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Cheap cross-border payments: Sharing the benefits of the euro

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Euro payments within the euro area cost close to nothing. People from elsewhere in the EU will now also get to benefit from low-cost payment fees.

On 14 February MEPs will vote on plans to ensure lower charges on euro payments across the EU and increase transparency on currency conversion fees when a payment involves different currencies.

Lower payment charges for countries outside the euro zone

Existing rules already provide for low payment costs between euro zone countries. For example, if you live in Finland and you buy a pair of shoes from Italy, the fee charged for the payment will be the same as for a domestic payment, which in many cases is zero.

However, if you live in Bulgaria, which is not part of the euro area, and you want to order that same pair of shoes, a euro payment to Italy may set you back as much as €24, according to a European Commission study.

The changes to EU legislation would align the fees charged for sending or receiving euro payments by banks and other payment service providers in non-euro area countries with the fees charged for payments in their national currency. That will make euro payments more affordable, boost incentives for consumers to buy from other EU countries, as well as reduce trade costs for businesses.

After striking a provisional agreement with the Council in December, Bulgarian EPP member Eva Maydell, the MEP in charge of steering the plans through Parliament,  said this represented a step forward for the EU’s single market.

“By reducing the unjustified high charges for money transfers, European institutions show that by working together we deliver for our citizens,” she said in a tweet.

Currency conversion charges: informed choice for customers

The legislation also seeks to provide more transparency on the fees charged when one currency is converted into another in a payment transaction.

Imagine a German would like to make a card payment in a restaurant in Poland and is asked whether he prefers to make the payment in euros or in the local currency, the zloty. If he chooses a payment in zloty, the currency conversion will be done by his own bank; if he chooses a payment in euros, the service will be provided by the merchant’s bank.

In the two cases, the charges will be different, but if the client is not given clear and comparable information, he may end up paying more.

The amended rules require that the user is given all currency conversion options, showing the total costs in a clear and neutral manner before the transaction is carried out. Increased transparency should lead to more competition between service providers and lower charges for the service over time.

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EU Politics

Africa-Europe Alliance: Two new financial guarantees under the EU External Investment Plan

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Today in the margins of the 2019 Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, the European Commission signed two guarantee agreements with two Member States’ development finance institution: the Dutch ‘Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden N.V’ (FMO) and the Italian ‘Cassa Depositi e Prestiti’ (CDP). These guarantee agreements are part of the implementation of the EU External Investment Plan, the financial arm of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica said: “The agreements signed today, worth €70 million, will help us to unlock more than €500 million in new investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood. These guarantees aim at mitigating and sharing the risk with other private investors in countries where otherwise these investments would not be as attractive. They will help to boost access to finance for small businesses, notably in the tech sector – and create up to 175,000 jobs directly and indirectly.”

Two guarantees, one goal: more investment in partner countries

The two guarantees will significantly boost investment and access to finance for small businesses (MSMEs), especially in the technology sector, in the countries covered by the Plan.

FMO Ventures Programme
This €40 million guarantee agreement is a partnership with FMO, the Dutch development bank. It targets Sub-Saharan Africa and the EU Neighbourhood. It will guarantee venture capital provided by FMO to start-up companies, in particular led by young entrepreneurs. The companies will use technology to lower the costs of making or supplying products and services that were previously unaffordable to many people. The guarantee will target companies offering digital solutions in a wide range of areas, from agriculture, access to energy and financial services to education, healthcare, transport and logistics. It will support up to 125,000 new jobs, directly and indirectly.

Archipelagos One4A – One Platform for Africa
The €30 million Archipelagos guarantee agreement is a partnership with Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), the Italian Development Bank, and the African Development Bank (AfDB). It will support access to finance across Africa for high potential small businesses. In order to help their growth, the programme supported by the guarantee will provide financing through innovative capital markets solutions. It will also enable financing partners to share the risk of investing in projects. By doing so it will generate up to 50,000 jobs, many for young people, and benefit about 1,500 small businesses in 10 African countries.

These guarantees are part of the External Investment Plan, which, by investing €4.5 billion, is set to leverage €44 billion in total investment. Out of the total budget, the EU has already allocated €4.2 billion.

Background

The EU External Investment Plan is using €4.5 billion in public funds to leverage €44 billion by 2020 in public and private investment for development in countries neighbouring the EU and in Africa.

The plan has three pillars. The first is finance. Through financial guarantees, the EU mitigates the risk in countries with difficult environments so that private investors and development banks will lend to entrepreneurs or finance development projects.

The plan’s second part is technical assistance. This funds experts who help develop new projects, to the benefit of will authorities, investors and companies. Technical assistance may include, for example, market intelligence and investment climate analysis, targeted legislative and regulatory advice, support to partner countries in implementing reforms, chains and identification, preparation, and help to carry out necessary investments.

The third part is investment climate support. The EU works closely with governments in partner countries to help them improve the conditions which investors consider when making their decisions. These include the business environment and a country’s political and economic stability. The EU also brings together governments and business to discuss investment challenges.

