EU legislation and policies to fight racial and ethnic discrimination [Policy Podcast]

Written by David de Groot,

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Racial and ethnic minorities face discrimination and its consequences on a daily basis. The exact scale of the problem is hard to gauge owing to a lack of data and general under-reporting of racist incidents. The pandemic has seen a major increase in reports of racist and xenophobic incidents, however, while racial and ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the crisis, with higher death and infection rates.

Although since 2000 the European Union (EU) has introduced legislation to combat racial and xenophobic discrimination, the problem persists, with the need for new measures recently highlighted by the global Black Lives Matter protests. A number of studies also point to the cost of racial discrimination not only for the individuals concerned but also for society as a whole. For instance, a 2018 EPRS report argued that the loss in earnings caused by racial and ethnic discrimination for both individuals and societies amounts to billions of euros annually. The problem is also acknowledged by EU citizens: a 2019 survey found that over half of Europeans believe racial or ethnic discrimination to be widespread in their country.

To address racial discrimination and its underlying inequalities, the European Commission has put forward a number of equality strategies and actions. The first European Summit against Racism was held on 19 March 2021. The European Parliament, meanwhile, has long been demanding an end to racial discrimination. In recent resolutions, Parliament has called for an end to structural racism and discrimination, racial profiling and police brutality, and for the right to protest peacefully.

Read the complete briefing on ‘EU legislation and policies to fight racial and ethnic discrimination‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to policy podcast ‘EU legislation and policies to fight racial and ethnic discrimination’ on YouTube.

Opinion on how widespread ethnic discrimination is in the Member State

Opinion on how widespread ethnic discrimination is in the Member State

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Building up resilience to cross-border health threats: Moving towards a European health union [EU Legislation in Progress]

Written by Nicole Scholz (1st edition),

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On 11 November 2020, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a regulation on serious cross-border threats to health. In the light of lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis, it aims to strengthen the EU’s health security by revising Decision No 1082/2013/EU (the ‘Cross-Border Health Threats Decision’). The proposal was presented in a package that also includes proposals to strengthen the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), as first steps towards a European health union.

Stakeholders widely welcome the proposal and the package. Some say it could be improved further, suggesting concrete elements, while others think it should go beyond crisis preparedness. Still others consider it a springboard to a bigger role for the European Union (EU) in health. Parliament has repeatedly called for stronger cooperation on health, for a new regulation to replace the Cross-Border Health Threats Decision, and for revised mandates of both the ECDC and the EMA.

Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety is responsible for the file and the rapporteur’s draft report is expected to be presented in committee on 22 April 2021. In Council, work is ongoing in the working party on pharmaceuticals and medical devices.


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EPRS debates the MFF negotiations with President Sassoli

Written by Ralf Drachenberg,

© European Parliament / EPRS 2021

Does the 2021‑2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) represent an evolution for the EU or déjà vu? On 14 April 2021, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) hosted an online policy round table with the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, discussing exactly this question. The first of two online policy roundtables to examine the recent negotiations on the 2021‑2027 MFF, the discussion concentrated on the lessons learned from the negotiations, as well as what the outcome delivers for citizens. There are at least four take-aways from the discussions.

1. Centrality of the European Council

All participants agreed that the centrality of the European Council in the discussions was clearly a case of ‘déjà vu’, as EU Heads of State or Government have always been heavily involved in long-term EU budget negotiations, as national governments have to provide the majority of the funding. While some argued that the role of the European Council has become more influential in recent years, others predicted that any alternative scenario in the current order of the European Union would be unlikely, as MFF negotiations are likely to remain forever Chefsache.

2. Important developments

At the same time, this round of MFF negotiations included important evolutionary elements for both EU integration and EU governance. One of the most important evolutionary aspects was the increase of the own resources ceiling. This clearly has the potential to radically change the EU’s own resources system, a point which was stressed both by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, (S&D, Italy) and by Jim Cloos, Secretary General, Trans-European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA) and former Deputy Director-General in the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union. Another evolution was the new Recovery and Resilience Facility, and the possibility for the EU to borrow money on the markets. Participants agreed that another evolution in these MFF negotiations was the recalibration of ‘traditional’ alliances on the MFF, unravelling the two formerly solid blocks of net contributors and net beneficiaries.

