Transforming HIV prevention in Europe

This article is part of POLITICO Telescope: The New AIDS Epidemic, an ongoing exploration of the disease today.

The world’s battle to end the HIV epidemic is being fought on two fronts. The first involves getting as many people as possible who are living with the virus diagnosed and rapidly onto antiretroviral medication. This reduces the virus inside their bodies to such a low level that it is undetectable and therefore cannot be passed to others. The approach is known as “undetectable = untransmittable” or “U=U*.”

The second front is focused on protecting people from contracting the virus in the first place, even if they have been exposed to it — an approach known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Taken as prescribed, PrEP makes a person’s body almost entirely resistant to HIV infection.

There is a critical need to bring forward new PrEP options that are informed by and designed for the communities that could benefit from PrEP in Europe.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences

PrEP comprises antiretroviral drugs that can be taken intermittently, around the time someone expects to be sexually active. They protect against the virus in two ways: by increasing the production of antibodies in the cells in the rectal or vaginal lining, making them less receptive to HIV in the first place, and by interfering with the ability of HIV to replicate in the body.

Nearly 5 million people around the world have taken PrEP at least once — including about 2.8 million in Europe — and it has been shown to reduce the incidence of HIV infection during sex by 99 percent. In the European Union, new HIV infections have fallen by about 45 percent since PrEP was licensed in 2016, although this decline is also partly due to U=U.

PrEP as part of combination prevention strategies

Missing doses or running out of PrEP can mean becoming susceptible to HIV again. I via Shutterstock

Today, PrEP comes primarily in the form of an oral tablet, which has the advantage of being cheap to produce and easy to store. But it is not a universal solution. Because it needs to be taken regularly while someone is sexually active, missing doses or running out can mean becoming susceptible to HIV again. What’s more, in the same way that some bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics, the HIV that does enter the bodies of people who have paused or discontinued their use of PrEP has a greater chance of being resistant to subsequent antiretroviral medications they may then need.

PrEP taken in tablet form is also an issue for people who need to keep their use of PrEP private, perhaps from family members or partners. Having to take a pill once a day or two or three times a week is something that may be hard to hide from others. And some people, such as migrants, who may not be fully integrated with a country’s health care system, may find it hard to access regular supplies of daily medication. Limitations such as these have prompted the development of alternative, innovative ways for people to protect themselves that are more tailored to their needs and life situations. These include longer-acting drugs that can be injected.

Like existing oral medications, injectable PrEP works by preventing HIV from replicating in a person’s body, but its effect lasts much longer. In September, the EU approved the use of the first intramuscular injectable that can be given every two months. Gilead is, until 2027, running trials of another injectable option, which, once the required efficacy and safety have been demonstrated, could be administered subcutaneously just once every six months. This would be more convenient for many people and more adapted to the circumstances of certain populations, such as migrants, and may therefore lead to better adherence and health outcomes.

HIV continues to be a public health threat across Europe, where in 2022 more than 100,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV Clinical Development at Gilead Sciences

Further ahead — but still in the early stages of development and testing — are patches and implants, which would provide a continuous supply of antiretroviral drugs, and immunotherapies. Immunotherapies would comprise a broad spectrum of naturally produced or manufactured antibodies against HIV, which, in theory, would pre-arm their bodies to resist infection.

As more types of PrEP become available, we will see a greater awareness of its benefits, as more people are able to find the version of PrEP that best suits their living conditions and personal requirements. This is a fundamental principle of “combination prevention,” or innovative interventions that reflect the specific needs of the people they are trying to reach.

Preparing for the future

Despite clear scientific evidence of the benefits of PrEP, there are still some hurdles we need to overcome to make it a powerful tool to end HIV altogether. These include investments and funding in prevention and availability, and programs to combat stigma.

Although the EU licensed PrEP in 2016, availability varies across the bloc. In France, the U.K., Spain, Germany and, more recently, Italy, oral PrEP is available at no cost to those who would benefit from it. In Romania, although PrEP is included in the country’s new HIV National Strategy, it is not yet funded, and it is only available via non-governmental organizations that rely on external funding sources. And in Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, PrEP is not state funded and there are no current plans to make it so. In many member states, even though PrEP is technically licensed, in practice it can be hard to get hold of, in particular for specific communities, such as women, migrants or trans people. Potential users may find it hard, for example, to access testing or even doctors who are willing to prescribe it.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences

Another key challenge that health systems and providers face is communicating the importance of PrEP to those who would most benefit, and thereby increase uptake. Many respondents in multiple studies have indicated that they don’t feel HIV is something that affects them, or they have indicated that there is a general stigma in their communities associated with sexual health matters. And some groups that are already discriminated against, such as sex workers, people who inject drugs, and migrants, may be hesitant to engage with health care systems for fear of reprisals. Again, injectable PrEP could help reach such key populations as it will offer a more discreet way of accessing the preventive treatment.

“There is a critical need to bring forward new PrEP options that are informed by and designed for the communities that could benefit from PrEP in Europe,” says Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences. “At Gilead, we are excited to engage with communities and broader stakeholders to inform our trials efforts and partner with them in our goal to develop person-centered innovations that can help end the HIV epidemic in Europe.”

Europe is leading the world’s efforts toward ending HIV, but, even in the bloc, PrEP usage and availability varies from country to country and demographic to demographic. If the region is to become the first to end the HIV epidemic entirely, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the governments of member states will need to lead the way in fighting stigma, promoting and prioritizing HIV prevention in all its aspects including innovation in therapeutics strengthening the financing and funding of healthcare systems, and establishing effective pathways to zero transmission to end HIV entirely.

“HIV continues to be a public health threat across Europe, where in 2022 more than 100,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV,” says Baeten. “HIV prevention is critical and has the potential to change the trajectory of the epidemic, but stigma and other barriers limit the impact that PrEP medications can have on reducing HIV infections in Europe. We all have a responsibility to collaboratively partner to make this work.”

*U=U is true on two premises: taking HIV medicines as prescribed and getting to and staying undetectable for at least six months prevents transmitting HIV to partners through sex. Undetectable means that the virus cannot be measured by a viral load test (viral load <200 copies/mL)

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Femicide: Is Italy doing enough to protect its women and girls?

The country has increased funding to anti-violence centres and women’s shelters – but not enough is being done in terms of prevention, activists and experts told Euronews.


After the brutal murder of Giulia Cecchettin, a 22-year-old engineering student who’s believed to have been killed by her ex-boyfriend last week, Italy is once again being confronted with the rising problem of gender violence.

According to data from Italy’s Interior Ministry, Cecchettin is the 102th femicide victim in the country since the beginning of the year. Some 52 of these women were killed by a partner or former partner.

A wave of anger and sadness followed Cecchettin’s death, which was confirmed on Saturday when her body was found with at least 20 stab wounds a week after she disappeared with her ex-boyfriend Filippo Turetta, also 22. Turetta, who was arrested a day later in Germany, has been charged with murder, though investigations are still ongoing.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni joined the many public officials and members of the public who have expressed sorrow and anger for the young woman’s death, promising a new educational campaign in schools to eradicate the toxic culture of violence existing in the country.

She also noted that her government has increased the funds dedicated to anti-violence centres and women’s refuges across the country, and is aiming to pass new, stricter regulations against those who commit violence and abuses against women and girls.

