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  1. newsThis week in plenary: safe food, melting ice caps and a prejudice that won’t go away

    Plenary Session Article - External/international trade / Environment / Food safety17-03-2017 - 11:03

    Modern threats and ancient prejudices dominated Parliament’s March 2017 plenary session. The need to ensure that our food is safe was debated as were the threats and opportunities of melting polar ice. At the same time, the inequality still facing women in the workplace was underlined and an MEP who berated women punished, while most MEPs called on Europe to step in and replace the funds the United States is withdrawing from NGOs offering abortions in developing countries.


    Close to three quarters of all waste should be recycled by 2030, Parliament said in a resolution setting out its position on limiting landfilling and incineration of rubbish. This comes ahead of negotiations with the member states on EU legislation aiming to reduce the environmental impact of waste.


    Much remains to be done in Europe before true gender equality is achieved, Parliament said on Tuesday, underlining amongst others the persistent male-female worker pay-gap. In a separate decision, Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke was severely sanctioned by Parliament for derogatory comments towards women during the previous plenary session.


    Shareholders will be given a greater say in how company directors are paid, following new rules approved by Parliament on Tuesday. The aim is to help give firms a longer term outlook. The real owners and shareholders will also be easier to identify.

    The newly re-imposed US “gag rule” cutting public funding to NGOs providing abortions and other family planning services in developing countries was debated in plenary on Tuesday. Most MEPs wanted member states to step in and fill the gap in funding while others said that the EU should respect the US government’s decision.


    Horsemeat sold as beef grabbed the headlines in 2013 but the need to better control the long and convoluted supply chains bringing food to our plates has not gone away. On Wednesday, members voted to bring more clarity and accountability to the system and strengthen Europe’s already high food standards.


    98% of farmed rabbits are raised in battery cages and improving their welfare can only help prevent diseases and reduce the need for antibiotics that are passed on to humans, says a resolution voted on on Tuesday calling for healthier yet affordable alternatives. In a separate resolution MEPs asked for better protection of abandoned horses and donkeys.


    MEPs approved new rules that will free up the 700 MHz band currently used for digital TV, but also wireless microphones, for super-fast 5G mobile internet by mid-2020.


    Common European developments in defence require the political will of EU countries as legal provisions are already present in the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs said on Thursday, also calling for better cooperation between Europe’s militaries and adding that the current fragmentation of defence procurement costs member states billions of euro.


    In a debate on Wednesday to commemorate the victims of the Brussels terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016, members stressed that European countries need to share information more efficiently and improve the interoperability of EU databases, as well as prevent radicalisation and help victims of terrorism.


    On Thursday, Parliament approved EU rules to stop the financing of armed groups and human rights abuses through the trade in minerals such as tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold.


    Climate change is raising geopolitical tensions in the Arctic. While the melting of Arctic ice is unlocking new opportunities in the form of shipping routes and oil and gas stocks, it is also increasing tensions and creating risks for the environment. On Thursday, members adopted a resolution insisting that the Arctic remain a low-tension area. Highlighting its vulnerable ecosystem, they also called for a ban on Arctic oil and gas extraction.


    Tighter rules to better control blank-firing and inadequately deactivated weapons were approved on Tuesday in legislation first proposed in the aftermath of the 2015 Paris attacks. Member states will also have to better monitor firearm possession licences and exchange information.

    REF. : 20170310STO66218 Updated: ( 17-03-2017 - 11:55 Copyright European Union

  2. newsThe European Commission and Member States consumer authorities ask social media companies to comply with EU consumer rules

    EU consumer authorities and organisations have received a growing number of complaints from consumers, who have been targeted by fraud or scams when using social media websites, as well as having been subject to certain terms of services that do not respect EU consumer law.

    On this basis, EU consumer authorities, under the leadership of the French consumer authority and with the support of the European Commission, sent a letter to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ last November asking them to address two areas of concern.