3. An MFF agreement born out of crisis

Participants concurred that the agreement on the 2021‑2027 MFF was historic, but that it needs to be placed in the correct political and economic context, as it was clearly a result of the Covid‑19 crisis. In the view of Brigid Laffan, Director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute, the MFF agreement showed how the EU as an organisation has learned from previous crises and as a result, the EU’s response was a lot less intergovernmental and rather more a collective agreement between the EU‑27 and the EU institutions. The discussions also aligned around the fact that Brexit had a positive effect on the MFF agreement, because there would have been no supranational instruments for the Covid‑19 recovery with the United Kingdom as an EU member.

4. What will the future bring?

While there was debate about the extension of qualified majority voting in the Council, most participants agreed that the Conference on the future of Europe could provide an ideal moment to take further steps towards EU integration in the budgetary field. One possibility would be to build on the achievements of the European Parliament, notably the legally binding agenda for the introduction of new own resources. Another possibility would be to find ways to make the evolutionary element of borrowing money on the markets more permanent, as requested by Antonio Tajani (EPP, Italy), Chair of the European Parliament’s Conference of Committee Chairs and Chair of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. In his view, in order to face future crises, the EU needs the continuation of the SURE programme, a strong EU4Health programme, a modern EU industrial policy and a reform of the EU decision-making process.

To engage EU leaders in the discussions on the Conference on the future of Europe and create the necessary political buy in, EPRS Policy Analyst Ralf Drachenberg, suggested a similar initiative to the 2019 series of plenary debates with EU Heads of State or Government on the future of Europe.

More information on the 2021‑2027 MFF negotiations.

Moderated by Astrid Worum, Head of the EPRS European Council Oversight Unit, the event was very well attended, with close to 300 participants. Those who missed the event can watch the recording or read the EPRS in depth analysis on The role of the European Council in negotiating the 2021‑2027 MFF praised by all speakers for its relevance and high quality. The second EPRS event on the 2021‑2027 will take place on 4 May 2021 at 13:30‑15:00.

Conference on the Future of Europe:

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What is the EU doing to enable citizens to access online content when travelling within the EU?

Female hands using a smartphone with geoblocking on screen and Padlock over EU map. European Union Digital single market and regulation against Geo-blocking and geographically-based restrictions

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Citizens frequently turn to the European Parliament to ask what the European Union is doing to enable citizens to access online content when travelling within the EU?

Between 2015 and 2019, the number of internet users trying to get cross-border access to content almost doubled, according to a Eurobarometer survey. In many cases, however, consumers were not able to access (or only partially) the service they had subscribed to, or they were not able to use the online content they had previously purchased or rented in their home country. New legislation on access to online content when abroad entered into force in April 2018, followed by legislation on unjustified geo-blocking in December 2018.

2017 Regulation on accessing online content abroad

Against the background of the Digital Single Market Strategy published in 2016 by the European Commission, the European Union adopted legislation to end restrictions on accessing online content abroad.

The 2017 legislation on portability of online content enables users to access, the same way as they do at home, their online film subscriptions and other digital products when temporarily present in another EU country. This is subject to prior verification of the country of residence of the subscriber.

To mark one year since the entry into force of the EU legislation on portability, the European Commission issued a press statement.

2018 Regulation on geo-blocking

Geo-blocking prevents consumers from purchasing consumer goods and accessing digital content online from other EU countries. According to the European Commission, 38 % of retailers selling consumer goods and 68 % of digital content providers that replied to an inquiry into the e-commerce sector answered that they geo-block consumers located in other EU countries.

The 2018 legislation on addressing unjustified geo-blocking ensures that buyers of goods or services from another EU country are treated like local customers. More details is available on the Legislative Train website. A review of the regulation by the European Commission, in particular the assessment of the scope, is overdue since spring 2020. In February 2021, the European Parliament, through its parliamentary Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), put a question to the European Commission whether it intended to address the implementation issues in an upgraded legislation.

The European Commission website on geo-blocking features more information on its action.

