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Europe’s moment: Repair and prepare for the next generation

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European Commission has put forward its proposal for a major recovery plan. To ensure the recovery is sustainable, even, inclusive and fair for all Member States, the European Commission is proposing to create a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU, embedded within a powerful, modern and revamped long-term EU budget. The Commission has also unveiled its adjusted Work Programme for 2020, which will prioritise the actions needed to propel Europe’s recovery and resilience.

The coronavirus has shaken Europe and the world to its core, testing healthcare and welfare systems, our societies and economies and our way of living and working together. To protect lives and livelihoods, repair the Single Market, as well as to build a lasting and prosperous recovery, the European Commission is proposing to harness the full potential of the EU budget. Next Generation EU of €750 billion as well as targeted reinforcements to the long-term EU budget for 2021-2027 will bring the total financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The recovery plan turns the immense challenge we face into an opportunity, not only by supporting the recovery but also by investing in our future: the European Green Deal and digitalization will boost jobs and growth, the resilience of our societies and the health of our environment. This is Europe’s moment. Our willingness to act must live up to the challenges we are all facing. With Next Generation EU we are providing an ambitious answer.”

Commissioner Johannes Hahn, in charge of the EU budget, said: “Our common budget is at the heart of Europe’s recovery plan. The additional firepower of Next Generation EU and the reinforced multiannual financial framework will give us the power of solidarity to support Member States and the economy. Together, Europe will arise more competitive, resilient and sovereign.”

Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, in charge of interinstitutional relations and foresight, said: “The recovery will need strong policy direction. The adapted Work Programme, reflecting the new reality, shows that we will focus all our actions on overcoming the crisis, jumpstarting our economy and putting the European Union firmly on a resilient, sustainable and fair recovery path. It will help us rebound stronger.”

INVESTING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

Complementing national efforts, the EU budget is uniquely placed to power a fair socio-economic recovery, repair and revitalise the Single Market, to guarantee a level playing field, and support the urgent investments, in particular in the green and digital transitions, which hold the key to Europe’s future prosperity and resilience.

Next Generation EU will raise money by temporarily lifting the own resources ceiling to 2.00% of EU Gross National Income, allowing the Commission to use its strong credit rating to borrow €750 billion on the financial markets. This additional funding will be channelled through EU programmes and repaid over a long period of time throughout future EU budgets – not before 2028 and not after 2058. To help do this in a fair and shared way, the Commission proposes a number of new own resources. In addition, in order to make funds available as soon as possible to respond to the most pressing needs, the Commission proposes to amend the current multiannual financial framework 2014-2020 to make an additional €11.5 billion in funding available already in 2020.

The money raised for Next Generation EU will be invested across three pillars:

1. Support to Member States with investments and reforms:

  • new Recovery and Resilience Facility of €560 billion will offer financial support for investments and reforms, including in relation to the green and digital transitions and the resilience of national economies, linking these to the EU priorities. This facility will be embedded in the European Semester. It will be equipped with a grant facility of up to €310 billion and will be able to make up to €250 billion available in loans. Support will be available to all Member States but concentrated on the most affected and where resilience needs are the greatest.
  • €55 billion top-up of the current cohesion policy programmes between now and 2022 under the new REACT-EU initiative to be allocated based on the severity of the socio-economic impacts of the crisis, including the level of youth unemployment and the relative prosperity of Member States. 
  • A proposal to strenghten the Just Transition Fund up to €40 billion, toassist Member States in accelerating the transition towards climate neutrality.
  • A €15 billion reinforcement for theEuropean Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to support rural areas in making the structural changes necessary in line with the European Green Deal and achieving the ambitious targets in line with the new biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies.

2. Kick-starting the EU economy by incentivising private investments:

  • A new Solvency Support Instrument will mobilise private resources to urgently support viable European companies in the sectors, regions and countries most affected. It can be operational from 2020 and will have a budget of €31 billion, aiming to unlock €300 billion in solvency support for companies from all economic sectors and prepare them for a cleaner, digital and resilient future.
  • Upgrade InvestEU, Europe’s flagship investment programme, to a level of €15.3 billion to mobilise private investment in projects across the Union.
  • A new Strategic Investment Facility built into InvestEU– to generate investments of up to €150 billion in boosting the resilience of strategic sectors, notably those linked to the green and digital transition, and key value chains in the internal market, thanks to a contribution of €15 billion from Next Generation EU.

