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Central Asia: European Union matches political commitment with further concrete support

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To underpin the European Union’s political commitment and kick-start the implementation of the new EU Central Asia Strategy, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, at the EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, today presented a set of EU funded regional programmes. These programmes will support the environment, climate action, sustainable consumption and production, energy, gender equality, counter-terrorism, and education. 

Coming on top of over €1 billion of bilateral and regional assistance for the period 2014-2020, these programmes, worth €72 million, will benefit all countries of the region – Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

“The positive regional dynamics in Central Asia and a demand for closer cooperation with the European Union presents a significant opportunity for a closer, stronger partnership”, said High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini. “Our new Strategy for the region will enable us to cooperate more closely with the countries of Central Asia in tackling the challenges they face: from sustainable development to economic diversification, strengthening civil society and human rights to providing expertise and financial support for reform processes. We are ready to build on the enormous momentum gained over the last five years, as a consistent and reliable partner, to foster resilience, prosperity and regional cooperation.”

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica added: “The EU’s contribution worth €72 million boosts our strong partnership with Central Asia, for the benefit of our citizens. Together with national governments, civil society and the private sector we will work to create opportunities and shared prosperity, while protecting our planet for future generations.”

The new programmes announced today cover:

Sustainable energy: The EU will invest €20 million in a new hydropower plant in Tajikistan, with additional support from Germany. This hydropower plant will create new opportunities for Tajikistan to meet increasing demand, and to export excess electricity to neighbouring countries, including to northern Afghanistan.

Economic empowerment: The EU will invest €2 million in the economic empowerment of women in the region. This project will be implemented together with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It will provide Afghan women with the skills they need to participate in the economic development of Afghanistan, and contribute to closer peaceful ties with Central Asia. 

Education: The EU also launched a new €36 million programme in support of the education sector in Kyrgyzstan. This financing agreement will support Kyrgyzstan’s education development strategy, in order to better formulate, implement and monitor education policy. It will help to improve resource allocation, ensure equitable access across gender, ethnicity and linguistic background, and enhance the synergy between skills and labour market needs. 

Inclusive sustainable growth: The EU has extended the activities of the SWITCH Asia Programme, with an amount of €14 million. The programme will support sustainable consumption and production and promote inclusive sustainable growth. It aims to reduce poverty and contribute to economic prosperity in Central Asia.

In addition to those programmes announced today, several others are in preparation: 

Sustainable development: The EU is preparing a contribution in support of the initiative of the Government of Uzbekistan to establish the Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Human Security for the Aral Sea Region, under the auspices of the United Nations. The initiative will reduce vulnerability of the people living around the lake and advance sustainable development in the Aral Sea region. 

Intra-regional trade: The EU will launch an upgraded phase of the Border Management in Central Asia programme. With this new phase, the EU aims to increase security and facilitate intra-regional trade in Central Asia and Afghanistan through integrated border management. 

Health: The EU will furthermore launch the next phase of the Central Asia Drugs Action Programme. The goal is to work on integrated, balanced and evidence-based drug policies.

Counter-terrorism: New technical assistance to support law enforcement capacities and regional cooperation in countering terrorism.

Background 

The High Representative and the European Commission set out a vision for a renewed partnership with Central Asia in May 2019. This Joint Communication was endorsed by EU Foreign Ministers at the June Foreign Affairs Council. The new strategy comes at a key moment of fast-developing Euro-Asian connectivity, reform and opening up in some of the countries of Central Asia, and new momentum for regional cooperation.

The Strategy focuses the EU’s engagement on strengthening resilience and enhancing prosperity, as well as investing in regional cooperation in Central Asia.

EU cooperation with Central Asia amounts to over €1 billion, including both bilateral and regional assistance, for the period 2014-2020.

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Commission and EBRD promote innovative use of data in public procurement involving EU funds

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The European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Open Contracting Partnership are joining forces to improve the quality and transparency of public tenders co-funded by EU funds in Greece and Poland. Thanks to their support, two pilot projects will provide expertise and hands-on support to public authorities in both countries, with a focus on digital innovation.

By promoting the smart use of innovation and open data, the two pilots will help public administrations to better plan, implement and monitor the procurement of works, goods and services. This will improve the use of public resources and increase opportunities for businesses, especially for small and medium companies (SMEs). Moreover, thanks to a cooperation with local civil society organisations, this initiative will also favour transparency of public spending and stimulate citizens’ participation in the monitoring of investments with a direct impact on the community, such as investments in sustainability, local development and social inclusion. 

The two pilot projects

  • In Greece, the project will aim at consolidating and integrating all databases into a single smart public contract register. This will enable online access for bidders and citizens, improve quality of data and facilitate the use of data-driven analytical tools for monitoring the procurement process.
  • In Poland, the initiative will support Polish national and local authorities to introduce open data in public procurement and promote automated collection, standardisation, and consolidation of procurement data on all tenders.

