As Europe learns to live with the pandemic, the development and swift global deployment of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 remains an essential element in the eventual solution to the public health crisis. In this context, the Commission is working to ensure that there will be access to safe vaccines across Europe, and encourages a coordinated approach of vaccination strategies for deployment of the vaccines. Today, ahead of the discussion of EU Leaders, the Commission is presenting the key elements to be taken into consideration by Member States for their COVID-19 vaccination strategies in order to prepare the European Union and its citizens for when a safe and effective vaccine is available, as well as priority groups to consider for vaccination first.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “A safe and effective vaccine is our best shot at beating coronavirus and returning to our normal lives. We have been working hard to make agreements with pharmaceutical companies and secure future doses. Now, we must ensure that once a vaccine is found, we are fully prepared to deploy it. With our Vaccination Strategy, we are helping EU countries prepare their vaccination campaigns: who should be vaccinated first, how to have a fair distribution and how to protect the most vulnerable. If we want our vaccination to be successful, we need to prepare now.”
Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “While the evolution of the pandemic is getting back to March levels, our state of preparedness is not. Today we are adopting a milestone in the ongoing EU response to the COVID-19 pandemic; the aim is to ensure safe, affordable and accessible COVID-19 vaccines for all in the EU, once they will become available. It is only by acting together that we will avoid the cacophony and be more efficient than in the past.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “It is with great concern that I am witnessing the increasingly rapid rise of infection rates all across the EU. Time is running out – everyone’s first priority should be to do what it takes to avoid the devastating consequences of generalised lockdowns. And we must all prepare for the next steps. The vaccine will not be a silver bullet, but it will play a central role to save lives and contain the pandemic. And when and if a safe and efficient vaccine is found, we need to be prepared to roll it out as quickly as possible, including building citizens’ trust in its safety and efficacy. Vaccines will not save lives – vaccinations will.”
In line with the 17 June EU Vaccines Strategy, the European Commission and Member States are securing the production of vaccines against COVID-19 through Advance Purchase Agreements with vaccine producers in Europe. Any vaccine will need to be authorised by the European Medicine Agency according to regular safety and efficacy standards. Member States should now start preparing a common vaccination strategy for vaccine deployment.
Member States should, among others, ensure:
- capacity of vaccination services to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, including skilled workforce and medical and protective equipment;
- easy and affordable access to vaccines for target populations;
- deployment of vaccines with different characteristics and storage and transport needs, in particular in terms of cold chain, cooled transport and storage capacity;
- clear communication on the benefits, risks and importance of COVID-19 vaccines to build public trust.
All Member States will have access to COVID-19 vaccines at the same time on the basis of population size. The overall number of vaccine doses will be limited during the initial stages of deployment and before production can be ramped up. The Communication therefore provides examples of unranked priority groups to be considered by countries once COVID-19 vaccines become available, including:
- healthcare and long-term care facility workers;
- persons over 60 years of age;
- persons whose state of health makes them particularly at risk;
- essential workers;
- persons who cannot socially distance;
- more disadvantaged socio-economic groups.
Whilst awaiting the arrival of approved vaccines against COVID-19, and in parallel to safeguarding the continuation of other essential healthcare and public health services and programmes, the EU must continue mitigating the transmission of the virus. This can be done through the protection of vulnerable groups and ensuring that citizens adhere to public health measures. Until then and most likely also throughout the initial vaccination rollout phases, non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as physical distancing, closure of public places and adapting the work environment,  will continue to serve as the main public health tools to control and manage COVID-19 outbreaks.
As Europe moves to the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more imperative that countries follow common vaccination strategies and approaches. At the Special European Council meeting of 2 October, Member States called on the Council and Commission to further step up the overall coordination effort and the work on the development and distribution of vaccines at EU level.
On 24 September, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its updated risk assessment regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a set of guidelines for non-pharmaceutical interventions (such as hand hygiene, physical distancing, cleaning and ventilation).
