At the Poznań Summit on the Western Balkans, the EU confirmed its commitment to strengthen cooperation with the region with a set of concrete measures focusing on five key areas: transport and energy, digital, economy, security and good neighbourly relations.
Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, Ministers of Economy and Interior from the Western Balkans, together with their counterparts from several EU Member States and high-level EU representatives, met yesterday and today in Poznań to strengthen regional cooperation between the Western Balkans partners, as well as between the region and the EU, and to further advance the European integration process of the Western Balkans.
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President Federica Mogherini said: “Our engagement with the Western Balkans is a priority. Today, all six partners in the Western Balkans are closer to the European Union compared to the beginning of our mandate almost 5 years ago. The European perspective remains the driver for change in the region. Regional cooperation, good neighbourly relations and reconciliation are key and support the EU integration of the Western Balkans.”
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations commented: “We are stepping up our work to modernised infrastructures, support digitalisation, invest in green growth and circular economy. The EU programmes will bring tangible benefits to the people in the Western Balkans and are another milestone in our even closer ties with the region.”
Violeta Bulc, Commissioner for Transport added: “I am very happy about the endorsement of several regional projects – in cooperation with the Transport Community. They will improve road safety and rail efficiency, reduce travelling time and transport costs and remove traffic bottlenecks. Better connectivity means supporting the everyday lives of people in the region and bringing them closer to the EU “
Strengthening transport and energy connectivity within the region and with the EU
Improving connectivity within the Western Balkans, as well as between the Western Balkans and the EU, is a key factor for growth and jobs and brings clear benefits to the region’s and the EU’s economies and citizens.
In the areas of transport and energy, the Commission put forward:
A new Connectivity Package worth €180 million. Implemented through the Western Balkans Investment Framework,the grants for eight new transport and energy projects (road, rail, energy transmission infrastructure) will contribute to the goals of the Connectivity Agenda (hyperlink to brochure) and are expected to leverage investments of up to €728 million. The projects will support the modernisation of a joint railway border station, the installation of signalling and telecommunications equipment on more than 100 km of railway lines, the construction and upgrade of over 30 km of motorways and over 100 km of electricity transmission lines, and the construction of 68 km of an interconnection gas pipeline.
Grants worth €15 million to improve road safety and the operation of border crossing points in the region. The grants aim at improving road conditions on sections with high accident rates, whereas improvements on border crossing points will result in time-savings for citizens and heavy good vehicles.
An Action Plan for the implementation of the regional rail strategy which aims at boosting connectivity within the region and with the EU and increase the competitiveness of the rail sector through more reliable, cost-effective and safer operations.
Boosting the digital transformation of the region
To support the transition of the region into a digital economy and bring the benefits of the digital transformation,such as faster economic growth, more jobs and better services, Leaders welcomed the entry into force of the Regional Roaming Agreement on 1 July 2019. The agreement is an important achievement of the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans and a prime example of the benefits of regional cooperation. Consumers will see a substantial reduction of their roaming charges within the region, with calls up to eight times cheaper and costs for data dropping.
In the area of broadband connectivity, an essential element for the digital economy of the region, the Commission announced new grants of €1.65 million to three projects to support the development of national broadband networks and improve digital connectivity in Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
Supporting socio-economic development, economic integration and green growth
In the area of socio-economic development, the Commission
Reported on progress achieved under the Guarantee Instrument. Launched in early 2019 under the Western Balkans Investment Framework, with an initial EU commitment of up to €150 million, the guarantee aims to leverage up to €1 billion in investments into sustainable socio-economic development and regional integration to unblock private investment and improve access to finance in the region.
Signed Letters of Intent, together with international financial institutions, to reinforce the Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility by an additional €20 million to increase financial resources made available for SMEs based in the Western Balkans.
Continues to support the region’s own plan to develop a Regional Economic Area, and welcomed the endorsement of the Mutual Recognition of Academic Qualifications Agreement.
To support the social-economic integration of the Roma population, Leaders endorsed the Roma Integration Declaration. The Leaders pledged to take the necessary steps to achieve concrete results in the fields of employment, housing, education, health, civil registration and non-discrimination.
In the areas of environment and climate, Leaders endorsed the joint Statement on “Clean Energy Transition in the Western Balkans”, signed on 21 February 2019. To build on this momentum, the Commission is ready to support the region’s efforts to develop a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, which would strengthen regional cooperation and bring benefits to the well-being and the health of citizens in the region and neighbouring EU Member States while unlocking the potential of the green, low carbon and circular economy of the Western Balkans. The Leaders confirmed their commitment to an ambitious environmental agenda that contributes to fighting climate change.
