Blockchain: a small introduction and a legal perspective

Catarina Ferreira (Master’s student in European Union Law at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

1. The blockchain technology

Blockchain is commonly known as the underlying technology used in Bitcoin. This “new” and revolutionary technology, whose roots are ancient, has been introduced (as we know it) in 2008 when Satoshi Nakamoto released the Bitcoins’ white paper. In the white paper, Nakamoto presented a decentralized payment model based on cryptography and using blockchain technology. This idea would allow a move forward from the traditional model, based on trust and relying on an impartial third, and achieving currency decentralization (being possible to perform direct transactions between two parts).

It cannot be denied that blockchain is a new paradigm, a new information technology with tiered technical levels and multiple applications for any form of asset[1], going beyond the financial sector. Nowadays, blockchain’s impacts are being compared to the ones that followed the development of the Internet. So, understanding what is blockchain and the ideology behind it, is a requirement for those who want to apply the law without damaging the technology.

Before clarifying what blockchain is, it should be noticed that since Bitcoin’s blockchain many others have arisen. Nonetheless, there are commonalities between all blockchains, and in this work, we’ll be discussing all those commonalities and not a specific blockchain. 

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Work-life balance measures in the EU and the impact of Covid-19 on its progress

Maria Inês Costa (Master’s student in Human Rights, UMinho)

The implementation of Directive 2019/1158 of June 20, 2019, of the European Parliament and the Council on work-life balance for parents and carers[1], came about two years after the publication (in 2017) of a proposal by the European Commission (EC). In 2008, a directive on maternity leave was proposed, which provided for more time on leave and more rights for mothers; however, in 2015, the Commission withdrew the proposal, basing its decision on the persistent difficulty of reaching an agreement among the co-legislators, while ensuring that it would continue its efforts to propose a broader initiative.[2] Thus, the 2017 proposal was announced as part of a set of measures to be implemented that, based on the policies and protection of the EU acquis and existing European legislation, aimed to improve existing rights, with a focus on equal treatment and gender equality. Hence, the specific objectives to be pursued are mentioned in this proposal: to improve access to leave and flexible working arrangements, and to increase the take-up of leave by men.[3]

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Control, audit and investigation of fraud with European Structural and Investment Funds – Dichotomy between fraud prevention and swift execution of European funds

Nuno Almeida (Master’s in EU Law at the University of Minho)

The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) made available by the European Union will be the highest ever, a fact that will raise new challenges regarding their control and effectiveness. [i] The European Court of Auditors has already expressed its concern about the inefficiency shown by the management authorities of operational programs in the control of the application of European funds, a fact duly expressed in its Report No. 6/2019, prepared on the basis of the audit of the activity of the managing authorities of Member States at the different procedural stages. Thus, in terms of fraud prevention, detection and combat, there was a small number of identified cases in the 2007-2013 programming period, with fraud detection rates between 0% and 2.1%[ii]. According to the European Court of Auditors, this figure is not representative of the level of fraud identified, as several cases of fraud were detected but not communicated to the competent authorities. As a result, it will be necessary to assess the current capacity of national institutions with control and auditing functions, especially regarding their real effectiveness in detecting irregular or illicit situations, since, as it should be recalled, approximately 80% of European funds are executed by Member States. Furthermore, given the exceptional need for swift execution of European funds, it is important to consider whether the pressure that will be placed on the authorities involved in this plan will inevitably lead to a concentration of all means in the execution area. In fact, it is expected that there will be predetermined levels or objectives for the execution of operational programs, a fundamental factor for the evaluation of the activity of these entities, which may weaken the identification of irregular or illicit situations, that is, a prevalence of execution in relation to prevention, a dichotomy that will require measures from the responsible entities if proven true.

On the national level, on May 21, 2021, Law No. 30/2021 approved special public procurement measures for projects financed or co-financed by European funds, a legislative change arisen from a need for speed in execution and application of European funds made available by the European Union, by simplifying public procurement procedures, as well as from the need to reinforce the fundamental principle of transparency, achieved through the implementation of mandatory electronic disclosure procedures and the reinforcement of the Court of Auditors’ intervention in the oversight of procedures.