But talking to Euronews, Antonella Veltri, the president of Italy’s most important network coordinating anti-violence centres across the country, Donne in Rete Contro la Violenza or Di.Re, said that women’s refuges have not yet seen these new, increased funds.

Bureaucracy getting in the way

“We have absolutely no knowledge of this increase in funding that Premier Meloni has announced,” Veltri said. “In Italy, anti-violence centres benefit from structural funds that should grant our very same existence,” she continued. “But the last checks we got were for 2022, and those were issued by Italy’s regional authorities in part throughout this year. The funds for 2023 haven’t been issued yet, and we have no idea when, and if, they will be,” she added.

“In reality, there hasn’t been an increase in funding because we haven’t gotten this €40 million yet,” Veltri said, adding that the reason for this delay has to do with the stuffy Italian bureaucracy.

Di.Re manages 107 anti-violence centres across 19 Italian regions and they help as many as 20,000 women every year, according to Veltri. “This number has remained more or less unchanged through the years, which is proof that violence against women is a structural problem which has deep roots in our country and the government’s policies to fight it aren’t working.”

Anti-violence centres are vital in helping women facing gender violence, giving them the possibility to relocate to 62 women’s refuges across the country.

A lack of prevention

Despite a renewed focus on the problem of femicide – which is not recognised as a standalone crime in Italian law – and more funds officially issued to women’s organisations, the number of women killed by family members, former or current partners has increased in the past year.

Why? Veltri thinks that “nothing is being done in terms of prevention.” That is, Italy is throwing money at the problem – though this money hasn’t yet been received by groups like Di.Re – but not trying to eradicate the root of the problem, Italy’s long-held chauvinist traditions.

The numbers back up Veltri’s statement. As reported by NGO Action Aid in the study called “Discounted prevention” (“Prevenzione sottocosto”), the resources dedicated to fighting violence against women in Italy have increased by 156% in the past 10 years – but the numbers of femicides have remained the same. In 2014, there were 119 femicides in Italy. In 2022, there were 104.

The majority of the new resources issued between 2013 and 2023, 81% or €200 million, was dedicated to financing projects aimed at protecting women from the immediate risk violence, while only 12% was issued for prevention projects and 7% for long-term actions tackling the wider system of oppression and discrimination against women.

According to Action Aid, the government’s action is focused on helping victims after the violence has already occurred – meaning its intervention is always too late, failing to tackle the toxic, misogynistic culture at the heart of the problem.

In the past three years, Italy has spent only €30.9 million in projects aiming to prevent violence against women, with a drop of 70% in funding for prevention between 2022 and 2023.

“A medium- and long-term strategy which would address the patriarchal and chauvinist culture of the country harming girls and women is more or less absent,” the Action Aid’s report reads. “This cultural change, which was hailed by the past and current governments, can’t be done at no cost for the state.”

‘Harsher sentences not the solution’


Prevention is what would be needed to try to fix the problem of femicide in Italy, Alessandra Viviani, associate professor of international law at the University of Siena, told Euronews.

“Now we’re talking about harsher sentences for those who commit violence against women, and this is not the solution,” she said. “I don’t think that this latest femicide [Giulia Cecchettin’s murder] has changed the way this phenomenon is represented in the media or talked about by politicians.”

When Cecchettin’s sister, Elena Cecchettin, talked to the media about Filippo Turetta being “not a monster, but the healthy son” of Italy’s patriarchal culture, she was attacked by the media and some politicians as being too “politicised.”

Admitting that there’s a problem within the country’s culture and society “is a polarising issue” in Italy, where the word “gender” is loaded with controversy, Viviani said.

While femicide can be linked to an individual with his own personal problems, Viviani said that the solution is to recognise the crime of femicide and its cultural roots and address inequality and discrimination in Italian society.


The other victims. What happens to those left behind?

Many of the women killed in Italy since 2014 were mothers who were forced to leave behind their children.

According to data from EURES, there are about 2,000 children and youth who lost their mothers to femicide in Italy between 2009 and 2021. In 80% of the cases, it was their father who killed their mothers – meaning those young people lost both their parents in one single, traumatic event.

A recent report by the organisation Con i Bambini (With the Children) which analysed the fate of 157 children made orphans by femicide and found that 42% of these kids now live with a foster family.

Most often, the children are taken in by social services or close relatives – grandparents, uncles and aunts – though this doesn’t count as a formal adoption, and the status of the children remains unclear. Only 5% of the children of femicide victims are adopted and live with their adoptive families.

By law, families who take in children of femicide victims should receive €300 a month, but not many know about the existence of this option, which is not often implemented, as writes Internazionale.


One in three borne witness to the crime – something which could have life-changing consequences on the children, causing them deep trauma.

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Britain’s COVID-19 inquiry exposes the rot at the heart of Whitehall

LONDON — Everyone knew the British state had problems. This week revealed just how deep the rot goes.

Britain’s public inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic stepped up a gear this week, with a procession of key witnesses taking the stand who were at the heart of the U.K. government in 2020.

The punchy oral testimony — and sweary WhatsApp messages — of Dominic Cummings, the former No. 10 Downing Street adviser turned arch enemy of Boris Johnson, grabbed all the headlines, as he attacked his old boss while struggling to account for his own crude and abusive language.

But it was Cummings’ long, incisive written statement to the inquiry, along with the testimony of a former top civil servant, Helen MacNamara, which contained the starkest home truths for the British state.

“I think we are absolutely fucked. I think the country is heading for a disaster. I think we are going to kill thousands,” MacNamara was revealed to have told colleagues in March 2020, as coronavirus began to grip the U.K.

Those words, from the-then second most powerful civil servant in the country, came as she and other senior officials abruptly realized the U.K. government had no real plan to deal with a global pandemic of that nature — despite years of confident reassurances to the contrary.

“I have just been talking to the [U.K. government] official Mark Sweeney, who is in charge of coordinating with the Department for Health,” MacNamara recalled saying. “He said — ‘I have been told for years that there is a whole plan for this. There is no plan.’ We are in huge trouble.”

What followed that dawning realization was an intense period of chaos, as ministers and officials grappled with never-before-considered questions such as whether to ban people from meeting their loved ones, and whether to place Britain into a strict lockdown.

Fingers are now being pointed at both individuals and wider systems for all that went wrong.

The blame game

Unsurprisingly, Britain’s ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken his fair share of criticism this week.

“It was the wrong crisis for this prime minister’s skillset,” Lee Cain, Johnson’s former director of communications, said in his evidence Tuesday. Others were less diplomatic — including Cain himself, in private WhatsApp messages handed to the inquiry by ex-colleagues.

In one such WhatsApp exchange, Cummings and Cain — old friends from the 2016 ‘Vote Leave’ campaign — detailed how they found Johnson “exhausting” to work with due to his lurches back and forth on key policy decisions.

“Pretty much everyone calls him ‘the trolley’,” Cummings told the inquiry, referring to a disparaging nickname he invented for Johnson due to the ex-PM’s inability to hold a clear line.

But beyond the Boris-bashing, Cummings and other ex-officials focused their ire on the broader state of Britain’s governing systems, rather than bungling individuals at its centre.

