European Union reaches landmark agreement on AI

Brussels (Belga) – With the AI Act, the European Union aims to respect its citizens’ security and fundamental rights while safeguarding and even boosting the innovative nature and competitiveness of the European AI sector. By being the first to come up with such legislation, it aims to set an international standard.

The basic principle is that AI systems will be classified according to their risk profile. Most AI applications will fall into the ‘minimal risk’ category and will therefore not have to comply with specific obligations. These include, for example, spam filters or ‘recommender systems’ that make suggestions to users based on a certain algorithm (such as customised playlists or product listings in online shops).

It’s different with “high-risk” AI. Because artificial intelligence is inextricably linked to large data sets, AI systems will not be permitted to collect just any data and will have to reduce their inherent risk as best as possible. Every activity must be documented, users must know where they stand and there must be human supervision at all times. Biometric identification and applications that automatically recognise emotions are classified as high risk by definition.

During the negotiations between member states and the European Parliament, there was a lot of talk about the AI applications that pose an “unacceptable risk” and should therefore be banned. For instance, Parliament called for a total ban on biometric identification. Member states were nevertheless able to secure some exceptions. For example, the use of real-time facial recognition will be permitted, but only in the search for victims of kidnappers or human traffickers, or to prevent clear threats such as terrorist attacks. In such cases, it will also be allowed to track suspects through biometric identification, but prior permission from an investigating judge will be required.

Applications for which no exceptions were agreed upon – and which will therefore always be banned – include ‘social scoring’ as it exists in China: The random scraping of facial images to build databases and categorise people based on their political, religious or philosophical beliefs, their sexual orientation or race. Emotion recognition in the workplace or in education will also be banned.

Transparency requirements are another particular focus of the new legislation. Anyone who uses an AI system such as a chatbot will always need to be informed that he or she is communicating with a machine. Deepfakes and other AI content should always be labelled as such.

In recent months, advanced generative AI applications such as ChatGPT, DALL-E and Bard took off, which can create texts, images and other content. These ‘foundation models’ will be subject to additional transparency obligations. They will have to comply with European copyright regulations and will need to be accompanied by detailed summaries of the content used to train the models. For generative AI that may contain systemic risks, there will be further obligations.

To boost innovation in the European AI sector, small AI players will be able to develop their applications in ring-fenced environments, so they are not crushed by big international players. “The AI Act is much more than a rulebook — it’s a launchpad for EU startups and researchers to lead the global race for trustworthy AI,” concludes Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, who spearheaded the legislation. (December 9)

Swedish EU diplomat Johan Floderus (C) attends a court session in Tehran on December 10, 2023. Photo: Amir Abbas GHASEMI / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP)

Iran accuses Swedish EU diplomat of conspiring with Israel

Tehran (AFP) – The Iranian judiciary has accused the Swede Johan Floderus, a European Union diplomat detained in Iran for more than 600 days, of having cooperated with Israel “against the security” of the Islamic Republic.

“Johan Floderus is innocent. There are absolutely no grounds for keeping Johan Floderus in detention,” EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday, once again calling for his “immediate release.”

In photos published by the agency of the judicial authority on Sunday, the 33-year-old Swede appeared for the first time since his arrest in April 2022, wearing a pale blue prison uniform and handcuffs.

His trial began behind closed doors in Tehran on Saturday. According to Mizan Online, the judicial authority agency, he is on trial for “corruption on the earth” – punishable by death – and for taking part in “acts against the security of Iran, through extensive intelligence cooperation with the Zionist regime.” (December 10)

Bulgaria expects to complete a report in June on its readiness to join the euro area by 2025

Brussels (BTA) – Bulgaria was expecting the completion of a report next June on its readiness to join the eurozone from 2025, announced Bulgarian Finance Minister Asen Vassilev.

“We have reported progress on the conditions since our admission to the Banking Union, where we have completed almost everything. The law on the Bulgarian National Bank, which received the approval of the European Commission and the European Central Bank, still needs to be passed by parliament. We expect to finish this part in January,” he said after participating in a meeting of his EU colleagues in Brussels.

“We meet three of the four conditions, including the deficit. The deficit at the end of November was 0.6 percent, with a requirement of 3 percent. For the next year, the budget is planned within the framework of the Maastricht criteria. We received very strong support in the Eurogroup. A report will be drawn up, which will be considered in June, after the European Parliament elections,” Finance Minister Asen Vassilev said. According to him, the specific date for Bulgaria’s accession to the eurozone will be determined based on this report.

Furthermore, the Minister said that Bulgaria was expecting a second payment from the EU funds for the recovery of the economies from the pandemic by February. A transfer of around 700 million euros was expected. The Council of the EU approved changes in the Bulgarian plan. On this occasion, Vassilev recalled that some projects were dropped from the plan due to the reduction of the total amount for Bulgaria.

The actual change in the plan is yet to be discussed with the European Commission. It will probably be adopted in January or February. The rules for choosing the composition of the anti-corruption commission and the plan for changes in the energy sector still had to be adopted, Minister Vassilev said.

A message from the Council of the EU states that Bulgaria submitted a proposal for changes to the plan in September without the part concerning energy. In total, according to the plan, Bulgaria expects 5.7 billion euros in grants, instead of the initially pledged 6.3 billion euros. The amount was changed due to the improved state of the Bulgarian economy. (December 8)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Tuesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.