Connect with us

EU Politics

How Covid-19 affects Erasmus and EU Solidarity Corps

Published

on

Education has been hard hit by the Covid-19 crisis. Travel restrictions and the closing of universities mean participants in cross-border mobility programmes, such as the Erasmus+ student exchange and the European Solidarity Corps, are facing challenges.

Currently 165,000 young people across Europe are on an Erasmus exchange and 5,000 more are involved in volunteering projects.

Erasmus students during Covid-19 (source: Erasmus Student Network)  

  • 25% of student exchanges were cancelled due to Covid-19 
  • 37.5% of students experienced at least one major problem related to their exchange (for example: couldn’t go home, accommodation problems) 
  • Half of the students whose programme continued have moved to online classes  
  • 34% have moved to partial online offers or partially postponed classes.  

How the EU is helping

To help young people who are volunteering or taking part in Erasmus+, as much as possible, the European Commission has said it will make the programmes as flexible as legally possible.

It has recommended that the national agencies, responsible for the management of study exchanges, invoke “force majeure”, which would allow them to assess the possibility of approving additional costs up to a maximum grant amount and to postpone planned activities for 12 months.

Parliament’s culture and education committee has called on the Commission to do everything possible to provide support, clear information and reassurance for participants.

In a letter to Mariya Gabriel, the commissioner responsible for youth and education on 15 April, MEPs ask the Commission to ensure that:

  • Maximum flexibility is applied, in particular to help those who have had to return to their home countries for safety reasons
  • All exceptional costs in connection with Covid-19 are reimbursed
  • Exchange students and participants of the Solidarity Corps programme retain their status
  • Exchange students do not lose the academic year and can obtain the ECTS credits through remote study arrangements.

MEPs also asked the Commission to keep the culture and education committee updated about the number of participants currently on an exchange, their situation and the measures taken to support them. On 4 May, the committee again debated the issue with commissioners Thierry Breton and Mariya Gabriel.

Continue Reading
Comments

EU Politics

Explainer: New EU strategy on adaptation to climate change

Published

on

1. What is the objective of the new EU Adaptation Strategy?

The Strategy outlines a long-term vision for the EU to become a climate-resilient society, fully adapted to the unavoidable impacts of climate change by 2050. Complementing the EU’s ambitious goal to become climate neutral by mid-century, this strategy aims to reinforce the adaptive capacity of the EU and the world and minimise vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement and the proposal for the European Climate Law. The new Strategy seeks to step up action across the economy and society in synergy with other Green Deal policies such as biodiversity protection and sustainable agriculture. This will be done by making adaptation smarter, swifter and more systemic, as well as stepping up international action on adaptation. This means improving our knowledge of climate impacts and adaptation solutions; stepping up adaptation planning and climate risk assessments; accelerating adaptation action; and helping to strengthen climate resilience globally. This strategy sets out a whole-economy approach, with particular consideration for those among us who are most vulnerable to guarantee that resilience is achieved in a just and fair way.

2. Why do we need a new EU Adaptation Strategy now?

Halting all greenhouse gas emissions today would still not prevent the climate change impacts that are already occurring. The severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our health and socio-economic wellbeing are a stark warning of the dangers of insufficient preparation. The frequency and severity of climate and weather extremes is increasing. They range from unprecedented forest fires and heatwaves to devastating droughts; and from hurricanes ravaging EU outermost regions to forests decimated by unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks in Central and Eastern Europe. Water shortages in the EU have affected economic activities as diverse as agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, power plant cooling, and cargo shipping on rivers. In the EU, economic losses from extreme weather already average over €12 billion per year.

While the 2013 EU Adaptation Strategy was positively evaluated in 2018, there is a need to deepen and to expand adaptation actions, e.g. to make data more uniform and accessible, to bridge the climate protection gap – the share of non-insured economic losses – and to scale up finance for climate adaptation in the EU and globally. The EU’s adaptive capacity needs to be reinforced in line with the Paris Agreement and the proposed European Climate Law. The strategy comes at an important moment, ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow, where adaptation to climate change will play a key role.

3. What actions are planned in the EU as part of the strategy?

The Strategy pursues three objectives and proposes a range of actions in order to meet them:

  • To make adaptation smarter – improving knowledge and availability of data, while managing the inherent uncertainty brought upon us by climate change; securing more and better data on climate-related risk and losses, and making Climate-ADAPT the authoritative European platform for adaptation knowledge.
  • To make adaptation more systemic – supporting policy development at all levels of governance, society and the economy and in all sectors by improving adaptation strategies and plans; integrating climate resilience in macro-fiscal policy, and promoting nature-based solutions for adaptation.
  • To speed up adaptation across the board – by accelerating the development and rollout of adaptation solutions; reducing climate-related risk; closing the climate protection gap , and ensuring the availability and sustainability of fresh water.

