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Enhancing European know-how and competitiveness through seafarers’ training

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The last Trilogue on “Minimum level of training of seafarers”, took place yesterday. The importance of the human element when it comes to safety at sea and the protection of the marine environment is recognized at EU level. Improving the education, training and certification of seafarers has been considered particularly important with a view to attaining a high level of safety.

This Directive aims to align EU maritime law with the international requirements of the STCW Convention, to simplify and increase the legal clarity concerning the current EU regulatory framework, in order to remove unnecessary barriers. The Parliament had the ambition as well to align the seafarers level of training and the recognition of training certificates with social and political evolutions at EU and international level, to ensure conditions for fair competition between Member States and third countries and to strengthen safety at sea and the protection of marine environment.

ALDE Rapporteur, Dominique Riquet succeeded in introducing the concept of certificates in digital format, the ratification of the International Maritime Labour Convention as a requirement for the recognition of third countries and managed to ensure that the recognition procedure can be initiated swiftly, avoiding creating any administrative burdens on the European Maritime Safety Agency and Member States. Our Rapporteur eventually launched the idea of creating a central database of seafarers’ certificates, with a view to helping to bring down costs and making efficient use of human resources.

On the file, Riquet said: “Our overarching aim is to ensure safety on board of EU ships and to enhance both the European and international competitiveness of our seafarers. To that end, we managed to introduce the concept of European Maritime Diplomas of Excellence, in order to develop European know-how and also to enhance the possibility of our seafarers to fully benefit from the opportunities provided by Erasmus+. One of our greatest achievements is to add an additional requirement for the recognition of a third country – the ratification of the International Maritime Labour Convention, with a view to ensuring minimum working standards for seafarers serving on ships flying the flags of Member States”.

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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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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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OECD and European Commission join forces to further support structural reforms in European countries

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The OECD and the European Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS) sealed a new agreement today in Paris that will see the OECD provide wide-ranging policy support to advance structural reforms in European countries.

OECD Chief of Staff, Gabriela Ramos, and Director General of the SRSS, Maarten Verwey, concluded an agreement on 34 reform projects, to be conducted over the next 12 to 18 months, in 18 EU countries under the umbrella of the Structural Reform Support Programme of the European Commission.

The OECD SRSS agreement comes at a time of a slowdown in global growth, rising inequalities and  higher environmental degradation, which threaten people’s well-being. The OECD, with its extensive knowledge base and expertise, is supporting governments to tackle these issues head on and considers the cooperation with the SRSS to be an excellent opportunity to further leverage its expertise to deliver better policies for better lives.    

The action will see the OECD working closely with the SRSS to provide policy advice and working directly with governments to advance structural reform in various policy areas, including education, labour markets, tax, governance, environment and transport infrastructure. These projects respond to the reform priorities identified by the respective EU Member States and will for example help governments develop sustainable development strategies, establish frameworks for circular economies, improve housing affordability in cities, or improve the provision of labour market services. The OECD will capitalize on the digital transformation and also deliver on skills strategies. In a nutshell, it will redouble efforts to support European countries, Members and Partners, in their goal to build strong, inclusive and sustainable economies.

The Structural Reform Support Service offers tailor-made support to all EU Member States for the preparation, design and implementation of growth-enhancing reforms. The support is provided on the request of EU Member States, requires no co-financing and mobilises experts from all over Europe and beyond, from both the public and the private sector.

The new OECD – SRSS agreement allows the SRSS to leverage OECD’s expertise on best policy practices and structural reforms in the EU Member States. Such co-operation will deliver value added impact, carried out with efficiency, for the benefit of all countries.

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