3. Addressing the lessons of the crisis:

  • A new Health Programme, EU4Health, to strengthen health security and prepare for future health crises with a budget of €9.4 billion.
  • A €2 billion reinforcement of rescEU, the Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism, which will be expanded and strenghetend to equip the Union to prepare for and respond to future crises.
  • An amount of EUR€94.4 billion forHorizon Europe, which will be reinforced to fund vital research in health, resilience and the green and digital transitions.
  • Supporting Europe’s global partners through an additional €16.5 billion for external action, including humanitarian aid.
  • Other EU programmes will be strengthened to align the future financial framework fully with recovery needs and strategic priorities. Other instruments will be reinforced to make the EU budget more flexible and responsive.

Reaching a rapid political agreement on Next Generation EUand the overall EU budget for 2021-2027 at the level of the European Council by July is necessary to give new dynamism to the recovery and equip the EU with a powerful tool to get the economy back on its feet and build for the future.

THE POLICY FUNDAMENTALS OF THE RECOVERY

Relaunching the economy does not mean going back to the status quo before the crisis, but bouncing forward. We must repair the short-term damage from the crisis in a way that also invests in our long-term future. All of the money raised through Next Generation EU will be channelled through EU programmes in the revamped long-term EU budget:

The European Green Deal as the EU’s recovery strategy:

  • A massive renovation wave of our buildings and infrastructure and a more circular economy, bringing local jobs;
  • Rolling out renewable energy projects, especially wind, solar and kick-starting a clean hydrogen economy in Europe;
  • Cleaner transport and logistics, including the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles and a boost for rail travel and clean mobility in our cities and regions;
  • Strengthening the Just Transition Fund to support re-skilling, helping businesses create new economic opportunities.

Strengthening the Single Market and adapting it to the digital age:  

  • Investing in more and better connectivity, especially in the rapid deployment of 5G networks;
  • A stronger industrial and technological presence in strategic sectors, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, supercomputing and cloud;
  • Building a real data economy as a motor for innovation and job creation;
  • Increased cyber resilience.

A fair and inclusive recovery for all:

  • The short-term European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme (SURE) will provide €100 billion to support workers and businesses;
  • A Skills Agenda for Europe and a Digital Education Action Plan will ensure digital skills for all EU citizens;
  • Fair minimum wages and binding pay transparency measures will help vulnerable workers, particularly women;
  • The European Commission is stepping up the fight against tax evasion and this will help Member States generate revenue.

BUILDING A MORE RESILIENT EU

Europe must enhance its strategic autonomy in a number of specific areas, including in strategic value chains and reinforced screening of foreign direct investment. To increase crisis preparedness and crisis management, the Commission will reinforce the European Medicines Agency and give a stronger role to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) in coordinating medical responses in crises.

The recovery must unequivocally be based on fundamental rights and full respect of the rule of law. Any emergency measures must be limited in time and be strictly proportionate. The Commission’s assessment will be included in the first report under the rule of law mechanism.

We can and must learn the lessons from this crisis, but this can only be done by involving our citizens, communities and cities. The Conference on the Future of Europe will play an important role in further strengthening Europe’s democratic foundations in the post-coronavirus crisis world.

RESPONSIBLE GLOBAL LEADERSHIP

The EU is committed in leading international efforts towards a truly global recovery, notably though joint coordination with the United Nations, the G20 and G7, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank or the International Labour Organisation. The EU will continue working particularly closely with its immediate neighbourhood in the East and South and its partners in Africa.

BACKGROUND

The Joint Statement of the Members of the European Council adopted on 26 March 2020 called on the European Commission to develop a coordinated exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment to allow a normal functioning of our societies and economies and get to sustainable growth, integrating inter alia the green transition and the digital transformation. On the basis of this mandate, on 15 April the Presidents of the Commission and the Council presented, as a first step, a Joint European Roadmap towards lifting Covid-19 containment measures. The package presented today, based on a revamped proposal for the next long-term EU budget and the updated Commission Work Programme for 2020, addresses the second part of the mandate, namely the need for a comprehensive recovery plan.