As stressed by President von der Leyen in the State of the Union 2020 Address, Europe needs to continue to handle the COVID-19 pandemic with extreme care, responsibility and unity, and use the lessons learnt to strengthen the EU’s crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats.
On 15 July, the Commission adopted a Communication on short-term EU health preparedness, calling on Member States to have prevention, preparedness and response measures ready in case of future COVID-19 outbreaks. The Communication made a set of recommendations to achieve this, in the areas of e.g. testing, contact tracing and health system capacities. The effective implementation of these measures requires coordination and effective information exchange between Member States. The recommendations provided in the Strategy are still relevant and Member States are encouraged to follow them.
One of the main action points necessary for Europe to overcome the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the development, manufacturing, and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19. The EU’s vaccines strategy published in June charts the way forward.
Vaccine safety, quality and efficacy are the cornerstones of any vaccine development and authorisation process, and vaccine developers are required to submit extensive documentation and data to the European Medicines Agency through the EU Marketing Authorisation procedure. After authorisation, EU law requires that the safety of the vaccine as well as its effectiveness be monitored. Further evidence will need to be centrally collected to assess the impact and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines once rolled out in the population from a public health perspective. This will be key to overcoming the pandemic and instilling confidence in Europeans.
Commission approves 2022-2027 regional aid map for Greece
The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules Greece’s map for granting regional aid from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2027 within the framework of the revised Regional aid Guidelines (‘RAG’).
The revised RAG, adopted by the Commission on 19 April 2021 and entering into force on 1 January 2022, enable Member States to support the least favoured European regions in catching up and to reduce disparities in terms of economic well-being, income and unemployment – cohesion objectives that are at the heart of the Union. They also provide increased possibilities for Member States to support regions facing transition or structural challenges such as depopulation, to contribute fully to the green and digital transitions.
At the same time, the revised RAG maintain strong safeguards to prevent Member States from using public money to trigger the relocation of jobs from one EU Member State to another, which is essential for fair competition in the Single Market.
Greece’s regional map defines the Greek regions eligible for regional investment aid. The map also establishes the maximum aid intensities in the eligible regions. The aid intensity is the maximum amount of State aid that can be granted per beneficiary, expressed as a percentage of eligible investment costs.
Under the revised RAG, regions covering 82.34% of the population of Greece will be eligible for regional investment aid:
Twelve regions (Βόρειο Αιγαίο / Voreio Aigaio, Νότιο Αιγαίο / Notio Aigaio, Κρήτη / Kriti, Aνατολική Μακεδονία, Θράκη / Anatoliki Makedonia, Thraki, Κεντρική Μακεδονία / Kentriki Makedonia, Δυτική Μακεδονία / Dytiki Makedonia, Ήπειρος / Ipeiros, Θεσσαλία / Thessalia, Ιόνια Νησιά / Ionia Nisia, Δυτική Ελλάδα / Dytiki Elláda, Στερεά Ελλάδα / Sterea Elláda and Πελοπόννησος / Peloponnisos) are among the most disadvantaged regions in the EU, with a GDP per capita below 75% of EU average. These regions are eligible for aid under Article 107(3)(a) TFEU (so-called ‘a’ areas), with maximum aid intensities for large enterprises between 30% and 50%, depending on the GDP per capita of the respective ‘a’ area. The region Ευρυτανία / Evrytania, which is part of Στερεά Ελλάδα / Sterea Elláda, also qualifies as a sparsely populated area having fewer than 12,5 inhabitants per km². In sparsely populated areas, Member States can use operating aid schemes to prevent or reduce depopulation.
In order to address regional disparities, Greece has designated as so-called non-predefined ‘c’ areas the regions of Δυτικός Τομέας Αθηνών / Dytikos Tomeas Athinon, Ανατολική Αττική / Anatoliki Attiki, Δυτική Αττική / Dytiki Attiki and Πειραιάς, Νήσοι / Peiraias, Nisoi. The maximum aid intensities for large enterprises in Δυτικός Τομέας Αθηνών / Dytikos Tomeas Athinon is 15%. The other ‘c’ areas mentioned above border with ‘a’ areas. For this reason, the aid intensity in these regions has been increased to 25%, so that the difference in aid intensity with the bordering ‘a’ areas is limited to 15 percentage points.
