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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

Innovation performance keeps improving in EU Member States and regions

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The Commission has today released the European Innovation Scoreboard 2021, which shows that Europe’s innovation performance continues to improve across the EU. On average, innovation performance has increased by 12.5% since 2014. There is continued convergence within the EU, with lower performing countries growing faster than higher performing ones, therefore closing the innovation gap among them. According to the 2021 Regional Innovation Scoreboard also published today, this trend applies to innovation across EU regions. In the global landscape, the EU is performing better than its competitors like China, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, and India, while South Korea, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Japan have a performance lead over the EU. This year’s European Innovation Scoreboard is based on a revised framework, which includes new indicators on digitalisation and environmental sustainability, bringing the scoreboard more in line with the EU political priorities.

Key findings 

 Based on their scores, EU countries fall into four performance groups: Innovation leaders, Strong innovators, Moderate innovators and Emerging innovators. 

  • Sweden continues to be the  EU Innovation Leader, followed by Finland, Denmark and Belgium, all with innovation performance well above the EU average. 
  • The performance groups tend to be geographically concentrated, with the Innovation Leaders and most Strong Innovators being located in Northern and Western Europe, and most of the Moderate and Emerging Innovators in Southern and Eastern Europe. 
  • On average, the innovation performance of the EU has increased by 12.5 percentage points since 2014.  Performance has increased the most in Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Italy and Lithuania. 
  • Five Member States witnessed an improvement in performance of 25 percentage points or more (Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Italy and Lithuania). Four Member States had a performance improvement of between 15 and 25 percentage points (Belgium, Croatia, Finland, and Sweden). For eight Member States, performance improved between 10 and 15 percentage points (Austria, Czechia, Germany, Latvia Malta, Netherlands, Poland and Spain). The remaining 10 Member States witnessed an improvement in performance of up to ten percentage points.
  • Comparing the EU average to a selection of global competitors, South Korea is the most innovative country, performing 36% above the score of the EU in 2014 and 21% above the EU in 2021. The EU is ahead of China, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, and India in this year’s EIS, while Canada, Australia, the United States, and Japan have a performance lead over the EU. 
  • Innovation performance has increased for 225 regions out of the total of 240 regions over the period since 2014. There has been a process of convergence in regional performance over time, with decreasing performance differences between regions. 
  • The most innovative region in Europe is Stockholm in Sweden, followed by Etelä-Suomi in Finland, and Oberbayern in Germany. Hovedstaden in Denmark is in fourth place, and Zürich in Switzerland is in fifth place. 

Members of the College said:

Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, said: “European innovations like the technologies at the heart of new COVID-19 vaccines have been crucial to fighting and overcoming the current pandemic. The EU’s improved innovation performance is a very positive signal. Investing in innovation is investing in our ability to be at the technological forefront for a sustainable, digital and resilient economy and society.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “Europe’s commitment to innovation is shown by its continuous improvement in innovation performance. All EU Member States and regions are investing more on innovation and the innovation gap in the EU is decreasing. In support of Europe’s innovation capacity, Horizon Europe will promote excellence and support top researchers and innovators to drive the systemic changes needed to ensure a green, healthy and resilient Europe.”

Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, said: “Innovation is increasingly one of the deciding factors to promote development and convergence across the European. While these important reports highlight the progress made in much of Europe, a significant innovation divide still remains, particularly for less developed and peripheral regions. Addressing the innovation divide is critical for economic, social and territorial cohesion. Cohesion funds will continue to promote smart and place based innovation strategies.

Background 

The European innovation scoreboard provides a comparative analysis of innovation performance in EU countries, other European countries and regional neighbors. It assesses relative strengths and weaknesses of national innovation systems and helps countries identify areas they need to address. The first European innovation scoreboard was released in 2001. The European Innovation Scoreboard demonstrates the commitment of the EU and its Member States to research and innovation that is based on excellence and that it is competitive, open and talent-driven. It also supports the development of policies to enhance innovation in Europe and inform policy makers in the rapidly evolving global context. Moreover, research and innovation is an essential part of the coordinated EU response to the coronavirus crisis, supporting also Europe’s sustainable and inclusive recovery. Measuring innovation performance is a key element in achieving this goal.  

About two-thirds of Europe’s productivity growth over the last decades has been driven by innovation, according to the report ‘Science, Research and Innovation performance of the EU, 2020 (SRIP)‘. Research and innovation boost the resilience of our production sectors, the competitiveness of our economies and the digital and ecological transformations of our societies. They also ensure preparedness for the future and are critical to deliver on the European Green Deal and on the Digital Compass.  Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme for the years 2021-2027 with a budget of €95.5 billion, will help accelerate Europe’s environmental and digital transformations. Over the same period, cohesion policy will invest over €56.8 billion in research and innovation capacities, digitalisation and skills to support the innovative and green economic transformation of the European regions. These aims also lie at the core of the EU’s updated Industrial Strategy, which proposes new measures to strengthen the resilience of our Single Market. The Strategy also proposes measures to respond to our dependencies in key strategic areas as well as accelerate the green and digital transitions – all of which will be instrumental in boosting the EU’s performance in innovation. In addition, the European Research Area (ERA) will create a single and borderless market for research, innovation and technology, based on excellence, while at the same time boosting the market uptake of research and innovation results across the EU.

