Today the European Commission has approved an investment package worth more than €1.4 billion of EU funds in 14 large infrastructure projects in 7 Member States, namely Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain. The projects cover several key areas such as environment, health, transport and energy for a smarter, low-carbon Europe. They represent a massive investment to boost the economy, protect the environment and improve citizens’ quality of life and social well-being.
Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “In such difficult times for our continent, it is crucial that Cohesion policy continues to play its role in supporting the economy for the benefit of our citizens. Today’s major project adoptions show that EU funding, and Cohesion policy in particular, delivers concrete results, helping regions and cities becoming a safer, cleaner and more comfortable place for people and business. Many of the approved projects also help delivering on the goals of the European Green Deal. When the European Commission, Member States and regions join forces, we can achieve a lot.”
Improving Croatia’s rail network
Over €119 million from the Cohesion Fund will finance the purchase of 21 new electric trains to boost service quality, reduce delays and encourage more people to use a sustainable transport type. This project will contribute to modernise the country’s rolling stock and to improve connectivity and mobility with positive economic consequences. Travel times, noise, vibrations and operating costs will be reduced while safety will increase.
More reliable and efficient energy supply in Czechia
Thanks to an investment of almost €37 million from the European Regional Development Fund, a new efficient and reliable double-circuit power line will be built between Přeštice and Vítkov in the Plzeň and Karlovy Vary regions of Czechia. On top of being a key infrastructure linking the energy systems of different EU countries, this project will increase energy security and renewable energy generation. Regional blackouts and grid failure will also decrease.
Increasing flood safety & improving sustainable water management in Hungary
More than €49 million from the Cohesion Fund will increase flood safety for the people and the economy in the valley of the Tisza river, especially as a response to the extreme floods over the past decades.
In addition, nearly €96 million from the Cohesion Fund will also protect over 132,000 inhabitants from flood risk in the Upper-Tisza. This project also includes improving sustainable water management, thus supporting water-based economy.
Clean energy and better transport services in Poland
A power transmission line and power substations in Northern and North-Western Poland will be built thanks to an EU investment of over €54 million from the Cohesion Fund. Covering an area of almost 380km, the project will support the generation and distribution of clean and safe energy, cutting greenhouse emissions and air pollution.
Moreover, almost €85 million from the European Regional Development Fund will improve public transport in Olsztyn by extending the existing tram and bus routes and installing an intelligent transportation system. This way, more people will be encouraged to use public transport and congestion will be reduced with positive urban environmental consequences.
Then, the Cohesion Fund will invest more than €38 million to modernise the tram network in Bydgoszcz, in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie region. Thanks to this project, around 350,000 inhabitants will profit from increased comfort and accessibility for people with reduced mobility as well as reduced traffic and greenhouse emissions.
Additionally, with an investment of over €76 million from the European Regional Development Fund, Poland will modernise four railway lines for a total length of almost 52km in the Śląskie region. This will reduce travel time and air pollution while ensuring smoother rail interoperability and safety.
Upgrading public transport in Portugal
The Cohesion Fund will invest €107 million to upgrade Porto’s metro line system. This will make the city’s public transport more appealing, reduce traffic and pollution and guarantee safer, faster and more comfortable journeys for passengers.
Ensuring access to clean water and better healthcare in Romania
€486.6 million from the Cohesion Fund will ensure access to improved drinking water and proper wastewater treatment for over 400,000 people in South-West Romania and prevent contamination of groundwater in the North-East’s Suceava county for 220,000 inhabitants.
Then, the EU will invest €47 million from the European Regional Development Fund to improve the quality and efficiency of medical services in the North East region. Thanks to this investment, which will benefit 90,000 inhabitants, patients will receive high quality treatment and the number of deaths and long-term disabilities will be reduced.
Improving rail connection in the Atlantic corridor
The European Regional Development Fund will invest €265 million to improve over 178km of the rail connection in the 715km Madrid-Lisbon high-speed line, and especially in the Extremadura area. This will benefit long distance good and passengers’ transport with positive economic and environmental benefits. This project is part of the TEN-T network’s Atlantic Corridor connecting South West Europe to the rest of the EU.
Major projects are cohesion policy’s large-scale investments with a value of more than €50 million each. Given the EU’s high financial contribution to these projects, via the European Regional Development Fund or the Cohesion Fund, they are subject to a specific assessment procedure and a final decision by the European Commission.
