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Croatia on the way to join the Schengen Area

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The Commission is today reporting on Croatia’s progress in meeting the necessary conditions to join the Schengen area. The European Commission considers that, based on the results of the Schengen evaluation process initiated in 2016, Croatia has taken the measures needed to ensure that the necessary conditions for the full application of the Schengen rules and standards are met. Croatia will need to continue working on the implementation of all ongoing actions, in particular its management of the external borders, to ensure that these conditions continue to be met. The Commission also today confirms that Croatia continues to fulfil the commitments, linked to the Schengen rules, that it undertook in the accession negotiations.

President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I commend Croatia for its efforts and perseverance to meet all the necessary conditions to join Schengen. It is only through being united and standing together that we can ensure a stronger Schengen area. Sharing the achievement of Schengen must be our common objective. This is why I trust that Member States will take the right steps for Croatia to become a full Schengen member soon.”

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Schengen is one of the greatest and most tangible achievements of European integration. But its strength very much depends on its inclusiveness – now that Croatia has taken the measures to ensure that the necessary conditions are met, we must recognise this. Once it becomes a full Schengen member, it will contribute to further strengthening the Schengen area and ensure that the EU’s external borders are better protected.”

In his 2017 State of the Union Address, President Juncker expressed his unequivocal support for Croatia becoming a full Schengen member once all the necessary conditions were met. Today, the Commission is reporting on the positive result of a long process of evaluation and cooperation, which has seen Croatia steadily improve to meet those conditions.

Assessment of all Schengen criteria

Today’s Communication takes stock of the evaluations conducted between June 2016 and May 2019, which examined the application of Schengen rules and standards by Croatia in a number of areas. Whilst the Commission had already successfully evaluated and confirmed the full implementation of the Schengen rules in the areas of data protection, police cooperation, common visa policy, return, the Schengen Information System (SIS), firearms and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, today’s communication also confirms that Croatia has taken the necessary measures to ensure that the conditions for the application of Schengen rules in the field of external border management are met. Croatia will need to continue working to ensure the consistent implementation of all ongoing actions in this field.

Finally, the Commission is also reporting on the fulfilment of commitments undertaken by Croatia in its accession negotiations that are relevant for the Schengen rules. The commitments in particular concern the area of the judiciary and respect of fundamental rights. The Commission today confirms that Croatia continues to fulfil all of them.

Next steps

The Commission invites the Council to discuss this communication with the aim of integrating Croatia into the Schengen area in line with the 2011 Act of Accession.

Background

The Schengen area is the largest free-travel area in the world, currently including 22 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) as well as 4 associated non-EU countries (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). It allows citizens to move freely between those countries without having to go through border checks, making it easier to travel, work and live across borders.

Countries wishing to join the Schengen area must undergo a series of Schengen evaluations to confirm whether they fulfil the conditions necessary for the application of the Schengen rules. These evaluations assess whether a country is able to take responsibility for controlling the external borders on behalf of the other Schengen States, efficiently cooperate with other law enforcement agencies in other Schengen states in order to maintain a high level of security once border controls are abolished, apply the Schengen rules such as control of external land, sea and air borders (airports), issuing of Schengen visas, return procedures, police cooperation and protection of personal data, and finally the need to connect to and the use of the Schengen Information System.

Once it is considered that all the necessary conditions for the application of all the relevant parts of the Schengen rules are met, it is for the Council, following consultation of the European Parliament, to take a final decision by unanimity.

Croatia declared its readiness to start the Schengen evaluation process in all relevant policy areas in March 2015. Today’s report takes stock of the progress made during this evaluation process in all relevant areas and confirms the continued fulfilment of commitments undertaken by Croatia during its accession negotiations to the EU.

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EU Politics

Focus on the recovery from the pandemic at the 19th EU Regions Week

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The annual European Week of Regions and Cities has shown how the EU and national and regional governments can support European citizens and their local communities with public policies aimed at investing in a fairer, greener and more digital future for recovery. Under the theme ‘Together for Recovery’, more than 300 sessions, including debates with high-profile officials, regional and local representatives, an inspiring Citizens’ Dialogue, various workshops as well as an Award for outstanding young journalists, celebrated the EU values of cohesion and solidarity.

Taking place in a hybrid format, with sessions both physical and virtual, the 19th EU Regions Week had one main mission: highlighting the role of EU investments in the recovery from the pandemic and in facing common challenges. The event kicked off with a press conference with Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, who underlined that “Cohesion Policy was one of the first responders in the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by the core value of EU solidarity”.

The second annual local and regional barometer was presented by Apostolos Tzitzikostas, followed by a debate with members of the European Committee of the Regions. The report confirmed that the pandemic related measures put at risk regional and local finances, resulting in a 180 billion budget cut for local and regional authorities across Europe. At the same time, 1 in 3 local and regional politicians want regions and cities to become more influential in EU policy-making on health issues.

Unless we measure the state of our regions and cities, we cannot understand the state of our Union” said Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions. “Only by taking the pulse of our communities, we can decide how effective the EU has been on the ground, and what the EU needs to do to help its people”.

Further taking stock of the EU cohesion policy response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as informing the general public, various workshops touched upon life before and after the pandemic, including explanations regarding the role of regions and cities for a Green Transition, the Cohesion Policy 2021-2027 and NextGenerationEU, as well as the CRII, CRII+, React-EU support packages for regional and local healthcare services and equipment.

Young journalists were also invited to take part in the EU Regions Week 2021, getting the opportunity to debate with Elisa Ferreira at the Citizens’ Dialogue. In the Youth4Regions programme for aspiring journalists, Irene Barahona Fernandez from Spain and Jack Ryan from Ireland won the 2021 Megalizzi-Niedzielski prize for aspiring journalists.

