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OECD and European Commission join forces to further support structural reforms in European countries

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The OECD and the European Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS) sealed a new agreement today in Paris that will see the OECD provide wide-ranging policy support to advance structural reforms in European countries.

OECD Chief of Staff, Gabriela Ramos, and Director General of the SRSS, Maarten Verwey, concluded an agreement on 34 reform projects, to be conducted over the next 12 to 18 months, in 18 EU countries under the umbrella of the Structural Reform Support Programme of the European Commission.

The OECD SRSS agreement comes at a time of a slowdown in global growth, rising inequalities and  higher environmental degradation, which threaten people’s well-being. The OECD, with its extensive knowledge base and expertise, is supporting governments to tackle these issues head on and considers the cooperation with the SRSS to be an excellent opportunity to further leverage its expertise to deliver better policies for better lives.    

The action will see the OECD working closely with the SRSS to provide policy advice and working directly with governments to advance structural reform in various policy areas, including education, labour markets, tax, governance, environment and transport infrastructure. These projects respond to the reform priorities identified by the respective EU Member States and will for example help governments develop sustainable development strategies, establish frameworks for circular economies, improve housing affordability in cities, or improve the provision of labour market services. The OECD will capitalize on the digital transformation and also deliver on skills strategies. In a nutshell, it will redouble efforts to support European countries, Members and Partners, in their goal to build strong, inclusive and sustainable economies.

The Structural Reform Support Service offers tailor-made support to all EU Member States for the preparation, design and implementation of growth-enhancing reforms. The support is provided on the request of EU Member States, requires no co-financing and mobilises experts from all over Europe and beyond, from both the public and the private sector.

The new OECD – SRSS agreement allows the SRSS to leverage OECD’s expertise on best policy practices and structural reforms in the EU Member States. Such co-operation will deliver value added impact, carried out with efficiency, for the benefit of all countries.

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Africa-Europe Alliance: Four new financial guarantees worth €216 million

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The European Commission signed today four guarantee agreements worth €216 million that will help unlock €2 billion to invest in renewables, urban infrastructure and start-ups in Africa and the Neighbourhood. The guarantees were signed with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the German KfW Group and the Spanish development cooperation agency, Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID), at the 4th Strategic Board meeting of the External Investment Plan (EIP).

Commenting on these financial guarantees, Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, said: “The agreements signed today, worth €216 million, will aim to unlock €2 billion in new investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood. These guarantees share in the risk and help mobilise and attract public and private investments. They will help boost the supply of renewable energy to communities and businesses in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood, help small businesses invest and create jobs, and make African cities more resilient to growing populations and the effects of climate change. They are an example of how the EU’s new Green Deal initiative benefits citizens of our partner countries outside the EU”.

Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi added: “We want to ensure an investment boost that will drive forward growth and provide concrete benefits and opportunities to the people, for example when it comes to big infrastructure projects or the support to young entrepreneurs. The direct support to investment is a key element, but so are good governance and a conducive business environment that helps attracting investment, both domestic and foreign. This is why the External Investment Plan supports our partner countries also in developing more effective legal frameworks, policies and institutions that promote economic stability, sustainable investment and inclusive growth.”

Four guarantees, one goal: more investment where it’s needed the most

These guarantees will significantly boost investment in renewable energy and increase access to finance for small businesses (MSMEs), while also improving investment in urban infrastructure and services in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the EU Neighbourhood.

·     Resilient City Development (RECIDE)

This €100 million guarantee agreement is signed with AECID, the Spanish development cooperation agency. It targets Sub-Saharan Africa and the EU Neighbourhood. It will help cities develop public-private partnerships and lower the risks for private investors involved in financing urban infrastructure, focusing on: energy efficiency, flood protection, public transport, water sanitation and solid waste treatment. The guarantee reassures lenders that they will recover at least some of their investment in the event of losses and lowers borrowing costs.

·     Boosting Investment in Renewable Energy 

This €50 million guarantee agreement with EBRD will help to scale up investment in renewable energy in Ukraine and in the EU Southern Neighbourhood, in particular in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia. It will substantially boost renewable energy potential. The guarantee will help to generate a total investment of up to €500 million and is expected to provide 340 MW of additional installed renewable energy capacity.

·     Supporting Investment in Sustainable Energy 

This €46 million guarantee agreement with the KfW Group will help to expand the generation of renewable energy in Sub-Saharan Africa and cut the region’s carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency. It will partially cover the offtake risks in renewable energy projects, such as windfarms and solar energy. This guarantee will give many more people access to energy and reduce power shortages. 

·     SME Access to Finance

This €20 million guarantee agreement with EIB is targeting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the EU Neighbourhood, with a particular focus on young entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs and start-ups. It will provide affordable funding to small businesses, with less access to finance because local financial institutions consider them as riskier clients. The guarantee is providing local banks and financial institutions a first loss credit protection. This guarantee will sustain around 18,000 jobs and support 1,000 small businesses. 

These guarantees are part of the External Investment Plan, which aims to mobilize more than €47 billion by 2020 in public and private investment for development in countries neighbouring the EU and in Africa using €4.6 billion in EU funds.