    On Thursday 16 March, EU consumer authorities and the European Commission met with these companies to hear and discuss their proposed solutions. The companies in question will finalise detailed measures on how to comply with the EU regulatory framework within one month. The Commission and the consumer authorities will review the final proposals. If they are not satisfactory, consumer authorities could ultimately resort to enforcement action.

    On the occasion, Commissioner Jourová said: "Social media has become part of our daily lives and a majority of Europeans use it regularly. Given the growing importance of online social networks it is time to make sure that our strong EU rules, that are there to protect consumers from unfair practices, are complied with in this sector. It is not acceptable that EU consumers can only call on a court in California to resolve a dispute. Nor can we accept that users are deprived of their right to withdraw from an on-line purchase. Social media companies also need to take more responsibility in addressing scams and fraud happening on their platforms. I want to thank the EU consumer authorities who have worked tirelessly with the Commission on this important issue over the past months. From today, social media companies have one month to come up with solutions to comply with EU rules."

    Companies have agreed to propose changes focusing on two areas:

    • Unfair terms and conditions;
    • addressing fraud and scams that mislead consumers when using the social networks.

    Clarification of terms or removal of illegal terms

    Social media platforms' terms of services should be brought into conformity with European consumer law. Indeed, the Unfair Contract Terms Directive requires that standard terms which create a significant imbalance in parties' rights and obligations, to the detriment of the consumer (Article 3) are deemed unfair -and therefore invalid. The Directive also requires that terms are drafted in plain and intelligible language (Article 5) so that consumers are informed in a clear and understandable manner about their rights.

    This means in practice that, amongst others:

    • Social media networks cannot deprive consumers of their right to go to court in their Member State of residence;
    • Social media networks cannot require consumers to waive mandatory rights, such as their right to withdraw from an on-line purchase;
    • Terms of services cannot limit or totally exclude the liability of Social media networks in connection with the performance of the service;
    • Sponsored content cannot be hidden, but should be identifiable as such;
    • Social media networks cannot unilaterally change terms and conditions without clearly informing consumers about the justification and without given them the possibility to cancel the contract, with adequate notice;
    • Terms of services cannot confer unlimited and discretionary power to social media operators on the removal of content.
    • Termination of a contract by the social media operator should be governed by clear rules and not decided unilaterally without a reason.

    Removing fraud and scams misleading consumers

    Social media companies must remove any fraud and scams appearing on their websites that could mislead consumers, once they become aware of such practices. In this connection, national consumer protection authorities should have a direct and standardised communication channel to signal such wrongdoings to social media operators (for example infringing the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive or the Consumer Rights Directive) and obtain take down of content, as well as information concerning the traders responsible for the infringements. This is in line with EU consumer legislation and the E-Commerce Directive, which gives the possibility to Member States to establish procedures governing the removal or disabling of access to illegal information.

    Here are examples of practices identified:

    • scams involving payments taken from consumers;
    • subscription traps where consumers are offered to register for a free trial but are not given clear and sufficient information;
    • marketing of counterfeited products;
    • fake promotions like "win a smart phone for 1 €" have proliferated over social media which were in fact a true contest but entailing a hidden long term subscriptions for several hundred euros per year.

    Background

    The EU Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Regulations link national consumer authorities in a pan-European enforcement network. Thanks to this framework, a national authority in one EU country can call on their counterpart in another EU country to ask them to intervene in case of a cross-border infringement of EU consumer rules.

    The cooperation is applicable to consumer rules covering various areas, such as the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the E-commerce Directive, the Consumer Rights Directive or the unfair contract terms Directive.

    The Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Network finalised a coordinated assessment of the problematic practices taking place in leading social media services (Facebook, Twitter and Google+) in an action led by the French Directorate General for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) in November 2016, with the facilitation of the Commission. The trade association EDiMA was also contacted.

    European consumer authorities common position

    IP/17/631 Brussels, 17 March 2017 Copyright European Union

  3. news

    Is the UK in control of its borders as an EU Member?