The EU has already delivered a coordinated and powerful collective response to cushion the economic blow of the coronavirus crisis. We have relaxed our fiscal and state aid frameworks to give Member States room to act. We are using every available euro in the EU budget to support the healthcare sector, workers and businesses, and mobilising finance from the markets to help save jobs.

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Von der Leyen Outlines Vision for Stronger Europe

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Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, outlined a vision for a stronger and more independent Europe based on trust and the values of liberal democracy in a special address on Thursday to business, government and civil society leaders taking part in the World Economic Forum’s virtual event, the Davos Agenda.

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, she spoke of European democracies showing their strengths. “The pandemic has demonstrated that democracies are the more powerful, resilient and sustainable form of government,” she said.

Democracy means liberty of research, freedom of science and independent choices for investors, she added. Europe has delivered over 1.2 billion doses of vaccines to its citizens, with more than 80% of the European population double vaccinated.

She also pointed to Europe’s leadership in discovering the mRNA vaccine technology and exporting it to the world. “Europe is the only region in the world to export or donate vaccines to other countries throughout the crisis, with 1.6 billion vaccine doses made in Europe having been delivered to 150 countries.”

On the path to recovery, Europe’s most valuable asset is trust, said von der Leyen. “Trust in science, for our health. Trust among countries, for cooperation. Trust in functioning societies, for competitiveness. Trust will be essential to build the world of tomorrow.”

Trust will also be essential for European citizens to embrace the European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives with the overarching aim of making the European Union climate-neutral by 2050. The EC has issued the first NextGenerationEU bond for green and sustainable investments in the EU. This represents, she said, the world’s largest green bond issuance, adding that it was heavily oversubscribed.

“These developments demonstrate a clear sign of international confidence and trust in Europe,” she said.

Although von der Leyen said Europe is well positioned, it must do more to build supply chains we can trust and avoid single points of failure. Issues range from dependence on non-renewable energy to lack of local manufacturing of microchips and semiconductors to Europe’s gas crisis.

“Europe’s global semiconductor market share is only 10%. And today, most of our supply comes from a handful of producers outside Europe. This is a dependency and uncertainty we simply cannot afford. We have no time to lose. And this is why I announce here today that we will propose our European Chips Act in early February,” she said.

She emphasized that trust is also essential in the international arena: “At this moment in time, the world needs trust in democracy as much as trust between democracies.” Referring to intense dialogue with Russia, she stressed that Europe will not go back to the old logic of competition and spheres of interest, where entire countries were treated as possessions or backyards.

“We want this dialogue. We want conflicts to be solved in the bodies that have been formed for this purpose. But if the situation deteriorates, if there are any further attacks on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, we will respond with massive economic and financial sanctions.”

“And what I want us never to forget is the following. Russia and Europe share geography, culture and history. We also want a common future,” she added.

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Commission approves 2022-2027 regional aid map for Greece

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The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules Greece’s map for granting regional aid from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2027 within the framework of the revised Regional aid Guidelines (‘RAG’).

The revised RAG, adopted by the Commission on 19 April 2021 and entering into force on 1 January 2022, enable Member States to support the least favoured European regions in catching up and to reduce disparities in terms of economic well-being, income and unemployment – cohesion objectives that are at the heart of the Union. They also provide increased possibilities for Member States to support regions facing transition or structural challenges such as depopulation, to contribute fully to the green and digital transitions.

At the same time, the revised RAG maintain strong safeguards to prevent Member States from using public money to trigger the relocation of jobs from one EU Member State to another, which is essential for fair competition in the Single Market.

Greece’s regional map defines the Greek regions eligible for regional investment aid. The map also establishes the maximum aid intensities in the eligible regions. The aid intensity is the maximum amount of State aid that can be granted per beneficiary, expressed as a percentage of eligible investment costs.

