The Regional Cooperation Magazine - Issue 12

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Regional Cooperation Magazine

N.12 SSN 2784-9465 FEBRUARY 2023

Director’s Editorial

Mental Health Problems: Pandemic Provokes Rethink of Ideas, Reset of Policies

Mental Health and Climate Change

News from the Fund for Youth Employment

Viruses and brain health

The impact of the pandemic on psychosocial health: Cyberspace as a setting for radicalisation and extremism

Mental health negative effects after the pandemic and its link to eco-anxiety

Is assessment of psychological competences in the beginning of the judicial career sufficient?

Tackling State Capture in Southeast Europe: delivering on the European Rule of Law promise

Sensing the qualities of ciders from Hardanger

Latvian State Environmental Service teams up with EU-WATERRES project to better manage polluted sites

EU-WATERRES team at the annual thematic seminar in Brussels

Contributors & Credits

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Director’s Editorial

Dear Family,

I started to write my usual editorial in a precise day, which is a sad enough anniversary: the 20th February 2020 we had, in Italy and in general in Europe, the first Coronavirus infection. Covid, today, scares us much less. We are surrounded by events that, unfortunately, that make us much more afraid. I am talking not only about the invasion of Ukraine, a very – again – sad anniversary which, in reality, brings us back to events that started already 9 years ago. Let’s just hope – one day – to talk about peace coming from all directions.

In addition, considering the geographical coverage of our Fund, I want to say a few words about what is happening in Türkiye and Syria. As with Covid, an unexpected event, which however in this case resulted in massive destruction. With the pandemic, we have locked ourselves in our homes, anywhere in the world. We were isolated, but everything was done to offer this ‘imposed isolation’ to those in need. Those populations, on the other hand, no longer has a home. The images that come to us speak for themselves. Today, from here, we can say that 'our part of the world' has been lucky. But I believe that even in this case we must speak of an unprecedented and, above all, unpredictable situation. It could happen at any moment. And I am convinced that this event too can, in a certain sense, be linked to the theme we had chosen for this month: mental health. Can we even imagine how – psychologically – they feel now? And, in addition, there is a link, considering the most updated researches, between natural disasters and climate change (you will read that later on). That is why we decided to go on with the selected topic, hoping to stir up some thoughts.

I still remember our Magazines at the beginning of the pandemic, a challenge for everyone worldwide and also for us. Fortunately, today we can say we are victorious. Perhaps, however, we have won more on the scientific side. I state that, and I think you can agree, because it is only today that we are feeling and facing the social consequences of this pandemic. In some cases, after the first negative effects, the ones visible on the surface, we just started to metabolize what was left underneath.

With vaccines, and I am not entering into scientific discussions since I leave them to doctors, we had a shield. Today, I am wondering: which shields have we for those underneath consequences?

I am not very sure, so far, about the reply. But I think you all understood that I am talking about the topic we decided to propose for this issue: mental health. Why now? After all, the entire society has been talking about it for a long time. But now, in my opinion, we have more elements to start metabolizing and to draw the first conclusion.

Mental health is such a general theme that, in the end, we can observe its traits in every sector: that is why we proposed to all our Projects to investigate taking into consideration their priority areas, so different from each other, because we believe that in each of them, we can observe the consequences. Or at least, we have the chance to ask ourselves if we can define us as victorious also in that case.

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I do not want to be longer on this, also because I recognise that this is difficult and very delicate topic, especially for those who may be involved in first person. But what I can do is leave you to the words of Tom who always knows how to deeply analyze some of the most important issues of our day.

Just after, please read some reflections extracted from the 2nd live webinar organised by DG SANTE, the thematic network on mental health in all policies. A very interesting meeting, where we were told about this existing (and somehow worrying) link between mental health issues and climate change. Using their words, «a comprehensive approach to mental health requires a clear understanding of the interconnections among wider determinants of mental health, shifting the focus away from the individual to the context in which they live. There is growing evidence of the association between mental health and the environment». Additionally, it seems that there are some groups/targets that are disproportionately at risk from climate change–related hazards, depending on existing vulnerabilities and inequalities.

This meeting has been, in our opinion, an occasion to understand the mutual benefits of actions that contribute to climate change mitigation – with positive effects on mental health and vice versa. And this is exactly the sense we have tried to highlight in the following reflection, since we are convinced that the Fund for Regional Cooperation, since we talk about cooperation and mutual challenges, could be the best space to better develop this matter, interspersing it into the different Projects’ priority areas.

Last but not least, since as we said in our December issue we believe that this Fund’s Projects could be more involved than ever, we were part as well of the 8th joint meeting of the EYY National Coordinators, national contact points and stakeholders, where the new European Year of Skills has been presented, firstly

Why a European Year of Skills? This was what they were asking. Because we need to promote a mindset of reskilling and upskilling. Those two concepts may have millions of meanings, but they stressed is the importance to boost competitiveness and realise a green and digital transition in a socially fair, inclusive and just manner. How? Attracting people, matching aspirations, strengthening skills relevance and increase inclusive investments.

I believe that just with this short introduction, while more events are to come soon (starting from the European Year of Skills ‘festival’ on the occasion of the 9th of May), you can better understand why we are convinced that the Regional Cooperation Projects can and should have a real commitment.

There will be several ways to be informed and, especially, involved. For sure we can start having new ideas from here, the European Year of Skills website.

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As usual, I hope that our reflections can be for you a resource to go on with innovative ideas and solutions. And our Mag still wants to be your special place where to share new inputs to our common challenges.

Enjoy our Mag!

