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GeoPolicy: getting ready for the European Parliament Election

GeoPolicy: getting ready for the European Parliament Election

The European Parliament currently has 751 members who belong to one of the eight political groups, at least one of the 20 different committees and represent approximately 500 million people from the 28 EU Member States. The EU Parliament plays an extremely important role in the EU. It oversees the EU budget, launches investigations into specific issues and shares legislative powers with the Council of the EU which means that it can pass, reject and adjust proposals submitted by the EU Commission.

The current parliamentary configuration is often more ambitious than the EU Commission in terms of sustainability, climate targets and funding for science. In November 2018, the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee called to increase the budget for the EU’s 2021-2027 research and innovation framework programme (Horizon Europe), from the Commission’s proposed €83.5 billion to €120 billion. And ahead of COP24 in 2018, the Parliament voted to increase the EU’s emissions reduction target from 45% to 55% compared to 1990 levels.

However, the current configuration of the EU Parliament is set to change with the upcoming European Parliament Election which will be held from 23–26 May 2019. The European Parliament is the only body of the European Union that is elected directly by EU citizens. Despite this, since the first EU Parliamentary elections in 1979, voter turnout has significantly declined from 62.0% to 43.0% in 2009 and only a slightly higher turnout of 43.1 in 2014 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percentage of EU citizens who voted from the first EU Parliament Election in 1979 until 2014. https://www.statista.com

What do the EU elections decide?

The next European Parliament election will determine who the Members of Parliament (MEPs) will be. There are currently 751 MEPs but this number will be reduced to 705 after the 2019 election as a result of the UK leaving the Union. Each of the soon to be 27 EU Member States (after Brexit) has  already been allocated a number of the 705 MEP seats based on the size of their population. The elections in May will decide who, from each Member State, will fill these positions.

The focus and direction of the EU Parliament is dictated by the MEPs elected. Your vote will therefore help dictate the future EU budget, which legislation is passed and what adjustments are made!

Who can vote?

Voting in the European Parliament election is restricted to nationals of EU Member States. Usually, EU nationals are only able to vote for candidates that are standing for elections in their own countries but if you live and are registered in a different EU Member State you can chose to participate in the election of your host country instead. But of course, you can’t vote twice! So, if you are live in a different EU Member State, you will have to decide whether you’d rather vote for a candidate in your host country or your home country.

What about UK citizens?

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 after which UK nationals will no longer have MEPs or the right to vote for them (regardless of where they live).

If you’re an EU citizen living in the UK and want to vote in the European Parliament elections, it is still possible depending on your home country. You can find more information about your country’s specific rules regarding citizens living in the UK here.

National discrepancies

Despite it being a European election, different EU Member States are able to dictate many of key elements regarding the voting process, such as

  • which day the polling is open (between 23–26 May)
  • the voting system (Figure 2),
  • whether voting is compulsory
  • the minimum age to be eligible to vote (16 in Austria & Malta, 18 everywhere else)
  • whether it’s possible to vote by mail or from abroad
  • if there’s a single electoral district or multiple

This section of the EU website can provide you with specific details depending on your nationality and country of residence.

Figure 2: The voting systems of EU Member State and number of MEPs. Source 2019 European Elections national rules

What are some of the concerns for the upcoming election?

As Figure 1 shows, voter turnout is a definite concern. The EU Parliament is attempting to address this through initiatives such as “this time I’m voting“. Hacking and cybersecurity are also potential threats to the election. As European Commissioner for Security Julian King stated, Given the dispersed nature and comparatively long duration of the European Parliament elections, they present a tempting target for malicious actors”.

Furthermore, there is increasing concern about the prevalence of disinformation. Fake news can easily go viral when individuals fail to fact-check before sharing a link on social media. Bots, that can be controlled by individuals or governments, also have the ability to share fake news, shape online conversations and subsequent discourses. There is evidence to show that such bots have already had an influence on certain EU issues such as immigration in Italy. The EU is already working to combat disinformation with the EU Action Plan against Disinformation which was released by the Commission in December 2018. Key online organisations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Mozilla are also expected to release figures on disinformation and the measures that they are taking against it in early 2018.

