In 2022-23, the Commission has remained true to its role as the guardian of the Treaties. While defending democracy and building a strong and resilient Europe, the focus has been on the following topics
- Upholding the rule of law and fighting corruption
- Promoting new forms of democratic engagement
- Building a Union of equality
- Increasing resilience and protecting EU citizens
- Overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and building a Health Union
- Building a sustainable and fair migration system
- Answering the humanitarian call
Upholding the rule of law and fighting corruption
Russia’s war against Ukraine is a reminder of the need to defend our hard-won democracy and freedoms. Each generation of Europeans must help build the resilience of European democracy and renew the promise of the European peace project.
The rule of law – freedom, fairness, equality
The rule of law forms the bedrock of our Union. The annual Rule of Law Report monitors developments, both positive and negative, relating to the rule of law in Member States.
The 2023 Report reflects a positive trend while acknowledging that some reforms need more time to be completed.
Effective anti-corruption policies
In May 2023, the Commission took decisive action to fight corruption in the EU and harmonise EU rules on the definitions of and penalties for corruption offences. The aim is to
- ensure high standards against the full range of corruption offences
- improve their enforcement
- put in place structures in Member States that would better prevent corruption.
The Commission also proposed a new dedicated sanctions regime to target serious acts of corruption worldwide.
Anti-corruption policies are an essential part of the enabling environment required for the rule of law, alongside
- the respect for judicial independence
- free and pluralistic media
- a transparent and high-quality public administration
- and a free and active civil society.
Proposal to create an interinstitutional Ethics Body
In June 2023, the Commission proposed the creation of the interinstitutional Ethics Body; there will be common standards for the ethical conduct of members of EU institutions and a formal mechanism for coordination and exchange of views on ethical requirements among institutions.
Promoting new forms of democratic engagement
Following the Conference on the Future of Europe, an unprecedented exercise in participatory democracy, the Commission is acting on the citizens’ recommendations.
At the newly introduced Citizens’ Panels, around 150 randomly selected individuals provide insight ahead of certain key Commission proposals. Emphasis is on the younger generation and their crucial role in shaping the future.
In the new Citizens' Panels, around 150 randomly selected individuals provide insight ahead of pivotal Commission proposals. Topics covered in 2023 were food waste, virtual worlds, and learning mobility.
100th European Citizens’ Initiative
On 18 April 2023, the Commission registered the 100th initiative calling on connecting all European capitals through high-speed trains. Since their inception in 2012, the European Citizens’ initiatives have been a powerful tool of participatory democracy, gathering over 17 million signatures for various proposals.
Building a Union of equality
The Commission remains committed to a society where everyone enjoys equal opportunities to flourish. Everyone must be free to express their individuality, speak their mind, worship freely, and love who they choose.
The 2020-2025 Gender Equality Strategy emphasises the importance of fostering a thriving, gender-equal society and economy. In line with it, we presented proposals to
- protect and strengthen the rights of families in cross-border situations
- strengthen the application of the principle 'equal pay for equal work' between men and women, to finally throw the gender pay gap in the dustbin of history
- eradicate gender-based violence.
In November 2022, to enhance gender equality on corporate boards, we adopted landmark rules, mandating that at least 40% of non-executive director positions in listed companies must be occupied by the underrepresented sex by 2026.
Eradicating violence against women
On 1 June 2023, seven years after Commission’s proposal, the EU finally acceded to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. We are in the process of negotiating minimum standards in EU law to
- criminalise certain forms of gender-based violence
- enhance access to justice, protection and support for victims
- ensure coordination between relevant services
- prevent these types of crimes.
LGBTIQ people's rights
As foreseen in the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025, the Commission presented a proposal in December 2022 to strengthen equality bodies to fight discrimination, by setting minimum standards in terms of their mandate, powers, tasks, resources and independence.
In the framework of the EU Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025, the Commission
- encouraged Member States to adopt national action plans against racism by the end of 2022
- urged Member States to devise national strategies to fight antisemitism
- evaluated national Roma frameworks
- appointed a new coordinator to counter anti-Muslim hatred.
Disability Employment Package
People with disabilities are entitled to participate fully in all aspects of life like everyone else. The Disability Employment Package, presented in September 2022, supports Member States in
- promoting social inclusion
- fighting poverty
- boosting skills and competences of persons with disabilities.
