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Commission steps up fight against money laundering and terrorist financing

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The European Commission has today put forward a comprehensive approach to further strengthen the EU’s fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.

The Commission has published an ambitious and multifaceted Action Plan, which sets out concrete measures that the Commission will take over the next 12 months to better enforce, supervise and coordinate the EU’s rules on combating money laundering and terrorist financing. The aim of this new, comprehensive approach is to shut down any remaining loopholes and remove any weak links in the EU’s rules.

Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “We need to put an end to dirty money infiltrating our financial system. Today we are further bolstering our defences to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, with a comprehensive and far-reaching Action Plan. There should be no weak links in our rules and their implementation. We are committed to delivering on all these actions – swiftly and consistently – over the next 12 months. We are also strengthening the EU’s global role in terms of shaping international standards on fighting money laundering and terrorism financing.”

The Commission has also published today a more transparent, refined methodology to identify high-risk third countries that have strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing regimes that pose significant threats to the EU’s financial system. This will enhance our engagement with third countries and ensure greater cooperation with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Finally, the Commission has also adopted a new list of third countries with strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks.

Action Plan for a Comprehensive EU policy on Preventing Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing

Today’s Action Plan is built on six pillars, each of which is aimed at improving the EU’s overall fight against money laundering and terrorist financing, as well as strengthening the EU’s global role in this area. When combined, these six pillars will ensure that EU rules are more harmonised and therefore more effective. The rules will be better supervised and there will be better coordination between Member State authorities.

The six pillars are as follows:

Effective application of EU rules: the Commission will continue to monitor closely the implementation of EU rules by Member States to ensure that national rules are in line with the highest possible standards. In parallel, today’s Action Plan encourages the European Banking Authority (EBA) to make full use of its new powers to tackle money laundering and terrorist financing.

A single EU rulebook: while current EU rules are far-reaching and effective, Member States tend to apply them in a wide variety of different manners. Diverging interpretations of the rules therefore lead to loopholes in our system, which can be exploited by criminals. To combat this, the Commission will propose a more harmonised set of rules in the first quarter of 2021.

EU-level supervision: currently it is up to each Member State to individually supervise EU rules in this area and as a result, gaps can develop in how the rules are supervised. In the first quarter of 2021, the Commission will propose to set up an EU-level supervisor.

A coordination and support mechanism for Member State Financial Intelligence Units: Financial Intelligence Units in Member States play a critical role in identifying transactions and activities that could be linked to criminal activities. In the first quarter of 2021, the Commission will propose to establish an EU mechanism to help further coordinate and support the work of these bodies.

Enforcing EU-level criminal law provisions and information exchange: Judicial and police cooperation, on the basis of EU instruments and institutional arrangements, is essential to ensure the proper exchange of information.The private sector can also play a role in fighting money laundering and terrorist financing. The Commission will issue guidance on the role of public-private partnerships to clarify and enhance data sharing.

The EU’s global role: the EU is actively involved within the Financial Action Task Force and on the world stage in shaping international standards in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. We are determined to step up our efforts so that we are a single global actor in this area. In particular, the EU will need to adjust its approach to third countries with deficiencies in their regime regarding anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing that put our Single Market at risk. The new methodology issued alongside this Action Plan today provides the EU with the necessary tools to do so. Pending the application of the revised methodology, today’s updated EU list ensures better alignment with the latest FATF (Financial Action Task Force) list.

To ensure inclusive discussions on the development of these policies, the Commission launched a public consultation today on the Action Plan. Authorities, stakeholders and citizens will have until 29 July to provide their feedback.

Refined methodology

The Commission has today published a new methodology to identify high-risk third countries that have strategic deficiencies in their national anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing regimes, which pose significant threats to the EU’s financial system. The aim of this new methodology is to provide more clarity and transparency in the process of identifying these third countries. The key new elements concern: (i) the interaction between the EU and FATF listing process; (ii) an enhanced engagement with third countries; and (iii) reinforced consultation of Member States experts.The European Parliament and the Council will have access to all relevant information at the different stages of the procedures, subject to appropriate handling requirements.

Updated List

Under the Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD), the Commission has a legal obligation to identify high-risk third countries with strategic deficiencies in their regime regarding anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing. Pending the application of the above-mentioned refined methodology, the Commission has today revised its list, taking into account developments at international level since 2018. The new list is now better aligned with the lists published by the FATF.

Countries which have been listed: The Bahamas, Barbados, Botswana, Cambodia, Ghana, Jamaica, Mauritius, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Panama and Zimbabwe.

Countries which have been delisted: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Guyana, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.