At the same time, the Commission will continue to provide guidelines, technical capacity and funding opportunities to help Member States, regions, and local administrations to develop and implement comprehensive adaptation strategies and actions. The Commission will also continue to mainstream adaptation by integrating climate change considerations into EU policies and programmes to make them climate resilient.

4. How does the Strategy integrate international action into its framework?

Our climate change adaptation ambition must match our global leadership in climate change mitigation. The Paris Agreement established the global goal on adaptation and highlighted adaptation as a key contributor to sustainable development. Adaptation is a crosscutting element in the EU and Member States’ external action, spanning development cooperation, migration, trade, agriculture and security. The EU already has a history of cooperating with other countries on climate adaptation at all levels, but the strategy brings this into a coherent framework around three actions:

  • increasing support for international climate resilience and preparedness, for example in support of the development and implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (under the Paris Agreement) in partner countries;
  • scaling up international finance to build climate resilience, for example through the EU instruments for external action and leveraging private sector investments;
  • strengthening global engagement and exchanges, learning from our international partners who have long been on the frontlines of climate change and have valuable experience that can help Europe become more climate resilient and sharing information for example from the COPERNICUS programme.

The EU and its Member States increased their overall climate finance support to third countries by 7.4% in 2019, amounting to €21.9 billion, 52% of which was spent on helping our partners adapt to climate change. In order to close the climate change adaptation financing gap, the Commission will aim to increase resources and mobilise larger scale adaptation finance, including through innovative mechanisms such as the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, as well as making resources available through bilateral channels and through the Member States.

5. Where can I find more information on adaptation in Europe?

The adaptation strategy aims to make Climate-ADAPT the authoritative European platform for adaptation knowledge, linking it up with other relevant knowledge portals and sources and making it more accessible for citizens, local governments and other stakeholders. Already today, Climate-ADAPT provides access to reliable data on the likely impacts of climate change, their socio-economic aspects, and the costs and benefits of adaptation options. Its continued development will give decision-makers vital support, and will help policy-makers at EU, national, regional and local levels to develop informed climate change adaptation measures and policies.

Climate-ADAPT will also host the new European Climate and Health Observatory. This Observatory will boost our awareness and understanding of the growing health risks, which climate change will entail, such as heat stress, food and water safety and security threats, or the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. It will help us to better anticipate and minimise these risks, and to improve our individual and collective preparedness.

6. What will Member States need to do under the new Strategy and how will progress be measured?

Adapting to climate change is a process. Discussions on standardised indicators that accurately capture progress are ongoing at EU and international level. The strategy aims to enlarge and make more accessible a toolbox that adaptation actors can use in their work and adapt to their individual needs, be they national, regional or local administrations, SMEs or individual citizens. To help informed decisions, the strategy promotes knowledge sharing and data availability. Adaptation reporting requirements for Member States are already set out in dedicated legislative instruments, such as the Energy Union Governance Regulations. The European Climate Law will, once adopted, also set out obligations for the EU and its Member States in this respect.

7. What EU-level resources are available for adaptation?

Financial support for adaptation is made available through the European Structural and Investment Funds, the Common Agricultural Policy, the LIFE Programme, and the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The proposed Horizon Europe Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change will also leverage significant resources in the effort to make Europe climate resilient. The Commission will support the local uptake of data, digital and smart solutions related to climate adaptation. To help local authorities move from planning to action, the EU will pilot a policy support facility to assist local and regional authorities under the EU Covenant of Mayors.

Continue Reading

EU Politics

Strong EU trade enforcement rules enter into force

Published

on

Robust new trade enforcement rules have entered into force that will further strengthen the EU’s toolbox in defending its interests. With the update of the EU’s Trade Enforcement Regulation, the EU is able to act in a broader range of circumstances.

The new rules upgrade the EU’s enforcement by introducing the following changes:

  • empowering the EU to act to protect its trade interests in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and under bilateral agreements when a trade dispute is blocked despite the EU’s good faith effort to follow dispute settlement procedures (the regulation previously only allowed action after the completion of dispute settlement procedures); and
  • expanding the scope of the regulation and of possible trade policy countermeasures to services and certain trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (IPR) (the regulation previously only permitted countermeasures in goods).

