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Covid-19 recovery fund must be embedded in EU long-term budget

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MEPs discuss plans to reboot Europe’s economy in light of Covid-19 on Wednesday and vote on a resolution later in the week. Learn more in our interview.

The coronavirus outbreak is testing the EU in ways that would have been unthinkable only months ago. Along with the human cost of lives lost, the hit to the EU economy has been severe. Ahead of a vote on plans to revise the EU’s post-2020 budget, the chair of Parliament’s budget committee Johan Van Overtveldt warned the economic recovery would be “slow and gradual” and that the prediction of a 7.5% decline in economic activity this year is a “mild forecast”.

EU response to the coronavirus

In an interview on Parliament’s Facebook page, the Belgian ECR member noted there is still a great deal of incertitude: “Not even in wartime has economic life come to a halt with such suddenness. There is so much uncertainty: will there be a relapse? Will there be a second round of lockdowns? What will the mood of investors and consumers be?”

Since the outset, the EU has been mobilising all means available to help member states reinforce their health sectors and mitigate the socio-economic impact of the virus. Parliament has also called for a larges-cale recovery package to support Europe’s economy after the crisis. Van Overtveldt stressed that this must be embedded in the EU’s long-term budget: “The recovery fund should be substantial but it should also be part of the next [ budget], for 2021-2027 and not something apart.”

Need for contingency plans

With the EU’s current long-term budget set to end in December, Van Overtveldt underlined the importance of a contingency plan in case of failure to reach agreement on the post-2020 budget in time: “When we get into June, time becomes short to get the [budget] approved and up and running in time and a discontinuity of current EU programmes would be very bad for citizens and for the reputation and political coherence of the EU.”

The budget committee chair urged other EU institutions to take note of Parliament’s stance: “The consent of Parliament has to be obtained and that surely is much less a sure thing than it was with the outgoing [long-term budget], so the Commission and Council should take notice of what the Parliament is aiming for. In the interest of citizens, Parliament will ensure that the [long-term budget] and recovery fund are the best possible responses to the severe crisis we see now and that will have consequences for many years.”

Solidarity and responsibility

Commenting on comparisons between the Covid-19 recovery and the post-war Marshall Plan, Van Overtveldt said: “At this point, what has been done by Europe and certainly when the recovery fund to the tune of let’s say €1 trillion comes on top, we will be doing more than was done with the Marshall Plan.”

The European Commission is expected to table proposals on the recovery fund shortly, but there are already deep divisions on, for example, whether countries should be given loans or grants. In order to find a solution that can be agreed by all sides, Van Overtveldt said there must be a compromise: “There has to be solidarity, certainly, vis-à-vis the countries hardest hit by Covid-19, but there also has to be responsibility. Just throwing money around is never a solution. The big challenge will be to find the right balance.”

Greening the economy

The need for a significant stimulus to reboot the EU economy comes at a time when voices calling for increased green investment are also on the rise. Parliament is insisting that climate action is at the core of the post-pandemic recovery. Van Overtveldt described the Commission’s Green Deal as “a start”, but warned that the proposals are “incomplete and dangerously underfinanced”.

He also referred to the potential for “greening” the EU economy through agriculture and cohesion funding which account for roughly two thirds of the EU budget. He stressed the importance of improving the resilience of the EU economy, and making it better equipped to deal with emergencies like Covid-19: “What it’s all about at the end of the day is what you can achieve to increase the wellbeing and welfare of EU citizens. That’s the only relevant issue.”

Parliament votes this week on a resolution on the EU’s planned new long-term budget. To ensure democratic scrutiny and accountability, MEPs will insist on safeguarding Parliament’s role.

MEPs are also expected to request that the Commission prepares a contingency plan to avoid disruption for farmers, companies and organisations counting on EU funds in the event that approval of the long-term budget is delayed.

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Burkina Faso: Former colony orders French troops to leave

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A soldier from Burkina Faso stands guard along the border with Mali and Niger during a military operation against terrorist suspects.(file photo) © Michele Cattani

Burkina Faso has demanded the withdrawal of French troops stationed on the territory of the West African nation, local media reported, citing a government decision. Relations between Paris and its former colony have been on a downward spiral for months now, with the local population blaming France for their security problems.

Agence d’Information du Burkina (AIB) reported that the government of Burkina Faso had suspended a 2018 agreement with France, which regulated the deployment of its service members in the country. Paris now has one month to remove its soldiers, the agency said.

France currently has 400 troops in the African country, who are stationed there as part of efforts to combat Islamist terrorist groups in the region.