Stepping up actions on security cooperation
The Leaders and Ministers took stock of the progress achieved in the cooperation between the Western Balkans and the EU to address shared security challenges, including in the fight against terrorism, radicalisation, cyberattacks, hybrid threats, organised crime and firearms trafficking. The link between corruption and security was discussed and representatives of the Western Balkans reiterated their commitment to tackle corruption.
Supporting regional cooperation and good neighborly relations
Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are at the heart of the countries’ path to the EU, which also entails achieving lasting and sincere reconciliation. The Summit was an opportunity for the Western Balkan partners to discuss bilateral issues and legacy of the past such as war crimes and missing persons. The EU continues to support the involvement of the Western Balkans youth – youth cooperation is key to increase regional connectivity – in many projects, such as the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the Creative Europe and Erasmus+ programmes, and the Youth in Action window animated by the South East Europe Resource Centre (SALTO). Furthermore, the EU supports the work of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) to promote reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the region.
The Poznań Summit is part of the Berlin process, an initiative of several EU Member States supporting efforts towards strengthening regional cooperation and the European perspective of the Western Balkans.
EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey: €5.6 bn out of €6 bn now allocated in support of refugees
The European Commission today adopted a new set of assistance measures worth €1.41 billion, ensuring continued European Union support to refugees and host communities in Turkey. The programmes will focus on the areas of health, protection, socio-economic support and municipal infrastructure. The new measures are part of the second tranche of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, bringing the total amount already allocated to €5.6 billion out of €6 billion since 2016, with the remaining balance due to be allocated over the summer.
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said: “With this new allocation of funds, the European Union continues to deliver on its commitment to support Turkey in hosting the largest group of refugees in the world. Our assistance will focus on healthcare and protection services to refugees, and increase the resilience and self-reliance of refugees and host communities through socio-economic support. In addition, we will support municipal infrastructure in provinces with a high number of refugees.”
The new assistance measures focus on long-term support and development assistance, as a combination of agreements with partners and relevant Turkish ministries. Contracts should be signed by end-2020 and actions should be completed by mid-2025 at the latest.
A particular feature of today’s financial allocation is that it aims to ensure the sustainability of Facility-funded activities, reflecting the need for sustainable support for refugee inclusion, self-reliance and integration beyond the EU Facility.
The EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey was set up in 2015 in response to the European Council’s call for significant additional funding to support Syrian refugees in Turkey. It has a total budget of €6 billion divided into two equal tranches of €3 billion each. Out of the operational funds of €6 billion, over €2.35 billion has already been disbursed, €3.5 billion contracted and €5.6 billion allocated, with over 80 projects already rolled out.
The Facility provides for a joint coordination mechanism of EU budget and Member States’ contributions designed to ensure that the needs of refugees and host communities are being addressed in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. The support seeks to improve conditions for refugees in Turkey as part of the EU’s comprehensive approach to addressing the refugee crisis inside and outside the EU.
Ursula von der Leyen presents her vision to MEPs
In a debate with MEPs, Ursula von der Leyen outlined her vision as Commission President. MEPs will vote on her nomination, held by secret paper ballot, at 18.00.
Ursula von der Leyen outlined her political priorities, if elected as Commission President, to MEPs in Strasbourg this morning.
Here is a selection of the topics she mentioned during her speech.
Having identified the collective need for “a healthy planet as our greatest challenge and responsibility”, Ms von der Leyen proposed bolder emissions targets, with a reduction of 50% to 55% by 2030 and committed to submit a plan for a “Green Deal for Europe” and a European Climate Law within her first 100 days in office. She also announced plans for sustainable European investment (also through the partial conversion of EIB funds into a “climate bank”) to provide €1 trillion in investments within a decade.
Ms von der Leyen also stressed that the EU must establish an economy that serves the people. In order for this to happen however, “everyone needs to share the burden” – including those tech giants that conduct their business (and should continue to do so) in Europe, yet do not repay the people of Europe for their access to EU human and social capital.
Reiterating her commitment for a gender-balanced College of Commissioners during her term, she also highlighted that violence against women has to be tackled decisively; she would therefore seek to define violence against women as a crime in the European treaties, in parallel to completing the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention.
Ms von der Leyen declared her commitment to rule of law as a European value, announcing that she intends to establish an EU-wide monitoring mechanism in parallel to existing measures. She emphasised that these European values also include a duty to save lives at sea and should translate into a humane border policy. She stated her support for a “new pact on migration & asylum” and Dublin Regulation reform, adding that she intends to ensure that Frontex border guards number 10,000 not by 2027, but by 2024, and that all countries should shoulder their fair share of the burden based on the principle of European solidarity.