    This is a key question as:

    • It was a major factor in the EU Referendum
    • Lack of control over our borders was heavily pushed by a number of Leave campaigners
    • It is still an important factor for many voters

    The aim of this article is to discuss whether or not it is true that the UK is not in control of its borders as an EU Member. A significant number of people are under the impression that

    • Any EU national can move to another EU country without any controls.
    • We can’t stop benefit tourists
    • We can’t stop terrorists and criminals from coming in.
    • We don’t know who is coming in.

    In fact, free movement is a very specific right. It gives you the right to:

    • Move to another EU country if you have a job lined up.
    • Go and look for work in another EU Member State, provided you have the money to support yourself so you do not become a drain on the State. You can only job-seek for up to six months and after that you can be sent home, unless you have the funds to support yourself so you don’t need to claim benefits, and you are actively seeking work.
    • Study in another EU Member State or set up a business in another EU country.
    • So, free movement gives you the right to travel, work and study in 28 countries.

    Free movement is not an absolute right. Member States have the power to over-ride the free movement provisions on the grounds of Public Policy, Public Security and/or Public Health. Further information on the powers of Member States to either exclude someone or kick them out can be found in Article 27 of Directive 2004/38.

    Can the UK protect itself from terrorists and criminals as an EU Member?

    It has long been recognised that free movement carries the risk that terrorists and criminals will use the free movement rules to commit crimes and terrorist acts. In response, the EU , in conjunction with the Member States has developed judicial cooperation in criminal matters rules.

    There are therefore two systems that apply to judicial cooperation in criminal matters, the EU system and the international system. The EU system of judicial cooperation in criminal matters includes

    • The European Arrest Warrant which was used to catch the London bombers.
    • The European Criminal Records Information system (ECRIS) which allows every EU country to share up to date information on the criminal records of their nationals with every other EU member state via a central authority, including information sharing on paedophiles and sex offenders. This information is transmitted electronically.
    • Freezing orders, where criminal assets are frozen across all EU countries once a freezing order is issued
    • EU rules relating to financial penalties in criminal matters, which mean that if a criminal is fined he can’t just move to another EU Member State to avoid paying, as the penalty will follow him and can be enforced in any EU Member State where he lives, or owns property.
    • EU wide confiscation orders allow proceeds of crime to be confiscated in every EU Member State. These are used particularly in relation to organized crime networks which often have illegal assets across different EU Member States.
    • EU Rules on the transfer of prisoners between Member States, which means that if an EU national commits a crime in another EU Member State they will be sent back to their own country to serve their sentence rather than staying in the country where they committed the crime.
    • EU wide rules on managing prisoners on probation. Prisoners on probation will be sent back to their own country whilst they are on probation, after committing a minor criminal offence.
    • The European Evidence warrant (which will be replaced from May 2017 by the European Investigative Order ) which allows evidence to be collected in criminal cases across different EU Member States.

    The other system that the UK would default back to post Brexit (in the absence of access to these systems being agreed as part of the negotiation) is the international system, which basically covers the work done by Interpol and uses extradition as a way of bringing people to trial in another country. This is of limited efficiency, and difficult to manage, as it's largely a political process.

    The former head of Interpol, Ronald Noble, had this to say about the UK:

    "Among the European countries that are not parties to the Schengen Agreement is the United Kingdom, which began screening passports against Interpol’s database following the 2005 terrorist attacks there that killed 52 people and injured more than 700. The U.K. now screens about 150 million passports a year, more than all other European Union nations combined, and catches more than 10,000 people a year trying to cross its borders using invalid travel documents"

    This strongly suggests that the UK is very much in control of its borders as an EU Member.

    In Theresa May’s Brexit objectives speech, she said “I want our future relationship with the European Union to include practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and the sharing of intelligence material with our EU allies.”

