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Disinformation: How to recognise and tackle Covid-19 myths

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The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to disinformation that hampers efforts to contain the pandemic. Read on to find out what you can do.

From the original claim that the virus spread through bat-soup, to heated reports of EU countries fighting each other for dwindling supplies of medical equipment, these claims are everywhere.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said false claims “are spreading faster than the virus” and has already termed it an “infodemic of planetary proportions”. Major online platforms are already acting to limit their reach.

How can you recognise disinformation and how can you help stop it from spreading? What is the EU doing about it? Find the answers in our Q&A.

What is the EU doing to tackle disinformation?

To support factual and reliable information, there is a joint EU page about Europe’s response to the virus, which will soon include special information to correct common myths linked to the outbreak.

In addition, experts and politicians from the EU and its member states regularly hold video conferences to discuss disinformation and share methods to inform people about the risks, and how to address them. There is also pressure on online platforms to take action against online scams.

Why do people intentionally put out false information?

Some people do it for profit. It could be to sell products that do not work or to attract more visitors to their webpages, increasing income from ads.

According to a report by the EU’s special anti-disinformation team, some false claims have originated from specific political forces, including the US “alt” right, China and Russia. In these cases, the aim is political, to undermine the European Union or to create political shifts.

However, many people spreading disinformation do so, because they believe it, without intending harm.

Is disinformation about Covid-19 really that dangerous?

At a time when many people are worried and getting shocking news, it is more difficult to remain calm and fact-check as needed.

In the past, misinformation about vaccines led parents to opt out of vaccinating their children against measles and other dangerous diseases, leading to an explosion in new measles cases.

Even if people don’t believe the misinformation, it may undermine the concepts of truth and expertise, so that a spontaneous tweet by someone without a clue is valued as much as a thorough analysis by an expert.

What can I do to prevent the spread of disinformation?

Disinformation depends on people believing it and sharing. And it is easy to be fooled. To make sure you do not spread disinformation, be extra careful when sharing news that elicits a strong reaction or that seems too good or too bad to be true. An easy first check is to search the internet to see if more than one reliable source is reporting about the same thing.

What can I do if I see or hear someone share disinformation?

You can report disinformation to the social media platform where you found it. Many social media companies have committed to work against coronavirus-related disinformation.

Also, talk to the person spreading it: it was probably unintentional. Researchers say that the best way to convince people who believe in conspiracy theories is to show empathy, appeal to the person’s critical thinking and avoid ridiculing them.

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Explainer: Commission adopts new EU Air Safety List

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What is the EU Air Safety List?

The EU Air Safety List (ASL) is a list of air carriers from non-EU countries, which do not fulfil the necessary international safety standards. The carriers on the ASL are banned from operating to, in and from the EU. Also, carriers that do not operate to the EU can be put on the ASL, in order to warn the public travelling outside of the EU about their unsafe status. If the safety authorities of a third country are not able to fulfil their international safety oversight obligations, all the carriers of such country can be put on the ASL.

The EU Air Safety List, while evidently not popular with the affected countries, has developed into a very powerful, and internationally recognised tool to help improve the safety of international aviation. This is the case both for flights to the EU, but also for aviation outside of the EU. The ASL is also seen as a strong preventive tool, because countries, which are under scrutiny, tend to improve their safety oversight to prevent seeing their air carriers on the list.

Which carriers are currently on the EU Air Safety List?

After the update of June 2020, the 35th update, 96 air carriers are banned from EU skies:

  • 90 airlines certified in 16 states*, due to a lack of safety oversight by the aviation authorities from these states;
  • Six individual airlines, based on safety concerns with regard to these airlines themselves: Avior Airlines (Venezuela), Blue Wing Airlines (Suriname), Iran Aseman Airlines (Iran), Iraqi Airways (Iraq), Med-View Airlines (Nigeria) and Air Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe).

An additional three airlines are subject to operational restrictions and can only fly to the EU with specific aircraft types: Air Service Comores (the Comoros), Iran Air (Iran) and Air Koryo (North Korea).

Who is responsible for the updates to the EU Air Safety List?