Increasing nationalism and populism within the EU is another concern with populists gaining traction in many EU countries.

What can you do in the lead up to the election?

Know the voting rules and specifics of the country you will be voting in and make sure you register if your country requires it.

Have an understanding about what issues your country or constituency’s candidates support. Most countries should have an overview of the candidates running closer to the election. Websites such as VoteWatch Europe can tell you how active each current MEP is, how they have voted on particular issues and the initiatives that they’ve been involved with. If a candidate was, for example, involved in the 2017 MEP Scientist Pairing Scheme, they are likely to support science and science for policy.

And this goes without saying for most scientists … don’t spread misinformation! Make sure your sources are reliable and don’t just share an article based on the headline.

Happy voting!

Further reading

 

GeoPolicy: How do Members of European Parliament learn about science?

GeoPolicy: How do Members of European Parliament learn about science?

Only ~5% of Members of European Parliament, or MEPs, have a background in the physical sciences1, yet many political challenges require an understanding of the science surrounding these issues. Issues such as locating and extracting mineral resources, understanding climate change impacts, and developing new low-carbon technology. The European Commission (EC) and the European Parliament (EP) have structures in place to ensure drafted policy can be supported using scientific evidence. This GeoPolicy post takes a closer look at how the EP gathers and requests scientific evidence.

 

The EC and the EP have different mechanisms to ensure policy workers and MEPs are briefed on scientific material. The EC conducts in-house scientific research within the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and has recently constructed the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) to ensure that the latest academic research is heard. This post focuses on how science supports the EP as last month’s GeoPolicy post discussed SAM in more detail.

There are 751 MEPs (including the UK) within the EP. All MEPs are required to sit on at least one of the 20 committees that focus on a particular area of governance. Each committee is responsible for assessing legislation proposals and negotiating edits to legislation with the Council of the EU. Additionally, they can organise meetings with experts and commission internal reports that focus on their relevant policy areas. A full list of the EP committees is shown below.

 

EP Committees
AFET Foreign Affairs EMPL Employment and Social Affairs CULT Culture and Education
DROI Human Rights ENVI Environment, Public Health and Food Safety JURI Legal Affairs
SEDE Security and Defence ITRE Industry, Research and Energy LIBE Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
DEVE Development IMCO Internal Market and Consumer Protection AFCO Constitutional Affairs
INTA International Trade TRAN Transport and Tourism FEMM Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
BUDG Budgets REGI Regional Development PETI Petitions
CONT Budgetary Control AGRI Agriculture and Rural Development
ECON Economic and Monetary Affairs PECH Fisheries
 Special committees
TAX2 Tax Rulings and Other Measures Similar in Nature or Effect (TAXE 2)
 Committees of inquiry
EMIS Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector

PANA Money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion

 

 

The European Parliament Research Service (EPRS)

The EPRS is the in-house research centre for the European Parliament (not to be confused with the JRC who are the in-house research service for the European Commission).  If science communication within the EP were a concert taking place in a park, the EPRS is the gazebo in which the band is playing. They operate as the main provider of science to the EP; usually carrying out secondary research or commissioning primary research in response to requests made by MEPs, committees or other EP bodies. They also carry out joint projects with the JRC for example the Science Meets Parliaments scheme (see below).

Many of their subsequent reports and resources are available online for the general public to read. Additionally, they have an active blog in which they post a variety of different types of articles3. These include updates on ongoing legislation being drafted by the EU, information briefings about a science policy topic, more in-depth analyses, infographics, and factsheets.

An infographic showing the continental contributions of historical CO2 emissions available on the EPRS Graphics Warehouse webpages. )

An infographic showing the continental contributions of historical CO2 emissions available on the EPRS Graphics Warehouse webpages.

