Whither European asylum policy?


Whither European asylum policy

It is unquestionable that the recent waves of population who have fled their home in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries have caused one of the most severe humanitarian crisis in modern history. The geographical proximity, the relatively easy accessibility by land and the welfare-based State governance of Europe have turned into the main destination point for the more than two million refugees who arrived since 2015.

Precisely this was the topic of the conference held in the magnificent Thon Hotel EU the past Thursday 23rd of May. Under the title “Whither European asylum policy? A pendulum between universalisation and re-nationalisation”, the University of Bergen put together a high-profile panel of experts who shared their opinion on the new Common European Asylum System, which aims to harmonise the asylum procedures of all Schengen States.

The CEAS will gather the most effective practices that Member States have been applying up to this date to homogenise the European asylum regulation to grant an equal protection to all asylum seekers regardless of the country they first set foot on. However ideal this may sound, it seems that the response mechanisms currently in place in the different Member States are overall extremely lacking both in securing a protective environment for the refugees and in providing a cost-efficient solution for national governments. In the words of Mr. Hakan G. Sicakkan, convener of the conference, most Member States are strategically neglecting the Geneva Convention guidelines for humanitarian protection by creating their own national citizenship model that best fits the political orientation of the parties in power. His eye-opening statistical studies based on regressions were followed by a very grounded, straightforward insight into the States’ political game by the Member of the European Parliament Mrs. Jean Lambert. “States are unable to look at each other’s systems and learn from their neighbours”, she pointed out as an example of the Member States’ lack of solidarity. And precisely about this word was the speech given by Twente University’s professor Claudio Matera, who compared it to the principle of loyal cooperation to which all EU countries are subject under article 4(3) of the Treaty of the European Union. The attendees also got an insight into the reality of “protected refugees”, who are left in a sort of non-juridically defined “limbo” where their mental and emotional welfare is put at risk due to unjustified prolongation of the waiting time to receive official refugee status. Following a deep exploration of the IR measures currently in place in Norway – which according to Ms. Bendixsen are greatly feared by the refugees they are directed at, due to their inefficacy – the conference gave place to Mr. Stephen Ryan, Deputy Head of Unit for Asylum in the European Commission (DG Home Affairs). Mr. Ryan highlighted the benefits of the new CEAS as a long-term politically sustainable and coordinated mechanism. While he pointed at human dignity as the red line that no country should ever cross, he mainly favoured the creation of a uniform policy that distributes the burden of hosting in an organised way and takes a realistic approach towards the financial and political capabilities of national governments. The last speaker to intervene was Mr. Dominique Guibert, president of the European Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AEDH), who provided seven steps (in French) towards improving the situation of both refugees and host countries – amongst them, he highlighted strengthening the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and investing a lot more in development in the origin countries to tackle the problem from the root.

The conference finished with a compelling roundtable where all the present stakeholders could compare their stances towards revisiting the national asylum mechanisms to build a one-size-fits-all European system for protection of incoming refugees. We thank the University of Bergen and Thon Hotel for hosting such an insightful event, and we hope that the CEAS provides the solution that this unprecedented humanitarian crisis has been calling for.

Sustainability in Europe

Martin's Brussels Hotel, 15th of April 2018

The Martin’s Brussels Hotel in Boulevard de Charlemagne saw, on the past 15th of April, a presentation on the current issues on sustainable development that are being discussed in the neighbouring Berlaymont building, notorious home to the European Commission in Brussels. Some honourable experts and EU policymakers attended the meeting and turned it into a high-profile panel discussion on the need for an urgent, effective and immediate response to the unsustainable production and consumption system the EU countries are following.

Careless use of resources is leading to an unsustainable path towards development creating something similar to a vicious circle, where powerful business interests and a longstanding negligence of the problem by the Member States seem to do nothing to redress it. A weak enforcement of the EU climate regulations and a somewhat lacking policy-making effort by the Member States are to blame for the virtually inexistent change in the climate figures over the last 10 years throughout the continent. The Paris Protocol and the 12 UN Sustainable Development Goals seem to have fallen into wet paper, but the member of the Budget Committee in the European Parliament Mr. Petri Sarvamaa was clear to point out that these are nonetheless the appropriate baselines on which we need to build the future agenda on sustainability. In fact, he revealed that the Parliament’s goal for Horizon 2020 is to raise the Commission’s climate budget from the 19,4% of the recent 2018 proposal to an ideal 30%. Mr Janez Potocnik, former EU Commissioner for Environment, likewise drew the attention to the 1992 Rio Conventions on Sustainability, calling for the creation of a new instrument to unify such three conventions adapting them to the current European economic model. This instrument shall be the MFF, expected to be released by summer 2019, a document that has been at the centre of the discussion throughout the conference. Many expectations are put on the MFF, judging by the speakers’ interventions, as a milestone in climate change policies and gamechanging sustainable development measures which must be, according to Mr. Potocnik, the result of a common effort of all Member States to sacrifice part of their sovereignty for the sake of the planet.

An interesting insight into the autonomous territory of Aland, in the Finnish peninsula, provided the audience with an extraordinary example of a global and long-term sustainable governance with no precedent, which despite the small size of the country can be scalable to a wider European level. This possibility raises the hopes of many of the experts that gathered at the event, as long as – hopefully – the Member States are finally able to set their differences and economic interests aside and start focusing on the much more concerning issue of protecting the planet for generations to come.

