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Briefing – The financial management of visitor groups to the national parliaments – 08-07-2021

In most Member States, visitor’ groups are not sponsored to visit the national parliament. A visit to the national parliament is free of charge, and all the costs related to the visit, for example travel costs, accommodation and local minor expenses, need to be paid by the visitors themselves.
Germany is the only country which has various kinds of programmes where visitors can be reimbursed. Members of Parliament can invite up to 200 people a year of which the travel costs are partially covered by the German Bundestag. There is also a programme which consists of more days for which all the costs related to travel and accommodation are covered by the German government. The German Bundesrat has a programme in which the 16 federal states can invite people for a visit of multiple days to Berlin. In this case the travel costs and accommodation are paid for by the Bundesrat. For all reimbursements, the rules apply that the receipts and underlying documents need to be provided to the Bundestag and Bundesrat after the visit. All documents and receipts are checked through an ex-post control.
The United Kingdom has a programme in which costs are reimbursed, and this programme is funded by the commercial tours of the parliament. In this case, it can be MPs, Peers or the House of Commons or Lords who can invite visitors who are eligible for reimbursement.
In Hungary, only schools can get reimbursement for their travel costs and the entry fee for the national parliament. All the receipts need to be provided to the visitor service of the parliament.
Some countries do have other schemes in which they provide coverage for schools or costs are covered by the MPs’ own funds.
The Council of the EU does not sponsor visitor groups. All visits are requested by visitors themselves and they need to cover all the costs related to the visit themselves. The questions were also sent to the European Commission but no answer was received.

Source : © European Union, 2021 – EP

Briefing – Artificial Intelligence and public services – 22-07-2021

AI has become a key enabling technology in public services and its use has increased over the past two years.Ensuring explainabilty of AI systems in public services is crucial but difficult to achieve in case of black-box algorithms. In AI applications in public services, focus is on law enforcement, surveillance and process optimisation. AI for front-end public services seems less of a priority. There is a growing public concern over the development and use of AI in society. With the increase of its use, the potential for errors and harms also increases.The public sector should lead the way in creating trustworthy AI. Regulatory sandboxing and pre-procurement are key for creating trustworthy AI for public services.

Source : © European Union, 2021 – EP

Briefing – Mental health and the pandemic – 09-07-2021

While the pandemic is primarily a physical health crisis, it has also had widespread impact on people’s mental health, inducing, among other things, considerable levels of fear, worry, and concern. The growing burden on mental health has been referred to by some as the ‘second’ or ‘silent’ pandemic. While negative mental health consequences affect all ages, young people, in particular, have been found to be at high risk of developing poor mental health. Specific groups have been particularly hard hit, including health and care workers, people with pre-existing mental health problems, and women. The pandemic has also appeared to increase inequalities in mental health, both within the population and between social groups. To address the population’s increased psycho-social needs, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe established an expert group on the mental health impacts of Covid-19 in the European region. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has issued analyses and guidance on mental health in general and the pandemic’s impact on mental health in particular. At European Union level, a December 2020 European Commission communication addressed the pandemic’s impact on mental health. In May 2021, the Commission organised a major online stakeholder event, and published best practice examples of solutions presented. A July 2020 European Parliament resolution recognises mental health as a fundamental human right, calling for a 2021-2027 EU action plan on mental health. Members of the European Parliament have also called on the Commission to put mental health at the heart of EU policymaking. Stakeholders broadly rally around calls for programmes and funding to improve citizens’ mental health, not least to respond to the pandemic’s long-term implications.

Source : © European Union, 2021 – EP

Briefing – Sino-Japanese controversy over the Senkaku/Diaoyu/Diaoyutai Islands: An imminent flashpoint in the Indo-Pacific? – 30-07-2021

The 50-year-old controversy between Japan, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan over the sovereignty of a group of tiny, uninhabited islets and rocks in the East China Sea, administered by Japan and referred to as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, as the Diaoyu Islands in the PRC and as the Diaoyutai Islands in Taiwan has become a proxy battlefield in the growing Sino-US great power competition in the Indo-Pacific, against the backdrop of a widening Sino-Japanese power gap. Since 1971, when the PRC and Taiwan laid claim to the contested islets and rocks for the first time, challenging Japan’s position of having incorporated them into Japanese territory as terra nullius in 1895, possible avenues for settling the controversy have either been unsuccessful or remained unexplored. The PRC’s meteoric economic rise and rapid military modernisation has gradually shifted the Sino-Japanese power balance, nourishing the PRC leadership’s more assertive, albeit failed, push for Japan to recognise the existence of a dispute. Two incidents in the 2010s, perceived by the PRC as consolidating Japan’s administrative control, led to the PRC starting to conduct grey-zone operations in the waters surrounding the islets and rocks with increasing frequency and duration, to reassert its claims and change the status quo in its favour without prompting a war. The EU has held a position of principled neutrality as regards the legal title to the disputed islands. However, the risk of unintended incidents, miscalculation and military conflict arising from the unresolved dispute poses a challenge to regional peace and stability and to the EU’s economic and security interests. The EU’s 2021 Indo-Pacific strategy takes a cooperative and inclusive approach, to promote a rules-based international order and respect for international law. This may include a greater Indo-Pacific naval presence under the strategy’s maritime security dimension.

Source : © European Union, 2021 – EP

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