Why do we need InvestEU for the post-coronavirus recovery?
InvestEU is the EU’s proposed flagship investment programme to kick-start the European economy. It is well-placed to provide long-term funding and to support Union policies in the recovery from a deep economic and social crisis. This has been shown with the successful implementation of the European Fund for Strategic Investments and other EU financial instruments in the wake of the past financial crisis.
In the current coronavirus crisis, the market allocation of financial resources is not fully efficient and perceived risk impairs private investment significantly. Deep uncertainty currently compromises the quality of financial market information and lenders’ ability to assess the viability of companies and investment projects. If left unchecked, this can create pervasive risk aversion towards private investment projects and contribute to a ‘credit crunch’. Under such circumstances, the key feature of InvestEU of de-risking projects to crowd in private finance is particularly valuable and should be utilised.
An enhanced InvestEU programme thanks to Next Generation EU will be able to provide crucial support to companies and to ensure a strong focus of investors on the Union’s medium- and long-term policy priorities, such as the European Green Deal and the digitalisation transition and greater resilience. To address all of these challenges, the Commission is updating its original InvestEU proposal from 2018 to make sure it can better respond tothe current economic crisis.
What are the main changes to InvestEU?
The new proposal contains two main changes to the InvestEU Programme as partially agreed between co-legislators in April 2019:
- An increase of the InvestEU budget to reflect the higher investment needs and an environment of increased risk. The financial envelope for the sustainable infrastructure window is doubled, in line with the President’s Communication “Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation”.
- A broadened scope through the addition of a fifth window – the strategic European investment window – in order to cater for the future needs of the European economy and to promote and secure EU strategic autonomy in key sectors.
What will the new strategic European investment window finance?
The outbreak of the pandemic has shown the interconnectivity of global supply chains and exposed some vulnerabilities, such as the over-reliance of strategic industries on non-diversified external supply sources. Such vulnerabilities need to be addressed, to improve the Union’s emergency response as well as the resilience of the entire economy, while maintaining its openness to competition and trade in line with its rules. The new strategic European investment windowwill focus on building stronger European value chains in line with the strategic agenda of the Union and the New Industrial Strategy for Europe, as well as supporting activities in critical infrastructure and technologies
This reinforcement is of particular importance in the post-crisis situation, as some Member States might not have sufficient financial capacity to support these projects with national State aid. Moreover, many of these projects are cross-border and require a European approach.
How will the new window complement the pre-existing windows?
In the current context, the strategic European investment window would bring value added to the original windows, as it focuses on recipients or projects based on their high European strategic importance.
The new window would both target specific projects (e.g. supporting large consortia or public-private partnerships aimed at developing a specific technology and building critical infrastructure) and provide diffused financing, for instance by supporting the emergence of whole ecosystems of entrepreneurs active in the targeted sectors (e.g. innovative SMEs working on technologies of potential relevance to industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals).
The additionality requirements under this window would also differ from those envisaged for the other windows. For instance, the additionality of the support under the new window to large corporates would be in maintaining and developing their production within the Union or under the control of European investors and in scaling up the deployment of innovative technologies, rather than in purely risk-related considerations of the InvestEU support.
What are the changes in budgetary terms?
The new proposal foresees an increase of the original financial envelope. This includes a doubling of the guarantee amount allocated to the sustainable infrastructure window under the InvestEU Fund as well as the allocation of an additional guarantee amount to the new window. More concretely:
- Sustainable infrastructure window: €20 bn
- Research, innovation and digitisation window: €10 bn
- SME window: €10 bn
- Social investment and skills window: €3.6 bn
- Strategic European investment window: €31 bn
The new proposal also foresees an increase of the financial envelope allocated to the InvestEU Advisory Hub by an amount of €200 million to cater for the needs of the new window as well as the increasing needs of the other four windows.
How will InvestEU work?
The main principle of how InvestEU will function does not change. The InvestEU Fund will mobilise public and private investment through an EU budget guarantee of €75 billion that will back the investment projects of implementing partners such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group and others, and increase their risk-bearing capacity.
Under the new proposal, the guarantee will be provisioned at 45%, meaning that €34 billion of the EU budget is set aside in case calls are made on the guarantee. The size of the provisioning is based on the type of envisaged financial products and the riskiness of the portfolios, taking into account the experience under the EFSI and current financial instruments, as well as the likely changes in market circumstances following the coronavirus crisis.