Building Climate Resilience

Friends of Europe HQ, 24th April 2018

The exponential rise in the intensity and frequency of extreme events have largely proofed that the nexus between climate and resilience is becoming more and more evident. Throughout the conference “Building Climate Resilience”, Friends of Europe caught the occasion to open the debate on how could we feasibly build resilient states and communities to enable local territories and stakeholders to decrease their exposure to vulnerabilities and consequently, to better absorb changes. Among the speakers, we had the opportunity to meet Mr. Brown (UNEP), Ms. Kelly (Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), Mr. Maire (Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Paris) and Mr. Ruehle (NATO), moderated by Mr. Kanani.

By 2050, more than 2/3 of world population will live in urban areas. Hence, it is fundamental to accelerate resilient development strategy and risk reduction by enabling a multi-stakeholders and holistic strategic planning, as experienced by the interdepartmental cooperation by the city of Paris. Even thought, two challenges to building a pathway for resilience still need to be figure out. First, local authorities still lack a clear set of tools to strengthen their capacity. Second, even though governance is the enabling process to produce an integrated and multi-sectorial resilience plan, cooperation among stakeholders and political will appear to be a big challenge to be overcome case by case throughout awareness, common vision and open debate.

The EU Manifesto on Influenza Vaccination

The Renaissance Hotel, 24th April 2018

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The sophisticated hotel in Brussels hosted an outstanding event with the most skilful researchers and notable representatives of European health and medical institutions, who came together to present a manifesto on the need to expand the coverage of Influenza vaccination in Europe. Such collective effort, lead by the Steering Group for Influenza Vaccination, must be taken in the context of the 2009 European Council Recommendation on seasonal influenza vaccination, which encouraged Member States to implement strategies to increase the scope of such vaccination, with the aim to cover at least 75% of the population.

Excellently introduced by the two co-chairs of the Steering Group on Influenza Vaccination, Ms. Grossetête – through video recording – and Prof Szucs, the launch of the manifesto counted with the inestimable support of Mr. Prats Monné, Director-General for Health and Food Safety in the European Commission, who took the opportunity to announce that the Commission is working in a new proposal for a Council recommendation on the urgent need to reduce the burden of this disease in European countries. The proposal was scheduled to be released to the public on the 25th of April.

Throughout the event, a panel made of eight speakers from different backgrounds and notable positions in public health institutions explained the motivation behind the drafting of the manifesto and addressed the challenges that the epidemic threat of influenza in Europe is posing to public health. Although the development of the influenza vaccination is considered one of the greatest medical achievements of the past century, coverage rates of this seasonal vaccination remain low and even declining in most countries in Europe. This fact has raised deep concerns in the medical community since there are certain groups of people who are particularly at risk of suffering life-threatening bursts of this disease, resulting in 650,000 deaths worldwide every year.

The expert panel discussion brought together a diverse range of stakeholders who gave their opinion on the weaknesses of the current vaccination spread policies and suggested a number of actions to approach the visible lack of information regarding the life-threatening nature of influenza. Virtually all the decision-making groups were represented in the panel: Mr. Aligiannis for the European Patients’ Forum; Prof. Catchpole for the ECDC; Prof. Esposito for the World Association for Infectious Diseases and Immunological Disorders, Ms. Logan for the Irish Pharmacy Union, Mr. Oomen for the ESNO and Dr. Van der Hoek, for the World Medical Association, as well as Prof. Szucs. Amongst others, they suggested health system-wide policies to raise awareness amongst the population, specific training for doctors, nurses and pharmacists, and a people-centred, effective outreach program to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the benefits of seasonal influenza vaccination.

The event, which finished with the signature of the Manifesto, was an overall accomplishment as for the quality of the interventions, the world-class attendees and the superlative scientific effort that lies behind the Manifesto, which yet was communicated in a very user-friendly way for the untrained listener.

We would like to give a special mention to Renaissance Hotels, who managed to offer an exquisite conference in a perfect setting to call for the promotion of influenza vaccination uptake. We will be more than pleased to offer our services to public and private actors who decide to brave on such challenging goal.

Robots and Artificial Intelligence: the next Frontier for Employment and European Economic Policy

Brüegel, 18th April 2018

The evolution of automated robots and artificial intelligence have grown faster in the last 4 decades with evident application over a vast variety of sectors. In between 1990 and 2007, the price of robots had felt more than 50%, while quality increased by 3 times. Recent studies display that 54% and 47% of EU and US job opportunities (respectively) are at risk because of technological unemployment and rising automation in production (Bowles, 2014; Frey & Osborne, 2013, 2017). Unfortunately, current studies are unable to display the net effect of robotization on the total economy and, more specifically, whether productivity gains rather than displacement effect would prevail or vice versa.

On 18th April, we had the honour to assist on the results from the working Paper on “The impact of Industrial Robots on EU employment and Wages: a Local Labour Market Approach.” (Chiacchio, Petropoulos, Pichier). The paper aimed to explore the impact on wages and employment produced by the exposure to robots in the industrial sector through an empirical study across the six countries concentrating 85.5% of EU industrial robots (France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden) for the period 1995-2007. Even thought, evidence shows that the reduction in job opportunities is largely less significant than foreseen in the US literature, it mainly affects young people (15-24 years old), low and high-educated people, men. Industrial robots’ effects on total economy is negative and particularly strong in the industrial sector, while no evident impact is on wages.

The second part of the discussion have involved a number of influent actors on the role of policy to improve regulation of artificial intelligence and robots at the EU and international level. Among the others, I would like to highlight the formal proposition of Mr. Mariniello, working as Digital Adviser at the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), to the European Commission through “Towards a EU Strategy for Human Centric Machines.” He explored the role and possibilities of the EU to create to support Artificial Intelligence while identifying and addressing, simultaneously, social risks and the need for global quality standards.

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