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What to expect from the European Platform on Combating Homelessness?

Cecília Pires (PhD Candidate at the University of Minho)

On 21 June of 2021, under the fourth Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (“EU”), its Member States, European institutions, political representatives, homeless people, and civil society signed the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness, during the High-Level Conference on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness.

The initiative is a result of the orientation at Article 3 of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which predicts the urgency of European practices and policies that can promote access to not only the quality and affordable houses but also the essential services. It is aimed to guarantee the human right to adequate housing.

The primary basis of the commitment is: Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (“TEU”), which mandates the Union to combat social exclusion and promote economic, social, and territorial cohesion; principle nº 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights (“EPSR”), that addresses the need for action to ensure housing; housing assistance, adequate shelter and services for those in need and people experiencing homelessness; and the principles nº 1 and nº 11 of the 2030 United Nations (“UN”) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which deal, respectively, with the duty to end extreme poverty, including homelessness, and to make cities and human settlements safe, resilient and sustainable with ensuring access to all adequate, safe and affordable houses. 

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An instrument out of tune: the EU –Mercosur Trade Agreement

Nataly Machado (Master’s student in EU Law, UMinho)

Brazil is one of the countries with the largest environmental heritage in the world. However, in breach of the existing legislation that helps protect the environment, Brazilian biomes are increasingly threatened by the poor political and environmental management of this country in recent years.

If we consider the Amazon biome, the largest tropical forest in the world, which occupies 59% of Brazil’s territory, holds a large part of the available freshwater in the world and is home to the largest number of species of flora and fauna in the world, the numbers of environmental setbacks are alarming (to say the least). For example, in April 2021, record shows that deforestation reached 778 km2, which is the highest rate for that month in the last ten years[1].

The gap between the discourse of goals and commitments to take care of the Brazilian forests and what happens in practice – an old and repeated script in the history of unbridled destruction of the Amazon – has not worked as a strategy to consolidate the trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), which has been the breeding ground for controversy before the final approval of the EU Member States and the European Parliament.

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The Schrems II Judgment: First two investigations by the European Data Protection Supervisor

by Joana Campos e Matos (Senior Consultant at Vieira de Almeida & Associados)

On May 27, 2021, the European Data Protection Supervisor (“EDPS”) announced that it has opened two investigations regarding the use of Amazon and Microsoft services by European Union institutions (EUIs)[1].

In a press release, the EDPS announced the opening of two investigations, one concerning the use of cloud services provided by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft under Cloud II contracts by European Union institutions, bodies and agencies and the other regarding the use of Microsoft Office 365 by the European Commission.

The EDPS underlined that these investigations are part of the EDPS’ strategy for EU institutions to comply with the “Schrems II” Judgement[2].

1. Legal framework for international data transfers by EUIs

According to the Regulation (EU) 2018/1725 [3], international data transfers[4] are only permitted if the third country to which the data are transferred, ensures that the conditions set out in the Regulation are respected, in such a way that the level of protection of natural persons guaranteed by the Regulation is not undermined (Article 46). Thus, data transfers to countries located outside the European Economic Area (“EEA”) can only occur within the strict terms provided for by the Regulation.

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Covid-19: a matter of security

by Rafaela Figueiredo Garcia Guimarães (Master’s student in Human Rights at University of Minho)

We must declare war on this virus”, asserted the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, when commenting on the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, on March 13, 2020[1]. On April 23, 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared that “the war against Covid-19 is far from won by the Planet[2]. By the same token, Bruce Aylward, Senior Advisor on Organizational Change to the WHO Director-General, also stated at a press conference on March 26, 2021, that “we are at war with the virus, not against each other, and the common goal is to end the coronavirus[3]. Josep Borrell, the High Representative on behalf of the European Union (EU), in his declaration on April 3, 2020, proclaimed that “this is a time when we should spend all of our energy and resources in the fight against this common global threat – the coronavirus[4]. Likewise, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her speech to the nation on March 18, 2020, acknowledged that “there has not been a challenge like this since World War II, which depends so much on a joint action of solidarity[5], and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, on March 16, 2020, openly declared that “we are at war and that the enemy, although invisible, is here[6]. “This is a war! It is really a war we are dealing with,” assures the Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, on March 18, 2020, in his message to the Portuguese people[7]. Last but not least, the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, on January 21, 2021, stated publicly the endorsement of a “large-scale war effort to fight the pandemic[8].

