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Japan-EU Leaders’ meeting

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H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, H.E. Mr. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and H.E. Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, held a Leaders Meeting via VTC on 26 May 2020.

The leaders expressed their deepest sympathy with the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. They recognised that global solidarity,cooperation and effective multilateralism are required more than ever to defeat the virus as well as to ensure economic recovery. They reaffirmed their strong commitment to continue tackling global challenges together in the international arena based upon the close and strong Japan-EU relations.

The leaders confirmed that both Japan and the EU are sparing no effort to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, protect lives, and mitigate the social and economic consequences, in keeping with their principles and values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and non-discrimination. They are promoting global coordination in various international fora such as the G7, G20, and the United Nations system, and assisting vulnerable countries and communities in need.

In order to prevent future pandemics, the leaders emphasised the importance of strengthening our preparedness and response capacities, of sharing information in a free, transparent and prompt manner, and of improving international response including through relevant international organisations, such as the WHO, drawing on lessons learned from the current global responses. The leaders reaffirmed the role of the WHO in coordinating the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. They welcomed the recently adopted resolution at the 73rd World Health Assembly which requests the Director General of the WHO to initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation to review experience gained and lessons learnt from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.

The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to global collaboration and sustained funding for developing and deploying effective antiviral medicines, diagnostics, treatments and vaccines in orderto make them available to all at an affordable price. They called for the future COVID-19 vaccine to become a global common good. In this context, they welcomed the successful pledging initiative of “the Global Coronavirus Response” that started on May 4, with the aim of raising at least €7.5 billion. Prime Minister Abe expressed his gratitude for the EU’s initiative, and the EU leaders expressed their appreciation for Japan’s contribution. The leaders confirmed their determination to continue efforts toward closing the financial gap, including the collaborative efforts for the success of the upcoming pledging conference of Gavi in June. The leaders announced that Japan and the EU will accelerate cooperation on research on health, welcoming in this regard the signature of the Letter of Intent on strengthening cooperation in science, technology and innovation, which includes collaboration between Japan’s Moonshot Research and Development Program and the EU’s Horizon Europe Programme. 

The leaders stressed their determination to ensure a robust economic recovery and rebuild more sustainable, inclusive and resilient economies, in keeping with the Agenda 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. Decarbonization / green transition, digital transformation, and the virtuous cycle of environment and growth, will be a part of the recovery strategy. The leaders welcomed the G20 Action Plan at the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting to support the global economy during and after the pandemic. They would continue to adjust their economic responses, using all relevant policy tools, including digital tools to prevent the spread of infections while ensuring privacy and security, and standing ready to provide further support in a coordinated way. They also underlined the importance of keeping the trading system open. Japan and the EU will cooperate to facilitate the flow of medical supplies, agricultural products, raw materials and other goods and services across borders, while ensuring that any necessary emergency measures designed to tackle COVID-19 are targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary, and consistent with WTO rules so that they do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains.They called for refraining from unnecessary travel and export restrictions. Looking forward, they stressed the need to make global supply chains more resilient, and will work together to reform and strengthen the WTO, through rule-making on e-commerce and fostering a level playing field, to promote international discussions under the Osaka Track, to further elaborate  “Data Free Flow with Trust” (DFFT) with a view to facilitating safe and secure cross-border data flows through enhancing data security and privacy, to harness the benefits of the digital economy further underscored by the current economic crisis. They confirmed that transport services should be progressively restored on the premise that public health safety is ensured as they are key enablers of the global economy.

With a view to assisting developing countries, including in Africa and other vulnerable regions, the leaders mutually welcomed the commitment made by the EU, including its Member States, securing over €20 billion in order to help partner countries face the COVID-19 impact and Japan’s commitment to step up its assistance to partner countries, not only by providing short-term assistances but also by supporting them over the mid-to-long term to strengthen their healthcare systems as well as by addressing the enormous economic impact of the current crisis. They also welcomed the financial assistance deployed by the IMF, World Bank and other international institutions, and the agreement reached by the G20 and the Paris Club on a coordinated approach to a time bound suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries, calling for full implementation of this initiative.