The two pilots will run until the end of 2021 and their results will be disseminated in order to ensure a successful roll out in other Member States.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “In the programming period 2021-2027, Cohesion policy will continue to support Member States and regions in their economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic, as well as boosting competitiveness through new investments in research and innovation, digital transition and the implementation of the European Green Deal agenda. Through the use of new technologies, national and local public authorities managing EU funds will be able to spend public money more effectively ensuring the best possible results for citizens and businesses”.

Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added: “Transparency in public procurement is essential to ensure efficiency of public investments, in line with the EU strategic policy goals aiming at a greener, digital and more resilient Europe. Public authorities can rely on the EU’s public procurement framework, tools like the electronic procurement systems and open data for an efficient use of public funds.”

The EBRD Vice-President, Pierre Heilbronn commented: “The EBRD is committed to support legal and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring that procurement laws and practices are modern, in line with international standards and can swiftly respond to emerging challenges. Together with Open Contracting Partnership, we are sharing the experience of successful civil society procurement monitoring based on open data. Our joint efforts aim to create a framework for enlisting civil society organisations to support public procurement reforms and use open data to monitor procurement.”

Background

In the context of the next long-term EU budget, more than €370 billion from Cohesion policy funds will be invested to support the digital and green transitions of the Member States. Every year, public authorities in the EU spend around 14% of GDP on public procurement, amounting to more than €1.9 trillion. Almost half of Cohesion policy funding is channelled through public procurement. The Commission has promoted a series of initiatives aimed at helping Member States to improve the way administrations and beneficiaries use public procurement for EU investments. These include the Integrity Pacts to ensure more efficient and transparent tenders and safeguarding EU taxpayers’ money. The Commission also took action to facilitate citizen engagement for better governance and effective Cohesion policy investments.

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EU-Australia Leaders’ Virtual Meeting

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The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, held a Leaders’ Virtual Meeting on 26 November 2020.

The leaders reconfirmed their resolve to work together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and underlined their commitment to take effective measures to protect health and build more innovative, sustainable, inclusive and resilient economies.

The leaders reaffirmed the shared values that underpin the bilateral relationship as enshrined in the EU-Australia Framework Agreement. The EU and Australia share a commitment to democracy, the rule of law, the protection and promotion of human rights, and gender equality. They are strong supporters of the international rules-based order and an effective multilateral system with the United Nations at its core. The leaders discussed enhancing cooperation in international fora.

Underscoring that global cooperation is vital in overcoming COVID-19, the leaders welcomed the outcomes of the G20 Leaders’ Summit on 21-22 November. They referred to the significant contributions the EU and Australia have made towards the global response to COVID-19. They welcomed the support provided to each other’s citizens affected by travel disruptions.

The EU and Australia are committed to ensure universal, equitable and early access to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. Both sides have notably committed substantial funding to the almost €16 billion (A$26 billion) raised through the EU-led Coronavirus Global Response pledging marathon. The leaders stressed the importance of continued international support for the Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX Facility. They agreed to strengthen bilateral research and innovation cooperation and to share research data to combat the pandemic.

The leaders agreed that the EU and Australia will continue to work together to strengthen the World Health Organisation and global preparedness and response to health emergencies. They called for continued and timely implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution of 19 May 2020, including with respect to the independent evaluation of the international response to the pandemic.

The EU and Australia are stepping up cooperation on post-pandemic socio-economic recovery and are implementing the G20 Action Plan. They will also discuss the recovery at the next Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit. The leaders committed to recovery plans that accelerate emissions reductions, and ensure communities and institutions are more resilient and able to adapt to future impacts of climate change, as well as accelerating the digital transformation. They emphasised that global supply chains need to be more resilient and sustainable. They agreed to further cooperate on critical raw materials and on the promotion of diverse critical technology markets.

Both sides reconfirmed their commitment to open and fair trade. They underlined the need to support the multilateral rules-based trading system and to render it fit for current challenges. The EU and Australia will continue to work together, including in the Ottawa Group, to reform and strengthen the WTO, including its negotiating and monitoring function, in particular with regard to level playing field. On reform of the WTO’s dispute settlement system, the two sides reiterated their desire that the WTO membership collectivelyfind a timely and long-lasting solution that would restore a binding, two-tier and independent dispute settlement system in the WTO. The EU and Australia will engage constructively in areas of common interest on the WTO agenda, including sustainable development, e-commerce and fisheries subsidies.

The Leaders noted good progress in the negotiations for an ambitious and comprehensive bilateral trade agreement. The timely conclusion of such an agreement would create growth opportunities, deepen economic integration and reinforce our shared support for rules-based trading arrangements.

The leaders agreed to enhance cooperation to promote shared interests in security and prosperity in Asia and the Pacific, spanning the Indian and Pacific oceans. They recognised the importance of the principles of regional engagement set out in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, including openness, transparency, a rules-based framework, good governance and respect for sovereignty and international law. In this regard, they agreed to work together in the ASEAN Regional Forum and also to continue their dialogue on cooperation in other ASEAN-led processes. The leaders expressed serious concern about the unilateral and destabilising actions in the South China Sea and underlined the importance of upholding international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. They underlined that dialogue is the only way to achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and urged the DPRK to comply with all relevant UN Security Council resolutions. 