Cummings described the all-important Cabinet Office department — responsible for organizing the business of government and linking different departments together — as a “bombsite” and a “dumpster fire,” with a “huge problem of quality control … inconsistent data, inconsistent facts.”

This disorganization had consequences.

On March 16, 2020, Cummings said he received an email from a senior official warning that the Cabinet Office had yet to see any real plans for the pandemic from government departments — “never mind evaluated and fixed them,” he said. The virus had been in the U.K. for almost three months.

“[The Cabinet Office] cannot drive priorities or fix problems with departments,” Cummings wrote.

What became clear over the course of this week was that the British government was slow to take the virus seriously in early 2020 and even slower at figuring out a coherent and consistent plan to deal with it, jumping back and forth between early efforts aimed at pursuing herd immunity — until it became clear such an approach would be catastrophic.

“There are many signs that the way the Cabinet Office works was extremely ill-suited to this crisis,” Giles Wilkes, a former No. 10 adviser and senior fellow at the Institute for Government think tank, told POLITICO.

“It is very good for bringing together the people needed to avoid rows blowing up the government. In our system that is really valuable. But from [Cummings’] very compelling account, it was not brilliantly set up to be the body that focusses the PM and his power on a rapidly changing, dangerous situation,” Wilkes added.

‘Toxic’ culture

MacNamara, second in command in the Cabinet Office at the time, drew similarly damning conclusions.

She described how the British government “moved up the gears more slowly than the pace of the crisis,” and remained fixated on standard day-to-day government business as the pandemic began to rage.

She also lambasted the culture at the heart of government — arguing a “macho” and “toxic” environment fostered by a largely male leadership team hampered the broader response.

She said female experts were ignored, and senior women in government “looked over.” She pointed to a lack of consideration of childcare during school closures, and of the impact of lockdown restrictions upon victims of domestic violence, as examples of policy areas that suffered due to a lack of a “female perspective” inside government.

One result of that toxic environment saw MacNamara herself targeted by Cummings with misogynistic language in a WhatsApp message to a colleague revealed by the inquiry. She said she was “disappointed” Johnson didn’t do more to keep his top adviser in check.

Britain’s current top brass are pushing back, at least a little. Speaking Thursday, U.K. Science Secretary Michelle Donelan insisted she did not recognize MacNamara’s account of the culture inside government.

Coming attractions

Cummings has argued — including in multiple tweets since his evidence session ended — that observers should focus on his arguments about the broader failures of the system.

But it is the failings of one particular individual, Johnson, who was ultimately responsible for directing the government, which will continue to be scrutinized in the months ahead.

“If the PM at the heart of this is not a functional entity, cannot make a decision, has fundamentally poor judgment or lack of attention, then it doesn’t matter if the system around him is brilliant or rubbish. Things will go awry when they reach his desk,” Wilkes told POLITICO.

“The central role of the PM, and his rubbishness, cannot be evaded.”

Johnson’s former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also come under intense fire this week, for his role in the lack of apparent planning for a pandemic, his handling of testing targets, and the crisis in British care homes as COVID-19 hit.

Both MacNamara and Cummings accused Hancock of telling falsehoods during the pandemic — or, in MacNamara’s case, she agreed he had a habit of “regularly telling people things that they later discovered weren’t true.”

Johnson’s successor-but-one as prime minister, Rishi Sunak — who was U.K. chancellor during the pandemic — also has questions to answer. He will likely face particular scrutiny for his now-infamous “eat out to help out” scheme — a government-sponsored discount to encourage diners back into restaurants in the summer of 2020 — which some medical experts believe helped spread the virus.

Conveniently enough, all three men — Johnson, Sunak and Hancock — are slated to appear before the inquiry in the same week at the end of November, two people with knowledge of the inquiry told POLITICO.

All of Westminster is holding its breath.

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Scorecard: What has Giorgia Meloni achieved in her first year as PM?

It’s been a year since Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right party Brothers of Italy, became the country’s first female prime minister, at the head of a coalition government – but what have they achieved?


It’s been 12 months since Giorgia Meloni, a controversial politician who for years had been a vocal member of the opposition within her post-fascist party Brothers of Italy, became the country’s first woman to cover the role of prime minister.

The worst fears raised after last year’s election results have not turned into reality: the country has not turned its back on Ukraine to embrace a more pro-Putin stance or made any moves to leave the European Union. Any references to Brother of Italy’s fascist roots have been down-played, and Meloni has significantly dialled back her own vitriol against immigrants.

But, as much as the fears that followed the establishment of the most hard-right government in Italy since World War II, many of the changes promised by Meloni have also largely failed to materialise.

Here’s Euronews’ scorecard for the Italian premier’s first year in government. Meloni made a total of 25 promises in her government’s programme, which we’ve grouped by topic.

Stopping illegal immigration: Fail

One of Brother of Italy’s electoral promises was to defend “the country’s frontiers” by creating a naval blockade off the coast of North Africa, an idea that has re-emerged in recent months as the country faced a surge in migrant arrivals on its shores.

This promise, clearly, has not been turned into reality – possibly because it’s legally tricky to implement, if not outright illegal.

A naval blockade can only be created unilaterally by a state in cases of legitimate defence when a war or an act of aggression from another country is involved – situations that don’t apply to the current circumstances.

Italy is not at war with either Libya or Tunisia, the countries of origin of most arrivals and with which the Italian government has actually forged agreements to curb migration.

In general, Meloni’s promises to curb migration have largely failed, leading to the premier’s admission that she had hoped to do better than she actually did.

By mid-October, more than 140,000 migrant arrivals had been registered by Italy’s Interior Ministry so far this year, compared to 70,000 in the same period last year.

But that doesn’t mean that Meloni’s government hasn’t tried to keep its electoral promises – including targeting NGOs which “encourage illegal immigration,” as Brothers of Italy wrote in its programme.

Since the autumn of last year, Meloni’s government has restricted the activities of NGOs and rescue ships, and struck a controversial deal with Tunisia’s President Kais Saied to assist the country in stemming migration. It has also made it easier to evict migrants from the country and send them back to “safe countries” like Tunisia.

For Meloni’s critics, human rights and migrant rights activists, that’s enough harm done.

Spending EU funds promised to Italy: In progress

In 2020, the European Union made available a huge fund of €191.5 billion to Italy to get back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic, called the National Recovery and Resilience Plan or PNRR.

Meloni promised to spend this huge sum without delays and without any waste of money on projects aimed at reforming and updating Italy’s infrastructure. But in April her government was still struggling to find ways to spend the EU funds due to Italy’s elephantine bureaucracy and delays at local levels.

While Meloni’s government has indeed started spending some of the EU funds already transferred, inefficiencies at every level of the process made it so that a big slice of the PNRR was still being withheld by the EU this summer.

In late July, Meloni presented a new plan to Brussels to spend the promised money – but the premier is facing an uphill battle before she can spend the entire €191.5 billion promised.

Supporting Italian families and encouraging new births: Pass/In progress

This was the very first point in Meloni’s party’s programme: to increase Italy’s birth rate and support couples wishing to build a family. By this, of course, Meloni meant the traditional, heteronormative family.


The party had promised up to €300 a month for every family during the first year of a child’s birth; and up to €260 between the second year and the child’s 18th birthday.

This is something that the Meloni government is still partially working on, having already introduced cheques for families with children but also planning new policies in this direction. In its latest budgetary plan, the government has included one billion euros to be assigned to projects supporting new births in Italy.

