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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe – 6 Apr 2018

posted by eucentresg

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EU presents Action Plan on Military Mobility

The European Defence Agency (EDA) is currently looking into enhancing the mobility of military within and beyond the EU, through addressing those physical, procedural or regulatory barriers which hamper mobility.

On March 28, Commission President Juncker and EU High Representative Mogherini presented an Action Plan on Military Mobility. The main objective is to collaborate at a regional level, which will “simplify and streamline national rules for quick and seamless movement of military troops and vehicles across the continent in case of a crisis”, enabling personnel and military equipment to be mobilized and moved across borders at a quicker pace. Authorities are currently concerned that in the event of a crisis, existing obstacles may hinder reaction and response time, such as “complicated border procedures” or “bridges that don’t carry the weight of military equipment”. As EU High representative Federica Mogherini asserts, “by facilitating military mobility within the EU, we can be more effective in preventing crises, more efficient in deploying our missions, and quicker in reacting when challenges arise.” As such, removing these said impediments will certainly bolster the military’s efficiency and response time.

Substantial changes will be introduced to current operations and infrastructure as needed, specifically targeting three main areas – military requirements; transport infrastructure as well as regulatory procedures. Notwithstanding the desire to facilitate freer and faster movement of troops and military assets as a step towards unifying EU security and defence, the Commission maintains that it will work closely with national authorities regarding the implementation of the plan, and that said plan will be carried out ‘in full respect of the sovereignty of Member States over their national territory and national decision-making processes’.

A significant background is that the Commission in previous years have taken a number of measures to promote interoperability within troops, such as the EU Multimodal Transport Hub in 2014, when 14 Member states (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Finland, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland , Sweden, Slovenia) launched the common project to facilitate the movement of troops through “harmonized regulations and pooling and sharing of assets and infrastructure in Europe”. In 2013, the European Defence Agency launched diplomatic clearances portal for military transport aircraft, signed by 13 Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and Norway). This portal provided a mechanism that could allow “diplomatic clearance numbers for up to 95% of the daily military transport missions executed within the territories of the signing countries”. Since then, significant progress has been made to ensure continued improvements to the EU security and defence.

This plan also comes at a time when it had been revealed that the UK is intending to pull out of the EU-ready military force after Brexit. According to Reuters, the Plan has also garnered support from NATO, which sees the development as an imperative in the event of a conflict with Russia.

What this will mean for the EU is a more highly integrated military with a high level of interoperability hitherto unseen. However, if massive changes are required to upgrade infrastructure and border control procedures, this could incur a high cost, needing justification for the EU’s common budget.

 

France to inject €1.5 billion to strengthen AI Sector
French president Macron said on Thursday (29 March) that until the end of his term in 2022, his government will be investing €1.5 billion into strengthening the artificial intelligence sector. Macron’s initiative is a bid to “guarantee the future industry” and to “provide people with opportunities”. Most of the funds will be channelled into Franco-German projects. Macron asserts that France is primed to “build an artificial intelligence ecosystem” and hopes that the investment will plug the technological gap between Europe and the two global tech giants, US and China who in recent years have aggressively expanded their AI industry. This injection of funds is timely and will bring about optimism, against previous rhetoric about a flailing Europe in the tech race.

In an interview with Wired, he remarked that he had been suitably impressed by the vast potential AI holds, as well as tangible benefits he has personally witnessed, including in health care and in autonomous driving. However, he also acknowledged that dealing with the sheer amount of sensitive data could lead to the “huge opportunity [becoming] a huge risk” that could “dismantle national cohesion”. According to Macron, people will continue to view AI with a degree of suspicion, unless a certain level of transparency is guaranteed. His worries are not unfounded – in the case of the Cambridge Analytica controversy that Facebook is currently embroiled in. It was found that over 80 million users have had their data inappropriately obtained for use in the 2016 U.S election. The incident had caused some furore as well as public scrutiny about data harvesting and exploitation.

