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Ursula von der Leyen presents her vision to MEPs

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Ursula von der Leyen outlined her priorities as Commission President © European Union 2019 – EP

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.

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RescEU assets mobilised to help Greece fight devastating forest fires

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Following a request for assistance from Greece on 13 August 2019, rescEU assets have been mobilised to tackle forest fires ravaging several areas of Greece. As an immediate response, the European Union has already helped to mobilise 3 forest fighting planes from rescEU reserve from Italy and Spainto be dispatched swiftly to the affected regions.

rescEU is the EU’s strengthened EU Civil Protection Mechanism, whose reserve includes firefighting planes and helicopters. Through rescEU, the EU reinforces its collective ability to respond to disasters that affect European countries. This is the first ever deployment of the rescEU assets.

Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said: “The EU stands in full solidarity with Greece at this difficult time. The planes are already in action, fighting the fires. This immediate response proves the added value of rescEU which makes our response more robust, quick and efficient. Moreover, this is a real example of the common European values on which rescEU is based: solidarity and protection of lives of our European citizens. I am thankful to Italy and Spain for their offers of assistance. We stand ready to provide further assistance.”

Commissioner Stylianides is in constant communication with the Greek authorities. Today, the Commissioner is in Athens where he met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and visited the Crisis Centre of the Greek Civil Protection to be briefed along with the Minister for the Protection of Citizens Michalis Chrysochoidis and oversee the operation of the rescEU assets.

The European satellite mapping system Copernicus is helping to provide damage assessment maps of the affected areas.

Background

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism strengthens cooperation between Member States/Participating States in the field of civil protection, with a view to improving prevention, preparedness and response to disasters. Through the Mechanism, the European Commission plays a key role in coordinating the response to disasters in Europe and beyond.

When the scale of an emergency overwhelms the response capabilities of a country, it can request assistance via the Mechanism. Once activated, the Mechanism coordinates assistance made available by its Member States/Participating States through spontaneous offers. In addition, the EU has created the European Civil Protection Pool to have a critical number of readily available civil protection capacities allowing for a stronger and coherent collective response. Should the emergency require additional, life-saving assistance, the new rescEU reserve can be used as a matter of last resort.

To date, all EU Member States participate in the Mechanism, as well as Iceland, Norway, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey. Since its inception in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has responded to more than 300 requests for assistance inside and outside the EU.

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EU mobilises €9 million to tackle the food crisis in Haiti

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The European Union has released €9 million in humanitarian aid in response to the deteriorating food and nutrition situation in Haiti. The humanitarian aid will cover the basic food and nutritional needs of more than 130,000 people living in the worst affected areas.

For the EU, the humanitarian situation in Haiti is not a forgotten crisis We are committed to providing vital support to the people hit by the food and nutrition crisis in the country. This assistance comes on top of the €12 million allocated in 2018 to address the urgent food and nutrition needs of Haitians,’ said Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

The funds provided will benefit families living in the areas worst affected by the crisis and children suffering from acute malnutrition. Life-saving nutritional support will also be provided to over 5,000 children under the age of 5 who are suffering from acute malnutrition. In parallel, the EU will back measures to strengthen the analysis of the food situation and to improve the quality of the humanitarian response.

The European Commission’s humanitarian assistance pays special attention to victims of forgotten crises, i.e. severe, protracted humanitarian crises where the people affected do not receive sufficient international aid, as is the case in Haiti. Haiti is the main beneficiary of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid to Latin America and the Caribbean, having received €404 million in support since 1994.

Background

Due to its vulnerability to natural hazards and its high levels of poverty, Haiti has limited capacity to cope with recurring emergencies such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and prolonged droughts.

In recent months, the humanitarian situation in Haiti has deteriorated dramatically and the country is facing serious food shortages. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of people in crisis situations or facing food emergencies doubled to 2.6 million, i.e. 25 % of the population. Furthermore, the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under the age of five remains high, and above World Health Organization (WHO) emergency levels in several locations, including the Nord-Ouest department.

