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Explainer: Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus

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How does the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus (CRII+) complement the measures adopted under the first package?

The first package of measures of the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative concentrated on the immediate mobilisation of structural funds, to allow for a prompt response to the crisis. In this regard, a number of very important changes have been introduced that extend the scope of support of the Funds, provide immediate liquidity and give flexibility in programme amendments. The first Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative package consisted of three main elements: about €8 billion of immediate liquidity to accelerate up to €37 billion of European public investment, flexibility in applying EU spending rules and extend the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund.

Today’s package complements the first one by introducing extraordinary flexibility to allow that all non-utilised support from the European Structural and Investment Funds can be mobilised to the fullest. This flexibility is provided for through: transfer possibilities across the three cohesion policy funds (the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund and Cohesion Fund); transfers between the different categories of regions; and also through flexibility when it comes to thematic concentration. There will also be the possibility for a 100% EU co-financing rate for cohesion policy programmes for the accounting year 2020-2021, allowing Member States to benefit for full EU financing for crisis-related measures. The CRII+ package also simplifies procedural steps linked to programme implementation, use of financial instruments and audit. This is unprecedented and warranted because of extraordinary situation that the coronavirus outbreak has led to.

Furthermore, CRII+ provides support to the most deprived by changing the rules for the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). For example, it will be possible to deliver food aid and basic material assistance through electronic vouchers and to provide the protective equipment, and thus lower risk of contamination. Also, it will be possible to finance measures at 100% for the accounting year 2020-2021.

In addition, amendments to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will enable a more flexible reallocation of financial resources within the operational programmes in each Member State and a simplified procedure for amending operational programmes with respect to the introduction of the new measures. The amendments will also provide support for temporary cessation of fishing activities and for the suspension of production and additional costs for the aquaculture farmers, as well as to producer organisations for the storage of fishery and aquaculture products.

For the second set of measures, the Commission consulted extensively with Member States, the European Parliament and the sectors concerned over recent weeks, taking account of the more than 200 clarification and advice questions received from national authorities concerning their handling of crisis response measures under the CRII.

Facilitating EU-funded investments

Which changes is the Commission proposing to make to cohesion policy rules?

The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus allows that all non-utilised support from the cohesion policy funds can be mobilised to address the effects of the public health crisis on our economies and societies. Certain procedural steps linked to programme implementation and audit will be simplified in order to grant flexibility, ensure legal certainty and to reduce administrative requirements. The Commission proposes notably to:

Give the exceptional and temporary possibility for Member States to request for cohesion policy programmes a co-financing rate of 100% to be applied for the accounting year 2020-2021;

Create additional flexibility to transfer resources between the cohesion policy funds, and between categories of regions;

Exempt Member States from the need to comply with thematic concentration requirements, to enable a redirection of resources to the areas most impacted by the current crisis;

Exempt Member States from the requirement to amend Partnership Agreements;

Postpone the deadline for the submission of annual reports for 2019;

Extend the possibility to make use of a non-statistical sampling method;

Exempt the requirement to review and update of ex-ante assessments and business plans, in order to facilitate the adjustment of financial instruments to effectively address the public health crisis;

Make expenditure for completed or fully implemented operations fostering crisis response capacity in the context of the coronavirus outbreak exceptionally eligible;

Allow limited financial flexibility at the closure of programmes, in order to allow Member States and regions to make full use of support from EU funding;

Allow for European Regional Development Fund to provide support for undertakings in difficulties in these specific circumstances consistently with the flexibility provided in State aid rules.

What are the conditions for applying a 100% EU co-financing rate for cohesion policy programmes?

Member States may request amendments to operational programmes to enable a 100% EU co-financing rate to apply for the accounting year 2020-2021.

Such requests can be made during the accounting year starting on 1 July 2020 and ending on 30 June 2021. This exceptional measure is proposed in order to allow Member States to benefit from full EU financing for coronavirus outbreak-related measures. The 100% co-financing rate shall only apply if the corresponding programme amendment is approved by Commission decision before the end of the accounting year concerned.

Is there any limit regarding the transfer of resources between categories of regions?

Currently, Member States can transfer up until 3% of allocated funds between regions. In today’s proposal, there is no longer a limit, as the impact of the coronavirus does not follow the usual cohesion policy categorisation of less and more developed regions. As we are in the last year of the 2014-2020 programming period, this full flexibility applies to the 2020 budget appropriations only.

