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Drought in southern Africa: EU releases over €22 million in humanitarian aid

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The European Commission is mobilising a humanitarian aid package of €22.8 million to help address emergency food needs and support vulnerable people in Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The funding comes as large parts of southern Africa are currently in the grip of their harshest drought in decades.

Many poor households in drought-affected areas in southern African countries are struggling to have enough food due to crop failure, reduced access to water and, in some places, unaffordable food prices in markets. EU humanitarian aid will help deliver food to those most in need and tackle the hunger crisis in fragile rural communities,” said Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management.

In Zimbabwe, €16.8 million from this aid package will boost food and nutrition assistance, as well as improving access to basic health care, clean water and providing protection to vulnerable people. The remaining amount will be channelled to providing food assistance and nutrition support in Eswatini, Madagascar, Lesotho and Zambia.

The Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region, as a whole, is prone to natural disasters and oscillates between droughts and floods that are destroying harvests and further weakening fragile communities. Since January 2019, the EU has allocated a total of €67.95 million for humanitarian assistance across the region. The bulk of this funding went for emergency relief assistance in the wake of natural disasters (cyclones Idai and Kenneth), food assistance, and helping at-risk communities equip themselves better to face climate-related disasters.

Background

As many as 12 million people in the region are at risk of hunger because of extended periods of below-average rainfall, interspersed with floods, on top of the economic challenges that some countries in the region are grappling with. In Zimbabwe alone, a 7.7 million people, half of the country’s population, are at the risk of facing severe hunger, placing Zimbabwe among the states facing one of the worst food crises in the world.

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Coronavirus: Commission boosts budget for repatriation flights and rescEU stockpile

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European Commission has proposed to make €75 million from the EU budget available to help Member States repatriate EU nationals and to increase the budget of the RescEU medical stockpile.

Commissioner Johannes Hahn, in charge of the EU budget, said: “Today’s measure is yet another illustration of how the EU budget can add value when and where needed the most. It is also an illustration of European solidarity and cooperation at its best.

Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, said: “The safe return of our citizens is a priority. We are doing all we can to ensure they are reunited with their families as soon as possible during these difficult times. I would like to thank Member States for their efforts during this process. Our Emergency Response Coordination Centre continues working 24/7 with Member States in order to meet their requests.”

Repatriation flights

Thanks to repatriation flights organised through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism and co-financed by the EU, 2,312 people have been already repatriated to Europe from China, Japan, the U.S., Morocco, Tunisia, Georgia, the Philippines and Cabo Verde since the beginning of the outbreak. More than 80 further repatriation flights are planned in the coming days.

Under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU contributes to the costs of repatriation flights that carry nationals of more than one Member State, based on a principle of solidarity.

RescEU stockpile

This European Commission proposal will increase the total budget of the first ever rescEU stockpile of medical equipment (ventilators, protective masks and essential medical gear) to €80 million.

Background

The Commission is putting forward a draft amending budget – a proposal to reorganise part of the EU spending for the year in line with the latest priorities – to secure funding for these operations.

The draft amending budget also foresees:

–      €350 million of migration management assistance to Greece, to add to the extra €350 million emergency assistance already being deployed, in line with the commitment of President von der Leyen during her visit to Greece;

–      €3.6 million for the the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to enhance the capacity to identify, assess and communicate threats to human health from communicable diseases, and in particular to increase the expert capacity in the light of the coronavirus crisis;

–      €100 million to help Albania recover from the devastating earthquake on 26 November 2019, part of the €115 million Commission pledge and thetotal pledge of €1.15 billion;

–      €3.3 million additional funding for the European Public Prosecutors’ Office (EPPO) to boost its 2020 budget. The money will, for example, enable EPPO to recruit more quickly qualified staff and to buy IT equipment to start processing the first cases. Together with case-management support for EPPO mobilised already earlier this year, EPPO’s total funding increase for 2020 is therefore at 48%.

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council are now invited to approve the budgetary changes as quickly as possible, to make sure the money can go where the needs are the most pressing.

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Commission issues guidelines to protect critical European assets and technology in current crisis

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European Commission today issued guidelines to ensure a strong EU-wide approach to foreign investment screening in a time of public health crisis and related economic vulnerability. The aim is to preserve EU companies and critical assets, notably in areas such as health, medical research, biotechnology and infrastructures that are essential for our security and public order, without undermining the EU’s general openness to foreign investment.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “If we want Europe to emerge from this crisis as strong as we entered it, then we must take precautionary measures now. As in any crisis, when our industrial and corporate assets can be under stress, we need to protect our security and economic sovereignty. We have the tools to deal with this situation under European and national law and I want to urge Member States to make full use of them. The EU is and will remain an open market for foreign direct investment. But this openness is not unconditional.” 

Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan said: “We are facing an unprecedented public health crisis with deep consequences for the European economy. In the EU, we are and wish to remain open to foreign investment. In the current circumstances, we need to temper this openness with appropriate controls. We need to know who invests and for what purpose. The EU and its Member States have the right legal tools for that. Today’s guidelines call upon Member States to use these tools to the fullest extent and will bring additional clarity on how to use our investment screening framework to prevent a sell-off of strategic EU assets in the current crisis.” 

Under existing EU rules, Member States are empowered to screen foreign direct investments (FDI) from non-EU countries on grounds of security or public order. Protection of public health is recognised as an overriding reason in the general interest. As a result, Member States can impose mitigating measures (such as supply commitments to meet national and EU vital needs) or prevent a foreign investor from acquiring or taking control over a company. National FDI screening mechanisms are currently in place in 14 Member States. With the EU foreign investment screening regulation in force since last year, the EU is well equipped to coordinate control of foreign acquisitions done at the Member States’ level.

