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.
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.
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.
Commission sets out key actions for a united front to beat COVID-19
Two days ahead of the meeting of European leaders on a coordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission set out a number of actions needed to step up the fight against the pandemic. In a Communication adopted today, it calls on Member States to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination across the EU: by March 2021, at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of health and social care professionals in every Member State should be vaccinated. And by summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated a minimum of 70% of the adult population.
The Commission also calls on Member States to continue to apply physical distancing, limit social contacts, fight disinformation, coordinate travel restrictions, ramp up testing, and increase contact tracing and genome sequencing to face up to the risk from new variants of the virus. As recent weeks have seen an upward trend in case numbers, more needs to be done to support healthcare systems and to address “COVID-fatigue” in the coming months, from accelerating vaccination across the board, helping our partners in the Western Balkans, the Southern and Eastern neighbourhood and in Africa.
Today’s Communication sets out key actions for Member States, the Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which will help reduce risks and keep the virus under control:
Speeding up the roll-out of vaccination across the EU
By March 2021, at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of health and social care professionals in every Member State, should be vaccinated.
By summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated 70% of the entire adult population.
The Commission, Member States and the EMA will work with companies to use the EU’s potential for increased vaccine manufacturing capacity to the fullest.
The Commission is working with Member States on vaccination certificates, in full compliance with EU data protection law, which can support the continuity of care. A common approach is to be agreed by the end of January 2021 to allow Member States’ certificates to be rapidly useable in health systems across the EU and beyond.
Testing and genome sequencing
Member States should update their testing strategies to account for new variants and expand the use of rapid antigen tests.
Member States should urgently increase genome sequencing to at least 5% and preferably 10% of positive test results. At present, many Member States are testing under 1% of samples, which is not enough to identify the progression of the variants or detect any new ones.
Preserving the Single Market and free movement while stepping up mitigation measures
Measures should be applied to further reduce the risk of transmission linked to the means of travel, such as hygiene and distancing measures in vehicles and terminuses.
All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved.
Proportionate travel restrictions, including testing of travellers, should be maintained for those travelling from areas with a higher incidence of variants of concern.
Ensuring European leadership and international solidarity
To ensure early access to vaccines, the Commission is to set up a Team Europe mechanism to structure the provision of vaccines shared by Member States with partner countries. This should allow for sharing with partner countries access to some of the 2.3 billion doses secured through the EU’s Vaccines Strategy, paying special attention to the Western Balkans, our Eastern and Southern neighbourhood and Africa.
The European Commission and Member States should continue supporting COVAX, including through early access to vaccines. Team Europe has already mobilised €853 million in support of COVAX, making the EU one of COVAX’s biggest donors.
Members of the College said:
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Vaccination is essential to get out of this crisis. We have already secured enough vaccines for the entire population of the European Union. Now we need to accelerate the delivery and speed up vaccination. Our aim is to have 70% of our adult population vaccinated by summer. That could be a turning point in our fight against this virus. However, we will only end this pandemic when everyone in the world has access to vaccines. We will step up our efforts to help secure vaccines for our neighbours and partners worldwide.”
Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, responsible for Promoting our European Way of Life, said: “The emergence of new variants of the virus and substantial rises in cases leave us no room for complacency. Now more than ever must come a renewed determination for Europe to act together with unity, coordination and vigilance. Our proposals today aim to protect more lives and livelihoods later and relieve the burden on already stretched health care systems and workers. This is how the EU will come out of the crisis. The end of the pandemic is in sight though not yet in reach.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Working together with unity, solidary and determination, we can soon start to see the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Now in particular, we need swift and coordinated action against the new variants of the virus. Vaccinations will still take time until they reach all Europeans and until then we must take immediate, coordinated and proactive steps together. Vaccinations must accelerate across the EU and testing and sequencing must be increased – this is show we can ensure that we leave this crisis behind us as soon as possible.”
Coronavirus response: EU support for regions to work together in innovative pilot projects
The Commission has announced the winners of a new EU-funded initiative for interregional partnerships in four areas: coronavirus-related innovative solutions, circular economy in health, sustainable and digital tourism, and hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions. The aim of this new pilot action, which builds on the successful experience of a similar action on “interregional innovation projects” launched at the end of 2017, is to mobilise regional and national innovation actors to address the impact of coronavirus. This initiative also helps the recovery using the new Commission programmes through scaling up projects in new priority areas, such as health, tourism or hydrogen.
Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “Interregional partnerships are proof that when we cooperate beyond borders, we are stronger as we come up with smart and useful solutions for all. This new pilot initiative supporting interregional innovative partnerships is especially important in the current coronavirus context, showing how much cohesion policy is committed to contribute to Europe’s prompt response and recovery.”
Following a Commission’s call for expression of interest launched in July 2020, four interregional partnerships were selected, with one or several coordinating regions in the lead:
- País Vasco (ES), together with three regions, will focus on the support to an emerging industry sector for prediction and prevention of the coronavirus pandemic;
- In the field of Circular Economy in Health, the RegioTex partnership on textile innovation involves 16 regions led by North Portugal (PT);
- In the field of Sustainable and Digital Tourism, the partnership coordinated by the Time Machine Organisation, an international cooperation network in technology, science and cultural heritage, involves five regions and Cyprus, led by Thüringen (DE);
- In order to enable the development of innovative solutions based on Hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions with a broad geographical coverage, two partnerships will merge: the European Hydrogen Valleys partnership gathering 12 regions led by Aragon (ES), Auvergne Rhône Alpes (FR), Normandie (FR) and Northern Netherlands (NL), and the partnership led by Košice Region (SK) with four other regions.
These partnerships will benefit from the Commission experts’ support, providing, among others, advice on how to best combine EU funds to finance projects. In addition to this hands-on support from the Commission, each partnership can benefit from external advisory service of up to €100,000 for scale-up and commercialisation activities. The money comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The work with the partnerships will start in this month and will run for one year.This pilot further stimulates interregional cooperation, with the possibility for the partnerships to apply for support under the new programmes and the “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument from 2021 onwards.
In recent years, the Commission has called on national and regional authorities to develop smart specialisation strategies aiming at more effective innovation policies and enhanced interregional cooperation in value chains across borders. To date, more than 180 regional smart specialisation strategies have been adopted. Their implementation is supported by €40 billion of EU Cohesion policy funds.
As part of a set of actions presented in 2017 by the Commission to take smart specialisation a step further, a pilot action on “Interregional innovation projects” sought to test new ways to encourage regions and cities to develop new value chains and scale up their good ideas in the EU single market. This pilot action, which involved nine partnerships in high-tech priority sectors, was completed in 2019 and showed significant potential to accelerate the investment readiness of interregional investment projects.
The lessons learned will be integrated in the new “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument proposed in the framework of the post 2020 Cohesion Policy package.
The new pilot action has similar goals. Moreover, in the context of the crisis, it aims at finding solutions to the coronavirus challenges and accelerating the recovery through the commercialisation and scale-up of innovation investment.
Commission proposes to purchase up to 300 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine
The European Commission today proposed to the EU Member States to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.
This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU.
The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021.
The EU has acquired a broad portfolio of vaccines with different technologies. It has secured up to 2.3 billion doses from the most promising vaccine candidates for Europe and its neighbourhood.
In addition to the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, was authorised on 6 January 2021. Other vaccines are expected to be approved soon.
This vaccine portfolio would enable the EU not only to cover the needs of its whole population, but also to supply vaccines to neighbouring countries.
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