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Future EU-UK relations: next steps

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The UK leaving the EU is not the end of cooperation. Talks are ongoing to determine how the two will work together on anything from trade to transport and the fight against crime.

The EU and the UK face many of the same challenges such as climate change and police cooperation and have much to gain from working together on these issues.

The Withdrawal Agreement, which has been ratified by both parties, covers the protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other parts of the EU, the UK’s financial commitments undertaken as a member state, as well border issues (especially between the UK and the Republic of Ireland) and this needs to be implemented in full.

Future relations will be part of a separate agreement, which is currently being negotiated on the basis of the political declaration that was approved and ratified by both parties.

Parliament’s position

In a resolution adopted on 12 February, MEPs called for a comprehensive agreement that includes a level playing field to be guaranteed through robust commitments and an agreement on fisheries.

On 29 May, David McAllister, chair of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, said in a statement: “Parliament will not consent to an agreement that does not include provisions on level playing field, fundamental rights, robust governance and a stable framework for fisheries.

“It also considers the full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, co-signed by the UK Prime Minister, to be crucial.”

Members of the foreign affairs and trade committees reiterated their overwhelming support for the EU position in the talks between the EU and the UK on their future relationship on 12 June. All MEPs will vote on the draft resolution during the plenary session on 17-19 June.

The committee votes came ahead of a conference on the ongoing talks on 15 June with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and the participation of Parliament President David Sassoli. After the conference, they issued a joint statement.

What the future relations agreement will cover

The issues in any agreement on future relations range from the exchange of goods and services to the environment, research, education and so on.

One of the key negotiations will concern the conditions and principles for future trade, including the questions of possible tariffs, product standards, a level-playing field, fisheries, the respect of fundamental rights and how to resolve disputes.

Citizens

Citizens’ rights are protected by the withdrawal agreement. EU citizens in the UK and Brits in the EU have the right to continue living and working where they are now. This topic will remain a key concern for the European Parliament, for example regarding freedom of movement and health coverage for EU citizens in the UK. MEPs are following closely how the withdrawal agreement is being implemented.

Timescale

Under the withdrawal agreement, there is a transition period until the end of December 2020. During the transition period, the UK has access to the single market and is subject to EU legislation, although it is no longer be able to shape new EU laws.

The aim is to conclude talks before the end of the transition period. The transition period can be extended upon request once, but the decision to do so must be taken before 1 July.

If no agreement is reached by the end of the transition period, the UK will trade with the EU under World Trade Organization rules.

How the negotiations work

Former commissioner Michel Barnier leads the negotiations on behalf of the EU, based on political guidelines issued by the European Council. Barnier also led negotiations on the withdrawal agreement.

MEPs are able to influence negotiations by adopting resolutions setting out the Parliament’s position. Parliament set up a UK contact group, led by German EPP member David McAllister, who is the chair of the foreign affairs committee, to liaise with EU negotiator Barnier and coordinate with parliamentary committees that are involved.

Any agreement can only enter into force if it is approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Unlike the withdrawal agreement, it is also possible that the agreement on future relations will also have to be approved by national parliaments if it refers to competences the EU shares with member states. It will also need to be approved by the UK.

Coronavirus: Commission unveils EU vaccines strategy

Today, to help protect people everywhere, the European Commission is presenting a European strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19. An effective and safe vaccine against the virus is our best bet to achieve a permanent solution to the pandemic. Time is of the essence. Every month gained in finding such a vaccine saves lives, livelihoods and billions of euros. Today’s strategy proposes a joint EU approach and builds on the mandate received from EU health ministers.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “This is a moment for science and solidarity. Nothing is certain, but I am confident that we can mobilise the resources to find a vaccine to beat this virus once and for all. We must be ready to manufacture and deploy such a vaccine across Europe and the world. This vaccine will be a breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus, and a testament to what partners can achieve when we put our minds, research and resources together. The European Union will do all in its power to ensure that all peoples of this world have access to a vaccine, irrespective of where they live.”

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said: “Working together will increase our chances of securing access to a safe and effective vaccine at the scale we need and as quickly as possible. It will ensure fair and equitable access for all across the EU and globally, thus offering the best opportunity of finding a permanent exit strategy from the COVID-19 crisis. This is the EU at its best: pooling resources, joining efforts, bringing tangible results to the everyday lives of people. No one is safe until everyone is safe and we will leave no stones unturned in our efforts to protect EU and global citizens.”