For the purpose of updating the list, the Commission is assisted by the EU Air Safety Committee (ASC), which is composed of aviation safety experts from all the EU Member States and chaired by the Commission, with the support of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Acting on a proposal by the Commission, the Air Safety Committee adopts its opinion by qualified majority, which is then submitted to the European Parliament before final adoption by the Commission and subsequent publication in the Official Journal. To date, all decisions taken by the Commission to impose or to lift restrictions have always been reached with the unanimous support of the ASC. Equally, every update of the ASL met with the unanimous support of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee.

What is the procedure for updates to the EU Air Safety List?

All Member States and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have the obligation to communicate information to the Commission, which may be relevant in the context of updating the ASL. The European Commission and the Air Safety Committee use a variety of sources of information when assessing whether or not international safety standards are respected. These sources include ICAO, FAA, EASA, SAFA** and TCO*** reports, as well as information gathered by individual Member States and the Commission itself. It is important to note that this assessment is made against international safety standards (and not the EU safety standards, which are sometimes more stringent), and notably the standards promulgated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

To whom does it apply?

The rules establishing the list of banned carriers apply to all air carriers irrespective of their nationality – EU and non-EU ones. The rules apply only to commercial air transport, i.e. to air transport of passengers and cargo for remuneration or hire. The rules do not apply to private and non-commercial flights (e.g. positioning flights for maintenance purposes).

How often is the list updated and what is the timeframe for this? Is there not a risk that it will quickly become obsolete?

The Air Safety List may be updated whenever the Commission deems it is necessary, or upon request of an EU Member State. The ASC normally meets two or three times every year, as necessary. In cases of emergency, a specific procedure is foreseen.

How can an airline be cleared and taken off the list?

It is possible for states and air carriers to be removed from the air safety list. If an airline considers that it should be taken off the list because it complies with the relevant safety standards, it can address a request to the Commission, either directly or through its civil aviation authority. To enable a ban to be lifted, sufficient evidence needs to be provided to the EU to prove that the capacity of the airline and of its oversight authority to implement international safety standards is of a sufficient level. The Commission services will then assess the evidence presented by the airline and/or its oversight authority to substantiate its request for being withdrawn from the air safety list, and if the result of the assessment is positive, the Commission will make a proposal to the EU Air Safety Committee.

Notwithstanding the case of individual air carriers, if the underlying reason for an air carrier being on the ASL is due to the poor level of compliance with ICAO standards by its safety oversight authorities, it will require the state to address the significant non-compliances before that air carrier can be removed from the list.

In practical terms, this involves the air carrier and its state providing written information, attending meetings with the Commission and Member States, sometimes being subject to an on-site visit led by the Commission, and taking part in hearings in front of the Air Safety Committee.

How is an airline added to the list?

If the Commission or a Member State acquires and confirms evidence indicating serious safety deficiencies on the part of an airline or its oversight authority anywhere in the world, the list will be updated to include such airline or all the airlines of such country.

Does the inclusion of an airline in the air safety list always mean that it is no longer allowed to fly in Europe?

YES. As long as the air carrier is subject to a total ban, it cannot operate with its aircraft and personnel in the Union’s airspace. The airline is included in Annex A to the regulation whereby the Air Safety List is updated. Equally, as long as an air carrier is subject to a partial ban it can operate only with the aircraft stipulated in the Regulation. The airline is included in Annex B to the regulation whereby the Air Safety List is updated.

Banned airlines can, however, use the aircraft and personnel of other airlines, which are not on the ASL, on the basis of contracts called “wet-lease agreements”. In this way, passengers and cargo can still be transported on the basis of tickets sold by a banned airline, whereas the actual flight is operated by airlines which fully comply with the safety rules. Furthermore, aircraft which are used for government or state purposes (e.g. transport of the heads of state and/or government, humanitarian flights), do not fall under the safety requirements of ICAO. Such aircraft are considered to be operating “state flights” and they can fly into the EU even if they are banned from operating commercial flights to the EU. However, such flights do need a special authorisation (“diplomatic clearance”) from all the Member States, which the state aircraft overflies, as well as from the state of destination.

In essence, banned airlines cannot enter the sovereign airspace of any Member State and fly over their territory while they are banned (totally or partially).

Does the list prevent EU Member States from taking individual safety measures at a national level?