Under the revised RAG, regions covering 82.34% of the population of Greece will be eligible for regional investment aid:

Twelve regions (Βόρειο Αιγαίο / Voreio Aigaio, Νότιο Αιγαίο / Notio Aigaio, Κρήτη / Kriti, Aνατολική Μακεδονία, Θράκη / Anatoliki Makedonia, Thraki, Κεντρική Μακεδονία / Kentriki Makedonia, Δυτική Μακεδονία / Dytiki Makedonia, Ήπειρος / Ipeiros, Θεσσαλία / Thessalia, Ιόνια Νησιά / Ionia Nisia, Δυτική Ελλάδα / Dytiki Elláda, Στερεά Ελλάδα / Sterea Elláda and Πελοπόννησος / Peloponnisos) are among the most disadvantaged regions in the EU, with a GDP per capita below 75% of EU average. These regions are eligible for aid under Article 107(3)(a) TFEU (so-called ‘a’ areas), with maximum aid intensities for large enterprises between 30% and 50%, depending on the GDP per capita of the respective ‘a’ area. The region Ευρυτανία / Evrytania, which is part of Στερεά Ελλάδα / Sterea Elláda, also qualifies as a sparsely populated area having fewer than 12,5 inhabitants per km². In sparsely populated areas, Member States can use operating aid schemes to prevent or reduce depopulation.

In order to address regional disparities, Greece has designated as so-called non-predefined ‘c’ areas the regions of Δυτικός Τομέας Αθηνών / Dytikos Tomeas Athinon, Ανατολική Αττική / Anatoliki Attiki, Δυτική Αττική / Dytiki Attiki and Πειραιάς, Νήσοι / Peiraias, Nisoi. The maximum aid intensities for large enterprises in Δυτικός Τομέας Αθηνών / Dytikos Tomeas Athinon is 15%. The other ‘c’ areas mentioned above border with ‘a’ areas. For this reason, the aid intensity in these regions has been increased to 25%, so that the difference in aid intensity with the bordering ‘a’ areas is limited to 15 percentage points.

Greece has the possibility to designate further so-called non-predefined ‘c’ areas (up to a maximum of 1.16% of the national population). The specific designation of these areas can take place in the future and would result in one or more amendments to the regional aid map approved today.

In all the above areas, the maximum aid intensities can be increased by 10 percentage points for investments made by medium-sized enterprises and by 20 percentage points for investments made by small enterprises, for their initial investments with eligible costs up to €50 million.

Once a future territorial Just Transition plan in the context of the Just Transition Fund Regulation will be in place, Greece has the possibility to notify the Commission an amendment to the regional aid map approved today, in order to apply a potential increase of the maximum aid intensity in the future Just Transition areas, as specified in the revised RAG for ‘a’ areas.

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20 years of the euro in your pocket

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Twenty years ago, on 1 January 2002, twelve EU countries changed their national currency banknotes and coins for the euro in the largest currency changeover in history. In these two decades, the euro has contributed to the stability, competitiveness and prosperity of European economies. Most importantly, it has improved the lives of citizens and made it easier to do business across Europe and beyond. With the euro in your pocket, saving, investing, travelling and doing business became much easier.

The euro is a symbol of EU integration and identity. Today, more than 340 million people use it across 19 EU countries, with 27.6 billion euro banknotes in circulation for a value of about €1.5 trillion. The euro is currently the second most widely used currency in the world behind the US dollar.

As it celebrates this 20th anniversary, the EU continues the work to strengthen the international role of the euro and adapt it to new challenges, including the rapid digitalisation of the economy and the development of virtual currencies. As a complement to cash, a digital euro would support a well-integrated payments sector and would offer greater choice to consumers and businesses.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “It is now twenty years that we, European people, can carry Europe in our pockets. The euro is not just one of the most powerful currencies in the world. It is, first and foremost, a symbol of European unity. Euro banknotes have bridges on one side and a door on the other – because this is what the euro stands for. The euro is also the currency of the future, and in the coming years it will become a digital currency too. The euro also reflects our values. The world we want to live in. It is the global currency for sustainable investments. We can all be proud of that.”

