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Western Balkans Summit in Poznan: Strengthening links within the region and with the EU

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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.

Background

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.

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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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