NO. The general principle is that whatever measure is considered at national level must be also examined at Union level. When an air carrier is considered unsafe and therefore banned in one Member State, there is an obligation to examine this measure at EU level with a view to applying it throughout the European Union. Nevertheless, even where a ban is not extended to the EU, there is scope for Member States to continue to act at national level in certain exceptional cases, particularly in emergencies or in response to a safety issue specifically affecting them.

What are airlines’ “rights of defence”?

Airlines that have been banned, or that are being investigated in view of a potential ban, have the right to express their points of view, submit any documents, which they consider appropriate for their defence, and make oral and written presentations to the Air Safety Committee and the Commission. This means that they can submit comments in writing, add new items to their file, and ask to be heard by the Commission or to attend a hearing before the Aviation Safety Committee, which then formulates its opinion based on these proceedings and the materials submitted prior to or during the hearing.

Is the Commission approach a punitive one?

The Commission’s sole aim is to improve aviation safety, which is in everyone’s interest, and in no way to affect a country’s economic or social development. Countries affected can put in place technical assistance measures to help airlines achieve a satisfactory level of aviation safety. While in the past the focus has been to put countries and carriers on the ASL, the Commission is now also focusing on working with affected states to help them improve their safety situation, in order to allow them to be released from the EU Air Safety List once the necessary safety levels have been reached.

How is the public informed about the EU Air Safety List?

The latest version of the list is made available to the public online at https://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/safety/air-ban_en. The Commission also liaises closely with European and international travel agent associations each time that any changes are made to the list in order that they may be in the best possible position to aid their clients – the passengers – in making informed decisions when making their travel arrangements. Moreover, the “Air Safety List” regulation also obliges national civil aviation authorities, EASA and airports in the territory of the Member States to bring the ASL to the attention of passengers, both via their websites and, where relevant, in their premises.

In what way does the EU Air Safety List provide rights to European travellers?

The Air Safety List Regulation establishes the right of any passenger to know the identity of every airline they fly with throughout their trip. To this effect, the contracting carrier is required to inform passengers of the identity of the operating air carrier or carriers when making a reservation, whatever the means used to make the booking. The passenger must also be kept informed of any change of operating carrier, either at check-in or, at the latest, when boarding. The Regulation also gives passengers the right to reimbursement or re-routing if a carrier with which a booking has been made is subsequently added to the Air Safety List, resulting in cancellation of the flight concerned.

In what way does the publication of the EU Air Safety List help European citizens travelling beyond EU territory?

The ASL does not only ban unsafe airlines from operating to, from and in the EU. The publication of the list also provides useful information to people wishing to travel outside the European Union, in order for them to avoid flying with these airlines. The list also safeguards the rights of consumers who have bought a trip at a travel agent, which includes a flight operated by an airline on the ASL.

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Explainer: rescEU and Humanitarian Aid under the new MFF

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Why is the Commission proposing to strengthen the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and rescEU?

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism is a crisis management structure that allows Member States and Participating States[1] to strengthen their cooperation in the field of civil protection, to improve prevention, preparedness and response to disasters. It is based on voluntary contributions of Member States, with the European Commission playing a key coordinating and co-financing role.

The need for a more flexible, faster and reactive system to respond to large-scale emergencies is one of the lessons learnt from the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The rapid spread of the virus exposed some limitations in the current crisis management framework. At times when Member States are hit by the same emergency simultaneously and unable to offer each other assistance, the EU is currently unable to help quickly enough to fill these critical gaps as it does not have its own assets and has to rely on voluntary support from Member States.

A reinforcement and upgrade of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism – as requested by the European Council in March 2020 – is therefore necessary to avoid situations where Member States are left alone during crises.

What is the main objective of the proposal?

The Commission’s proposes to allow the EU and its Member States to be better prepared for and able to react quickly and flexibly to crises, in particular those with a high-impact given the potential disruption to our economies and societies.

Under the Commission’s proposal, the EU will be able to;

  • directly procure an adequate safety net of rescEU capacities;
  • use its budget more flexibly to be able to prepare more effectively and react faster in times of exceptional needs
  • dispose of the logistical capacity to provide multi-purpose air services in case of emergencies and to ensure timely transport and delivery of assistance;

These strategic capacities will be supplementary to those of the EU Member States. They should be strategically pre-positioned in such a way as to ensure the most effective geographic coverage in response to an emergency.