Since WHO’s public announcement, on March 11, 2020, the disease caused by the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus and on the fact that we were in the face of a pandemic, Covid-19 has been treated as a security issue, with coronavirus being the global enemy that needs to be tackled and eliminated. Thus, the health crisis Covid-19 gave rise to came to be considered a threat to global security.

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“Fintech”: in search of a legal definition

by Carlos Goettenauer (PhD Candidate at University of Brasília)

During the last decade, the term “fintech” gained popularity and became a topic of discussion among market agents and financial regulators all around the world. The term’s origin, however, can be traced to the early 1990s, when Citigroup established the “Financial Services Technology Consortium”[1]. As with any other nascent buzzword, its meaning remains a subject of debate and controversy among many social actors. Market agents tend to associate the term “fintech” with innovations on financial systems and on so-called “market disruptions”, linking it to other common Silicon Valley tropes, such as “disintermediation” and “consumer-empowerment”. On the other hand, financial industry incumbents, and even its regulators, may wish to broaden the meaning of the term “fintech”, in order to fit all sorts of technological innovation under its umbrella. Considering its many possible meanings, it is time we ask whether there is space for a legal definition of “fintech”.

The law often plays a major role in reducing polysemy in contested expressions. Legal predictability and normative stability require terms to be precisely defined and agreed upon. This way, a legal definition (or even a statutory definition) of “fintech” would aid authorities in grounding their regulatory efforts, thus producing a more stable and predictable legal environment for both entrants and incumbents.

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The importance of a conceptual reform in the regulation of emerging technologies

by Manuel Resende Monteiro Protásio (LL.M Law & Technology, Tilburg University)

Whenever a different situation or circumstance emerges in society, we, as a group of individuals, instinctively react by trying to comprehend it. The first individual and social construction that we build to understand reality in a consensual way is language itself.

Although our thoughts and concerns on how we perceive society may differ, as language, legal concepts try to establish a consensus between Law and almost every aspect of human life. If we add a new element to our human interactions, like technology, one should ask the question if this new element in our reality requires new language to understand it, or new legal concepts to regulate it.

The need to conceptualize the way we interact with our environment is inherent to our nature. In fact, Language and Law are the most established and sophisticated social constructions that people designed to control their interpersonal relations as well as the environment around them. Both are models of interpretation of our reality and tools that we created to control what we perceive. If we consider the impact of emerging and disruptive technologies in our society, we must assume that the need for a new conceptual approach to regulate technologies is undeniable.

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Millennials and Covid-19 pandemic: an exploratory analysis

by Felipe Debasa and José Ramón Saura (Universidad Rey Juan Carlos) 

Youths has traditionally been considered the period that precedes human maturity. However, the Baby boomer generation, the one we find after World War II, changes the term. Youth will be considered by them as the end of childhood, the culmination stage of human development. This change in point of view is the origin of the rebellious behaviors and a spirit of freedom that mark the decades of the 60s and 70s so approached by literature, music and cinema. The Baby Boomer generation in the United States and in Europe is the first generation that does not suffer a war in its own territory and that does not suffer from a shortage of food or services. Youth leisure and a consumer society focused on young people became widespread, something unthinkable at the beginning of the 20th century. As a result of this scenario, the characteristic cultural movements of an era that has marked the development of the Western world until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the USSR appear. Faced with this new non-war scenario, there are also youth movements protesting against their model of life. Especially against the consumer society, the rigidity of social norms and the wars in other parts of the world for which they blame Western societies. This is how countercultures were born in the 1950s and 1960s, such as beats or hippies. However, some authors[i] point out that the Maoist ideas that circulated in May 68 crossed borders and oceans and reached Latin America. There they would be the germ of many revolutionary and terrorist movements that would shake Latin America during the last third part of the 20th century.

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