New measures include a cheque for families having a third child, fringe benefits up to €2,000 for families with kids, an extra month of parental leave paid at 60% of a worker’s salary and tax deductions for companies hiring new mothers.

“She’s introduced tax benefits and checks for families proportionally to the number of children that they have,” Marianna Griffini, Assistant Professor at Northeastern University London and an expert in Italian politics, told Euronews.

“Meloni even participated in Hungary’s summit on demography. She met with Viktor Orban and she was acclaimed as an ideologue by the Hungarian leader, so she’s definitely doubling down on the importance of the traditional family.”


Other, less traditional types of families have on the other hand been punished by the Meloni government, with surrogacy having been made illegal for Italians even outside of the country. During the past year, queer parents across the country have seen their names removed from their children’s certificate, as Italy passed a law saying that only the biological parent of a child can appear on it.

Promoting “Made in Italy,” boosting Italian pride, and relaunching tourism: Pass

Meloni’s government definitely kept its promise to defend the concept of “Made in Italy” and try to boost Italian pride, though that doesn’t mean these efforts received international approval.

Earlier this year, the government pushed forward a controversial measure defending the Italian language and identity against the contamination of English words. The legal initiative would punish the use of foreign words in official communication with fines between €5,000 and €100,000.

“They did very well on this, I think,” said Professor Griffini laughing. “They tried to interfere with linguistic choices, and then they invested in the cultural sector with that ‘fabulous’ project boosting tourism, Open to Meraviglia.”

The project was largely mocked online for putting Botticelli’s Venus in the clothes of a 21st-century influencer as well as for using footage of Slovenia to advertise tourism in Italy. The ad campaign was dead in the water just a few months after launching, sparking an investigation in Italy about potential abuses of public money.


Changing Italy’s constitution for the direct election of the country’s president: Fail

One of the promises of Meloni’s party was to fight political instability in Italy by changing the country’s constitution and giving more powers to the president – making Italian politics look a lot more like French politics. With the constitutional reform suggested by Meloni, the Italian president would be elected directly, unlike now, and be a powerful head of state rather than a largely symbolic figure.

Meloni floated this idea earlier this year, but the initiative was strongly opposed by the centre-left opposition, which fears having too much power in a single person.

“They haven’t done much on this, they haven’t done anything on it, actually,” Griffini said. It’s unlikely that Meloni will make more progress on this issue in the coming months and years as opposition is unlikely to dwindle.

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PTFE ban: The hidden consumer costs and employment losses

As part of the EU’s landmark Green Deal package, the 2020 Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability called for an ambitious concept: achieving a toxic-free environment by 2030. A central pillar of this ambition is the proposal for a universal PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — restriction, addressing contamination and emissions from the controversial family of substances sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals’.

Action to tackle this family of chemicals is overdue, and European industry is ready to do its part. As the president of the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Houseware Industries (FEC), I welcome the initiative. FEC members pride themselves on providing safe and durable products to consumers, and were early to phase out these problematic substances. Despite this, the current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects, impacts on carbon emissions and circularity.

While many elements of the proposed restriction are well justified, some risk damaging the EU industry’s competitiveness and hindering progress on the green and digital transitions, all while banning substances which are known to be safe. The European authorities need to understand the impacts of the proposal more thoroughly before making decisions which will harm consumers and the European workforce, and perhaps even result in worse environmental outcomes.

The current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts, and take the time to clearly understand the unintended environmental and socioeconomic impacts on every sector.

The PFAS restriction proposal is broad, covering over 10,000 substances, many of which were not considered part of the PFAS family in the past. In an effort to catch all possible problematic chemicals that could be used in the future, the member countries which proposed the restriction have cast a net so wide that it also includes substances which pose no risk. Even the OECD, the source of the broad scope used by the authorities, concedes that its definition is not meant to be used to define the list of chemicals to be regulated.

In addition to the legacy PFAS substances, which have serious concerns for human health and the environment, the proposal also includes fluoropolymers in its scope, which are not mobile in the environment, not toxic and not bioaccumulative — a stark contrast to the controversial PFAS substances at the center of contamination scandals across Europe and around the globe.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety, and unlike legacy PFAS, technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Fluoropolymers are not only safe, their safety is a primary reason for their widespread use. They provide critical functionality in sensitive applications like medical devices, semiconductors and renewable energy technology. They are also used in products we all use in our day-to-day lives, from non-stick cookware to electrical appliances to cars. While in some cases there are alternatives to fluoropolymers, these replacements are often inferior, more expensive, or have even more environmental impact in the long run. Where alternatives aren’t yet identified, companies will need to spend large sums to identify replacements.

In the cookware industry, for example, fluoropolymers provide durable, safe and high-performing non-stick coatings for pots, pans and cooking appliances used by billions of people across Europe and around the globe. Decades of research and development show that not only are these products safe, but their coatings provide the most high-performing, durable and cost-effective solution. Continued research and development of these products is one of the reasons that the European cookware industry is considered a world leader.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety and … technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy. In the cookware industry alone, the restriction could cost up to 14,800 jobs in Europe, reduce the economic contribution of the sector to the GDP by up to €500 million, and result in a major shift of production from Europe to Asia, where the products would be made under much less stringent environmental rules. Consumers will also suffer, with new alternatives costing more and being less durable, requiring more frequent replacement and therefore resulting in a larger environmental impact.

Beyond this, companies that enable the green transition, deliver life-saving medical treatments, and ensure our technology is efficient and powerful will all be required to engage in expensive and possibly fruitless efforts to replace fluoropolymers with new substances. What would be the benefit of these costs and unintended consequences, when fluoropolymers are already known to be safe across their whole lifecycle?

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy.

The scale of the PFAS restriction is unprecedented, but so are the possible unintended consequences. Industry has contributed comprehensive evidence to help fill in the blanks left by the initial proposal, it is now up to the institutions to take this evidence into account. With such a far-reaching initiative, it is essential that the EU institutions and the member countries thoroughly consider the impacts and ensure the final restriction is proportional, preserves European competitiveness and does not undermine the broader strategic objectives set for the coming years.

Founded in 1952, FEC, the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Housewares Industries, represents a strong network of 40 international companies, major national associations and key suppliers spread over Europe, including in Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Our mission is to promote cooperation between members, and to provide expertise and support on economic and technical topics.

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Losing my religion: More people across Europe have little or no belief

In Italy, the cradle of Catholicism, new research suggests that only 19% of citizens attend services at least weekly, while 31% never attend at all – and it’s a trend already growing in some European nations.


They’re called the “nones” and are growing in numbers every day.

It’s a term for those increasingly rejecting organised religion, even in countries in which faith is typically at the core of their very identity.

Scandinavian countries and north west Europe – think France and the United Kingdom – have been well known for their widespread secularism for years.

But now, even in Italy – the long-standing home of Catholicism – things are changing too.

Vatican City – home to the Pope and many of the world’s most influential religious figures – is right in the centre of Rome, the capital.

Unsurprisingly, then, most people retain at least a nominal affiliation to the church, taking part in their many and varied traditions but, increasingly, with little adherence to doctrine or practice.

According to recent findings from the Pew Research Centre survey, 78% of Italians still profess to be of the Catholic faith.