In this way, a sufficient number of strategic assets will be available in order to support Member and Participating States in situations of large-scale emergencies and offer an effective EU-response.

What kinds of action will be financed under the proposal?

The upgraded EU Civil Protection Mechanism will equip the European Union with assets and logistical infrastructure that can cater for different types of emergencies, including those with a medical emergency dimension. This would allow the EU to:

  • Acquire, rent, lease and stockpile identified rescEU capacities;
  • Fully finance the development and the operational cost of all rescEU capacities as a strategic European reserve in case national capacities are overwhelmed;
  • Enhance the funding for national capacities deployed under the European Civil Protection Pool to increase their availability for deployment;
  • Ensure timely transport and delivery of requested assistance. This also includes internationally deployable experts, technical and scientific support for all types of disasters as well as specific medical equipment and personnel such as ‘flying medical experts’, nurses and epidemiologists.

Humanitarian Aid

How will EU humanitarian aid be enhanced under the new MFF?

The Commission proposes €14.8 billion for humanitarian aid, of which €5 billion come from the European Union Recovery Instrument to reinforce the humanitarian aid instrument.

The increased budget reflects the growing humanitarian needs in the most vulnerable parts of the world. The Humanitarian Aid Instrument will provide needs-based delivery of EU assistance to save and preserve lives, prevent and alleviate human suffering, and safeguard the integrity and dignity of populations affected by natural hazards or man-made crises.

A significantly enhanced Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve will reinforce EU action in response to all aspects of the health crisis, as well as other emergencies. Funds can be channelled to provide emergency support as and when needed through EU instruments such as humanitarian aid in cases where funding under dedicated programmes proves insufficient.

Why is the Commission proposing to increase humanitarian aid budget?

Humanitarian crises in the world are increasing: In 2020, nearly 168 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection, a significant increase from 130 million people in 2018 (OCHA humanitarian needs overview 2020). The needs are stemming from the conflicts, global refugee crisis, worsening natural disasters due to climate change.

The coronavirus pandemic further increases already existing humanitarian needs. It has a major health, social and economic impact on societies around the globe, in particular on the poorest countries. It is estimated that up to 265 million people worldwide could be under severe threat of hunger by the end of 2020 due to the effects of the pandemic (OCHA humanitarian needs overview 2020). This requires strong reinforcements to the humanitarian aid budget to meet the growing needs.

The EU adapted its humanitarian response in light of the needs stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. However, the impact of the pandemic and the economic fall-out, are compounding existing needs, making it all the more important that the Union is equipped to demonstrate solidarity with the rest of the world.

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Explainer: The proposed InvestEU Programme

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Why do we need InvestEU for the post-coronavirus recovery?

InvestEU is the EU’s proposed flagship investment programme to kick-start the European economy. It is well-placed to provide long-term funding and to support Union policies in the recovery from a deep economic and social crisis. This has been shown with the successful implementation of the European Fund for Strategic Investments and other EU financial instruments in the wake of the past financial crisis.

In the current coronavirus crisis, the market allocation of financial resources is not fully efficient and perceived risk impairs private investment significantly. Deep uncertainty currently compromises the quality of financial market information and lenders’ ability to assess the viability of companies and investment projects. If left unchecked, this can create pervasive risk aversion towards private investment projects and contribute to a ‘credit crunch’. Under such circumstances, the key feature of InvestEU of de-risking projects to crowd in private finance is particularly valuable and should be utilised.

An enhanced InvestEU programme thanks to Next Generation EU will be able to provide crucial support to companies and to ensure a strong focus of investors on the Union’s medium- and long-term policy priorities, such as the European Green Deal and the digitalisation transition and greater resilience. To address all of these challenges, the Commission is updating its original InvestEU proposal from 2018 to make sure it can better respond tothe current economic crisis.

What are the main changes to InvestEU?

The new proposal contains two main changes to the InvestEU Programme as partially agreed between co-legislators in April 2019:

  • An increase of the InvestEU budget to reflect the higher investment needs and an environment of increased risk. The financial envelope for the sustainable infrastructure window is doubled, in line with the President’s Communication “Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation”.
  • A broadened scope through the addition of a fifth window – the strategic European investment window – in order to cater for the future needs of the European economy and to promote and secure EU strategic autonomy in key sectors.

What will the new strategic European investment window finance?

