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European Commission presents strategies for data and Artificial Intelligence

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Today, the Commission unveils its ideas and actions for a digital transformation that works for all, reflecting the best of Europe: open, fair, diverse, democratic and confident. It presents a European society powered by digital solutions that put people first, opens up new opportunities for businesses, and boosts the development of trustworthy technology to foster an open and democratic society and a vibrant and sustainable economy. Digital is a key enabler to fighting climate change and achieving the green transition. The European data strategy and the policy options to ensure the human-centric development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) presented today are the first steps towards achieving these goals.

The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Today we are presenting our ambition to shape Europe’s digital future. It covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media. I want that digital Europe reflects the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident.”

Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, said: “We want every citizen, every employee, every business to stand a fair chance to reap the benefits of digitalisation. Whether that means driving more safely or polluting less thanks to connected cars; or even saving lives with AI-driven medical imagery that allows doctors to detect diseases earlier than ever before.

Commissioner for Internal Market,Thierry Breton, said: “Our society is generating a huge wave of industrial and public data, which will transform the way we produce, consume and live. I want European businesses and our many SMEs to access this data and create value for Europeans – including by developing Artificial Intelligence applications. Europe has everything it takes to lead the ‘big data’ race, and preserve its technological sovereignty, industrial leadership and economic competitiveness to the benefit of European consumers.”

Europe as a trusted digital leader

Digital technologies, if used with purpose, will benefit citizens and businesses in many ways. Over the next five years, the Commission will focus on three key objectives in digital:

·     Technology that works for people;

·     A fair and competitive economy; and

·     An open, democratic and sustainable society.

Europe will build on its long history of technology, research, innovation and ingenuity, and on its strong protection of rights and fundamental values. New policies and frameworks will enable Europe to deploy cutting-edge digital technologies and strengthen its cybersecurity capacities. Europe will continue to preserve its open, democratic and sustainable society and digital tools can support these principles. It will develop and pursue its own path to become a globally competitive, value-based and inclusive digital economy and society, while continuing to be an open but rules-based market, and to work closely with its international partners.

Europe as a leader in trustworthy Artificial Intelligence

Europe has all it needs to become a world leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems that can be safely used and applied. We have excellent research centres, secure digital systems and a robust position in robotics as well as competitive manufacturing and services sectors, spanning from automotive to energy, from healthcare to agriculture. 

In its White Paper presented today, the Commission envisages a framework for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence, based on excellence and trust. In partnership with the private and the public sector, the aim is to mobilise resources along the entire value chain and to create the right incentives to accelerate deployment of AI, including by smaller and medium-sized enterprises. This includes working with Member States and the research community, to attract and keep talent. As AI systems can be complex and bear significant risks in certain contexts, building trust is essential. Clear rules need to address high-risk AI systems without putting too much burden on less risky ones. Strict EU rules for consumer protection, to address unfair commercial practices and to protect personal data and privacy, continue to apply.

For high-risk cases, such as in health, policing, or transport, AI systems should be transparent, traceable and guarantee human oversight. Authorities should be able to test and certify the data used by algorithms as they check cosmetics, cars or toys. Unbiased data is needed to train high-risk systems to perform properly, and to ensure respect of fundamental rights, in particular non-discrimination. While today, the use of facial recognition for remote biometric identification is generally prohibited and can only be used in exceptional, duly justified and proportionate cases, subject to safeguards and based of EU or national law, the Commission wants to launch a broad debate about which circumstances, if any, might justify such exceptions.

For lower risk AI applications, the Commission envisages a voluntary labelling scheme if they apply higher standards.

All AI applications are welcome in the European market as long as they comply with EU rules.

Europe as a leader in the data economy

The amount of data generated by businesses and public bodies is constantly growing. The next wave of industrial data will deeply transform the way we produce, consume and live. But most of its potential remains unfulfilled. Europe has everything it takes to become a leader in this new data economy: the strongest industrial base of the world, with SMEs being a vital part of the industrial fabric; the technologies; the skills; and now also a clear vision.

The objective of the European data strategy is to make sure the EU becomes a role model and a leader for a society empowered by data. For this, it aims at setting up a true European data space, a single market for data, to unlock unused data, allowing it to flow freely within the European Union and across sectors for the benefit of businesses, researchers and public administrations. Citizens, businesses and organisations should be empowered to make better decisions based on insights gleaned from non-personal data. That data should be available to all, whether public or private, start-up or giant.

