Wars for power in the world created problems of environmental pollution and energy crises. These problems along with resource allocation got increasingly international in scope. Those concerned with these issues must be aware of the efforts that are being done by others.

For this purpose, we got an opportunity to bring to you the views of a young socialist and democrat in the European Parliament Mr. Alex AGIUS SALIBA. He is an active and passionate member of the parliament who put his efforts to raise burning issues on the floor of the EU parliament.

Q1. Why do you think that the fixed skills or knowledge young people receive today is no longer enough?

In the aftermath of the COVID, the EU reinforced its growth strategy and green and digital transition policies.

We must do the same for the education policy and move it to the top of the political agenda. Europe has been very competitive in the global labour market, with its highly valued education providing skills and talents which are increasingly sought after. However, the fixed skills or knowledge young people receive today might no longer be enough. We are witnessing the most significant workforce transformation after the industrial revolution. With the digital and green transition, many of today’s children and young people will tomorrow work in jobs that do not even exist. They must be prepared to adapt, change, and turn current and future challenges into opportunities. Education and fixed skills are crucial to surviving and thriving in the new world of work. Still, to do that, we need skills that will make a difference in people’s daily lives, go beyond keeping pace with the fast-changing needs of the labour market and help those who want to switch paths for personal development or upward social mobility.

Q2. You suggest that micro-credentials, individual learning accounts, and training for all young people contribute to a sustainable environment. How they will?

The Commission’s proposal to develop a European approach to micro-credentials, individual learning accounts, and learning for environmental sustainability as part of the European Education Area by 2025 is an excellent example. Learning about environmental sustainability should be mainstreamed across educational curricula throughout the EU with a lifelong learning perspective, including through European and global citizenship education, to empower learners and enable them to become active proponents of more inclusive and sustainable societies. Such an approach will also make learning paths more flexible, broaden learning opportunities, deepen mutual recognition, create ties with the digital and green transitions and strengthen the role played by both higher education and vocational education and training (VET) institutions in lifelong learning.

Q3. Do you really think that digital technologies are affecting the quality of life of workers and creating social imbalance?

Digital technologies fundamentally have changed the way we work, affecting workers’ lives and rights and often creating social imbalances. For example, one in three workers started working from home during the lockdown. This has saved countless lives, but many workers have suffered from harmful side effects, such as isolation, fatigue, depression, burnout, and muscular or eye illnesses. Post-pandemic, more hybrid working patterns are likely to emerge with higher take-up of remote working and use of digital technologies than before the COVID-19 crisis. Twitter and Facebook are some companies publicly announcing a long-term shift to permanent telework while claiming that office-centricity is part of the past. Surveys show that 80% of European employers require or are considering more employees to work remotely once the pandemic is over. Given those changes, it is important to recognise several known and unknown challenges and risks that can create undesirable effects on workers and negatively affect their fundamental rights, including their working conditions, data protection, work-life balance, health, safety, etc and create the right balances with new targeted policies.

Q4. How does Artificial Intelligence challenge the fundamental rights of humans?

The exponential growth of artificial intelligence to police our streets has, in some cases, reinforced flawed and discriminatory practices when it comes to identifying criminals. Artificial intelligence systems should safeguard the fundamental rights of EU citizens and put the brakes on any steps resulting in mass surveillance in public places. Technical progress should never come at the expense of people’s fundamental rights. The fundamental rights of EU citizens are unconditional, and AI technologies should never reinforce discrimination or do more harm than good. AI in the EU should be human-centric and ethical, developed and used for the common good and the best interests of our citizens and businesses.

Q5. Did cyber-attacks in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affect and target the EU directly?

Against the backdrop of the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, securing Europe’s critical infrastructure has become a top priority. Cyberattacks targeting Ukraine, including against critical infrastructure, could spill over into other countries and could cause systemic effects putting the security of Europe’s citizens at risk. The European Union, working closely with its partners, is considering further steps to prevent, discourage, deter and respond to such malicious behaviour in cyberspace. Every MS and EU organization—large and small—must be prepared to respond to disruptive cyber incidents. Preparing will ultimately protect civilians from attacks that can directly affect their lives and access to critical services. We must improve our cyber operational capabilities to provide adequate responses to cyber-attacks and immediately protect EU critical entities and infrastructures against Russian state-sponsored and criminal cyber threats. That is why the recent agreements on the Commission’s proposals reforming the NIS2 and the resilience of critical entities are crucial to protect critical sectors and ensure that they have the strength and support from MS and the EU to recover from any disruptive incidents or attacks.

Q6. What consequences of these cyber-attacks should be of concern to the EU?

In the new digital world, we face new forms of aggression taking the shape of hybrid and cyber warfare. We have witnessed destructive wiper attacks on hundreds of systems in the Ukrainian government, IT, energy, financial organizations, nuclear plants, telecommunications, and broadcasting companies. During the conflict, malicious cyber-attacks have been a prominent component of Russian cyber operations, strongly correlated and sometimes directly timed, with kinetic and institutions crucial for civilians. Whether it is to steal data from nuclear plants, cause a chaotic disinformation environment, disrupt citizens’ access to reliable information and critical life services, or shake confidence in the country’s leadership, those cyber-attacks are sparking concerns of more significant consequences and catastrophic effects that could also affect and target the European Union and the Member States.

Q7. Will you insist on giving the same importance to social and environmental policies as that of economic ones in 2023-budget?

Yes, we still have the economic and social effects of the current health crisis. In addition, we have very high inflation, high energy and food prices, rising unemployment, poverty and social inequalities, and the war in Ukraine. And all that, while we have to deal with climate change and the digitalisation of our industries. The budget for next year needs to have enough flexibility, resources, and measures to shield citizens and workers from the negative impacts of the war in Ukraine and all the ongoing challenges that we have been dealing with in the last few years. Going from one crisis to another when the recovery is still incomplete is a recipe for disaster that will only aggravate the current situation and have severe social consequences in all Member States. It is crucial, therefore, that we have a social and suitable budget to boost both social and economic recovery. We must also pay particular attention to those in the most vulnerable situations, such as women, children, and refugees. Last, just transition, social justice, resilience, and upward social convergence are crucial and need to be reinforced in 2023.

Q8. What could be the possible life-changing policies for the next generation in Europe, especially in Ukraine?

We must restore peace in Europe, but more importantly after we need to rebuild. Rebuilding Ukraine is likely to be the biggest European project since the absorption of East Germany by the West in the 1990s. The policies we will need for the next generation, especially in Ukraine, should help create the foundations of a free and prosperous country, anchored in European values and well integrated into the European and global economy, and support it on its European path.

Alex Agius Saliba
Vice President,
European Parliament