Another exciting week is over and we wish you a happy morning and weekend with the latest Krautshell edition.
Enjoy and ping us for more!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
EU Budget Agreement: Flexibility, Priority Programs, and Corona Aid
After long four months and countless negotiations, the European Parliament and EU Member States have finally agreed on the details of a €1.8 trillion financial package, which includes an EU budget of €1 trillion for the years 2021-2027. Politicians across the EU are collectively breathing a huge sigh of relief, as the road to this point has been paved with countless obstacles.
Most importantly, this agreement frees up the much-needed €750 billion coronavirus recovery package, as many member states are struggling with the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic. The new package also includes some slight differences compared to the previous agreement from July 21st. For starters, an extra €15 billion injection for “priority programs” like Erasmus+ (pan-European education program) and EU4Health (healthcare funding program) has been included. Furthermore, there are now strengthened flexibility mechanisms, to allow for rapid responses in the event of unforeseen challenges faced by Member States.
Now for the million (or 1.8 trillion)-dollar question: where is this money coming from? Most of the money will be borrowed on the markets, but here is the interesting part: new own resources are to be introduced to supplement Member State contributions to the EU budget. The Parliament has demanded a legally binding road map for the introduction of new sources of income for the EU, which include a carbon border adjustment mechanism and an EU digital tax. No agreement has been reached here, and given how long it took to agree on this budget, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Get Me Vaccinated
Finally, and you’ve all seen it: The cooperation between the US company Pfizer with German company BionTech seems to be working quite well. The test results of a promising vaccine candidate mainly developed by BionTech with the financial and strategic support of Pfizer look promising; the two companies may already file for approval in the EU end of 2020 or beginning of 2021.
The next questions are: How will the vaccine be procured, and who will receive the first doses as initially there will not be enough for everyone. The EU sees itself in a global competition for buying vaccines with the US and the United Kingdom. So far, the EU Commission secured 800 million vaccine doses from different companies that have promising candidates in development. Those will be distributed by means of population between the Member States. In Germany, the first doses will be reserved for high-risk groups, followed by system-relevant workers and other risk groups. Going forward, moral and ethical clarity and transparency in distribution will be essential, not just in the EU and Germany, to create a high level of societal acceptance for the vaccine.
Let Me Show You the Back Door
It seems soon, end-to-end encryption won’t quite mean what it used to in the EU. According to a report from the Austrian Broadcasting Service (ORF), the Council of EU Ministers has unanimously agreed that all digital service providers like Whatsapp, Signal and co. must build backdoors into their encryption for governments to access information when necessary.
Although the EU values data privacy and rights of individuals, these protections also extend to criminals, who use end-to-end encryption to evade justice. According to a leaked document on the topic, the EU wants to find a “balance” between regular encryption use and lawful access to encrypted data, and is therefore collaborating closely with tech companies and academics to find a workable solution. The final document is to be presented for endorsement by the Council on November 19th, for other representations on November 25th, and then adopted by the Council shortly thereafter.
Privacy advocates are jumping up and down in rage, as lawmakers in the EU have been launching attacks on end-to-end encryption for years now. They point out that as a new tactic to mislead unknowledgeable citizens, government documents no longer use the word “backdoor,” but rather slightly less provocative terms like “lawful access” and “exceptional access.” Their argument: there’s no such thing as a “secure corridor” for authorities to access encrypted data through, as any gap in encryption can be equally exploited by cyber criminals. Regardless, this hot-button issue is sure to stir up some more controversy in the coming weeks.
A Ban for Political Advertising Online?
When thinking about Cambridge Analytica, EU politicians get nervous as it reminds them of one of the biggest flaws in the democratic process. The British company allegedly had a major influence on both the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US elections by spreading paid ads with fake news to special target groups. Addressing a very small group of people because of their demographic variables, the location they live in, their job or their hobbies is called “microtargeting” and it is a central element of modern advertising. In political advertising, this is dangerous, as we know that often the votes of several thousand people in a particular area are enough to change an entire election outcome.
EU politicians aim to regulate Twitter, Facebook and co. concerning political advertising. They will probably do so with the EU Commission’s “Action Plan for Democracy,” which will be presented on December 2nd 2020. According to several media reports, this action plan will contain a draft bill for banning political advertising. So far, it is not quite clear if the scope will only be parties and politicians themselves, or if NGOs will also be included. Many social media networks still allow political advertising and are not very transparent when they are asked which ads they were showing, who the advertising companies were targeting, and how much money was spent on these ads. This shall change. However, we won’t have a law coming into force at least until 2023, which is, for instance, after the 2021 federal election in Germany.