In order to ensure continued focus on less developed regions, Member States should first examine other possibilities for transferring funding before considering transfers from the budget of less developed regions to more developed ones. In other words, transfers should not impede essential investments in the region of origin or prevent the completion of operations selected before. In addition, the transfer can be requested by Member States only for coronavirus-related operations in the context of the coronavirus crisis.It should be remembered that the goal of cohesion policy is to support reducing the backwardness of the least favoured regions. This principle is enshrined in the Treaty and should be followed even in the current circumstances.

How will the transfer between cohesion policy funds work, and what are the conditions?

The transfer is voluntary. Member States may request to transfer its resources available for programming for the year 2020 for the Investment for Growth and Jobs goal between the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund.

Following this decision, the minimum share for European Social Fund established at 23.1% and the minimum share of the Cohesion Fund for Member States who joined the EU on or after 1st May 2004 set one third of their total final financial allocation, will not have to be respected.

Transfers shall not affect resources allocated to the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI).

Resources transferred between the ERDF, the ESF and the Cohesion Fund in response to the coronavirus crisis shall be implemented in accordance with the rules of the Fund to which the resources are transferred.

What does the exemption of Member States from the need to comply with thematic concentration requirements entail?

In the programming 2014-2020 period, Member States have to concentrate support on interventions that bring the greatest added value in relation to the Union strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Therefore, specific rules were established in Fund-specific regulations that require from Member States to focus European Regional Development Fund on low-carbon economy or support to research and innovation and the European Social Fund on promoting social inclusion and combating the poverty.

In the current circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak, it is justified to exceptionally exempt Member States from the need to comply with these thematic concentration requirements until the end of the programming period. This will help Member States to quickly deploy available resources to respond to the crisis.

What will happen if the coronavirus outbreak is invoked as a reason of force majeure? What influence it will have on the implementation rules?

The Commission considers that all necessary flexibility should be deployed in dealing with failure by beneficiaries to fulfil obligations in a timely manner for reasons related to the coronavirus outbreak (for example, the unavailability of staff). Equally, the Commission will display the same flexibility in assessing the compliance of Member States with their obligations.

Therefore, where the coronavirus outbreak is invoked as a reason of force majeure, information on the amounts for which it has not been possible to make a payment application shall be provided at an aggregate level by priority for operations of total eligible costs of less than €1,000,000.

What does the exemption of Member States from the requirement to amend Partnership Agreements entail?

To enable Member States to concentrate on the necessary response to the coronavirus outbreak and to reduce the administrative burden, certain procedural requirements linked to programme implementation will be simplified.

In particular, Partnership Agreements should no longer be amended, until the end of the programming period; neither to reflect prior changes in operational programmes nor to introduce any other changes.

Taking into consideration a substantial number of programme amendments that will be processed in the upcoming months, this proposal will drastically simplify the re-programming process.

What does the extension of the possibility to make use of a non-statistical sampling method entail?

The current circumstances may have an impact on certain tasks, such as for instance on audit work both in the Member States as well as at EU-level. Therefore, certain procedural requirements linked to audits may be simplified in these exceptional times.

As regards the cohesion policy funds and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, the audit authorities may decide, based on their professional judgement, to use a non-statistical sampling method for the accounting year starting on 1 July 2019 and ending on 30 June 2020. This will significantly lower the required number of audited operations, and therefore reduce the pressure on final beneficiaries and audit authorities.

In addition to this legislative change, the Commission will work in close cooperation with national authorities to make use of additional methods that will allow Member State auditors to carry out their tasks.

What does the exemption of the requirement to review and update of ex-ante assessments and business plans entail?

To use the EU financial instruments to tackle this public health crisis, changes in the implementation procedure will be required. Under normal circumstances, Member States would need to amend the supporting documents, demonstrating that support provided was used for its intended purpose. 

However, in the current situation, to reduce administrative burdens and delays in implementation, the review and update of the ex-ante assessment and updated business plans or equivalent documents will no longer be required until the end of the programming period.

How will you allow limited financial flexibility at the closure of programmes?

