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ALDE: Serbia needs to reverse negative trends and restore basic democratic standards

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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.”

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RescEU assets mobilised to help Greece fight devastating forest fires

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Following a request for assistance from Greece on 13 August 2019, rescEU assets have been mobilised to tackle forest fires ravaging several areas of Greece. As an immediate response, the European Union has already helped to mobilise 3 forest fighting planes from rescEU reserve from Italy and Spainto be dispatched swiftly to the affected regions.

rescEU is the EU’s strengthened EU Civil Protection Mechanism, whose reserve includes firefighting planes and helicopters. Through rescEU, the EU reinforces its collective ability to respond to disasters that affect European countries. This is the first ever deployment of the rescEU assets.

Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said: “The EU stands in full solidarity with Greece at this difficult time. The planes are already in action, fighting the fires. This immediate response proves the added value of rescEU which makes our response more robust, quick and efficient. Moreover, this is a real example of the common European values on which rescEU is based: solidarity and protection of lives of our European citizens. I am thankful to Italy and Spain for their offers of assistance. We stand ready to provide further assistance.”

Commissioner Stylianides is in constant communication with the Greek authorities. Today, the Commissioner is in Athens where he met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and visited the Crisis Centre of the Greek Civil Protection to be briefed along with the Minister for the Protection of Citizens Michalis Chrysochoidis and oversee the operation of the rescEU assets.

The European satellite mapping system Copernicus is helping to provide damage assessment maps of the affected areas.

Background

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism strengthens cooperation between Member States/Participating States in the field of civil protection, with a view to improving prevention, preparedness and response to disasters. Through the Mechanism, the European Commission plays a key role in coordinating the response to disasters in Europe and beyond.

When the scale of an emergency overwhelms the response capabilities of a country, it can request assistance via the Mechanism. Once activated, the Mechanism coordinates assistance made available by its Member States/Participating States through spontaneous offers. In addition, the EU has created the European Civil Protection Pool to have a critical number of readily available civil protection capacities allowing for a stronger and coherent collective response. Should the emergency require additional, life-saving assistance, the new rescEU reserve can be used as a matter of last resort.

To date, all EU Member States participate in the Mechanism, as well as Iceland, Norway, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey. Since its inception in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has responded to more than 300 requests for assistance inside and outside the EU.

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EU mobilises €9 million to tackle the food crisis in Haiti

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The European Union has released €9 million in humanitarian aid in response to the deteriorating food and nutrition situation in Haiti. The humanitarian aid will cover the basic food and nutritional needs of more than 130,000 people living in the worst affected areas.

For the EU, the humanitarian situation in Haiti is not a forgotten crisis We are committed to providing vital support to the people hit by the food and nutrition crisis in the country. This assistance comes on top of the €12 million allocated in 2018 to address the urgent food and nutrition needs of Haitians,’ said Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

The funds provided will benefit families living in the areas worst affected by the crisis and children suffering from acute malnutrition. Life-saving nutritional support will also be provided to over 5,000 children under the age of 5 who are suffering from acute malnutrition. In parallel, the EU will back measures to strengthen the analysis of the food situation and to improve the quality of the humanitarian response.

The European Commission’s humanitarian assistance pays special attention to victims of forgotten crises, i.e. severe, protracted humanitarian crises where the people affected do not receive sufficient international aid, as is the case in Haiti. Haiti is the main beneficiary of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid to Latin America and the Caribbean, having received €404 million in support since 1994.

Background

Due to its vulnerability to natural hazards and its high levels of poverty, Haiti has limited capacity to cope with recurring emergencies such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and prolonged droughts.

In recent months, the humanitarian situation in Haiti has deteriorated dramatically and the country is facing serious food shortages. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of people in crisis situations or facing food emergencies doubled to 2.6 million, i.e. 25 % of the population. Furthermore, the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under the age of five remains high, and above World Health Organization (WHO) emergency levels in several locations, including the Nord-Ouest department.

