Photo by Sam Tranum

Against Fake News

The European Commission set up a special group in mid-November to tackle the spread of fake news, made up of academics, online social-media platforms, and news organisations, as well as researchers and public authorities. And it’s looking for more people to join from different fields – academia and civil society, among others.

The group’s role is mainly to advise the commission on scoping out the fake-news phenomenon, from how it is perceived by citizens to issues around trust in media, as well as working to define the responsibilities of media companies and civil-society organisations. Experts who are interested in cooperating with the commission can apply to join the group until mid-December. It is expected to start work in January 2018 and will work over several months.

Alongside the group, the commission has also launched a public consultation on fake news. It will gather opinions on what the EU could do to help citizens verify what information is reliable and what is fake. The findings will feed into an EU strategy on fighting online disinformation due be published in spring 2018.

Online Fraudsters

The European Parliament approved in mid-November new EU rules to better protect consumers against online scams and to curtail rogue traders.

Consumer protections vary between EU countries, making it hard to help consumers across the union. But the new regulations hope to change that, closing legal loopholes.

Under the new rules, national enforcement authorities will get more powers to tackle online scams and fraud. They will be allowed to request information from domain registrars and banks to identify rogue traders, to purchase goods or services under fake identities (in other words, do some “mystery shopping”), to order a service provider to limit or block websites involved in illegal practices, to impose penalties on fraudsters.

The commission will coordinate cases where an infringement harms the collective interests of consumers. Meanwhile, consumers’ organisations are expected to play an important role by flagging suspected frauds, given that they might know about them earlier than the authorities.

The data collected by parliament shows that in 2004, 37 percent of online shops and booking websites were in breach of EU consumers laws. New regulations still need to be formally adopted by the European Council, and they will apply 24 months after they enter into force.

The Budget

EU institutions agreed the union’s budget for 2018 on 18 November. The 2018 EU budget consists of €160.1 billion in commitments (money that can be agreed in contracts in a given year) and €144.7 billion in payment credits (money that will be paid out).

The biggest segment will go to stimulate the creation of jobs and internships, especially for young people, and to boost growth, provide strategic investments and improve European safety. The EU will also continue supporting the efforts to effectively deal with challenges around migration, both inside and outside of the EU.

Nearly €4.1 billion is earmarked to help manage migration and tackle security challenges. Meanwhile, €40 million is budgeted to fund research in defence technologies within the European Defence Fund. An additional €350 million will go to the Youth Employment Initiative to help to solve the problem of youth unemployment in the EU. And nearly half of the funds – €77.5 billion – will be dedicated to support the EU economy and education.

High-Tech Aid

The European Commission has launched a new prize focused on Affordable High-Tech for Humanitarian Aid. There is a pot of €5 million for breakthrough, proven, cost-effective and tech-based solutions for humanitarian support.

In principle, five prizes of €1 million will be divided equally into five categories:  water, sanitation and hygiene, energy supply, health and medical care, shelter, plus an open category. It’s looking for things like nanotechnologies, advanced materials, industrial biotechnology or 3D printing, but is not limited to them. Developed solutions should demonstrate the potential of modern technologies and effectively serve the needs of affected populations.

“Creative tech and innovative tools could make a huge difference in the future when it comes to crisis response, including aid delivery in remote areas,” said the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides, announcing the prize on 30 November.

The contest is open to all legal entities, from individuals to organisations or groups of legal organisations or institutions, who can now apply. The deadline is 15 January 2020.

Jowita is a Polish journalist based in Brussels, covering EU affairs and legislation.

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