The Commission proposes to allow Member States to ‘overspend’ up until 10% of the budget allocated to a given priority, provided it is compensated by an equivalent reduction in another priority of the same programme. This flexibility will apply to the total programme, i.e. also the expenditure incurred prior to 1 February, but will only be applied at the closure of the programmes (the acceptance of the last annual accounts). This will enable the possibility of a higher co-financing of different measures, without the need of programme amendments. This does not change the total support available from the cohesion policy funds and the EMFF.

This possibility does not exist under the current rules, and constitutes yet another way of increasing the flexibility for Member States who want to use the programmes financed from cohesion policy and the EMFF in order to address the effects of the public health crisis.

How will you make expenditure for completed or fully implemented operations eligible for reimbursement in the context of the coronavirus outbreak?

To ensure the greatest possible added value of EU investments, EU rules did not allow for the financing of operations that have been physically completed or fully implemented before the application for funding by the beneficiary under the programme was made.

However, in the current exceptional situation of the coronavirus outbreak this should exceptionally be allowed to ensure that operations already implemented in response of the crisis can receive EU support. Such operations may be selected even before the necessary programme amendment is carried out. This means that operations for example where medical equipment is purchased, and the purchase was already made before the entry into force of the amending proposal, become eligible for EU support retroactively. This will alleviate pressure on national and regional budgets to respond to the public health crisis.

Will the Commission waive the obligation to comply with applicable management and control rules under cohesion policy?

The EU budget and taxpayer’s money must be protected and therefore all control and audit mechanism remain in place. The Commission merely proposes to simplify and clarify certain rules related to audit, the implementation of financial instruments or eligibility, in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.

This means that the legislative framework for the implementation of the European Structural and Investment Funds programmes remains fully applicable even under the current exceptional circumstances. This concerns in particular rules on the setup and functioning of the management and control system, which remain an important safeguard for obtaining assurance on their functioning and on the legality and regularity of operations.

What are the conditions for providing support from the European Regional Development Fund to undertakings in difficulty?

The current change in the European Regional Development Fund Regulation aims at ensuring a full alignment between the approach taken under the applicable EU State aid framework and the rules and conditions under which the ERDF may provide support to undertakings in the current crisis situation linked to the coronavirus outbreak. This follows in particular the adoption by the Commission on 19 March 2020 of the State aid Temporary Framework to support the economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak, which enables Member States to support undertakings that entered into financial difficulty in a more flexible manner.

Alleviating the impact on the most deprived

What is the European Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD)?

The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) supports EU countries’ actions to provide food and/or basic material assistance to the most deprived. This includes food, clothing and other essential items for personal use, e.g. shoes, soap and shampoo. Material assistance needs to go hand in hand with social inclusion measures, such as guidance and support to help people out of poverty. National authorities may also support non-material assistance to the most deprived people, to alleviate the forms of extreme poverty with the greatest social exclusion impact, such as homelessness, child poverty and food deprivation. National authorities can either purchase the food and goods, and supply them to partner organisations, or fund the organisations so that they can make the purchases themselves. Partner organisations that buy the food or goods themselves can either distribute them directly, or ask other partner organisations to help. In real terms, over €3.8 billion are earmarked for the FEAD for the 2014-2020 period. In addition, EU countries are to contribute at least 15% in national co-financing to their national programme.

Why do you propose to amend the current FEAD rules?

The coronavirus crisis presents an unprecedented challenge for the operations supported by FEAD. Most importantly, it presents specific risks to the most deprived themselves. Specific measures need to be taken urgently in order to protect them from falling victim to this disease. This includes providing them and the workers and volunteers delivering the aid with the necessary protective equipment, and ensuring that the FEAD assistance still reaches the most vulnerable. Logistical and human resource constraints, notably due to the confinement and social distancing measures increasingly impede the distribution of food and basic material assistance, as well as social inclusion support. Many volunteers, the backbone of the Fund, can no longer be mobilised, as they often belong to groups at a higher risk of severe illness caused by the coronavirus. Therefore, new methods of delivery such as delivery through electronic vouchers are needed to ensure the safety of all the people involved in the implementation of the FEAD and of the most deprived.

What are the amendments to the FEAD rules proposed by the Commission?

The proposed measures include:

Eligibility of the expenditure for FEAD operations that are fostering crisis response capacities to the coronavirus outbreak as of 1 February 2020;

Eligibility of expenditure related to protective equipment for partner organisations is made explicit.

Temporary exemption of certain FEAD support measures from Commission approval;

Possibility to deliver food aid and basic material assistance through electronic vouchers (lower risk of contamination).