In 2014-2020 EU’s programming period, 310 major projects have already received the support from cohesion policy.
JASPERS (Joint Assistance to Support Projects in European Regions), the pool of independent experts helping local, regional and national governments prepare large infrastructure projects financed by EU funds, played an important role in each of these projects, either through advising Member States and beneficiaries during the project development or during the appraisal of the application for grant financing.
Towards a stronger and more resilient Schengen area
The first ever Schengen Forum, convened today by the Commission, allowed for constructive exchanges towards building a stronger and more resilient Schengen area. The videoconference gathered Members of the European Parliament and Home Affairs Ministers with the aim of fostering cooperation and political dialogue and rebuilding trust.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Today’s discussions showed a strong collective commitment to preserve and strengthen Schengen. For the last 35 years, we have built an entire Schengen architecture to better protect the area without controls at internal borders. And we must continue to build on and improve that architecture going forward.”
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shown how much we need Schengen. Moving freely within the EU is a daily necessity for millions of Europeans for work or school for instance. It’s also crucial for companies transporting goods around Europe. Schengen can be our lifeline when it comes to Europe’s economic recovery post-coronavirus. That is why our discussions today on building a more resilient Schengen are so important.”
The discussions focused on:
Improving the mechanism to evaluate the implementation of the Schengen rules: Options for operational improvements as well as legislative changes to the mechanism were discussed for better monitoring, quicker and more efficient identification of possible deficiencies and effective follow up.
Finding a way forward on the revision of the Schengen Borders Code: Participants discussed possible ways forward to improve the current Schengen rules, with the shared objective of overcoming existing internal border controls and ensuring that any possible reintroduction of controls at internal borders in the future is proportionate, used as a measure of last resort and for a limited period of time.
Better managing the EU’s external borders: Participants stressed the need for quickly putting in place the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Traveller Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). These systems complement existing databases such as the Schengen Information System or the Visa Information System, which need to be used in full. The ongoing work towards ensuring that information systems for migration, border management and security become interoperable by 2023 was highlighted as crucial to give border guards the information they need to know who is crossing the EU’s borders. The deployment of the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps starting from January 2021 will also provide increased support to Member States’ border guards whenever and wherever needed.
Enhancing police cooperation and information exchange: Common and coordinated European action, for instance through increased police cooperation, better information exchange and better use of new technologies, is crucial to guarantee security within the Schengen area. Police checks can also constitute an effective alternative to the reintroduction of border controls. Measures such as joint patrols, joint investigation teams, cross-border hot pursuits or joint threat analysis were discussed as being alternatives to effectively address threats to security.
Strengthening the governance of the Schengen area: Regular meetings of the Schengen Forum, based on reports provided by the Commission, will help ensure the political involvement of all relevant players.
Today’s discussions are the first step in an inclusive political debate towards building a stronger Schengen area based on mutual trust. They will feed into the Schengen Strategy that the Commission intends to present in mid-2021.
Following today’s first videoconference, the Schengen Forum will continue to meet regularly both at political or technical levels. The next meeting of the Forum at political level will take place in spring 2021, ahead of the presentation of the Strategy for a stronger Schengen area. Targeted consultations at technical level will also take place with representatives from the European Parliament and national authorities over the next months.
35 years ago, 5 Member States agreed to remove border controls between themselves. Today, the Schengen area encompasses 26 European States with over 400 million citizens and it is a key policy of the European Union. It underpins the seamless functioning of the EU internal market in goods and services and has allowed Europeans to organise their private and professional lives around unfettered travel around Europe.
Schengen rules require an update to adapt them to evolving challenges. The pandemic, security concerns, and migration management issues have led Member States to reintroduce internal border checks. To address these challenges and build a more resilient Schengen area, the Commission announced in September this year the creation of a Schengen Forum to foster operational cooperation and stronger confidence in the rules.
MEPs condemn Turkey’s activities in Varosha, Cyprus, and call for sanctions
Turkey’s decision to “open” the sealed-off suburb of Varosha undermines prospects of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, warn MEPs.
In a resolution adopted by 631 votes in favour, 3 against and 59 abstentions, MEPs condemn Turkey’s illegal activities in the Varosha suburb of the city of Famagusta and warn that its partial “opening” weakens prospects of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, exacerbating divisions and entrenching the permanent partition of the island.