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Mental Health Problems: Pandemic Provokes Rethink of Ideas, Reset of Policies

Covid 19 swept like a cataclysmic cyclone through the world, leaving virtually no one untouched. It represented one of the biggest global convolutions in generations, and has had severe and far-reaching repercussions for health systems, economies, societies and individuals. Countless people have died, or lost their livelihoods; families and communities have been strained and separated; children and young people have missed out on important rites of passage and transitions in their education and socialising; many businesses have gone bankrupt; millions of people have fallen below the poverty line.

According to the World Economic Forum, 114 million people lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. But every time it seemed the world was on the road to recovery, new variants like Delta and Omicron would emerge that ensured COVID-19 dominated the global economy for a second year.

Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), says, “throughout 2021, the pandemic weakened the economic, financial and social fabric in almost every country.” As a result, in January 2022, the ILO downgraded its forecast for labour market recovery in 2022 and says it expects global

unemployment to remain above pre-COVID-19 levels until at least 2023. Certain groups of people have been affected much more than others. With extended school and university closures young people have been left vulnerable to social isolation and disconnectedness- this in turn can fuel feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and loneliness and lead to debilitating behavioural problems. For some children and adolescents Covid captivity, the domestic quarantines imposed, may have increased the risk of family stress or abuse. Women have similarly faced greater stress in homes, with one rapid assessment reporting that 45% of women had experienced some form of violence, either directly or indirectly during the first year of the pandemic. The foregoing are all risk factors that can lead to serious mental health problems.

As people grapple with these health, social and economic and financial impacts of the Pandemic, mental health has been widely and deeply affected. Many people have become more anxious; but for some COVID-19 has triggered or amplified much more serious mental health problems. A great number of people have reported psychological distress and symptoms of depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress. And there have been worrying

signs of more widespread suicidal thoughts and behaviours, including among health care workers.

While mental health needs have risen, mental health services have been severely disrupted, and in some cases almost disabled. This was evident early on in the pandemic when staff, infrastructure and resources were often redeployed to the more medical areas of COVID-19 treatment and relief. Social measures such as enforced lockdowns, also prevented people from accessing care at that time. In many cases, a lack of, or poor knowledge and misinformation – often cynical and callous, and nearly always criminal - about the virus fuelled fears and worries that hindered people from seeking help.

COVID-19 has created an unprecedented global crisis in mental health, the scale of which probably won’t be fully understood for years and perhaps even decades to come.

The psychological effects of the Covid-19 pandemic include any one, or a combination of the symptoms below, triggered by Information overload, rumours and misinformation. These can contribute to a feeling that management of your life is out of your control and muddy your decision-making processes.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people experienced stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, depression and loneliness, initiating or adding to already existing mental health disorders, Since the start of the pandemic, mental health service providers have tried to mitigate service disruptions, by delivering care via alternative routes when public health and social measures were in place. Community-based initiatives were often faster to adapt, finding innovative ways to provide psychosocial support, including through digital technologies and informal supports. And international organisations have also provided guidance, tools and resources to help responders, public health planners and the general public.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends integrating Mental Health and Psychosocial Support within all aspects of preparedness and response for all public health emergencies. To minimise the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO also recommends that countries:

• Apply a whole of society approach to promote, protect and care for mental health, including through social and financial protection to safeguard people from domestic violence or impoverishment, and by communicating widely about COVID-19 to counter misinformation and promote mental health.

• Ensure widespread availability of mental health and psychosocial support,

including by scaling up access to selfhelp and supporting community initiatives.

• Support recovery from COVID-19 by building mental health services for the future.

‘In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%,’ according to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2022. The brief also highlights who has been most affected and summarises the effect of the pandemic on the availability of mental health services and how this has changed during the pandemic. Concerns about potential increases in mental health conditions had already prompted 90% of countries surveyed to include mental health and psychosocial support in their COVID-19 response plans, but major gaps and concerns remain.

“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO DirectorGeneral. “This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”

In Ireland new research, published by the Economic, Social and Research Institute (ESRI) shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has

resulted in poorer mental health among young adults. Using data from the Growing Up in Ireland COVID-19 survey, carried out in December 2020, the findings show that four-inten 22-year-old men and over half (55 per cent) of 22-year-old women were classified as depressed. These were much higher figures than two years previously when 22 per cent of men and 31 per cent of women were depressed. The report shows that young adults reported very significant changes to their social activities during the pandemic. Over 80 per cent had less face-to-face contact with their friends than before the pandemic, even though restrictions on such contact had begun to ease at the time of the survey. Reduced contact with friends was linked to increased depression for young women.

Of those who were engaged in sports and cultural activities prior to the pandemic, the majority reported spending less time on these activities during the pandemic. This was more common for those who lost their job or found it difficult to study remotely. Spending less time on sport and less time outdoors during the pandemic were linked to higher depression rates among men. Some less healthy behaviours, such as alcohol consumption, declined for a large group of young adults but other behaviours, such as eating junk foods/sweets, increased for many.

How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected mental health cannot be taken lightly. In some

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ways, it is a health emergency almost as urgent and widespread as the disease itself; more than half of respondents (51%) to a seven-country survey by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health.

Commenting on this report, the ICRC’s director-general Robert Mardini said: “The COVID-19 health crisis has exacerbated the psychological distress of millions of people. Lockdown restrictions, a loss of social interaction, and economic pressures are all impacting people’s mental health and access to care.”

However, among the evident doom and gloom of the negative repercussions of the Pandemic an unlikely positive twist in the tale is also starting to emerge. Around the world, mental health issues have never been more widely or openly discussed, or put under such a probing microscope. Previously poorly understood issues – such as how loneliness can trigger depression and the anxiety caused by overexposure to social media – are now the subject of public policy and mainstream debate by analysts, professional bodies and commentators.

