Europe’s moment: Repair and prepare for the next generation
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:
- A 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.
- A €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.
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.
Russia will deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus – EU and NATO went ballistic
Baroness Goldie, who is an experienced Scottish politician and life peer who served as Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party from 2005 to 2011 and as the UK’s Minister of State for Defence since 2019, said to the Parliament: “Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition including armour piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium. Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles.”
The Anglo-Saxon clique’s core objective is a calculated escalation of the proxy war that is certain to draw forth a robust reaction from Moscow, as predictable as night follows day, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
Indeed, that is precisely what happened when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will deploy its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Putin linked this to a request from Belarus in reaction to Baroness Goldie’s statement in London a week ago.
More importantly, Putin also drew the analogy of the US placing its nuclear weapons on the territories of the allied NATO countries for decades.
The EU and NATO went ballistic after Putin’s disclosure. EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said Moscow’s decision was “an irresponsible escalation and threat to European security.” He promised to impose “further sanctions” against Belarus!
A NATO spokeswoman called Moscow’s decision “dangerous and irresponsible.” Interestingly, though, the Biden administration neatly side-stepped the issue, focusing instead that the US has not seen any signs that Russia has moved nuclear weapons to Belarus or anywhere else!
What is the game plan? First, the Anglo-Saxon clique would hope that the issue will create further disquiet and insecurity in Europe vis-a-vis Russia and would rally European countries behind the Biden administration at a time when fault lines were appearing within the transatlantic alliance over a protracted war in Ukraine that might be catastrophic for European economies.
However, Washington is hard-pressed to respond to Putin’s remark that Russia is only doing something that the US has been doing for decades.
The crux of the matter is, as with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the Russian decision on tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is retaliatory, drawing attention to the US missiles stationed close to its borders. (An estimated 100 nuclear weapons are stored in vaults in five European countries — Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey.)
Worse still, the US practices a controversial arrangement known as “nuclear sharing”, under which it installs nuclear equipment on fighter jets of select non-nuclear NATO countries and train their pilots to carry out nuclear strike with US nuclear bombs. This is happening when the US, being a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has promised not to hand over nuclear weapons to other countries, and the non-nuclear countries in the NATO’s sharing arrangement have themselves promised not to receive nuclear weapons from the nuclear weapon states!
The NATO declared last year that seven NATO countries contributed dual-capable aircraft to the nuclear sharing mission. These countries are believed to be the US, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey and Greece. And all are signatories to the NPT!
There is no question that depleted uranium munitions are radioactive and toxic and their heavy use in the Yugoslavia and Iraq wars has been linked to birth defects and cancers. It has been tied to “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied” in Fallujah, the city subjected to two brutal US sieges during the invasion of Iraq.
Britain appears to be creating conditions in Europe to justify the basing of nuclear-armed US bombers at Lakenheath in Suffolk, which were removed in 1991 in line with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, stresses M.K. Bhadrakumar.
Free will trumps determinism in Gulf politics
China’s mediation to normalise Saudi-Iranian diplomatic ties has been widely welcomed internationally, especially in the West Asian region. A clutch of unhappy states that do not want to see China stealing a march on any front, even if it advances the cause of world peace, mutely watched, notes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
The US led this pack of dead souls. But the US is also on the horns of a dilemma. Can it afford to be a spoiler?
Saudi Arabia is not only the fountainhead of petrodollar recycling — and, therefore, a pillar of the western banking system — but also America’s number one market for arms exports. Europe is facing energy crisis and the stability of the oil market is an overriding concern.
Saudi Arabia has shown remarkable maturity to maintain that its “Look East” policy and the strategic partnership with China do not mean it is dumping the Americans. Saudis are treading softly.
Yet, the fact remains that the Saudi-Iranian deal drives a knife into the heart of the US’ West Asian strategy. The deal leaves the US and Israel badly isolated. The Jewish lobby may show its unhappiness during President Biden’s bid for another term. China has stolen a march on the US with far-reaching consequences, which signifies a foreign policy disaster for Biden.
Washington has not spoken the last word and may be plotting to push back the peace process from becoming mainstream politics of the West Asian region. The American commentators are visualising that the Saudi-Iranian normalisation will be a long haul and the odds are heavily stacked against it.
The Saudi official said China’s role makes it more likely that the terms of the deal will hold. “It (China) is a major stakeholder in the security and stability of the Gulf,” he noted. The official also revealed that the talks in Beijing involved “five very extensive” sessions on thorny issues. The most difficult topics were related to Yemen, the media, and China’s role, the official said.
Meanwhile, there are positive tidings in the air too — the likelihood of a foreign minister level meeting between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the near future and, more importantly, the reported letter of invitation from King Salman of Saudi Arabia to Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi to visit Riyadh.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian remarked on Sunday with reference to the Yemeni crisis that “We [Iran] are working with Saudi Arabia on ensuring the stability of the region. We will not accept any threat against us from neighbouring countries.”
To be sure, the regional environment is improving. Signs of an overall easing of tensions have appeared. For the first visit of its kind in over a decade, the Turkish Foreign Minister was in Cairo and the Egyptian FM has been to Turkey and Syria.
Last week, on return from Beijing, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council headed for the UAE where President Sheikh Mohammed received him.