In November 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron officially announced the end of anti-insurgent ‘Operation Barkhane’ in the Sahel region, which has been largely viewed as a failure. In doing so, France also vowed to “reduce the exposure and visibility of [its] military forces in Africa.”

The Sahel is a region in northern Africa that includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and a number of other neighboring countries.

Paris ended another military mission in neighboring Mali last August after relations went sour, with the government calling France’s military involvement “not satisfactory.”

Hundreds of people protested in the Burkina Faso’ capital Ouagadougou against the French military presence, chanting anti-French slogans.

Mohamed Sinon, one of the main leaders of the collective that called the demonstration, said it was to show support for junta leader Traore and the security forces fighting jihadists. “We are a pan-African movement and we want cooperation between Burkina Faso and Russia, but also the strengthening of friendship and of cooperation with Guinea and Mali,” he added.

Protesters carried huge posters showing the presidents of Mali and Guinea — both of whom also came to power in coups — as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A source close to the government clarified it was “not the severance of relations with France. The notification only concerns military cooperation agreements”.

Sources familiar with the matter told AFP that France’s preferred option would be to redeploy its forces in the south of neighbouring Niger, where nearly 2,000 French soldiers are already stationed.

French troops withdrew from Mali last year after a 2020 coup in the former French colony saw its rulers also inch closer to Russia.

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The importance of Iran’s membership in the SCO

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The members of Majlis (the Parliament) have approved the emergency of the plan of Iran’s commitments to achieve the position of a member state in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), – informs IRNA from Tehran.

The  emergency plan was endorsed with 161 votes in favor, two against, and three abstentions.

Ali Adyani, the deputy vice president for parliamentary affairs, said that the plan was proposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was endorsed by the cabinet members, and sent to parliament to become law.

According to the official, Iran’s membership in the SCO is of great importance in terms of economic, social, and international affairs particularly because the opportunity would help the Islamic Republic get rid of illegal sanctions and enhance economic diplomacy.

Iran has been an observer of the SCO since 2005. Then, President Ebrahim Raisi called for full membership of the Islamic country in the organization in its last summer summit in Tajikistan.

The legislators have accepted to speed up scrutinizing the plan. Earlier, the Iranian parliament had endorsed the plan of accession of the Islamic Republic to the SCO.

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Sabah: ‘The Americans have deceived themselves, the Europeans and Ukraine’

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The US is repeating the same mistakes as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Now – in Ukraine. So it seems inevitable that Washington will face another setback as a result of its ideological obsession, – writes prominent Turkish observer Bercan Tutar at “Sabah” newspaper.

Having suffered a complete failure in the Middle East wars, the Americans sent to Ukraine not only their ineffective weapons, but also their inadequate thoughts and strategies. But no matter what they do, their chances of defeating Russia are very slim.

The 330th day of the war, which began on February 24, 2022, has already been completed. After a short retreat, Russia began redeployment. However, the fact that Russia abandoned the siege of Kyiv and focused on control over Russian-speaking regions led Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky and the United States to false conclusions.

Encouraged by Russia’s cautious military actions, the United States applied its strategy in the war on terrorism in Ukraine and. According to American experts, the current US administration is following the deadly tracks of previous military propaganda in Ukraine, which proved unsuccessful in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While Russia is pursuing a military strategy that prioritizes its political goals, we see that the US is lacking in both military and political leadership. As soon as the war in Ukraine began, the first goal of the US was to rally its NATO allies against the Russian invasion. It was a smart strategy and it worked.

However, when the US reached the first target, a further one only increased its expectations. Russia was asked to leave not only Donetsk and Lugansk (Donbass), but also Crimea. Even further, the United States began to voice maximalist demands, such as regime change in Moscow. But it is absolutely clear that these demands can arise only in conditions of a total world war.

As a result, American fantasies lead Washington to attempt strategic suicide. The Americans have deceived themselves, the Europeans and Ukraine.

Russian leader Putin said on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the blockade of Leningrad: “We tolerated it for a long time and tried to come to an agreement. As it has recently turned out, they were messing around with us; they were lying to us. This was not the first time this has happened to us. Yet we did everything in our power to settle the problem peacefully. It has become obvious now that it was an inherently impossible mission; the enemy was only preparing to bring this conflict to the hot phase. As I have said, there was no other way than to do what we are doing now.”

In short, some geopolitical officials in the US have dragged Zelensky into a ‘no-win war’ against a nuclear-armed Russia.

Now the world is focused on two options:

– either the US and its allies will perform a ‘miracle’ in Ukraine;

– or the Russians will crush Ukraine and then break the back of the NATO alliance.

Thus, the US strategic position in Europe will come to an end and a new world order will be born, perhaps with several centers of power outside of America.

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