European Parliamentary questions

Members of the European Parliament regularly address questions to the European Commission on cross-border content portability, for example regarding access to online content services, the effects of geo-blocking, or exemptions.

Further information

Keep sending your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.

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Towards a more resilient Europe post-coronavirus: Options to enhance the EU’s resilience to structural risks

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The coronavirus crisis has underlined the need for the European Union to devote greater efforts to anticipatory governance, and to attempt to strengthen its resilience in the face of risks from both foreseeable and unforeseeable events. This paper builds further on an initial ‘mapping’ in mid-2020 of some 66 potential structural risks which could confront Europe over the coming decade, and a second paper last autumn which looked at the EU’s capabilities to address 33 of those risks assessed as being more significant or likely, and at the various gaps in policy and instruments at the Union’s disposal. Delving deeper in 25 specific areas, this new paper identifies priorities for building greater resilience within the Union system, drawing on the European Parliament’s own resolutions and proposals made by other EU institutions, as well as by outside experts and stakeholders. In the process, it highlights some of the key constraints that will need to be addressed if strengthened resilience is to be achieved, as well as the opportunities that follow from such an approach.

In April 2020, the participants in the inter-institutional European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS), which aims to identify and analyse medium- and long-term global trends facing the European Union, were invited by the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for foresight to offer ‘food for thought’ on issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic, with a view to helping refine collective thinking on how to increase the long-term resilience of the Union over the coming decade. In this context, this paper, the third in a series, follows on from ‘An initial mapping of structural risks facing the EU’ (July 2020), which set out some 66 potential structural risks confronting the European Union in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, and ‘Capabilities and gaps in the EU’s capacity to address structural risks’ (October 2020), which looked at those risks from the mapping which were considered as more immediate and significant, and considered ways in which the EU and Member States could address them, either with existing capabilities or through filling gaps in policies and instruments. The present paper drills down deeper in 25 areas presented in the previous papers, looking in greater detail at possible action by the EU and highlighting proposals from various quarters, including the European Parliament itself, and at potential or actual constraints that might hinder action in these fields.

Read the complete study on ‘Towards a more resilient Europe post-coronavirus: Options to enhance the EU’s resilience to structural risks‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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The rise of digital health technologies during the pandemic

Written by Mar Negreiro,

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Coronavirus has accelerated the rise of digital health, a broad concept that includes solutions for telemedicine and teleconsultation, remote monitoring, connected devices, digital health platforms and health apps. The concept also covers the related health data analysis and application in systems based on big data, for instance for epidemiological research and AI-enabled diagnosis support.

Digital technologies are becoming critical in the fight against the ongoing pandemic. They have been used, among other things, for online medical consultations from home and for increasing efficiency in diagnosis and treatment of patients through telemedicine, which, like teleworking and online education, has been a novel experience for many.

Likewise health workers have been using digital technology to diagnose the virus. For instance, China has developed new e-health apps allowing patients to assess their Covid-19 symptoms remotely. Patients with existing critical illnesses, reluctant to go to hospital because of the risk of contracting the virus, have been able to get online consultations from home and have in some cases been monitored remotely. Moreover, thanks to the availability of digital health records and e‑prescriptions in many EU countries, it has been possible to issue repeat prescriptions remotely, limiting unnecessary contact between doctors and patients and reducing the chances of exposure to the virus.

Nevertheless, there are many challenges to overcome as advances in digitalisation of healthcare come with drawbacks. They highlight a widening ‘digital divide’ that risks leaving behind the elderly and socially disadvantaged, who are less able to master or afford the technology. In addition, liability, reimbursement and cybersecurity issues are among the other key challenges that need to be considered, as cyber-attacks on hospitals are on the rise. Meanwhile, the transfer of personal health data is fuelling a debate over who owns and controls that data, raising questions over individuals’ rights to privacy. What is clear is that digital health is here to stay.

