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Explainer: EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025

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How is gender equality progressing in the EU?

The Gender Equality Index, a tool published by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), measures gender equality across the EU Member States in various domains such as work, power or violence.

The 2019 edition reveals that progress towards effective equality is far too slow: with 67.4 out of 100 (where 100 means full gender equality), the EU’s score for gender equality is up just 5.4 points since the 2005 edition (+1.2 points since 2015).

The EU is closest to gender equality in the domains of health (88.1 points) and money (80.4 points). Gender inequalities are most worrying in the domain of power (51.9 points), although this is also the domain that has improved the most (+13 points since 2005), due to progress in nearly every Member State.

However, on the issue of work-life balance, progress is far from being sufficient. Being a parent continues to impact women’s access to the labour market, reflecting the disproportionate weight of care duties on mothers. The Index also shows that 31% of women (against only 8% of men) aged 20-64 in the EU, are working part-time.

Why propose the new Strategy now?

To give a fresh impetus to gender equality and set out new political objectives, as outlined in President Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines, the Commission presented today a new EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. The Gender Equality Strategy sets out key actions for the next 5 years and commits to ensuring that the Commission will also include an equality perspective in all EU policy areas.

What are the priorities of the Commission regarding gender equality as covered by the Gender Equality Strategy?

A Union of Equality is one of the major priorities of President Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission, based on the principle of equality for all and equality in all of its senses. Gender equality is a founding principle of the European Union, and the promotion of equality between women and men one of its tasks.

This Strategy sets out what the Commission will do, across all policy areas, to work towards achieving a Union of gender equality for all, where gender-based violence, sex discrimination and structural inequality between women and men are a thing of the past. This strategy includes a set of key actions aimed at achieving a gender equal Europe.

What is the vision of this Strategy?

This Strategy has the vision of a Europe where women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity, are equal – where they are free to pursue their chosen path in life, where they have equal opportunities to thrive, and where they can equally participate in and lead our European society.

This strategy will ambitiously continue the progress we have made as a Union. This will be a strategy for all of Europe, all of its member states and all its citizens.

What are the key principles of the Strategy?

The implementation of the Strategy will be based on the dual approach of (1) key actions to achieve gender equality combined with (2) strengthening the integration of a gender perspective in all EU policies and major initiatives

Key Actions 2020-2025
The targeted measures presented in the Strategy will address some of the biggest challenges to achieve true gender equality: combating gender-based violence and challenging gender stereotypes; boosting women’s economic empowerment and ensuring equal opportunities in the labour market, including equal pay; and giving both women and men the opportunity to lead and participate in all sectors of the economy and in political life (Find more details on key actions below).

Gender mainstreaming
Gender mainstreaming
is the inclusion of a gender perspective in all EU policies and processes. It is essential to achieve gender equality objectives. Mainstreaming a gender perspective in policy and activities ensures that these adequately respond to the needs and maximise the potential of women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity.

The inclusion of a gender perspective in all EU policies and processes is essential to the goal of gender equality. The Commission will thus mainstream gender equality early in policy design by improving the integration of a gender dimension in all major Commission initiatives during this mandate.

The Commission has set up a Task Force for Equality composed of representatives of all Commission services and of the European External Action Service to ensure concrete implementation of gender mainstreaming at operational and technical level, in addition to the key actions listed in the Gender Equality Strategy.

Does this Strategy include initiatives to promote gender equality outside the European Union?

The EU promotes gender equality through development cooperation programmes throughout the world as well as EU trade policy and is a major player in international fora on gender equality. While the Gender Equality Strategy is mainly focused on initiatives to be implemented within the European Union, the strategic framework for gender equality actions in the Commission’s external relations, the European External Action Service and the EU Member States is outlined in the Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Relations (GAP). The GAP II (2016-2020) focuses on ending violence against women and girls, promoting women’s economic and social empowerment and ensuring the fulfilment of their human, political and civil rights. GAP III will be launched in 2020, and will be closely linked to this Strategy and the two strategic frameworks will thus be mutually reinforcing each other.

Were citizens and civil society organisations consulted in the elaboration of this strategy?

An online public consultation on gender equality in the EU took place on 8 March-31 May 2019. The aim of the consultation was to assess the Commission’s Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019 and to identify future priorities. It gathered over 1,300 replies, showing that current priorities remain valid while there should be more focus on other specific aspects of gender equality. These include, among others, tackling gender stereotypes and unconscious bias, introducing measures to further support the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work or work of equal value’ such as pay transparency measures, strengthening the rights of victims of gender-based violence and tackling online hate speech, abuse and violence against women and girls. Targeted consultations took place, including public hearings in the European Parliament and a workshop with civil society organisations, to learn from their expertise and experience gained on the ground in Member States.

