, November 2018

Europe reacts to the approval of the Brexit deal
Open Europe, November 2018

The Brexit endgame: Deal or no deal?
Brookings Institution, November 2018

Post-Brexit transfers of personal data: The clock is ticking
Bruegel, November 2018

What sort of Brexit do the British people want?
Rand Corporation, October 2018

Understanding the economic impact of Brexit
Institute for Government, October 2018

Welcoming back the prodigal son?
European Policy Centre, October 2018

No deal: The economic consequences and how they could be mitigated
Open Europe, October 2018

From UK customs fraud to Danish money laundering: Lessons for Brexit and the EU
Centre for European Policy Studies, October 2018

Brexit tectonics
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, October 2018

Brexit isn’t the only shock hanging over Britain
Council on Foreign Relations, October 2018

Brexit’s never-ending transition
Carnegie Europe, October 2018

Brexit: Next steps in UK’s withdrawal from the EU
House of Commons Library, 2018

Read this briefing on ‘Brexit: The endgame?‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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European Parliament Plenary Session, December 2018

Written by Clare Ferguson,

The agenda for the final European Parliament plenary session of 2018 includes Council and Commission statements on the preparation of the last European Council meeting of the year, scheduled for 13-14 December 2018, a debate with the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, on the Future of Europe, and important interventions on human rights.

Strasbourg - Plenary session November 2015

European Parliament (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This year marks a number of important human rights anniversaries: 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 25 years since the Vienna Declaration, and the 20th anniversary of the United Nations declaration on human rights defenders. On Tuesday evening, Members will debate the Foreign Affairs Committee’s annual report on human rights and democracy in the world for 2017, which this year focuses on the mainstreaming of human rights into EU and Member States’ external action. The report bears witness to the shrinking civil space and increasing restrictions human rights defenders face worldwide, the mushrooming threats to media freedom, and the migration issues that continued to disadvantage the vulnerable throughout 2017. On a more positive note, the report applauds the EU’s signature of the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women and domestic violence, as well as the work of the human rights services of the European Commission and the European External Action Service, including the Special Representative for Human Rights.

This session also marks the 30th anniversary of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, one of the actions through which the European Parliament supports human rights, which this year goes to imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. Awarded for a specific achievement in human rights, the 2018 Sakharov Prize is recognition of Sentsov’s courageous contribution to the ‘Euromaidan’ resistance against Russian aggression in Ukraine, and as a representative of political prisoners worldwide.

Against the background of continuing Russian aggression in the region, Members will also debate a report on progress on implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on Tuesday evening. While the report acknowledges the progress the country has made on implementation in very difficult circumstances, it nevertheless expresses dissatisfaction with the continued level of corruption and politicisation in the country’s institutions.

Protesters against inequality throughout the world, such as the recent ‘gilet jaunes‘ movement, increasingly include fair taxation of the digital economy among their demands. A joint debate on a digital services tax is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, where Members will debate a report on two proposals: for an interim digital services tax on revenues from certain digital services, and for corporate taxation of a significant digital presence. The first proposal would broaden the Member States’ tax bases, by making revenue from digital content services – video, audio, games, and the processing and sale of user data – taxable in the short term. The second, for a permanent system, would define the circumstances under which a digital company’s ‘significant digital presence’ in a country would make it liable to pay tax, based on levels of revenue, or numbers of users or contracts. The final rules, however, will be decided by unanimity in the Council.

Although a little less evident in the press recently, terrorist threats have not disappeared from the Parliament’s radar. On Tuesday afternoon, the final report of the Special Committee on Terrorism will be debated, covering its findings and recommendations on the fight against terrorism in the EU. The report highlights that, while each Member State is responsible for its own national security, cooperation is vital to effective counter-terrorism and intelligence. The committee also underlines that an effective fight against terrorism requires, among other things: an appropriate data retention regime; an EU centre of excellence for preventing radicalisation; swift removal of terrorist content posted online; external borders that are well secured through interoperable databases and biometric checks; checks on financial flows; better tracking of suspects; and tighter control of explosives and firearms.

Keeping citizens safe is also the focus of two proposals for debate on Monday evening. Members will return to the often controversial subject of risk assessment in the food chain, where the transparency of decisions taken by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to authorise use of substances such as glyphosate has attracted criticism. Parliament’s Environment, Public Health & Food Safety Committee has agreed a report which supports the European Commission’s proposal to revise the General Food Law, to publish commercial studies used by EFSA, as well as seeking to further limit confidentiality claims to widen public access. Members will vote on the report and decide whether to issue a mandate for negotiations to begin between EU institutions on the changes. Members will also consider a trilogue agreement on proposals that should benefit an estimated 15.6 million EU workers, through greater protection from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work, with a change to the law on exposure limits to certain chemical agents. The new rules would add eight chemicals, including engine oils and diesel engine exhaust emissions, to the scope of the current directive. In addition, in a joint debate on Tuesday night, Parliament will consider trilogue agreements on proposals to revise the statutes of three decentralised EU agencies that support the EU’s wider employment-related objectives: Cedefop, Eurofound and EU-OSHA. Reports from the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs confirm the need to define the agencies’ tasks to avoid overlap between them or with the Commission’s activities. A new governance structure proposed for each agency is expected to include independent representation on behalf of the Parliament on their management boards dealing with strategic and budgetary priorities.

