October in Europe

Current issues, October 2020

October 2020 is still dominated by the uncertainty related to the Covid19 pandemic. Many countries fear other partial or total closures and lockdowns. Ireland has been the first country in the European Union to impose a new lockdown that began at midnight of October 21 and will last for six weeks. Schools are the only places that will remain open because their activity is considered essential. Even if everything seems paralyzed, the European Union is the only instrument that allows Member States and their citizens to look at the future of the planet with a different and positive perspective. Let's look at what happened this October.


On the initiative of the Commission, the European Parliament is organizing a European week on gender equality - scheduled from 26 to 29 October - in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration on Women's Rights and Gender Equality. The Declaration was signed in September 1995 in the framework of the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women, which set global strategic goals to achieve gender equality in 12 areas, including economy, violence against women, the inclusion of women in environment protection activities and leadership. The week will be an opportunity to discuss the advancements made in the field of women's rights and gender equality and the challenges still to be faced.

The week also coincides with the presentation of the 2020 report prepared by the European Institute for Gender Equality EIGE, the independent EU agency responsible for monitoring states' progress on gender equality.

European Climate

On 23 October the Environment Council met in Luxembourg and reached a partial agreement on the European Commission's proposal to make the objective of climate neutrality (to be reached by 2050) legally binding. Bulgaria is the only country to abstain on the conclusions adopted. The European Parliament is pushing for a 60% reduction in gas emissions. The decision on such new intermediate climate target, which would accelerate the transition to a zero-emission continent by 2050, remains must be taken the 27 member states. European ministers also agreed on other aspects and key points of European climate law, asking the European Commission to propose an additional intermediate EU target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, in order to better frame the path towards 2050. After the adoption, negotiations between the Commission, Parliament and Council on the text of the climate law will begin with the aim of approving it by the end of the year. The final goal is to find an inter-institutional compromise by 12 December 2020, a symbolic date; in fact, the agreement would be reached exactly 5 years after the signature of the Paris Climate Agreements, underwritten by the European Union, in line with its commitment to limit global warming to below the 1.5° threshold.

Reform of the European budgetary rules

The European budgetary rules must be redefined after the crisis. Peterson Institute for International Economics and German Marshall Fund indicates how governments should keep budgetary rules and fiscal policy choices aligned. According to the latter institute, given the dramatic development of all Member States' accounts during the pandemic, a reintroduction of the (currently suspended) unreformed Stability Pact would lead to significant short-term fiscal consolidation in many countries. This would be in stark contrast to the objectives of the new EU instruments for recovery from the pandemic. Returning to pre-covid rules is not plausible. Suspending the fiscal adjustment rules was necessary in order to enable member states to support individuals' incomes and avoid bankruptcies of chain companies. There is an opportunity to reform them considering that the current economic circumstances and the historically low potential growth rates. Also, the debt portion that Member States can afford to pay in a sustainable way has grown, while the current reference values are less relevant”.

The Navalny case and the sanctions of the EU

On Thursday, October 15, the European Union decided to sanction six Russian officials and a scientific institute for poisoning the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The six will not be able to travel within the European borders and their assets will be frozen. Among the sanctioned individuals, there are two senior officials of the executive office of President Vladimir Putin, the director of the Federal Security Service and two deputy ministers of defence as well. The Russian Institute of Scientific Research for Chemistry and Organic Technology was also sanctioned and accused of promoting the use and spread of chemical weapons. The Foreign Ministers of the European Union had decided to impose the said sanctions upon request of France and Germany, after that Navalny was poisoned last August 20 with novichok, a nerve agent developed by Russia between the 1980s and 1990s. Such agent had been already used in the past to poison Putin's opponents.

In recent weeks, long talks were held about what measures the European Union could take against Russia in the Navalny case. Also, the debate was reopened on the need for the EU to adopt a more effective sanctions mechanism for those who violate human rights in the world. A Navalny law has been proposed by the High Representative of Foreign Affairs of the EU, Josep Borrell, during a meeting in the European Parliament, and it is also advocated by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. If a new sanctioning regime based on human rights was really to enter into force, the European Union would have to open disputes also with China, which is considered one of the countries that least respects international human rights laws. In order to enter into force, "Navalny law" should be unanimously approved by the Council.

The bilateral agreement between Conte and Sanchez

Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez went to Rome for a bilateral summit with Giuseppe Conte. The meeting was aimed at relaunching the relationship between Italy and Spain and enhancing their collaboration, thus winning the game of the Recovery Fund where Rome and Madrid are aligned. Both leaders supported the need to receive the needed funds as soon as possible, without waiting until mid-2021. The main items of expenditure should be dedicated to the environment, modernization and digital innovation. In particular, Madrid needs to heavily invest in these last two sectors, just like Italy. In addition, a decisive action to address the issue of immigration has been called for, in the hope that Brussels will manage relocation and repatriation cases in compliance with the European Commission's recommendations.

The presentation of the Work Programme

The European Commission has presented the strategic document for 2021. Such programme identifies six areas in which the Brussels will intervene; environment, digitization and foreign policy stand out among these. The European Union will seek to relaunch multilateralism at the international level by exploiting its soft power, and to introduce a fair global taxation for the giants of the tech sector. The document also states the need for a new strategy for the Arctic. Glaciers are melting and the climate emergency is being added to the geopolitical crisis, as new trade routes might be explored. Before it can achieve its objectives, however, the EU must get over the current pandemic by preventing inequalities among the Member States.

Sweden increases its military spending

The Swedish government has decided to increase its defence expenditure. Precisely, a 40% increase in military spending is expected for the next five years combined with a doubling of military enlisted personnel. The action was necessary because of the recent tensions with Russia in the Baltic Sea. Shortly ago, Sweden had raised its voice after that two Russian warships entered its territorial waters. Minister Hultqvist said that the possibility of an armed attack against Stockholm cannot be excluded, especially after that the intelligence service predicted a possible escalation in the Baltic Sea.

Infringement proceedings for Malta and Cyprus

The European Commission has started an infringement procedure against the two countries because of their rules on passports and citizenship. Citizens from both Malta and Cyprus can obtain a European document in exchange for payments or investments. According to Brussels, this practice does not respect the status of European citizenship and it does not comply with the principle of "sincere cooperation". In the coming months, the two countries will be called to respond to the Commission's requests; otherwise the infringement procedure will continue.

The condemnation of unpaid traineeships

The European Parliament, by a very large majority, approved a resolution condemning unpaid internships. The text states that this recurrent practice is to be considered as a form of exploitation and violation of the rights of young people. The act of the European Parliament is a non-binding act, but it is the sign of a clear political stand. The large majority in favour of the mentioned resolution has brought out a cross-party consensus on this issue, although a fine mediation has been performed. Now transforming this resolution into a legislative proposal is up to the European Commission, which may decide to do so.

Written by Suela Gjoni, in collaboration with Leonardo Chierici.

Translated by Simona Maria Vallefuoco.

Original article: published on October 31, 2020.

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