The leaders stressed that other regional issues should also be resolved through peaceful dialogue and in accordance with international law, including in relation to Belarus and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Underlining the importance of assisting the most vulnerable countries, including in Africa, the leaders welcomed the extension of the G20/Paris Club Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and the recently endorsed Common Framework for Debt Treatment beyond the DSSI.

The leaders emphasised their commitment to working with Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to build resilience in line with the Agenda 2030. In 2020 the EU has committed €120 million in support of the COVID-19 response in these countries and will continue to provide development assistance to them. Australia has made an allocation of €188 million to assist the region respond to COVID-19 over the next two years as well as separate funding to support vaccine access.

The leaders agreed that resolute and coordinated action is key to tackling the urgent challenge of climate change and environmental degradation. The EU and Australia underlined their commitment to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement and to step up global action to tackle climate change in the lead up to COP26 in 2021. The EU highlighted its commitment to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, while Australia will also demonstrate significant ambition on reducing emissions and pursuing a low emissions development strategy in order to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The leaders recalled the request by UNFCCC COP21 to communicate or update their Nationally Determined Contributions reflecting the highest possible ambition. The EU and Australia have agreed to collaborate on international technology partnerships. The leaders also underlined their commitment to move towards the circular economy and called for an ambitious global biodiversity framework at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in 2021.

Committed to promoting digital transformation based on shared values, Australia and the EU have initiated a digital economy and technology dialogue and agreed to cooperate on artificial intelligence, blockchain, the use of digital tools to address climate change and disaster resilience, quantum technology and the role of platforms. Recognising the importance of a fair and sustainable international tax system, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to reach by mid-2021 a global solution that addresses the tax challenges arising from the digitisation of the economy.

The leaders welcomed the recent UN resolution on responsible behaviour in space. They also welcomed the establishment of a bilateral space dialogue to advance collaboration.

The leaders restated their commitment to promote sustainable, comprehensive and rules-based connectivity and to implementation of the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment. They agreed to explore synergies between their cooperation on connectivity with third countries, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. They confirmed their resolve to launch in the near future an EU-Australia Transport Dialogue.

On security and defence issues, the leaders looked forward to strengthened cooperation in areas such as counterterrorism and prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism, cyber and critical technology issues, countering disinformation and foreign interference, protection of critical infrastructure and maritime security. They agreed to continue engagement in crisis management as provided for in the EU-Australia Framework Participation Agreement.

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Commission approves contract with Moderna to ensure access to a potential vaccine

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European Commission approved a sixth contract under the EU Vaccines Strategy, this time with the pharmaceutical company Moderna. The contract provides for the initial purchase of 80 million doses on behalf of all EU Member States, plus an option to request up to a further 80 million doses, to be supplied once a vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19.

The contract with Moderna will enlarge the already broad portfolio of vaccines to be produced in Europe, including the contracts signed with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, BioNTech-Pfizer and the contract approved with CureVac. This diversified vaccines portfolio will ensure Europe is well prepared for vaccination, once the vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective. Member States can also decide to donate the vaccine to lower and middle-income countries or to re-direct it to other European countries.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “I’m very happy to announce today’s agreement with the company Moderna to purchase up to 160 million doses of their future vaccine. This is our sixth contract with a vaccine producer, and we are working on yet another one. We are setting up one of the most comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine portfolios in the world, providing Europeans access to the most promising future vaccines under development so far. A safe and effective vaccine can help us end the pandemic, and return gradually to normal life.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Today’s agreement with Moderna is yet another important milestone of our EU Vaccines Strategy. I am happy that we have now concluded six vaccine agreements so far. This is a clear demonstration of the European Health Union in action: a European Union that delivers tangible results for its citizens and a blueprint for our cooperation in the area of health in the future. A safe and effective vaccine is more important than ever in helping to restore normality and overcome this pandemic. No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Moderna is a U.S. based company pioneering the development of a new class of vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA) transported into cells by lipid nanoparticles. The vaccine platform has been developed over the last decade. The basic principle is the use of this molecule as a data carrier, with the help of which the body itself can make proteins and trigger lasting immunity to COVID-19.

The Commission has taken a decision to support this vaccine based on a sound scientific assessment, the technology used, and its production capacity in Europe to supply the whole of the EU.

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 finances part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers in the form of Advance Purchase Agreements. Funding provided is considered as a down-payment on the vaccines that will actually be purchased by Member States on the basis of the Advance Purchase Agreements.

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 might not happen.

Once vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective and have been granted market authorisation by the European Medicines Agency, they need to be quickly distributed and deployed across Europe. On 15 October, the Commission set out the key steps that Member States need to take to be fully prepared, which includes the development of national vaccination strategies. The Commission is putting in place a common reporting framework and a platform to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccine strategies.

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 and has confirmed its interest to participate in the COVAX Facility for equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines everywhere. As part of a Team Europe effort, the Commission announced is contributing with €400 million in guarantees to support COVAX and its objectives in the context of the Coronavirus Global Response. On 12 November, the European Union announced the contribution of an additional €100 million in grant funding to support the COVAX Facility.

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