To achieve this, the Commission will first propose to establish the right regulatory framework regarding data governance, access and reuse between businesses, between businesses and government, and within administrations. This entails creating incentives for data sharing, establishing practical, fair and clear rules on data access and use, which comply with European values and rights such as personal data protection, consumer protection and competition rules. It also means to make public sector data more widely available by opening up high-value datasets across the EU and allowing their reuse to innovate on top.

Second, the Commission aims at supporting the development of the technological systems and the next generation of infrastructures, which will enable the EU and all the actors to grasp the opportunities of the data economy. It will contribute to investments in European High Impact projects on European data spaces and trustworthy and energy efficient cloud infrastructures.

Finally, it will launch sectoral specific actions, to build European data spaces in for instance industrial manufacturing, the green deal, mobility or health.

The Commission will also work to further narrow the digital skills gap among Europeans, and explore how to give citizens better control over who can access their machine-generated data.

Next Steps

As set out in the strategy presented today, the Commission will present later this year a Digital Services Act and a European Democracy Action Plan, propose a review of the eIDAS regulation, and strengthen cybersecurity by developing a Joint Cyber Unit. Europe will also continue to build alliances with global partners, leveraging its regulatory power, capacity building, diplomacy and finance to promote the European digitalisation model.

The White Paper on Artificial Intelligence is now open for public consultation until 19 May 2020. The Commission is also gathering feedback on its data strategy. In light of the input received, the Commission will take further action to support the development of trustworthy AI and the data economy

Background

Since 2014, the Commission has taken a number of steps to facilitate the development of a data-agile economy such as the Regulation on the free flow of non-personal data, the Cybersecurity Act, the Open Data Directive and the General Data Protection Regulation.

In 2018, the Commission presented for the first time an AI strategy, and agreed a coordinated plan with Member States. The framework for AI presented today also builds on the work carried out by the High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, which presented their Ethics Guidelines on trustworthy AI in April 2019.

In her Political Guidelines, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed the need to lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world. In that context, she announced to kick-start the debate on human and ethical Artificial Intelligence and the use of big data to create wealth for societies and businesses during her first 100 days in office.

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Investment Plan for Europe exceeds €500 billion investment target ahead of time

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The European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group have delivered on their pledge to mobilise €500 billion in investment under the Investment Plan for Europe. Some 1,400 operations have been approved under the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), using a budget guarantee from the European Union and own resources from the EIB Group. They are expected to trigger close to €514 billion in additional investment across EU countries and to benefit some 1.4 million small and mid-sized companies. In 2017, when the Council and the Parliament agreed to broaden the EFSI’s scope and size, the goal was to mobilise €500 billion by the end of 2020. The money was intended to address the investment gap left as a result of the 2007/8 financial and economic crisis.

Over the past years and especially after the coronavirus outbreak the focus of the EFSI shifted: it has inspired InvestEU, the Commission’s new investment programme for the years 2021-2027, and already now it contributes to the Corona Response Investment Initiative. EFSI will also play a key role in the NextGenerationEU package of measures to rebuild the European economy after the coronavirus shock. It will do this via a top-up for a Solvency Support Instrument, which aims to prevent insolvencies in European businesses.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “The Investment Plan for Europe is a success. Over the past five years, it has enabled the financing of hundreds of thousands of businesses and projects, delivering on our ambitions of making Europe more green, innovative and fair. We will continue this through NextGenerationEU.”

European Investment Bank Group President Werner Hoyer said: “EFSI can serve as a blueprint for action during the coronavirus response. Knowing that we exceeded the headline figure of €500 billion of investment ahead of time is proof of the power of partnership. Implementing the financial pillar of the Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe has been an honour and a challenge for the EIB. We lived up to it not least thanks to the excellent cooperation between the Bank and European and national institutions. The success of this initiative shows what Europe can achieve with the right tools: our continent has become more social, green, innovative and competitive. We can and we should build on our experience to overcome the current crisis. It will help us to shape a Europe all of us can be proud of.”

What has the European Fund for Strategic Investments financed?

