EU news focus

What has Europe done for you? 10-16 February 2014

EU News Focus

In this week’s edition, you will particularly read about how the EU institutions act to protect human rights, your consumers’ rights, your environment and your health, and to improve the Internet governance.

European Parliament

Strengthening the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive

MEPs of the Environment Committee voted in favour of a revision of the EIA directive. This directive requires the assessment of the environmental impact of +/- 200 types of projects; yearly, there are between 15,000 and 26,000 in the EU. The purpose of the revision of the rules is to better protect the environment and human health by taking into account additional factors such as the preservation of biodiversity, “hydro-morphological changes” and the impact on climate change. In addition, linked projects would be cumulated to prevent developers from circumventing the rules by splitting big projects into many smaller ones to stay below thresholds. Moreover, the assessment would become more transparent and make it easier for the public to participate. Finally, the new rules would address the risk of conflicts of interests (by requiring a “functional separation” between the competent authority and the project developer) and limit the use of exemptions. The Parliament did not manage to impose a mandatory EIA “for the extraction and exploration of shale gas, regardless of the expected yield”, but risks to human health due to water and soil contamination will have to be considered, and so will the “quality and regenerative capacity of water underground.”

The next step is a vote of the whole EP during the March plenary session. Moreover, an informal agreement with the Council already exists on this text.

The text of the directive can be found here.

The conclusions of the EP inquiry over the activity of the NSA

This inquiry was launched after the revelations made by Edward Snowden and lasted during many months, involving over a dozen hearings with very different people such as politicians and public servants, IT firms’ representatives, NGOs and journalists. During these hearings, journalists warned about the risks of diverting anti-terrorist rules from their original aims and underlined the importance of a public debate on the balance between security and human rights such as freedom of information. A representative of the US Congress reiterated their commitment to better supervise the NSA’s activities and claimed that past abuses had taken place “outside congressional authority”. US IT firms denied that the NSA had a free access to their servers, while some experts suggesting establishing a “European ‘privacy cloud’.” Finally, the EP members did not look only at the NSA illicit activities but also at the claims of improper behaviour by some European spying agencies.

Members of the Civil Liberties Committee approved the report and suggested the EP “should withhold its consent to an EU-US trade deal unless it fully respects EU citizens’ data privacy,” and that “data protection rules should be excluded from the trade talks and negotiated separately with the US.” Among the other suggestions, there is a “digital ‘new deal’” and legislation establishing a “European whistleblower protection programme.”

More information on the report is accessible here, and on the vote and suggestions here.

If you want to read more about the European Parliament’s activity each week, click here.

European Commission

What has been achieved one year after the beginning of the horsemeat scandal?

You surely remember the investigations showing that a transnational network of businesses was involved in passing off horsemeat as beef. In March 2013, the EU Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg, had announced a five-point action plan to tackle the dysfunctions in the European food-supply chain and food processing industry. The five issues addressed were “food fraud”, “testing programmes”, a “horse passport”, “official controls, implementation and penalties” and “origin labelling”. On food fraud, an improvement in the cooperation and synergies between competent authorities has already been partly achieved. The establishment of a “procedure for the rapid exchange of information and alerts” is on-going. The envisaged actions on testing programmes have been implemented, in particular follow-up measures following reports by health authorities. Union rules on horse passports have been partly reformed, and more changes are underway. The effectiveness of controls and penalties has also been improved through increased penalties, mandatory unannounced official controls and coordinated testing programmes (which can be imposed by the Commission). Finally, on origin labelling, new rules on mandatory origin labelling have been adopted and more stringent rules on the use of voluntary origin labelling are being negotiated. Other actions undertaken are the creation of an EU Food Fraud Network, specialised training for food inspectors, police, customs officers and judicial authorities, various initiatives to improve the coordination at EU level and “a legislative proposal to review the legal framework applicable to official controls.”

More information on the topic is available here.