Providing 100% of co-financing (instead of 85%) to be applied for the accounting year 2020-2021

The proposed changes are intended to enable Managing Authorities, partner organisations and other actors involved in the implementation of the Fund to react quickly to the emerging additional needs of the target groups that are exposed to further hardship stemming from this crisis. In this respect, and notably on the social inclusion challenges related to it, the European Social Fund (ESF) will complement the support provided by the FEAD.

Supporting the seafood sector

What measures does the proposal include to mitigate the impact of coronavirus outbreak on the fishery and aquaculture sector?

The following specific measures are proposed to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in the fishery and aquaculture sector:

support to fishermen for the temporary cessation of fishing activities caused by the  coronavirus outbreak;

support to aquaculture farmers for the temporary suspension of production or additional costs caused by the coronavirus outbreak;

support to producer organisations and associations of producer organisations for the storage of fishery and aquaculture products, in accordance with the Common Market Organisation.

It is proposed that these measures are retroactively eligible as of 1 February 2020 and available until 31 December 2020. 

Additional amendments to the EMFF Regulation aim to ensure a flexible reallocation of financial resources within the operational programmes.

How does the proposal support temporary cessation of fishing activities?

To mitigate the significant socio-economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak and the need for liquidity in the economy, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) would grant a financial compensation to fishermen for the temporary cessation of their fishing activities. The EU will pay up to maximum 75% of this compensation, the rest to be borne by Member States. Support for the temporary cessation of fishing activities caused by the coronavirus outbreak will not be subject to the financial capping applicable to the other cases of temporary cessation, thus allowing Member States to grant support on the basis of needs. Vessels that have already reached the maximum six month duration of EMFF support for temporary cessation under article 33 of the EMFF Regulation will nevertheless be eligible for support under the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus measures until the end of 2020.

How does the proposal support aquaculture farmers?

The proposal introduces compensation to aquaculture farmers for the temporary suspension or reduction of production, where it is the consequence of the coronavirus outbreak. This compensation will be calculated on the basis of the income foregone. The EU will pay up to 75% of this compensation, the rest to be borne by Member States.

How does the proposal ensure simplification of procedures?

Given the urgency of the support needed, it will be possible to apply a simplified procedure for amendments to Member States’ operational programmes related to the specific measures and the reallocation of financial resources. This simplified procedure should cover all the amendments necessary for the full implementation of the measures concerned, including their introduction and the description of the methods for calculating support.

The Commission proposal also includes budgetary flexibility. What is new?

The proposed modification does not imply any changes in the Multiannual Financial Framework annual ceilings for commitments and payments. The annual breakdown of commitment appropriations for the EMFF remains thus unchanged, the EMFF being one of the five European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds.

With fishing and aquaculture activities locked down or significantly reduced, there is little room for implementing the current EMFF measures and operational programmes normally. The Commission therefore proposes to grant maximum flexibility to Member States to allocate resources at short notice in order to address coronavirus needs. However, resources available for fisheries control, the collection of scientific data and the compensation of additional costs in the outermost regions remain ring-fenced to ensure the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Other available resources under shared management should be allocated by Member States on the basis of their needs.

The Commission will carefully monitor the impact of the proposed modification on payment appropriations in 2020 taking into account both the implementation of the budget and revised Member States forecasts.

How will producer organisations benefit from the Commission’s proposal?

Given the key role played by producer organisations in the management of the crisis, the ceiling for support to production and marketing plans is increased from 3% up to 12 % of the average annual value of the output placed on the market. It will also be possible for Member States to grant advances of up to 100 % of the financial support to producer organisations.

Why did the Commission decide to reintroduce storage aid and to expand its scope to aquaculture produces?

The sudden disruptions to fishery and aquaculture activities ensuing from the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting risk of jeopardising markets of fishery and aquaculture products, makes it appropriate to set up a mechanism for storing fishery and aquaculture products for human consumption. This will foster greater market stability, mitigate the risk of having such products wasted or redirected to non-human food purposes, and contribute to absorbing the impact of the crisis on the return of products.

This mechanism should enable fishery and aquaculture producers to make use of the same preservation or conservation techniques for similar species and ensure that fair competition between producers is maintained.