Although the breadth and depth of this crisis in mental health should not be underestimated, the global community has also shown remarkable resilience in its response. The pandemic has taught governments, health professionals and

ordinary citizens valuable lessons about their mental wellbeing that will hopefully endure long after the pandemic is over.

In particular, people have come to cherish human connection and the face-to-face, real world experiences that cannot be replicated online. “There have definitely been some positives, both on the medical and the social side. Especially in highlighting the importance of family. Some people might have previously taken their parents or grandparents for granted. But after being separated from them for so long, they appreciate the value of spending time with them.”.

Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of the IFRC, is urging the world to seize this unique opportunity for action: “Now more than ever we must invest in mental health and psychosocial support for everyone – communities and carers alike – to help people cope, rebuild their lives and thrive through this crisis.”.

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Mental Health and Climate Change

Did you know there is a relation between Mental Health and Climate Change?

The reply is, simply, yes. And that’s one of the reasons why the European Union is calling for a comprehensive approach to mental health, in all policies. This is what resulted not only during the last thematic network on mental health organised by DG SANTE, since it is a need that was already announced a few months ago by EC President Ursula von der Leyen: «We should take better care of each other. And for many who feel anxious and lost, appropriate, accessible and affordable support can make all the difference».

We do not need to remind, after all, that Covid-19 pandemic, Ukrainian and Russian situation and last but not least rising living costs have increased the risk of development of various mental health conditions. Not surprisingly, one in two young Europeans report unmet needs for mental health care: here comes the need for a comprehensive approach.

What comprehensive means, then?

The key objectives, as reported by the commissioners, are so far: increase the EU support in a coordinated way, focus on major public health burden areas, target national needs in key diseases areas and reduce health inequalities.

What was underlined during the DG SANTE meeting, in particular talking about inequalities, is that There is a need to collect and share information and experiences, best practices in all policies also including environmental and climate determinants. That is why, as they said, «this thematic network comes very timely». As stated by Claudia Marinetti, director of Mental Health Europe, there is as well the need to reinforce the cooperation between civil society organizations that work on socio economic and environmental practices and policies. This is, in our opinion, where we can see a liaison with the Fund for Regional Cooperation.

Concerning the specific link with Climate Change, its effects on Mental Health can be direct or indirect, but what is certain is that in the last 5 decades between 1970 and 2020, climate-related hazards have increased, and imagine that nearly 5 billion of people in total are affected. These are global numbers but in Europe, numbers and statistic are not different: a lot of people are affected by mental health issues (depression, anxiety, challenges also for mental health workers). This means, in other words, that we are all concerned. The European Region has better conditions, apparently, but still there is a lot of work to do. Indeed, as specified by WHO, in addition, there are also gaps in understanding the impacts of climate change on mental health and psychological well-being, but current knowledge is sufficient to act. Since Mental Health conditions already represent a significant burden worldwide, and interlinkages – therefore the determinants – are many.

Have you ever thought, for example, about how could air quality, water quality, food security, ecosystem changes influence our life? Maybe we do not see now, at the surfaces, the impacts. But as we always say, better to act now.

To use an example given by WHO, considering air pollution: during periods of high temperatures, it can cause respiratory diseases that increase demand for health care services, reduce mobility and the capacity to work, and – with time – it can lead to mental health consequences.

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Climate change may also lead to increased conflict, or aggravated conflict dynamics, particularly in regions dependent on agriculture, and to forced migration for some and forced immobility in challenging environments for others. Certain groups, in addition, could be disproportionately at risk due to climate change, depending on existing vulnerabilities and inequalities. We can think about certain communities in low and middle-income countries, to indigenous people or, especially, children and adolescents. With just some examples, do you see the interlinkages with the issues we are used to face?

There are, then, some concepts that we need to respond to: sadness, fear, despair, grief, helplessness. And, considering our topic, climate change anxiety, ecoanxiety, environmental distress, climate-related psychological distress. We cannot ignore them anymore. In other words, there is an increased need to include those issues in all policies and programmes, building upon a global commitment, in order to implement multisectoral and community-based approaches.

We are convinced that the Fund for Regional Cooperation can be an important source, a basis from which to start for new ideas and reflections. Hoping to have turned on your bulbs, we invite you to follow the official website in view of the next network meetings.

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News from the Fund for Youth Employment

The Project YES! is organising interesting webinars in the following months, starting from the 28th of February. The goal is to engage stakeholders to learn and exchange knowledge about the various approaches adopted by the different Projects financed within our Family: we believe it will be a great occasion to be part of those initiatives!

The message from YES!:

A new webinar series for training practitioners, coaches and mentors who are working with NEETS and want to explore innovative tools and techniques to support them.

Each webinar will be accompanied by a 20-minute learning burst which will provide you with the content and directions you need to deliver them yourself. The webinars will serve as an introduction to the content and a space for participants to ask questions, share their thoughts and experiences.

All webinars will be held on Zoom and in English.