Read the complete briefing on ‘The rise of digital health technologies during the pandemic‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Percentage of people (aged 16 to 74) using the internet for health-related activities

Percentage of people (aged 16 to 74) using the internet for health-related activities

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STOA delegation virtual visit to the Joint Research Centre (JRC) site in Ispra, Italy

Written by Andrés García Higuera,

STOA delegation virtual visit to the Joint Research Centre

STOA delegation virtual visit to the Joint Research Centre

Scientific and technological advances lie at the heart of economic growth, and will be key to the economic recovery post-coronavirus. In line with their mission to support technological innovation, the legislators on the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) recently took part in a virtual visit to the Joint Research Centre (JRC) site at Ispra, Italy – Europe’s leading research campus with a wide range of laboratories and unique research infrastructures. The JRC’s operations at Ispra are geared to providing science-based responses to policy challenges with scientific, technological and socio-economic dimensions, with a number of their key research areas being of particular relevance and interest to STOA, including their research on the economics of climate change, on energy efficiency and transport, and on knowledge for growth.

Initially scheduled for May 2020, this STOA Panel virtual visit took place on Tuesday 16 March 2021, following an introductory presentation of the JRC mission and activities and a formal invitation issued to Members by the Director-General of the JRC, Stephen Quest, at the STOA Panel meeting of 29 January 2021. Although it would have been preferable to visit the site physically to interact with the impressive team of JRC scientists, this virtual alternative allowed eleven Members of the European Parliament to attend the visit organised by Eva Kaili, (S&D, Greece and STOA Chair) – highlighting the relevance of the JRC’s work to policy-makers.

Stephen Quest welcomed the delegation, underlining the need for high-quality science and for information to be shared with policy-makers to provide a service, through them, to wider society. This JRC-STOA cooperation goes beyond research, to knowledge management and better communication between science and policy, in line with the mandate of both STOA and the JRC to assess science and technology and inform policy-making.

The visit began with a presentation of the JRC-Ispra work on Artificial Intelligence with a European perspective and its focus on the health sector. The JRC operates ‘AI Watch‘, the artificial intelligence (AI) observatory for Europe, in partnership with the European Commission’s Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT), and supports the development of AI policy through its research activities. This was followed by a session dedicated to ‘The Green Deal’, another of STOA’s priorities, where the Knowledge Centre on Bioeconomy was presented. The next session was dedicated to ‘Quality of Life’, in which the upcoming Knowledge Centre on Cancer (KCC) was presented as part of the European Commission’s activities to tackle cancer, supporting the European Union’s Beating Cancer Plan, the Mission on Cancer, and connecting with some 12 European Commission Directorates-General. The visit continued with a remote tour of some of the JRC laboratories at Ispra, which began by presenting the Vehicle Emissions Laboratory (VELA) and its work in relation to car emission measurements. The delegation continued with a visit to the European Laboratory for Structural Assessment (ELSA) and an overview of its work in relation to energy efficiency and the seismic safety of buildings.

This visit served to provide STOA Panel members with much information and insight into JRC activities, as well as making useful links with experts, in view of future STOA work. The Ispra facility is the biggest centre of the JRC and half the JRC’s staff are based there, with 1 500 people working at its diverse laboratories and research facilities – connected by 35 kilometres of internal roads, at this unique site situated beside Lago Maggiore in northern Italy.

STOA looks forward to further collaborations with the JRC to exploit the synergies that became apparent through this visit, as well as to facilitating follow-up exchanges between experts and STOA Panel members on the topics addressed in these virtual sessions.

Read More: STOA delegation virtual visit to the Joint Research Centre site in Ispra | News

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STOA Workshop ‘Decarbonising European industry: hydrogen and other solutions’

Written by Andrés García Higuera (STOA) with Marlene Arens and Jakob Wachsmuth (Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI),

What are the options for closing the carbon cycle through substitution of fossil fuel use and how can they help to meet the Green Deal objectives? How can the EU hydrogen strategy contribute to this objective?

