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Visa Facilitation and Readmission: EU and Belarus sign agreements

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Today, the European Union and Belarus signed a visa facilitation agreement and a readmission agreement. The agreements represent an important step in EU-Belarus relations and pave the way for improved mobility of citizens, contributing to closer links between the EU and its Eastern Partnership neighbours. At today’s signing ceremony, Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, together with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of Croatia as Council Presidency, Davor Božinović, signed for the EU, while Belarus was represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Makei.

Commissioner Johansson said: “These agreements between the European Union and Belarus are a significant step forward in our cooperation. They will improve the mobility of our citizens in a well-managed and secure environment and help build closer links between the European Union and Belarus. From the European side, we will now move ahead rapidly with ratification procedures, so citizens can feel the benefits as soon as possible.”

The visa facilitation agreement will make it easier for Belarusian citizens to acquire short-term visas to come to the European Union. Once the visa facilitation agreement enters into force, the visa fee will be reduced to €35. In addition, the service fee will be limited and the deadline for consulates to take a decision on a visa application will be shortened. Several categories of travellers, including journalists, students and members of official delegations, will be able to receive multiple-entry visas with increasingly longer validity, while having to submit less supporting documents to prove their purpose of travel. Belarus has unilaterally introduced measures to facilitate short-term visa-free travel for EU citizens arriving in Minsk.

The main objective of the EU-Belarus readmission agreement is to establish, on the basis of reciprocity, procedures for the safe and orderly return of persons who reside irregularly in the EU or Belarus, in full respect of their rights under international law. 

Next steps

Following today’s signature, the agreements will be submitted to the European Parliament for consent. The Council will then be able to formally conclude the ratification of both agreements. A ratification procedure is also required on the Belarusian side, through approval from Belarus National Assembly. The agreements could enter into force in June 2020 (on the first day of the second month following conclusion). Both agreements will enter into force on the same day.

Background

Negotiation of the EU-Belarus Visa Facilitation Agreement formally started in 2014. In February 2015, the Council amended its negotiating directives by including the possibility to negotiate a reciprocal visa waiver for the holders of diplomatic passports. At the sixth round of talks held on 26 March 2019, the parties reached final agreement on both texts, which were initialled on 17 June 2019.

Over the past years, there has been progress in EU-Belarus relations. Belarus has been participating actively in the multilateral formats of the Eastern Partnership. The EU-Belarus Coordination Group meets twice a year to steer cooperation and oversee further development of relations. The bilateral relationship will be strengthened through the EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities, which are currently being negotiated. This will set the strategic framework for cooperation in the coming years. Tangible steps taken by Belarus to respect universal freedoms, the rule of law and human rights will remain fundamental for shaping EU’s policy towards Belarus.

Since 2006, the EU has concluded visa facilitation agreements with Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, North Macedonia, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia and Ukraine.

Formal readmission agreements or practical arrangements on return and readmission are in place with 24 countries.

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Commission approves contract with Moderna to ensure access to a potential vaccine

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European Commission approved a sixth contract under the EU Vaccines Strategy, this time with the pharmaceutical company Moderna. The contract provides for the initial purchase of 80 million doses on behalf of all EU Member States, plus an option to request up to a further 80 million doses, to be supplied once a vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19.

The contract with Moderna will enlarge the already broad portfolio of vaccines to be produced in Europe, including the contracts signed with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, BioNTech-Pfizer and the contract approved with CureVac. This diversified vaccines portfolio will ensure Europe is well prepared for vaccination, once the vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective. Member States can also decide to donate the vaccine to lower and middle-income countries or to re-direct it to other European countries.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “I’m very happy to announce today’s agreement with the company Moderna to purchase up to 160 million doses of their future vaccine. This is our sixth contract with a vaccine producer, and we are working on yet another one. We are setting up one of the most comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine portfolios in the world, providing Europeans access to the most promising future vaccines under development so far. A safe and effective vaccine can help us end the pandemic, and return gradually to normal life.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Today’s agreement with Moderna is yet another important milestone of our EU Vaccines Strategy. I am happy that we have now concluded six vaccine agreements so far. This is a clear demonstration of the European Health Union in action: a European Union that delivers tangible results for its citizens and a blueprint for our cooperation in the area of health in the future. A safe and effective vaccine is more important than ever in helping to restore normality and overcome this pandemic. No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Moderna is a U.S. based company pioneering the development of a new class of vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA) transported into cells by lipid nanoparticles. The vaccine platform has been developed over the last decade. The basic principle is the use of this molecule as a data carrier, with the help of which the body itself can make proteins and trigger lasting immunity to COVID-19.