Greece has the possibility to designate further so-called non-predefined ‘c’ areas (up to a maximum of 1.16% of the national population). The specific designation of these areas can take place in the future and would result in one or more amendments to the regional aid map approved today.
In all the above areas, the maximum aid intensities can be increased by 10 percentage points for investments made by medium-sized enterprises and by 20 percentage points for investments made by small enterprises, for their initial investments with eligible costs up to €50 million.
Once a future territorial Just Transition plan in the context of the Just Transition Fund Regulation will be in place, Greece has the possibility to notify the Commission an amendment to the regional aid map approved today, in order to apply a potential increase of the maximum aid intensity in the future Just Transition areas, as specified in the revised RAG for ‘a’ areas.
20 years of the euro in your pocket
Twenty years ago, on 1 January 2002, twelve EU countries changed their national currency banknotes and coins for the euro in the largest currency changeover in history. In these two decades, the euro has contributed to the stability, competitiveness and prosperity of European economies. Most importantly, it has improved the lives of citizens and made it easier to do business across Europe and beyond. With the euro in your pocket, saving, investing, travelling and doing business became much easier.
The euro is a symbol of EU integration and identity. Today, more than 340 million people use it across 19 EU countries, with 27.6 billion euro banknotes in circulation for a value of about €1.5 trillion. The euro is currently the second most widely used currency in the world behind the US dollar.
As it celebrates this 20th anniversary, the EU continues the work to strengthen the international role of the euro and adapt it to new challenges, including the rapid digitalisation of the economy and the development of virtual currencies. As a complement to cash, a digital euro would support a well-integrated payments sector and would offer greater choice to consumers and businesses.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “It is now twenty years that we, European people, can carry Europe in our pockets. The euro is not just one of the most powerful currencies in the world. It is, first and foremost, a symbol of European unity. Euro banknotes have bridges on one side and a door on the other – because this is what the euro stands for. The euro is also the currency of the future, and in the coming years it will become a digital currency too. The euro also reflects our values. The world we want to live in. It is the global currency for sustainable investments. We can all be proud of that.”
David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, said: “The euro is the embodiment of an ambitious political project to promote peace and integration within the European Union. But the euro is also a condition for protecting and relaunching the European economic, social, and political model in the face of the transformations of our time. The euro is a symbol, the coming to fruition of a historic political vision, an ancient vision of a united continent with a single currency for a single market.”
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, said: “The euro has come a long way — it’s a true European achievement. I would even say the euro has become part of who we are. And how we see ourselves as Europeans. Part of our mind-set. And part of our European spirit. The euro belongs to all of us all European citizens. But it isn’t just a success within our EU borders. It has also anchored itself on the international stage. Despite the crises, the euro has proven to be resilient — a symbol of European unity and stability. And never has that been truer than during COVID-19. The euro has served as a bedrock of stability. A stable asset for the Union. The euro also fuels our recovery. Unlocking the full potential of sustainable development, quality jobs, and innovation.”
Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, said: “The euros we hold in our hands have become a beacon of stability and solidity around the world. Hundreds of millions of Europeans trust it and transact with it every day. It is the second most international currency in the world. As European Central Bank President, I commit we will continue to work hard to make sure that we maintain price stability. And I also pledge that we will renew the face of those banknotes and that we will give them the digital dimension as well.”
Paschal Donohoe, President of the Eurogroup, said: “The euro has proven its mettle in dealing with great economic challenges. In particular, our response to the COVID 19 pandemic demonstrated that by sharing the euro we can achieve more collectively than we can individually. The euro has strengthened its foundations over the last 20 years. Now, we need to build on those foundations to make the euro the global currency for transitioning to a lower carbon future.”