So far, so believable.

Dig a little deeper though and you’ll see a very different picture.

The Italian statistics agency, ISTAT, says only 19% attend services at least weekly – while 31% never attend at all.

Experts say that the COVID-19 pandemic significantly accelerated a disengagement with Catholicism in Italy which started at least a generation ago.

It’s a trend that’s become ever more concerning for those within the church.

“‘I don’t have time, I don’t feel like it’ – there isn’t a real reason. That’s what’s scary”, the Reverend Giovanni Mandozzi, a parish priest in the central mountain village of Isola, tells AP.

Despite his attempts to persuade his parishioners to return to services – “I tell them, ‘I do Mass in under 40 minutes, you can leave your pasta sauce on the stove, and it won’t even stick to the bottom of the pot” – attendance is at an all time low.

Mandozzi is forced to preach in a former butchers shop after two earthquakes in the Abruzzo region have caused significant damage to Isola’s church since 2009.

In the shop, he told the Mass congregation, made up of fewer than two dozen local pensioners, “the sign of the cross isn’t a quick fly-swatting gesture”.

It’s a sight totally alien to the elderly audience who would have been used to a packed church.

Next door, though, the atmosphere can best be described as buzzy. The venue? A bar – packed with young families.


“Everything has changed,” the bar owner, Natascia Di Stefano tells AP.

“Sunday used to be church with your family. Now youths don’t even want to hear about it, like an ancient thing that’s useless”, the mother of two teens expands.

At another bar nearby – which, a little ironically, faces a mediaeval chapel – a group of friends in their 20s enjoy a drink.

They explain that they grew up attending Mass and catechism – only to bring their relationship with the church to an abrupt halt after being confirmed.

Traditionally a central practice to those of the Catholic faith, confirmation is a commitment to witness their faith through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.


Today, though, it’s because little more than a last rite that people feel obligated by family tradition to partake in.

“It would have become just a routine,” 24-year-old student Agostino Tatulli tells AP, adding. “I’d say I’m spiritual. I don’t know if God exists.”

The reasons for this increasing lack of belief are numerous but Dr Nadia Beider, a Sociology of Religion research fellow at University College London tells Euronews that the research suggests that a decline in religious engagement often leads to a lack of affiliation and date somewhere down the road thanks, in part, due to the “level of effort required to sustain regular religious behaviour such as church attendance”.

“The process accelerates over time as people disaffiliate from the religion in which they were raised and an increasing proportion are raised without religion”, Beider adds.

Spirituality and tradition do, though, still seem to be at the core of many young Italians’ beliefs today.


Saints days and blessings from priests are particularly important – even if organised religion is proving less attractive for increasing numbers.

Hundreds of bikers go to churches for an annual blessing, as do thousands of teenagers in the early spring for a ‘blessing of the pens’ before they take their final exams.

Catholicism is still a central part of another rite of passage for many – wedding ceremonies.

They remain the choice of about 60% of Italians marrying for the first time.

Catholic funerals, too, are still said to be favoured by 70% of Italians, although some funeral directors are opting to build ‘neutral’ wake rooms in their establishments to appeal to those keen not to focus on God at the end of their lives.


While lay people still cling on to some aspect of Catholicism from the cradle to the grave, there are logistical hurdles to overcome for church leaders too.

They’re already struggling with a significant drop in vocations that leaves many with barely the time to celebrate Masses in multiple villages under their care.

A wider European picture

It will come as little surprise that a continent as diverse and vast as Europe sees huge variations in religious affiliation across its 45 nations.

According to 2018 research from the Pew Research Centre – the latest on offer – Central and Eastern Europeans tend to be more likely than Western Europeans to be ‘highly religious’.


To qualify as ‘highly religious’, respondents had to tick at least two boxes out of the following criteria: attending religious services at least monthly, praying at least daily, believing in God with absolute certainty or saying that religion is very important to them.

In Greece, for example, roughly half of adults fall under that category whereas, in countries like Denmark, Sweden and the UK, that number falls to just one in 10.

That statistic doesn’t mean, though, that all countries in Western Europe have low levels of religious commitment – and also that not all countries in Central and Eastern Europe are at the higher end of the index.

Portugal, for example, has some 37% of its adult population fall into the highly religious category. At the other side of the continent, countries including the Czech Republic and Estonia have religiosity levels similar to Denmark – noticeably lower than those in most other Central and Eastern European countries.

These statistics, if they are to follow the trend of Italy, are likely to change – and fast.


In research undertaken by the World Economic Forum, also in 2018, it was discovered that young people – aged 16 to 29 at the time of the survey – are far less religious than their older countrymen. 

That poll found that young people in the Czech Republic are the least religious in all Europe.

Some 91% of 16 to 29 year olds say they have no religion, followed by Estonia’s youths (80%), Sweden (75%) and the UK, where 70% have no religion – and just 7% call themselves Anglican.

Across 12 out of 22 countries studied by the Forum, over half of young adults claim not to identify with any particular religion or denomination.

In many Central and Eastern European countries, that trend is very much bucked – and it’s down, in part, to the fall of the Iron Curtain.


More than 30 years on since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pew Research found that religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism.

Now, religion and national identity are often closely entwined. In former communist states, such as the Russian Federation and Poland, many say that being Orthodox or Catholic is important to being “truly Russian” or “truly Polish”.

Interestingly, Catholicism in Central and Eastern Europe does not measure up to the levels in upsurge as Orthodox Christianity.

That seems to be down to the fact that much of the population in countries such as Poland and Hungary retained a Catholic identity during the communist era, therefore leaving less of a religious vacuum to be filled when the USSR fell.

There could be a relatively straightforward explanation for this trend.


“It seems that the more universal explanations of the link between religious decline and modernity such as the shift towards secular, rational modes of thinking, individualisation, and greater emphasis on self-actualization values, notably in societies whose citizens feel generally safe and secure, less so in countries suffering from conflict, dislocation and economic precarity help explain why secularisation takes place”, Dr Nadia Beider tells Euronews.

Regardless of the status of conflict in a particular nation or, indeed, a person’s chosen denomination, it will be interesting to see when – not if – these more religious nations follow Italy’s lead.

Pietro di Bartolomeo, who hails from the city of Teramo, north of Rome, is fearful about the increasing secularisation of Italy and the wider continent, saying the decline in both numbers of priests and regular churchgoers is a real worry.

He’s proof, too, that questioning organised religion is nothing new.

As a teenager, he was bullied because of his family’s strong faith – so much so that he came to see “God as a loser.”


Now 45 and a father of five, he runs a Bible group for teens, trying to keep them connected to their faith after the critical juncture of their confirmation.

Speaking to AP, he emphasises that the church must increase their evangelising practice – or risk irrelevance.

“The old ladies sooner or later will go to the Creator, and that’s where the cycle stops”, di Bartolomeo says.

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View Q&A: Lampedusa shows migration is integral to human history

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Following the latest spike in boat arrivals to the Italian island of Lampedusa, Euronews View spoke to MEP Pietro Bartolo about what migration means for Italy and Europe and whether the continent can find a viable and fair way to solve the crisis.

The small Italian island of Lampedusa made international headlines again last week after a surge in boat arrivals to Europe saw at least 11,560 people land on its shores.