These questions were addressed at a STOA workshop, chaired by Members of the European Parliament and STOA Panel members Tiemo Wölken (S&D, Germany) and Patrizia Toia (S&D, Italy), and held on 1 March 2021. The event provided a broad view of hydrogen and other solutions for decarbonising European industry for some 390 participants. Policy-makers, scientists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and industry representatives highlighted the opportunities and risks of a hydrogen economy. Several speakers discussed the hierarchy of hydrogen use (steel and chemical industry, aviation and shipping are commonly agreed upon), and where it should not be used (household heating and private transport, according to some). Some industry representatives and some scientists called for decarbonisation of the European industry, where hydrogen use is supplemented by technologies that enable closed carbon cycles, while NGOs and other scientists called for a clear phase-out of fossil fuels.

Key takeaways

STOA Panel member Timo Wölken opened the workshop and introduced the political context, mentioning key legislation and goals such as the long-term targets of climate neutrality in the EU and the publication of the EU hydrogen strategy. Additionally, he pointed to the proposed legislation on a trans-European energy infrastructure and the Fit for 55 package.

Stressing that private investment is needed to advance, STOA Panel Member Patrizia Toia emphasised the current strong European push for hydrogen and the ongoing technological research.

Birgit Honé, Rapporteur for the European Committee of the Regions’ opinion on clean hydrogen, pointed out that hydrogen could be a great opportunity for regional development, as the production of local green hydrogen might provide €30 billion of added value and 800 000 additional jobs. She concluded that the Fit for 55 package should entail becoming fit-for-green-hydrogen.

Sarah Nelen, Deputy Head of Cabinet of European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, addressed the urgency for climate action in industry, as 2030 is very close in terms of investment cycles, which are typically long in energy-intensive industries, meaning that the EU needs to prepare for a roll-out of hydrogen. Sarah Nelen also highlighted the advantages of the EU as a single market when it comes to the implementation of standards, certification or infrastructure.

Stating that meeting EU sustainability targets requires that we pass to a circular economy for carbon, Gabriele Centi, President of the European Research Institute of Catalysis, sees the need for a long-term vision on how to close the carbon cycles. He also called for a system approach, focusing on replicability and flexibility, and spoke of the need to create an innovation ecosystem with all relevant stakeholders, as well for a radical system change to replace incremental innovations.

Carl de Maré, Head of Technology Strategy at Arcelor Mittal, stated that betting on hydrogen was risky, as hydrogen is not yet available, is expensive, and current synergies would be lost. He saw smart carbon usage as an opportunity, because the emitted carbon could be used for other products, supporting circular carbon concepts. Carl de Maré concluded that taking CO2 as a resource was a ‘no-regret’ option, which should be developed further to achieve carbon neutrality.

Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at the World Wildlife Fund, pointed out that green hydrogen is a scarce resource and should therefore be used in selected sectors only, such as shipping, steel and chemicals, and not for large-scale heating and road transport purposes. Moreover, she stressed that blue and pink hydrogen are not sustainable options. She strongly argued for a clear phase-out of fossil fuels and that hydrogen should be produced only from additional renewable electricity. She also strongly argued for increased efforts on energy efficiency and for the inclusion of the public in decision-making. Imke Lübbeke concluded that hydrogen has a crucial role, but this role needs to be considered carefully.

Presenting the results of an almost finalised STOA study, Frank Meinke‑Hubeny (VITO/EnergyVille) pointed out the implications of a steel production transition to hydrogen. If Europe’s current coal-based steel production switched to green hydrogen, 37‑60 GW of electrolysis capacity would be needed, which is more than the current EU target for 2030 of 40 GW. He also warned that hydrogen based steel-making would not be available on a broad scale in the next five years and that green hydrogen would not be cost-competitive by 2030. However, considering the long-term perspectives, Frank Meinke‑Hubeny found that hydrogen-based steel-making was likely to be cheaper than coal-based steel-making by 2050. He added in this regard that grey and blue hydrogen might be available at lower cost than green hydrogen by 2030. The draft study he presented also analyses infrastructure needs and finds that repurposing of current natural gas grids seems preferable to building new pipelines.

Heiko Reese (IG Metall) stressed the importance of the EU steel industry as an employer of 330 000 people. He also underlined that both companies and employees support the European climate goals. In his view, hydrogen is a technically feasible option for decarbonising the steel industry, but this would imply the need for huge amounts of hydrogen and thus huge investment. Moreover, operational costs would increase, as hydrogen is more expensive than coal. Public support is therefore crucial to enable this steel transition. In addition, cross-border infrastructure is also needed, and not only for hydrogen.