 

Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA)

MEP committee representatives can sit on cross-committee panels, which look at interdisciplinary topics. The Science and Technology Options Assessment, or STOA, is a cross-committee panel that focuses on providing Parliament’s Committees and other parliamentary bodies with independent and impartial scientific advice for science-related issues. The panel was established in 1987 and is made up of 23 MEPs that span eight permanent Committees of the Parliament: AGRI, CULT, EMPL, ENVI, IMCO, ITRE, JURI and TRAN. STOA also employs secretariat staff to help with projects and events2.

STOA (who meet monthly) have budget to fund research projects totalling 650,000 euros per year. Together with the EPRS they fund more substantial projects to provide scientific evidence for topics of policy-relevance. A study can have a maximum amount of 100,000 euros funding.

STOA work very closely with the EPRS. Together, the types of projects conducted are:

  • Impact Assessments. These usually have a timeframe of <1 year and a resulting report is written for the requesting committee.
  • Technology Assessments have a shorter time frame. The usual result is a short report summarising the current state of affairs for a specific topic.
  • Scientific Foresight Unit carries out projects that look at 30-50 years into the future. Activities include horizon scanning, scenario building, and legislative back-casting (to accomplish an end goal, i.e. 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, what legislature is needed in the near future to achieve this).
  • Short written documents include “awareness documents” and “What If” documents, which are all available on the EPRS blog.
  • The Scientists-MEPs pairing scheme entitled Science Meets Parliaments, which is co-organised by the Joint Research Centre. This year there was over 30 pairs and there are already plans to hold the scheme again in late 2016. A summary of the experience can been found here.
  • Discussion workshops in which external experts can be called into present scientific research on a particular topic. Previous topics have been on volcanic eruptions and mitigation of earthquake effects.

Current projects being conducted focus on ‘future agriculture’ (precision farming), ‘assistive tech for the disabled’, and ‘3D printing and additive manufacturing’. Possible future topics will cover: energy resistance, employments, new technologies, regional policy, and language development within the information era.

 

Sources

1 – http://www.eubusiness.com/Members/michaelterberg/MEPs

2 – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/cms/home/panel

3 – https://epthinktank.eu/about/

 

 

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers

Scientific research is usually verbally communicated to policy officials or through purposefully written documents. This occurs at all levels of governance (local, national, and international). This month’s GeoPolicy post takes a look at the main methods in which scientists can assist in the policy process and describes a new method adopted by the European Commission (EC) that aims to enhance science advice to policy.

Contrary to what is commonly thought, science-for-policy communication can be instigated by both scientists and policy officials (not just from the policy end). Scientists are increasingly encouraged to step out of their ‘ivory tower’ and communicate their science to the glittering world of policy. During my PhD, I presented my thesis results to civil servants at the UK Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change. That meeting was a result of me directly contacting the department with a summary of my work. Scientists should not feel afraid to contact relevant policy groups, although this is perhaps easier to do on the local / national scale rather than on the international level.

 

Types of policy engagement

Some of the commonly reported scientific evidence for policy methods are described below:

  1. Surveys: Government organisations may send out targeted or open questionnaires to learn stakeholders’ opinions on certain topics. This method is used for collecting larger sample sizes and when the general consensus and/or dominant views need to be known.
  2. Interviews: one-on-one meetings are commonly used for communicating science to policy officials; either by phone or in person. These provide opportunities for in-depth discussions and explanations.
  3. Discussion workshops: the term ‘workshop’ is loosely used when referring to science policy. It can describe a semi-structured meeting where no predefined agenda has been set, or the term can refer to participants systematically discussing a topic with specific aims to be achieved (Fischer al., 2013). Workshops can involve solely scientists or combine policy workers and scientists (examples of the latter at the UK Centre from Science and Policy). Workshops usually result in a written summary which can be used for policy purposes.
  4. Seminars: experts give talks on their research for interested policy officials to attend and ask questions afterwards. For more tips on ways to communicate science to policy officials please read May’s GeoPolicy post.
  5. Policy briefings: may refer to a several types of written document. They are usually written after a workshop or to summarise scientific literature. Briefings are usually written by so-called bridging organisations, which work at the science-policy interface. These documents can be relatively brief, e.g., the American Geophysical Union (AGU) have published several ‘factsheets’ on different Earth-science topics, or more detailed, e.g., the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) regularly publishes ‘POSTnotes’.
  6. Reports: these are far longer documents which review the current scientific understanding. The IPCC reports are key examples of this, but it should be noted that any long report intended for wider-audiences should always contact a short summary for policymakers as they almost certainly do not possess the time to read full reports.
  7. The Delphi method: this less-commonly known practice combines both individual and group work and is supposed to reduce biases that can occur from open discussion platforms. Experts answer questions posed by policy workers in rounds. In between each round an anonymous summary of the opinions is presented to the participants, who are then asked if their opinions have changed. The resulting decisions can then draft a policy briefing.
  8. Pairing schemes: an alternative method used to bridge the science policy gap. This is a relatively new initiative but examples have occurred on the national (Royal Society and MPs paired together in the UK) and international level (EU MEPs paired with European-based scientists). These schemes involve an introductory event at the place of governance, which include seminars and discussions. Bilateral meetings are then organised at the Scientists’ institutions. These initiatives aim to help participants on both sides appreciate the different working conditions they experience. The EU-wide pairing scheme encourages pairs to work together producing a science policy event at a later date. This is still to be determined as the initial pairing only occurred in January.

