The Liberal and Democrat Group in the European Parliament today hosted a roundtable on Serbia’s European integration process focusing on the alarming political climate, rule of law and media freedom in the country. One of the guests invited to speak in this event was Dragan Djilas, Co-Founder of Alliance for Serbia and Former Mayor of Belgrade. Vuk Jeremic, leader of the Peoples’ Party, former foreign Minister of Serbia and former President of the UN General Assembly together with Maja Vasic-Nikolic from Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia were also among the speakers.
ALDE MEP, Ivo Vajgl (DeSUS, Slovenia), who took the initiative of this debate, says Serbia needs to find its democratic path, which will eventually lead the country into the European Union.
“Serbia is an important partner of the European Union in the region and will remain so. ALDE have always been supportive of the EU enlargement process and reform efforts implemented by Serbian governments ever since Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic’s short tenure. I strongly believe that Europe won’t be complete and stable until all the countries of the Western Balkans join the Union.
Alarmingly, political developments in the past years have fundamentally undermined Serbia’s chance to become a stable and economically prosperous country due to the increasingly authoritarian approach of its government and a crackdown on the freedom of media and opposition forces. Recent protests in Belgrade and throughout Serbia are an indication that it is high time to put an end to these negative trends. Basic democratic standards and the rule of law must be restored as quickly as possible and duly respected.
I am deeply concerned with negative trends concerning the state of media freedoms, the rule of law and rampant corruption. The first and most important condition for any progress is the implementation of OSCE/ODiHR recommendations so that the next elections will be genuinely free and fair. I am certain that civil society must play a pivotal role in this process.”
ALDE MEP, Jasenko Selimović (Liberalerna, Sweden), who co-hosted today’s debate, added: “EU enlargement is of the utmost importance for the Western Balkans and the EU. Both will benefit considerably from it. Serbia is an important political and economic factor in the region and its reforms, often painful and difficult, are needed in order to secure a European future, stronger rule of law, greater freedom of expression and of the media and enhanced cooperation with the civil society.
I am convinced that Serbia has the will and the courage to take the necessary steps and implement reforms, in order to solve problems and further improve neighbourhood relations, thus continuing its commitment to the EU accession path.”
EU Parliament to host conference on abolishing the death penalty
The opening ceremony of the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty will be held in the European Parliament in Brussels on 27 February.
The World Congress Against the Death Penalty, organised by ECPM (Together against the Death Penalty) from 26 February to 1 March, is the world’s leading abolitionist event, and brings together more than 1000 stakeholders from over 140 countries.
The official opening ceremony will take place in the European Parliament’s hemicycle on Wednesday 27 February at 10.00. It will gather MEPs, high-level guests including EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders, and various governmental and civil society representatives to reflect on positive efforts in the abolition movement and address what future work must be done to convince retentionist nations to abolish the death penalty.
The ceremony will also feature a panel of Ministers of Justice from non-abolitionist countries, as well as video messages from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Robert Badinter, former Minister of Justice and a driving force behind the abolition of the death penalty in France in 1981, and Pope Francis.
An exhibition (The Great Witness of Abolition) and sculpture installation (Chaise LXB) will be displayed in the Menuhin Hall in the European Parliament’s Paul-Henri Spaak building from Monday 25 February to Friday 1 March.
Cohesion Policy after 2020: Preparing the future of EU investments in health
Today, Commissioners Crețu and Andriukaitis have brought together health professionals to kick-start the reflection on future EU investments in health under the 2021-2027 Cohesion Policy programmes.
In the context of the roundtable held today at the Commission with health associations such as European Health Management Association and EuroHealthNet, the Commissioners launched a pilot project to improve cross-border emergency services in the Pyrenees between the border regions of France, Spain and the Principality of Andorra. They also announced that health will be this year’s new category for the RegioStars Awards.
Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said: “According to the most recent Eurobarometer survey, almost 70% of Europeans want the EU to do more in the area of health. Acting via Cohesion Policy funds offers us the possibility to make a difference on the ground where it is needed and show that the demands expressed by fellow Europeans are not left unheard. I am also delighted that health becomes a new category for the RegioStars. This is yet another demonstration that we must and can implement the principle Health in All Policies as set out in the Treaty.”
Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Creţu said: “Cohesion Policy investments in health, worth over €4 billion of EU funds in the current budget, are true expressions of a Europe that protects. Healthcare is evolving and EU investments have to evolve with it. This is why we organised this discussion with health professionals, so their recommendations can serve as compass in planning EU investments in health over the next decade.”