The leaders also discussed the geopolitical situation in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. They reiterated their commitment to upholding the rules-based international order and looked forward to strengthening practical cooperation in areas such as cybersecurity, countering hybrid threats and counter-terrorism. They confirmed that access to transparent, timely, reliable and fact-based information is crucial for an effective global response to the pandemic. It constitutes the foundation of good governance and reinforces the resilience of our societies and democracies. The leaders confirmed their resolve to counter disinformation, in accordance with shared principles such as freedom of expression and the rule of law. The leaders shared concern that the spread of the virus may escalate some regional conflicts and make it more difficult to protect civilian population. They supported the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic and insisted on respect for humanitarian principles.

They shared the view to intensify coordination to contribute to resolving regional issues based on international law, including eastern Ukraine, Afghanistan, North Korea, East and South China Seas, Libya, Syria and Sahel.

The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Japan-EU strategic partnership. It will play an important role in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and in tackling other common challenges that have not diminished. Encouraged by the initial positive results, the leaders expressed their determination to continue implementing the Japan-EU Strategic Partnership Agreement and Economic Partnership Agreement. They looked forward to holding a Summit Meeting in the near future when conditions allow in order to take cooperation between Japan and the EU further in the areas such as connectivity, global environmental issues and challenges, climate change, digital transformation, research and innovation, health, energy, free, fair and rules-based trade, and security and defence, transport and urban policy. The leaders confirmed that preparatory work in these fields should advance.

EU Politics

Advancing the EU social market economy: adequate minimum wages for workers

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The Commission today proposes an EU Directive to ensure that the workers in the Union are protected by adequate minimum wages allowing for a decent living wherever they work. When set at adequate levels, minimum wages do not only have a positive social impact but also bring wider economic benefits as they reduce wage inequality, help sustain domestic demand and strengthen incentives to work. Adequate minimum wages can also help reduce the gender pay gap, since more women than men earn a minimum wage. The proposal also helps protect employers that pay decent wages to workers by ensuring fair competition.

The current crisis has particularly hit sectors with a higher share of low-wage workers such as cleaning, retail, health and long-term care and residential care. Ensuring a decent living for workers and reducing in-work poverty is not only important during the crisis but also essential for a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.  

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today’s proposal for adequate minimum wages is an important signal that also in crisis times, the dignity of work must be sacred. We have seen that for too many people, work no longer pays. Workers should have access to adequate minimum wages and a decent standard of living. What we propose today is a framework for minimum wages, in full respect of national traditions and the freedom of social partners. Improving working and living conditions will not only protect our workers, but also employers that pay decent wages, and create the basis for a fair, inclusive and resilient recovery.”

Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “It is important to ensure that also low wage workers benefit from the economic recovery. With this proposal we want to make sure that workers in the EU earn a decent living wherever they work. Social partners have a crucial role to play in negotiating wages nationally and locally. We support their freedom to negotiate wages autonomously, and where this is not possible, we give a framework to guide Member states in setting minimum wages.”

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said: “Almost 10% of workers in the EU are living in poverty: this has to change. People who have a job should not be struggling to make ends meet. Minimum wages have to play catch up with other wages which have seen growth in recent decades, leaving minimum wages lagging behind. Collective bargaining should be the gold standard across all Member States. Ensuring adequate minimum wages is written in black and white in Principle 6 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which all Member States have endorsed, so we are counting on their continued commitment.”