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “The European Union must be able to defend itself against unfair trading practices. These new rules will help protect us from those trying to take advantage of our openness. We continue to work towards our first preference, which is a reformed and well-functioning multilateral rulebook with an effective Dispute Settlement System at its core. But we cannot afford to stand defenseless in the meantime. These measures allow us to respond resolutely and assertively.”

In line with the Political Guidelines of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission is further reinforcing the Union’s tools to focus on compliance and enforcement of the EU’s trade agreements.

Ensuring the respect of the commitments agreed with other trade partners is a key priority of this Commission. The EU is therefore increasing the focus on enforcing its partners’ commitments in multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements. In so doing the Union will rely on a suite of instruments.

Background

The proposal to amend the existing Enforcement Regulation came as a reaction to the blockage of the operations of the WTO Appellate Body. The current regulation – a basis under EU law for adopting trade countermeasures – requires that a dispute goes all the way through the WTO procedures, including the appeal stage, before the Union can react. The lack of a functioning WTO Appellate Body allows WTO Members to avoid their obligations and escape a binding ruling by simply appealing a panel report.

The revised Regulation enables the EU to react even if the WTO has not delivered a final ruling because the other WTO member blocks the dispute procedure by appealing to the non-functioning Appellate Body and by not agreeing to an alternative arbitration under WTO Dispute Settlement Agreement.

This new mechanism also applies to the dispute settlement in relation to regional or bilateral trade agreements to which the EU is party if a similar blockage arises. The EU must be able to respond resolutely in case trade partners hinder effective dispute settlement resolution, for instance, by blocking the composition of panels.

Anti-coercion mechanism

As part of the agreement, the Commission committed to developing the EU’s anti-coercion mechanism swiftly. As announced in the Letter of Intent of the President of the European Commission to the President of the European Parliament and President in office of the Council of 16 September 2020 the Commission shall adopt the proposal on the anti-coercion mechanism no later than the end of 2021. The anti-coercion mechanism is also included in the European Commission’s 2021 Work Programme.

Additional efforts on implementation and enforcement

In addition to upgrading the Enforcement Regulation and to proposing an anti-coercion mechanism, several other steps have been taken since the start of this Commission to strengthen and target EU implementation and enforcement efforts. This includes:

  • the appointment of a Chief Trade Enforcement Officer;
  • the creation of a new Directorate in DG Trade for enforcement, market access and SMEs; and
  • the establishment under Access2Markets of a single entry point for complaints from EU stakeholders and businesses on trade barriers on foreign markets and violations of sustainable trade commitments in EU trade agreements.

Continue Reading

EU Politics

Explainer: The Recovery and Resilience Facility

Published

on

What are the main elements of the agreement on the Recovery and Resilience Facility regulation (RRF)?

The political agreement reached by co-legislators in December and approved by the European Parliament structures the scope of the RRF around six pillars: green transition; digital transformation; economic cohesion, productivity and competitiveness; social and territorial cohesion; health, economic, social and institutional  resilience; policies for the next generation.

The national recovery and resilience plans should devote at least 37% of total expenditure to investments and reforms that support climate objectives. Furthermore, all investments and reforms must respect the “do no significant harm” principle, ensuring that they do not significantly harm the environment.

A minimum of 20% of expenditure should support the digital transition.

The recovery and resilience plans are also expected to contribute to effectively addressing the relevant challenges identified in country-specific recommendations under the European Semester.

The European Parliament will have a strong role in the RRF’s governance, with regular structured dialogues enabling it to invite the Commission to discuss the implementation of the RRF.

Pre-financing of 13% of the total amount allocated to each Member State will be made available as pre-financing after the approval of the respective recovery and resilience plans.

A scoreboard will be established and made publicly available to provide information on progress in the implementation of the RRF and national plans.

Member States will need to put in place strong measures to protect the financial interests of the Union, especially to prevent fraud, corruption and conflicts of interest.

What are the next steps? When will the RRF come into force?

Following the European Parliament’s approval, the Council now also needs to formally approve the political agreement reached in December 2020. This is scheduled to happen before the 16 February ECOFIN meeting. The RRF regulation will then be published in the Official Journal, allowing it to enter into force on the day after publication.

The Commission expects all the necessary formal steps to be concluded for the RRF to enter into force in the second half of February.

What are recovery and resilience plans?

Member States prepare recovery and resilience plans that set out a coherent package of reforms and investment initiatives to be implemented up to 2026 that will be supported by the RRF. These plans will be assessed by the Commission and approved by the Council.

When will Member States present their Recovery and Resilience Plans?