Will the Commission propose binding measures for pay transparency?

President von der Leyen, committed in her Political Guidelines to introduce binding pay transparency measures. The Commission is launching today a public consultation on pay transparency measures as well as targeted consultation with Member States and the social partners and will engage in a large consultation of all stakeholders on the specifics of the proposal. Following this consultation process, the Commission will propose legislative measures by the end of 2020.

How will this Strategy be implemented and monitored?

Achieving a Union of Equality has to be a joint undertaking by all stakeholders. This includes action by EU institutions, Member States, and also by representatives of the civil society, social partners and the private sector. The Commission will take the necessary actions to deliver on the objectives of this Strategy and ensure gender equality is treated as a priority. The key actions presented in this Strategy will be regularly updated and supplemented, their implementation will be monitored and progress, including examples of practice in the Member States, will be reported on an annual basis. The annual reports will include data, including from Eurostat and Eurofound, as well as indicators for measuring progress, building on EIGE’s annual EU Gender Equality Index. EIGE will also provide data and research to feed into the evidence-based policy-making of EU institutions and Member States.

What are the key actions presented in the Strategy?

1. Freedom from gender-based violence and gender stereotypes

Key actions for the European Commission:

Finalise the accession of the EU to the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the ‘Istanbul Convention’);

Should the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention not be possible the Commission intends to propose in 2021 measures, within the limits of EU competence, to achieve the same objectives as the Convention;

The Commission, in particular, intends to extend the areas of crime where harmonisation is possible, adding violence against women to the list of EU crimes defined in the Treaty (so-called ‘Eurocrimes’). The Commission will also propose additional measures to prevent and combat specific forms of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, abuse of women and female genital mutilation (FGM);

Present a Commission Recommendation on the prevention of harmful practices, including female genital mutilation, forced abortion and forced sterilisation, early and forced marriage and so-called ‘honour-related violence’;

Launch an EU network on the prevention of gender-based violence and domestic violence, bringing together Member States and stakeholders to exchange good practice, and fund training, capacity-building and support services;

Propose a Digital Services Act clarifying online platforms’ responsibilities with regard to user-disseminated content and facilitate the development of a new framework for cooperation between internet platforms to address illegal and harmful online content;

Present an EU victims’ rights strategy in 2020, an EU strategy on a more effective fight against child sexual abuse and a new EU strategy on the eradication of trafficking in human beings;

Improve available data through an EU survey on gender-based violence against women and other forms of interpersonal violence published in 2023;

Follow the European approach on AI, as set out in the new Commission White Paper, grounded in EU values and fundamental rights, including non-discrimination and gender equality;

Launch an EU-wide communication campaign to tackle gender stereotypes.

Key actions for the Council:

Conclude the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention and ensure swift EU ratification.

Key actions for the Member States:

Ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention (if not already done so);

Ratify and implement the International Labour Organization Convention to combat violence and harassment in the world of work;

Implement the Victims’ Rights Directive, the Child Sexual Abuse Directive and other relevant EU law protecting victims of gender-based violence;

Systematically collect and report data on gender-based violence;

Support civil society and public services in preventing and combating gender-based violence and gender stereotyping, including with the help of EU funding available under the ‘citizens, equality, rights and values’ programme (2021-2027).

2. Thriving in a gender equal economy

Key actions for the European Commission:

Propose binding measures on pay transparency in 2020;

Enforce the Work-Life Balance Directive and other EU laws to close gender gaps and discrimination in the labour market;

Monitor through the European Semester the gender equality progress in Member States, in particular in their labour market, social inclusion and education;

Support structural reforms in Member States to increase gender equality in the labour market through the Structural Reform Support Programme;

Support women as investors and entrepreneurs through the Horizon Europe’s European Innovation Council and through the InvestEU programme;

Address the digital gender gap in the updated Digital Education Action Plan;

Present the Updated Skills Agenda for Europe and a proposal for a Council recommendation on vocational education and training, addressing gender balance in traditionally male- or female-dominated professions, address gender stereotypes and gender gaps in education and training;

Propose to revise the Barcelona targets for the provision of early childhood education and care arrangements for children and propose a Child Guarantee focusing on barriers preventing children from accessing necessary services;

Assess how risks and resources are shared in pension systems between women and men in the 2021 edition of the Pension Adequacy Report;

Present a Green Paper on Ageing with a focus on long-term care, pensions and active ageing.