€3 million were earmarked at the end of July 2019 for disaster risk reduction.

In Haiti, particular emphasis is being placed on establishing an effective link between relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD) to facilitate the transition between emergency relief work and structural development assistance in the country. More specifically, in terms of development cooperation, the amount of EU funding allocated to Haiti is the highest in the region, standing at €420 million for the period 2014-2020. These funds are intended to support development and the fight against poverty in the country by focusing on four key sectors: strengthening and modernising public administration, education, urban development and infrastructure, and food and nutrition security.

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Commission launches two projects to support cooperation and innovation in Romania

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The Commission is launching two projects to provide expertise to Romanian regions and cities, in cooperation with the Romanian government and the World Bank.

Under the first project, Commission and World Bank experts will help Romanian county capitals develop stronger links with their periphery and use EU funding for projects that benefit the whole urban area, not only the main economic centre. For example, experts will study how to expand urban transport networks or how to cooperate better in the field of public services to make them more accessible.

Under the second project, a group of experts will help the eight Romanian regions to improve their innovation capacity and enhance cooperation between research centres and businesses to develop innovative products for the market. This project is launched under the “Catching up Regions” initiative, which helps low-income and low-growth regions catch up with the rest of the EU.

Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations and Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn said: “Romania will benefit from significant resources to invest in sustainable urban development in the next-long term EU budget 2021-2027. The work of Commission and World Bank experts together with the Romanian authorities will help pave the way for the success of these investments. In parallel, we are providing tailored support to Romanian regions so they can capitalise on their assets, cooperate with each other and become more innovative.”

Better cooperation between Romanian county capitals and their periphery

The project will focus on helping cities develop joint projects in the following sectors: public transport, environment and circular economy, digitalisation, entrepreneurship and education. The aim is to provide better services to citizens, make more efficient use of public funding and make sure positive spillovers reach surrounding, smaller towns as well.

Concretely, Commission and World Bank experts will help Romanian cities identify sectors with great potential for inter-municipal cooperation, help them design joint project, make the best use of EU funding and set the right administrative conditions for a lasting cooperation between partners.

The project is financed with €500,000 from the European Regional Development Fund. By the end of this year, the experts will issue a report with specific recommendations that should help Romania with the planning of several billion euros earmarked for urban investments and regional innovation in the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027.

More innovative regions

Romanian regions will receive tailored Commission and World Bank expertise in order to better commercialise research projects, build capacity for technology transfer, create jobs in research and innovation (R&I) and promote innovation in local small and medium businesses. The experts will help the regions to:

  • support selected, high-potential research teams in the North East and North West regions and help them bring their innovative ideas to the market;
  • facilitate the transfer and dissemination of knowledge and new technology between research organisations and businesses;
  • promote public-private cooperation, helping public research organisations from the North East and North West regions to increase and improve R&I services provided to companies;
  • help entrepreneurs from all Romanian regions test and improve the commercial viability of their prototypes, in view of creating a robust pipeline of projects ready to receive European and national funding in the future.

The project will be carried out until end 2020, with a budget of €2 million from the European Regional Development Fund. €110 million of funding is still available under the 2014-2020 Regional Operational Programme to support research activities linked to smart specialisation and technology transfer.

Background

The Catching up Regions initiative has been launched by the Commission to study what holds back growth and investment in low-income and low-growth regions in the EU and how EU funds can be best used to address these challenges.

In 2016, a pilot phase was launched in the Romanian North East and North West regions with the help of the Joint Research Centre with the aim to develop, update and refine their smart specialisation strategies, i.e. regional industrial and innovation strategies based on local competitive strengths, resulting in a set or projects that are currently being financed.

These projects will contribute to the design of the new Cohesion Policy programmes. For 2021-2027, the Commission proposed a total allocation of more than €30.8 billion in Cohesion Policy funding for Romania, €6.1 billion more than in the current period.

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