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WTO rules: Compatibility with human and labour rights

04-03-2021

Supply chains are increasingly international, but many of EU's trade partners fail to meet both the labour standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and international human rights norms. EU trade policy is designed to ensure that economic development complies with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, while upholding human rights and high labour standards. WTO rules require members to comply with a set of basic free trading principles, in particular national treatment and most-favoured ...

Supply chains are increasingly international, but many of EU's trade partners fail to meet both the labour standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and international human rights norms. EU trade policy is designed to ensure that economic development complies with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, while upholding human rights and high labour standards. WTO rules require members to comply with a set of basic free trading principles, in particular national treatment and most-favoured nation status. When a member wishes to take a trade-affecting measure that departs from WTO rules, they can justify the action on the basis of general exceptions. Whereas there is no specific provision in the WTO rules on human rights, according to case law and precedents, the general exception can sometimes allow trade-restricting measures based on human rights concerns. Yet, the open nature of WTO-rules means that members must devise trade-restrictive measures carefully, and that the dispute settlement process can involve complex legal interpretation if litigation arises. The uncertainty surrounding the compatibility between WTO rules and human and labour rights is attracting growing attention, generating calls for WTO reform. Another WTO framework that has been the subject of a long-standing debate on whether its flexibility provisions are sufficient to protect human rights and in particular the right to health is the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the debate has refocused on the need to waive some TRIPS provisions. This briefing provides an overview of complex issues relating to human rights and WTO rules. It does not argue for a specific interpretation or position, and does not attempt to bring final clarification on aspects still disputed among legal experts.

Women in foreign affairs and international security: Still far from gender equality

03-03-2021

The debate on the participation and role of women in foreign affairs and international security is a timely and relevant one, and is being raised with increasing frequency at both national and international levels. In particular, there is growing attention to the imbalances in the representation of women in leadership and other key positions in the area of foreign and security policy, as well as to the growing body of evidence regarding the positive effect of including women in several key areas ...

The debate on the participation and role of women in foreign affairs and international security is a timely and relevant one, and is being raised with increasing frequency at both national and international levels. In particular, there is growing attention to the imbalances in the representation of women in leadership and other key positions in the area of foreign and security policy, as well as to the growing body of evidence regarding the positive effect of including women in several key areas of foreign and security policy. While gaps persist, women's representation at management and ministerial levels in the areas of foreign affairs and security has increased whether in the European Union (EU), the United States (US) or at the United Nations (UN) level. Among these issues, women's role in peacekeeping receives particular attention, as research has consistently shown that gender equality contributes to peace, and that peace negotiations involving women have a better chance of being sustainable and effective. Gender-equal societies enjoy better health, stronger economic growth and higher security. The UN and the EU have put pronounced emphasis on the issue in the past two decades. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 established the 'women, peace and security' (WPS) agenda in 2000. Since then, more WPS-related resolutions have been adopted, widening the scope and breadth of gendered peace and security. These resolutions have been instrumental in changing the philosophy and rhetoric focused on conflict and gender equality, thereby challenging the international community to do more. Several initiatives are also being implemented at EU level, including through the 2018 EU strategic approach to WPS. However, critics underline that a lot remains to be done, as women continue to be under-represented in the field of foreign and security policy across the world. This is an update of an EPRS briefing published in September 2019.

Support for democracy through EU external policy: New tools for growing challenges

26-02-2021

The crisis of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism across the globe, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, highlight the importance of taking a more strategic and autonomous approach to supporting democracy worldwide – an objective often balanced against other external policy aims until now. Since the start of the current parliamentary term, the EU has reviewed its political guidance on democracy and human rights. It has adopted or is about to adopt important measures to strengthen support ...

The crisis of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism across the globe, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, highlight the importance of taking a more strategic and autonomous approach to supporting democracy worldwide – an objective often balanced against other external policy aims until now. Since the start of the current parliamentary term, the EU has reviewed its political guidance on democracy and human rights. It has adopted or is about to adopt important measures to strengthen support for democracy (including better monitoring and enforcement of relevant provisions in trade arrangements). The adoption of the new multiannual financial framework (MFF) and of a new development aid instrument bringing together all former external aid instruments provides new opportunities for better implementing EU funding and better exploiting the EU's leverage as a major provider of development aid. Digital challenges and the narrowing space for civil societies are among the priorities to be addressed. The challenge of engaging more difficult partners, such as China and Russia, has inspired calls to broaden the scope of a values-based agenda to other economic relations, such as investments. These new measures complement an already broad and complex toolbox integrating various external policies. Using the enhanced powers in external affairs provided by the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU has set up extensive political and diplomatic dialogues to enhance partnerships beyond the more asymmetric, specific development assistance and trade leverage going back to the 1990s. While the EU has responded to violations of democratic norms by reducing aid and withdrawing trade preferences, it has consistently sought to build equal partnerships based on constructive and open dialogues, rather than use its economic and commercial traction in a coercive manner. This is an update of a Briefing from February 2018.