The Commission amended the list in the form of a Delegated Regulation. It will now be submitted to the European Parliament and Council for approval within one month (with a possible one-month extension).Given the Coronavirus crisis, the date of application of today’s Regulation listing third countries – and therefore applying new protective measures – only applies as of 1 October 2020. This is to ensure that all stakeholders have time to prepare appropriately. The delisting of countries, however, is not affected by this and will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal.

Background

The Commission’s Anti-Money Laundering Package of July 2019 highlighted a number of weaknesses in the EU’s anti-money laundering / countering the financing of terrorism framework. While the transposition and entry into force of recent legislation will address some of these issues, other problems remain. In response to this package, the European Parliament and the Council invited the Commission to investigate what steps could be taken to achieve a more harmonised set of rules, better supervision, including at EU level, as well as improved coordination among Financial Intelligence Units. Today’s Action Plan is the Commission’s reply to this call for action, and the first step to achieve the Commission’s priority to deliver a new, comprehensive framework to fight money laundering and terrorist financing. The new methodology to identify and mitigate threats that strategic deficiencies in the anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing of third countries pose to the integrity of the EU’s financial system, also issued today, will further equip the EU to deal with external risks.

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EU Politics

Towards a stronger and more resilient Schengen area

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The first ever Schengen Forum, convened today by the Commission, allowed for constructive exchanges towards building a stronger and more resilient Schengen area. The videoconference gathered Members of the European Parliament and Home Affairs Ministers with the aim of fostering cooperation and political dialogue and rebuilding trust.  

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Today’s discussions showed a strong collective commitment to preserve and strengthen Schengen. For the last 35 years, we have built an entire Schengen architecture to better protect the area without controls at internal borders. And we must continue to build on and improve that architecture going forward.” 

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shown how much we need Schengen. Moving freely within the EU is a daily necessity for millions of Europeans for work or school for instance. It’s also crucial for companies transporting goods around Europe. Schengen can be our lifeline when it comes to Europe’s economic recovery post-coronavirus. That is why our discussions today on building a more resilient Schengen are so important.”  

The discussions focused on: 

Improving the mechanism to evaluate the implementation of the Schengen rules: Options for operational improvements as well as legislative changes to the mechanism were discussed for better monitoring, quicker and more efficient identification of possible deficiencies and effective follow up. 

Finding a way forward on the revision of the Schengen Borders Code: Participants discussed possible ways forward to improve the current Schengen rules, with the shared objective of overcoming existing internal border controls and ensuring that any possible reintroduction of controls at internal borders in the future is proportionate, used as a measure of last resort and for a limited period of time. 

Better managing the EU’s external borders: Participants stressed the need for quickly putting in place the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Traveller Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). These systems complement existing databases such as the Schengen Information System or the Visa Information System, which need to be used in full. The ongoing work towards ensuring that information systems for migration, border management and security become interoperable by 2023 was highlighted as crucial to give border guards the information they need to know who is crossing the EU’s borders. The deployment of the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps starting from January 2021 will also provide increased support to Member States’ border guards whenever and wherever needed. 

Enhancing police cooperation and information exchange: Common and coordinated European action, for instance through increased police cooperation, better information exchange and better use of new technologies, is crucial to guarantee security within the Schengen area. Police checks can also constitute an effective alternative to the reintroduction of border controls. Measures such as joint patrols, joint investigation teams, cross-border hot pursuits or joint threat analysis were discussed as being alternatives to effectively address threats to security.  

Strengthening the governance of the Schengen area: Regular meetings of the Schengen Forum, based on reports provided by the Commission, will help ensure the political involvement of all relevant players.  

Next steps  

Today’s discussions are the first step in an inclusive political debate towards building a stronger Schengen area based on mutual trust. They will feed into the Schengen Strategy that the Commission intends to present in mid-2021.  

Following today’s first videoconference, the Schengen Forum will continue to meet regularly both at political or technical levels. The next meeting of the Forum at political level will take place in spring 2021, ahead of the presentation of the Strategy for a stronger Schengen area. Targeted consultations at technical level will also take place with representatives from the European Parliament and national authorities over the next months.  

Background  

35 years ago, 5 Member States agreed to remove border controls between themselves. Today, the Schengen area encompasses 26 European States with over 400 million citizens and it is a key policy of the European Union. It underpins the seamless functioning of the EU internal market in goods and services and has allowed Europeans to organise their private and professional lives around unfettered travel around Europe. 

Schengen rules require an update to adapt them to evolving challenges. The pandemic, security concerns, and migration management issues have led Member States to reintroduce internal border checks. To address these challenges and build a more resilient Schengen area, the Commission announced in September this year the creation of a Schengen Forum to foster operational cooperation and stronger confidence in the rules.   