On the matter of European democracy, Ms von der Leyen announced a two-year Conference for Europe as of 2020, in which citizens will take a leading and active role. She also emphasised the need for the Spitzenkandidaten system to be strengthened and that transnational lists should be reconsidered in future European elections. She also declared her full support for a right of initiative for the European Parliament, committing to put forward a legislative proposal in response to every resolution that is passed with a majority of Parliament’s constituent members.
Reactions from political groups
Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) confirmed his group’s support for Ms von der Leyen. “We stand for a Europe that is fair, modern and innovative, secure, open-minded and ecological. We will implement these pledges together with her.” He welcomed her proposals for a right of initiative for the EP and to improve the lead candidate process, saying, “Backroom deals must be a thing of the past.”
Iratxe García Pérez (S&D, ES) complained that “European democracy is progressing way too slowly” and underlined that Ms von der Leyen must give further details on how she plans to respond to citizens’ demands, and particularly youth, before the S&D decides whether or not to back her. Support for sustainable growth, stronger action to fight poverty, and a binding strategy for gender equality are essential, García added.
Dacian Cioloș (Renew, RO) said, “We can no longer disappoint the millions of Europeans who said YES to Europe. They expect the EU to defend the rule of law without hesitation”. His group is ready to support her, with one goal: the renewal of Europe. “But, above all, we expect from you real pro-European leadership. Europe is not an administration, but a political ambition”, he said.
Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE) said that his group was not ready to hand over the helm of the European Union to Ursula von der Leyen at a time when ‘‘our common house is burning, the climate is deteriorating, there are ever deeper inequalities and a backlash in fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”. However, if elected, his group was ready to provide its support “whenever the proposals would be up to the existential challenges we face”.
Jörg Meuthen (ID, DE) announced that his group will vote against her, stating that she is unfit for the job and that she had no convincing vision for Europe. He criticised her for promising too many different, contradictory things to groups in order to secure support, e.g. regarding the rule of law or migration.
Raffaele Fitto (ECR, IT) asked Ursula von der Leyen to clarify her position on “the mechanism on the rule of law, on which we are at odds” with the policy pursued so far by the Commission. Regarding the fight against climate change, he said he was “happy for proposals such as the transition fund and the bank for sustainable investments, but we discuss increasingly ambitious targets, without saying how to achieve them”.
Martin Schirdewan (GUE/NGL, DE) said that his group will not vote for Ms von der Leyen. Voters expected a lead candidate as Commission President, he claimed, not a Minister of Defence, which is a signal “for the continued militarisation and isolation of the EU.” He called for austerity policies to end and for investment in social security, education, healthcare and fighting climate change.
PES: Progressive commitments needed from the next Commission
The next European Commission must commit to progressive priorities, PES President Sergei Stanishev said today.
At a hearing this morning with S&D MEPs, Sergei Stanishev asked the nominee for Commission President – Ursula von der Leyen – to commit to stronger social rights, more opportunities for young Europeans, and a firm approach to the Rule of Law.
PES President Sergei Stanishev said:“The next European Commission programme must not ignore the millions of Europeans who voted for progressive change. The public did not have an opportunity to scrutinise the current nominee’s ideas, so today we are seeking commitments on our priorities. This means binding rules for the Social Pillar, substantial budget increases for youth, and no watering down of the Rule of Law.”
The PES has been the driving force behind the European Pillar of Social Rights, working to convene the EU Social Summit, also known as the Gothenburg Summit, in 2017. The Pillar was created to strengthen rights and social protections for workers, but during the last mandate major elements of the Pillar were not implemented by member states and binding rules should now be introduced.
Opportunities for young people must also be a priority for the next Commission. The Youth Guarantee was a PES initiative to secure a job, traineeship or education place for all young people after they leave education or become unemployed. More investment is now needed to support the next generation to reach their full potential and enjoy a comfortable life. This means introducing a European Youth Plan, extending the Youth Guarantee so it can benefit more people, and implementing a European Child Guarantee. Erasmus+ must also be strengthened to ensure people from all backgrounds can benefit, and European Culture Cheques should be introduced to support access to culture for young people.
Led by the First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, the PES has a resolute commitment to upholding and strengthening the Rule of Law. Our political family has led the defence of this fundamental value of the EU, a collective duty for all European parties. It is important that a future Commission does not shy away from its obligations in this area. The next Commission President must build on the comprehensive work undertaken in this mandate by the First Vice-President to ensure democracy and the independence of the media and judiciary can flourish in Europe.
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