A long journey
The euro has come a long way from the early discussions on an Economic and Monetary Union in the late 1960s. Specific steps towards a single currency were first approached in 1988 by the Delors Committee. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty marked a decisive moment in the move towards the euro, as political leaders signed on the criteria that Member States had to meet to adopt the single currency. Two years later, the European Monetary Institute (EMI) started its preparatory work in Frankfurt for the European Central Bank (ECB) to assume its responsibility for monetary policy in the euro area. As a result, on 1 June 1998, the ECB became operational.
In 1999, the euro was launched in 11 Member States as an accounting currency on financial markets and used for electronic payments. It was finally on 1 January 2002 when Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain swapped their national notes and coins for euros. Slovenia joined the euro area in 2007, followed by Cyprus and Malta (2008), Slovakia (2009), Estonia (2011), Latvia (2014) and Lithuania (2015). Currently, Croatia is taking the preparatory steps to join the euro area, which it plans to do on 1 January 2023, provided it fulfils all the convergence criteria.
Twenty years of benefits for citizens and businesses
The euro has brought many benefits to Europe, especially to its citizens and businesses. The single currency has helped to keep prices stable and protected the euro area economies from exchange rate volatility. This has made it easier for European home buyers, businesses and governments to borrow money and has encouraged trade within Europe and beyond. The euro has also eliminated the need for currency exchange and has lowered the costs of transferring money, making travelling and moving to another country to work, study or retire simpler.
A large majority of Europeans support the single currency. According to the latest Eurobarometer, 78% of citizens across the euro area believe the euro is good for the EU.
A strengthened international role
The euro is the second most important currency in the international monetary system. Its stability and credibility has made it an international invoicing currency, a store of value and a reserve currency, accounting for around 20% of foreign exchange reserves. Sixty other countries and territories around the world, home to some 175 million people, have chosen to use the euro as their currency or to peg their own currency to it. Today, the euro is used for almost 40% of global cross-border payments and for more than half the EU’s exports.
Since the global financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis, the EU has continued to strengthen and deepen the Economic and Monetary Union. The EU’s unprecedented recovery plan NextGenerationEU will further improve the euro-area’s economic resilience and enhance economic convergence. The issuance of high-quality-denominated bonds under NextGenerationEU will add significant depth and liquidity to the EU’s capital markets and make them and the euro more attractive for investors. The euro is also now the leading currency for green investment: half of the world’s green bonds are denominated in euros, and this figure is rising thanks to the new green bonds issued to finance NextGenerationEU.
To further develop the international role of the euro, the Commission has launched outreach initiatives to promote euro denominated investments, facilitate the use of the euro as an invoicing and denomination currency, and foster a better understanding of the obstacles for its wider use. This outreach will take the form of dialogues, workshops and surveys with the public and private sector, financial regulatory agencies, and institutional investors in regional and global partner countries of the EU.
The Commission proposes the next generation of EU own resources
The Commission has today proposed to establish the next generation of own resources for the EU budget by putting forward three new sources of revenue: the first based on revenues from emissions trading (ETS), the second drawing on the resources generated by the proposed EU carbon border adjustment mechanism, and the third based on the share of residual profits from multinationals that will be re-allocated to EU Member States under the recent OECD/G20 agreement on a re-allocation of taxing rights (“Pillar One”). At cruising speed, in the years 2026-2030, these new sources of revenue are expected to generate on average a total of up to €17 billion annually for the EU budget.
The new own resources proposed today will help to repay the funds raised by the EU to finance the grant component of NextGenerationEU. The new own resources should also finance the Social Climate Fund. The latter is an essential element of the proposed new Emissions Trading System covering buildings and road transport, and will contribute to ensuring that the transition to a decarbonised economy will leave no one behind.
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner in charge of Budget and Administration, said: “With today’s package, we lay the foundations for the repayment of NextGenerationEU and provide essential support to the Fit for 55 package by putting in place the financing of the Social Climate Fund. With the set of new own resources, we, therefore, ensure that the next generation will truly benefit from NextGenerationEU.”
Today’s proposal builds on the Commission’s commitment undertaken as part of the political agreement on the 2021-2027 long-term budget and the NextGenerationEU recovery instrument. Once adopted, this package will strengthen the reform of the revenue system started in 2020 with the inclusion of the non-recycled plastic waste-based own resources.