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EU Politics

MEPs condemn Turkey’s activities in Varosha, Cyprus, and call for sanctions

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Turkey’s decision to “open” the sealed-off suburb of Varosha undermines prospects of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, warn MEPs.

In a resolution adopted by 631 votes in favour, 3 against and 59 abstentions, MEPs condemn Turkey’s illegal activities in the Varosha suburb of the city of Famagusta and warn that its partial “opening” weakens prospects of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, exacerbating divisions and entrenching the permanent partition of the island.

MEPs call on Turkey to transfer Varosha to its lawful inhabitants under the temporary administration of the UN (in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 550 (1984)) and to refrain from any actions that alter the demographic balance on the island through a policy of illegal settlement.

Tough sanctions against Turkey

A sustainable solution to reunify the island of Cyprus and its people can only be found through dialogue, diplomacy, and negotiations, MEPs stress. They call on the European Council to maintain its unified position on Turkey’s illegal actions and impose tough sanctions in response.

MEPS regret that the Turkish authorities have endorsed the two-state solution for Cyprus and reiterate their support for a fair, comprehensive and viable settlement on the basis of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with a single international legal status. They also call on the EU to play a more active role in bringing the negotiations under UN auspices to a successful conclusion.

Tense EU-Turkey relations

As Turkey distances itself more and more from European values and standards, EU-Turkey relations are at a historic low, warns Parliament. Its illegal and unilateral military actions in the Eastern Mediterranean infringe on the sovereignty of EU member states Greece and Cyprus. MEPs also point out Turkey’s direct support of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as its actions in Libya and Syria.

Background

The Turkish army fenced off Varosha immediately after the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The Greek Cypriots who fled from Varosha were not allowed to return and with public entry prohibited, Varosha has effectively become a ghost town.

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EU Politics

Commission and EBRD promote innovative use of data in public procurement involving EU funds

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The European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Open Contracting Partnership are joining forces to improve the quality and transparency of public tenders co-funded by EU funds in Greece and Poland. Thanks to their support, two pilot projects will provide expertise and hands-on support to public authorities in both countries, with a focus on digital innovation.

By promoting the smart use of innovation and open data, the two pilots will help public administrations to better plan, implement and monitor the procurement of works, goods and services. This will improve the use of public resources and increase opportunities for businesses, especially for small and medium companies (SMEs). Moreover, thanks to a cooperation with local civil society organisations, this initiative will also favour transparency of public spending and stimulate citizens’ participation in the monitoring of investments with a direct impact on the community, such as investments in sustainability, local development and social inclusion. 

The two pilot projects

  • In Greece, the project will aim at consolidating and integrating all databases into a single smart public contract register. This will enable online access for bidders and citizens, improve quality of data and facilitate the use of data-driven analytical tools for monitoring the procurement process.
  • In Poland, the initiative will support Polish national and local authorities to introduce open data in public procurement and promote automated collection, standardisation, and consolidation of procurement data on all tenders.

The two pilots will run until the end of 2021 and their results will be disseminated in order to ensure a successful roll out in other Member States.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “In the programming period 2021-2027, Cohesion policy will continue to support Member States and regions in their economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic, as well as boosting competitiveness through new investments in research and innovation, digital transition and the implementation of the European Green Deal agenda. Through the use of new technologies, national and local public authorities managing EU funds will be able to spend public money more effectively ensuring the best possible results for citizens and businesses”.

Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added: “Transparency in public procurement is essential to ensure efficiency of public investments, in line with the EU strategic policy goals aiming at a greener, digital and more resilient Europe. Public authorities can rely on the EU’s public procurement framework, tools like the electronic procurement systems and open data for an efficient use of public funds.”

The EBRD Vice-President, Pierre Heilbronn commented: “The EBRD is committed to support legal and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring that procurement laws and practices are modern, in line with international standards and can swiftly respond to emerging challenges. Together with Open Contracting Partnership, we are sharing the experience of successful civil society procurement monitoring based on open data. Our joint efforts aim to create a framework for enlisting civil society organisations to support public procurement reforms and use open data to monitor procurement.”

Background

In the context of the next long-term EU budget, more than €370 billion from Cohesion policy funds will be invested to support the digital and green transitions of the Member States. Every year, public authorities in the EU spend around 14% of GDP on public procurement, amounting to more than €1.9 trillion. Almost half of Cohesion policy funding is channelled through public procurement. The Commission has promoted a series of initiatives aimed at helping Member States to improve the way administrations and beneficiaries use public procurement for EU investments. These include the Integrity Pacts to ensure more efficient and transparent tenders and safeguarding EU taxpayers’ money. The Commission also took action to facilitate citizen engagement for better governance and effective Cohesion policy investments.

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