Directing his audience to consider the challenges of switching the steel industry to hydrogen, Carlo Mapelli (Politécnico di Milano) noted that operational costs will increase and that storage and transport of hydrogen is a complex issue. He suggested that a promising future option might be to use the existing gas infrastructure when combining steel production with carbon capture and utilisation. In this context, he added that handling CO2 is not dangerous at all and that carbon could be utilised for products such as carbon nanotubes, graphite, bio-char or bio-methane.

Closing the workshop, Tiemo Wölken stated that, in his view, it is now the task of policy-makers to push for the realisation of cost-effective hydrogen supply and use.

Next steps

The STOA study ‘Carbon-free steel production. Cost reduction options and usage of existing gas infrastructure’, soon to be published on the STOA website, finds that a hydrogen-based industry may be more profitable than a fossil-based industry in the long term. In that sense, hydrogen offers a technically feasible and promising option for decarbonising European industry. However, there are huge economic implications for the current stock of production technologies and the energy system, in addition to operational costs. An additional, ongoing, STOA study on ‘The potential of hydrogen for decarbonising EU industry’, being developed by Fraunhofer ISI and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, will provide guidance for this task by looking at policy options for decarbonising EU industry and realising a hydrogen economy. The final report is expected in October 2021. STOA continues to carry out its mission of providing Parliament’s committees and other parliamentary bodies with independent, high-quality and scientifically impartial studies to support the assessment of the impact of possibly introducing or promoting new technologies and identifying, from the technological point of view, the options for the best courses of action to take.

For more details read the full workshop report or watch the recording of the event.

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Can online platforms have a net positive effect on the economy and society?

Written by Mihalis Kritikos,

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Existing economic theories, based on foundational notions of ‘markets’ and ‘firms’, may not be sufficient to correctly interpret the behaviour of online platforms. This was one of the main conclusions of the study ‘Online platforms: Economic and societal effects’, which was carried out by Professor Annabelle Gawer of Surrey Business School, University of Surrey, at the request of the STOA Panel, following a proposal from Member of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), Chair of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA).

Online platforms, such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, play an increasingly central role in the economy and society. They have grown to an unprecedented scale, propelled by data-driven business models. Their rapid growth has caused concerns about market dominance and the widening information and power asymmetry between platforms and citizens, businesses and regulators. Online platforms have a massive impact on individual users and businesses, and are recasting the relationships between customers, advertisers, workers and employers. This has triggered a public debate on the economic dominance of platforms and their practices of pervasive data collection.

Their effects are distinct and identifiable, although they are certainly only one important piece in the puzzle of the rapidly reorganising global economy. For example, the platform operators, while still claiming to be only an intermediary, have gained unprecedented control over the organisation of work, as they are likely to generate fragmented work schedules and increasing levels of part-time work without the employment-related benefits that previously characterised much employer-based full-time work.

What are the very different and significant impacts that digital platforms may have on different social groups and employment sectors? How are the new models of the platform economy affecting employment (with the creation of new types of jobs), business models (with the appearance of new sectors of business activity) and the social fabric (need for insurance schemes and a welfare state that correspond to the new forms of the economy)? Are the recent legislative proposals contained in the European Commission’s proposed digital markets act (DMA) and digital services act (DSA) tackling the identified regulatory challenges sufficiently?

Against this background, the study offers a definition of digital platforms, provides a classification of the most salient types of digital platforms and pays particular attention to the ‘big tech’ companies (Alphabet-Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft). The characteristics of digital platforms are examined in detail, with a particular focus on how these platforms create value, the common economic, business and governance characteristics that they share, and their geographical distribution.

Professor Gawer presents a detailed synthesis of the literature, to assess how the new economic models have affected users, businesses, competition, innovation, employment and the social fabric. More concretely, the study sheds light on the multiple ways platforms create and capture value in the digital economy, including their positive effects on global innovation, such as their large investments in research and development, the stimulation of innovation in complementary products and services, and the special role of the design of the digital interface in solving the recurring tension between stimulating third-party developers’ complementary applications and maintaining platform control.