 

Recruiting scientists

Different pathways exist for scientists to partake in these meetings. These include:

More commonly, scientists are contacted through the policy organisation’s extended personal network. This has been criticised as it can restrict the breadth of scientific evidence reaching policy, as well as it being not transparent. Under EC President Jean-Claude Junker, a Scientific Advice Mechanism has been defined, in which a more transparent framework for science advice to policy has been set out.

 

What is the Science Advice Mechanism? (SAM)

The Science Advice mechanism. Slide taken from presentation entitled “A new mechanism for independent scientific advice in the European Commission” available on the EC Website.

The Science Advice mechanism. Slide taken from presentation entitled “A new mechanism for independent scientific advice in the European Commission” available on the EC Website.

 

This mechanism aims to supply the EC with broad and representative scientific in a structured and transparent manner. The centre-point to this is the formation of a high level scientific group which will work closely with the EC services. This panel comprises seven members “with an outstanding level of expertise and who collectively cover a wide range of scientific fields and expertise relevant for EU policy making”. This panel provides a close working relationship with learned societies and the wider scientific community within the EU. Since its initiation is 2015 the panel has met twice to discuss formalising this mechanism further. The minutes for the meetings are publically available here. More information about SAM is available in the EPRS policy briefing ‘Scientific advice for policy-makers in the European Union’.

Previously, the EU had appointed a Chief Scientific Advisor, however this role was discontinued after 3 years as it was considered too dependent on one individual’s experience. A panel is thought to provide a broader range of scientific advice.

 

GeoPolicy: EGU sciences on debate at the European Parliament

GeoPolicy: EGU sciences on debate at the European Parliament

The adoption of legislation within the European Union (EU) is a complex process involving many steps. In my first blog post in this GeoPolicy series I highlighted an example of this process.

Several draft legislation pieces are currently being assessed within the European Parliament (EP) and Council of Ministers (Council) that have been influenced by EGU-related science. This blog post summarises this draft legislation and to where in the process each piece has progressed.

Much of the information for this blog post has been taken from the European Parliament Research Service (EPRS) website, which produces support documents for the EP. It is here that you can find out more information about all EU legislation currently in progress.

 

 

Post-2020 reform of the EU Emissions Trading System

The EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by buying and selling emission ‘allowances’. One allowance is equal to one tonne of carbon dioxide or gas equivalent . The video below gives a good overview of the ETS.

The total amount of allowances is capped relative to 1990 emission totals, but this cap is reduced every year by 1.74 % to incentivise industries to reduce their emissions. If companies have reduced their emissions to below this cap they can sell surplus allowances, or keep them for the next year. The price of the allowance depends on supply and demand. Industries are incentivised to invest in carbon-reducing technology if this is a cheaper alternative than buying allowances. If carbon prices are lower than alternative technologies, extra allowances can be purchased from companies who have already reduced their emissions.

