Florence, Italy, May 2015 – The European Forum participated in the fifth annual “State of the Union” high-level conference on the future of Europe organised by the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence (Italy), on 6-9 May.
Once again, the conference this year gathered European political decision-makers, representatives of civil society and the private sector, opinion leaders and academics. It brought together 70 international speakers, 250 journalists and media operators, 2,500 participants. Among them the Italian and Portuguese prime ministers Matteo Renzi and Pedro Passos Coelho, the vice-president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, the EU High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and the EU counter terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove as well as several other ministers and former heads of state and government. The European Forum was represented by its president Guilherme Pinto as well as the Mayors of Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Florence (Italy), Ahmed Aboutaleb and Dario Nardella and the minister of the Interior of the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia, Ramon Espadaler Parcerisas, who all participated in one of the sessions dedicated to technology, security and freedom in an urban context organised by Efus.
A New Schuman Declaration stressing the role of mayors and the issue of security
Sixty five years after the Schuman Declaration, a milestone in the process of European political integration, Giuliano Amato, Élisabeth Guigou and Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga presented what they see as “a new narrative for Europe – a contemporary and compelling raison d’être for the EU” at the conference. Amongst its proposals, a shift of EU resources from a common agricultural policy to “a common urban policy in which mayors could play an important role”. A central theme of the declaration was insecurity: “The challenge before Europe is to respond to these insecurities and once again to become the source of hope in a better and sage future.” Co-author, prime-minister Amato stressed that Europe needs to provide security to citizens in many fields (economic, social, identity) but also external and internal security. “Europe can prevent what happened in Paris. You are safer in your city because Europe is doing something, [it] is preventing this thing from happening,” he said. ” (Please click here to read the full declaration, click here to see the video)
A debate on surveillance and freedom in Europe calling for privacy by design
The second thematic focus of the conference was surveillance and freedom in Europe. The debate was fuelled by the EU financed research project SURVEILLE which is led by the European University Institute, which Efus had contributed as a partner. The findings of the project were presented and discussed at the State of the Union conference. The project developed an analytical and multidisciplinary framework to measure whether surveillance technologies actually deliver security and at what financial cost. It provides a methodology to map and grade the ethical concerns that result and to measure the intrusion into privacy and other fundamental rights. During the 40 months of the project, European researchers collaborated with technology developers and end-users to analyse the use of technologies in serious crimes, counter terrorism and urban security scenarios.
At the conference SURVEILLE presented a traffic-light decision support system for the use of surveillance technologies. The organisers had invited political decision makers from the European Forum for Urban Security to contribute to this debate in a session on technology and urban security, which showed that local and regional authorities can play a central role through an enlightened and responsible use of technology for security purposes. The project hopes to contribute to “a more rational and holistic assessment of how the famous “balance” between privacy and security can be struck.” A key concept in this context is privacy by design. As project coordinator Prof Martin Scheinin underlined in his 2015 State of the Union address, “Privacy by design becomes the crucial factor [in surveillance] because by introducing the feature of privacy by design into a surveillance technology, we can improve the technological benefits and reduce the human rights intrusion.”
(Please click here to see the video of the state of the Union address and the discussion, click here to see the video of the “Efus panel” )
Amongst other topics, the State of the Union conference also dealt extensively with the relations between Europe and the rest of the world, in particular with the Middle East, Asia and the United States. Another important theme of debate was migrations.
All the main speeches and discussions are accessible at the conference website.