Did You Receive My WhatsApp on Telegram that I Sent with iMessage?
A few episodes ago, we already indicated that there might be some regulatory changes concerning social networks. The EU Commission’s alleged plans concern competition policy and could have a HUGE impact. A pre-stage for breaking up big tech companies (we reported) could be an approach the EU Commission seems to plan with their Digital Services Act. The approach is about messenger services like WhatsApp and Telegram to work interoperable. This could enable the EU to break up market domination maybe without breaking up the companies.
All planned laws and regulations that we await on the 2nd of December have a clear tendency. The EU feels like big tech dominated the digital market long enough in the EU and doesn’t want to endure the partly really bad implications for democracy and consumer rights anymore. Facebook, Google and Amazon should take the EU seriously – at least, this time. The Commission under Ursula von der Leyen aimed at changing the way digital markets work and setting a path for a sustainable digital world. The Action Plan for Democracy and the Digital Services Act will be the key step to start. Make sure to follow our reports on that and reach out if you have questions.
North Stream Who?
In the coming weeks, the German government is expected to sign an agreement with Denmark’s government in which both countries pledge to provide each other with natural gas in the event of a supply failure. You know, like in a hypothetical situation where the US would threaten to sanction any company involved in building a natural gas pipeline, between oh I don’t know, Germany and Russia?
Should this deal ultimately be signed between the two countries, it would be the first of its kind in Europe. The hope is to entice other Member States to do the same, therefore reducing the EU’s dependence on gas suppliers outside Europe. According to the German government, this agreement provides for joint prevention and emergency plans, publication of gas supply contracts, and supply of natural gas from one Member State to the other in emergency cases.
Of course, you can’t talk about Germany and natural gas without mentioning the North Stream II pipeline. While everything mentioned here is not yet public or final, the developments certainly raise the question: is Germany and the rest of the EU ready to slowly wean themselves off of Russian gas supply? As the political pressure surrounding the pipeline continues to mount, it is very likely Germany is looking for another alternative, should the Russian tap run dry. According to the Pioneer, Germany currently imports 95 percent of its natural gas. This means they need a solid insurance policy. Meanwhile, one can only wonder why Denmark is signing such a deal, considering it is virtually self-sufficient, producing around 95 percent of natural gas consumed in its own country.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- Another App: In the future, we want to trace not only infections, but also vaccinations. After distributing a vaccine, Germany wants to establish another app in which people who got vaccinated can track their symptoms. This app would help further develop the vaccine. Good idea, but let’s see whether this works out.
- What about Schools: With infection rates rising, questions are arising on how to handle increasing infections in schools. So far 300k pupils and 30k teachers are in quarantine throughout Germany. While other countries used the summer break to install air filters in classrooms, Germany’s revolutionary concept is… TO OPEN WINDOWS. Great!
- Wake Me up When November Ends… is what probably many small business owners are thinking. They were promised fast federal aid, which was meant to be paid still in November, the new lockdown month. However, to date, hardly anyone has received money. This shall change on the 25th November – supposedly. At least both the application and payment processes are done completely online. #digitalization
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
We all read the exciting news about the impressive results Pfizer achieved with its vaccine trials: over 90% effective with preproduced amounts and an accelerated approval process. We all were like:
Some of you might also have read that development was not done by Pfizer alone, but in a joint effort with a German biotech company, BionTech.
And while I am excited about this impressive demonstration of international cooperation to fight a challenge like COVID-19, I am pretty upset about the media coverage of the founders and developers of the vaccine. BionTech was founded by a married couple, Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci. He is the CEO, she is head of the medicine research department. Both are renowned scientists and researchers. Her part in the development of the vaccine was at least as significant as her husband’s, if not more.
But then, and now I get to the point (not even mentioning all the profiles of HIM where she only played a side role (and btw kudos to the NY Times which did a profile of the COUPLE)):
You enter his name in Google and through autocomplete you get “CEO of BionTech”. You enter her name and you get “wife of Uğur Şahin.” After some uproar, Google manually adjusted the search results in this particular case. You have to celebrate the little victories I guess. ‘Cause, when you type in Hillary Clinton, the autocomplete still reads “Former First Lady of the USA”…