The External Investment Plan is a key part of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, launched by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in September 2018. The Alliance aims to boost investment which creates jobs and promotes sustainable development.

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EU delivers on stronger European Border and Coast Guard to support Member States

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Today, the Council has officially adopted the Commission’s proposal to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency will have a standing corps of 10,000 border guards, a stronger mandate on returns and will also be able to cooperate more closely with non-EU countries, including those beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. This will give the Agency the right level of ambition to respond to the challenges facing Europe in managing migration and its external borders.

Welcoming today’s final adoption, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said:

“Today the European Union has achieved an ambitious task of transforming the EU border agency, Frontex, into a fully-fledged European Border and Coast Guard. This Agency will be equipped to offer tangible support to Member States to manage the EU’s external border – wherever and whenever needed.

From less than 300 border guards on the ground in 2014, the European Border and Coast Guard is now deploying around 1,300 officers and will soon have a 10,000-strong standing corps available for deployment. This is a collective achievement, which would not have been possible without strong political support for a common approach.

The European Border and Coast Guard is now stronger than ever. While Member States will remain responsible for the management of external borders, the standing corps will provide unprecedented operational support on the ground. Its officers will be able to assist national border guards in conducting identity and document checks, with border surveillance and return operations.

The Agency will also provide support beyond the EU’s borders. With European Border and Coast Guard officers already deployed in Albania and soon in other Western Balkan countries also, the Agency will be able to cooperate with third countries beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood.

We have spared no effort to make sure that Member States have the necessary tools to protect their borders and ensure the security of European citizens.

But our work is not yet done. The Commission will now provide its full support to help the Agency quickly take up its new tasks and ensure the standing corps swiftly reaches its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.”

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council will now jointly sign the final text. The text will then be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and the European Border and Coast Guard’s reinforced mandate will enter into force 20 days later. The new European Border and Coast Guard standing corps will be ready for deployment from 2021, and will then gradually reach its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.

Background

The European Border and Coast Guard consists of Member States’ authorities responsible for border management and return, and of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. It was established in 2016, building on the existing structures of Frontex, to meet the new challenges and political realities faced by the EU, both as regards migration and internal security. The reliance on voluntary contributions of staff and equipment by Member States has however resulted in persistent gaps affecting the efficiency of the support the European Border and Coast Guard Agency could offer.

In his 2018 State of the Union Address President Juncker announced that the Commission will reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard even further. The objective of this upgrade was to equip the Agency with a standing corps of 10,000 border guards and to provide the agency with its own equipment to allow it to respond to challenges as they arise. The European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the Commission’s proposal on 28 March 2019. With the last step completed in the Council today, both institutions have now formally adopted the text.

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EU-Singapore agreement to enter into force on 21 November 2019

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EU Member States today endorsed the trade agreement between the EU and Singapore. This means the agreement will enter into force as soon as 21 November.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “This is the European Union’s first bilateral trade agreement with a Southeast Asian country, a building block towards a closer relationship between Europe and one of the most dynamic regions in the world. It crowns the efforts of this Commission to build a network of partners committed to open, fair and rules based trade. Trade has created 5 million new jobs in the EU since I took office in 2014, and now contributes to the employment of 36 million people. This, together with the fact that it accounts for 35% of the EU GDP, shows how critical trade is for Europe’s prosperity.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “Our trade agreement with Singapore provides further evidence of our commitment to fair and rules-based trade. The agreement will benefit workers, farmers and companies of all sizes, both here and in Singapore. It also includes strong clauses protecting human and labour rights and the environment. This agreement means that in the last five years we have put in place 16 EU trade deals. This brings the total to 42 trade agreements with 73 partners, accounting for a third of total EU trade. This is the largest such network in the world.”

Singapore is by far the EU’s largest trading partner in the Southeast Asian region, with a total bilateral trade in goods of over €53 billion and another €51 billion of trade in services. Over 10,000 EU companies are established in Singapore and use it as a hub for the whole Pacific region. Singapore is also the number one location for European investment in Asia, with investment between the EU and Singapore growing rapidly in recent years: combined bilateral investment stocks reached €344 billion in 2017.

Under the trade agreement, Singapore will remove all remaining tariffs on EU products. The agreement also provides new opportunities for EU services’ providers, among others in sectors such as telecommunications, environmental services, engineering, computing and maritime transport. It will also make the business environment more predictable. The agreement will also enable legal protection for 138* iconic European food and drink products, known as Geographical Indications. Singapore is already the third largest destination for such European specialty products. Singapore also agreed to remove obstacles to trade besides tariffs in key sectors, for instance by recognising the EU’s safety tests for cars and many electronic appliances or by accepting labels that EU companies use for textiles.

The EU and Singapore have also concluded an investment protection agreement, which can enter into force after it has been ratified by all EU Member States according to their own national procedures.

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