The Commission has taken a decision to support this vaccine based on a sound scientific assessment, the technology used, and its production capacity in Europe to supply the whole of the EU.

Background

The European Commission presented on 17 June a European strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. In return for the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe, the Commission finances part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers in the form of Advance Purchase Agreements. Funding provided is considered as a down-payment on the vaccines that will actually be purchased by Member States on the basis of the Advance Purchase Agreements.

Since the high cost and high failure rate make investing in a COVID-19 vaccine a high-risk decision for vaccine developers, these agreements will therefore allow investments to be made that otherwise might not happen.

Once vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective and have been granted market authorisation by the European Medicines Agency, they need to be quickly distributed and deployed across Europe. On 15 October, the Commission set out the key steps that Member States need to take to be fully prepared, which includes the development of national vaccination strategies. The Commission is putting in place a common reporting framework and a platform to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccine strategies.

The European Commission is also committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world and not only at home. No one will be safe until everyone is safe. This is why it has raised almost €16 billion since 4 May 2020 under the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery and has confirmed its interest to participate in the COVAX Facility for equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines everywhere. As part of a Team Europe effort, the Commission announced is contributing with €400 million in guarantees to support COVAX and its objectives in the context of the Coronavirus Global Response. On 12 November, the European Union announced the contribution of an additional €100 million in grant funding to support the COVAX Facility.

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Inclusion for all: Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027

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Commission is presenting the action plan on Integration and Inclusion for the period 2021-2027. The action plan promotes inclusion for all, recognising the important contribution of migrants to the EU and addressing the barriers that can hinder participation and inclusion of people with a migrant background, from newcomers to citizens, in European society. It is built on the principle that inclusive integration requires efforts from both the person and the host community and sets out new actions that build on the achievements of the previous action plan from 2016.

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Inclusion is the embodiment of the European way of life. Integration and inclusion policies are vital for newcomers, for local communities, and contribute to cohesive societies and strong economies. Everyone who has the right to be in Europe should have access to the tools they need to realise their full potential and assume the rights and obligations governing our Union.”

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “Migrants are ‘us’, not ‘them’. Everyone has a role to play in making sure our societies are cohesive and prosperous. Integration and inclusion mean listening to migrant communities and ensuring that everyone can enjoy rights, regardless of background. Inclusive integration is giving the same tools and support needed to contribute to society, so that migrants can reach their full potential and our societies benefit from their strength and skills.”

 A European approach to integration and inclusion

As emphasised in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, successful integration and inclusion is an essential part of a well-managed and effective migration and asylum policy. It is also essential for social cohesion and for a dynamic economy that works for all.

The action plan proposes targeted and tailored support that takes into account individual characteristics that may present specific challenges to people with a migrant background, such as gender or religious background. Successful integration and inclusion depends both on early action and on long-term commitment.

Although national governments are primarily responsible for creating and implementing social policies, the EU plays a key role in supporting Member States through funding, developing guidance and fostering relevant partnerships. The main actions are:

  • Inclusive education and training from early childhood to higher education, focusing on facilitating the recognition of qualifications and continued language learning, with support from EU funds.
  • Improving employment opportunities and skills recognition to fully value the contribution of migrant communities, and women in particular, and ensure that they are supported to reach their full potential. The Commission will work with social and economic partners and employers to promote labour market integration, support entrepreneurship and make it easier for employers to recognise and assess skills.
  • Promoting access to health services, including mental healthcare, for people with a migrant background. In addition to dedicated EU funding, the action plan seeks to ensure people are informed about their rights and recognises the specific challenges faced by women, in particular during and after pregnancy. The action plan also supports Member States to exchange best practice.
  • Access to adequate and affordable housing funded through the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund Plus, Asylum and Migration Fund and Invest EU, as well as funding platforms to exchange of experience at local and regional level on fighting discrimination on the housing market and segregation.