    This means that Theresa May is hoping to keep the same systems, rather than default away from them. As the former Home Secretary she is well aware of how well these systems work, which is why she still wants to have access to them, as she knows they help keep the UK safe. From this, we can only conclude that the UK was in control of its borders as an EU Member. It will have less control outside the EU as it won’t have access to the same mechanisms and information, unless the other Member States agree.

    © Copyright European Law Monitor

  4. news

    Successful action against international money laundering network: France, Eurojust and Europol

     

    ​​The initial results of a preliminary investigation carried out by the French National Financial Public Prosecutor's Office, commenced in September 2015, has revealed a vast and complex money laundering network in six Member States (Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania) and in the offshore financial centres outside Europe (Hong Kong, Singapore).

    An alert issued by the French Financial Intelligence Unit (TRACFIN) and a complaint by the Directorate General of Public Finance (DGFiP) led to the investigation, assigned to the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (Office for Combating Corruption and Financial and Fiscal Offences and the Regional Judicial Police Service of Clermont-Ferrand).

    Coordinated by Eurojust and Europol in cooperation with the magistrates and investigators of the requested countries, the objective of this international criminal investigation was to dismantle an extensive money laundering network involved in two types of offences: money laundering, originating from France, other crimes suspected of being linked to illicit online gambling, and money laundering for the purpose of tax evasion.

    At this stage of the investigation, the crimes have resulted in laundering of over EUR 200 million since 2009 and income tax evasion currently estimated at EUR 3 million.

    The Hague, 17 March 2017 Copyright European Union

  5. newsKeeping EU consumers safe – online marketplaces join efforts to remove dangerous products from EU market

    Today, the European Commission presented its latest report on the Rapid Alert System for dangerous products.

    In 2016, the system was more actively used by national authorities, who removed more dangerous products from stores. However, more and more of the dangerous products notified in the Rapid Alert System are sold on online platforms. This is why the Commission has stepped up its cooperation with Amazon, Ebay and Alibaba to tackle more actively potentially unsafe or non-compliant products from their websites which sell to consumers in the EU.

    Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: "Consumers need to be protected from dangerous products. And this protection must apply both online and offline. Therefore I am pleased that we could agree with Amazon, Ebay and Alibaba to join efforts to remove products notified through the Rapid Alert System from their websites, and I call on others to follow suit. I am also satisfied that we have made some progress related to China, with the numbers of dangerous goods imported on the decrease this year. This shows that our cooperation with China and our persistence to demand high standards is paying off.”

    The cooperation between EU countries has intensified and they increasingly use the Rapid Alert System to ensure that dangerous products are quickly removed everywhere in Europe. In 2016 there were 2,044 alerts on dangerous products circulated among national authorities through the Rapid Alert System. These alerts prompted 3,824 follow-up actions, such as product recalls. The number of reactions was more than twice as high as the previous years. This shows that national authorities are following up more closely on alerts and taking all necessary measures to make the market a safer place for consumers.

    The European Commission has also worked with national authorities to make the system even more user-friendly and the public website has been modernised to encourage its use by companies and consumers.

    How does it protect consumers from dangerous products sold online?

    Many of the dangerous products notified in the Rapid Alert System are also sold on online platforms or marketplaces, as consumers buy more and more online. In 2016, this was the case for 244 notifications. To address this phenomenon, several Member States have already set up specialised teams to monitor webpages and trace dangerous products that are sold online. In addition, Amazon, eBay and Alibaba have agreed to step up their efforts to remove such products once identified by the EU regulatory authorities. For this purpose, the online market places have set up a single point of contact for the authorities.

    Which products are posing the most risks?

    In 2016, toys was the most notified product category (26%), followed by motor vehicles (18%), and clothing, textiles and fashion items (13%).

    As far as risks are concerned, in 2016, the risk most often notified was injury (25%), followed by the chemical risk (23%).

    Where did the dangerous products come from in 2016?

    The majority of dangerous products notified in the system came from outside the EU. China was indicated as a country of origin for 53% (1,069) of notified products. There was a 9 percentage point drop in the number of alerts on products from China from 62% in 2015 to 53% in 2016.