Vaccine development is a complex and lengthy process. With today’s strategy, the Commission will support efforts to accelerate the development and availability of safe and effective vaccines in a timeframe between 12 and 18 months, if not earlier. Delivering on this complex undertaking requires running clinical trials in parallel with investing in production capacity to be able to produce millions, or even billions, of doses of a successful vaccine. The Commission is fully mobilised to support the efforts of vaccine developers in their endeavour.

This is not a European challenge, but a global one. The European Union will not be safe until the entire world has access to a vaccine, and as such, the EU and its Member States have both a responsibility and an interest to make a vaccine universally available.

An important step towards joint action between Member States has already been taken in the formation of an inclusive vaccine Alliance by France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The EU Vaccine Strategy will implement a joint approach going forward.

The strategy has the following objectives:

  • Ensuring the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines.
  • Securing swift access to vaccines for Member States and their populations while leading the global solidarity effort.
  • Ensuring equitable access to an affordable vaccine as early as possible.

The EU strategy rests on two pillars:

  • Securing the production of vaccines in the EU and sufficient supplies for its Member States through Advance Purchase Agreements with vaccine producers via the Emergency Support Instrument. Additional financing and other forms of support can be made available on top of such agreements.
  • Adapting the EU’s regulatory framework to the current urgency and making use of existing regulatory flexibility to accelerate the development, authorisation and availability of vaccines while maintaining the standards for vaccine quality, safety and efficacy.

Advance Purchase Agreements

In order to support companies in the swift development and production of a vaccine, the Commission will enter into agreements with individual vaccine producers on behalf of the Member States. In return for the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe, the Commission will finance part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers. This will take the form of Advance Purchase Agreements. Funding provided will be considered as a down-payment on the vaccines that will actually be purchased by Member States.

The related funding will come from a significant part of the €2.7 billion Emergency Support Instrument. Additional support will be available through loans from the European Investment Bank.

Financing criteria

When taking the financing decision on what vaccines to support, the following non-exhaustive criteria will be taken into account, including: soundness of scientific approach and technology used, speed of delivery at scale, cost, risk sharing, liability, coverage of different technologies, early engagement with EU regulators, global solidarity, and capacity to supply through development of production capacity within the EU.

There is always a risk that supported candidates fail during clinical trials. This Strategy is therefore similar to an insurance policy, by transferring some of the risks from industry to public authorities in return for assuring Member States of equitable and affordable access to a vaccine, should one become available.

A flexible and robust regulatory process

Regulatory processes will be flexible but remain robust. Together with the Member States and the European Medicines Agency, the Commission will make the greatest use of existing flexibilities in the EU’s regulatory framework to accelerate the authorisation and availability of successful vaccines against COVID-19. This includes an accelerated procedure for authorisation, flexibility in relation to labelling and packaging, and a proposal to provide temporary derogations from certain provisions of the GMO legislation to speed up clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines and medicines containing genetically modified organisms.

Global solidarity

The EU is contributing to the global effort for universal testing, treatment and vaccination by mobilising resources through international pledging and by joining forces with countries and global health organisations through the Access To Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator collaborative framework. The Global Coronavirus Response pledging campaign raised €9.8 billion by the end of May 2020. A second step is underway in partnership with Global Citizen and other governmental and non-governmental partners, culminating in a global pledging summit on 27 June.

The European Commission is committed to the principle of universal, equitable and affordable access to vaccines, especially for the most vulnerable countries. It is ready to explore with international partners if a significant number of countries would agree to pool resources for jointly reserving future vaccines from companies for themselves as well as for low and middle-income countries at the same time. The high-income countries could act as an inclusive international buyers’ group, thus accelerating the development of safe and effective vaccines and maximise access to them for all who need it across the world.

EU Politics

Why social fairness and solidarity are more important than ever

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EU Commission’s services have published the 2020 edition of the Employment and Social Developments in Europe (ESDE) review dedicated to the theme of social fairness and solidarity. The review provides evidence-based analysis on how to achieve greater fairness across the EU in the face of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic as well as structural changes due to demographic ageing, and the green and digital transitions.

Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit said: “The ESDE report shows that strengthening social fairness is key to overcoming the crisis. This requires putting people front and centre. To ensure resilience, solidarity and cohesion, the EU’s response has to prioritise employment, reduce inequalities and ensure equal opportunities. The effective implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights will serve as our guide.”

The review notes that the COVID-19 pandemic is having profound health, economic, employment and social effects, threatening much of the progress that the EU had achieved previously. All Member States are experiencing a greater economic shock than in 2008-2009. Economic output has contracted sharply and unemployment is on the rise. The most vulnerable persons, including Europe’s youth, are hit particularly hard.

Against this background, the ESDE report points to the following findings:

Adequate minimum wages and minimum income can have a beneficial effect on the social mobility of Europeans.

Strengthening social fairness, including through investments in people, pays off. Closing gender-related gaps brings particularly high returns, while extending working lives, and raising educational attainment also have positive effects.

Structural change, such as the green transition, has to be accompanied by social measures to be successful. Notably, this transition requires social investment in the form of re-skilling programmes and/or unemployment benefits. According to ESDE, this social investment could amount to €20 billion or more until 2030.

Short-time work schemes are protecting jobs effectively. The EU is helping Member States to provide such support through solidarity mechanisms like the instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE).

Social dialogue and collective bargaining influence fairness and its perception at the workplace by promoting more equitable wages, better working conditions and more inclusive labour markets.

More generally, to repair the damage done by COVID-19 and prepare an economy and society for a future of faster structural changes, the EU and Member States need to embrace fully the opportunities offered by the transition to a greener, digitalised economy and build inclusiveness, solidarity and resilience into the design of all policies. Ensuring a broad-based recovery is a key policy objective of our policy action, which will help strengthen social resilience in the longer run.

Background

The annual Employment and Social Developments in Europe review prepared by the Directorate-General of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, provides up-to-date economic analysis of employment and social trends in Europe and discusses related policy options. It is the European Commission’s analytical flagship report in the area of employment and social affairs, mandated by Articles 151, 159 and 161 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

There are many examples in which the Commission focuses on addressing the challenges raised in the yearly ESDE reports. In April 2020, the Commission proposed the SURE instrument, which will provide €100 billion in financial support to help protect jobs and workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In May 2020, the Commission put forward a powerful, modern and revamped long-term EU budget boosted by NextGenerationEU, an emergency temporary recovery instrument, to help repair the economic and social damage brought by the coronavirus pandemic, kickstart the recovery and prepare for a better future for the next generation. The Recovery and Resilience Facility will be one of EU’s main recovery tools, providing an unprecedented €672.5 billion of loans and grants in frontloaded financial support for the crucial first years of the recovery. The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) will continue to invest in people, while an improved European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) will be able to intervene even more effectively to support workers who have lost their jobs. The European Pillar of Social Rights and its upcoming Action Plan, as well as initiatives and tools such as the European Skills Agenda, the Youth Employment Support initiative or the Digital Europe Programme will all contribute to address challenges identified in the ESDE.

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EU Politics

EU-China Leaders’ Meeting: Upholding EU values and interests

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The European Union and China held a Leaders’ Meeting via videoconference on 14 September 2020. An EU-China Leaders’ meeting with the participation of leaders of all EU member states was initially scheduled to take place on this date. President of the European Council, Charles Michel, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Federal Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, for the Council Presidency, conducted the videoconference with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The meeting provided an opportunity to follow up on discussions at the 22nd EU-China Summit (22 June). The meeting was important to maintain the momentum of EU-China high-level exchanges in order to achieve concrete results in line with EU interests and values.

The comprehensive agenda of the Leaders’ meeting covered trade and investment, climate change and biodiversity, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as international affairs and other issues.

With regard to the negotiations for an ambitious EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI), while both sides registered progress on the rules regulating the behaviour of State-owned-enterprises, on forced technology transfer and on transparency of subsidies, the EU emphasised that more work was urgently needed on the issues of rebalancing market access and on sustainable development. The EU called on China to step up its ambition on these issues. The two sides reaffirmed their objective of closing the remaining gaps before the end of the year. The EU side emphasised that high-level political engagement would be required within the Chinese system to achieve a meaningful agreement.