The Commission is currently engaging in intensive dialogue with all Member States on the preparation of their recovery and resilience plans.

Member States have been able to present their draft recovery and resilience plans to the Commission since 15 October 2020. They will have the opportunity to revise and finalise their plans following the initial presentation of the drafts.

They will be able to submit the final versions of their recovery and resilience plans once RRF is legally in force. The plans should be presented by 30 April, as a rule.

How will the Commission assess the recovery and resilience plans?

The Commission will assess the recovery and resilience plans based on eleven transparent criteria set out in the Regulation itself. The assessments will notably consider whether the investments and reforms set out in the plans:

  • represent a balanced response to the economic and social situation of the Member State, contributing appropriately to all six RRF pillars;
  • contribute to effectively addressing the relevant country-specific recommendations;
  • devote at least 37% of total expenditure on investments and reforms that support climate objectives;
  • devote at least 20% of total expenditure on the digital transition;
  • contribute to strengthening the growth potential, job creation and economic, institutional and social resilience of the Member State;
  • do not significantly harm the environment.

What is the timeline for the assessment of recovery and resilience plans?

The Commission will complete its assessment of recovery and resilience plans within two months of receiving them.

The Council will have up to four weeks to consider the Commission’s assessment and adopt an implementing decision by qualified majority.

What technical guidance has the Commission provided to Member States to help prepare their national recovery and resilience plans?

The Commission provided Member States with clear guidance to support them in the preparation of the recovery and resilience plans in September 2020. It updated this guidance in January 2021 to assist Member States in preparing plans in line with the political agreement of the co-legislators on the regulation. This update maintains the key aspects of the previous guidance. It reflects that the scope of the RRF is now structured around six pillars, as well as the fact that Member States should explain how the plans contribute to equality and the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Plans should also include a summary of the consultation process at national level as well as a presentation of the controls and audit system put in place to ensure that the financial interests of the Union are protected. The guidance also asks Member States to detail an outline of their communication plans in order to make sure that EU support is visible to all Europeans who benefit from it.

The Commission has also published a standard template, which Member States are encouraged to use for their plans.

The Commission will provide Member States with guidance on the application of the ‘do no significant harm’ principle by mid-February.

How much funding will be provided under the Recovery and Resilience Facility in total?

The Recovery and Resilience Facility will provide up to €672.5 billion to support investments and reforms (in 2018 prices). This breaks down into €312.5 billion in grants and €360 billion in loans.

How will the allocation of grants to Member States be determined?

For 70% of the total of €312.5 billion available in grants, the allocation key will take into account

  • the Member State’s population
  • the inverse of its GDP per capita
  • its average unemployment rate over the past 5 years (2015-2019) compared to the EU average.

For the remaining 30%, instead of the unemployment rate, the observed loss in real GDP over 2020 and the observed cumulative loss in real GDP over the period 2020-2021 will be considered. While Annex I of the Regulation provides an indicative amount for the 30% in current prices on the basis of the Autumn forecast, this will only be finalised when Eurostat presents final data in June 2022. The amounts in current prices are available here.

Member States can also request a loan worth up to 6.8% of their 2019 GNI as part of the submission of their recovery and resilience plan.

When will Member States begin to receive the first disbursements under the Recovery and Resilience Facility?

The 13% pre-financing payment will be made after the approval of the national recovery and resilience plan and the adoption of the legal commitment by the Commission. The Own Resources Decision will also have to be ratified by all Member States by that time in order for the Commission to be able to borrow on financial markets. This means that the first payments could be made starting from mid-2021, subject to all necessary legal acts being in place.

How will disbursements made under the Recovery and Resilience Facility be linked to progress with the implementation of investments and reforms?

Under the RRF, payments will be linked to performance. The Commission will authorise disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of a group of milestones and targets reflecting progress on several reforms and investments of the plan. Milestones and targets should be clear, realistic, well defined, verifiable, and directly determined or otherwise influenced by public policies. Since disbursements can take place a maximum of twice a year, there cannot be more than two groups of milestones and targets per year.

Upon completion of the relevant agreed milestones and targets indicated in its recovery and resilience plan, the Member State will present a request to the Commission for a disbursement of financial support. The Commission will prepare an assessment within two months and ask the opinion of the Economic and Financial Committee on the satisfactory fulfilment of the relevant milestones and targets. In exceptional circumstances where one or more Member State considers that there are serious deviations from the satisfactory fulfilment of the relevant milestones and targets of another Member State, they may request that the President of the European Council refers the matter to the next European Council.