The EFSI allows the EIB Group to finance operations that are riskier than its average investments. Often, EFSI-backed projects are highly innovative, undertaken by small companies without a credit history, or they pool smaller infrastructure needs by sector and geography. Supporting such projects required the EIB Group to develop new financing products, for example venture debt with equity features or investment platforms. This changed the DNA of the Bank and revolutionised the way Europe finances its priorities.

Importantly, the EFSI also enables the EIB to approve a greater number of projects than would be possible without the EU budget guarantee’s backing, as well as to reach out to new clients: three out of four receiving EFSI backing are new to the bank. This proves the added value of EFSI operations.

Thanks to EFSI support, the EIB and its subsidiary for financing small businesses, the European Investment Fund (EIF), have provided financing for hundreds of thousands of SMEs across a wide range of sectors and in all EU countries. Examples range from sustainable agriculture in Belgium, to innovative medical technology in Spain, to an energy efficiency company in Lithuania.

Economic impact: jobs and growth

The impact of the initiative is sizable. Based on results from December 2019, the EIB’s Economics Department and the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) estimate that EFSI operations have supported around 1.4 million jobs with the figure set to rise to 1.8 million jobs by 2022 compared to the baseline scenario. In addition, calculations show that the initiative has increased EU GDP by 1.3% and it is set to increase EU GDP by 1.9% by 2022. As of the beginning of this year, 60% of the capital raised came from private resources, meaning that EFSI has also met its objective of mobilising private investment. 

Measured against the size of the economy the biggest impact is in countries that were hard hit by the 2007/8 crisis, i.e. Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. While the direct investment impact is particularly high in those countries, the calculations found that cohesion regions (mostly Eastern European countries) are likely to benefit more from a long-term effect. These calculations correspond with the actual financing activities under EFSI: top countries ranked by EFSI-triggered investment relative to GDP are Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, Estonia, and Spain.

How has the Investment Plan for Europe benefited citizens?

The EIB’s EFSI report 2019 lists a number of concrete outcomes of the initiative. Thanks to the EFSI:

  • Some 20 million additional households can access high-speed broadband
  • Around 540,000 social and affordable housing units have been built or renovated
  • 22 million Europeans benefit from improved healthcare services
  • Some 400 million passenger trips/year will benefit from new or improved transport infrastructure
  • 13.4 million households were supplied with renewable energy.

Background

The Commission and the EIB Group launched the Investment Plan for Europe in November 2014 to reverse the downward trend of investment and put Europe on the path to economic recovery. Its financial pillar, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, was initially tasked to mobilise €315 billion in additional investment by 2018. Given its success, the European Parliament and Member States agreed to enhance the EFSI and extend the investment target to €500 billion by end 2020.

An independent evaluation of the EFSI published in June 2018 concluded that the EU guarantee is an efficient way of increasing the volume of riskier operations by the EIB, as it uses fewer budgetary resources compared to European grant programmes and financial instruments. It underlines that EIB support is key to EFSI beneficiaries: it provides a “stamp of approval” to the market, thus helping to facilitate future fund-raising. EFSI’s success is based not least on its efficient governance structure, which is responsive to constant changes of the markets. An independent group of experts decides if a project qualifies for backing by the EU guarantee. The goal: de-risking private investment into projects needed for a more sustainable Europe and adding value to what would have happened without public assistance.

In May 2020, the European Commission presented its revised proposal for the successor to the Investment Plan for Europe under the next Multiannual Financial Framework starting in 2021: the InvestEU Programme.

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“Together for Europe’s recovery”: Germany takes over Council presidency

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While the corona pandemic continues, Germany took over the six-month presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July. We asked German MEPs for their expectations.

The coronavirus represents a significant challenge for the EU and immediate management of the pandemic and recovery are at the heart of the German programme for the presidency.

The aim is to reach a swift agreement on the recovery fund and the EU’s budget 2021-2027. Germany intends to make progress on climate protection, through the European Green Deal, and economic and social digitalisation. With a focus on Africa and relations with China, it also wants Europe to take more global responsibility and strengthen its role in the world. Another priority will be future EU-UK-relations.

German priorities for the presidency 

  • Overcoming Covid-19 pandemic; economic and social recovery 
  • A stronger and more innovative Europe 
  • A fair Europe 
  • A sustainable Europe 
  • A Europe of security and common values 
  • A strong Europe in the world 

We asked German MEPs what they expect from the German presidency.

