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EU Cohesion Policy invests over €1.4 billion in green projects in 7 Member States

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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.

Background

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.

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In Afghanistan, women take their lives out of desperation

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Seven-year-old Ayesha is the sole survivor of her family after a devastating earthquake struck the central region of Afghanistan and destroyed her home. © UNICEF/Ali Nazari

The situation for women is so desperate in Afghanistan that they are committing suicide at a rate of one or two every day, the Human Rights Council has heard.

It comes as the top UN rights forum in Geneva agreed to Member States’ request for a rare Urgent Debate on the issue this Friday.

Addressing the Council, Fawzia Koofi, former deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament, said lack of opportunity and ailing mental health, was taking a terrible toll: “Every day there is at least one or two women who commit suicide for the lack of opportunity, for the mental health, for the pressure they receive.

“The fact that girls as young as nine years old are being sold, not only because of economic pressure, but because of the fact that there is no hope for them, for their family, it is not normal.”

Bachelet highlights ‘progressive exclusion’

Echoing widespread international concern for ordinary Afghans, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the massive unemployment of women, the restrictions placed on the way they dress, and their access on basic services.

Women-owned and operated businesses have been shut down, Ms. Bachelet added, saying that 1.2 million girls no longer have access to secondary education, in line with a decision by the de facto authorities who took power in August 2021.

“The de facto authorities I met with during my visit in March this year, said they would honour their human rights obligations as far as [being] in line with Sharia law.

“Yet despite these assurances, we are witnessing the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and their institutionalised, systematic oppression”.

Ms. Bachelet encouraged the re-establishment of an independent mechanism to receive complaints from the public and protect victims of gender-based violence.

“Beyond being right, it is also a matter of practical necessity”, said the High Commissioner. “Amid the economic crisis, women’s contribution to economic activity is indispensable, which itself requires access to education, and freedom of movement and from violence”.

Women made ‘invisible’

Also speaking at the Human Rights Council, its Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, described a chilling attempt by the Taliban to make women “invisible, by excluding them almost entirely from society”.]

As an example of the de facto authorities’ intentions to impose “absolute gender discrimination”, the independent rights expert also noted that women are now represented by men at Kabul’s Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of religious scholars and elders.

Such measures contravene Afghanistan’s obligations under numerous human rights treaties to which it is a State party, Mr. Bennett insisted before adding that the situation for women “massively diminish(ed) women’s lives, deliberately attack women and girls’ autonomy, freedom and dignity, and create a culture of impunity for domestic violence, child marriage and sale and trafficking of girls, to name but a few of the consequences”.

Promises broken

Despite public assurances from the Taliban to respect women and girls’ rights, they are reinstituting step by step the discrimination against women and girls. Said Ms. Koofi, a former member of the peace negotiation team with the Taliban said that the fundamentalists “obviously have not kept their promises of what they were telling us during the negotiations, in terms of their respect for Islamic rights for women”.

Ms. Koofi added that “in fact, what they do is in contradiction to Islam. Our beautiful religion starts with reading. But today, Taliban under the name of the same religion, deprive 55 percent of the society from going to school”.

Afghanistan’s response

For Nasir Andisha, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN in Geneva, “the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan demands nothing less than a robust monitoring mechanism to collect, consolidate, and analyse evidence of violations, to document and verify information, to identify those responsible to promote accountability and remedies for victims, and to make recommendations for effective prevention for future violations”.

A draft resolution on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan is being negotiated at the Human Rights Council and will be considered on 7 July.

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Safer roads, a global development challenge for all

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Every 24 seconds someone is killed in traffic, making safety on the world’s roads a global development challenge for all societies, especially for the most vulnerable, a senior UN official has said, ahead of the first ever High-level General Assembly Meeting on Improving Road Safety. 

Nneka Henry, who heads the United Nations Road Safety Fund (UNRSF) Secretariat, noted that 500 children die in crashes every day, and that of the older population, women are 17 times more likely to be killed during a car crash than men, even when wearing seatbelts. 

Challenge for all 

Despite these statistics, road safety is not just a challenge for women or for young people. It is “for each and every one of us who walk, ride, cycle or drive on our roads,” Ms. Henry told Diedra Sealey, a young diplomat in the President of the General Assembly’s HOPE Fellowship programme. 

The interview took place ahead of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Improving Road Safety, which gets underway at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday and Friday, organized by the President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, and the World Health Organization (WHO).  

Coinciding with the meeting, is the UN Road Safety Fund pledging conference. The Fund was established in 2018 with a vision to “to build a world where roads are safe for every road user, everywhere.” It specially finances projects in low- and middle- income countries, where some 93 per cent of road deaths and injuries take place. 

