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Investment Plan for Europe exceeds €500 billion investment target ahead of time

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The European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group have delivered on their pledge to mobilise €500 billion in investment under the Investment Plan for Europe. Some 1,400 operations have been approved under the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), using a budget guarantee from the European Union and own resources from the EIB Group. They are expected to trigger close to €514 billion in additional investment across EU countries and to benefit some 1.4 million small and mid-sized companies. In 2017, when the Council and the Parliament agreed to broaden the EFSI’s scope and size, the goal was to mobilise €500 billion by the end of 2020. The money was intended to address the investment gap left as a result of the 2007/8 financial and economic crisis.

Over the past years and especially after the coronavirus outbreak the focus of the EFSI shifted: it has inspired InvestEU, the Commission’s new investment programme for the years 2021-2027, and already now it contributes to the Corona Response Investment Initiative. EFSI will also play a key role in the NextGenerationEU package of measures to rebuild the European economy after the coronavirus shock. It will do this via a top-up for a Solvency Support Instrument, which aims to prevent insolvencies in European businesses.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “The Investment Plan for Europe is a success. Over the past five years, it has enabled the financing of hundreds of thousands of businesses and projects, delivering on our ambitions of making Europe more green, innovative and fair. We will continue this through NextGenerationEU.”

European Investment Bank Group President Werner Hoyer said: “EFSI can serve as a blueprint for action during the coronavirus response. Knowing that we exceeded the headline figure of €500 billion of investment ahead of time is proof of the power of partnership. Implementing the financial pillar of the Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe has been an honour and a challenge for the EIB. We lived up to it not least thanks to the excellent cooperation between the Bank and European and national institutions. The success of this initiative shows what Europe can achieve with the right tools: our continent has become more social, green, innovative and competitive. We can and we should build on our experience to overcome the current crisis. It will help us to shape a Europe all of us can be proud of.”

What has the European Fund for Strategic Investments financed?

The EFSI allows the EIB Group to finance operations that are riskier than its average investments. Often, EFSI-backed projects are highly innovative, undertaken by small companies without a credit history, or they pool smaller infrastructure needs by sector and geography. Supporting such projects required the EIB Group to develop new financing products, for example venture debt with equity features or investment platforms. This changed the DNA of the Bank and revolutionised the way Europe finances its priorities.

Importantly, the EFSI also enables the EIB to approve a greater number of projects than would be possible without the EU budget guarantee’s backing, as well as to reach out to new clients: three out of four receiving EFSI backing are new to the bank. This proves the added value of EFSI operations.

Thanks to EFSI support, the EIB and its subsidiary for financing small businesses, the European Investment Fund (EIF), have provided financing for hundreds of thousands of SMEs across a wide range of sectors and in all EU countries. Examples range from sustainable agriculture in Belgium, to innovative medical technology in Spain, to an energy efficiency company in Lithuania.

Economic impact: jobs and growth

The impact of the initiative is sizable. Based on results from December 2019, the EIB’s Economics Department and the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) estimate that EFSI operations have supported around 1.4 million jobs with the figure set to rise to 1.8 million jobs by 2022 compared to the baseline scenario. In addition, calculations show that the initiative has increased EU GDP by 1.3% and it is set to increase EU GDP by 1.9% by 2022. As of the beginning of this year, 60% of the capital raised came from private resources, meaning that EFSI has also met its objective of mobilising private investment. 

Measured against the size of the economy the biggest impact is in countries that were hard hit by the 2007/8 crisis, i.e. Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. While the direct investment impact is particularly high in those countries, the calculations found that cohesion regions (mostly Eastern European countries) are likely to benefit more from a long-term effect. These calculations correspond with the actual financing activities under EFSI: top countries ranked by EFSI-triggered investment relative to GDP are Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, Estonia, and Spain.

How has the Investment Plan for Europe benefited citizens?

The EIB’s EFSI report 2019 lists a number of concrete outcomes of the initiative. Thanks to the EFSI:

  • Some 20 million additional households can access high-speed broadband
  • Around 540,000 social and affordable housing units have been built or renovated
  • 22 million Europeans benefit from improved healthcare services
  • Some 400 million passenger trips/year will benefit from new or improved transport infrastructure
  • 13.4 million households were supplied with renewable energy.

Background

The Commission and the EIB Group launched the Investment Plan for Europe in November 2014 to reverse the downward trend of investment and put Europe on the path to economic recovery. Its financial pillar, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, was initially tasked to mobilise €315 billion in additional investment by 2018. Given its success, the European Parliament and Member States agreed to enhance the EFSI and extend the investment target to €500 billion by end 2020.

An independent evaluation of the EFSI published in June 2018 concluded that the EU guarantee is an efficient way of increasing the volume of riskier operations by the EIB, as it uses fewer budgetary resources compared to European grant programmes and financial instruments. It underlines that EIB support is key to EFSI beneficiaries: it provides a “stamp of approval” to the market, thus helping to facilitate future fund-raising. EFSI’s success is based not least on its efficient governance structure, which is responsive to constant changes of the markets. An independent group of experts decides if a project qualifies for backing by the EU guarantee. The goal: de-risking private investment into projects needed for a more sustainable Europe and adding value to what would have happened without public assistance.

In May 2020, the European Commission presented its revised proposal for the successor to the Investment Plan for Europe under the next Multiannual Financial Framework starting in 2021: the InvestEU Programme.

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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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