    Dangerous products of European origin accounted for 468 notifications (23%).

    In 2016, 102 notifications (5%) signalled the United States and 53 notifications (2.6%) indicated Turkey as country of origin. For 158 notified products (8%) the origin is unknown.

    Next steps

    The Commission will continue working on improving the Rapid Alert System to make it even more convenient for the authorities to use on a daily basis.

    The European Commission will carry on cooperating with Chinese authorities through exchanges of information on dangerous products on which they take action "at source", in China.

    The Commission will continue working with online marketplace and to ensure they take action against unsafe products. In order to support controls by authorities, the Commission is preparing a practical guidance on the market surveillance of products sold online.

    Background

    Since 2003, the Rapid Alert system ensures that information about dangerous non-food products withdrawn from the market and/or recalled anywhere in Europe is quickly circulated between Member States and the European Commission. This way, appropriate follow-up action (ban/stop of sales, withdrawal, recall or import rejection by Customs authorities) can be taken everywhere in the EU.

    Thirty-one countries (EU together with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) currently participate in the system. The Rapid Alert System functions thanks to daily and continuous close cooperation between Member States.

    The Rapid Alert System has a dedicated public website (ec.europa.eu/consumers/rapid-alert-system) which provides access to weekly updates of alerts submitted by the national authorities participating in the system. Every week, around 50 alerts are registered and published on the web. Anyone can consult the notifications in the system. Consumers and businesses can now also create and personalise their own subscriptions to alerts according to their needs and preferences and share alerts through social media.

    ANNEX

    The case of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 mobile phone: an example of good practice.

    This product had a dangerous battery cell which overheated and 'exploded' causing serious burns to consumers. The United Kingdom authorities notified through the Rapid Alert System the measures taken to recall and stop the sale of the product. This triggered an exchange of information inside the system on the number of devices found, the measures taken, the economic operators involved and the number of incidents reported. Although no accident was reported by the authorities, the product was identified as posing a high risk of burns.

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    Graph 1

    Total number of notifications, total number of reactions and total number of notifications that were followed by a reaction in 2016, by country

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    Graph 2

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    Pictures

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    For More Information

    Rapid alert system for dangerous products 2016 report

    Q&A

    Factsheet

    Rapid alert system website

    Interactive map

    IP/17/602 Brussels, 16 March 2017 Copyright European Union

  6. newsEIB backs EUR 3.4 billion new financing for SME’s, environment and transport

    Earlier today the Board of Directors of the European Investment Bank approved new financing for small and medium companies (SMEs), education, energy and social housing, as well as water, transport and healthcare schemes across Europe and around the world. Funding approved today totalled EUR 3.4 billion.

    “Later this month Europe will mark the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which created the European Investment Bank. Sixty years on the work of the EIB is more necessary and beneficial than ever. The variety of projects approved today demonstrates our Group’s continued engagement to improve lives, enhance cohesion and foster investment and innovation.” said Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank.

    Meeting at the European Investment Bank headquarters in Luxembourg representatives of the bank’s 28 EU member state shareholders, as well as the European Commission, approved new financing for 21 different projects.

    Supporting transformational energy, research and connectivity schemes under the Investment Plan for Europe

    Financing approved today and backed by the EU budget guarantee under the Investment Plan for Europe totalled more than EUR 1 billion. This will support 6 projects, including schemes to improve energy efficiency of homes in Germany and Spain; expand energy distribution in Poland; and investment in industrial research, renewable energy, transport and broadband across Europe.

    Backing environmental, education and agricultural investment around the world

    The Board approved financing for 6 schemes located outside the European Union. These include water projects in Panama and Argentina, upgrading agricultural production in Ukraine, renovating public building and homes in Moldova to improve energy efficiency, and the construction of a new university campus in Morocco.