EU emissions trading
The Fit for 55 package of July 2021 aims to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990, to stay on track to reach climate neutrality by 2050. This package includes a revision of the EU Emissions Trading System. In future, emissions trading will also apply to the maritime sector, auctioning of aviation allowances will increase, and a new system for buildings and road transport will be established.
Under the current EU Emissions Trading System, most revenues from the auctioning of emission allowances are transferred to national budgets. Today, the Commission proposes that in future, 25% of the revenue from EU emissions trading flows into the EU budget. At cruising speed, revenues for the EU budget are estimated at around €12 billion per year on average over 2026-2030 (€9 billion on average between 2023-2030).
In addition to the repayment of NextGenerationEU funds, these new revenues would finance the Social Climate Fund, put forward by the Commission in July 2021. This Fund will ensure a socially fair transition and support vulnerable households, transport users and micro-enterprises to finance investments in energy efficiency, new heating and cooling systems and cleaner mobility, as well as, when appropriate, temporary direct income support. The total financial envelope of the Fund in principle corresponds to an amount equivalent to around 25% of the expected revenue from the new emissions trading system for buildings and road transport.
Carbon border adjustment mechanism
The objective of the carbon border adjustment mechanism, which the Commission also proposed in July 2021, is to reduce the risk of carbon leakage by encouraging producers in non-EU countries to green their production processes. It will put a carbon price on imports, corresponding to what would have been paid, had the goods been produced in the EU. This mechanism will apply to a targeted selection of sectors and is fully consistent with WTO rules.
The Commission proposes to allocate to the EU budget 75% of the revenues generated by this carbon border adjustment mechanism.Revenues for the EU budget are estimated at around €1 billion per year on average over 2026-2030 (€0.5 billion on average between 2023-2030).CBAM is not expected to generate revenue in the transitional period from 2023 to 2025.
Reform of the international corporate taxation framework
On 8 October 2021, more than 130 countries that are members of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting agreed on a reform of the international tax framework: a two-pillar solution to tackle tax avoidance and aims at ensuring that profits are taxed where economic activity and value creation occur. The signatory countries representing more than 90% of global GDP. Pillar One of this agreement will reallocate the right to tax a share of so-called residual profits from the world’s largest multinational enterprises to participating countries worldwide. The Commission proposes an own resource equivalent to 15% of the share of the residual profits of in-scope companiesthat are reallocated to EU Member States.
The Commission has committed to propose a Directive in 2022, once the details of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework agreement on Pillar One are finalised, implementing the Pillar One agreement in line with the requirements of the Single Market. This process is complementary to the Pillar Two Directive for which the Commission adopted a separate proposal today. Pending the finalisation of the agreement, revenues for the EU budget could amount to roughly between €2.5 and €4 billion per year.
In order to incorporate these new own resources in the EU budget, the EU needs to amend two key pieces of legislation:
First, the Commission proposes to amend the Own Resources Decision to add the three proposed new resources to the existing ones.
Secondly, the Commission also puts forward a targeted amendment of the regulation on the current long-term EU budget 2021-2027, also known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF Regulation). This amendment offers the legal possibility to start repaying the borrowing for NextGenerationEU already during the current MFF. At the same time, it proposes to increase the relevant MFF expenditure ceilings for the years 2025-2027 to accommodate the additional expenditure for the Social Climate Fund.
The Own Resources Decision needs to be approved unanimously in Council after consulting the European Parliament. The decision can enter into force once it is approved by all EU countries in line with their constitutional requirements. The MFF Regulation needs to be adopted unanimously by the Council after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
The European Commission will now work hand in hand with the European Parliament and the Council towards swift implementation of the package within the timelines set in the interinstitutional agreement.
Furthermore, the Commission will present a proposal for a second basket of new own resources by the end of 2023. This second package will build on the ‘Business in Europe: Framework for Income Taxation (BEFIT)’ proposal foreseen for 2023.
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