We are then sharing their agenda: (by clicking the link you can sign up)

• What is innovation? – 28th February

• Ethics, power dynamics and managing multiple agendas in coaching and mentoring – 14th March

• Applying Innovation to Business Ideas – 21st March

• The quality of the relationship and building external resources – 4th April

• Getting to Know Yourself – 11th April

• Issues of diversity, gender and belonging in coaching and mentoring – 25th April

• Improving your Negotiation Skills – 2nd May

• Working with goals, goal orientation and their dark side – 16th May

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Environment, Energy, Climate Change and Low Carbon Economy

Culture, Civil Society, Good Governance and Fundamental Rights and Freedoms

Justice and Home Affairs

Innovation, Research, Education and Competitiveness

Social Inclusion, Youth Employment and Povery Reduction


Viruses and brain health

The brain is perhaps the organ that most characterizes our species. It can think about itself, wonder about its origin and also compare itself with other living beings. It is our evolutionary history that led us to this point, starting from when we first gained upright stature, then the use of rudimentary tools, and then the use of language: the thinking and social interaction skills that we have today. Perhaps it is because of the role this organ plays in our species that evolution has equipped it with considerable protection. Our skull, for example, is strong enough to protect it from many shocks. There is also a barrier that carefully separates it from the rest of our body, the bloodbrain barrier. Yet, this fascinating organ is not immune to disease or damage. Sometimes these affect people's mental health, while others affect the neurological system itself and can also come whence one would least expect.

Neurological disorders are a class of diseases triggered by dysfunction in the cells of the central and peripheral nervous system. In some cases, such as in Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, these dysfunctions also affect the cognitive abilities of patients. In others - such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - it is mainly the motor abilities that are affected while the cognitive ones remain almost intact. The causes of many neurological disorders are still unclear and, for the most part, many different factors contribute to trigger these. In some cases, it seems that viruses and the responses they trigger in our body also play an important role.

The repercussions of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic on our mental well-being have often been discussed. However, little is known about the direct effects of the SARS-CoV-2 infection on the nervous system. There have been numerous cases of people infected with COVID-19 who had also developed both mild neurological consequences, such as confusion and agitation, but also severe consequences, such as dysfunctions of the corticospinal apparatus, which controls our voluntary movements, and loss of consciousness. It is unclear whether these were due to the prolonged

inflammation generated by the body in response to viral infection or because of direct entry of the virus into the nervous system. SARS-CoV-2, however, is not the only coronavirus to have consequences on the central nervous system. SARS-CoV-1, the first virus to trigger the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s had both immediate and long-term impacts on the central nervous system. The same is also true for MERS-CoV, another very lethal and dangerous coronavirus that has remained, fortunately, contained. How do viruses that attack the respiratory tract also affect the central nervous system?

Our brain is well protected in our head, the skull protects it from shocks and the blood-brain barrier blocks all foreign agents that can come from within our own organism; or at least it tries to do so. This barrier is made up of a set of cells that are highly specialized in allowing only certain substances to pass from the blood to the brain. Anything that is in the blood that is not recognized by these cells can pass. Sometimes, however, something manages to overcome this defense. Pathogens can reach the brain either through what is called a Trojan horse, i.e. by infecting cells of the immune system that are recognized as "friendly" by the blood-brain barrier and allowed to pass, or by going up through the axons, the connections that link nerve cells spread throughout the body with the brain. This is exactly how viruses can travel up the olfactory system and from the nose arrive, undisturbed, to infect the central nervous system.

It is not, however, only respiratory viruses that create neurological problems. Some prolonged viral infections can trigger neurological damage. HIV infection, for example, can have neurological consequences similar to Parkinson's in some cases, as can herpesvirus, such as chickenpox and some hepatitis that can cause neurological damage in the long term. There are also viruses that are contracted through animals such as the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), which has direct consequences on the brain.

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TBEV, despite being a virus that infects humans through a small puncture on the skin, causes a powerful inflammation of the brain that can lead to severe headache, loss of consciousness, seizures, and difficulty in speaking and hearing. How it gets from skin to the brain is not yet completely clear, but one likely route is the "Trojan horse", infecting cells of the immune system.

Apart from a few well-known cases, a clear correlation between viral infections and neurological and neurodegenerative diseases has not yet been demonstrated. However, given current knowledge, it seems clear that prolonged stress on the immune system generated by certain viral infections can in some cases increase the risk of developing one of these diseases. It is not only viruses that affect the nervous system that cause problems, also those that affect other areas of the body aggressively or for a prolonged period can do so.

Viruses existed on Earth long before humans. They found many ways to infect their hosts and bypass their defenses. We humans have many innate tools (i.e., the immune system) that combat these infections and we also have many drugs and vaccines to help us do so. The only way we can keep pace with viruses is through continued scientific research that may, one day, lead us to understand the role of viruses in neurological disorders and thereby help us to prevent them or to find a cure.

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TBFVnet Project

The impact of the pandemic on psychosocial health: Cyberspace as a setting for radicalisation and extremism

Recent research has conceded that the crisis scenario arising from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic led to what has been termed a ‘perfect storm’ from which sprang conditions for fostering the development and proliferation of radicalisation (Bartusevičius et al., 2021). The global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is thought to have forced the terrorist and radicalisation phenomenon to adapt to the rapid and profoundly disruptive changes in society and people's daily lives (Ivanov, 2022).

Alongside the devastating primary health consequences of COVID-19, the scenario forced governments to swiftly take action that led to sweeping, transversal, and multi-sectoral changes in how societies operate. These changes resulted in the intersection of social consequences such as compulsory lockdowns, which led to social life being forced to almost entirely take place in an online environment.

In turn, the latter was followed by psychological consequences, namely the feeling of isolation, uncertainty, and fear. Thus, this picture of social digitalisation and of decaying mental health prompted a context whereby vulnerabilities to online misinformation, propaganda, and extremist ideals surfaced and intensified (Radoini, 2020).

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health and the emergence of vulnerabilities to radicalisation

The economic, social and psychological consequences that resulted from the pandemic instilled a widespread climate of uncertainty and threat both at individual and collective levels (Kruglanski et al., 2021), especially

concerning the economical and health global realities (Bartusevičius et al., 2021).

