Assessing 2023 in EU politics – what to expect for the second half of the year

7 September 2023

Climate focus shifts to implementation as political leadership changes

By Pascal Koenig – Senior Account Manager

Akin to the ever-increasing global temperatures, as Brussels returns from its summer break, the EU’s environmental policy landscape continues to heat up. 

With June’s European Parliament elections just around the corner, Brussels’ political factions are about to kick-start their political campaigning – that is all except the right-wing factions as the widely communicated blow-up over the Nature Restaration Law has shown.  

As the public’s apparent backlash to climate activists – and policy – increased, the European Commission President von der Leyen’s showcase European Green Deal and Fit for 55 legislative package rapidly ascended to the central campaign topic in Brussels and across the EU’s 27 Member States. 

Hence, it may be considered less than convenient for President von der Leyen and the Parliament’s left-wing parties that the EU’s climate czar Frans Timmermans decided to jump ship over the summer months to run for Mark Rutte’s job as Dutch Prime Minister. 

On the other hand, given that the vast majority of the EU’s Fit for 55 climate and energy legislation has already finished its Brussels process and is now progressing towards national implementation, having the EU’s former climate representative move to the EU’s highest decision making table should help Europe’s flaling climate ambitions. 

It will now be for Timmermans’ replacement, former Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra – should he make it through his European Parliament confirmation hearing, that is – to continue the difficult work of bringing down the heated electoral discussion to ensure that Europe will stay on track to meet it climate ambitions. 

While he still needs to shepherd the bills such as the Nature Restoration Law, energy performance standards for buildings, or the greening of HGVs through the difficult inter-institutional negotiations between Member States and MEPs, his main focus will be on representing the EU at COP29 later this year and intensifying carbon capture technologies, according to his mission letter, before his short terms ends next summer. 

Digital policy remains crucial as Europe prepares for the 2024 elections

By Emma Buchholt – Account Manager

The summer is over for the EU, and September is already in full swing.

25 August marked the commencement of the enforcement phase of the eagerly awaited Digital Services Act (DSA), which applies to 19 digital platforms and search engines boasting at least 45 million users within the European Union. Among the notable platforms falling under its purview are Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, Alphabet’s Google Search and YouTube, TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter). The efficacy of this new regulatory framework hinges on the enforcement efforts of DG CONNECT, which now oversees the largest digital giants. Going forward, the Commission now wields the authority to investigate and potentially levy fines of up to 6 percent of a company’s annual global revenue against the popular social media and e-commerce platforms should they fail to meet their newly assigned obligations. Corporations are expected to deploy teams of lawyers to exploit even the most minor procedural shortcomings, mirroring their strategies in competition or data protection cases, with the aim of defeating legal challenges. This will be a test for both tech and the EU.

In a more challenging vein: DSA and the upcoming 2024 elections. Advocacy groups have been taking proactive steps. More than 50 NGOs – including European Digital Rights (EDRi), AlgorithmWatch, and the EU Disinfo Lab – have called on the Commission to compel prominent social media giants to outline their strategies for safeguarding the 2024 elections under the DSA. Similarly, artificial intelligence remains crucial in the lead up to the elections. Member states and MEPs are deeply engrossed in the negotiations surrounding the Act. Since its unveiling in April 2021, the AI Act has encountered vigorous lobbying efforts, extensive media examination, and intricate political negotiations. MEPs have submitted numerous amendments to the initial text, reflecting the considerable attention and debate surrounding the legislation.

The urgency of the matter cannot be overstated; extremists are exploiting online platforms to disseminate and amplify disinformation and conspiracy theories, which pose a significant threat to the integrity of election outcomes. Platforms ought to enhance the safety of their recommendation algorithms, including reducing the visibility of disinformation and discontinuing the practice of microtargeting individuals with political advertisements. More importantly, sufficient resources need to be allocated to content moderation in various European languages. It is imperative that tech platforms should not have the authority to influence the outcomes of the 2024 elections in secret. 

Is this all feasible? Some of the above-mentioned requests align with concrete obligations that the Commission and national regulators, such as the Irish media commission, can enforce. However, uncertainties remain regarding how the Commission will enforce obligations related to the identification and mitigation of systemic risks like disinformation, along with the associated timeline.

The Commission is under significant pressure, and Thierry Breton has openly recognised the need to act swiftly and effectively in their delivery, ensuring the Commission’s commitment to address disinformation again and again. Yet, it will remain a challenging road ahead.

The EU continues to be the global health regulator

By Emma Bourgeois – Account Executive

After many delays, the European Commission finally presented its Pharmaceutical package on 26 April, kicking off a multi-year legislative process. With its revision, the Commission aims to introduces various regulatory provisions aimed at improving the functioning of the pharmaceutical sector whilst improving digital services and improving innovation in the sector. 

Amongst others, it revises the definition of medical need, modifies the incentives for orphan and paediatricmedicines, addresses new Environmental Risk Assessments for market authorizations, incentives to prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistance, and most controversially, seeks to change companies’ established IP protection frameworks. The reduction in the data provision is a significant one – some claim this will harm innovation and competitiveness within the pharmaceutical market of the EU, whilst others see it as a one-stop solution for providing equitable access to medication across all Member states. 

Given the complexity and divisive nature of the file just ahead of the European Elections, the file seems to be marred by delay and issues. While the European Parliament seems eager to push the legislation through its Chamber, what we know for sure is that the proposal will not be officially adopted until at least 2026, given Member States refuse to touch the text until the second half of next year. 

At the same time, negotiations continue on the EU’s plan to establish a so-called Health Data Space (EHDS), aimed at simplifying procedures to harmonise the health sector through sharing health data at the EU level. Now, some have recently claimed that an improvement of digital literacy is needed across the Member Statesfor it to work and for Europeans not to miss out on opportunities for better health. As the file is currently being analysed in Parliament and Council, it is likely that the file will have its first reading in this parliamentary term – whether they will begin work on interinstitutional negotiations, however, remains to be seen. 

Meanwhile, drug shortages remain a huge political issue in Brussels and national Capitals, with Ministers and MEPs strongly pushing the European Commission for drafting a European Critical Medicines Act to take strong action on tackling shortages and re-shore manufacturing to Europe. Yet, with only eight months until the European Parliament goes into recess for the June elections, we might have to wait until a new Parliament and Commission is sworn in until we see a concrete proposal.