What is the role of the EIB Group in the new proposal?
Given its role under the Treaties, its capacity to operate in all Member States and the existing experience under the current financial instruments and the EFSI, the European Investment Bank Group will remain a privileged implementing partner for the InvestEU. It will implement 75% of the EU guarantee.
The EIB Group will also play a central role in implementing advisory support under the InvestEU Advisory Hub. Moreover, it will advise the Commission and perform operational tasks in relation to the Hub.
Is the new window open to other implementing partners than the EIB Group?
Yes. The new window is open to other implementing partners than the EIB Group, including national promotional banks and institutions, as well as international financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or the Council of Europe Development Bank.
The Commission will continue the discussions with potential implementing partners to ensure a swift and efficient deployment of the instrument, which is even more crucial under the current circumstances.
Are there any changes to the InvestEU governance?
An Investment Committee composed of independent experts will remain responsible for approving the individual requests. As the Investment Committee will operate in different configurations corresponding to the InvestEU policy windows, a fifth configuration has been added to the proposal.
Are there any changes to the InvestEU eligibility criteria?
The policy areas eligible for financing and investment operations under the existing four windows remain the same as proposed and negotiated in annex II to the InvestEU Regulation. However, for the strategic European investment window, new intervention areas are introduced, as referenced above.
In case a financing or investment operation proposed to the Investment Committee falls under more than one policy window, it will be attributed to the policy window under which its main objective or the main objective of most of its sub-projects falls. The Investment Guidelines will specify the criteria for the allocation of financial products (under which financing and investment operations will be submitted) to specific windows.
Conditions worsen for stranded migrants along Belarus-EU border
At least eight people have died along the border between Belarus and the European Union, where multiple groups of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants have been stranded for weeks in increasingly dire conditions.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, appealed for urgent action on Friday, to save lives and prevent further suffering at the border with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The latest casualty was reported within the past few days.
UNHCR warned that the situation will further and rapidly deteriorate as winter approaches, putting more lives in danger.
For the Agency’s Regional Director for Europe, Pascale Moreau, “when fundamental human rights are not protected, lives are at stake.”
“It is unacceptable that people have died, and the lives of others are precariously hanging in the balance. They are held hostage by a political stalemate which needs to be solved now,” he said.
According to media reports, the EU regards the increase in asylum seekers at the border, a direct result of Belarus, in effect, weaponizing migrants, in retaliation for sanctions placed on the Government over the suppression of the protest movement following last year’s disputed re-election of President Lukashenko.
Among those stranded are 32 Afghan women, men and children. They have been left in limbo between Poland and Belarus since mid-August, unable to access asylum and any form of assistance. They do not have proper shelter and no secure source of food or water.
A group of 16 Afghans tried to cross into Poland this week, but they were apprehended and not allowed to apply for asylum. They were also denied access to legal assistance. Within a few hours, they were pushed back across the border to Belarus.
So far, UNHCR has not been granted access to meet with the group from the Polish side, despite repeated requests, and only met them a few times from the Belarusian side to deliver life-saving aid.
The Agency has been advocating for the group to be granted asylum, since the Afghans have expressed their wish to settle either in Belarus or in Poland.
The request has been ignored by both sides. For UNHCR, that is “a clear violation of international refugee law and international human rights law.”
“We urge Belarus and Poland, as signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to abide by their international legal obligations and provide access to asylum for those seeking it at their borders.
“Pushbacks, that deny access to territory and asylum, violate human rights in breach of international law”, said Mr. Moreau.
UNHCR urges the authorities to determine and address humanitarian and international protection needs, and find viable solutions. The agency also stands ready to support refugees, together with other relevant stakeholders.
“People must be able to exercise their rights where they are, be it in Belarus or in Poland or other EU States where they may be located. This must include the possibility to seek asylum, access to legal aid, information and appropriate accommodation”, Mr. Moreau concluded.
Focus on the recovery from the pandemic at the 19th EU Regions Week
The annual European Week of Regions and Cities has shown how the EU and national and regional governments can support European citizens and their local communities with public policies aimed at investing in a fairer, greener and more digital future for recovery. Under the theme ‘Together for Recovery’, more than 300 sessions, including debates with high-profile officials, regional and local representatives, an inspiring Citizens’ Dialogue, various workshops as well as an Award for outstanding young journalists, celebrated the EU values of cohesion and solidarity.