In order to enable Member States to react promptly to the suddenness and unpredictability of the coronavirus outbreak, they will be entitled to set trigger prices for their producer organisations to activate the storage mechanism. That trigger price should be set in such a way that fair competition between operators is maintained.

Supporting farmers and rural areas 

What measures will directly support farmers and rural areas under the CRII+?

The Commission is proposing to increase flexibility in the use of financial instruments. Farmers and other rural development beneficiaries will be able to benefit from loans or guarantees of up to €200,000 at favourable conditions, such as very low interest rates or favourable payment schedules under the EAFRD. Usually these financial instruments have to be linked to investments, under this new measure, they can help farmers with their cash flow to finance costs or compensate temporary losses.

In addition, rural development funds can be used to invest in medical facilities and small-scale infrastructure in rural areas, such as the adaptation of health centres to treat growing numbers of patients or the set-up of mobile health facilities to carry out tests and provide treatments to farmers and rural inhabitants.

What measures under the CRII+ will help Member States in the implementation of their Rural Development Programmes?

Member States are facing practical difficulties in meeting certain requirements under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Commission aims to help through a range of concrete measures.

Firstly, Member States will be allowed to reallocate money left unused under their Rural Development Programmes (RDP), rather than sending it back into the EU budget. The money will still have to be used in the framework of the respective RDP.

Secondly, Member States will also not have to amend their ESI Funds’ Partnership Agreements concluded for the 2014-2020 budgeting period to modify their Rural Development Programmes, lifting some administrative procedures for Member States.

Thirdly, every year Member States have to send an Annual Implementation Report on their Rural Development Programmes to the Commission. In these exceptional circumstances, the Commission is postponing the deadline for submissions (originally 30 June) to give more time to national authorities to put it together.

What other measures are being taken under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to support the agri-food sector in these exceptional circumstances?

In addition to the measures directly linked to the EAFRD under the CRII+, the Commission is proposing further flexibility and simplification of other Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) instruments.

Firstly, the deadline for CAP payment applications will be extended by a month, from 15 May to 15 June 2020, offering more time to farmers to fill in their application for both direct payments and rural development payments.

Secondly, to increase the cash flow of farmers, the Commission will increase the advances of direct payments and rural development payments. The rate of advance payments will go up from 50% to 70% for direct payments, and from 75% to 85% for rural development payments. Farmers will start receiving these advances from 16 October 2020.

Finally, the Commission will propose a reduction of physical on-the-spot checks and give more leeway for timing requirements. This will reduce the administrative burden and avoid unnecessary delays. Currently Member States have to carry out checks to ensure that eligibility conditions are met. However, in the current exceptional circumstances, it is crucial to minimise physical contact between farmers and the inspectors carrying out the checks.

The final legal steps are currently being taken to adopt these measures.

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EU-Australia Leaders’ Virtual Meeting

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The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, held a Leaders’ Virtual Meeting on 26 November 2020.

The leaders reconfirmed their resolve to work together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and underlined their commitment to take effective measures to protect health and build more innovative, sustainable, inclusive and resilient economies.

The leaders reaffirmed the shared values that underpin the bilateral relationship as enshrined in the EU-Australia Framework Agreement. The EU and Australia share a commitment to democracy, the rule of law, the protection and promotion of human rights, and gender equality. They are strong supporters of the international rules-based order and an effective multilateral system with the United Nations at its core. The leaders discussed enhancing cooperation in international fora.

Underscoring that global cooperation is vital in overcoming COVID-19, the leaders welcomed the outcomes of the G20 Leaders’ Summit on 21-22 November. They referred to the significant contributions the EU and Australia have made towards the global response to COVID-19. They welcomed the support provided to each other’s citizens affected by travel disruptions.

The EU and Australia are committed to ensure universal, equitable and early access to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. Both sides have notably committed substantial funding to the almost €16 billion (A$26 billion) raised through the EU-led Coronavirus Global Response pledging marathon. The leaders stressed the importance of continued international support for the Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX Facility. They agreed to strengthen bilateral research and innovation cooperation and to share research data to combat the pandemic.

The leaders agreed that the EU and Australia will continue to work together to strengthen the World Health Organisation and global preparedness and response to health emergencies. They called for continued and timely implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution of 19 May 2020, including with respect to the independent evaluation of the international response to the pandemic.