The Commission will adopt the decision on disbursement under the “examination procedure” of comitology.

If the Member State has not satisfactorily implemented the milestones and targets, the Commission will not pay all or part of the financial contribution to that Member State.

How will the Recovery and Resilience Facility support the green transition?

The Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation establishes a climate target of 37% at the level of the individual national recovery and resilience plans. Each Member State will be responsible for presenting evidence on the overall share of climate-related expenditure in its plan based on a binding climate tracking methodology. When assessing the plan, the Commission will also scrutinise whether the climate target is reached. A plan that does not reach the target will not be accepted.

Each measure proposed in a recovery and resilience plan will also have to respect the “do no significant harm” principle. Specifically, there are six environmental objectives to which no significant harm should be done: (i) climate change mitigation, (ii) climate change adaptation, (iii) water and marine resources, (iv) the circular economy, (v) pollution prevention and control, and (vi) biodiversity and ecosystems. This obligation applies to all reforms and investments, and is not limited to green measures. The Commission will provide technical guidance to Member States giving further support on the application of this principle.

In addition, the Commission encourages Member States to propose flagship investment and reform initiatives that would have an added value for the EU as a whole. These are aimed at, for example, accelerating the development and use of renewables.

How will the Recovery and Resilience Facility support the digital transition?

Member States should ensure a high level of ambition when defining reforms and investments enabling the digital transition as part of their recovery and resilience plans. The Regulation requires that each recovery and resilience plan include a minimum level of 20% of expenditure related to digital. This includes, for instance, investing in the deployment of 5G and Gigabit connectivity, developing digital skills through reforms of education systems and increasing the availability and efficiency of public services using new digital tools.

What will be the role of the European Parliament?

The European Parliament will play a key role in the implementation of the RRF, in full respect of the EU institutional architecture. A ‘recovery and resilience dialogue’ is established, allowing the Parliament to invite the Commission up to every two months to discuss matters concerning the implementation of the RRF. The Commission is required to take into account the views arising from this dialogue. The Recovery and Resilience Scoreboard – to be finalised in December 2021 – will serve as a basis for the recovery and resilience dialogue.

The Commission should transmit information simultaneously to the European Parliament and the Council on the Recovery and Resilience Plans officially submitted by the Member States, and the proposals for Council implementing decisions. The Parliament will also receive an overview of the Commission’s preliminary findings on the fulfilment of milestones and targets related to payment requests and disbursement decisions.

What is the scoreboard? What indicators will be included in it?

A dedicated Recovery and Resilience Facility scoreboard will be established by means of delegated act. It will display the progress of the implementation of recovery and resilience plans in each of the six pillars of the RRF. This scoreboard should be operational by December 2021 and should be updated by the Commission on a biannual basis.

How will the EU’s financial interests be protected?

The Recovery and Resilience Facility requires a control framework that is tailored and proportionate to its unique nature. Member States’ national control systems will serve as the main instrument for safeguarding the financial interests of the Union.

Member States will have to ensure compliance with Union and national laws, including the effective prevention, detection and correction of conflict of interests, corruption and fraud, and avoidance of double funding. They are required to explain the relevant arrangements in their recovery and resilience plans, and the Commission will assess whether they provide sufficient assurance. For instance, Member States need to collect data on final recipients of funds and make this available upon request.

For each payment request, Member States will provide  a ‘management declaration’ that the funds were used for their intended purpose, that information provided is correct, and that the control systems are in place and funds were used in accordance with applicable rules. In addition, the Commission will implement its own risk-based control strategy.

OLAF, the Court of Auditors, the European Public Prosecutors Office and the Commission itself may access relevant data and investigate the use of funds if necessary.

How will the Recovery and Resilience Facility be integrated into the European Semester?

The European Semester and the Recovery and Resilience Facility are closely linked. The assessment of the recovery and resilience plans will be checked against the country-specific recommendations. Given that the deadlines within the European Semester and the Facility will overlap, it is necessary to temporarily adapt the Semester.

Member States are encouraged to submit their National Reform Programmes and their recovery and resilience plans in a single integrated document. This document will provide an overview of the reforms and investments that the Member State will undertake in the coming years, in line with the objectives of the RRF.

The Commission will accompany the proposals for the Council implementing decisions with analytical documents assessing the substance of the recovery and resilience plans. These documents will replace the European Semester country reports in 2021 for those Member States submitting plans in 2021.

Given the comprehensive and forward-looking policy nature of the recovery and resilience plans, there will be no need for the Commission to propose country-specific recommendations in 2021.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending