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State of the Union: Ukraine ammo supplies, Israel-Hamas war & glyphosate given green light

Ukrainian soldiers guard weapons captured in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers guard weapons captured in eastern Ukraine. Copyright Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
Copyright Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
By Stefan Grobe
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European Union countries acknowledged this week that they are well on their way to failing Ukraine when it comes to providing military support.

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Earlier this year, EU leaders promised to provide one million rounds of ammunition to the Ukrainian frontline by springtime next year in what would have amounted to a serious ramping up of production.

But the bloc is finding it tough to come up with the goods.

At a meeting in Brussels this week, Germany’s defense minister, Boris Pistorius, was brutally honest, saying that the promise of one million rounds of ammunition was a pipe dream from the beginning, he said.

"The correct question would be whether one million was ever realistic," Pistorius told reporters on Wednesday.

"There were voices who said, 'Be careful, one million is easy to decide on and the money is there, but the production has to be there too.' Unfortunately, the cautionary voices are now right. 

"We have made a major contribution with our framework agreements and will continue to do so. We are in discussions with the arms industry. Production must be ramped up and accelerated."

Israel-Hamas war rages on

The other conflict that Europe is struggling to deal with these days is, of course, the war between Israel and Hamas.

More than the one in Ukraine, this war has revealed deep divisions not only between EU governments but also within our societies.

And on Thursday, the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, reiterated from Israel his call for civilian lives in Gaza to be protected as he started a five-day tour of the region.

The High Representative's visit to Israel kicked off with a visit to Kibbutz Be’eri, located only 3 kilometers away from Gaza, where at least 130 people including women, children, and babies were killed by Hamas militants on 7 October. At least 1,200 Israelis were killed in the terrorist attack with a further 240 people kidnapped.

"I understand the fear and pain of the people who have been attacked, slaughtered, kidnapped. I understand your rage. But let me ask you not to be consumed by rage," Borrell said.

"I think that's what the best friend of Israel can tell you. What makes the difference between a civilized society and a terrorist group is the respect for human life," he added.

He also once more backed Israel's right to self-defence within the limits of international humanitarian law, called for Hamas — which the EU and US consider to be a terrorist organisation — to be defeated and for all the hostages to be freed without conditions.

Glyphosate gets ten more years

In contentious news this week, the European Commission announced on Thursday that it was approving the use of the controversial chemical substance glyphosate across the EU for another decade after member states failed to reach an agreement.

"The Commission, based on comprehensive safety assessments carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), together with EU Member States, will now proceed with the renewal of the approval of glyphosate for a period of 10 years, subject to certain new conditions and restrictions," it said in a statement.

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"These restrictions include a prohibition of pre-harvest use as a desiccant and the need for certain measures to protect non-target organisms," it added.

The EU executive was granted the power to approve its own proposal after experts from member states on Thursday morning failed, for the second time, to reach a qualified majority in favour or against the plan first presented in September.

This came after the EFSA said in a July assessment that it had found "no critical areas of concern" for the renewal of use beyond 15 December, when the current five-year approval was due to expire.

The decision to use glyphosate at the national level remains, however, in the hands of each individual government.

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No EU country has a blanket ban on glyphosate although some, including Austria, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, have rolled out partial bans by prohibiting its use in certain areas or by households.

Glyphosate is a herbicide introduced in the 1970s used to eliminate weeds that invade agricultural crops and public spaces. It has been a source of controversy since the World Health Organization's cancer agency concluded in 2015 that it was probably carcinogenic to humans.

The Commission reiterated in its latest communiqué that the EFSA screened 16,000 published studies, 2,000 of which were considered potentially relevant, as well as 300 additional studies brought to its attention during the public consultation phase to deliver its assessment.

It added that if new evidence emerges that indicates that the approval criteria are no longer fulfilled, it would launch a new review and "take action immediately to amend or withdraw the approval if this is scientifically warranted."

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But NGO Pesticide Action Network said that the Commission's plans to renew approval on its own would breach the EU Pesticide Law which states that a precautionary principle must be observed when there is no clear scientific consensus over a policy suspected of carrying risk of causing harm to the public or the environment.

"We regret that the Commission turns its back to independent science and citizens’ concerns and plans to re-approve this dangerous herbicide for another 10 years," Angeliki Lysimachou, Head of Science and Policy at Pesticide Action Network Europe, said.

"There is alarming evidence highlighting the cancer risks associated with glyphosate, along with the myriad of other reported adverse effects," she also said.

AI summit sparks controversy

This week, the Web Summit took place in Lisbon, one of the biggest tech events in the world, following the resignation of its CEO for suggesting, in a tweet, that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza.

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This prompted a boycott of the Web Summit by big names like Google, Meta, Siemens and Intel.

The whole affair briefly distracted the conference from its main topic: Artificial Intelligence - a challenge to our societies that cannot be underestimated.

"I think that AI is going to be transformational in our lives," Katherine Maher, the new CEO of Web Summit said this week.

"Some of it is happening already and some of it is yet to come. From my perspective, how we use AI, how we govern AI, how we ensure that our humanity is at the forefront of AI, in that it works to make our societies better, is the most important imperative."

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The world is starting to regulate AI though, including the EU and the US.

Victoria Espinel, CEO of The Software Alliance, an industry group representing software companies in the United States and also an advisor to President Biden on AI as head of the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee told Euronews that regulations need to be flexible.

"It's a very busy time for AI regulation, which is fantastic and I would say to policymakers around the world, not just the United States and the EU, but around the world, focusing on the most significant risks that we are facing today, risks that can be addressed, I think, is what policymakers should prioritise," she said in an interview.

"I think there are great attempts happening in the United States, in Europe and other places to have a risk-based approach that is flexible and the last thing I would say is making sure that it is flexible enough that it will work for the long term because innovation is going to continue to move forward and so we need regulation that will be future-proof.

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