These consequences resulted in periods of intense psychological and emotional distress leading to short, medium, and long-term emotional and psychological fallout (Serafini et al., 2020). Indeed, feelings of unsafety and uncertainty linked with social isolation are factors that have been associated with high levels of psychological distress (Levinsson et al., 2022).

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Moreover, such detrimental impacts on the psychosocial well-being of individuals, their families, and communities (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020) are admitted to having increased individuals’ vulnerabilities towards engaging in radicalisation processes (Ivanov, 2022). Thus, since there is reliable evidence suggesting the existence of a significant correlation between adverse psychosocial symptoms and an increase in vulnerability to radicalisation processes (Ivanov, 2022), the reality brought by the pandemic surfaced the impact of mental well-being in the context of the radicalisation and violent extremism phenomenon.

The extremist and radical exploitation of mental health through the use of digital space during the pandemic

The societal shifts stemming from the COVID-related life-changing measures have also forced the transition of daily life into the digital realm. With people becoming more exposed to the content and pressures embedded in it, this contributed to a heightened vulnerability to radical and extremist content disseminated online (Naseer, 2020).

The methodologies of information dissemination and recruitment employed by extremists online are regarded as highly specialised and complex (Sultan, 2017). In recent years, the internet and social media have become central platforms through which the recruitment, radicalisation, and promotion of violent extremism are carried out (Conway, 2017; Ivanov, 2022; Lee, 2020).

Online extremists aim to instil social panic and ultimately lead to the recruitment and radicalisation of individuals, thus posing a threat to public safety (Naseer, 2022). As a whole, environments of crisis are thought to potentially provide favourable conditions for the growth of recruitment and radicalisation processes (Naseer, 2020). Furthermore, as it is often in circumstances of instability and social insecurity that these individuals or groups achieve their goals, it is reasonable to consider that, under this particular social scenario, such exploitation for radical and extremist purposes has taken place (Ivanov, 2022).

The prevention of online radicalisation in light of the pandemic experience: stressing the role of mental wellbeing

Hence, the pandemic has triggered several societal changes and with it some adversities to social and mental well-being, which may fuel opportunities for radicalisation and extremist engagement and recruitment (Ivanov, 2022). Nevertheless, the above-pictured reality of radicalisation and violent extremism taking place in the digital space during the pandemic highlights the particular sensitivity and sophistication that preventive and security strategies may require. This is especially relevant considering that traditional measures may prove less adequate to intervene in the online environment (Naseer, 2022; Sultan, 2017).

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However, Briggs and Feve (2014) had already shown that certain strategies could provide an enhanced capacity to counter and prevent online extremism, such as:

• Raising awareness to provide individuals with the tools to better identify disinformation or hateful content online;

• Involving and providing non-governmental organisations with resources to promote innovative alternatives for the countering of extremist narratives online.

Beyond these strategies aimed at promoting the development of counternarratives, it is necessary to support complementary measures and programmes. These must focus on specific audiences, with the aim of tackling psychosocial issues, mitigating and remedying adverse emotional experiences (Levinsson, 2022).

Besides, due to the financial burden of the pandemic, it is crucial to support and finance infrastructures and measures that not only ensure the availability of mental health support services, but also raise awareness about their importance. Such support will ultimately contribute to reducing or mitigating individuals’ vulnerabilities to radicalisation processes, especially online. In the light of this context of crisis and heightened risk of radicalisation, it is vital to train key stakeholders in the early prevention and detection of these processes given the complex and sensitive nature of the phenomenon. In this sense, through its training course and approach, the HOPE ‘Holistic Radicalisation Prevention Initiative’ project tackles the potential mental health-related risk factors for radicalisation and violent extremism, as well as the role of the online sphere in the phenomenon. Such will raise the awareness of practitioners to the thematic, particularly following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.


• Bartusevičius, H., Bor, A., Jørgensen, F., & Petersen, M. B. (2021). The Psychological Burden of the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Associated with Antisystemic Attitudes and Political Violence. Psychological Science, 32(9), 1391-1403. 10.1177/09567976211031847

• Briggs, R., & Feve, S. (2014). Countering the Appeal of Extremism Online. Institute of Strategic Dialogue, London. sites/default/files/publications/

Countering%20the%20Appeal%20of%20Extremism%20Online_1.pd f

• Conway, M. (2017). Determining the role of the internet in violent extremism and terrorism: Six suggestions for progressing research. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 40(1), 77-98. 10.1080/1057610X.2016.1157408

• Ivanov, D. (2019) Trends In Radicalization Processes and Terrorist Activities After Covid-19 International Conference KnowledgeBased Organization, 28(1), 66-71. kbo-2022-0010

• Kruglanski, A. W., Molinario, E., & Lemay, E. P. (2021). Coping with COVID-19-induced threats to self. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 24(2), 284-289. 10.1177/1368430220982074

• Lee, B. (2020). Countering violent extremism online: The experiences of informal counter messaging actors. Policy & Internet, 12(1), 66-87.

• Levinsson, A.; Froundfelker, R. L.; Miconi, D. & Rousseau, C. (2022). Violent radicalization during the COVID-19 pandemic: at the intersection of gender, conspiracy theories and psychological distress. Journal of Deradicalization, 33(7), 221-254.


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• Naseer, S. (2021). COVID-19: Incubator for Online Extremism. NCTC Newsletter, 38, 8-11. 342170161_COVID19_Incubator_for_Online_Extremism

• Pfefferbaum, B., & North, C. S. (2020). Mental Health and the Covid-19 Pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(6), 510-512.