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EU clears way for the EU Digital COVID Certificate

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Today, the Presidents of the three EU institutions, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process. On this occasion Presidents David Sassoli and Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister António Costa said:

“The EU Digital COVID Certificate is a symbol of what Europe stands for. Of a Europe that does not falter when put to the test. A Europe that unites and grows when faced with challenges. Our Union showed again that we work best when we work together. The EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation was agreed between our institutions in the record time of 62 days. While we worked through the legislative process, we also built the technical backbone of the system, the EU gateway, which is live since 1 June.

We can be proud of this great achievement. The Europe that we all know and that we all want back is a Europe without barriers. The EU Certificate will again enable citizens to enjoy this most tangible and cherished of EU rights – the right to free movement. Signed into law today, it will enable us to travel more safely this summer. Today we reaffirm together that an open Europe prevails.”

EU Digital COVID Certificate

The aim of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is to facilitate safe and free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. All Europeans have the right to free movement, also without the certificate, but the certificate will facilitate travel, exempting holders from restrictions like quarantine.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be accessible for everyone and it will:

  • cover COVID-19 vaccination, test and recovery;
  • be free of charge and available in all EU languages;
  • be available in a digital and paper-based format;
  • be secure and include a digitally signed QR code;

Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.

In addition, the Commission committed to mobilising €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

The Regulation will apply for 12 months as of 1 July 2021.

Background

On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to create an EU COVID Certificate to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens within the EU during the pandemic. On 20 May, co-legislators reached a provisional agreement. On 1 June, the technical backbone of the systems, the EU gateway, went live. The gateway allows the verification of the security features contained in the QR codes.

Following the official signature today, the Regulation will enter into application on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.

13 Member States have already started to issue EU Digital COVID Certificates.

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EU proposes a strong multilateral trade response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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EU has submitted its proposal seeking the commitment of World Trade Organization (WTO) members for a multilateral trade action plan to expand the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and ensure universal and fair access. With this proposal to the WTO, divided in two communications, the EU underlines the WTO’s central role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and urges fellow WTO members to agree on a set of commitments, including on intellectual property rights.

President von der Leyen said: “The EU has actively shown solidarity with the world since the beginning of the pandemic. The European Union authorized exports of around half of the total amount of vaccines produced in Europe. Our immediate, urgent goal is to ensure equitable access for low – and middle-income countries, to share vaccines wider and faster. And we continue to help ramping up production. The EU proposes concrete short and medium term solutions to ensure universal access at affordable prices. I am looking forward to discuss with the G7 leaders next week how to achieve this goal. Beyond the current crisis, it is important to ensure global preparedness for future pandemics: diversifying manufacturing so that it is not centralised only in a handful of countries and strengthening the resilience of the healthcare infrastructure in least developed countries”.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The pandemic is still with us and there can be no room for complacency. We need to urgently concentrate on proposals that accelerate the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. In this respect, a strong multilateral trade response could deliver a huge boost in the fight against COVID-19. In reality, the main problem at this moment relates to the lack of sufficient manufacturing capacity to rapidly produce the required quantities. The objective must be to ensure that any available and adequate manufacturing capacity anywhere in the world is used for the COVID-19 vaccines production.”

More on the EU’s proposal

The EU calls on governments to:

  1. Ensure that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and their components can cross borders freely;
  2. encourage producers to expand their production, while ensuring that those countries most in need of vaccines receive them at an affordable price, and;
  3. facilitate the use of compulsory licensing within the WTO’s existing Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS Agreement already provides this flexibility, which is a legitimate tool during the pandemic that can be used swiftly where needed

The first element aims to limit the use of export restrictions and keep supply chains open. Vaccine-producing countries should be ready to export a fair share of their domestic production. Supply chains are highly interconnected and should not be disrupted. In addition, the EU considers that supplies to the COVAX Facility should never be restricted, and no measures should limit trade in inputs necessary for the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 

The second element calls on governments to strongly encourage and support vaccine manufacturers and developers to expand production and ensure the affordable supply of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Such actions could include licensing agreements, the sharing of expertise, tiered pricing including non-profit sales to low-income countries, contract manufacturing and new investments in manufacturing facilities in developing countries. The EU expects all vaccine producers and developers to make concrete pledges that increase supplies to vulnerable developing countries. In this regard, the EU welcomes the commitment of companies such as BioNTech and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, which have already committed to delivering 1.3 billion doses this year to low-income countries at no profit and to middle-income countries at lower cost.

The third element, on intellectual property, sets out that voluntary licences are the most effective instrument to facilitate the expansion of production and sharing of expertise. Where voluntary cooperation fails, compulsory licences, whereby a government grants a targeted licence allowing a willing producer to make a vaccine without the consent of a patent holder, are a legitimate tool in the context of a pandemic. The EU considers that all WTO members should be ready to:

  • agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional circumstance of national emergency, and that the requirement to negotiate with the rights’ holder may be legitimately waived where needed;
  • support manufacturers that are ready to produce vaccines and/or treatments at affordable prices under a compulsory licence so that the level of remuneration paid by the manufacturer to the patent holder reflects such affordable prices;
  • agree that the compulsory licence could cover any exports destined to countries that lack manufacturing capacity, including via the COVAX facility.

The EU is also tabling a dedicated communication on intellectual property to the WTO body in charge of implementing the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council). Here, the EU provides more detail and clarity on each of the three points on intellectual property and links them with the specific provisions in the TRIPS Agreement. As regards the broad waiver proposed by a number of WTO members, the European Commission, while ready to discuss any option that helps end the pandemic as soon as possible, is not convinced that this would provide the best immediate response to reach the objective of the widest and timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines that the world urgently needs. Today’s proposals aim at achieving that objective in a swift and effective manner.

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