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Giuseppe Conte: “Europe must listen to the people”

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Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte debates the future of Europe with MEPs © CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP

Europe is facing “a fork in the road”, as “the people are urgently asking to be heard,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told MEPs on Tuesday.

In a plenary debate on the future of Europe, the Italian Prime Minister said: “This is a valuable opportunity to reverse the process of detachment between rulers and governed, which if fed could lead to the European project imploding”. The prerequisite for relaunching it, are “solidarity and cohesion between the member states”.

Foreign policy

Among the challenges to be tackled to galvanise the European integration process, Conte mentioned the need for a common EU seat in the UN Security Council, strengthening relations with the USA, a strong dialogue with Russia and China and the creation of a true European common defence.

Migration

Conte stressed the need for a stable solution to manage migration flows, including so-called secondary movements, based on real solidarity between member states. He also asked for a new approach to Africa’s problems, through a partnership of equals.

Economy and growth

Overcoming austerity means “balancing growth and stability” and committing to the values of social solidarity and sustainable development, said Conte. He then called for more investment in youth, education and innovation, and for priority to be given to employment and the creation of tools for growth.

More powers to the EP

He concluded by saying that the European Parliament should have more powers, including the right of inquiry and the right to initiate legislation, in order to restore Europe’s credibility in the eyes of its citizens.

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Coronavirus: Commission reaches first agreement on a potential vaccine

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Today, the European Commission has reached a first agreement with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to purchase a potential vaccine against COVID-19 as well as to donate to lower and middle income countries or re-direct to other European countries. This is following the positive steps regarding the conclusion of exploratory talks with Sanofi-GSK announced on 31 July and with Johnson & Johnson on 13 August. Once the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19, the Commission now has agreed the basis for a contractual framework for the purchase of 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with an option to purchase 100 million more, on behalf of EU Member States. The Commission continues discussing similar agreements with other vaccine manufacturers.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “The European Commission’s intense negotiations continue to achieve results. Today’s agreement is the first cornerstone in implementing the European Commission’s Vaccines Strategy. This strategy will enable us to provide future vaccines to Europeans, as well as our partners elsewhere in the world.

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Today, after weeks of negotiations, we have the first EU advance purchase agreement for a vaccine candidate. I would like to thank AstraZeneca for its constructive engagement on this important agreement for our citizens. We will continue to work tirelessly to bring more candidates into a broad EU vaccines portfolio. A safe and effective vaccine remains the surest exit strategy to protect our citizens and the rest of the world from the coronavirus.”

The agreement approved today will be financed with the Emergency Support Instrument, which has funds dedicated to the creation of a portfolio of potential vaccines with different profiles and produced by different companies.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is already in large-scale Phase II/III Clinical Trials after promising results in Phase I/II concerning safety and immunogenicity.

The decision to support the vaccine proposed by AstraZeneca is based on a sound scientific approach and the technology used (a non-replicative recombinant chimpanzee adenovirus-based vaccine ChAdOx1), speed at delivery at scale, cost, risk sharing, liability and the production capacity able to supply the whole of the EU, among others.

The regulatory processes will be flexible but remain robust. Together with the Member States and the European Medicines Agency, the Commission will use existing flexibilities in the EU’s regulatory framework to accelerate the authorisation and availability of successful vaccines against COVID-19. This includes an accelerated procedure for authorisation and flexibility in relation to labelling and packaging.

Background

The European Commission presented on 17 June a European strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. In return for the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe, the Commission would finance part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers in the form of Advance Purchase Agreements. Funding provided would be considered as a down-payment on the vaccines that will actually be purchased by Member States.

Since the high cost and high failure rate make investing in a COVID-19 vaccine a high-risk decision for vaccine developers, these agreement will therefore allow investments to be made that otherwise would simply probably not happen.

The European Commission is also committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world and not only at home. No one will be safe until everyone is safe. This is why it has raised almost €16 billion since 4 May 2020 under the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery.

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Cambodia loses duty-free access to the EU market over human rights concerns

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As of 12 August, some of Cambodia’s typical export products such as garments, footwear and travel goods are subject to the European Union’s customs duties. The EU’s decision to partially withdraw Cambodia’s duty-free quota-free access to the EU market is now effective. The preferential treatment enjoyed by Cambodia under “Everything But Arms” (EBA) – the EU’s trade arrangement for Least Developed Countries – is now temporarily lifted due to serious and systematic concerns related to human rights ascertained in the country. The EU enforces this measure while staying open to engage with Cambodia on the necessary reforms.

Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan said: “We have provided Cambodia with trade opportunities that let the country develop an export-oriented industry and gave jobs to thousands of Cambodians. We stand by their side also now in the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic. Nonetheless, our continued support does not diminish the urgent need for Cambodia to respect human rights and labour rights. I stand ready to continue our engagement and to restore fully free access to the EU market for products from Cambodia provided we see substantial improvement in that respect.

The withdrawal of preferential access to the EU market concerns approximately 20% of Cambodia’s exports to the EU. Cambodia may still export those products to the EU but they will be subject to general tariffs applicable to any other member of the World Trade Organization. The remaining 80% of Cambodia’s exports continue to enjoy preferential (duty-free, quota-free) access to the EU market.