• Serafini, G., Parmigiani, B., Amerio, A., Aguglia, A., Sher, L., & Amore, M. (2020). The psychological impact of COVID-19 on the mental health in the general population. QJM : monthly journal of the Association of Physicians, 113(8), 531-537.


• Sultan, O. (2017). Combatting the Rise of ISIS 2.0 and Terrorism 3.0. The Cyber Defense Review, 2(3), 41-50. 26267384?seq=4

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HOPE Project

Mental health negative effects after the pandemic and its link to eco-anxiety

mental health began to gain recognition: Eco-anxiety was identified as the “biggest pop-culture trend” of 2019 by Grist magazine.

What is eco-anxiety?

Eco-anxiety is a type of anxiety related to concerns about the environment and climate change. It is a growing concern, as people become more aware of the impact of human activities on the planet. Eco-anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, including fear, despair, and helplessness.

The negative effects of the pandemic on mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty to people's lives. People from all walks of life were faced with significant social, economic, and health-related challenges, which have in turn contributed to a range of negative effects on mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% globally in the first year of the pandemic. The uncertainty and constant changes in information about the virus and measures have contributed to these issues. Additionally, stress, financial strain, and grief in combination with social isolation and lockdowns led to loneliness and feelings of disconnection from others, which can exacerbate mental health issues.

The connection between the pandemic, mental health, and eco-anxiety

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of people's lives, among the most important, their mental health. Increase in stress, anxiety, and depression are reported globally, leading to a range of mental health issues. Just before the pandemic rose however, another phenomenon affecting

The biggest global threats of this century are considered to be climate change and pandemics. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the fragility of our interconnected world showing how our actions have far-reaching consequences and the health of our planet is intricately linked to our own well-being.

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Researchers point out there are similarities in how the pandemic and climate change affect people’s mental health.

The abrupt changes brought on to people's lives, causing economic instability, job loss and social isolation, resulted in a sense of instability and fragility. At the same time, as many individuals were spending more time at home, there was also more time for reflection. People have become more aware of issues such as air pollution, deforestation, and climate change, as they have seen the benefits of reduced human activity on the environment, such as improved air quality and reduced carbon emissions.

During the pandemic the importance of science was also demonstrated in understanding and responding to environmental issues. People have looked to experts for guidance on how to navigate the pandemic, and this has highlighted the importance of scientific research in addressing complex global challenges such as climate change.

The pandemic has made apparent the world’s lack of preparation to deal with catastrophic events while at the same time giving hints towards possible solutions to environmental problems. It has in a way served as a wake-up call, reminding us of the importance of taking care of the planet and the role we all have to play in building a more sustainable future.

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Is assessment of psychological competences in the beginning of the judicial career sufficient?

Judicial profession and career are commonly linked with prestige and high respect in society. What usually is not captured by the eye of the outsiders is the high level of responsibility, considerate workload and continuous exposure to stress caused by a variety of factors faced by all judges. This understanding of real conditions in which the judges operate leads various countries to include (or to consider including) assessment of psychological competences in the selection process of judicial candidates at the beginning of the judicial career.

Diverse psychological assessment techniques to a varying extent are introduced in the judicial selection process. The Model on selection, promotion and evaluation of judges, developed by an international group of experts within the framework of the project “Portrait of a Judge” allows to identify that the psychological competences sought for in a judge include: emotional stability, stress tolerance and stress management skills, but also ability to cope with workload and psychological fitness in general.

The significance psychological fitness of judges both, when entering the career and throughout it was also covered in the international conference “International Experiences and Advanced Practices of the Selection, Evaluation and Promotion of Judges”, where one of the leading professionals in the area, a psychiatrist and an associate professor of Vilnius university Mr. Eugenijus Laurinaitis, who had also previously served as a chairperson for Selection commission of judges in Lithuania, delivered a presentation on How to measure personality, and was further developed in the panel discussion which followed.

Prof. Laurinaitis noted that naturally, when selecting candidates for the judicial office one has to take into account the desirable psychological characteristics. The difficulty though, lies in the fact that at this point the science may not yet offer very reliable tools to measure these characteristics. Even more, human brain is so flexible that techniques, which may trick the measuring methods, are easily learned. The professor therefore made a point, that the most reliable method for measuring psychological competences of a candidate is an evaluation of previous behavior in critical situations. But even then, the difficulty for the candidates’ selection body usually lies in singling out the facts on behavior from the mere perceptions of others. Thus, currently science has limitations, which should be known and accepted in the judicial candidates’ selection process.

In a panel discussion that followed, Mr. Georg Stawa shared an example of Austria, where an assessment of psychological competences became a part of a judicial selection process after serious crimes were committed by judges, who held the office. Furthermore, a concern was shared by the panelists that psychological assessment of the judges is only carried out in the beginning of a judicial career, which in Europe would normally be at the age of 26 or 28 –the time, when a development from adolescence to adulthood just finishes.

Both Mr. Georg Stawa and prof. Eugenijus Laurinatis have agreed that a judicial career is a long one, and a judge naturally goes through challenging and difficult situations and periods in his or her private life throughout it.

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Therefore, an assessment of psychological development and situation of a judge at a later stage in his or her career would be beneficial. Also, aid mechanisms that would allow a judge to seek for help, when necessary, should be readily available. An idea was also shared that management of the court should be sensitive to such personal situations and be proactive in providing additional assistance to judges.

Conclusion may be drawn that while assessment of psychological competences is an important factor and should be a part of a judicial selection procedure, this assessment should be followed up at the later stages of the judicial career and, even more, proper support and aid mechanisms for working judges should be available.