The action plan will be implemented by mobilising EU funding and by creating partnerships with all those involved: migrants, host communities, social and economic partners, civil society, local and regional authorities as well as the private sector. It will empower host communities and support their role in the design and implementation of integration measures and programmes, while also emphasising the responsibility of the people concerned in participating in the host society. It will seek to modernise access to services by using digital tools. Finally, it will improve the evidence base to help further development of policies and to ensure good monitoring of results.

Background

Today, around 34 million EU inhabitants were born outside the EU (around 8% of the EU population), and 10% of young people (15–34 years) born in the EU have at least one foreign-born parent. Migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background play a key role in  European society and in different sectors of our economy, including as essential workers. However, they continue to face challenges in terms of access to education, employment, healthcare and social inclusion (see statistics).

The action plan on Integration and Inclusion complements existing and upcoming EU strategies to foster equality and social cohesion to ensure everyone is fully included and able to participate in European societies. It will be implemented with the forthcoming action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights and the EU’s anti-racism action plan. It will also be closely linked with the EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation; the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025; the LGBTIQ equality strategy 2020-2025, the forthcoming strategy to combat antisemitism and the EU citizenship report.

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G20 leaders united to address major global pandemic and economic challenges

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President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and President of the European Council, Charles Michel, represented the EU at the 15th G20 Leaders’ summit hosted by Saudi Arabia on 21-22 November 2020.

G20 leaders met in virtual format to address the way forward how to tackle together the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, finance the development and deployment of a vaccine as well as continue the support to citizens and businesses struggling to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic.

President von der Leyen said: “I am glad that G20 leaders agreed to make Covid-19 vaccines available and affordable for all. But more funding is needed. This is why I called G20 Leaders to commit to fund 4.5 billion US dollars for the ACT-Accelerator by the end of the year. G20 leaders also agreed to maintain economic measures until the recovery is firmly on the way. As a lesson from the crisis we need to step up global preparedness. We will discuss this again in May 2021 at the joint G20 Global Health Summit in Italy. To build back a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient world we also need to step up actions to fight climate change. The EU leads the way to climate neutrality by 2050 and many G20 partners now have taken the same commitments.”

G20 leaders also discussed how to build back better and pave the way for an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future. President Michel said: “COVID-19 has come as a surprise to many of us. But it is not the first global pandemic. And sadly, it will not be the last. Looking ahead, the global community has to be better prepared for pandemics. An international Treaty on Pandemics could help us respond more quickly and in a more coordinated manner when they occur. It should be negotiated with all UN organizations and agencies, in particular the WHO. The WHO must remain the cornerstone of global coordination against health emergencies.”

They also discussed a number of other crucial global issues such as the economic recovery, the reform of the WTO, the taxation of the digital economy and how to support low-income countries.

Following the two days Summit, Leaders adopted the G20 Riyadh Declaration to address common global challenges.

On COVID-19, the EU championed a multilateral solution to the coronavirus pandemic. EU leaders called on the G20 to uphold and deepen its commitment to fight the COVID-19 crisis, notably by ensuring the affordable and equitable access for all people of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiative and its COVAX facility are the main tools to do so.

On climate change, the Summit agreed on a unified paragraph in the G20 Riyadh Declaration, after three consecutive G20 Summits where such consensus could not be reached. EU leaders urged all G20 members to work towards the full and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. The EU also promoted a recovery based on green, inclusive, sustainable, resilient and digital growth in line with the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.

On debt relief for the most fragile countries, Leaders reconfirmed their support through the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative that will provide debt relief and free resources to fight the pandemic. They committed to implementing the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) including its extension through June 2021. EU leaders stressed that additional steps might be needed, and the Summit endorsed a common multilateral framework for further debt treatments.

On trade and taxation of the digital economy, Leaders recalled their support to the WTO reform process in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference and recognized the contribution that the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO has made. They also agreed to strive to find a consensus-based solution for a globally fair, sustainable, and modern international tax system by mid-2021, built on the ongoing work of the OECD.

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