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EU approves €150 million disbursement in Macro-Financial Assistance to Tunisia

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The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, has approved today the disbursement of a €150 million loan to Tunisia.

This is the third and final disbursement under the second Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA) programme to Tunisia, and follows the completion of an important set of policy measures intended to support the country’s economic transition.

The disbursement of MFA funds is conditional on the implementation of specific policy measures agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding. The reforms undertaken as part of this MFA reflect the efforts made by Tunisian authorities to implement a set of far-reaching reforms designed to fight corruption, build a more equitable tax system, increase the quality of public administration, and improve the country’s social protection system. The programme has also supported reforms to enhance labour market policies and reduce unemployment, especially among the youth, as well as improve the business climate in Tunisia.

Following these reform efforts and the recent strong democratic support to continue the transition begun in 2011, Tunisia can count on the EU’s partnership to strengthen its economy and political governance, to improve Tunisians’ daily lives and ensure social protection for all. The EU will continue to support Tunisia in its efforts to address the remaining economic, financial and institutional reform challenges in support of growth and the socio-economic transition.

PierreMoscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, said: “This disbursement underlines our sustained commitment to supporting Tunisia and its people. While the country has delivered on key policy commitments these past years, pursuing and deepening economic and structural reforms remains essential to building on Tunisia’s democratic and political achievements, and securing a more prosperous future. We thus stand ready to work closely with Tunisia to help deliver on the reforms necessary to secure investment, jobs and inclusive growth for the benefit of its people, notably its youth”.

The second MFA programme was proposed in 2015 to support Tunisia’s economic recovery. The disbursement of MFA funds is conditional on the implementation of specific policy measures agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding. The MFA programme was designed to assist Tunisia in covering its external financing needs while implementing a wide-ranging and ambitious structural reform agenda.

The European Parliament and the Council adopted the second MFA programme, worth €500 million, in July 2016. With today’s disbursement, the EU has now provided Tunisia with €800 million in MFA funds since 2015.

Background

MFA programmes are part of the EU’s wider engagement with neighbouring countries and are intended as an exceptional EU crisis response instrument. They are available to EU neighbouring countries experiencing severe balance-of-payments problems. This instrument includes the respect of human rights and effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system and the rule of law, as pre-conditions.

MFA is also conditional on the existence of a non-precautionary credit arrangement with the IMF and a satisfactory track-record of implementing IMF programme reforms.
MFA funds are released in tranches strictly tied to the fulfilment of conditions aimed at strengthening macro-economic and financial stability. These conditions are listed in a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the EU and the beneficiary country.

Unlike other forms of financial aid to non-EU members, the Commission proposes MFA programmes before both the European Parliament and the Council approve them. The first MFA operation with Tunisia was concluded in July 2017 and provided €300 million in loans.

Following Tunisia’s request, the Commission proposed a second MFA programme worth up to €500 million in February 2016. The European Parliament and the Council adopted the Commission proposal in July 2016. The policy conditions agreed between the EU and Tunisia are laid down in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Loan Facility Agreement signed in Brussels on 27 April 2017

For the release of the third and final disbursement under the second MFA programme, the specific measures were designed to support fiscal consolidation and sustainable economic growth in the country. They included reforms better to protect depositors’ savings in Tunisian banks, increase transparency in public financial management, strengthen social safety nets to assist vulnerable Tunisians, facilitate bilateral exchanges through enhanced air connections with the EU, and improve the country’s business climate to help attract domestic and foreign investment.

EU-Tunisia relations

Since the beginning of the 2011 Revolution, Tunisia has been working towards a modern democracy based on freedoms, economic development, and social justice. The European Union has been Tunisia’s key partner in this process. Cooperation in a wide range of domains has been reinforced through the Privileged Partnership established in 2012.

The EU’s commitment to support Tunisia to help it achieve its ambitions was reiterated in the 2016 Joint Communication “Strengthening EU support for Tunisia” and through the launch, by High Representative/Vice President Mogherini and late President Caïd Essebsi, of the EU-Tunisia Youth Partnership which is high on the common bilateral agenda. The 15th meeting of the EU-Tunisia Association Council in May 2019 highlighted the importance of the bilateral relationship and EU support for inclusive and sustainable development in the country.

The EU remains committed to strengthening its privileged partnership with Tunisia. It has boosted its financial assistance for Tunisia in order to help it in consolidating its democratic transition and reviving its economy. The EU’s strategy of assistance to Tunisia makes use of a wide range of financial and technical assistance instruments, including budget support programmes under the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), of which Tunisia is a major recipient among the Southern Neighbourhood countries (€300 million in grants per year since 2017), benefiting also from substantial loans from the European Investment Bank.

The EU’s relations with Tunisia go beyond financial assistance and development funding, into cooperation on a broad-range of policy areas and opportunities for EU-Tunisia cooperation, including under EU’s initiatives such as Creative Europe, Erasmus+ or Horizon2020.

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Conditions worsen for stranded migrants along Belarus-EU border

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At least eight people have died along the border between Belarus and the European Union, where multiple groups of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants have been stranded for weeks in increasingly dire conditions. 

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCRappealed for urgent action on Friday, to save lives and prevent further suffering at the border with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The latest casualty was reported within the past few days. 

UNHCR warned that the situation will further and rapidly deteriorate as winter approaches, putting more lives in danger. 

For the Agency’s Regional Director for Europe, Pascale Moreau, “when fundamental human rights are not protected, lives are at stake.” 

“It is unacceptable that people have died, and the lives of others are precariously hanging in the balance. They are held hostage by a political stalemate which needs to be solved now,” he said. 

According to media reports, the EU regards the increase in asylum seekers at the border, a direct result of Belarus, in effect, weaponizing migrants, in retaliation for sanctions placed on the Government over the suppression of the protest movement following last year’s disputed re-election of President Lukashenko.  

International group 

Among those stranded are 32 Afghan women, men and children. They have been left in limbo between Poland and Belarus since mid-August, unable to access asylum and any form of assistance. They do not have proper shelter and no secure source of food or water. 

A group of 16 Afghans tried to cross into Poland this week, but they were apprehended and not allowed to apply for asylum. They were also denied access to legal assistance. Within a few hours, they were pushed back across the border to Belarus. 

So far, UNHCR has not been granted access to meet with the group from the Polish side, despite repeated requests, and only met them a few times from the Belarusian side to deliver life-saving aid. 

International law 

The Agency has been advocating for the group to be granted asylum, since the Afghans have expressed their wish to settle either in Belarus or in Poland. 

The request has been ignored by both sides. For UNHCR, that is “a clear violation of international refugee law and international human rights law.” 

“We urge Belarus and Poland, as signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to abide by their international legal obligations and provide access to asylum for those seeking it at their borders.  

“Pushbacks, that deny access to territory and asylum, violate human rights in breach of international law”, said Mr. Moreau. 

UNHCR urges the authorities to determine and address humanitarian and international protection needs, and find viable solutions. The agency also stands ready to support refugees, together with other relevant stakeholders. 

“People must be able to exercise their rights where they are, be it in Belarus or in Poland or other EU States where they may be located. This must include the possibility to seek asylum, access to legal aid, information and appropriate accommodation”, Mr. Moreau concluded. 

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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 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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