In September 2023, the Commission presented a proposal for the introduction of the European Disability Card, which is set to ensure cross-border recognition of disability status. This will facilitate short stays in other Member States by granting the same access across the EU to special conditions or preferential treatment in relation to services as nationals of that Member State.
Increasing resilience and protecting EU citizens
Under the European Security Union, the EU is dedicated to the protection of all its citizens and businesses, both online and offline. Since July 2020, substantial strides have been made, fortifying the four pillars of the strategy.
Since July 2020, substantial strides have been made, fortifying the four pillars of the strategy:
- addressing vulnerabilities
- augmenting cybersecurity
- fostering law enforcement cooperation
- and supporting resilience against hybrid threats
In addition, there are now in place modern rules securing the physical and digital aspects of critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, transport, health, space, telecommunications and digital.
Cyber Solidarity Act
The proposed Cyber Solidarity Act aims to fortify cooperation within the Union to counter cyber threats by
- enhancing threat detection and awareness
- bolstering preparedness of critical entities
- reinforcing concerted crisis management and response capabilities across Member States.
EU Maritime Security Strategy
In March 2023, the Commission unveiled an updated EU Maritime Security Strategy, which proposes measures to enhance maritime security, including
- EU-level naval exercises
- improved coastguard operations
- bolstered security inspections in EU ports, with the aim of fostering deeper cooperation with partners like NATO to uphold the rules-based order at sea.
European Space Strategy for Security and Defence
The European Space Strategy for Security and Defence reflects the EU's recognition of space as a contested strategic domain, aims to
- protect its space assets such as satellites
- deter hostile activities in space such as spying
- strengthen its strategic autonomy.
Inaugurated in January 2023, it is the first spaceport on EU mainland. It can launch constellations of small satellites that enhance the EU’s earth observation capabilities, which are crucial to counter climate disasters or military threats in real-time.
Increasing resilience to natural and manmade disasters
The rescEU firefighting aircraft reserve has doubled in preparation for this summer and now includes 24 airplanes and 4 helicopters from 10 Member States. In 2023, the EU mobilised via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism hundreds of firefighters, vehicles and planes for massive fires in Europe and to show solidarity with our international partners, such as Canada. In 2022, the Commission also developed a Wildfire Prevention Action Plan.
In February 2023, the Commission also adopted a Recommendation and a Communication to establish common goals to boost European disaster resilience in civil protection. This includes ways to better prepare European countries for natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods, and forest fires.
President von der Leyen visited flooded areas of Emilia-Romagna, in Italy, to see for herself the strong sense of altruism and solidarity the hundreds of volunteers showed. Many took days off work to assist in the massive clean-up necessary and to help those who lost their homes and businesses to return to rebuild.
Overcoming the pandemic and building a Health Union
On 5 May 2023, COVID-19 was officially lifted from its status as a global health emergency. Our strong spirit of resilience, solidarity and coordination, and our deep trust and strong investment in science and innovation have enabled us to overcome this unprecedented crisis.
The EU vaccines strategy
The EU Vaccines Strategy yielded impressive results with over 70% of the EU population being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Through the EU FAB (Network of vaccine producers for future health emergencies), a continual capacity to produce between 500 and 700 million vaccine doses annually, we can ensure that vaccines will be swiftly available to counter any future crises. We remain committed to ensuring vaccines are accessible to all parts of the globe. Since December 2020, nearly 2.5 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been exported to 168 countries.
- Over 70% of the EU population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19
- Between 500 and 700 million vaccine doses can be produced annually in case of future crisis
- Since December 2020, nearly 2.5 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been exported to 168 countries
The EU Digital COVID Certificate
The EU Digital COVID Certificate facilitated safe and free travel for citizens across the European Union when Member States restricted travel during the pandemic. More than 2.3 billion certificates have been issued in the EU since its launch in 2021. Building on its success, in June 2023, the World Health Organization took up the EU system of digital COVID-19 certification, to establish a global system that will help protect citizens worldwide from ongoing and future health threats.
European Health Union
In the past year, work has continued to build a strong European Health Union to better protect the health of our citizens. It equips the EU and its Member States to better prevent and address future pandemics and improve the resilience of Europe’s health systems.