Democratic institutions and prosperity: The benefits of an open society

04-02-2021

The ongoing structural transformation and the rapid spread of the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are challenging current democratic institutions and their established forms of governance and regulation. At the same time, these changes offer vast opportunities to enhance, strengthen and expand the existing democratic framework to reflect a more complex and interdependent world. This process has already begun in many democratic societies but further progress is needed. Examining these ...

The ongoing structural transformation and the rapid spread of the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are challenging current democratic institutions and their established forms of governance and regulation. At the same time, these changes offer vast opportunities to enhance, strengthen and expand the existing democratic framework to reflect a more complex and interdependent world. This process has already begun in many democratic societies but further progress is needed. Examining these issues involves looking at the impact of ongoing complex and simultaneous changes on the theoretical framework underpinning beneficial democratic regulation. More specifically, combining economic, legal and political perspectives, it is necessary to explore how some adaptations to existing democratic institutions could further improve the functioning of democracies while also delivering additional economic benefits to citizens and society as whole. The introduction of a series of promising new tools could offer a potential way to support democratic decision-makers in regulating complexity and tackling ongoing and future challenges. The first of these tools is to use strategic foresight to anticipate and control future events; the second is collective intelligence, following the idea that citizens are collectively capable of providing better solutions to regulatory problems than are public administrations; the third and fourth are concerned with design-thinking and algorithmic regulation respectively. Design-based approaches are credited with opening up innovative options for policy-makers, while algorithms hold the promise of enabling decision-making to handle complex issues while remaining participatory.

The foreign policy implications of the pandemic

19-11-2020

During the November II plenary session, the European Parliament is due to debate an own-initiative report on the foreign policy consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Considering the pandemic a 'game changer', the report makes the case for stronger and more effective EU external policies, along with a set of recommendations.

During the November II plenary session, the European Parliament is due to debate an own-initiative report on the foreign policy consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Considering the pandemic a 'game changer', the report makes the case for stronger and more effective EU external policies, along with a set of recommendations.

G20 Summit of November 2020: Great expectations despite boycott calls

19-11-2020

On 21-22 November, under Saudi Arabia's presidency, the G20 will hold its first regular summit in a virtual format. Unavoidably the focus will be on the current crisis, more specifically on protecting lives and livelihoods and restoring growth. Given the crucial role it played in tackling the 2008-2009 financial crisis, hopes are high regarding the G20's potential role in proposing a financial and economic solution to deal with the ongoing downturn. Several major G20 members have invested massive ...

On 21-22 November, under Saudi Arabia's presidency, the G20 will hold its first regular summit in a virtual format. Unavoidably the focus will be on the current crisis, more specifically on protecting lives and livelihoods and restoring growth. Given the crucial role it played in tackling the 2008-2009 financial crisis, hopes are high regarding the G20's potential role in proposing a financial and economic solution to deal with the ongoing downturn. Several major G20 members have invested massive amounts of money to keep their economies afloat, in line with the decision of the extraordinary G20 summit held in the spring, but the depth of the current crisis requires additional action. Some critics have argued that the G20 is not up to its perceived role. The lack of US leadership in particular has been seen as an obstacle preventing the group from living up to its full potential. One of the crucial measures adopted by the G20 has been to freeze the official debt payments of developing countries, with the measure recently being extended. Many voices consider that this will not be enough to avoid state defaults however. Saudi Arabia, the first Arab country to hold the presidency, has been eager to use the opportunity provided by its G20 presidency to showcase its ambitious internal reform programme and its economic potential. The Saudis' leadership of the G20 in these times of turmoil has not escaped criticism, first of all because of the perceived inconsistency between stated objectives at G20 level and internal reality in the country, but also because of the role the country played in the oil price crash of 2020. Given the dire human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and in its fighting in Yemen, calls for a boycott of the summit have been multiplying. The European Parliament has suggested that the EU should downgrade its presence at the summit.

Towards a mandatory EU system of due diligence for supply chains

22-10-2020

The growth of international supply chains has undoubtedly brought enormous benefits to developing countries, but at the same time it has had certain negative impacts, relating for instance to violations of human and labour rights, including forced labour and child labour, environmental damage, land grabbing, and corruption. Multinational companies have gained unprecedented power, creating asymmetries in relation to weak regulation and enforcement in developing countries. For several decades, multinational ...