The Commission, together with the European External Action Service (EEAS), will continue its enhanced engagement with Cambodia. The EU will keep on monitoring the situation in the country, with a particular focus on current restrictions in the areas of freedom of expression and civil and political rights, as well as land disputes and labour rights in the context of the ongoing reforms.

The EU is aware of the significant impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Cambodia’s economy and employment and stands ready to support the country in its fight against the coronavirus crisis and towards economic recovery. This, however, does not waive the urgent need to ensure respect for human rights and labour rights in Cambodia.

Since February 2020, when the EU’s decision on partial withdrawal was taken, the Cambodian Government could at any time have taken the necessary steps to fulfil the conditions allowing the European Union to fully restore EBA preferential access to the EU market. This remains the case.

The Cambodian authorities should take action to restore political freedoms in the country, to re-establish the necessary conditions for a credible, democratic opposition and to initiate a process of national reconciliation through genuine and inclusive dialogue. The Commission and the EEAS have outlined the necessary actions to the Cambodian authorities on numerous occasions, as well as in the Commission’s Delegated Regulation. Actions include the reinstatement of the political rights of opposition members and the repeal or revision of laws, such as the Law on Political Parties and the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations. If the government of Cambodia shows significant progress, particularly on civil and political rights, the Commission may review its decision and reinstate tariff preferences under the “Everything But Arms” arrangement, in line with the provisions of the EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences.

Background

The “Everything But Arms” (EBA) arrangement is part of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP). The GSP allows vulnerable developing countries to benefit from lower duties or duty-free exports to the EU, and hence stimulate their economic growth. It is a one-way arrangement: it does not require reciprocity vis-a-vis EU exports. Through the EBA arrangement, the EU grants duty-free and quota-free access to its market for all products – except arms and ammunition – from Least Developed Countries (as defined by the United Nations). Under the GSP Regulation, tariff preferences may be suspended in the case of “serious and systematic violation of principles” laid down in the international human rights and labour rights conventions listed in an annex to the GSP Regulation.

Based on serious concerns about the deterioration of political, human, land and labour rights in Cambodia, in February 2019, the Commission opened a procedure for a withdrawal of the EBA preferences granted to Cambodia. On 12 November 2019, the Commission submitted to Cambodia a report demonstrating serious and systematic violations of key principles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) linked to political participation, freedom of expression and freedom of association in Cambodia. At the same time, despite remaining serious concerns, the report underlined tangible progress in solving land disputes in the sugar sector and with respect to labour rights. Following a period for comments, on 12 February 2020, the Commission adopted a Delegated Regulation on a temporary and partial withdrawal of tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the EBA. The Regulation entered into force on 25 April 2020 and takes effect as of 12 August 2020.

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Commission concludes talks to secure future coronavirus vaccine for Europeans

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The European Commission has concluded exploratory talks with a pharmaceutical company to purchase a potential vaccine against COVID-19. The envisaged contract with Sanofi-GSK* would provide for an option for all EU Member States to purchase the vaccine. It is envisaged that, once a vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19, the Commission would have a contractual framework in place for the purchase of 300 million doses, on behalf of all EU Member States. The Commission continues intensive discussions with other vaccine manufacturers.

President von der Leyen said: “The European Commission does all in its power to ensure that Europeans have rapid access to a vaccine that is safe and protects them from coronavirus. Today’s step with Sanofi-GSK is a first important cornerstone of a much broader European Vaccines Strategy. More will follow soon. We are in advanced discussions with several other companies. While we do not know today which vaccine will work best in the end, Europe is investing in a diversified portfolio of promising vaccines, based on various types of technologies. This increases our chances to obtain rapidly an effective remedy against the virus. A vaccine would be a truly global good. We are committed to help secure access also for more vulnerable countries to find their way out of this crisis.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is the surest exit strategy from the crisis. For that reason, we have been negotiating a united EU approach to secure doses of promising vaccine candidates in recent weeks. Today’s announcement of the conclusion of exploratory talks with Sanofi-GSK is the first important step in this direction, to provide equal access to the vaccine for our citizens.”

The exploratory talks concluded today are intended to result in an Advance Purchase Agreement to be financed with the Emergency Support Instrument, which has funds dedicated to the creation of a portfolio of potential vaccines with different profiles and produced by different companies.   

The European Commission is also committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world and not only at home. No one will be safe until everyone is safe.

This is why it has raised almost €16 billion since 4 May 2020 under the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery. 

The Commission is also ready to explore with international partners if a significant number of countries would agree to pool resources for jointly reserving future vaccines from companies for themselves as well as for low and middle-income countries at the same time. The high-income countries could act as an inclusive international buyers’ group, thus accelerating the development of safe and effective vaccines and maximise access to them for all who need it across the world.

Background

The European Commission presented on 17 June a European strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. In return for the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe, the Commission would finance part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers in the form of Advance Purchase Agreements. Funding provided would be considered as a down-payment on the vaccines that will actually be purchased by Member States.

Since the high cost and high failure rate make investing in a COVID-19 vaccine a high-risk decision for vaccine developers, these agreements will therefore allow investments to be made that otherwise would simply probably not happen.

Sanofi-GSK’s vaccine candidate is planning to seek marketing authorisation from EMA in June 2021, following Phase III clinical trials yielding the induction of a promising immune response.

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