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The Portrait of a Judge Project

Tackling State Capture in Southeast Europe: delivering on the European Rule of Law promise

The countries of Southeastern Europe (SEE) have come a long way in their anti-corruption development in the past two decades, building a lot of the formal institutions necessary for ensuring democratic checks and balances. Yet, state capture practices continue to plague the region. The convergence of business and politics, the use of public institutions as repression tools, and the accumulation of vast illicit wealth of politically exposed persons result in long-term risks to democratic resilience.

The policy forum held on 25 January 2023 in Belgrade discussed how the anti-corruption resolve in SEE could be restored, how public-private partnerships could support legal and procedural reforms, and what are the lessons learnt for the EU member states and EU candidates. Among the keynote speakers and panelists were Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance; Krum Zarkov, Minister of Justice of Bulgaria, Daniel Freund,

Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Greens/Europe Free Alliance, Ambassador Jørn Eugene Gjelstad, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade, Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, United States Embassy in Belgrade, and Tanja Miščević, Ministry of European Integration of the Republic of Serbia.

Members of the Regional Good Governance Public-Private Partnership Platform (R2G4P) presented the second SEE Good Governance Report which focuses on the legal and procedural gaps that prevent asset declarations from becoming efficient corruption and illicit enrichment prevention tool. The analysis further reveals that politically connected firms hold 5% of the SEE’s procurement contracts’ volume share. The panelists agreed that the expertise of civil society is crucial for achieving reforms and that its involvement in decision-making would help regain the trust of the citizens in public institutions.

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A prominent example of public-private partnership presents the MACPI (Monitoring Anticorruption Policy Implementation) tool, currently implemented in nine SEE countries. MACPI’s findings will support drafting the future anti-corruption plan and awareness campaign in the city of Kragujevac. The participants also noted that Russia’s war in Ukraine exposed the gravity of foreign malign influence in the region. However, at the same time, it renewed the momentum for EU enlargement and action in tackling state capture and concentration of power. Experts from Ukraine noted that the anti-corruption reforms, initiated before the war, are continuing despite the challenging conditions, due to the existing political will, strong civil society, and international support. In conclusion, the speakers underlined that EU accession could only be achieved in countries with functioning democracies, an independent judiciary, and media. They also urged all stakeholders to break the complacency towards corruption by devising and implementing concrete actions during initiatives such as the Summit for Democracy

• Agenda

• Keynote Address by Mr Krum Zarkov, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Bulgaria

• Presentation by Alexander Gerganov

• Presentation by Daniela Mineva

• Presentation by Viktoriia Poltoratskaia

• Related Reports:

• Rolling Back State Capture in Southeast Europe. Implementing Effective Instruments for Asset Declaration and Politically Exposed Companies

Implementing shared anti-corruption and good governance solutions in Southeast Europe: innovative practices and public-private partnerships Project

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Sensing the qualities of ciders from Hardanger

There is even more optimism among the growers who now aim for 1 million litre cider every year from the district.

The cider lab

Apple cider brewed from a selected wild apple tree, presented to a sensory panel in hardanger, Norway. it will also be tested in blends with other varieties.

The deep fjords of western Norway are famous for many reasons. Farmers have used the narrow hairlines of arable land between deep fjords and snow-capped mountains for apple growing for centuries. Along with the tradition for growing apples, local processing into apple cider has equally long traditions. Cider from Hardanger has been a part of local cultural heritage for ages, but mostly as a local phenomenon. A growing local cider industry is now rapidly evolving.

Since year 2000 an increasing number of fruit farmers in Hardanger have invested in their production facilities for making quality ciders in higher volumes. Legislation changes allowing for selling wine and ciders directly to customers from the farms had a rapid effect. From three growers making a total annual volume of 45 000 litre in 2013, there were more than 20 producers in 2019, making more than 450 000 litre apple cider annually.

To reach such goals, and reach a stable demand for such volumes, the growers in the region needs a quality control system and continued product development. NIBIO in Ullensvang offers specialised chemical analysis of fruit juices and ciders, so that all orchards can have independent documentation of the contents in their products. Through a cooperation with NOFIMA, NIBIO has recruited a scientifically selected sensory panel who has started training in describing the subtle taste nuances of apple cider. The members of the panel will train their senses to find and define the typicalities of the products. Building a permanent panel of trained sensory panellists adds to the service offer to local growers. Gradually, they will have the opportunity to have their products characterised and described by this independent partner, also serving for quality control.

Being set in a scientific research station, the sensory panel is also challenged to work in research projects. As the production volume of Norwegian ciders increases, product variety and cider diversity are essential to maintain and increase sales. Several producers use berries, elderflowers and hops for flavouring. Others use apple varieties with special properties, e.g. apple with varying contents of acid, sugar, tannins, phenolic substances and colour.

Can historic apple varieties give special qualities to ciders?

At the same time as we wish for a greater variety of ciders on the market, the number of commercially grown apple varieties in Norway is low. The streamlining of agriculture with attention on high yielding varieties that store well, desirable taste and shelf life reduces the number of varieties drastically.

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In Norway cider is typically made form the apple varieties that are used for fresh consumption. This also means that most ciders are made from four commercial apple varieties, Summerred, Gravenstein, Discovery and Aroma. These apple varieties are characterized by low content of tannins and a high acid content. The result is that many old apple varieties that may offer special properties in ciders - such as Torstein, Ribston, and Haugmann – are no longer found in local orchards. When the use ceases, both the knowledge of and interest in the old varieties disappear.

