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Western Balkans Leaders Pledge to Work Together on Deepening Integration

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Leaders from the six Western Balkans economies – Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, met today to boost cross-border cooperation and regional stability

Meeting under the auspices of the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Dialogue on the Western Balkans, which took place in Sofia, Bulgaria, today, leaders from the six economies pledged to pursue a joint agenda focused on three clear goals” strengthening growth through public-private partnership; driving a future-oriented digital ecosystem; and supporting next-generation leadership.

The move follows an initial meeting of leaders from the six economies at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. More than 50 regional and international leaders from government and business participated in today’s meeting. Reflecting the region’s significance, the meeting was opened by Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria and Sebastian Kurz, Federal Chancellor of Austria. Other speakers include Suma Chakrabarti, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Kristalina Georgieva, Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank and Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank.

“Today the leaders of the Western Balkans have signalled their serious intent to look to the future and transform their economies and their region and together work to advance the stability and prosperity the people of this region so richly deserve. The Western Balkans have the potential to become a new hub for growth and investment and the World Economic Forum is keen to provide a platform for this important dialogue and catalyse initiatives, which also bring together the business leaders and next generation to create investment, jobs and skills,” said Borge Brende, President, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.

“Helping restore the Western Balkans on a path towards stability and prosperity will be one of the priorities of Austria’s upcoming presidency of the European Union. I see this meeting as an important milestone towards this goal,” said Kurz.

The meeting also convened a session focusing on transport infrastructure, where transport ministers from all six Western Balkans economies committed to expand efforts to improve physical and digital connectivity.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018, the economies of the Western Balkans are among the least competitive in Europe. Of the four measured in the report, Albania ranks the highest, at 75 in the global ranking, closely followed by Montenegro (77) and Serbia (78). Bosnia and Herzegovina is the least competitive of the four, ranking 103.

Representing the six Western Balkans economies at today’s meeting were; Ana Brnabic, Prime Minister of Serbia; Zeljka Cvijanovic, Prime Minister of the Srpska Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Dusko Markovic, Prime Minister of Montenegro; Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania; Hashim Thaci, President of Kosovo; and Kocho Angjushev, Deputy Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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Croatia on the way to join the Schengen Area

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The Commission is today reporting on Croatia’s progress in meeting the necessary conditions to join the Schengen area. The European Commission considers that, based on the results of the Schengen evaluation process initiated in 2016, Croatia has taken the measures needed to ensure that the necessary conditions for the full application of the Schengen rules and standards are met. Croatia will need to continue working on the implementation of all ongoing actions, in particular its management of the external borders, to ensure that these conditions continue to be met. The Commission also today confirms that Croatia continues to fulfil the commitments, linked to the Schengen rules, that it undertook in the accession negotiations.

President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I commend Croatia for its efforts and perseverance to meet all the necessary conditions to join Schengen. It is only through being united and standing together that we can ensure a stronger Schengen area. Sharing the achievement of Schengen must be our common objective. This is why I trust that Member States will take the right steps for Croatia to become a full Schengen member soon.”

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Schengen is one of the greatest and most tangible achievements of European integration. But its strength very much depends on its inclusiveness – now that Croatia has taken the measures to ensure that the necessary conditions are met, we must recognise this. Once it becomes a full Schengen member, it will contribute to further strengthening the Schengen area and ensure that the EU’s external borders are better protected.”

In his 2017 State of the Union Address, President Juncker expressed his unequivocal support for Croatia becoming a full Schengen member once all the necessary conditions were met. Today, the Commission is reporting on the positive result of a long process of evaluation and cooperation, which has seen Croatia steadily improve to meet those conditions.

Assessment of all Schengen criteria

Today’s Communication takes stock of the evaluations conducted between June 2016 and May 2019, which examined the application of Schengen rules and standards by Croatia in a number of areas. Whilst the Commission had already successfully evaluated and confirmed the full implementation of the Schengen rules in the areas of data protection, police cooperation, common visa policy, return, the Schengen Information System (SIS), firearms and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, today’s communication also confirms that Croatia has taken the necessary measures to ensure that the conditions for the application of Schengen rules in the field of external border management are met. Croatia will need to continue working to ensure the consistent implementation of all ongoing actions in this field.

Finally, the Commission is also reporting on the fulfilment of commitments undertaken by Croatia in its accession negotiations that are relevant for the Schengen rules. The commitments in particular concern the area of the judiciary and respect of fundamental rights. The Commission today confirms that Croatia continues to fulfil all of them.

Next steps

The Commission invites the Council to discuss this communication with the aim of integrating Croatia into the Schengen area in line with the 2011 Act of Accession.

Background

The Schengen area is the largest free-travel area in the world, currently including 22 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) as well as 4 associated non-EU countries (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). It allows citizens to move freely between those countries without having to go through border checks, making it easier to travel, work and live across borders.

Countries wishing to join the Schengen area must undergo a series of Schengen evaluations to confirm whether they fulfil the conditions necessary for the application of the Schengen rules. These evaluations assess whether a country is able to take responsibility for controlling the external borders on behalf of the other Schengen States, efficiently cooperate with other law enforcement agencies in other Schengen states in order to maintain a high level of security once border controls are abolished, apply the Schengen rules such as control of external land, sea and air borders (airports), issuing of Schengen visas, return procedures, police cooperation and protection of personal data, and finally the need to connect to and the use of the Schengen Information System.