In addition, the study assesses how digital platforms are currently regulated under EU law and maps the main regulatory challenges that their operation (and expansion) is raising in the domains of competition and innovation, working conditions and labour markets, consumer and societal risks, and environmental sustainability. It documents a set of important issues not fully addressed by existing European regulation and enforcement, and provides a thorough overview, based on a state-of-the-art literature review, of these platform companies’ most significant effects on the economy, on workers, and more broadly on society.

In terms of the regulatory challenges, the report highlights four in particular: the limits of traditional antitrust analysis and tools; the violation of privacy and competition by the accumulation of data; the platforms’ systemic avoidance of sectoral regulations; and the difficulties in tackling illegal and harmful content online. The study’s findings suggest that the regulatory challenges that arise from platform employment include the mis-categorisation of platform employees; the disproportionate power of platforms over workers; and the low wages facing many platform workers.

The study offers a series of policy options for competition and innovation, working conditions and labour markets, consumer and societal risks, and environmental sustainability. These policy options are based on a set of substantive principles: freedom of competition; fairness of intermediation; the sovereignty of decision-making; access to fair social protection for all workers; access to dignified work and minimum living standards; and support of workers’ voice in the organisation of their work.

Where the report differs from the DMA and the DSA proposals is in calling for (i) a stronger merger control regime for gatekeeper platforms; (ii) a tailored, enforceable, Code of Conduct that each gatekeeper platform should have for itself; (iii) greater scope for national authorities to intervene where there are country-specific issues; and (iv) a new users’ right to reasonable inferences, in order to curtail the generation of ‘high-risk inferences’, i.e. those that are privacy-invasive, reputation-damaging, and have low verifiability.

The study is of high scientific and technological interest, not only due to its detailed analysis of the effects and challenges posed by the operation of online platforms, but also because the issues observed and presented cut across a range of areas, including competition and innovation, work and the labour market, and the integrity of the social fabric. The proposed policy options, including those on a new regulatory framework and on new institutional arrangements for regulation enforcement, will inform the ongoing discussion on the soundness and adequacy of the Commission’s DMA and DSA proposals.

Read the full report and accompanying STOA Options Brief to find out more.

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How artificial intelligence and space technologies will enable the green and digital transitions

Written by Nera Kuljanic,

Europe is a space force and communicating the tangible benefits the European space programme delivers daily to all Europeans is an important priority. This was the leitmotif of the workshop on the use of artificial intelligence (AI), big data and space technologies in terrestrial management, hosted on 23 February 2021 by the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) and chaired by Member of the European Parliament and STOA Panel Member, Maria Manuel Leitão Marques (S&D, PT).

Manuel Heitor, Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education in Portugal, welcomed the attendees on behalf of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) and recognised the workshop as an ideal moment to launch a discussion about new policy options to enhance research, governance and regulation related to AI in the public sector.

With the aim of raising awareness of the opportunities offered by space technologies and AI, especially in view of the growing volume of space data and the potential of using AI in the public sector, the workshop featured presentations of projects that illustrate how space technologies and AI can help to address related issues at local, national, EU and international levels.

Capabilities in space for benefits on Earth

Monitoring land cover and land use is important for public policy in many ways: for land planning, agricultural, forest and water management, estimating and managing fire, flood and erosion risks, and mitigating climate change and related effects. Having reliable and detailed maps is key. Mário Caetano from the Portuguese Directorate-General for Territory explained the advantages of Copernicus – the EU’s Earth observation programme. It provides large volumes of data with high spectral and spatial resolution and a much better revisit time, while AI-based algorithms interpret and classify satellite images. Compared with traditional mapping, where the landscape complexity is often lost and the process is expensive and time consuming, Copernicus allows us to create more useful maps.

Miguel Bello, CEO of the Atlantic International Research (AIR) Centre, described some of the many applications in sea and ocean monitoring and management. Combined with satellite imagery, AI tools can predict and mitigate the effects of ocean pollution disasters, like oil spills or underwater volcanic eruptions, to protect coast and fishing areas; assist in monitoring natural disaster impacts all over the world; or provide early warning for aquaculture of harmful algae blooms that cause losses of several billion euro to the industry globally. The AI tools are also useful in the fight against piracy at sea and the control of (illegal) vessel traffic, where the behaviour of the boats can be identified thanks to machine learning.