Key actions for Member States:

Transpose the Work-Life Balance Directive and properly implement EU gender equality and labour law;

Follow up on the Council conclusions of June 2019 “Closing the Gender Pay Gap: Key Policies and Measures”;

Ensure adequate investments in early childhood education, care services and long-term care services including from available EU funding;

Implement the Ministerial declaration of commitment on ‘women in digital’.

3. Leading and participating equally throughout society

Key actions for the European Commission:

Push for the adoption of the 2012 proposal for a Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards, which set the aim of a minimum of 40% of non-executive members of the under-represented sex on company boards;

Promote the participation of women as voters and candidates in the 2024 European Parliament elections;

Promote EU Platform of Diversity Charters in all sectors;

Reach gender parity (50%) at all levels of Commission’s management by the end of 2024 and increase efforts towards reaching a larger share of female managers in EU agencies.

Key action for the European Parliament and the Council:

Adopt measures to improve gender balance at all levels of their management and in leadership positions;

Adopt the proposal for a Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards;

Key action for the Member States:

Transpose and implement the Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards, once adopted;

Develop and implement strategies to increase the number of women in decision-making positions in politics and policy making.

4. Key external actions on gender equality:

Launch in 2020 the third Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Relations (GAP III);

Adopt the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024);

Continue to implement the EU Strategic Approach and Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2019-2024;

Actively promote gender equality through the EU’s trade policy (including through its active engagement on the issue in the World Trade Organisation), in the EU’s neighbourhood and enlargement policies (including in the context of accession negotiations and the Stabilisation and Association Process), and in the EU’s actions in fragile, conflict and emergency situation;

Implement the Spotlight Initiative, a joint EU-UN global programme with €500 million EU funding to help eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls;

Launch a campaign #WithHer in 2020, designed to challenge harmful gender norms and stereotypes, which perpetuate violence against women worldwide.

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EU Politics

EU and Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement enters into force

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On 1 March 2021, the European Union-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) will enter into force. It has now been ratified by the Republic of Armenia, all EU Member States and the European Parliament. This represents an important milestone for EU-Armenia relations.

This Agreement provides a framework for the EU and Armenia to work together in a wide range of areas: strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights; creating more jobs and business opportunities, improving legislation, public safety, a cleaner environment, as well as better education and opportunities for research. This bilateral agenda also contributes to overall aim of the EU to deepen and strengthen its relations with the countries of its Eastern neighbourhood through the Eastern Partnership framework.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said: “The entry into force of our Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement comes at a moment when Armenia faces significant challenges. It sends a strong signal that the EU and Armenia are committed to democratic principles and the rule of law, as well as to a wider reform agenda. Across political, economic, trade, and other sectoral areas, our Agreement aims to bring positive change to people’s lives, to overcome challenges to Armenia’s reforms agenda.”

Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, underlined that: “While these are trying times for Armenia, the European Union continues to stand by the Armenian people. The entry into force of the bilateral EU-Armenia agreement on 1 March will allow us to strengthen our work on the economy, connectivity, digitalisation and the green transformation as priority areas. These will have concrete benefits for the people and are key for socio-economic recovery and the longer-term resilience of the country. In the current turbulent days, maintaining calm and respect for democracy and constitutional order are key.”

The Agreement was signed in November 2017 and substantial parts of have been provisionally applied since 1 June 2018. Since then, the breadth and depth of the bilateral cooperation between Armenia and the European Union have advanced steadily. At the 3rd EU-Armenia Partnership Council held on 17 December 2020, the European Union and Armenia reiterated their full commitment to implementing the CEPA.

The Agreement plays an important role for the modernisation of Armenia, in particular through legislative approximation to EU norms in many sectors. This includes reforms in the rule of law and respect of human rights, particularly an independent, efficient and accountable justice system, as well as reforms aimed at enhancing the responsiveness and effectiveness of public institutions and at favouring the conditions for sustainable and inclusive development.

From the entry into force of the Agreement on 1 March, cooperation will be strengthened in those areas which to date were not subject to the provisional application of the Agreement. The European Union stands ready and looks forward to working even more closely with Armenia on the full and effective implementation of the Agreement, in our mutual interest and to the benefit of our societies and citizens.

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EU Politics

Explainer: New EU strategy on adaptation to climate change

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1. What is the objective of the new EU Adaptation Strategy?