A NIBIO pilot project aims to develop new taste qualities in apple ciders using historic apple varieties and wild apples. The idea is to gain more knowledge about how these raw materials can contribute, so that Norwegian cider producers have a better basis for using these old apple varieties. The project is a collaboration between NIBIO and the Norwegian Centre for Genetic Resources. Most of the Norwegian old apple varieties are collected from clone archives around Norway.

Ten varieties that may have potential properties for use in cider production were selected in autumn 2022. Apples were harvested from the clone collections in addition to contributions from private growers. 40 kg of wild apples were also collected from Jomfruland National Park. The Apples were pressed and the juice was fermented. The ciders produced, with various combinations of apple varieties and wild apple, will be presented to the sensory panel in Ullensvang. The first tests confirm that cider from old apple varieties contain highly variable tastes, both pleasing and some maybe not so pleasing.

The results of this project will be presented to the cider industry as the project progresses in 2023. Time will tell whether Norwegian cider producers are wise to invest in older Norwegian apple varieties in the future.

More pictures:

Uncorking rural heritage Project Apple juice samples for chemical analysis.
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Cider made from historic apple varieties at the NIBIO research facilities in Ullensvang
The sensory panel at work characterising the ciders made from historic varieties.
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Sensory panelist tools and samples.

Latvian State Environmental Service teams up with EU-WATERRES project to better manage polluted sites

Polluted sites pose a major risk for groundwater contamination. Thus, the management of contaminated sites is essential to ensure that groundwater resources (and drinking water) are protected from pollutants. Effective management of pollutant sites requires an understanding of their location, the type and extent of contamination, and potential risks to human health and the environment. Groundwater protection is not just essential for human health and the environment, but it also has economic implications and affects groundwater dependent ecosystems.

The activity goes in line with the currently ongoing WP5 that deals with the assessment of anthropogenic pressure impacts on groundwater state.

Do you want to know more about EU-WATERRES project? Visit project’s homepage


EU-WATERRES project partner, the University of Latvia, just held a meeting with the State Environmental Service of Latvia, which is responsible for monitoring compliance with environmental regulations and managing of contaminated sites in Latvia. The partners discussed their ongoing projects and looked for common areas of collaboration, including the “Digital transformation of the contaminated site management model” project, which is being financed by the Norway grants. The polluted site data collected by the State Environmental Service will be incorporated into the EU-WATERRES MapPortal, which is still in development but can be already tested

EU-WATERRES team members from the University of Latvia and members of State Environmental Service in Latvia.
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EU-WATERRES team at the annual thematic seminar in Brussels

EU-WATERRES project expertise partners (Belinda Flem and Lars Stalsberg) from Norway and project’s communication manager from Latvia (Inga Retike) attended fourth annual thematic seminar for projects funded under the EEA and Norway Grants Regional Funds.

The annual thematic seminars are designed to bring together project partners to strengthen their sense of community by sharing experiences and learning from each other. This year's seminar in 2022 was dedicated to celebrating the “European Year of Youth”, but participation was not limited to projects under the “Fund for Youth Employment”. The goal was to work together for a better future for the next generations, and the planned agenda was intended to offer something of interest to all attendees and project partners.

You may access all the presentation here: index.php/s/rqpnMQdjRqEtKgc

The event was full of new, inspiring talks and project results drawing our attention to the importance of communication – between generation, various disciplines, and each other. Our project made lots of new friends there that can end up a new collaboration points (especially stressing out Circular based waste management project. Visit their homepage: ).

Do you want to know more about EU-WATERRES project? Visit project’s homepage

Impressions of expertise partners from Norway

The Geological Survey of Norway (NGU) (represented here by Belinda Flem) and the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) (represented by Lars Stalsberg) had, as expert partners in project EUWATERRES, the pleasure to attend the 2022 annual thematic seminar of Regional Funds projects at the EFTA House, Brussels, during 13-14. December. The seminar was professional and well organized. It was obvious that the participants enjoyed meeting face to face after the long Covid-19 restrictions. Meeting time dedicated to intermingling during the brakes was used to discuss interdisciplinary ideas and problems.

The seminar consisted of two very interesting days with selected projects which mainly focused on youth and employment of the generation which fell behind due to Covid-19. The projects were presented by NEETs in entrepreneurship, DARE – Day One Alliance for Employment, Migrant Talent Garden and Blue Generation Project. The experience and outcomes of these projects could most likely be used in other countries as the issues addressed is common. The second day focused on data collection and result management. This was in our opinion the most interesting part and will be very helpful in the final year of our project, and in any other project outside of this one.

As we were looking forward to discussing needs for improved social development that could benefit from the funds in the future, it was disappointing that neither Lars Børresen (Senior Adviser, The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) nor Grethe Haugøy (Senior Sector Officer of the Financial Mechanism Office) attended in person. Yet, we look forward to meeting them in the future events.

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EU-WATERRES team (from left side: communication manager Inga Retike from the University of Latvia; expertise partner Belinda Flem from the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU) and expertise partner Lars Stalsberg from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE)). The Annual Seminar venue Thematic event with a very thematic presentation Thematic event with a very thematic presentation
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This year’s 2022 annual event thematics was “Celebrating the European Year of Youth”.

Contributors & Credits

From the Fund Operators

Mateusz Wiśniewski

Francesca Bombarda

Sara Barbi

External Contributors

Thomas Mc Grath

From the Projects

Fabio De Pascale

Maritsa Kissamitaki

Erling Fløistad

Marieta Ivanova

Inga Retike

Vaidotas Norkus

Silvia Bernardo Director

Gian Luca Bombarda

The contents of the Magazine are the sole responsibility of the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the Donors.

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Cover image: free library

born with the intention of sharing the results and updates of the projects participating to the Fund to showcase the main achievements of implemented activities.

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