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Disaster management: Boosting the EU’s emergency response

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MEPs have approved plans to improve disaster response by updating the EU’s civil defence mechanism and creating additional reserve capacity.

On 12 February, MEPs voted in favour of upgrading the EU’s civil defence mechanism to help member states respond faster and more effectively to emergencies and disasters, both recurrent and unexpected. They propose to improve how disasters are tackled by sharing resources such field hospitals more efficiently.

Disasters, both natural and man-made, can strike anywhere, causing significant losses: in 2017, 200 people were killed in Europe by natural disasters and costs amounted to almost €10 billion

Italian EPP member Elisabetta Gardini, the MEP in charge of steering the plans through Parliament said recent emergencies such as the disasters in Greece in 2018 and in Portugal in 2017 have shown that EU countries alone don’t have enough resources to respond, most of the times due to operational gaps.

Support already in place

A collaborative system of mutual aid already exists and is known as the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. If an EU country needs assistance because of a disaster, it can ask for help.

This system, based on voluntary contributions by participating countries, has proved to have a limited capacity, especially if several countries face the same type of disaster at the same time. The current system does not have an EU reserve capacity to help if member states are unable to.

RescEU: new reserve of emergency resources

Parliament insists on establishing a new reserve of resources known as RescEU. This should be activated only when the resources deployed by EU countries are insufficient. The common European reserve would include the resources needed to respond to disasters such as forest fire-fighting planes, special water pumps, field hospitals and emergency medical teams.

A decision to deploy RescEU would have to be taken by the European Commission in close coordination with the requesting country and the member states owning, renting or leasing the resources.

Sharing knowledge and lessons

The new rules set out to improve disaster risk management through consultation, the use of experts and recommendations for follow-up measures.

MEPs supported strengthening the EU Civil Protection Knowledge Network to share knowledge and facilitate exchanges between everyone involved with civil protection and disaster management, with a particular focus on young professionals and volunteers.

Next steps

The final text will enter into force once it has been formally adopted by the Council of Ministers. It should be applicable by summer 2019.

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€2 billion to fast forward the creation of the European Innovation Council

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Ahead of the 21-22 March European Council discussion on innovation, industry and competitiveness, the Commission takes decisive steps to set up a European Innovation Council.

Global competition is intensifying and Europe needs to deepen its innovation and risk-taking capability to compete on a market increasingly defined by new technologies. That is why the Juncker Commission is introducing a European Innovation Council (EIC) to turn Europe’s scientific discoveries into businesses that can scale up faster. Currently in its pilot phase, the European Innovation Council will become a full-fledged reality from 2021 under the next EU research and innovation programme Horizon Europe.

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation said: “With the European Innovation Council, we don’t simply put money on the table. We create a whole innovation system to place Europe at the forefront in strategic technologies and innovation that will shape our futures such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and zero-emission energy. We must focus on the needs of the innovators, who are the ones who will generate jobs, strengthen our global competitiveness and improve our daily lives.”

The Commission launched in 2017 the pilot phase of the European Innovation Council, introducing open competitions and face-to-face interviews to identify and fund Europe’s most innovative start-ups and SMEs.Since then, 1276 highly innovative projects have already benefitted from an overall funding of over €730 million.

Today the Commission announces important steps that will ramp up the remaining two years of the pilot phase of the EIC:

Over €2 billion of funding in 2019-2020: covering the innovation chain: “pathfinder” projects to support advanced technologies from the research base (opens tomorrow); and “accelerator” funding to support startups and SMEs develop and scale up innovations to the stage where they can attract private investment (open in June). Under the “accelerator” funding companies will be able to access blended financing (grants and equity) of up to €15 million.

The Commission will appoint 15 to 20 innovation leaders to an EIC Advisory Board to oversee the EIC pilot, prepare the future EIC, and champion the EIC globally. Innovators from across the ecosystem are invited to come forward by 10 May.  

The Commission will recruit a first set of “programme managers” with leading expertise in new technologies to provide full-time, hands-on support for projects. The call for recruitment will be published shortly.

Also today, the Commission announces 68 additional startups and SMEs selected for an overall funding of €120 million under the existing EIC pilot. The companies are for instance developing a blockchain-based online payment technology, new energy efficient screens and a solution to fight traffic noise (breakdown of beneficiaries per country and sector).

Given the growing economic importance of breakthrough and disruptive innovation, and based on the early success of the EIC pilot, the Commission has proposed to dedicate €10 billion to the EIC under Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation funding programme for 2021-2027.