Background

The EU External Investment 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. Three guarantee agreements had previously been signed so far: Nasira Risk-Sharing Facility and FMO Ventures, with the Dutch Development Bank and Archipelagos – One Platform for Africa, with Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), the Italian Development Bank, and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

The plan’s second part is technical assistance. This funds experts who help authorities, investors and companies develop new projects. 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 pillar consists of investment climate support. The EU works closely with governments in partner countries to help them improve the conditions which investors need like a good business environment and 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 in September 2018 with the objective of creating 10 million jobs in five years, boosting investment and promote sustainable development. The von der Leyen Commission intends to use the full potential of the External Investment Plan to boost private capital and investment, including through further guarantee agreements.

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Shaping the Conference on the Future of Europe

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European Commission set out its ideas for shaping the Conference on the Future of Europe, which should be launched on Europe Day, 9 May 2020 and run for two years. The Communication adopted is the Commission’s contribution to the already lively debate around the Conference on the Future of Europe – a project announced by President Ursula von der Leyen in her Political Guidelines, to give Europeans a greater say on what the European Union does and how it works for them. The Conference will build on past experiences, such as citizens’ dialogues, while introducing a wide range of new elements to increase outreach and strengthen ways for people to shape future EU action. The Conference will allow for an open, inclusive, transparent and structured debate with citizens of diverse backgrounds and from all walks of life. The Commission is committed to follow up on the outcome.

The Commission proposes two parallel work strands for the debates. The first should focus on EU priorities and what the Union should seek to achieve: including on the fight against climate change and environmental challenges, an economy that works for people, social fairness and equality, Europe’s digital transformation, promoting our European values, strengthening the EU’s voice in the world, as well as shoring up the Union’s democratic foundations. The second strand should focus on addressing topics specifically related to democratic processes and institutional matters: notably the lead candidate system and transnational lists for elections to the European Parliament.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, commented: “People need to be at the very centre of all our policies. My wish is therefore that all Europeans will actively contribute to the Conference on the Future of Europe and play a leading role in setting the European Union’s priorities. It is only together that we can build our Union of tomorrow.”

Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, stated: “We must seize the momentum of the high turnout at the last European elections and the call for action which that brings. The Conference on the Future of Europe is a unique opportunity to reflect with citizens, listen to them, engage, answer and explain. We will strengthen trust and confidence between the EU institutions and the people we serve. This is our chance to show people that their voice counts in Europe.”

A new public forum for an open, inclusive and transparent debate

The Commission sees the Conference as a bottom-up forum accessible to people well beyond Europe’s capitals, from all corners of the Union. Other EU institutions, national Parliaments, social partners, regional and local authorities and civil society are invited to join. A multilingual online platform will ensure transparency of debate and support wider participation. The Commission is committed to taking the most effective actions, with the other EU institutions, to integrate citizens’ ideas and feedback into EU policy-making.

Background

All Members of the College will play their part in helping to make the Conference a success, with Vice-President Šuica leading the Commission’s work on the Conference, supported by Vice-President Jourová on the institutional strand, as well as Vice-President Šefčovič on the foresight and inter-institutional side.  

The European Parliament and the Council are also working on their contributions to the Conference on the Future of Europe. The European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2020 called for an open and transparent process which takes an inclusive, participatory and well-balanced approach towards citizens and stakeholders. Meanwhile, the European Council conclusions of 12 December 2019 called on the Croatian Presidency to begin work on the Council’s position. The Croatian Presidency has itself listed the Conference among its Presidency Priorities.

After this, it is of crucial importance that the three institutions work together towards a Joint Declaration to define the concept, structure, scope and timing of the Conference on the Future of Europe, as well as setting down its jointly agreed principles and objectives. This Declaration will later be open to other signatories including institutions, organisations and stakeholders. National and regional Parliaments and actors have an important role to play in the Conference and should be encouraged to hold Conference-related events The Commission underlines in its contribution today that it is commited to follow up on the outcomes and recommendations of the different debates.

The Commission proposes to officially launch the Conference on Europe Day, 9 May 2020 – 70 years after the signing of the Schuman Declaration and 75 years after the end of the Second World War.

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EU and 16 WTO members agree to work together on an interim appeal arbitration arrangement

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EU and Ministers from 16 Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have agreed to develop a multi-party interim appeal arrangement that will allow the participating WTO members to preserve a functioning and two-step dispute settlement system at the WTO in disputes among them. This initiative was launched in mid-December 2019 by the EU and a number of other WTO members following the effective paralysis of the WTO Appellate Body, due to the blockage of any new appointments since 2017.

Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan said: “This statement testifies to the high importance that the EU and the participating WTO members attach to retaining a two-step dispute settlement process in WTO trade matters. The multiparty appeal arbitration arrangement will guarantee that the participating WTO members continue to have access to a binding, impartial and high-quality dispute settlement system among them. Let me underline again that this remains a contingency measure needed because of the paralysis of the WTO Appellate Body. We will continue our efforts to seek a lasting solution to the Appellate Body impasse, including through necessary reforms and improvements.”

The multi-party interim arrangement will be based on Article 25 of the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). It will secure the participating WTO members (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Singapore, Switzerland, and Uruguay) an effective and binding dispute settlement process for potential trade disputes among them.

The arrangement is a contingency measure and it will only apply until the WTO Appellate Body becomes operational again. The EU believes that an independent and impartial appeal stage, giving the necessary guarantees of rulings of the highest quality, must continue to be one of the essential features of the WTO dispute settlement system.

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