Daniel Caspary (EPP): “The EU multi-annual budget for 2021-2027 and the recovery fund will determine whether the EU emerges stronger from the corona crisis. The German presidency of the Council and Chancellor Angela Merkel can bring experience and expertise on European issues, a positive sign for the controversial and hard discussions.” Berlin can also provide an “important impulse” for the success of the negotiations on the EU-UK agreement, he said.

Jens Geier (S&D) sees potential for change in the Covid-19 crisis: “The federal government’s strong proposal for a recovery fund is an opportunity to make Europe fairer, more social and sustainable. In line with the European Green Deal, the recovery fund should promote sustainable investments in renewable energy and digitalisation. The fact that regions in need should also receive grants rather than just loans for reconstruction is a major step towards a strong Europe.”

“Europe now needs the courage to rebuild,” said Nicola Beer (Renew Europe): “Germany will be measured, among other things, by whether it can quickly kick-start the economic recovery, relying on innovation and small and medium-sized enterprises.“ On Brexit, she said there was a need ”not to slide into a no-deal scenario”. The EU should also “finally live up to its geopolitical aspirations, externally with a strong common voice for peace, disarmament, human rights and trade, internally by releasing the blockage in asylum and migration policies”.

German interests should not come second, said Jörg Meuthen (ID). “It is already the debt presidency,” he said. Germany should “reduce the EU to its core tasks and the budget to the minimum necessary, prevent EU taxing competence and instead include, as a sign of genuine solidarity, the per capita wealth of member states in the calculation of financial redistribution”.

For Sven Giegold (Greens/EFA), climate protection remains a priority: “The climate crisis is not taking a corona break. The German presidency of the Council must therefore become a climate presidency in corona times. During the German presidency, we need to conclude the negotiations for an EU climate law with improved greenhouse gas reduction targets.”

Helmut Geuking (ECR) hopes that the German presidency of the Council will “finally fulfil the Child Guarantee and launch a European child benefit”. “Only with strong families can a strong and social Europe emerge that can hold its own in the globalised world in the future.”

The presidency could “lay the foundations for a solidarity-based EU,” said Martin Schirdewan (GUE/NGL). “Everyone should contribute their fair share to the social and economic recovery and revival of society. This means the introduction of a digital tax, a comprehensive financial transaction tax and a one-off wealth tax for the super-rich.”

Germany will work closely with Portugal and Slovenia, which take over the presidency on 1 January and 1 July 2021 respectively. This is the 13th time Germany has held the Council presidency. The last time was in 2007.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will present and discuss her country’s programme in the European Parliament in Brussels at the next plenary session on 8 July. You can watch it live on our website.

German ministers will discuss the presidency programme with parliamentary committees at the beginning of July.

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Ursula von der Leyen: Next six months crucial for the EU

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© European Union 2019 – EP

The College of Commissioners met today via videoconference the Government of Germany for the beginning of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that the start of the German Presidency came at a crucial point in time as the next six months would, to a large extent, determine the future of the EU.

“Not only must we overcome the crisis, but rather we want to and we must also continue courageously along the path of modernisation within the European Union”, she said at the press conference following the meeting. “Europe’s most significant challenges before the crisis will remain the same once this crisis is over: climate change, digitalisation, and Europe’s position in the world.”

She reminded of the urgency of the task to forge an agreement on the NextGenerationEU and the long-term EU budget in the European Council, saying it was the crisis that ‘sets the pace’. “Every day we lose, we will be seeing people losing their jobs, companies going bust, and the weakening of our economies.”

In a statement issued earlier today, President von der Leyen invited David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, in her capacity as rotating Presidency of the Council, and Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, to a meeting on 8 July to take stock of progress and prepare the intensive political negotiations that lie ahead.

Von der Leyen also noted that the priorities of the German Presidency and the priority projects the Commission adopted were fully aligned – from climate change to digitalisation to resilience. She said the Commission would also be closely working with the German Presidency during the ‘decisive phase’ of the Brexit negotiations, as well as on external relations.

She stressed that the two sides working together can help Europe navigate its way through this crisis with strength and unity, as well as make NextGenerationEU a catalyst for modernisation in Europe.

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