The growth of international supply chains has undoubtedly brought enormous benefits to developing countries, but at the same time it has had certain negative impacts, relating for instance to violations of human and labour rights, including forced labour and child labour, environmental damage, land grabbing, and corruption. Multinational companies have gained unprecedented power, creating asymmetries in relation to weak regulation and enforcement in developing countries. For several decades, multinational companies have been encouraged to take responsibility for their supply chains on a voluntary basis. Whereas in some sectors, where violations have been most egregious, particularly in the extractive industries or in timber extraction, mandatory frameworks have already been adopted at EU level, for others it was hoped that the voluntary approach, guided by several international frameworks, would suffice. The evidence available, however, from academic research, civil society organisations, implementation of the EU Non-financial Reporting Directive, and studies commissioned by the EU institutions, has made it clear that the voluntary approach is not enough. Against this background, many voices consider that the EU should adopt mandatory due diligence legislation. Human rights and the environment stand out as two areas where such legislation would be both most needed and most effective. Beyond its expected intrinsic positive impact, such legislation would have important advantages, such as creating a level playing field among all companies operating on the EU market, bringing legal clarity, and establishing effective enforcement and sanction mechanisms, while possibly improving access to remedy for those affected, by establishing civil and legal liability for companies. The European Commission has undertaken some preliminary steps, including publishing a study and conducting public consultations, towards a possible legislative initiative on mandatory due diligence. Its 2021 work programme includes a proposal for a directive on sustainable corporate governance that would also cover human rights and environmental due diligence.

European Union involvement in the United Nations system: Broad partnership based on shared commitment to multilateralism

22-09-2020

Over the years, the EU has become a key player in the United Nations system. The UN remains an organisation of sovereign states, and this is reflected in the functioning of its bodies, agencies and programmes. The EU enjoys observer status in many of these and is the only international organisation to have secured enhanced observer status in the UN General Assembly. The EU leverages its influence through its significant financial contribution to the UN system, through its enhanced partnerships with ...

Over the years, the EU has become a key player in the United Nations system. The UN remains an organisation of sovereign states, and this is reflected in the functioning of its bodies, agencies and programmes. The EU enjoys observer status in many of these and is the only international organisation to have secured enhanced observer status in the UN General Assembly. The EU leverages its influence through its significant financial contribution to the UN system, through its enhanced partnerships with various entities within the UN system, and through close coordination with its Member States on positions to be defended in the organisation.

Impact of the pandemic on elections around the world: From safety concerns to political crises

17-07-2020

The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on electoral processes around the world, with many elections being postponed because of emergency situations. Ideally, postponing elections should involve a sensible balancing act between the democratic imperative, enshrined in international law and national constitutions, to hold regular elections, and public health requirements restricting large gatherings and minimising close contact between people. While some countries have decided to go ahead with elections ...

The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on electoral processes around the world, with many elections being postponed because of emergency situations. Ideally, postponing elections should involve a sensible balancing act between the democratic imperative, enshrined in international law and national constitutions, to hold regular elections, and public health requirements restricting large gatherings and minimising close contact between people. While some countries have decided to go ahead with elections, most countries with elections scheduled since the beginning of March have postponed them. Among those that have held elections during the pandemic, South Korea has emerged as a model for having organised a highly successful electoral process, while protecting the health of its population. Others, such as Burundi, have set a negative standard, ignoring health risks putting both population and politicians in peril. Postponing elections as part of the policy response to the crisis ideally requires a broad political consensus. However, rescheduling has proven divisive in many cases. Those in power have often been accused by the opposition and other critics of trying to reshape the calendar to their own advantage, either by lifting lockdowns too early to allow for the restart of the electoral process (such as in Serbia − the first European country to hold parliamentary elections after the crisis) or by prolonging transitional situations unnecessarily (such as in Bolivia, which has an interim president). The crisis provides a unique opportunity for electoral reform. Extending opportunities for early and remote voting has been seen as a way to reduce risk. However, much caution is needed, particularly as regards remote online voting, which involves either limitations of the right to voting secrecy or serious and still unmanageable cyber-risks.

2019 report on human rights and democracy

06-07-2020

Parliament's July plenary session is scheduled to feature a statement by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, and a debate on the recently published 'EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2019'. The report takes stock of all EU action in 2019 in support of democracy and human rights in the world. Parliament will subsequently respond with its own report issuing recommendations for the future.

Parliament's July plenary session is scheduled to feature a statement by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, and a debate on the recently published 'EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2019'. The report takes stock of all EU action in 2019 in support of democracy and human rights in the world. Parliament will subsequently respond with its own report issuing recommendations for the future.

Προσεχείς εκδηλώσεις

15-03-2021
EPRS online Book Talk with Vivien Schmidt: Legitimacy and power in the EU
Άλλη δραστηριότητα -
EPRS
16-03-2021
EPRS online policy roundtable: New European Bauhaus
Άλλη δραστηριότητα -
EPRS
17-03-2021
Hearing on Responsibilities of transport operators and other private stakeholders
Ακρόαση -
ANIT

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