EU Briefs: The Next Budget, Hate Speech, Card Fees, and Plastic Waste

The Next Budget

Citizens in the European Union have until 8 March to weigh in on what should be prioritised in the next budget. The post-2020 plan for spending – known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – will be announced in May. The budget covers areas such as jobs and innovation, as well as current challenges such as globalisation, migration, climate change, defence and security.

The European Commission officials say that they want to hear which areas matter most, and should receive more funding. Cuts are expected in areas around cohesion and agricultural policies, though.

When it comes to research, for example, citizens can offer input into the importance of the Horizon 2020 programme, the EU Health Programme, or the systems around funds. The commission has also asked for feedback around how current EU policies and programmes work, and whether they need improvement and simpler procedures.

At the end of the consultation period, commission officials will summarise the feedback. The Commissioner in Charge of Budget and Human Resources, Günther Oettinger, said that the feedback gathered will be taken into consideration while designing the final proposals for the post-2020 budget.

Tracking Progress on Hate Speech

An average of 70 percent of illegal hate speech is taken down within 24 hours after it is reported, according to EU Commissioner of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová.

In mid-January, Jourová announced the results of a third evaluation of the code of conduct on countering illegal online hate speech.

In May 2016, the four biggest IT companies – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Microsoft – had agreed to remove illegal content within 24 hours after it was reported. Online users or NGOs, such as ENAR (European Network Against Racism) Ireland, can report the speech.

In Ireland, the rate is slightly lower than the average, at 69.6 percent. In Germany, it is 100 percent. According to the evaluation, Facebook is the most efficient as, across the EU, it takes down 80 percent of illegal content, 89 percent of which is within a day. For Youtube, the equivalent figure is 75 percent, and for Twitter, it’s 46 percent.

There is debate at the EU Council on whether extra legislation is needed. At the moment, though, the commission seems to be satisfied with the IT companies. Jourová said the code of conduct is proving to be a valuable tool. Instagram and Google Plus have signed put to the agreement, too.

An End to Extra Fees

New EU rules mean that retailers can no longer tack on extra surcharges when people pay for goods with credit or debit cards. That applies to transactions both in shops and online.

Low-cost airlines were among the businesses with websites that often added on transaction fees, sometimes from €5 to €10. In practice, the surcharge ban should cover around 95 percent of all card payments in the EU. (In some countries, the regulations won’t cover company cards, American Express cards or PayPal.)

EU Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, who is responsible for financial stability and financial services, says he estimates that the measures will save EU citizens up to €550 million a year. The directive also provides better protections for consumers against credit card fraud.

On Plastic Waste

The main goal of the EU’s first strategy around plastics, adopted in recent weeks, is for all plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable in a cost-effective manner by 2030.

The European Commission also wants to give a boost to the proper use of biodegradable and compostable plastics, by improving their labelling.

The commission is already working to curb the use of lightweight plastic bags. Since 2016, member states have been obliged to reduce their use. The aim is to reduce use of plastic bags by 80 percent by 2019, compared to 2010.

The EU also wants to tackle marine litter. That means restricting the use of micro plastics often found in cosmetics such as body scrubs. And bringing in new rules around how to deal with waste collected at sea.

About 200,000 new jobs might be created through the plastics strategy, the commission said. Around 26 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated in Europe every year, 70 percent of which is put in landfills or incinerated.

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