The Strategy outlines a long-term vision for the EU to become a climate-resilient society, fully adapted to the unavoidable impacts of climate change by 2050. Complementing the EU’s ambitious goal to become climate neutral by mid-century, this strategy aims to reinforce the adaptive capacity of the EU and the world and minimise vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement and the proposal for the European Climate Law. The new Strategy seeks to step up action across the economy and society in synergy with other Green Deal policies such as biodiversity protection and sustainable agriculture. This will be done by making adaptation smarter, swifter and more systemic, as well as stepping up international action on adaptation. This means improving our knowledge of climate impacts and adaptation solutions; stepping up adaptation planning and climate risk assessments; accelerating adaptation action; and helping to strengthen climate resilience globally. This strategy sets out a whole-economy approach, with particular consideration for those among us who are most vulnerable to guarantee that resilience is achieved in a just and fair way.

2. Why do we need a new EU Adaptation Strategy now?

Halting all greenhouse gas emissions today would still not prevent the climate change impacts that are already occurring. The severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our health and socio-economic wellbeing are a stark warning of the dangers of insufficient preparation. The frequency and severity of climate and weather extremes is increasing. They range from unprecedented forest fires and heatwaves to devastating droughts; and from hurricanes ravaging EU outermost regions to forests decimated by unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks in Central and Eastern Europe. Water shortages in the EU have affected economic activities as diverse as agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, power plant cooling, and cargo shipping on rivers. In the EU, economic losses from extreme weather already average over €12 billion per year.

While the 2013 EU Adaptation Strategy was positively evaluated in 2018, there is a need to deepen and to expand adaptation actions, e.g. to make data more uniform and accessible, to bridge the climate protection gap – the share of non-insured economic losses – and to scale up finance for climate adaptation in the EU and globally. The EU’s adaptive capacity needs to be reinforced in line with the Paris Agreement and the proposed European Climate Law. The strategy comes at an important moment, ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow, where adaptation to climate change will play a key role.

3. What actions are planned in the EU as part of the strategy?

The Strategy pursues three objectives and proposes a range of actions in order to meet them:

  • To make adaptation smarter – improving knowledge and availability of data, while managing the inherent uncertainty brought upon us by climate change; securing more and better data on climate-related risk and losses, and making Climate-ADAPT the authoritative European platform for adaptation knowledge.
  • To make adaptation more systemic – supporting policy development at all levels of governance, society and the economy and in all sectors by improving adaptation strategies and plans; integrating climate resilience in macro-fiscal policy, and promoting nature-based solutions for adaptation.
  • To speed up adaptation across the board – by accelerating the development and rollout of adaptation solutions; reducing climate-related risk; closing the climate protection gap , and ensuring the availability and sustainability of fresh water.

At the same time, the Commission will continue to provide guidelines, technical capacity and funding opportunities to help Member States, regions, and local administrations to develop and implement comprehensive adaptation strategies and actions. The Commission will also continue to mainstream adaptation by integrating climate change considerations into EU policies and programmes to make them climate resilient.

4. How does the Strategy integrate international action into its framework?

Our climate change adaptation ambition must match our global leadership in climate change mitigation. The Paris Agreement established the global goal on adaptation and highlighted adaptation as a key contributor to sustainable development. Adaptation is a crosscutting element in the EU and Member States’ external action, spanning development cooperation, migration, trade, agriculture and security. The EU already has a history of cooperating with other countries on climate adaptation at all levels, but the strategy brings this into a coherent framework around three actions:

  • increasing support for international climate resilience and preparedness, for example in support of the development and implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (under the Paris Agreement) in partner countries;
  • scaling up international finance to build climate resilience, for example through the EU instruments for external action and leveraging private sector investments;
  • strengthening global engagement and exchanges, learning from our international partners who have long been on the frontlines of climate change and have valuable experience that can help Europe become more climate resilient and sharing information for example from the COPERNICUS programme.

The EU and its Member States increased their overall climate finance support to third countries by 7.4% in 2019, amounting to €21.9 billion, 52% of which was spent on helping our partners adapt to climate change. In order to close the climate change adaptation financing gap, the Commission will aim to increase resources and mobilise larger scale adaptation finance, including through innovative mechanisms such as the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, as well as making resources available through bilateral channels and through the Member States.

5. Where can I find more information on adaptation in Europe?

The adaptation strategy aims to make Climate-ADAPT the authoritative European platform for adaptation knowledge, linking it up with other relevant knowledge portals and sources and making it more accessible for citizens, local governments and other stakeholders. Already today, Climate-ADAPT provides access to reliable data on the likely impacts of climate change, their socio-economic aspects, and the costs and benefits of adaptation options. Its continued development will give decision-makers vital support, and will help policy-makers at EU, national, regional and local levels to develop informed climate change adaptation measures and policies.