The 6,000 resident-strong island, which is closer to the Tunisian coast than mainland Italy has been the focal point of migrant routes for decades. 

However, the latest spike in arrivals was seen as yet another sign of a growing predicament for Europe, with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen both visiting Lampedusa to pledge a doubling down on the continent’s efforts to curb it.

At the same time, critics believe a concrete solution to the humanitarian crisis, which has become a highly divisive issue for most Europeans, is yet to be found. 

Meanwhile, thousands remain stranded in what has been described as difficult conditions, with many more expected to make the same dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

Euronews View spoke to MEP Pietro Bartolo (PD, S&D), a surgeon and Lampedusa native who served as the chief medical officer for refugees and migrants arriving on the island for 27 years, about perceptions of migrant arrivals in Italy and Europe, merits of the current political approach to the ever-unfolding situation, and whether Europe can find a viable and fair way to solve the crisis.

Euronews View: For many people, especially journalists and activists, the latest news out of Lampedusa felt like a ‘Groundhog Day’-type scenario, where no matter what is done, the story repeats itself. What is it that we have failed to learn?

Pietro Bartolo: The story that seems to be repeating, in my opinion, is that of bad agreements with third countries from which migrants depart or transit. 

We have ample experience showing that reducing migration and asylum policies to externalising borders and the so-called “strategic partnerships”, especially if signed with countries that have poor human rights and rule of law records — from Turkey to Libya, and now Tunisia — does not solve the problem. 

On the contrary, the numbers tell us that departures are increasing. Moreover, it is a disgraceful strategy that goes against the values of the Union, giving a blank check to dictators in order to keep the flow tap closed, without questioning what the fate of those who want to reach Europe for a hopefully better future will be. 

Therefore, if there is one truth that we have not learned, it is that the EU must change its approach when shaping its migration policies; we need legal channels of entry.

Euronews View: You were born in Lampedusa and know the island community quite well. Has the reaction of Italians living on the island to people arriving changed over time?


Pietro Bartolo: The inhabitants of Lampedusa have always been a model of solidarity and hospitality. 

Even after the high number of arrivals of the last days on the island, a real solidarity race has taken place, with people who have opened their homes to feed, welcome and temporarily assist migrants. 

This has always been the approach of the Lampedusans. Due to its geographical location, Lampedusa is the first strip of land between Africa and Europe, a natural landing place for those crossing the Mediterranean, both for flocks of birds and for people fleeing war, hunger and violence. 

This marked the identity of those who live here. In addition, Lampedusa is a land of fishermen, and for fishermen everything that comes from the sea is welcome.

Euronews View: In your opinion, what are Europeans failing to see or don’t understand when it comes to refugees and migrants arriving on the continent?


Pietro Bartolo: They do not realise that migration is not an emergency but something structural, it has always happened and is an integral part of the history of humanity.

Those who flee political and religious persecution, hunger and poverty in search of a better future, have the right to try. 

People must understand that this epochal challenge of our century is not only a problem concerning countries bordering the Mediterranean, but must be dealt with at the European level. 

Only a sharing of responsibility and a collective effort by all 27 member states will lead to concrete results.

Euronews View: How do you comment on last week’s visit of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italy PM Giorgia Meloni to the island?


Pietro Bartolo: Unfortunately, it’s one of many symbolic visits that does not lead to concrete proposals on how to deal with a dramatic situation, and we’ve had plenty of these visits in the last decade. 

I was greatly disappointed by the European Commission President’s support for the EU-Tunisia agreement.

Euronews View: How do you feel about people, including experts and journalists outside of Italy, believing that most Italians agree with Meloni’s stance on migration?

Pietro Bartolo: I do not think things are that way. They want us to believe that this is the truth but it is not, and my election serves as a type of proof to the contrary. 

During the last European election campaign, I spoke only about migration, bearing witness to what I saw and touched first-hand in the thirty years in which I was a doctor, acting as the responsible medic who gave migrants their first medical examination after disembarking on the island. 

If you add up the votes in the two constituencies in which I was elected, I had the most, second in overall number of preferences only to [the far-right Lega party leader Matteo] Salvini, who topped the list in all constituencies. 

I will also tell you another thing: in the encounters I have over the weekend in schools with students but also in other contexts throughout Italy, there is always someone who approaches and tells me: “Thank you, listening to you was enlightening. They’ve taught us a whole different narrative these years.” 

We must never stop telling the truth about the migration phenomenon. Not only for those who seek to rebuild their lives but also for Europe and its citizens.

Euronews View: What would be a fair solution to the issue, and is it realistic to expect the political will needed to implement it following the upcoming European election in 2024?

Pietro Bartolo: I hope that there will be a significant reform in this legislature already. I realise it may seem unrealistic, but we cannot discourage ourselves and give up on such an important issue. 

The EU has the opportunity to amend once and for all the Dublin Regulation which puts the weight of managing migration disproportionately on the countries of first entry.

Ultraconservatives and Eurosceptics prefer to fuel fears and hatred of migrants for electoral reasons. 

They talk about illegal immigration, pretending not to see that today those who arrive in Europe are mainly asylum seekers, people fleeing wars, violence or natural calamities. 

The negotiations to approve the new Pact on Migration are underway, and I will do everything I can to bring about a change of course towards solidarity and sharing of responsibility, and to find a way to mediate it that goes in the direction that progressive forces have been hoping for for years now. 

We need to change the paradigm and address the migration phenomenon with a humane, rational, and long-term approach.

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Beyond forgetfulness: Why we must act on Alzheimer’s disease now

In the face of an increasingly aging population, today’s reality reveals a harsh truth: health systems in the EU and beyond are ill-equipped to provide early and timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and embrace innovative treatments that could help to preserve memory and, with it, independence.  

Recent advances suggest that timely intervention may hold the promise to slow the memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease, making early diagnosis more critical than ever before. Yet without the necessary health care infrastructure in place to diagnose and provide treatment, we risk missing the crucial early window and the opportunity to delay — and hopefully in the near future prevent — distressing symptoms for patients and heartbreaking experiences for families.  

The EU and its member countries have the opportunity to be remembered for leading in this space by increasing funding for research, improving health care infrastructure to support accurate diagnosis and timely intervention, and enhancing support services at a national and regional level. The forthcoming European Parliament elections in June 2024 are the ideal moments to make that pledge. For individuals, families and health care systems, Alzheimer’s disease is a ticking time bomb unless we invest in our future health today.  

The EU is not prepared for Alzheimer’s disease  

In Europe, approximately 7 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, a number set to double to 14 million by 2050.1 On top of the physical and emotional distress this will cause, there are direct financial and social implications on families and communities, with Alzheimer’s costs expected to reach a staggering €250 billion by 20302 — bigger than the GDP of Portugal3 — placing an additional and substantial weight on global health care systems that are already struggling under cost and capacity burdens.4 

Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients.

That’s why MEP Deirdre Clune is leading the call for a European Parliament hearing to discuss a focused EU strategy on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients,” argues Clune. “Therefore, the EU must create a strategic framework which lays out clear recommendations for national governments and recognises the toll of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease on societies across Europe, encourage innovation and take on board best practices to develop effective and efficient approaches. Together, with a unified approach and firm commitment, the EU can pave the way for better Alzheimer’s care.”