David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, said: “The euro is the embodiment of an ambitious political project to promote peace and integration within the European Union. But the euro is also a condition for protecting and relaunching the European economic, social, and political model in the face of the transformations of our time. The euro is a symbol, the coming to fruition of a historic political vision, an ancient vision of a united continent with a single currency for a single market.”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, said: “The euro has come a long way — it’s a true European achievement. I would even say the euro has become part of who we are. And how we see ourselves as Europeans. Part of our mind-set. And part of our European spirit. The euro belongs to all of us all European citizens. But it isn’t just a success within our EU borders. It has also anchored itself on the international stage. Despite the crises, the euro has proven to be resilient — a symbol of European unity and stability. And never has that been truer than during COVID-19. The euro has served as a bedrock of stability. A stable asset for the Union. The euro also fuels our recovery. Unlocking the full potential of sustainable development, quality jobs, and innovation.”

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, said: “The euros we hold in our hands have become a beacon of stability and solidity around the world. Hundreds of millions of Europeans trust it and transact with it every day. It is the second most international currency in the world. As European Central Bank President, I commit we will continue to work hard to make sure that we maintain price stability. And I also pledge that we will renew the face of those banknotes and that we will give them the digital dimension as well.”

Paschal Donohoe, President of the Eurogroup, said: “The euro has proven its mettle in dealing with great economic challenges. In particular, our response to the COVID 19 pandemic demonstrated that by sharing the euro we can achieve more collectively than we can individually. The euro has strengthened its foundations over the last 20 years. Now, we need to build on those foundations to make the euro the global currency for transitioning to a lower carbon future.”

A long journey

The euro has come a long way from the early discussions on an Economic and Monetary Union in the late 1960s. Specific steps towards a single currency were first approached in 1988 by the Delors Committee. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty marked a decisive moment in the move towards the euro, as political leaders signed on the criteria that Member States had to meet to adopt the single currency. Two years later, the European Monetary Institute (EMI) started its preparatory work in Frankfurt for the European Central Bank (ECB) to assume its responsibility for monetary policy in the euro area. As a result, on 1 June 1998, the ECB became operational.

In 1999, the euro was launched in 11 Member States as an accounting currency on financial markets and used for electronic payments. It was finally on 1 January 2002 when Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain swapped their national notes and coins for euros. Slovenia joined the euro area in 2007, followed by Cyprus and Malta (2008), Slovakia (2009), Estonia (2011), Latvia (2014) and Lithuania (2015). Currently, Croatia is taking the preparatory steps to join the euro area, which it plans to do on 1 January 2023, provided it fulfils all the convergence criteria.

Twenty years of benefits for citizens and businesses

The euro has brought many benefits to Europe, especially to its citizens and businesses. The single currency has helped to keep prices stable and protected the euro area economies from exchange rate volatility. This has made it easier for European home buyers, businesses and governments to borrow money and has encouraged trade within Europe and beyond. The euro has also eliminated the need for currency exchange and has lowered the costs of transferring money, making travelling and moving to another country to work, study or retire simpler.

A large majority of Europeans support the single currency. According to the latest Eurobarometer, 78% of citizens across the euro area believe the euro is good for the EU.

A strengthened international role

The euro is the second most important currency in the international monetary system. Its stability and credibility has made it an international invoicing currency, a store of value and a reserve currency, accounting for around 20% of foreign exchange reserves. Sixty other countries and territories around the world, home to some 175 million people, have chosen to use the euro as their currency or to peg their own currency to it. Today, the euro is used for almost 40% of global cross-border payments and for more than half the EU’s exports.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis, the EU has continued to strengthen and deepen the Economic and Monetary Union. The EU’s unprecedented recovery plan NextGenerationEU will further improve the euro-area’s economic resilience and enhance economic convergence. The issuance of high-quality-denominated bonds under NextGenerationEU will add significant depth and liquidity to the EU’s capital markets and make them and the euro more attractive for investors. The euro is also now the leading currency for green investment: half of the world’s green bonds are denominated in euros, and this figure is rising thanks to the new green bonds issued to finance NextGenerationEU.

To further develop the international role of the euro, the Commission has launched outreach initiatives to promote euro denominated investments, facilitate the use of the euro as an invoicing and denomination currency, and foster a better understanding of the obstacles for its wider use. This outreach will take the form of dialogues, workshops and surveys with the public and private sector, financial regulatory agencies, and institutional investors in regional and global partner countries of the EU.

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