As part of the EU Green Deal and the implementation of the Paris Agreement, important work is ongoing towards establishing the European capacity to monitor human carbon dioxide emissions (part of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS)). Richard Engelen from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) explained the data and tools supporting this work. Satellite observations show the total impact of anthropogenic emissions and natural effects on the atmosphere, and Earth System models help to translate satellite and ground-based observations into emission estimates. Large volumes of such data are used to train algorithms that are then able to translate new observations into new emission estimates. These can be used, for example, to detect and account for the effect of weather on atmospheric pollutants, which was important to correctly assess the impact of Covid‑19 lockdowns on pollutant emissions.

The new European Commission-led initiative ‘Destination Earth’ will develop a very high-precision digital model of the Earth to monitor and simulate natural and human activity, and to develop and test scenarios that would enable more sustainable development and support European environmental policies. Nicolaus Hanowski from the European Space Agency (ESA) explained how a combination of big data, AI and advanced computing will facilitate improved monitoring and predictive information at local, regional and global scale.

AI for smart, more liveable cities

The effective adoption and use of AI solutions represent transformative potential for municipalities. In the City of Amsterdam, AI, ubiquitous sensors and algorithms allow for a new view of the city and a better way to manage it. Maarten Sukel presented specific AI-enabled initiatives to detect and collect garbage and abandoned objects, maintain roads and infrastructure, and observe social distancing in Covid‑19 times in a transparent and privacy-friendly way. As a result, the city is safer, greener and better maintained.

How to translate more data into more benefits for all

European space infrastructure generates large amounts of data that can help understand how our planet is changing, but it can also bring opportunities for business and science, and feed into applications for citizens. Moreover, with the growing number of satellites and the large amount of data generated by them, AI will be crucial to help extract information from their observations, enhance analytic and forecast capabilities, and turn them into tailor-made products and services. The combination of AI and Earth Observation therefore offers great potential to better respond to major societal and policy challenges. How can we turn this potential into action? Ricardo Conde, President of the Portuguese Space Agency; Roya Ayazi, Secretary General of NEREUS (Network of European Regions Using Space Technologies); Matthias Petschke, Director at the Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space (DG DEFIS) of the European Commission; and Nicolaus Hanowski, Head of the Mission Management & Ground Segment Department at the European Space Agency (ESA), took part in the discussion.

Lack of dissemination on EU space initiatives, capabilities and possibilities was a recurrent point during the event, and all speakers agreed that industry, the research community and administrations at all levels must step up their dissemination efforts. Digital literacy is not to be underestimated in this respect, as it is important that citizens understand the impact of these new technologies, and they appreciate and utilise the open and freely available data and information (including algorithms). Space technologies and AI can play a role in reducing inequalities, as they enable new capabilities that allow us to see the world in a new way and therefore offer a new approach to addressing inequalities.

When it comes to the uptake of space technologies in regions across the EU, user realities differ. More cohesion is needed for the equal sharing of benefits, as Copernicus is seen as a fundamental instrument for green climate and digital transitions. Some of the factors that can help to bring this forward were specifically mentioned by the panellists. Administrations and policy-makers at different levels need to be familiar with the opportunities Copernicus offers. However, even with the best political will, administrative ambition and free and open data, ultimately, technical capabilities and skills are needed to translate the potential into products and services. Among local and regional administrations in particular, joining forces, sharing experiences and solutions, and cooperating closely is key for the successful uptake of Copernicus possibilities. On a national level, it is important to recognise the new opportunities for science, industry and society, and design and implement specific policies to facilitate development of downstream applications.

Member of the European Parliament and STOA Panel member, Lina Gálvez Muñoz (S&D, ES), closed the event by introducing an additional element – inclusiveness, in particular with regard to gender – as a key ingredient of the green and digital transitions.

If you missed out this time, you can watch the webstream.

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