Issuing its guidelines, the Commission calls upon Member States that already have an existing screening mechanism in place to make full use of tools available to them under EU and national law to prevent capital flows from non-EU countries that could undermine Europe’s security or public order.

The Commission also calls on the remaining Member States to set up a fully-fledged screening mechanism and in the meantime to consider all options, in compliance with EU law and international obligations, to address potential cases where the acquisition or control by a foreign investor of a particular business, infrastructure or technology would create a risk to security or public order in the EU.

The Commission also encourages cooperation between Member States, as it comes to FDI screening cases where foreign investment could have an effect on the EU single market.  Foreign acquisitions taking place now already fall under the EU FDI screening regulation, and could be reviewed under the cooperation mechanism established by the regulation, which will be fully operational as from October 2020.

On capital movements, the guidelines also recall under which specific circumstances free movement of capital, notably from third countries, linked to acquisitions of stakes may be restricted.

The Commission will also continue to follow closely developments on the ground and stands ready to discuss and ensure coordination on any foreign investment case with a larger European impact. Protection of the EU strategic assets will also be the subject of discussions between President von der Leyen and EU leaders in tomorrow’s European Council videoconference.

Background

The EU FDI Screening Regulation was adopted in March 2019. It puts in place for the first time an EU-level mechanism to coordinate the screening of foreign investments likely to affect the security and public order of the Union and its Member States. This mechanism is based on an obligation to exchange information between Member States and the Commission, as well as on the possibility for the Commission and Member States to issue opinions and comments on specific transactions. The application of this mechanism will start on 11 October 2020. The Commission and Member States are already cooperating with a view to adapt national screening mechanisms and ensure a full and swift implementation of the Regulation at EU and national levels.

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Coronavirus: Practical guidance to ensure continuous flow of goods across EU via green lanes

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Commission issued new practical advice on how to implement its Guidelines for border management, in order to keep freight moving across the EU during the current pandemic. To ensure that EU-wide supply chains continue to operate, Member States are requested to designate, without delay, all the relevant internal border-crossing points on the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) as ‘green lane’ border crossings. The green lane border crossings should be open to all freight vehicles, whatever goods they are carrying. Crossing the border, including any checks and health screening, should not take more than 15 minutes.

Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said: “The EU’s transport network connects the whole of the EU. Our guidance document is intended to protect the EU’s supply chains in these difficult circumstances, and to make sure both goods and transport workers are able to travel to wherever they are needed – without delay. A collective and coordinated approach to cross-border transport is more important today than ever before. The green lanes are also specifically designed to protect transport workers at the frontline of this crisis. This set of recommendations will ease their already stressful mission and it will bring more safety and predictability to their work.”

Green lane border crossings

Procedures at green lane border crossings should be minimised and streamlined to what is strictly necessary. Checks and screening should be carried out without drivers having to leave their vehicles, and drivers themselves should undergo only minimal checks. Drivers of freight vehicles should not be asked to produce any document other than their identification and driving license and if necessary a letter from the employer. The electronic submission/display of documents should be accepted.

No freight vehicle or driver should face discrimination, irrespective of origin and destination, the driver’s nationality or the vehicle’s country of registration.

In light of the current situation, Member States are also urged to temporarily suspend all road access restrictions currently in place in their territory, such as weekend, night and sectoral bans.

The Commission encourages Member States to set up safe passage transit corridors to allow private drivers and their passengers, such as health and transport workers, as well as EU citizens being repatriated, regardless of their nationality, to directly pass with priority through the country in each necessary direction along the TEN-T Network. This should be done while staying strictly on the designated route and to take the necessary minimum rest breaks. Member States should ensure that they have at least one airport functional for repatriation and international relief flights.

Enhanced cooperation among EU Member States and beyond

Following the video-conference between EU Transport Ministers on 18 March, the Commission set up a network of national contact points and a platform to provide information on national transport measures taken by Member States in response to the coronavirus. The national contact points should support the effective functioning of the green lane border crossing points. Neighbouring non-EU countries are invited to work closely with this network to ensure the flow of goods in all directions.

Application of rules for transport workers

To keep transport moving, the Commission recommends that Member States take action to ensure the free movement of all workers involved in international transport, whatever the transport mode. In particular, rules such as travel restrictions, and mandatory quarantine of transport workers not displaying symptoms, should be waived. For example, Member States should not require that transport workers carry a doctor’s certificate to prove their good health. To ensure the safety of transport workers, enhanced hygiene and operational measures are also needed in airports, ports, railway stations and other land transport hubs. Today’s note from the Commission includes a full list of recommendations to protect drivers from the coronavirus (Annex 2). 

Internationally recognised certificates of professional competence should be considered sufficient to prove that a worker is active in international transport. In the absence of such certificates (not all international drivers have one), a letter signed by the employer (Annex 3) should be accepted.

All of these principles should also apply to third country nationals if they are essential to ensuring that cargo moves freely within and into the EU.

Background

The coronavirus pandemic is having a major disruptive impact on European transport and mobility. The European supply chain is maintained through an extensive network of freight transport services, including all modes of transport. Continued and uninterrupted land, waterborne and air cargo services are of crucial importance for the functioning of the EU’s internal market and its effective response to the current public health crisis. 

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