“I am here in New York to remind all 193 Member States of their commitment to the Fund’s mandate and success,” Ms. Henry said.  

Those successes include the announcement that as of 1 July, all vehicles imported in East Africa need to be below the Euro 4/IV emission standard and no more than eight years old. 

The Fund has been working with the Economic Community of West African States’ 15 members, to harmonize vehicle standard resolutions.  

Major benefits 

“This will have major air quality and road safety benefits,” Ms. Henry said about the latest announcement.  

Some of the other achievements by the Fund include legislation in Azerbaijan to help emergency post-crash response, help to increase enforcement of the speed limits and other road traffic rules in Brazil and Jordan, as well as improving data collection in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, and training urban planners on making safer school zones in Paraguay.  

Vision for the future 

As part of the High-level meeting this week, UN Member States will adopt a political declaration, to lay out a “vision for the future of mobility as one that promotes health and well-being, protects the environment, and benefits all people,” according to a press release. 

The interconnected targets are part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that show how road safety is also integrated into the SDGs, from allowing safer access to education, to allowing people access to groceries and reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 

Halving traffic deaths and injuries by 2030 is a target under the third SDG, on good health and well-being. 

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Rise of disinformation a symptom of ‘global diseases’ undermining public trust

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Societies everywhere are beset by “global diseases” including systemic inequality which have helped fuel a rise in disinformation, or the deliberate spreading of falsehoods, said the UN human rights chief on Tuesday, addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Michelle Bachelet said the restoration of public trust was essential, as disinformation should really be seen as a symptom of diseases such as systemic inequality, which has seen “deep-seated discrimination” flourish, along with fragile institutions, a loss of trust in effective governance, and “limited rule of law”.

She said those countries impacted by inequality were now threatened with instability and frayed co-existence within society.

Flourishing amid discontent

“Disinformation spreads when people feel that their voices are not heard. It arises in contexts where political disenchantment, economic disparity or social unrest flourish”, she said.

“It flourishes when civil society, journalists, human rights defenders and scientists cannot work, assemble and speak freely. When civic space is limited or closed. When the human rights to freedom of expression and access to information are threatened.”

It can be fuelled by governments and public officials, potentially leading to hate crimes and violence.

But she warned governments against trying to “officially ordain what is false, and what is true, and then attach legal consequences to those determinations. Our human right to access and impart information, is not limited to only what is deemed by the State as ‘accurate’”.

She called for a focus on “assessing how communications are being revolutionized by technology and on unpacking who is responsible for what.

“We need to look at how best to contain the harms caused by disinformation, while addressing the underlying causes that give disinformation life and allow it to gain traction.”

She said the sheer speed and volume of information circulating online, meant that it could be easily manipulated, with campaigns using automatic tools, rapidly creating a “false impressions of broad popular support for or against certain ideas, or be used to counter and marginalise dissident voices and ideas.”

Organized disinformation campaigns are also being used to silence rights defenders, journalists, and minority voices, “and as a result of repeated attacks, women, minority communities and others can be deterred from participating in the public sphere.”

Fighting back

The international response has to be consistent with universal rights obligations, she warned.

“When we debate the best ways to respond, we need to understand that censorship is not only an ineffective medicine – it can actually harm the patient.” Freedom of expression and the right to access information are essential, she underscored.

“I therefore call on States to uphold their international obligation to promote and protect these rights, whatever the social ill they seek to mitigate. Maintaining a vibrant and pluralistic civic space will be crucial in this endeavour.”

She called for policies which support independent journalism, pluralism in media, and digital literacy, which can help citizens “navigate” the online world and boost critical thinking.

“States must also ensure wide and free access to information so that it reaches all communities and constituencies…Trust can never be achieved without genuine government transparency.”

Social media regulation ‘insufficient’

The human rights chief said that social media businesses have transformed the way information circulates, “and they have a clear role to play.”

“To start with, we must understand better how they affect our national and global debates. While platforms have taken welcome steps to enhance their own transparency, and redress channels, progress remains insufficient.

She called for independent auditing of social media companies’ services and operations, and more clarity on the way advertising and personal data is being handled.

“And we need access for researchers and others to the data within companies, that can help us better understand and address disinformation.”

Two steps

Ms. Bachelet told the Human Rights Council that there are two “critical needs” in the battle against rising disinformation.

First, we need to deepen our understanding and knowledge: we need more research on how the digital sphere has transformed media and information flows; on how best to build public trust within this environment; and on how different actors can contribute to countering disinformation operations.”

Secondly, she said all discussions had to be framed within human rights norms. “Shortcuts do not work here: censorship and broad content take-downs are an ineffective and dangerous response.”

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