    Financing smaller infrastructure schemes and small business with local partners

    Thousands of smaller companies in Portugal, Italy, Bolivia and East Africa will benefit from EUR 1.34 billion lending approved today for distribution by EIB partner banks and institutions in local markets.

    The EIB Board approved EUR 260 million funding for specialist funds and small scale projects which will enable new investment in small scale renewable energy, energy efficiency, broadband, transport and water projects across Europe.

    Increasing renewable energy use, cutting energy bills and improving environmental protection

    The board approved a EUR 450 million loan to improve waste water management along the Emscher River in north-west Germany. This scheme is expected to improve and protect water quality and biodiversity, and strengthen protection against flooding. The loan follows earlier EIB backed investment for the EUR 5.3 billion rehabilitation programme that is helping build more than 400km of new underground sewers and regenerate 350km of river banks. This has already replenished fish population in what used to be one of the most polluted rivers in Europe.

    Backing was also given to schemes to cut energy use in buildings in Germany, Spain and Moldova and increase capacity of hydropower plans and windfarms in Austria.

    Modernising transport and health infrastructure

    The EIB approved financing to increase capacity and efficiency of the Linz river port in Austria and ensure an alternative to road based container transport. It also agreed to finance hospital-based research in Montpellier.

    This week’s meeting follows a session of the Investment Committee for the European Fund for Strategic Investments, held on 7th March. The EIB Board approved 5 projects which the Investment Committee had cleared for financing under the Investment Plan for Europe guarantee from the EU Budget.

    Negotiations for the approved loans are expected to be finalised in the coming months. All projects, including those earmarked for support under the EU budget guarantee, need to receive approval of the EIB Board prior to loan contracts being finalised. Loans and guarantees approved by the Board of Directors will be finalised in cooperation with promoters and beneficiaries, and figures may vary.

    Copyright European union

  7. newsEU Internet Forum: progress on removal of terrorist content online

     

    .Today, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, accompanied by the Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Mr Carmelo Abela representing the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and the Estonian Minister of the Interior, Mr Andres Anvelt, representing the incoming Presidency of the Council of the EU, as well as the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Mr Gilles de Kerchove, are meeting key internet companies in the United States, in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The visit was organised to follow up on the second meeting of the EU Internet Forum in December 2016 and to take forward actions agreed for 2017.

    Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said: "Over the last 18 months, we have managed to build a relationship of trust and mutual understanding with the major internet companies. I am pleased with the progress we are making. I welcome the voluntary initiative of the industry to set up a mechanism to remove terrorist content from the internet. Today, a prototype of this mechanism is in action. The voluntary partnership with the internet industry is making a difference. I welcome also the commitment of the internet industry to contribute to the EU Civil Society Empowerment Programme, which will empower civil society to pass positive narratives on the internet. We will also have a fruitful exchange of views with the companies on issues related to cyber-security and encryption, and the access of law enforcement to electronic evidence in the context of criminal investigations. Our presence here in the US underlines our strong willingness to continue this relationship in the future."

    Carmelo Abela, Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, representing the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Andres Anvelt, Estonian Minister of the Interior, representing the incoming Presidency of the Council of the EU, said: "The fight against terrorism poses ever increasing challenges in the context of a globalised and changing world particularly in the light of the current geopolitical picture. However, on-going cooperation between governments and the private sector can significantly hinder the online activity of terrorist groups. What we are doing today is to enhance that cooperation for the benefit of our societies. This is the result of a number of good initiatives by the EU Internet forum such as consistent removal of online content by implementing modern mechanisms to detect abusive content and the launch of the Civil Society Empowerment Programme. We now need to ensure that we build on this progress and continue our cooperation with more companies."

    Monika Bickert, Head of Global Product Policy for Facebook said: “We're pleased to have worked with others in the tech industry to create a working prototype of a shared database for hashes of violent terrorist imagery that we have removed from our services. There's no place for terrorism on Facebook, and we remove terrorist content and accounts as soon as we become aware of it. We also offer strong support for initiatives that counter extremism – including commissioning research, training NGOs, and supporting programs that engage in the promotion of positive narratives. We believe this is the most effective way to tackle online extremism.” 