The outbreak of the pandemic has shown the interconnectivity of global supply chains and exposed some vulnerabilities, such as the over-reliance of strategic industries on non-diversified external supply sources. Such vulnerabilities need to be addressed, to improve the Union’s emergency response as well as the resilience of the entire economy, while maintaining its openness to competition and trade in line with its rules. The new strategic European investment windowwill focus on building stronger European value chains in line with the strategic agenda of the Union and the New Industrial Strategy for Europe, as well as supporting activities in critical infrastructure and technologies

This reinforcement is of particular importance in the post-crisis situation, as some Member States might not have sufficient financial capacity to support these projects with national State aid. Moreover, many of these projects are cross-border and require a European approach.

How will the new window complement the pre-existing windows?

In the current context, the strategic European investment window would bring value added to the original windows, as it focuses on recipients or projects based on their high European strategic importance.

The new window would both target specific projects (e.g. supporting large consortia or public-private partnerships aimed at developing a specific technology and building critical infrastructure) and provide diffused financing, for instance by supporting the emergence of whole ecosystems of entrepreneurs active in the targeted sectors (e.g. innovative SMEs working on technologies of potential relevance to industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals).

The additionality requirements under this window would also differ from those envisaged for the other windows. For instance, the additionality of the support under the new window to large corporates would be in maintaining and developing their production within the Union or under the control of European investors and in scaling up the deployment of innovative technologies, rather than in purely risk-related considerations of the InvestEU support.

What are the changes in budgetary terms[1]?

The new proposal foresees an increase of the original financial envelope. This includes a doubling of the guarantee amount allocated to the sustainable infrastructure window under the InvestEU Fund as well as the allocation of an additional guarantee amount to the new window. More concretely:

  • Sustainable infrastructure window: €20 bn
  • Research, innovation and digitisation window: €10 bn
  • SME window: €10 bn
  • Social investment and skills window: €3.6 bn
  • Strategic European investment window: €31 bn

The new proposal also foresees an increase of the financial envelope allocated to the InvestEU Advisory Hub by an amount of €200 million to cater for the needs of the new window as well as the increasing needs of the other four windows.

How will InvestEU work?

The main principle of how InvestEU will function does not change. The InvestEU Fund will mobilise public and private investment through an EU budget guarantee of €75 billion that will back the investment projects of implementing partners such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group and others, and increase their risk-bearing capacity.

Under the new proposal, the guarantee will be provisioned at 45%, meaning that €34 billion of the EU budget is set aside in case calls are made on the guarantee. The size of the provisioning is based on the type of envisaged financial products and the riskiness of the portfolios, taking into account the experience under the EFSI and current financial instruments, as well as the likely changes in market circumstances following the coronavirus crisis.

What is the role of the EIB Group in the new proposal?

Given its role under the Treaties, its capacity to operate in all Member States and the existing experience under the current financial instruments and the EFSI, the European Investment Bank Group will remain a privileged implementing partner for the InvestEU. It will implement 75% of the EU guarantee.

The EIB Group will also play a central role in implementing advisory support under the InvestEU Advisory Hub. Moreover, it will advise the Commission and perform operational tasks in relation to the Hub.

Is the new window open to other implementing partners than the EIB Group?

Yes. The new window is open to other implementing partners than the EIB Group, including national promotional banks and institutions, as well as international financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or the Council of Europe Development Bank.

The Commission will continue the discussions with potential implementing partners to ensure a swift and efficient deployment of the instrument, which is even more crucial under the current circumstances.

Are there any changes to the InvestEU governance?

An Investment Committee composed of independent experts will remain responsible for approving the individual requests. As the Investment Committee will operate in different configurations corresponding to the InvestEU policy windows, a fifth configuration has been added to the proposal.

Are there any changes to the InvestEU eligibility criteria?

The policy areas eligible for financing and investment operations under the existing four windows remain the same as proposed and negotiated in annex II to  the InvestEU Regulation. However, for the strategic European investment window, new intervention areas are introduced, as referenced above.

In case a financing or investment operation proposed to the Investment Committee falls under more than one policy window, it will be attributed to the policy window under which its main objective or the main objective of most of its sub-projects falls. The Investment Guidelines will specify the criteria for the allocation of financial products (under which financing and investment operations will be submitted) to specific windows.

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