The Commission’s proposal on a future global Internet governance

The proposal, published on Wednesday, “calls for more transparent, accountable and inclusive governance.” In the Commission’s view, Internet shall serve fundamental freedoms and human rights. The Commission wants this reformed governance to be global. So, the Commission suggests actions such as strengthening the global Internet Forum and launching “a review of conflicts between national laws and jurisdictions that will suggest possible remedies.” The Commission also reiterated its commitment “to improve the transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of the multi-stakeholder processes and those who participate in these processes,” to “creating a set of principles of Internet governance to safeguard the open and unfragmented nature of the Internet,” and to “globalise key decision-making (for example the coordination of domain names and IP addresses) to safeguard the stability, security and resilience of the Internet.” This proposal shall be a “foundation for a common European approach in global negotiations” and will be further discussed with the EP and the Council ahead of several international events in the coming months.

If you want to know more about the Commission’s action, click here.

Council / European Council

The EU Human Rights policy

The EU restated its commitment to the universality of Human Rights, to the “multilateral human rights system” and to the cooperation with the UN HRC (Human Rights Council). The EU announced its intention to continue calling for an immediate international investigation in Syria about human rights violations. The EU also mentioned the need to continue international and/or domestic investigations over human rights violations in North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Sri Lanka (during the civil war, for the latter). In addition, the EU recalled the remaining concerns about the situation Myanmar/Burma and expressed again its preoccupations about the human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Central African Republic, especially due to the on-going conflicts in these countries. Furthermore, the EU specifically mentioned some rights which should be protected, including the freedom of religion/belief, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association and assembly, racial equality, and the rights of women, children and LGBTI people. Finally, the EU declared it would “intensify its efforts to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights.”

More details can be found here (p.19-23).

A multiannual consumer protection programme (2014-2020)

This programme aims at ensuring a high level of protection of consumers, empowering consumers and placing them “at the heart of the internal market […]. The Programme will do so by contributing to protecting the health, safety and the legal and economic interests of consumers, as well as to promoting their right to information, education and to organise themselves in order to safeguard their interests, and supporting the integration of consumer interests into other policy areas.” Specific objectives and indicators are established: enhancing product safety “through effective market surveillance throughout the Union;” improving “consumer’s education, information and awareness of their rights” and supporting consumer organisations; facilitating the use of consumers’ rights and possibilities for them to obtain redress (including through alternative dispute resolution); and supporting the enforcement of consumers’ rights “by strengthening cooperation between national enforcement bodies and by supporting consumers with advice.”

The whole text of the regulation, which is adopted jointly with the EP, can be accessed here.

More information about the Council’s work can be found here; for the European Council, click here).

Court of Justice of the European Union

Freedom of establishment & hyperlinks redirecting Internet users to freely available protected works (case C-466-12, Svensson and others v Retriever Sverige AB)

According to the CJEU, “the owner of a website may, without the authorisation of the copyright holders, redirect internet users, via hyperlinks, to protected works available on a freely accessible basis on another site.” Moreover, “this is so even if the internet users who click on the link have the impression that the work is appearing on the site that contains the link.”

In the present case, the website Retriever Sverige had redirected readers to several articles freely accessible on the website of a Swedish newspaper without asking the authors (journalists) for their authorisation. The Court confirmed that it was an act of communication to the public: indeed, it made the work available to the ‘public’ “in such a way that members of the public may access it (even if they do not make use of that possibility).” However, the Court underlined that the authorisation of copyright holders was required only if the communication was directed to a new public. This was not the case here: indeed, the content was freely accessible on the newspaper’s website, so that users of Retriever Sverige’s website were already included in the public when the journalists agreed to the publication of their work on the newspaper’s website. The solution would have been different, had the access to the articles on the newspaper’s website been restricted.

The Court also used this occasion to remind that “the Member States do not have the right to give wider protection to copyright holders by broadening the concept of ‘communication to the public’. That would have the effect of creating legislative differences and, accordingly, legal uncertainty, when the directive at issue is specifically intended to remedy those problems.”

If you are interested in learning about more European Court’s judgments, click here.

Pierre-Antoine KLETHI

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