In the next EU political mandate, policymakers must answer the call by developing a comprehensive EU Beating Dementia Plan that specifically addresses the unique challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease and building on established coordinated action plans for other significant health burdens, such as the EU Beating Cancer Plan. The European Brain Council and EFPIA’s, RETHINKING Alzheimer’s disease White Paper is a useful resource, calling for policymakers to rethink Alzheimer’s and offering policy recommendations to make tangible changes to improve the lives of people living with the disease.  

EU member countries must commit to investing in diagnostic infrastructure, technology and integrated care that can help to detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage and ensure timely intervention resulting in the preservation of memory and, thereof, independent living and normal social functioning.  

Laying the foundations at national level  

While action is certainly needed at the EU level, huge opportunity lies at the national and regional levels. Each member country has the chance to apply well-funded national dementia plans that tailor their strategies and responses to address the distinct needs of their populations, making a real and meaningful impact on the people and health systems in their country.  

Inspiration stems from Italy, which recently launched its Parliamentary Intergroup for Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s, dedicating its efforts to raising awareness, fostering discussions among national and regional institutions, promoting clinician and patient involvement, supporting novel research, implementing new diagnostic models, and strengthening patient access to care. 

Italian MP Annarita Patriarca, co-host of the Parliamentary Intergroup, affirms: “Primary responsibility of a member state is to ensure to all citizens the greatest standards of diagnosis and access to treatment and care. Thus, it is necessary to put in place a strong collaboration between the public and private sector to strengthen investments in neurological diseases. Improving patients’ diagnostic and care pathways, especially in a disease area like AD with such a high unmet medical need and societal impact will be the core focus of the intergroup.” 

Additionally, during the Alzheimer’s and Neuroscience Conference: a priority for the country in July, members of the Italian Parliament importantly put forward legislative and regulatory solutions to ensure an early and accurate diagnosis. 

Leading the conversation on the international stage   

Amid the growing burden of Alzheimer’s disease globally, this is a moment for policymakers to hold each other accountable. Member countries are uniquely placed to do this within the EU but also across the wider health care ecosystem, calling on countries and leaders to honor prior commitments that prioritized investment in relieving major health burdens, including Alzheimer’s.  

Encouragingly, the May G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué specifically recognized and supported dementia as a freestanding issue, breaking away from the typical categorization with NCDs. Moreover, the G7 health ministers published a joint Communiqué spotlighting the priority to “enhance early detection, diagnosis and interventions, including developing care pathways and capability and capacity building of health and primary care providers by strengthening primary health care (PHC)”.  

These promising steps mean that Alzheimer’s disease is beginning to gain the recognition it deserves but also acts as a line in the sand to ensure complacency doesn’t creep in. Collectively, EU countries must assume a leading voice within the international fora, ensuring that Alzheimer’s disease remains a global health care priority and receives the investment it warrants. 

Time to commit to action in Alzheimer’s disease  

September marks World Alzheimer’s Month, and its theme Never Too Early, Never Too Late, reiterates the importance of early diagnosis. It presents a valuable foundation to initiate discussions on country- and regional-level strategies to drive and strengthen diagnostic infrastructure and services for the prevention, diagnosis, case management, monitoring and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories.

“Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories,” shares Frédéric Destrebecq, executive director of The European Brain Council. “By recognizing the urgency of the situation and making concerted investments, we can forge a path toward a more compassionate, empowered future for individuals, families and communities impacted by Alzheimer’s, and remember all those who’ve been lost to this devastating disease.”

It is never too early, never too late, to be remembered for taking action against this debilitating disease.  


1 – Jones RW, Mackell J, Berthet K, Knox S. Assessing attitudes and behaviours surrounding Alzheimer’s disease in Europe: key findings of the Important Perspectives on Alzheimer’s Care and Treatment (IMPACT) survey. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2010 Aug;14:525-30.  

2 – Cimler R, Maresova P, Kuhnova J, Kuca K. Predictions of Alzheimer’s disease treatment and care costs in European countries. PLoS One. 2019;14(1):e0210958. Published 2019 Jan 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210958 

3 – Published by Statista Research Department, 20 J. GDP of European countries 2022. Statista. June 20, 2023. Accessed August 1, 2023. 

4 – The Economist. Why health-care services are in chaos everywhere. Available at: Accessed: July 2023.  

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A flood of misinformation about migrants in Lampedusa

Thousands of individuals, predominantly from sub-Saharan Africa, have recently arrived on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, reigniting the discussion on the EU and European states’ approach to handling illegal immigration. Amidst this context, people online have been sharing three deceptive videos with the intent of disparaging migrants arriving in Italy.

Issued on:

5 min

If you only have a minute 

  • One video shared on X (formerly Twitter) claims to show a fight among migrants in Lampedusa. However, a reverse image search reveals that the video dates to 2021. It shows a fight outside a club, nowhere near Lampedusa.

  • Some people have also shared a video showing migrants dancing with NGO staff, claiming the scene took place this weekend in Lampedusa. However, the video was taken in August, in the UK.

  • Finally, one video claims that migrants who made their way into Europe through Lampedusa had started skirmishes in Stuttgart, Germany. The incident did indeed take place last weekend, but there’s no indication that it involved migrants.

The fact-check, in detail

On September 14, around 7,000 migrants landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa in the span of just 48 hours. So far in 2023, nearly 126,000 migrants have arrived in Italy – twice as many as last year.

Against this backdrop, a number of videos have been shared on social media networks targeting migrants. 

This fight between ‘migrants’ dates back to 2021 – and isn’t in Lampedusa

“The migrants in Lampedusa, Italy are getting restless,” reads the caption on this video shared on X on September 18. The video shows a group of people in the midst of a violent fight. A group of young men are seen beating another man, who appears to be taking cover behind a policeman before being chased away by the group.

The video had garnered more than 169,000 views on X before it was deleted.

September 18 post on X claiming to show a fight between migrants in Lampedusa. © X / @WallStreetSilv

A simple reverse image search (click here to find out how) reveals that the original video was published on August 10, 2021 by Rossini TV, a regional channel based in Pesaro, central Italy.

The title of the report states that the video shows a brawl in Marotta, a village near Pesaro. 

We searched for details about the incident and found that several local newspapers reported on a brawl outside a Marotta club on August 7, 2021. During the fight, which started inside the club, a Senegalese man was stabbed in the abdomen. Two Italian police officers were also injured while trying to intervene. Four people were arrested, including two Albanians, a Dominican, and a Senegalese person.

The video was published two years ago, and has nothing to do with the current influx of migrants to Lampedusa.

These migrants filming themselves dancing with volunteers and members of NGOs were not in Lampedusa

With over 3 million combined views on X, a video posted on several accounts claims to show migrants taking selfies while dancing with volunteers from NGOs, even though they have just arrived on the island of Lampedusa.

Screenshot on X, September 16, showing migrants dancing with members of an NGO, allegedly in Lampedusa according to the post's caption.
Screenshot on X, September 16, showing migrants dancing with members of an NGO, allegedly in Lampedusa according to the post’s caption. © X / @stillgray

There are several indications that the scene did not take place in Lampedusa. Firstly, when the person filming himself with the NGO members dancing, you can see a red and white logo on an employee’s jacket: it identifies the NGO Care4Calais

On its website, the organisation explains that its volunteers work with refugees in the UK, France and Belgium. Members of Care4Calais are not currently in Lampedusa. 