On other trade and economic issues, the EU reiterated its call on China to engage in future negotiations on industrial subsidies in the WTO. The EU stressed that, in line with China’s stated commitment to open up and ensure that EU producers are fairly treated on the Chinese market, more needed to be done to improve market access in the agri-food trade, financial services and the digital sector. The EU also again made clear its concerns on overcapacity, both in traditional sectors such as steel and aluminium as well as in high tech.

The two sides welcomed the signature of the EU-China Agreement on Geographical Indications which will improve access to the Chinese market especially for high-quality European agricultural products.

The EU underlined the need for reciprocity and a level playing field in the area of science and technology, underpinned by high ethical and integrity standards. Leaders welcomed and agreed to continue the high level digital dialogue. They looked forward to concrete progress on ICT standards, product safety and research and innovation.

On climate change and biodiversity, the EU encouraged China to strengthen its climate commitments in terms of peaking carbon dioxide emissions and setting the goal of climate neutrality domestically. The EU also stressed the importance of a moratorium in China of building coal-fired power plants and financing their construction abroad, at least as part of a global initiative. The EU also encouraged China to launch its national emission trading system soon. The two sides agreed to establish a High-Level Environment and Climate Dialogue to pursue ambitious joint commitments on these issues.

The EU noted that joint commitments by both sides on biodiversity could be a game-changer at global level and China has a key role to play as host of the Conference of the Parties next year. An ambitious global agreement would be a major achievement.

On the COVID-19 response, the EU emphasised the shared responsibility to participate in global efforts to stop the spread of the virus, boost research on treatments and vaccines, and strengthen the role of the World Health Organisation, including through the full implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution of May 2020. The EU also underlined that the recovery measures should support the transition to a greener and more sustainable economy. China’s full engagement in G20 efforts to support low-income countries and effectively implement the G20 – Paris Club Debt Service Suspension Initiative will also be essential.

With regard to Hong Kong, EU Leaders voiced their grave concerns about the erosion of the fundamental rights and freedoms following the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong on 30 June, which is contrary to China’s international commitments. They also reiterated the EU’s concerns at the postponement of the Legislative Council election and the disqualification of candidates.

The EU reiterated its serious concerns about the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, the situation of human rights defenders, as well as the limitations to freedom of expression and access to information. The two sides agreed that the Human Rights Dialogue will take place as a physical meeting in China later this year.

On regional and international issues, the EU referred to the escalating tensions in the South China Sea, urging for self-restraint and a peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. Leaders welcomed the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha. They also confirmed their commitment to upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal).

The EU also expressed readiness to continue to discuss the Strategic Agenda for Cooperation 2025, which can only be concluded once significant progress has been made in the negotiations on the Comprehensive Investment Agreement.

An EU-China Leaders’ Meeting with the participation of the Heads of State and Government of the EU member states and President Xi is foreseen to be held in 2021.

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Commission adopts proposal to make EU-U.S. agreement on tariffs effective

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The European Commission today published a proposal for a Council and European Parliament regulation to scrap duties on certain imports to the EU. In return, the United States will reduce its duties on certain EU exports to the U.S. market. This will put into effect the agreement announced by the EU and the U.S. on 21 August 2020. These tariff reductions between the EU and the U.S. will increase access to both EU and U.S. markets by around €200 million per year.

Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The EU and the U.S. share the most important economic partnership in the world, with trade in goods and services worth over €1.3 trillion annually. This deal provides both sides with a true win-win outcome, helping us to strengthen our partnership even further. Lowering tariffs on both sides improves access for our exporters and reduces the cost of imported goods. Those are both critically important factors in this time of coronavirus-related economic crisis. From the EU side, we view this agreement as an important step towards improving our relationship and resolving outstanding disputes. We remain eager to deepen transatlantic cooperation wherever possible as we firmly believe that, when it comes to truly global challenges, the chances of achieving successful global outcomes are improved if the European Union and United States work together.”

Once approved in line with the relevant procedures on either side of the Atlantic, the agreement will entail the reduction of U.S. tariffs on EU exports worth some $160 million a year. This includes prepared meals, crystal glassware, surface preparations, propellant powders, lighters and lighter parts. On its side, the EU will eliminate tariffs on imports of U.S. live and frozen lobster products. U.S. exports of these products to the EU are worth some $111 million.

Both sides will eliminate those tariffs on a most-favored nation (MFN) basis, i.e. for any partner, in line with the existing multilateral commitments. The measures will apply with retroactive effect as of 1 August 2020.

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