To Macron, disruptive technologies is political in nature and has the potential to “threaten democracy”, which is also the main reason why he wants to be at the forefront of this AI sphere, “if you want to manage your own choice of society, your choice of civilization, you have to be able to be an acting part of this AI revolution. That’s the condition of having a say in designing and defining the rules of AI. That is one of the main reasons why I want to be part of this revolution and even to be one of its leaders”. In conjunction, he has also insisted on a high level of transparency in the ways algorithms are developed by government-funded research facilities. This appears to be a win-win approach for the European Union that historically stressed on consumer protection and explicit consent.

Macron’s initiative will include efforts to promote greater collaboration between private companies and government-funded facilities; boost AI research projects and startups; “train and retrain” the workforce and ultimately boost France’s standing as a global innovation hub for technology. Further, it is hoped that through boosting the technological vitality of France, it would have the effect of wooing French talent to work in France which would “reverse brain drain”.

An important point to note however, according to an article on Entrepreneur, owing to strict European rules on compliance and the existing General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) where user data is protected, there may be major obstacles in kickstarting the AI industry in Europe.

 

Belgium ditches nuclear energy as CO2 emission in Europe rises

The Belgian federal government last Friday (30 Mar) approved a new energy pact that will see the country phase out atomic power between 2022 and 2025. Belgium sources about 40% of its power needs from nuclear power, placing the country fourth globally behind France (72%), Slovakia (54%) and Ukraine (52%) in terms of highest share of nuclear power in its national energy mixes. According to a nuclear safety act taking effect early last month, all Belgian pharmacies now provide radiation-busting iodine tablets free-of-charge to anyone, and those living in the direct vicinity of a nuclear facility are required to keep tablets in their homes.

Belgium is currently lagging behind in hitting its 2020 renewable energy target of 13%, as recent Eurostat data showed only 8.7% of its energy needs are sourced from solar, wind et al. A final decision on closing its nuclear power plants could provide the impulse Belgium needs to build more renewable energy capacity.

(Just as Belgium decides to ditch nuclear plants, the leaders of Turkey and Russia marked the official start of work to build Turkey’s first nuclear power station on 3 April, launching construction of the $20 billion Akkuyu plant in the southern province of Mersin. The plant will be built by Russian state nuclear energy agency Rosatom and will be made up of four units each with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts.)

An important background of Belgium’s drive towards greater renewable energy utilisation is that CO2 emissions regulated under Europe’s carbon market rose for the first time in seven years in 2017 due to stronger industrial output. Currently, around 45% of the EU’s output of greenhouse gases is regulated by the Emissions Trading System (ETS), which charges for the right to emit carbon dioxide. The ETS also caps the emissions of around 12,000 power plants, factories and airlines, forcing them to surrender one carbon permit for every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted annually by the end of April of the following year. According to Thomson Reuters carbon analysts, emissions totalled 1.756 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) last year for companies under the ETS excluding airlines, up 0.3% on the previous year.

In addition to carbon footprint, the EU also attempts to tackle imported deforestation. Although Brussels unveiled in March a European Feasibility study on imported deforestation, a recent report by the NGO Mighty Earth suggests that the EU has not done enough at the regional level. The report warns that European meat industry is responsible for much of South American deforestation. In South America, many forests were illegally destroyed in order to cultivate soy, which were then exported to Europe where 97% of the soy were used for animal feed. In 2016, 46.8 million tonnes of soy were imported into Europe, of which, 27.8 million tonnes were produced in South America.

Europe is internationally known for its commitment to the environment and fighting climate change, but available EU rules to fight imported deforestation fall short of the challenges. Ideally, one way of curbing imported deforestation is the reduction of European meat and dairy product consumption, which is nearly impossible from cultural and commercial perspectives. Still, Mighty Earth urges the EU to do more, at least to tackle the overproduction of soy in the first step.

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