Soon after that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in the UAE on an official visit. “Syria has been absent from its brothers for too long, and the time has come for it to return to them and to its Arab surroundings,” Sheikh Mohamed told Assad during their historic meeting at the presidential palace.
Evidently, the regional states are tapping the “feel-good” generated by the Saudi-Iranian understanding. Contrary to the western propaganda of an estrangement lately between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed is identifying closely with the positive trends in the regional environment.
This is where China’s overarching role fostering dialogue and amity becomes decisive. The regional countries regard China as a benign interlocutor and the concerted attempts by the US and its junior partners to run down China make no impact on the regional states.
Fundamentally, both Saudi Arabia and Iran have compulsions to shift the locus of their national strategies to development and economic growth. This has received scant attention. The Western media has deliberately ignored this and instead demonised the Saudi Crown Prince and created a doomsday scenario for Iran’s Islamic regime.
That said, the known unknown is the tension building up over Iran’s nuclear programme… A Russian-Chinese coordinated effort is needed to forestall the US from raking up the nuclear issue in tandem with Israel and ratchet up tensions, including military tensions, in such a way that a pretext becomes available to destabilise the region and marginalise the Saudi-Iran agreement as the leitmotif of regional politics.
On balance, the regional states are acting on free will, increasingly and eschewing their determinism that was wedded to decisions and actions that were thought to be causally inevitable.
The realisation has dawned now that it is within the capacity of sovereign states to make decisions or perform actions independently of any prior event or state of the universe, stresses M.K. Bhadrakumar.
There is optimism that Syria stands to gain out of Saudi-Iranian rapprochement
The circumstances surrounding the flare-up in Syria between the US occupation forces and pro-Iranian militia groups remain murky. President Biden claims that the US is reacting, but there are signs that it is likely being proactive to create new facts on the ground, notes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
The US Central Command claims that following a drone attack on March 23 afternoon on an American base near Hasakah, at the direction of President Biden, retaliatory air strikes were undertaken later that night against “facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.”
However, this version has been disputed by the spokesman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council who accused Washington of “creating artificial crises and lying.” The Iranian official has alleged that “Over the past two days, American helicopters have carried out several sorties with the aim of increasing instability in Syria and transferred Daesh (Islamic State) terrorists in the territory of this country.”
He said Washington must be held accountable for such activities. The official warned that Tehran will give a prompt response to any US attack on whatever false pretext against Iranian bases that exist on Syrian soil at the request of Damascus for fighting terrorism.
Is the US deliberately ratcheting up tensions in Syria even as the China-brokered Saudi-Iranian rapprochement is radically changing the security scenario in the West Asian region in a positive direction?
There is optimism that Syria stands to gain out of Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. Already, the Saudi Foreign Ministry revealed that talks are going on with Syria for resuming consular services between the two countries, which will pave the way for the resumption of diplomatic relations and in turn make it possible to reinstate Syria’s membership of the Arab League.
Saudi Arabia has established an air bridge with Syria to send reef supplies for those affected by the devastating earthquake in February.
The backdrop is that the normalisation of relations between Syria and its estranged Arab neighbours has accelerated. It must be particularly galling for Washington that these regional states used to be active participants in the US-led regime change project to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Saudi-Iranian rapprochement badly isolates the US and Israel.
From such a perspective, it stands to reason that the US is once again stirring up the Syrian cauldron. Lately, Russian aircraft have been reported as frequently flying over the US’s military base At Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border where training camps for militant groups are known to exist.
Israel too is a stakeholder in keeping Syria unstable and weak. In the Israeli narrative, Iran-backed militia groups are increasing their capability in Syria in the last two years and continued US occupation of Syria is vital for balancing these groups. Israel is paranoid that a strong government in Damascus will inevitably start challenging its illegal occupation of Golan Heights.
A key factor in this matrix is the nascent process of Russian mediation between Turkiye and Syria. With an eye on the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary election in Turkiye in May, President Recep Erdogan is keen to achieve some visible progress in improving the ties with Syria.
Erdogan senses that the Turkish public opinion strongly favours normalisation with Syria. Polls in December showed that 59 percent of Turks would like an early repatriation of Syrian refugees who are a burden on Turkish economy, which has an inflation rate of 90 percent.
Significantly, Erdogan telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday and the Kremlin readout mentioned that amongst “topics concerning Russian-Turkish partnership in various fields,” during the conversation, “the Syrian issue was touched upon, and the importance of continuing the normalisation of Turkish-Syrian relations was underlined. In this regard the President of Türkiye highlighted the constructive mediatory role Russia has played in this process.”
It is entirely conceivable that Erdogan has sought Putin’s help and intervention to reach a modus vivendi with Assad quickly. Of course, this is a spectacular success story for Russian diplomacy — and for Putin personally — that the Kremlin is called upon to broker the Turkish-Syrian normalisation.
The China-brokered Saudi-Iranian normalisation hit Washington where it hurts. But if Putin now brokers peace between two other rival West Asian states, Biden will be exposed as hopelessly incompetent.
And, if Turkiye ends its military presence in Syria, the limelight will fall on the US’ illegal occupation of one-third of Syrian territory and the massive smuggling of oil and other resources from Syria in American military convoys.
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