About the event

The European Week of Regions and Cities (#EURegionsWeek) is the largest EU-wide event on regional development. It is co-organised by the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions.

In total, more than 12 000 participants and 900 speakers joined the 4-day event either physically or online, showing engagement in all corners of EU society – from our vibrant youth to our high-profile officials, local and regional representatives, academic experts and professional specialists, displaying a common readiness to tackle what the future holds, together.

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EU Politics

EU and Qatar sign landmark aviation agreement

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The European Union and the State of Qatar today signed a comprehensive air transport agreement, upgrading rules and standards for flights between Qatar and the EU. The agreement sets a new global benchmark by committing both sides to fair competition, and by including social and environmental protection. The signing means new opportunities for consumers, airlines and airports in Qatar and the EU.

Qatar is an increasingly important aviation partner for the EU. It was the 15th largest extra-EU market in 2019 with 6.3 million passengers travelling between the EU and Qatar. Ensuring open and fair competition for air services between both is therefore crucial, also for routes between the EU and Asia.

Adina Vălean, Commissioner for mobility and transport, said: “This agreement, the first one between the EU and the Gulf region, is a global benchmark for forward-looking aviation agreements. It is testimony to our shared commitment to economically, socially and environmentally sustainable aviation, based on a modern framework covering fair competition and closer cooperation on social and environmental matters. This agreement will bring new opportunities, more choice and higher standards for passengers, industry and aviation workers.”

Today’s agreement creates a level playing field that is expected to result in new air transport opportunities and economic benefits for both sides:

  • All EU airlines will be able to operate direct flights from any airport in the EU to Qatar and vice versa for Qatari airlines.
  • EU airports in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands will be subject to a gradual build-up of capacity until 2024. For more details on this, see the Q&A.
  • Strong provisions on open and fair competition will guarantee a level playing field.
  • The parties recognised the importance of social matters, agreed to cooperate on these and to improve their respective social and labour laws and policies as per their international commitments.

The agreement will facilitate people-to-people contacts and expand commercial opportunities and trade. Going beyond traffic rights, the EU-Qatar agreement will provide a single set of rules, high standards and a platform for future cooperation on a wide range of aviation issues.

Background

Qatar is a close aviation partner for the European Union; more than 6 million passengers travelled between the EU and Qatar per year under the existing 26 bilateral air transport agreements with EU Member States prior to the pandemic. While direct flights between most EU Member States and Qatar have already been liberalised by those bilateral agreements, none of them include provisions on fair competition, or social and environmental issues, which the Commission considers essential for a modern aviation agreement.

In 2016, the European Commission obtained authorisation from the Council to negotiate an EU-level aviation agreement with Qatar, which started on 4 March 2019. While the agreement still needs to be ratified by the parties before formally entering into force, it will start being applied from today’s signature.

Similar EU comprehensive air transport agreements have been signed with other partner countries, namely the United States, Canada, the Western Balkans, Morocco, Georgia, Jordan, Moldova, Israel and Ukraine. Further air transport agreements with Armenia and Tunisia are expected to be signed in the coming weeks.

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Sakharov Prize 2021: the finalists

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The 2021 finalists for the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are Afghan women, Jeanine Áñez and Alexei Navalny

The 2021 finalists for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are Afghan women, Jeanine Áñez and Alexei Navalny.

Meet this year’s finalists of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, who were chosen at a joint meeting of the foreign affairs and development committees on 14 October:

  • Afghan women, represented by 11 human rights activists
  • Jeanine Áñez, Bolivian politician
  • Alexei Navalny, Russian activist and political prisoner


Afghan women

Under the previous Taliban regime, women experienced forced marriage, high maternity mortality, low literacy, forced virginity tests and couldn’t travel without a man. Following the Taliban’s return to power, women are again excluded from government and education and their rights and freedoms are threatened. The women, who are nominated for their brave fight for equality and human rights, are:

  • Shaharzad Akbar – chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)
  • Mary Akrami – head of the Afghan Women’s Network
  • Zarifa Ghafari – mayor of Maidan Shar since 2018
  • Palwasha Hassan – activist and the director of Afghan Women Educational Centre (AWEC)
  • Freshta Karim – founder of a mobile library and an advocate for education and learning
  • Sahraa Karimi – first female president of the Afghan state film company
  • Metra Mehran – women empowerment and education advocate and co-founder of the Feminine Perspectives Movement
  • Horia Mosadiq – human and women’s rights activist
  • Sima Samar – human rights advocate, former Minister of Women’s Affairs and former chair of Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
  • Habiba Sarabi – member of the negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
  • Anisa Shaheed – political reporter


Jeanine Áñez

Jeanine Áñez is a Bolivian politician who became the interim president of her country in November 2019, after alleged electoral fraud by incumbent Evo Morales. In November 2020, after free and fair elections there was a peaceful transfer of power. However, on 13 March 2021 she was arrested on charges of “terrorism, sedition and conspiracy”. Accused of plotting a coup d’état against Morales, she has been imprisoned ever since.

Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition politician, anti-corruption activist and major political opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Known through his LiveJournal blog, YouTube and Twitter accounts, where he has millions of followers Navalny came to international prominence by organising demonstrations, running for office and advocating reforms against corruption in Russia, Putin and his government. In August 2020, while on a trip to Siberia, he was poisoned. He spent months recovering in Berlin, but returned to Moscow in January 2021 where he was arrested. In February he was sentenced to 2½ years in prison. Now incarcerated in a high-security penal colony, he went on a 23-day hunger strike in April to protest the lack of medical care. In June 2021, a Russian court banned Navalny’s regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

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