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EU-China Summit: Defending EU interests and values in a complex and vital partnership

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The European Union and China held their 22nd bilateral Summit via videoconference on 22 June 2020. President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, accompanied by High Representative Josep Borrell, hold the Summit meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang followed by exchanges with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

President Michel said: “EU-China relations have evolved in recent years. Our economic interdependency is high, and we must work together on global challenges like climate action, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals or dealing with COVID-19. Engaging and cooperating with China is both an opportunity and necessity. But, at the same time, we have to recognise that we do not share the same values, political systems, or approach to multilateralism. We will engage in a clear-eyed and confident way, robustly defending EU interests and standing firm on our values.”

President von der Leyen said: “The COVID-pandemic and a number of major bilateral and multilateral challenges show clearly the EU – China partnership is crucial, be it in terms of trade, climate, technology, and the defence of multilateralism. But for our relations to develop further, they must become more rules-based and reciprocal, in order to achieve a real level playing-field.”

The EU-China summit had a comprehensive agenda addressing bilateral relations; regional and international issues, and the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery.

The EU recalled the important commitments made at the 2019 EU-China Summit and stressed the need for the implementation of these commitments in a dynamic and result oriented manner as progress today is limited.

The EU strongly emphasised the need to advance negotiations for an ambitious EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement that addresses the current asymmetries in market access and ensures a level playing field. Urgent progress is needed in particular on behaviour of State-Owned Enterprises, transparency on subsidies and rules tackling forced transfers of technology.

On economic and trade issues, the EU recalled the joint commitment to work constructively and expeditiously towards the resolution of a number of market access and regulatory issues. The EU welcomed confirmation by China that the recent China-US “phase 1” deal will be implemented in full compatibility with World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations and without discrimination against EU operators. The EU recalled its expectation that European exporters immediately benefit from trade facilitating measures in the agri-food sector.

The EU reiterated the urgent need for China to engage in future negotiations on industrial subsidies in the WTO, and address overcapacity in traditional sectors such as steel as well as high-tech areas.

The EU is looking forward to the signature of the EU-China Agreement on Geographical Indications in coming weeks and entry into force in nearest future.

The Summit was also an opportunity to discuss the importance of the digital sector to economies and societies worldwide. The EU stressed that the development of new digital technologies must go hand in hand with the respect of fundamental rights and data protection. The EU also raised outstanding issues on cybersecurity, disinformation.

Leaders had a substantive discussion on climate change. China is the EU’s partner under the Paris Agreement, but needs to commit to decisive and ambitious domestic action to reduce emissions in the short term and to set a goal of climate neutrality at the earliest possible date.

The EU called on China to assume greater responsibility in dealing with global challenges through the rules-based international system, promoting international peace and security, and adhering to international standards to support sustainable development, especially in Africa. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU underlined the shared responsibility to participate in global efforts to stop the spread of the virus, boost research on treatments and vaccines, and support a green and inclusive global recovery. The EU stressed the need for solidarity in addressing the consequences in developing countries, notably as regard debt relief.  The EU also called on China to fully participate in the independent review of lessons learned from the international health response to COVID-19, mandated by the resolution adopted at the last World Health Assembly. The EU also called on China to facilitate the return of EU residents in China.

On Hong Kong, the EU reiterated its grave concerns at steps taken by China to impose national security legislation from Beijing and considers those steps not in conformity with the Hong Kong Basic Law and China’s international commitments, and put pressure on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the population protected by the law and the independent justice system.

The EU raise its concerns on the deteriorating human rights situation, including the treatment of minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, and of human rights defenders, as well as restrictions on fundamental freedoms. The EU also underlined its expectation that the Human Rights Dialogue will take place in China later in the year once the COVID-19 restrictions are eased. EU Leaders  raised a number of individual cases, including the reports on citizens who have disappeared after reporting/expressing their views on the handling of the Coronavirus outbreak, as well as the continued arbitrary detention of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai and two Canadian citizens – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The EU and China exchanged views on a number of regional and international issues, including Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal), Afghanistan as well as situation on the Korean Peninsula. The EU expressed concerns about the escalation of other regional conflicts and the importance of upholding international law in the maritime domain. We agreed to continue contacts in the future.

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EU Politics

Conditions worsen for stranded migrants along Belarus-EU border

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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, UNHCRappealed 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.  

International group 

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. 

International law 

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. 

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EU Politics

Focus on the recovery from the pandemic at the 19th EU Regions Week

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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

The European Week of Regions and Cities (#EURegionsWeek) is the largest EU-wide event on regional development. It is co-organised by the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions.

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.

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EU Politics

EU and Qatar sign landmark aviation agreement

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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.

Background

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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