MEPs call on Turkey to transfer Varosha to its lawful inhabitants under the temporary administration of the UN (in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 550 (1984)) and to refrain from any actions that alter the demographic balance on the island through a policy of illegal settlement.
Tough sanctions against Turkey
A sustainable solution to reunify the island of Cyprus and its people can only be found through dialogue, diplomacy, and negotiations, MEPs stress. They call on the European Council to maintain its unified position on Turkey’s illegal actions and impose tough sanctions in response.
MEPS regret that the Turkish authorities have endorsed the two-state solution for Cyprus and reiterate their support for a fair, comprehensive and viable settlement on the basis of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with a single international legal status. They also call on the EU to play a more active role in bringing the negotiations under UN auspices to a successful conclusion.
Tense EU-Turkey relations
As Turkey distances itself more and more from European values and standards, EU-Turkey relations are at a historic low, warns Parliament. Its illegal and unilateral military actions in the Eastern Mediterranean infringe on the sovereignty of EU member states Greece and Cyprus. MEPs also point out Turkey’s direct support of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as its actions in Libya and Syria.
The Turkish army fenced off Varosha immediately after the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The Greek Cypriots who fled from Varosha were not allowed to return and with public entry prohibited, Varosha has effectively become a ghost town.
Commission and EBRD promote innovative use of data in public procurement involving EU funds
The European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Open Contracting Partnership are joining forces to improve the quality and transparency of public tenders co-funded by EU funds in Greece and Poland. Thanks to their support, two pilot projects will provide expertise and hands-on support to public authorities in both countries, with a focus on digital innovation.
By promoting the smart use of innovation and open data, the two pilots will help public administrations to better plan, implement and monitor the procurement of works, goods and services. This will improve the use of public resources and increase opportunities for businesses, especially for small and medium companies (SMEs). Moreover, thanks to a cooperation with local civil society organisations, this initiative will also favour transparency of public spending and stimulate citizens’ participation in the monitoring of investments with a direct impact on the community, such as investments in sustainability, local development and social inclusion.
The two pilot projects
- In Greece, the project will aim at consolidating and integrating all databases into a single smart public contract register. This will enable online access for bidders and citizens, improve quality of data and facilitate the use of data-driven analytical tools for monitoring the procurement process.
- In Poland, the initiative will support Polish national and local authorities to introduce open data in public procurement and promote automated collection, standardisation, and consolidation of procurement data on all tenders.
The two pilots will run until the end of 2021 and their results will be disseminated in order to ensure a successful roll out in other Member States.
Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “In the programming period 2021-2027, Cohesion policy will continue to support Member States and regions in their economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic, as well as boosting competitiveness through new investments in research and innovation, digital transition and the implementation of the European Green Deal agenda. Through the use of new technologies, national and local public authorities managing EU funds will be able to spend public money more effectively ensuring the best possible results for citizens and businesses”.
Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added: “Transparency in public procurement is essential to ensure efficiency of public investments, in line with the EU strategic policy goals aiming at a greener, digital and more resilient Europe. Public authorities can rely on the EU’s public procurement framework, tools like the electronic procurement systems and open data for an efficient use of public funds.”
The EBRD Vice-President, Pierre Heilbronn commented: “The EBRD is committed to support legal and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring that procurement laws and practices are modern, in line with international standards and can swiftly respond to emerging challenges. Together with Open Contracting Partnership, we are sharing the experience of successful civil society procurement monitoring based on open data. Our joint efforts aim to create a framework for enlisting civil society organisations to support public procurement reforms and use open data to monitor procurement.”
In the context of the next long-term EU budget, more than €370 billion from Cohesion policy funds will be invested to support the digital and green transitions of the Member States. Every year, public authorities in the EU spend around 14% of GDP on public procurement, amounting to more than €1.9 trillion. Almost half of Cohesion policy funding is channelled through public procurement. The Commission has promoted a series of initiatives aimed at helping Member States to improve the way administrations and beneficiaries use public procurement for EU investments. These include the Integrity Pacts to ensure more efficient and transparent tenders and safeguarding EU taxpayers’ money. The Commission also took action to facilitate citizen engagement for better governance and effective Cohesion policy investments.
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