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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.

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Commission sets out key actions for a united front to beat COVID-19

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Two days ahead of the meeting of European leaders on a coordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission set out a number of actions needed to step up the fight against the pandemic. In a Communication adopted today, it calls on Member States to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination across the EU: by March 2021, at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of health and social care professionals in every Member State should be vaccinated. And by summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated a minimum of 70% of the adult population.

The Commission also calls on Member States to continue to apply physical distancing, limit social contacts, fight disinformation, coordinate travel restrictions, ramp up testing, and increase contact tracing and genome sequencing to face up to the risk from new variants of the virus. As recent weeks have seen an upward trend in case numbers, more needs to be done to support healthcare systems and to address “COVID-fatigue” in the coming months, from accelerating vaccination across the board, helping our partners in the Western Balkans, the Southern and Eastern neighbourhood and in Africa.

Today’s Communication sets out key actions for Member States, the Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which will help reduce risks and keep the virus under control:

Speeding up the roll-out of vaccination across the EU

By March 2021, at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of health and social care professionals in every Member State, should be vaccinated.

By summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated 70% of the entire adult population.

The Commission, Member States and the EMA will work with companies to use the EU’s potential for increased vaccine manufacturing capacity to the fullest.

The Commission is working with Member States on vaccination certificates, in full compliance with EU data protection law, which can support the continuity of care. A common approach is to be agreed by the end of January 2021 to allow Member States’ certificates to be rapidly useable in health systems across the EU and beyond.

Testing and genome sequencing

Member States should update their testing strategies to account for new variants and expand the use of rapid antigen tests.

Member States should urgently increase genome sequencing to at least 5% and preferably 10% of positive test results. At present, many Member States are testing under 1% of samples, which is not enough to identify the progression of the variants or detect any new ones.

Preserving the Single Market and free movement while stepping up mitigation measures

Measures should be applied to further reduce the risk of transmission linked to the means of travel, such as hygiene and distancing measures in vehicles and terminuses.

All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved.

Proportionate travel restrictions, including testing of travellers, should be maintained for those travelling from areas with a higher incidence of variants of concern.

Ensuring European leadership and international solidarity

To ensure early access to vaccines, the Commission is to set up a Team Europe mechanism to structure the provision of vaccines shared by Member States with partner countries. This should allow for sharing with partner countries access to some of the 2.3 billion doses secured through the EU’s Vaccines Strategy, paying special attention to the Western Balkans, our Eastern and Southern neighbourhood and Africa.

The European Commission and Member States should continue supporting COVAX, including through early access to vaccines. Team Europe has already mobilised €853 million in support of COVAX, making the EU one of COVAX’s biggest donors.

Members of the College said:

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Vaccination is essential to get out of this crisis. We have already secured enough vaccines for the entire population of the European Union. Now we need to accelerate the delivery and speed up vaccination. Our aim is to have 70% of our adult population vaccinated by summer. That could be a turning point in our fight against this virus. However, we will only end this pandemic when everyone in the world has access to vaccines. We will step up our efforts to help secure vaccines for our neighbours and partners worldwide.”

Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, responsible for Promoting our European Way of Life, said: “The emergence of new variants of the virus and substantial rises in cases leave us no room for complacency. Now more than ever must come a renewed determination for Europe to act together with unity, coordination and vigilance. Our proposals today aim to protect more lives and livelihoods later and relieve the burden on already stretched health care systems and workers. This is how the EU will come out of the crisis. The end of the pandemic is in sight though not yet in reach.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Working together with unity, solidary and determination, we can soon start to see the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Now in particular, we need swift and coordinated action against the new variants of the virus. Vaccinations will still take time until they reach all Europeans and until then we must take immediate, coordinated and proactive steps together. Vaccinations must accelerate across the EU and testing and sequencing must be increased – this is show we can ensure that we leave this crisis behind us as soon as possible.”

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Coronavirus response: EU support for regions to work together in innovative pilot projects

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The Commission has announced the winners of a new EU-funded initiative for interregional partnerships in four areas: coronavirus-related innovative solutions, circular economy in health, sustainable and digital tourism, and hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions. The aim of this new pilot action, which builds on the successful experience of a similar action on “interregional innovation projects” launched at the end of 2017, is to mobilise regional and national innovation actors to address the impact of coronavirus. This initiative also helps the recovery using the new Commission programmes through scaling up projects in new priority areas, such as health, tourism or hydrogen.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “Interregional partnerships are proof that when we cooperate beyond borders, we are stronger as we come up with smart and useful solutions for all. This new pilot initiative supporting interregional innovative partnerships is especially important in the current coronavirus context, showing how much cohesion policy is committed to contribute to Europe’s prompt response and recovery.” 

Following a Commission’s call for expression of interest launched in July 2020, four interregional partnerships were selected, with one or several coordinating regions in the lead:

  • País Vasco (ES), together with three regions, will focus on the support to an emerging industry sector for prediction and prevention of the coronavirus pandemic;
  • In the field of Circular Economy in Health, the RegioTex partnership on textile innovation involves 16 regions led by North Portugal (PT);
  • In the field of Sustainable and Digital Tourism, the partnership coordinated by the Time Machine Organisation, an international cooperation network in technology, science and cultural heritage, involves five regions and Cyprus, led by Thüringen (DE); 
  • In order to enable the development of innovative solutions based on Hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions with a broad geographical coverage, two partnerships will merge: the European Hydrogen Valleys partnership gathering 12 regions led by Aragon (ES), Auvergne Rhône Alpes (FR), Normandie (FR) and Northern Netherlands (NL), and the partnership led by Košice Region (SK) with four other regions.

These partnerships will benefit from the Commission experts’ support, providing, among others, advice on how to best combine EU funds to finance projects. In addition to this hands-on support from the Commission, each partnership can benefit from external advisory service of up to €100,000 for scale-up and commercialisation activities. The money comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Next steps

The work with the partnerships will start in this month and will run for one year.This pilot further stimulates interregional cooperation, with the possibility for the partnerships to apply for support under the new programmes and the “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument from 2021 onwards.

Background

In recent years, the Commission has called on national and regional authorities to develop smart specialisation strategies aiming at more effective innovation policies and enhanced interregional cooperation in value chains across borders. To date, more than 180 regional smart specialisation strategies have been adopted. Their implementation is supported by €40 billion of EU Cohesion policy funds.

As part of a set of actions presented in 2017 by the Commission to take smart specialisation a step further, a pilot action on “Interregional innovation projects” sought to test new ways to encourage regions and cities to develop new value chains and scale up their good ideas in the EU single market. This pilot action, which involved nine partnerships in high-tech priority sectors, was completed in 2019 and showed significant potential to accelerate the investment readiness of interregional investment projects.

The lessons learned will be integrated in the new “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument proposed in the framework of the post 2020 Cohesion Policy package.

The new pilot action has similar goals. Moreover, in the context of the crisis, it aims at finding solutions to the coronavirus challenges and accelerating the recovery through the commercialisation and scale-up of innovation investment. 

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Commission proposes to purchase up to 300 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine

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image: BioNTech

The European Commission today proposed to the EU Member States to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.  

This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU.

The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021. 

The EU has acquired a broad portfolio of vaccines with different technologies. It has secured up to 2.3 billion doses from the most promising vaccine candidates for Europe and its neighbourhood.  

In addition to the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, was authorised on 6 January 2021. Other vaccines are expected to be approved soon.  

This vaccine portfolio would enable the EU not only to cover the needs of its whole population, but also to supply vaccines to neighbouring countries.

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