If you go further, using a reverse image search, you can find an earlier post featuring the same video. On August 25, 2023, @BFirstParty, the X account of the British political party Britain First, already published it, accusing the Care4Calais association in the caption of being a “traitorous” NGO, having committed a serious faux-pas by dancing with refugees at the border in the UK.

Screenshot taken on August 25 on X, showing the reaction of the British political party Britain First after members of the NGO Care4Calais danced with refugees.
Screenshot taken on August 25 on X, showing the reaction of the British political party Britain First after members of the NGO Care4Calais danced with refugees. © X / @BFirstParty

We contacted Care4Calais, who confirmed that this video does indeed show some of its volunteers dancing with refugees. They also confirmed that the video was not taken this month. The organisation added: “There is no context to the video. As you will be aware, Care4Calais delivers humanitarian aid to refugees in northern France. Whilst distributing that aid, our volunteers interact with refugees with kindness and compassion, often sitting down to share stories (some, as you can imagine, are very harrowing) and in this video they are enjoying a dance.”

Therefore, this video was not taken in Lampedusa, and has nothing to do with the current migrant arrivals on the Italian island.

Clashes don’t involve migrants who arrived via Lampedusa

After the arrival of migrants on the island of Lampedusa, this video was posted on X to denounce the impact of welcoming them to Europe. In a caption, the @Linfo24_7 account claims that the people behind the violent clashes in Stuttgart on Saturday were “illegal immigrants from Lampedusa”.

Screenshot from September 17 of an X post claiming that migrants from Lampedusa have sparked clashes in Germany.
Screenshot from September 17 of an X post claiming that migrants from Lampedusa have sparked clashes in Germany. © X / @Linfo24_7

A reverse image search reveals that the scene was filmed in Stuttgart on September 16. The violence in Germany followed an Eritrean cultural festival organised by groups close to the president, as confirmed by Africa News

During the day, opponents of the government came to protest against the festival, triggering scuffles between pro- and anti-government Eritrean activists. People close to the opposition were accused of assaulting the police as they intervened to stop the conflict.

There’s no indication that migrants who had just arrived in Lampedusa had travelled to Stuttgart to start riots, or that those involved had arrived via Lampedusa illegally. Furthermore, an article by Sud Ouest explains that, as early as July, a similar conflict had broken out between Eritreans north of Frankfurt. 

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What purpose does the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) serve? | Explained

From left, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (Japan), Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (Italy), President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Prime Minister Narendra Modi (India), President Joe Biden (U.S), President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (UAE) and President Emmanuel Macron (France) attend Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment event on the day of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, on September 9, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

The story so far: At a special event on the sidelines of the recently concluded G20 summit in New Delhi, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed to establish the ‘India-Middle East- Europe Economic Corridor’ (IMEC). Other than the two co-chairs of the event, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden, the signatories included leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the European Union (EU), Italy, France and Germany.

The project, which forms part of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), may also serve as a counter to China’s economic influence in the Eurasian region, observers have suggested.

What is the corridor? 

The proposed IMEC will consist of railroad, ship-to-rail networks (road and sea) and road transport routes (and networks) extending across two corridors, that is, the east corridor – connecting India to the Gulf, and the northern corridor – connecting the Gulf to Europe. As per the MoU, the railway, upon completion, would provide a “reliable and cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network to supplement existing maritime and road transports routes”. 

It would enable the transportation of goods and services from India to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Europe, and back. All in all, it is expected that the corridor would increase efficiency (relating to transit), reduce costs, enhance economic unity, generate jobs, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is expected to translate into a “transformative integration of Asia, Europe and the Middle East.” 

The MoU states that participants, intend to enable the laying of cables for electricity and digital connectivity, as well as pipes for clean hydrogen export along the railway route.

The MoU states that participants will “work collectively and expeditiously” to arrange and implement all elements of the transit route. These relate to technical design, financing, legal and relevant regulatory standards. A meeting is planned in the next sixty days to carve out an “action plan” with “relevant timetables”. 

How has it been received? 

While Mr. Modi suggested the corridor “promises to be a beacon of cooperation, innovation, and shared progress,” Mr. Biden referred to it as the “real big deal”

Ms. von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said the corridor was “more than ‘just’ a railway or a cable, it is a green and digital bridge across continents and civilisations.” She called it the “most direct connection” between India, the Gulf and Europe: with a rail link that would make trade between India and Europe 40% faster. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose country will also be a part of the corridor, also welcomed the move. He said that the link would help realise “a multi-year vision that will change the face of the Middle East, and Israel, and will affect the entire world.” 

On the other hand, with the corridor being suggested as a competitor for China’s BRI, the announcement did not draw enthusiasm from the Chinese media. An editorial in the Global Times highlighted doubts from Chinese experts about the project’s credibility and feasibility. T “It is not the first time for Washington to make empty pledges to various countries and regions,” it read. 

What geopolitics is at play here? 

It has often been believed that China is utilising the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from the Indo-Pacific to West Asia to further their economic and political influence, particularly on sovereigns with relatively instable economies.  Financial Times  points out that, for the U.S., the project could also serve to counter Beijing’s influence “at a time when Washington’s traditional Arab partners, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are deepening ties with China, India and other Asian powers.” 

Professor Michaël Tanchum, Senior Fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said in August 2021 that a corridor connecting India to Europe via West Asia and the Mediterranean region could serve as an “alternative trans-regional commercial transportation route” to the troubled Chabahar-based International North-South Transit Corridor. “Instead of Chabahar, the ports of the UAE —India’s third largest trading partner — would serve as the Indian Ocean connectivity node,” he said. 

He observed that from Mumbai, Indian goods shipped by this route could arrive on the European mainland in as less as 10 days — 40% faster than through the Suez Canal maritime route. 

Professor Tanchum also observed that India’s “careful cultivation” of multilateral economic cooperation with such a corridor “was of paramount importance.” According to him, “Despite India’s favourable demographics, geography and commercial transportation infrastructure are not alone sufficient to ensure that India will realise its potential as a Eurasian economic power.” He further elaborated that, “Commercial corridors only emerge where requisite large investments in port and rail infrastructure are coupled with an industrial base anchored in manufacturing value chains”— precisely the purpose of the present corridor. 

This corridor may also hint at further normalisation of ties between Israel and the countries in the Gulf. 

How does this relate to the Israel and Gulf relationship?

Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have diplomatic ties —primarily because of differences of opinion about the Israel-Palestine conflict. In fact, Israel has official ties with only Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco in the Arab region. In this light, the transit network which seeks integration on multiple fronts assumes particular significance. 

Financial Times learnt from a person briefed about the discussions, that the corridor’s passage through Jordan and Israel could also support the Biden administration’s effort to build on the recent normalisation of ties between Israel and several Arab states, including the UAE. This may push Saudi Arabia to follow suit and formalise ties. “China is one factor. The U.S. is also trying to refocus attention on the region, to reassure traditional partners and to maintain influence,” the publication learnt. 

With Saudi Arabia being the world’s top exporter of oil and UAE being West Asia’s dominant finance centre, the publication writes that both are “seeking to project themselves as key logistics and trade hubs between east and west.” 

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