On trade, Parliament is likely to decide to give its consent to the conclusion of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and the Strategic Partnership Agreement, following a joint debate on Monday evening. The Strategic Partnership Agreement provides the legal framework for future EU-Japan relations, increasing the possibilities for cooperation between the two partners in areas such as combating climate change and cybercrime. Importantly for EU businesses, the Economic Partnership Agreement, the largest-ever bilateral free trade deal, will provide customs-free access to the Japanese markets for EU companies.

Where business agreements do not work out so well, the current number and pace of cross-border civil cases costs the European companies involved dearly, in terms of both time and money. On Wednesday evening, Members will consider a report requesting that the European Commission make a proposal on expedited settlement of cross-border commercial disputes. The report proposes the introduction of a European expedited civil procedure to solve cross-border business disputes, to cut costs and accelerate the process of adjudication to 6-12 months by instigating tight deadlines and ending lengthy appeals on procedural grounds.

Finally, Members will vote on the 2019 EU budget on Wednesday, provided the Committee on Budgets – in its Monday night meeting – endorses the agreement reached with the Council in trilogue on 5 December. This agreement is based on the Commission’s second proposal on a draft 2019 budget, following the failure by Council and Parliament to agree in conciliation on the first proposal. Members will also vote on Wednesday to approve the minor adjustments reflected in the draft amending budget (No 6) to the 2018 EU budget, required due to updates on economic forecasts. These include decreases based on new predictions for EU sustainable fisheries partnerships, and increases to mirror new information on levies, value added tax, and the gross national income bases for Member State contributions, as well as the necessary corrections due to the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.


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EU policies – Delivering for citizens: Energy supply and security [Policy Podcast]

Written by Alex Benjamin Wilson,

Icicles on a pipe pipeline

© Leonid Ikan / Fotolia

Energy policy is a competence shared between the EU and its Member States. Whereas the EU has a responsibility under the Treaties to ensure security of supply, Member States are responsible for determining the structure of their energy supply and their choice of energy sources. EU legislation on security of supply focuses on natural gas and electricity markets, and is closely related to other EU objectives: consolidating a single energy market, improving energy efficiency, and promoting renewable energy sources to decarbonise the economy and meet the Paris Agreement goals.

The current legislature has seen several initiatives on security of supply. The EU institutions reached agreement on a revised regulation on security of gas supply, a revised decision on intergovernmental agreements in the energy field, and new targets for energy efficiency and renewables by 2030. Parliament has adopted several own-initiative resolutions in the energy field, including one on the new EU strategy on liquefied natural gas and gas storage, which is key to gas supply security. EU projects of common interest finance energy infrastructure that improves interconnection and supports security of supply. Negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission (trilogue) are ongoing on a proposal to revise the regulation on security of electricity supply, as part of the clean energy package.

There is growing expectation among EU citizens that the EU will intensify its involvement in energy supply and security. If this view was shared by just over half of Europeans in 2016 (52 %), it is now expressed by roughly two thirds of EU citizens (65 %).

The EU will retain a key role in monitoring security of supply throughout the energy transition from a historic system of centralised generation dominated by fossil fuels in national markets, towards a new system characterised by a high share of renewables, more localised production and cross-border markets. However, the EU would need to use a special legislative procedure to intervene directly in determining the energy supply of its Member States, requiring unanimity in Council.

Read the complete briefing on ‘EU policies – Delivering for citizens: Energy supply and security‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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EU policies – Delivering for citizens: The fight against unemployment [Policy Podcast]

Written by Marie Lecerf,

Stressful people waiting for the job interview

© ty / Fotolia

By promoting a high level of employment, the European Union (EU) has been fighting against unemployment since as long ago as the early 1950s.

The fight against unemployment was brought to the top of the European agenda with the onset of the 2008 economic and financial crisis, and the consequent rise in unemployment rates in all European Union (EU) Member States. In its Europe 2020 strategy, the European Commission set a target to get 75 % of 20 to 64 year-olds into employment by 2020.

EU labour market conditions have significantly improved in recent years, and most labour market indicators have strengthened steadily. Since mid-2013, the unemployment rate has continued to decline, and the EU is back to its pre-crisis level (6.8 % in July 2018). Despite the recovery in economic growth and its positive impact on the labour market, the EU has still to face unemployment challenges, particularly concerning differences between Member States, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment.

Since 2014, efforts have been made in a number of areas, including to help young people enter the labour market, to combat long-term unemployment, upgrade skills, and facilitate workers’ mobility in the European Union.

The improvement in labour market indicators has been reflected in citizens’ improved evaluation of the EU’s involvement in the fight against unemployment, but there is still a very high demand for even more EU intervention in this policy area (76 % of EU citizens).

In the future, new or updated legislation relating to employment could modernise work to help in adjustment to a digital world, support sustainable transitions from unemployment into employment and between jobs, increase labour mobility and create closer coordination between economic and social policies.

Read the complete briefing on ‘EU policies – Delivering for citizens: The fight against unemployment‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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CAP strategic plans [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by James McEldowney and Patrick Kelly (1st edition),

Agriculture Farm Crops Production Plants Concept

© / Fotolia

The Commission’s legislative proposals on the future of the common agricultural policy (CAP) were published on 1 June 2018. They comprise three proposals: a regulation setting out rules on support for CAP strategic plans; a regulation on the single common market organisation (CMO) and a horizontal regulation on financing, managing and monitoring the CAP.

The proposal for a regulation on CAP strategic plans introduces a new delivery model, described by the Commission as a fundamental shift in the CAP, involving a shift from compliance towards results and performance. It includes a new distribution of responsibilities between the EU and Member States. A new planning process is proposed which will cover both Pillar I (direct payments) and Pillar II (rural development) of the CAP.

EU Legislation in progress timeline

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