    Juniper Downs, head of policy at YouTube said: "We work hard to take swift action against terrorist content through enforcement of YouTube's policies, and by investing in new solutions like the industry hash database. We support and encourage collaboration between tech platforms in order to strengthen our collective response to the spread of terrorist content online."

    Sinéad McSweeney, VP of Public Policy, Twitter EMEA, said: "We prohibit violent threats and the promotion of terrorism. Our specialist teams have developed an innovative approach, employing a hybrid technical and reporting model that works for Twitter first. The result has been a movement of terrorist content off the platform.We have also significantly expanded our CVE partnerships globally, training hundreds of NGOs and issuing pro-bono advertising grants to support the amplification of alternative narratives to extremism We look forward to continuing this vital work in partnership with our peers across the industry."

    Background

    Since the launch of the EU Internet Forum in December 2015, concrete steps have been taken to stop the abuse of the internet by international terrorist groups, with measurable outcomes. Approximately 90% of content referred to the internet companies by Europol has been removed. However, while terrorist content by some terrorist groups is on the decline, other violent extremist groups are seeking to increase their online presence. Tackling this challenge, while protecting the Union's fundamental values of freedom of speech, remains at the forefront of our EU counter terrorism efforts. The European Commission, EU Home Affairs Ministers and the internet industry work together in a voluntary partnership under the umbrella of the EU Internet Forum to tackle this complex challenge and to protect EU citizens. Working with the smaller companies is also a central objective, to prevent the abuse of their platforms.

    The EU Internet Forum has two key objectives: to reduce accessibility to terrorist content online; and to empower civil society partners to increase the volume of effective alternative narratives online. These two objectives have materialised into: a referral mechanism with the participation of Europol to remove internet content; the creation of a prototype database of hashes developed by the internet industry to create a shared database to help identify potential terrorist content on social media and prevent its reappearance on other platforms; and the establishment of a Civil Society Empowerment Programme, which will be launched by the European Commission on 15 March 2017, with an initial financial endowment of EUR 10 million.

    Areas of future work for the Internet Forum include access to electronic evidence, cybersecurity research, encryption and research on online radicalisation.    

    IP/17/544 Copyright European Union

  8. newsGeneral government expenditure in the EU in 2015 - Government expenditure on social protection accounted for almost one fifth of GDP - Representing about 40% of total public expenditure

    Brussels, 6 March 2017

    Among the main functions of general government expenditure in the European Union (EU), ‘social protection' was by far the most important in 2015, equivalent to 19.2% of GDP. The next most important areas were ‘health' (7.2%), ‘general public services' such as external affairs and public debt transactions (6.2%), ‘education' (4.9%) and ‘economic affairs' (4.3%). The functions ‘public order and safety' (1.8%), ‘defence' (1.4%), ‘recreation, culture and religion' (1.0%), ‘environmental protection' (0.8%) and ‘housing and community amenities' (0.6%) had more limited weights. These data at EU level mask however significant differences between the Member States in the share of GDP devoted to each function of general government expenditure.

    Details of what each government spent its money on, including what the UK government spent its money on in 2015 in terms of social protection is available in the link below.

    Full text available on EUROSTAT website

  9. newsSchengen borders code: Council adopts regulation to reinforce checks at external borders

    On 7 March 2017, the Council adopted a regulation amending the Schengen borders code to reinforce checks against relevant databases at the external borders.

    "Reinforcing our external border controls is an important tool for fighting the terrorist threat in Europe and improving the security of our citizens. Systematic checks at the external borders will provide us with a means to address potential risks to internal security, including that posed by foreign terrorist fighter returnees."