This EU legislation concentrates on the 4th phase of the ETS which spans the years 2020-2028 (we are currently in the 3rd phase, 2013-2020). The major policy points are:

  • The introduction of a market stabilisation reserve where 12 % of surplus annual allowances are stored for future use;
  • The annual cap decrease will change from 1.74 % to 2.2 % to reduce emissions faster;
  • Industries will now have to account for indirect carbon leakages in their emission inventories;
  • New funds will be available to aid start-up renewable projects.

This legislation is in the early stages of the process: the EC proposal document is currently receiving feedback and suggested amendments.  National parliaments, the European Economic & Social Committee and/or the Committee of Regions must still give feedback before an edited draft can be formed.

ETS Progress Bar

Progress stage of the drafted legislation. Sourced from the ‘Emissions Trading Scheme legislation EP progress briefing’.

 

 

National emission ceilings for air pollutants

Qir Quality Exposures

Percentage of the urban population in the EU28 exposed to air pollutant concentrations above EU and WHO reference levels (2010-12). Sourced from the ‘European Environment Agency: Air quality in Europe’. 

In December 2015 the EC produced an impact assessment focusing on five different policy options to achieve the EU’s health and environment objective goals. Despite considerable improvements, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has indicated that the EU still breaks pollutant levels that are considered to result in unnacceptable risks to humands and the environment. These levels are defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and are based exclusively on scientific findings. EU targets are much less restrictive than those of the WHO, but these levels are still being broken, as the figure on the right shows. Health-related costs of air pollution in the EU range between €330–940 billion per year.

The Gothenburg Protocol (1999) aimed to reduce acidification, eutrophication, and ground-level ozone by setting emissions caps for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia by 2010. This new EU legislation aims to further reduce emissions by setting new caps and larger fines for non-compliance. The European Commission estimates that implementation costs would range from €2.2 to 3.3 billion per year.

The legislation has been reviewed by impacted stakeholders and the EP advisory committee. The next stage is to discuss and amend the proposal in the EP plenary session. Once accepted, it will become the official stance of the EP. Negotiations are then continued with the Council in the trilogue before a final decision is made and the legislation is adopted.

 

 

Organic Farming Legislation

Organic farming is a political object of the EU, described as an “overall system of farm management and food production that respects natural life cycles”. Since the initial adoption in 2009,

 European Union Organic Produce Logo . Credit: ec.europa.eu (distributed via Wikimedia Commons )

European Union Organic Produce Logo . Credit: ec.europa.eu (distributed via Wikimedia Commons )

legislation has been continuously edited and expanded. The percentage area of agricultural land in the EU used for organic farming has remained at 6 % despite a steady expansion of the organic market. Currently, the EU imports organic produce to cover this gap in supply and demand.

The new legislation proposed by the European Commission (EC) has streamlined current legislation and removed historical ‘exception rules’ in order to define organic farming more rigorously. These changes include:

  • Organic farmers would no longer be able to use non-organic seed or introduce non-organic young poultry;
  • Organic farmers would be compensated if unintentional non-authorised products are found within their farms;
  • Mixed farming techniques (organic and conventional farming) would be allowed only during the conversion period from traditional to organic practices.

Market for organic foodstuffs: the top 10 countries. Sourced from the FiBL and IFOAM report ‘ORGANIC IN EUROPE: Prospects and Developments’

 

The figure below shows the progress of this drafted legislation: currently at the ‘trilogue’ step. This means the drafted legislation has been proposed by the EC and submitted to the Council, the EP and relevant stakeholders who have been able to give their feedback (a staggering 950 amendments were received!). Both the EP and the Council have produced their amended legislation drafts, which have been approved by their respective allocated subcommittees. Now, selected members from the EP and Council are to produce the final drafted legislation in the trilogue, which then will be voted to be adopted by the EP.

Progress stage of the drafted legislation. Sourced from Organic farming legislation EP progress briefing.

Progress stage of the drafted legislation. Sourced from the ‘organic farming legislation EP progress briefing’.

 

More information about the current draft legislation being considered in the European parliament can be found here.