Future EU investments in health
The discussion concluded that health systems are evolving towards more education, health promotion and disease prevention. They are also shifting away from hospital and institution-centred care to community-based care and towards integration of health and social care. With new policy objectives that allow for integrated investments in health, social inclusion and education, the Commission’s proposal for the 2021-2027 Cohesion Policy provides the conditions to support these changes.
Evolutions in healthcare require different infrastructure investments, be that in primary and community care facilities or in prevention programmes, integrated care and workforce training. Cohesion Policy can be instrumental in supporting these investments.
Member States and regions need to design long-term investment strategies, encompassing infrastructure, human capital, innovative technologies and new care delivery models. To support these strategies, Cohesion Policy funds can be combined with other EU instruments, such as InvestEU, or with national programmes. The Commission is ready to support Member States and regions to plan these strategies.
Better cross-border emergency services in the Pyrenees
Doctors in border regions cannot attend patients in need of urgent medical attention from across the border. To overcome this situation, the project “When medical emergency systems erase borders” aims to ensure mutual prior recognition of doctors on both sides of the border.
The second phase of the pilot project is now launched and is set to ensure bilateral agreements between the Orders of Doctors of the Spanish and French border regions. As a result, 15 million inhabitants of the Pyrenees will benefit from better emergency services as a result. The project is supported by the European Regional Development Fund and will be completed mid-2019.
The results of this project will serve as an example to possibly replicate in other cross-border regions in the future. The Commission supports tackling obstacles linked to the governance of cross-border issues and, in its legislative proposal for Cohesion Policy 2021-2027, suggests setting aside 15% of any Interreg cross-border cooperation programme to this purpose.
Health: this year’s new category for the RegioStars Awards
Every year the RegioStars reward the best and most innovative Cohesion Policy projects in Europe in five thematic categories, including a topic of the year. This year’s edition will seek to reward quality health projects, to inspire Member States and regions.
The online application platform is open from today until 9 May 2019. An independent jury will assess the applications and crown the winners during the RegioStars awards ceremony, to take place in Brussels in October 2019.
Healthcare is a major preoccupation for EU citizens. A recent Eurobarometer survey revealed that healthcare was identified as the main issue facing the regions in the future, with a third of the people polled (34%) considering it the top issue.
Cohesion Policy funds support projects improving access to healthcare and addressing health inequalities, reforming of healthcare systems, developing e-health and digital solutions, as well as research and innovation, health education, healthy ageing, workplace health and safety.
In the 2014-2020 programming period, €8 billion of Cohesion Policy funds, including a €4 billion EU co-financing, has been invested in health. 44.5 million people in the EU should benefit from improved health services over the 2014-2020 period.
New Erasmus: More opportunities for disadvantaged youth
Erasmus+ should triple its funds, allow more people to take part and adapt its grants to the needs of the participants.
The Culture and Education Committee approved on Wednesday the next generation Erasmus+ programme, proposing a detailed set of measures to lift all economic, social, cultural barriers and allow more people to take part in different learning mobility schemes.
National strategies to foster participation of people with fewer opportunities
MEPs ask the European Commission and national Erasmus agencies to draft a European inclusion framework and develop national inclusion strategies. These measures could include adapting funding to the needs of participants and, particularly, financial support for mobility, adjusting monthly grants and a regular review of living and subsistence costs.
Special support for mobility for people with fewer opportunities should also be foreseen and include language training, administrative support or e-learning opportunities.
The new proposed “small-scale partnerships” strand would allow organisations with little experience or small operational capacity to participate in the programme, especially grassroots organisations or organisations working directly with disadvantaged people.
New Erasmus+ actions
MEPs also re-allocate the budget to different elements in the programme, offering pre-school and early education staff, young athletes and sport coaches the option to participate in mobility schemes. Vocational education exchanges, especially in border regions, are also prioritised in the new programme, with its budget also increased in the approved text.
Co-funding from other European programmes
MEPs propose more synergies with other European funding programmes, so that co-funding could be used either to complement grants, transport, living costs for disadvantaged learners being adjusted as needed or to finance new projects.
Milan ZVER (EPP, SI), rapporteur, said: “European programmes need to be equally accessible to all European citizens, regardless of their socio-economic background. My first goal is to make Erasmus+ the Number One programme of inclusiveness. We made the programme much more fair and inclusive. Parliament will have to fight strongly to triple the overall budget. That’s why it is extremely important to have strong support from other political groups”.
Petra KAMMEREVERT (S&D, DE), Chair of Culture Committee, said: “The new Erasmus+ must be truly open to everyone and encourage everyone in society to participate. We want non-discriminatory and barrier-free access. Pre-school and early-learning teachers should be able to benefit from mobility activities. Students and vocational learners must receive additional financial and structural assistance to gain quality learning experience and acquire skills necessary for their personal development and future job prospects”.
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