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Agreement with Singapore set to give a boost to EU-Asia trade

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The trade and investment agreements between the EU and Singapore have today received the approval of the European Parliament. The Parliament has also given its green light to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

This marks an important step towards their entry into force, boosting the EU economic relations and cooperation with Singapore and leading to an increased presence in the fast-growing Southeast Asian region.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The European Parliament’s approval of the EU-Singapore trade and investment agreements marks a historical moment. 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. We are forging closer economic and political ties with friends and partners who, like us, believe in open, reciprocal and rules-based trade. This is yet another win-win trade agreement negotiated by the European Union, an agreement that will create new opportunities for European producers, workers, farmers and consumers, while at the same time promoting cooperation and multilateralism.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “In uncertain times, we need agreements like these more than ever. They will help Europe and Singapore to prosper, boosting our trade and strengthening an already essential relationship. The agreements will benefit workers and farmers, as well as small and big companies on both sides. They include a strong commitment to human and labour rights and to protecting the environment. This is yet another signal that open, fair and rules-based global trade is here to stay.”

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 €51 billion-worth of trade in services. Over 10,000 EU companies are established in Singapore and use it as a hub to serve the whole Pacific region. Singapore is also the number one location for European investment in Asia, with investment between the two 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 and will commit to keep unchanged the current duty-free access for all other 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. 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 accepting labels that EU companies use for textiles.

The investment protection agreement will ensure a high level of investment protection, while safeguarding the EU’s and Singapore’s rights to regulate and pursue public policy objectives such as the protection of public health, safety and the environment. The agreement will replace 12 bilateral investment treaties existing between EU Members and Singapore putting in place a modern common investment protection framework with a well-balanced Investment Court System for resolving investment disputes.

With both agreements, the EU has made an important stride towards setting high standards and rules for its trade and investments with the fast-growing Southeast Asian region. The agreements offer huge economic opportunities, while fully safeguarding public services and parties’ right to regulate. The trade agreement also includes a comprehensive chapter on trade and sustainable development that sets the highest standards of labour, safety, environmental and consumer protection for trade and investment between the parties; as well as strengthening joint actions on sustainable development and climate change.

Partnership and Cooperation Agreement

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, said:“Today’s overwhelmingly positive vote in the European Parliament is good news for strengthening our relations with Singapore. In today’s world you need like-minded partners and friends. Our new agreement will allow us to build on what we have already and to do more together to achieve our common goals, both on the bilateral agenda and in tackling global challenges.”

The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement reinforces the existing relationship between the European Union and Singapore and builds on a shared commitment towards multilateralism and international rules-based order. This Agreement will provide the basis for more effective bilateral engagement between the EU and its Member States and Singapore by strengthening political dialogue and enhancing cooperation in a broad range of areas including sustainable development, democracy and fundamental freedoms, justice, security, connectivity, people-to-people links, information society, education and cultural exchanges as well as employment and social affairs. It will enable us to step up scientific and technological cooperation in fields such as energy, environment, fight against climate change, protection of natural resources, smart cities and transport. It will enhance cooperation on global challenges, where both Singapore and the EU play an increasingly important role, and will help address them in a more coherent way.

Negotiations for the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement started in 2005, and the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and her counterpart, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan, signed the agreement in the margins of the ASEM Summit on 19 October 2018. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will need to be ratified by all EU Member States before it enters into force.

Next steps

The EU and Singapore signed the trade and investment agreements on 19 October 2018. Following today’s vote, the trade agreement could then enter into force once Singapore concludes its own internal procedures and both sides complete the final formalities. The investment protection agreement will further need to be ratified by all EU Member States according to their own national procedures before it can enter into force.

Once in place, the agreements will be the first building block of a future region-to-region trade and investment agreement between the EU and entire ASEAN region.

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EU Parliament to host conference on abolishing the death penalty

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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.

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Cohesion Policy after 2020: Preparing the future of EU investments in health

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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.

Background

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.

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New Erasmus: More opportunities for disadvantaged youth

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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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