    Carmelo Abela, Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security

    The amendment obliges member states to carry out systematic checks against relevant databases on all persons, including those enjoying the right of free movement under EU law (i.e. EU citizens and members of their families who are not EU citizens) when they cross the external borders. The databases against which checks will be carried out include the Schengen Information System (SIS) and Interpol's database on stolen and lost travel documents (SLTD). The checks will also enable member states to verify that those persons do not represent a threat to public policy, internal security or public health. This obligation shall apply at all external borders (air, sea and land borders), both at entry and exit.

    However, where systematic consultation of databases could lead to a disproportionate impact on traffic flows at a sea or land border, member states are permitted to carry out only targeted checks against databases, provided that this will not lead to risks related to internal security, public policy, or the international relations of the member states, or pose a threat to public health.

    With regard to air borders, member states may only carry out targeted checks against databases for a transitional period of 6 months from the entry into force of the regulation. This period may be extended by up to 18 months in exceptional and specific cases, where there are infrastructural difficulties requiring a longer period of time to make the necessary changes.

    Next steps

    The Council and the European Parliament now need to sign the adopted regulation. The signed text will be published in the EU Official Journal and will enter into force 20 days later.

    Background

    This regulation amending the Schengen borders code (SBC) was presented by the European Commission in December 2015. It is a response to the increase in terrorist threats and to the call from the Council in its conclusions of 9 and 20 November 2015 for a targeted revision of the SBC in the context of the response to "foreign terrorist fighters".

    While member states are already obliged to check third country nationals systematically on entry against all databases for reasons of public order and internal security, the current provisions do not provide for such a check on exit in all databases. Moreover, persons enjoying the right to free movement are subject to a minimum check to establish their identities. This amendment will align the obligations to carry out systematic checks both at entry and at exit on third country nationals, as well as persons who enjoy the right of free movement.

    The amendment provides for greater use of the Schengen Information System, the Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Documents and national databases to improve the security of the EU and its citizens.

    Copyright European Union

  10. newsEU strengthens rules to prevent new forms of terrorism

    To respond to the evolving terrorist threat, the EU is updating and extending the tools available to it. New rules adopted by the Council on 7 March 2017 will help prevent terrorist attacks by criminalising acts such as undertaking training or travelling for terrorist purposes, as well as organising or facilitating such travel. They also strengthen the rights of the victims of terrorism.

    "With this agreement, the EU is now better equipped to meet the challenge of the evolving terrorist threat. Terrorism knows no borders, but the message is now clear: foreign fighters, whether they travel to, from or within the EU, will be stopped. But security without the respect of fundamental rights is unacceptable. That is why the new rules also strengthen victims' rights and include clear safeguards to individual freedoms."

    Owen Bonnici, Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government of Malta, the country which holds the EU Council Presidency 

    The new rules, in the form of a Directive, strengthen and widen the scope of the existing legislation (Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA in particular). The directive criminalises:

    • Travelling within, outside or to the EU for terrorist purposes, e.g. to join the activities of a terrorist group or with the purpose of committing a terrorist attack. 
    • The organisation and facilitation of such travel, including through logistical and material support, such as the purchase of tickets or planning itineraries;
    • Training and being trained for terrorist purposes, e.g. in the making or use of explosives, firearms, noxious or hazardous substances mirroring the existing provision of knowingly providing such training;
    • Providing or collecting funds with the intention or the knowledge that they are to be used to commit terrorist offences and offences related to terrorist groups or terrorist activities. 

    The Directive will also complement the current legislation on the rights for victims of terrorism. It includes a catalogue of services to meet the specific needs of victims of terrorism, such as the right to receive immediate access to professional support services providing medical and psycho-social treatments, or to receive legal or practical advice, as well as assistance with compensation claims. The emergency response mechanisms immediately after an attack will be also strengthened.

    Next steps

    The adoption by the Council marks the end of the legislative procedure.

    Once the new rules are published in the EU Official Journal, member states will have 18 months to transpose them into national law.

    The UK and Ireland are not bound by the directive, but may decide to opt in. Denmark has an opt out on this Directive.

    Copyright European Union

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