€3 million were earmarked at the end of July 2019 for disaster risk reduction.

In Haiti, particular emphasis is being placed on establishing an effective link between relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD) to facilitate the transition between emergency relief work and structural development assistance in the country. More specifically, in terms of development cooperation, the amount of EU funding allocated to Haiti is the highest in the region, standing at €420 million for the period 2014-2020. These funds are intended to support development and the fight against poverty in the country by focusing on four key sectors: strengthening and modernising public administration, education, urban development and infrastructure, and food and nutrition security.

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Commission launches two projects to support cooperation and innovation in Romania

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The Commission is launching two projects to provide expertise to Romanian regions and cities, in cooperation with the Romanian government and the World Bank.

Under the first project, Commission and World Bank experts will help Romanian county capitals develop stronger links with their periphery and use EU funding for projects that benefit the whole urban area, not only the main economic centre. For example, experts will study how to expand urban transport networks or how to cooperate better in the field of public services to make them more accessible.

Under the second project, a group of experts will help the eight Romanian regions to improve their innovation capacity and enhance cooperation between research centres and businesses to develop innovative products for the market. This project is launched under the “Catching up Regions” initiative, which helps low-income and low-growth regions catch up with the rest of the EU.

Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations and Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn said: “Romania will benefit from significant resources to invest in sustainable urban development in the next-long term EU budget 2021-2027. The work of Commission and World Bank experts together with the Romanian authorities will help pave the way for the success of these investments. In parallel, we are providing tailored support to Romanian regions so they can capitalise on their assets, cooperate with each other and become more innovative.”

Better cooperation between Romanian county capitals and their periphery

The project will focus on helping cities develop joint projects in the following sectors: public transport, environment and circular economy, digitalisation, entrepreneurship and education. The aim is to provide better services to citizens, make more efficient use of public funding and make sure positive spillovers reach surrounding, smaller towns as well.

Concretely, Commission and World Bank experts will help Romanian cities identify sectors with great potential for inter-municipal cooperation, help them design joint project, make the best use of EU funding and set the right administrative conditions for a lasting cooperation between partners.

The project is financed with €500,000 from the European Regional Development Fund. By the end of this year, the experts will issue a report with specific recommendations that should help Romania with the planning of several billion euros earmarked for urban investments and regional innovation in the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027.

More innovative regions

Romanian regions will receive tailored Commission and World Bank expertise in order to better commercialise research projects, build capacity for technology transfer, create jobs in research and innovation (R&I) and promote innovation in local small and medium businesses. The experts will help the regions to:

  • support selected, high-potential research teams in the North East and North West regions and help them bring their innovative ideas to the market;
  • facilitate the transfer and dissemination of knowledge and new technology between research organisations and businesses;
  • promote public-private cooperation, helping public research organisations from the North East and North West regions to increase and improve R&I services provided to companies;
  • help entrepreneurs from all Romanian regions test and improve the commercial viability of their prototypes, in view of creating a robust pipeline of projects ready to receive European and national funding in the future.

The project will be carried out until end 2020, with a budget of €2 million from the European Regional Development Fund. €110 million of funding is still available under the 2014-2020 Regional Operational Programme to support research activities linked to smart specialisation and technology transfer.

Background

The Catching up Regions initiative has been launched by the Commission to study what holds back growth and investment in low-income and low-growth regions in the EU and how EU funds can be best used to address these challenges.

In 2016, a pilot phase was launched in the Romanian North East and North West regions with the help of the Joint Research Centre with the aim to develop, update and refine their smart specialisation strategies, i.e. regional industrial and innovation strategies based on local competitive strengths, resulting in a set or projects that are currently being financed.

These projects will contribute to the design of the new Cohesion Policy programmes. For 2021-2027, the Commission proposed a total allocation of more than €30.8 billion in Cohesion Policy funding for Romania, €6.1 billion more than in the current period.

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