The EU and Australia are stepping up cooperation on post-pandemic socio-economic recovery and are implementing the G20 Action Plan. They will also discuss the recovery at the next Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit. The leaders committed to recovery plans that accelerate emissions reductions, and ensure communities and institutions are more resilient and able to adapt to future impacts of climate change, as well as accelerating the digital transformation. They emphasised that global supply chains need to be more resilient and sustainable. They agreed to further cooperate on critical raw materials and on the promotion of diverse critical technology markets.

Both sides reconfirmed their commitment to open and fair trade. They underlined the need to support the multilateral rules-based trading system and to render it fit for current challenges. The EU and Australia will continue to work together, including in the Ottawa Group, to reform and strengthen the WTO, including its negotiating and monitoring function, in particular with regard to level playing field. On reform of the WTO’s dispute settlement system, the two sides reiterated their desire that the WTO membership collectivelyfind a timely and long-lasting solution that would restore a binding, two-tier and independent dispute settlement system in the WTO. The EU and Australia will engage constructively in areas of common interest on the WTO agenda, including sustainable development, e-commerce and fisheries subsidies.

The Leaders noted good progress in the negotiations for an ambitious and comprehensive bilateral trade agreement. The timely conclusion of such an agreement would create growth opportunities, deepen economic integration and reinforce our shared support for rules-based trading arrangements.

The leaders agreed to enhance cooperation to promote shared interests in security and prosperity in Asia and the Pacific, spanning the Indian and Pacific oceans. They recognised the importance of the principles of regional engagement set out in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, including openness, transparency, a rules-based framework, good governance and respect for sovereignty and international law. In this regard, they agreed to work together in the ASEAN Regional Forum and also to continue their dialogue on cooperation in other ASEAN-led processes. The leaders expressed serious concern about the unilateral and destabilising actions in the South China Sea and underlined the importance of upholding international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. They underlined that dialogue is the only way to achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and urged the DPRK to comply with all relevant UN Security Council resolutions. 

The leaders stressed that other regional issues should also be resolved through peaceful dialogue and in accordance with international law, including in relation to Belarus and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Underlining the importance of assisting the most vulnerable countries, including in Africa, the leaders welcomed the extension of the G20/Paris Club Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and the recently endorsed Common Framework for Debt Treatment beyond the DSSI.

The leaders emphasised their commitment to working with Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to build resilience in line with the Agenda 2030. In 2020 the EU has committed €120 million in support of the COVID-19 response in these countries and will continue to provide development assistance to them. Australia has made an allocation of €188 million to assist the region respond to COVID-19 over the next two years as well as separate funding to support vaccine access.

The leaders agreed that resolute and coordinated action is key to tackling the urgent challenge of climate change and environmental degradation. The EU and Australia underlined their commitment to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement and to step up global action to tackle climate change in the lead up to COP26 in 2021. The EU highlighted its commitment to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, while Australia will also demonstrate significant ambition on reducing emissions and pursuing a low emissions development strategy in order to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The leaders recalled the request by UNFCCC COP21 to communicate or update their Nationally Determined Contributions reflecting the highest possible ambition. The EU and Australia have agreed to collaborate on international technology partnerships. The leaders also underlined their commitment to move towards the circular economy and called for an ambitious global biodiversity framework at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in 2021.

Committed to promoting digital transformation based on shared values, Australia and the EU have initiated a digital economy and technology dialogue and agreed to cooperate on artificial intelligence, blockchain, the use of digital tools to address climate change and disaster resilience, quantum technology and the role of platforms. Recognising the importance of a fair and sustainable international tax system, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to reach by mid-2021 a global solution that addresses the tax challenges arising from the digitisation of the economy.

The leaders welcomed the recent UN resolution on responsible behaviour in space. They also welcomed the establishment of a bilateral space dialogue to advance collaboration.

The leaders restated their commitment to promote sustainable, comprehensive and rules-based connectivity and to implementation of the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment. They agreed to explore synergies between their cooperation on connectivity with third countries, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. They confirmed their resolve to launch in the near future an EU-Australia Transport Dialogue.

On security and defence issues, the leaders looked forward to strengthened cooperation in areas such as counterterrorism and prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism, cyber and critical technology issues, countering disinformation and foreign interference, protection of critical infrastructure and maritime security. They agreed to continue engagement in crisis management as provided for in the EU-Australia Framework Participation Agreement.

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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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