Beating Cancer Plan
With over 2.7 million cancer diagnoses and 1.3 million fatalities recorded in the EU in 2020, the Cancer Plan is the most comprehensive EU initiative ever on cancer and is robustly funded with a budget of €4 billion. As part of it, a new science-based approach to cancer screening was introduced in September 2022 and in 2023, the European Cancer Imaging Initiative was launched, using the power of data and digital technologies to better detect and address cancer.
- 2.7+ million cancer diagnoses in 2020
- 1.3 million fatalities in the EU in 2020
- €4 billion budget for the Cancer Plan
Revision of the pharmaceutical legislation
A key pillar to the European Health Union was added in April 2023 — the most significant revision of the pharmaceutical legislation in two decades. It aims to create a single market for medicines by promoting better availability, accessibility, and affordability of medicines while bolstering innovation and the competitiveness of the EU pharmaceutical industry.
EU's first comprehensive approach to mental health
Unveiled in June 2023, the EU’s first comprehensive approach to mental health reflects recommendations from citizens at the Conference on the Future of Europe and answers the European Parliament's calls for greater mental health action. It puts forward actions to promote good mental health, with a special focus on children and young people. With 20 flagship initiatives and €1.2 billion in EU funding, the Commission will support Member States in putting people and their mental health first.
Building a sustainable and fair migration system
With the New Pact on Migration in Asylum, the Commission aims at strengthening and integrating key EU policies on migration, asylum, and border management. An agreement on the full set of asylum and migration reforms currently being negotiated is key.
Preventing and combatting human trafficking
On 19 December 2022, the Commission proposed to strengthen the rules that prevent and combat human trafficking.
The updated rules will make it easier for law enforcement and judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute new forms of exploitation and help identify and support victims.
Every year over 7 000 people become victims of human trafficking in the EU. The majority of victims are women and girls, but the share of male victims is also on the rise, particularly for labour exploitation.
Skilled labour migration
Developing legal pathways contributes to reducing irregular migration and can help strengthen European economies. For this, the Commission launched, in October 2022, the first EU-wide platform aimed at making the EU more attractive for non-EU nationals looking for job opportunities in the EU. It will help EU employers find the talent they need and ensure decent working conditions.
Also, to advance skilled labour migration from third countries to the EU and to ensure that it is well-managed and targeted to where the labour and skills needs are, the Commission launched, in January 2023, the Labour Migration Platform.
Answering the humanitarian call
While providing unprecedented support to Ukraine, the European Commission has also continued to provide humanitarian aid across the world to those who need it the most. In the past year, the already record-high level of humanitarian needs has only continued to rise globally. The Member States, together with the Commission, announced initial humanitarian funding of €8.4 billion for 2023, as a concrete expression of global solidarity and of the EU’s leading role in humanitarian action.
The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU co-hosted an International Donors' Conference in solidary with the earthquake victims. The total pledge of the conference amounted to almost €7 billion, of which €6.05 billion in grants and loans for Türkiye and €911 million in grants for Syria.
In June 2023, the EU hosted the 7th Brussels conference on the future of Syria and the region, which pledged €5.6 billion in aid. The conference reiterated the continued support of the EU and the international community for the Syrian people, Syrian refugees and their host communities in neighbouring countries.
The EU and Canada co-hosted the International Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants and their Host Countries and Communities. The event focused on the importance of coordinated action across the humanitarian-development-stabilisation nexus.
For the war that broke out in April 2023 in Sudan, the EU topped up its initial humanitarian funding of €73 million with an additional €60 million in June 2023. The EU also launched a Humanitarian Air Bridge to Sudan and neighbouring Chad to bring life-saving items into the countries.
A humanitarian air bridge was launched to Burkina Faso in November 2022. It helped deliver food and essential supplies to hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation in areas under blockade.
In March 2023, the EU set up a humanitarian air bridge operation to Goma. Supported by France, it delivered medical and nutritional supplies, among other goods.
To facilitate the delivery of life-saving aid, the EU has operated 29 humanitarian air bridge cargo flights to Afghanistan since August 2021, with the latest flight landing in Afghanistan on 24 May 2023.
In February 2023, the EU coordinated the deployment of more than 250 EU firefighters to Chile as well as coordination experts, and medical personnel via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. To tackle the worst wildfires in the last decade, Canada has also received immediate firefighting assistance.
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