Climate-ADAPT will also host the new European Climate and Health Observatory. This Observatory will boost our awareness and understanding of the growing health risks, which climate change will entail, such as heat stress, food and water safety and security threats, or the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. It will help us to better anticipate and minimise these risks, and to improve our individual and collective preparedness.

6. What will Member States need to do under the new Strategy and how will progress be measured?

Adapting to climate change is a process. Discussions on standardised indicators that accurately capture progress are ongoing at EU and international level. The strategy aims to enlarge and make more accessible a toolbox that adaptation actors can use in their work and adapt to their individual needs, be they national, regional or local administrations, SMEs or individual citizens. To help informed decisions, the strategy promotes knowledge sharing and data availability. Adaptation reporting requirements for Member States are already set out in dedicated legislative instruments, such as the Energy Union Governance Regulations. The European Climate Law will, once adopted, also set out obligations for the EU and its Member States in this respect.

7. What EU-level resources are available for adaptation?

Financial support for adaptation is made available through the European Structural and Investment Funds, the Common Agricultural Policy, the LIFE Programme, and the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The proposed Horizon Europe Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change will also leverage significant resources in the effort to make Europe climate resilient. The Commission will support the local uptake of data, digital and smart solutions related to climate adaptation. To help local authorities move from planning to action, the EU will pilot a policy support facility to assist local and regional authorities under the EU Covenant of Mayors.

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EU Politics

Strong EU trade enforcement rules enter into force

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Robust new trade enforcement rules have entered into force that will further strengthen the EU’s toolbox in defending its interests. With the update of the EU’s Trade Enforcement Regulation, the EU is able to act in a broader range of circumstances.

The new rules upgrade the EU’s enforcement by introducing the following changes:

  • empowering the EU to act to protect its trade interests in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and under bilateral agreements when a trade dispute is blocked despite the EU’s good faith effort to follow dispute settlement procedures (the regulation previously only allowed action after the completion of dispute settlement procedures); and
  • expanding the scope of the regulation and of possible trade policy countermeasures to services and certain trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (IPR) (the regulation previously only permitted countermeasures in goods).

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “The European Union must be able to defend itself against unfair trading practices. These new rules will help protect us from those trying to take advantage of our openness. We continue to work towards our first preference, which is a reformed and well-functioning multilateral rulebook with an effective Dispute Settlement System at its core. But we cannot afford to stand defenseless in the meantime. These measures allow us to respond resolutely and assertively.”

In line with the Political Guidelines of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission is further reinforcing the Union’s tools to focus on compliance and enforcement of the EU’s trade agreements.

Ensuring the respect of the commitments agreed with other trade partners is a key priority of this Commission. The EU is therefore increasing the focus on enforcing its partners’ commitments in multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements. In so doing the Union will rely on a suite of instruments.

Background

The proposal to amend the existing Enforcement Regulation came as a reaction to the blockage of the operations of the WTO Appellate Body. The current regulation – a basis under EU law for adopting trade countermeasures – requires that a dispute goes all the way through the WTO procedures, including the appeal stage, before the Union can react. The lack of a functioning WTO Appellate Body allows WTO Members to avoid their obligations and escape a binding ruling by simply appealing a panel report.

The revised Regulation enables the EU to react even if the WTO has not delivered a final ruling because the other WTO member blocks the dispute procedure by appealing to the non-functioning Appellate Body and by not agreeing to an alternative arbitration under WTO Dispute Settlement Agreement.

This new mechanism also applies to the dispute settlement in relation to regional or bilateral trade agreements to which the EU is party if a similar blockage arises. The EU must be able to respond resolutely in case trade partners hinder effective dispute settlement resolution, for instance, by blocking the composition of panels.

Anti-coercion mechanism

As part of the agreement, the Commission committed to developing the EU’s anti-coercion mechanism swiftly. As announced in the Letter of Intent of the President of the European Commission to the President of the European Parliament and President in office of the Council of 16 September 2020 the Commission shall adopt the proposal on the anti-coercion mechanism no later than the end of 2021. The anti-coercion mechanism is also included in the European Commission’s 2021 Work Programme.

Additional efforts on implementation and enforcement

In addition to upgrading the Enforcement Regulation and to proposing an anti-coercion mechanism, several other steps have been taken since the start of this Commission to strengthen and target EU implementation and enforcement efforts. This includes:

  • the appointment of a Chief Trade Enforcement Officer;
  • the creation of a new Directorate in DG Trade for enforcement, market access and SMEs; and
  • the establishment under Access2Markets of a single entry point for complaints from EU stakeholders and businesses on trade barriers on foreign markets and violations of sustainable trade commitments in EU trade agreements.

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