Background

With only 7% of the world’s population, Europe accounts for 20% of global R&D investment, produces one third of all high-quality scientific publications, and holds a world leading position in industrial sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, mechanical engineering and fashion. But Europe needs to do better at turning that excellence into success, and generating global champions in new markets based on innovation. This is particularly the case for innovations based on radically new technologies (breakthrough) or markets (disruptive).

In June 2018, the Commission proposed the most ambitious Research and Innovation programme yet, Horizon Europe, with a proposed budget of €100 billion for 2021-2027. The proposal builds on the Commission’s contribution to the EU Leaders’ meeting on 16 May in Sofia “A renewed European Agenda for Research and Innovation – Europe’s chance to shape its future“, which highlighted the need to create a European Innovation Council and other steps to ensure Europe’s global competitiveness.

The conclusions of the European Council of 28 June 2018 endorsed the setting up of the EIC under the next long-term budget (2021-2027). EU leaders invited the Commission to launch a new pilot initiative on breakthrough innovation within the remaining period of Horizon 2020, in order to pave the way for a fully-fledged EIC in Horizon Europe.

The European Innovation Council is part of a wider ecosystem that the EU is putting in place to give Europe’s many entrepreneurs every opportunity to become world leading companies. Other initiatives include a Pan-European Venture Capital Funds-of-Funds programme (VentureEU), the Investment Plan for Europe (EFSI), the work of the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, the Capital Markets Union Action Plan to improve access to finance or the proposal for a Directive on business insolvency

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New Zealand: We stand in solidarity against hatred

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Image: Christchurch City Council / Taane Mete

The Party of European Socialists is deeply saddened by the terrorist attack in New Zealand and sends its condolences to all affected. Our hearts and minds are with the loved ones of the victims.

In an act of ideologically driven violence, a gunman today targeted worshipers attending Friday prayers at two Christchurch Mosques, killing nearly 50 people and injuring many others.

The attack is the latest sign that racist violence, perpetrated by right-wing terrorists, is a resurgent problem across the globe.

PES Deputy Secretary General Giacomo Filibeck said:“The thoughts of the whole progressive family go out to the people affected by the appalling terrorist attack in Christchurch. New Zealand has a diverse and vibrant society, and we are deeply saddened that the Muslim community has been so brutally targeted in this cowardly way.

“The PES stands in solidarity with all the people of New Zealand against extremism. We praise and fully support Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her reaction. We will not let those who preach an ideology of hatred succeed in driving our communities apart.”

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EU prepares itself to fight back against hostile propaganda

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MEPs warn that Russia’s disinformation campaigns are the main source of disinformation in Europe, along with China, Iran and North Korea.

The European Parliament strongly condemned Russia, China, Iran and North Korea’s increasingly aggressive actions, “which seek to undermine the foundations and principles of European democracies as well as the sovereignty of all Eastern Partnership countries.”

Taking stock of the EU’s latest efforts to counteract hostile propaganda by third parties, MEPs call upon member states to consider developing a robust legal framework at both EU and international level to tackle hybrid threats.

Dealing with Russia

In the resolution, adopted by 489 to 148 and 30 abstentions, MEPs want “to raise awareness about Russia’s disinformation campaigns, as this constitutes the main source of disinformation in Europe”. MEPs urge the EU to expand its East StratCom Task Force, set up in 2015, into a fully-fledged structure within the European External Action Service, to address Russia’s hostile propaganda.

Holding providers to account, identifying ownership

MEPs call for social media companies, messenger services and search engine providers to be regulated by law. Companies failing to speedily remove systemic fake news should be held to account. Furthermore, authorities should be able to identify and locate authors and sponsors of submitted political content.

Safeguarding elections

MEPs strongly condemn third parties interfering in elections and referenda. Member states are invited to amend electoral laws that would enable them to proactively counteract threats stemming from disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, cybercrimes and violation of freedom of expression when voting.

Member states should support EU-associated countries and the Western Balkans to ensure a robust defence of their electoral processes from malicious propaganda activities.

In a vote on Tuesday, Parliament also adopted legislation to protect the May 2019 European elections from data misuse, following the findings on the UK Brexit referendum and the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal. The new rules introduce financial sanctions against European political parties and foundations that may deliberately misuse personal data in their European election campaigns.

Anna Elżbieta FOTYGA (ECR, PO), rapporteur, said: “Disinformation poisons hearts and minds. We can no longer deny the fact that our institutions and societies are targeted by the Kremlin’s hostile propaganda, which is part of a broader strategy. Fortunately, we are more experienced, determined and united to counter such activities. Our answer depends on resilient societies, transparent media and encouraging pluralism while avoiding censorship.”

Background

The resolution takes stock of the follow-up by the European External Action Service on the last EP resolution on EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda, which was adopted on 23 November 2016.

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