A framework for minimum wages in full respect of national competences and traditions

Minimum wages exist in all EU Member States.  21 countries have statutory minimum wages and in 6 Member States (Denmark, Italy, Cyprus, Austria, Finland and Sweden) minimum wage protection is provided exclusively by collective agreements. Yet, in the majority of Member States, workers are affected by insufficient adequacy and/or gaps in the coverage of minimum wage protection. In light of this, the proposed Directive creates a framework to improve the adequacy of minimum wages and for access of workers to minimum wage protection in the EU. The Commission’s proposal fully respects the subsidiary principle: it sets a framework for minimum standards, respecting and reflecting Member States’ competences and social partners’ autonomy and contractual freedom in the field of wages. It does not oblige Member States to introduce statutory minimum wages, nor does it set a common minimum wage level.

Countries with high collective bargaining coverage tend to have a lower share of low-wage workers, lower wage inequality and higher minimum wages. Therefore, the Commission proposal aims at promoting collective bargaining on wages in all Member States.

Countries with statutory minimum wages should put in place the conditions for minimum wages to be set at adequate levels. These conditions include clear and stable criteria for minimum wage setting, indicative reference values to guide the assessment of adequacy and regular and timely updates of minimum wages. These Member States are also asked to ensure the proportionate and justified use of minimum wage variations and deductions and the effective involvement of social partners in statutory minimum wage setting and updating.

Finally, the proposal provides for improved enforcement and monitoring of the minimum wage protection established in each country. Compliance and effective enforcement is essential for workers to benefit from actual access to minimum wage protection, and for businesses to be protected against unfair competition. The proposed Directive introduces annual reporting by Member States on its minimum wage protection data to the Commission. 

Background

President von der Leyen promised to present a legal instrument to ensure that the workers in our Union have a fair minimum wage at the start of her mandate and repeated her pledge in her first State of the Union address on 16 September 2020.

The right to adequate minimum wages is in Principle 6 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was jointly proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council on behalf of all Member States, and the European Commission in Gothenburg in November 2017.

Today’s proposal for a Directive is based on Article 153 (1) (b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) on working conditions. It follows a two-stage consultation of social partners carried out in accordance with Article 154 TFEU. The Commission’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years have to transpose the Directive into national law.

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EU Politics

Commission proposes new ‘Single Window’ to modernise and streamline customs controls

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The European Commission has today proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders, who will be able to submit the information required for import or export of goods only once. The so-called ‘EU Single Window Environment for Customs‘ aims to enhance cooperation and coordination between different authorities, in order to facilitate the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

The Single Window aims to digitalise and streamline processes, so that businesses will ultimately no longer have to submit documents to several authorities through different portals. Today’s proposal is the first concrete deliverable of the recently adopted Action Plan on taking the Customs Union to the next level. It launches an ambitious project to modernise border controls over the coming decade, in order to facilitate trade, improve safety and compliance checks, and reduce the administrative burden for companies.

Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for the Economy, said: “Digitalisation, globalisation and the changing nature of trade present both risks and opportunities when it comes to goods crossing the EU’s borders. To rise to these challenges, customs and other competent authorities must act as one, with a more holistic approach to the many checks and procedures needed for smooth and safe trade. Today’s proposal is the first step towards a fully paperless and integrated customs environment and better cooperation between all authorities at our external borders. I urge all Member States to play their part in making it a true success story.”

Each year, the Customs Union facilitates the trade of more than €3.5 trillion worth of goods. Efficient customs clearance and controls are essential to allow trade to flow smoothly while also protecting EU citizens, businesses and the environment. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the importance of having agile yet robust customs processes, and this will become ever more important as trade volumes keep on increasing and new challenges related to digitalisation and e-commerce, such as new forms of fraud, emerge.

Currently, the formalities required at the EU’s external borders often involve many different authorities in charge of different policy areas, such as health and safety, the environment, agriculture, fisheries, cultural heritage and market surveillance and product compliance. As a result, businesses have to submit information to several different authorities, each with their own portal and procedures. This is cumbersome and time-consuming for traders and reduces the capacity of authorities to act in a joined-up way in combatting risks.