Once it is considered that all the necessary conditions for the application of all the relevant parts of the Schengen rules are met, it is for the Council, following consultation of the European Parliament, to take a final decision by unanimity.

Croatia declared its readiness to start the Schengen evaluation process in all relevant policy areas in March 2015. Today’s report takes stock of the progress made during this evaluation process in all relevant areas and confirms the continued fulfilment of commitments undertaken by Croatia during its accession negotiations to the EU.

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J.P. Morgan to Support New World Bank Fund for Skills Development of India’s Workforce

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J.P. Morgan today announced an up to $10 million commitment to a new World Bank Multi Donor Trust Fund focused on improving the quality of skills development for young people in India.

The program – School to Work: Skilling India’s Youth – will improve access to quality and market-relevant training for youth in select states of India. The program will support innovative models in curriculum development; provide appropriate training for teachers as well as career counselling for students; develop and match skills development programs to emerging demand in the future of work; foster inclusion of marginalized communities; and reduce gender gaps in accessing skills development programs. Pilot projects will be launched in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.  

“Children who are in primary school today are likely to work in jobs that do not even exist right now. To prepare for a fundamentally altered world of work, investing in people and their skills, is going to be a critical policy decision countries can make to secure the future of their citizens,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India.

“This collaboration with J.P. Morgan, focused on improving the quality of skills development for young people, will support India’s efforts to tap into the future job market as it strives to transition to a high middle-income country,”  he added.

The investment in the World Bank program is part of J.P. Morgan’s $25 million, five-year commitment to help low- and middle-income communities in India develop the skills needed by the country’s workforce in the future. The firm will apply lessons learned from its initiatives in the U.S. that help connect young and long-term unemployed adults with rewarding career pathways and will also use insights from India to maximize the impact of future investments across the world.

“India is in a unique position as, for the next two decades, more than two-thirds of its population will be of working age,” said Kalpana Morparia, Chairman, South and South East Asia, J.P. Morgan. “We believe integrating work skill training with core academic curriculum will create an efficient workforce for the country’s economic progress.”

J.P. Morgan is the first private sector organization to partner with the World Bank on improving skills in India. The partnership is one example of the World Bank’s efforts to mobilize funding, ideas and innovations from private sector and philanthropic actors in solving development challenges around the world, including the need to prepare the workforce for a changing job market.

According to World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) 2019 on the The Changing Nature of Work, technology is playing a key role in reshaping every industry and in raising the bar for skills in every profession. More than 12 million youth between 15 and 29 years of age are expected to enter the working age population in India every year for the next two decades. The government’s recent skill gap analysis concludes that by 2022, another 109 million or so skilled workers will be needed in 24 keys sectors of the economy.

At present, however, school leavers have few opportunities to acquire job specific skills; only 2.3 percent of India’s workforce has received some formal skills training. To address the issue, the Government of India’s National Skill Development Mission aims to train approximately 400 million people across the country by 2022. To support the country’s vision, the World Bank is currently working through the $250 million Skill India Mission Operation (SIMO) to help India’s growing young workforce acquire market-relevant skills needed in today’s highly competitive job market.

“Through the new program, we hope to strengthen our engagement with the private sector in India, support interventions that are innovative, improve the quality of school education and deepen our work in the area of skills development,” said Shabnam Sinha, World Bank’s Lead Education Specialist in India.  

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Libya: €2 million in humanitarian assistance to cover basic needs

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As many continue to suffer from the ongoing conflict in Libya, the European Commission has announced today €2 million in additional humanitarian aid to help those most in need. The assistance will cover emergency health care services, food, livelihood support and protection services.

“The EU is committed to supporting the most vulnerable in Libya who have now suffered years of conflict. This additional funding will help our humanitarian partners to continue to deliver aid in hard-to-reach areas. It is crucial that parties to the conflict respect International Humanitarian Law, and allow humanitarian workers full access to help those in need and save lives,” said Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

EU humanitarian aid supports access to essential healthcare for victims of the conflict, including emergency war surgery, physical rehabilitation, provision of essential medicines as well as prosthesis and psychosocial support. This assistance helps to restore primary healthcare services in conflict-affected areas, as well as providing education for children.

The EU funding will be closely monitored and channelled through international non-governmental organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Background

Since 2014, the European Union has allocated more than €46 million in humanitarian aid to respond to the most pressing needs in Libya. EU humanitarian funding amounted to €9 million in 2018 and €8 million in 2019.  Humanitarian aid is part of the EU’s broader support for Libya to address the ongoing crisis in the country. The EU has also allocated around € 367.7 million under the North of Africa window of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and bilateral assistance for protection and assistance of migrants, refuges and internally displaced people.

Through its partners, the EU also provides protection services, emergency food and other supplies to support conflict affected populations. We also provide education in emergencies to crisis-affected children. The EU provides aid to all vulnerable people, including forcibly displaced and vulnerable host populations, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, regardless of their status and solely based on needs. The EU is providing assistance across all geographic areas in Libya, including in the Southern and Eastern part of the country.

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