Good morning, and good news: The EU has record levels of gas in its storage tanks, encouraging hopes that the bloc can survive this winter with less Russian LNG.
Today, Belgium’s prime minister tells Laura that farmers need more leeway in climate policy, and our tech team reveals that facial recognition and platforms such as ChatGPT will be the big AI regulation battlegrounds later this year.
Stuck in manure
While the EU seems to agree on ambitious targets on climate and environment, the road there seems increasingly muddy.
Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo is now calling for more flexibility in implementing EU targets for agriculture, writes Laura Dubois.
Context: Farmers are taking to the barricades over EU environmental reforms to cut emissions, limit pollution and promote biodiversity. In the Netherlands and Belgium, protests have been intense over limits for nitrogen compounds contained in fertilisers, animal excrement and urine to reduce the pollution of soil and water.
De Croo has proposed that countries could be allowed to emit more nitrogen from manure and fertilisers if they were more ambitious on other climate policies, such as renewables.
“In the nitrogen discussion, some countries could get some flexibility in exchange for the fact of doing more in energy production offshore,” De Croo told journalists yesterday.
“We need to put both things on the table. If some countries do a big effort in offshore wind . . . I would be in favour of at least discussing if some degree of flexibility is possible.”
De Croo said he would like to discuss these proposals with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and the EU commission.
Nitrogen is a hot topic especially in Flanders, Belgium’s agriculture-heavy northern region. The regional government there almost fell apart in March over stricter targets.
In the Netherlands, a party that campaigned against the nitrogen rules triumphed in provincial elections last month.
In February, the EU commission sued Belgium over not doing enough against nitrate pollution in Wallonia, in the south.
“The nitrogen discussion, it’s not easy to explain,” De Croo said. “A big part of the public is not there yet.”
He said Belgium and the Netherlands are highly industrialised countries with a “very high density of population and agriculture . . . which is highly technological, very intensive and export driven”. This should be maintained, he added.
“If there’s no economic farming activity, then . . . that really has a big impact on the place that we live in,” De Croo said.
Chart du jour: Filling up
As mentioned above, despite Russia cutting most of its pipeline gas supplies to the EU during 2022, the bloc had a record level of gas storage for early April.
Agreement on new artificial intelligence rules is towards the top of the ‘to do’ list for the upcoming Spanish EU presidency. But tense battles lie ahead on facial recognition and language models such as ChatGPT, write Ian Johnston and Javier Espinoza.
Context: The European parliament is finalising its stance on EU regulations for AI, including banning biometric recognition in public spaces. MEPs also want developers of “foundational systems” such as the AI chatbot ChatGPT to carry the can for misuse, rather than smaller businesses.
Negotiations with the member states should start before July, and Spain aims for a final agreement on the AI Act by early December, officials told the FT.
Disagreement is, however, preprogrammed.
Member states “cannot allow” a total ban on facial identification because it can be “extremely useful” in tackling terrorism and other areas, according to a diplomat familiar with the negotiations.
Rules for products such as Open AI’s ChatGPT will be the second-most contentious area, because the technology has just emerged and should be regulated without hurting the “seed of innovation”, the diplomat said.
Meanwhile, some member states are upping the pressure in other areas.
Florian Tursky, Austria’s state secretary for digitalisation and telecommunications, wants a ban on Chinese-built AI systems to be added to the legislation.
“China foresees, among other things, that AI-generated content reflects China’s core socialist values or does not generate criticism of China’s leadership,” Tursky wrote in a letter to EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen and other EU leaders.
This means that a ban on Chinese systems is “extremely critical,” Tursky added.
MEPs have also called for an international summit that would agree governing principles for “the development, control and deployment of very powerful artificial intelligence”, in another letter sent on Monday.
What to watch today
Ursula von der Leyen and EU council president Charles Michel join British premier Rishi Sunak in Belfast to commemorate Good Friday Agreement.
German and Israeli presidents in Warsaw for 80th anniversary of the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto.
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