Today’s proposal is the first step in creating a digital framework for enhanced cooperation between all border authorities, through one Single Window. The Single Window will enable businesses and traders to provide data in one single portal in an individual Member State, thereby reducing duplication, time and costs. Customs and other authorities will then be able to collectively use this data, allowing for a fully coordinated approach to goods clearance and a clearer overview at EU level of the goods that are entering or leaving the EU. 

This is an ambitious project that will entail significant investment at both EU and Member State level, in order to be fully implemented over the next decade or so. The Commission will support Member States in this preparation, where possible, including through funding from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, to enable them to reap the full, long-term benefits of the Single Window. 

Background

The EU is the largest trading bloc in the world, accounting for 15% of the world trade. In 2018, almost 343 million customs declarations were handled by more than 2,000 EU customs offices, who collected €25.3 billion in customs duties.

The Single Window is part of the new Customs Union Action Plan, which sets out a series of measures to make EU customs smarter, more innovative and more efficient over the next four years. In her Political Guidelines, President von der Leyen announced plans for an integrated European approach to customs risk management, which supports effective controls by EU Member States. The measures will strengthen the Customs Union and enhance its ability to collect EU revenues and protect the security, health and prosperity of EU citizens and businesses.

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EU Politics

Commission opens infringements against Cyprus and Malta for “selling” EU citizenship

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Today, the European Commission is launching infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta by issuing letters of formal notice regarding their investor citizenship schemes also referred to as “golden passport” schemes.

The Commission considers that the granting by these Member States of their nationality – and thereby EU citizenship – in exchange for a pre-determined payment or investment and without a genuine link with the Member States concerned, is not compatible with the principle of sincere cooperation enshrined in Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union. This also undermines the integrity of the status of EU citizenship provided for in Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Due to the nature of EU citizenship, such schemes have implications for the Union as a whole. When a Member State awards nationality, the person concerned automatically becomes an EU citizen and enjoys all rights linked to this status, such as the right to move, reside and work freely within the EU, or the right to vote in municipal elections as well as elections to the European Parliament. As a consequence, the effects of investor citizenship schemes are neither limited to the Member States operating them, nor are they neutral with regard to other Member States and the EU as a whole.

The Commission considers that the granting of EU citizenship for pre-determined payments or investments without any genuine link with the Member States concerned, undermines the essence of EU citizenship.

Next steps

The Cypriot and Maltese governments have two months to reply to the letters of formal notice. If the replies are not satisfactory, the Commission may issue a Reasoned Opinion in this matter.

Background

Investor citizenship schemes allow a person to acquire a new nationality based on payment or investment alone. These schemes are different to investor residence schemes (or “golden visas”), which allow third-country nationals, subject to certain conditions, to obtain a residence permit to live in an EU country.

The conditions for obtaining and forfeiting national citizenship are regulated by the national law of each Member State, subject to due respect for EU law. As nationality of a Member State is the only precondition for EU citizenship and access to rights conferred by the Treaties, the Commission has been closely monitoring investor schemes granting the nationality of Member States.

The Commission has frequently raised its serious concerns about investor citizenship schemes and certain risks that are inherent in such schemes. As mentioned in the Commission’s report of January 2019, those risks relate in particular to security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption and the Commission has been monitoring wider issues of compliance with EU law raised by investor citizenship and residence schemes. In April 2020, the Commission wrote to the Member States concerned setting out its concerns and asking for further information about the schemes.

In a resolution adopted on 10 July 2020, the European Parliament reiterated its earlier calls on Member States to phase out all existing citizenship by investment (CBI) or residency by investment (RBI) schemes as soon as possible. As stated by President von der Leyen in the State of the Union Address of 16 September 2020, European values are not for sale.

The Commission is also writing again to Bulgaria to highlight its concerns regarding an investor citizenship scheme operated by that Member State and requesting further details. The Bulgarian government has one month to reply to the letter requesting further information, following which the Commission will decide on the next steps.

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