Giancarlo Vilella

Adjunct Professor at the University of Milan and the Polytechnic University of Marche, former Director General of the Directorate-General for Innovation and Technological Support of the European Parliament

When the European Union will come back after the summer break (la rentrée) in September 2021, the second half of the ninth legislature will begin, along with the second half of the term of office of the European Commission presided over by Ursula von der Leyen: the challenges are huge and the projects and unfinished business under way are numerous and complex and all the European institutions are being called upon to cope with a situation which is admittedly delicate yet full of stimuli and potential. First of all, the Conference on the Future of Europe must be brought to a successful conclusion: here not only is the Union’s credibility at stake but also the question of its ability to keep a steady hand on the tiller in the years ahead. At the same time, but still closely linked to the Conference, there is the question of defending the founding values of the Union, in particular the rule of law and non-discrimination, which are the subject of disputes with some States. Then there is the need to get the Next Generation EU operation - one of the most important political and economic initiatives in the continent’s history - off on the right track and, with it, get Europe out of the pandemic crisis, which has a variety of aspects in addition to the obvious one of health. The next few years will also be decisive for assessing the validity and solidity of the agreement on Brexit, which is as sensitive as the pressures on free movement brought about by emergencies. Lastly, there is the immense construction site of digitalisation with its various themes (artificial intelligence, Digital Service, teleworking, cybersecurity). It is therefore worth quickly taking stock of where we stand.

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The Draghi government has taken office at a time when the labour market, characterised by the decisive influence of information technologies and a high degree of mobility, is undergoing great changes. The emergence of the pandemic, which had been underway for almost a year when the Draghi government was sworn in, has hit the labour market with the destruction of jobs and the failure to create new ones, while at the same time accentuating the disruptive processes underway (IT, mobility). The phenomenon is supranational, and the European Union is acting on two levels: facing up to the emergency (SURE, Youth initiative, EU Next Generation, etc.) and intervening on the basis of a strategy focused on investment in information technologies. It is these technologies which are changing production processes and how trades and professions are carried out, reshaping the labour market while making it necessary for workers to upskill and have IT profiles and creating a strong asymmetry between workers and their employment prospects. The Premier’s speech and the government’s programme are taking this problem into account: on the one hand, they have announced reforms of the assegno di riallocazione reallocation allowance and of job centres, on the other hand, they are talking about strengthening infrastructure (broadband, 5G) and the transversality of the Digital Transition. All of which seems appropriate. The hope is that all this will be done in the European strategic context and that the employment market becomes the omnipresent pivot of the transversal transition.

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The essential points of the reasoning developed in this article are: Covid-19 has brought to the fore the role played by the administration as a bridge in the (conflictual) confrontation between the power of science and political power; the health emergency has cast light on the importance of the functioning of parliamentary institutions for the defence of democracy because the executive branch (objectively) gets the upper hand. The administration of the European Parliament is a very interesting case study in this respect because it has succeeded in coping with the emergency thanks to several factors; EPA implemented a programme of structural digitisation of the European Parliament in recent years. Finally, EPA worked for activating an administrative capacity to manage the “unprecedented measures” that had to be adopted: this capacity was achieved by carrying out the actions within the strict framework of the governance of the European Parliament and under its permanent scrutiny.

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European Parliament

Among its many effects, the Covid-19 health emergency has put the functioning of democratic institutions under an unusual pressure. Parliaments are forced to give the executive branch powers to deal with the exceptional situation the virus has created. If proper balancing measures are not taken, there are risks for democracy in the near future. The article examines how the EU Parliament has faced this challenge, both from a legal point of view, and the technological solutions that have been implemented. The aim is to provide a relevant example for future developments.

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