Taking place in a hybrid format, with sessions both physical and virtual, the 19th EU Regions Week had one main mission: highlighting the role of EU investments in the recovery from the pandemic and in facing common challenges. The event kicked off with a press conference with Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, who underlined that “Cohesion Policy was one of the first responders in the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by the core value of EU solidarity”.
The second annual local and regional barometer was presented by Apostolos Tzitzikostas, followed by a debate with members of the European Committee of the Regions. The report confirmed that the pandemic related measures put at risk regional and local finances, resulting in a 180 billion budget cut for local and regional authorities across Europe. At the same time, 1 in 3 local and regional politicians want regions and cities to become more influential in EU policy-making on health issues.
“Unless we measure the state of our regions and cities, we cannot understand the state of our Union” said Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions. “Only by taking the pulse of our communities, we can decide how effective the EU has been on the ground, and what the EU needs to do to help its people”.
Further taking stock of the EU cohesion policy response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as informing the general public, various workshops touched upon life before and after the pandemic, including explanations regarding the role of regions and cities for a Green Transition, the Cohesion Policy 2021-2027 and NextGenerationEU, as well as the CRII, CRII+, React-EU support packages for regional and local healthcare services and equipment.
Young journalists were also invited to take part in the EU Regions Week 2021, getting the opportunity to debate with Elisa Ferreira at the Citizens’ Dialogue. In the Youth4Regions programme for aspiring journalists, Irene Barahona Fernandez from Spain and Jack Ryan from Ireland won the 2021 Megalizzi-Niedzielski prize for aspiring journalists.
About the event
In total, more than 12 000 participants and 900 speakers joined the 4-day event either physically or online, showing engagement in all corners of EU society – from our vibrant youth to our high-profile officials, local and regional representatives, academic experts and professional specialists, displaying a common readiness to tackle what the future holds, together.
EU and Qatar sign landmark aviation agreement
The European Union and the State of Qatar today signed a comprehensive air transport agreement, upgrading rules and standards for flights between Qatar and the EU. The agreement sets a new global benchmark by committing both sides to fair competition, and by including social and environmental protection. The signing means new opportunities for consumers, airlines and airports in Qatar and the EU.
Qatar is an increasingly important aviation partner for the EU. It was the 15th largest extra-EU market in 2019 with 6.3 million passengers travelling between the EU and Qatar. Ensuring open and fair competition for air services between both is therefore crucial, also for routes between the EU and Asia.
Adina Vălean, Commissioner for mobility and transport, said: “This agreement, the first one between the EU and the Gulf region, is a global benchmark for forward-looking aviation agreements. It is testimony to our shared commitment to economically, socially and environmentally sustainable aviation, based on a modern framework covering fair competition and closer cooperation on social and environmental matters. This agreement will bring new opportunities, more choice and higher standards for passengers, industry and aviation workers.”
Today’s agreement creates a level playing field that is expected to result in new air transport opportunities and economic benefits for both sides:
- All EU airlines will be able to operate direct flights from any airport in the EU to Qatar and vice versa for Qatari airlines.
- EU airports in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands will be subject to a gradual build-up of capacity until 2024. For more details on this, see the Q&A.
- Strong provisions on open and fair competition will guarantee a level playing field.
- The parties recognised the importance of social matters, agreed to cooperate on these and to improve their respective social and labour laws and policies as per their international commitments.
The agreement will facilitate people-to-people contacts and expand commercial opportunities and trade. Going beyond traffic rights, the EU-Qatar agreement will provide a single set of rules, high standards and a platform for future cooperation on a wide range of aviation issues.
Qatar is a close aviation partner for the European Union; more than 6 million passengers travelled between the EU and Qatar per year under the existing 26 bilateral air transport agreements with EU Member States prior to the pandemic. While direct flights between most EU Member States and Qatar have already been liberalised by those bilateral agreements, none of them include provisions on fair competition, or social and environmental issues, which the Commission considers essential for a modern aviation agreement.
In 2016, the European Commission obtained authorisation from the Council to negotiate an EU-level aviation agreement with Qatar, which started on 4 March 2019. While the agreement still needs to be ratified by the parties before formally entering into force, it will start being applied from today’s signature.
Similar EU comprehensive air transport agreements have been signed with other partner countries, namely the United States, Canada, the Western Balkans, Morocco, Georgia, Jordan, Moldova, Israel and Ukraine. Further air transport agreements with Armenia and Tunisia are expected to be signed in the coming weeks.
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