European Commission and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy outlined a proposal on how to take forward priorities for cooperation with our Eastern partners in the years to come. This agenda is based on the five long-term objectives, with resilience at its core, as defined for the future of the Eastern Partnership in March 2020. It will be underpinned by a €2.3 billion Economic and Investment plan in grants, blending and guarantees, with a potential to mobilise up to €17 billion in public and private investments. This proposal will contribute to the discussions on the future Eastern Partnership policy including at the Eastern Partnership summit planned for December 2021.
The comprehensive agenda aims at increasing trade, growth and jobs, investing in connectivity, strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law, supporting the green and digital transitions, and promoting fair, gender-equal and inclusive societies.
High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said: “The Eastern Partnership remains high on the European Union’s agenda. We want to shape an agenda that responds to the unprecedented challenges – and opportunities – of today, while making it fit for the future. At the heart of our work will be promoting democracy, good governance and the rule of law, which are so crucial to unlock positive, concrete results in our cooperation. This includes Belarus, where we want to continue to support the people through our Eastern Partnership framework.”
Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said:“We are putting forward an ambitious Economic and Investment Plan that will help stimulate jobs and growth and bring prosperity to the Eastern Partnership region. The Plan includes country flagships for all Eastern Partners, including support for a future democratic Belarus. This new agenda will support socioeconomic recovery after COVID-19 pandemic, strengthen economic relations and build trade routes between the EU and partner countries.”
The comprehensive agenda focusing on recovery, resilience and reform, includes selection of the top ten targets for 2025 with clear commitments in all the priority areas of cooperation. They encompass areas like the additional support to 500,000 SMEs, build or upgrade 3.000 km of priority roads and railways in line with EU standards address hybrid and cyber threats, fight corruption, reduce energy consumption by at least 20% in 250,000 households, improve access to safe water services and air quality, increased access to high-speed internet in 80% of households, assistance to vaccinate health workers, additional support to civil society and independent media, mobility opportunities for 70,000 students, researchers and young people.
The new agenda, also proposes a revision of the EaP multilateral architecture to adjust the framework to the new priorities and make it fully fit for purpose.
The regional economic and investment plan will support post – COVID socio-economic recovery and long-term resilience, taking into account the ‘build back better’ agenda. The plan outlines priority investments and defines a set of flagship initiatives, which have been jointly identified with the partner countries, in view of their priorities, needs and ambitions.
The Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009 with the aim of strengthening and deepening the political and economic relations between the EU, its Member States and six Eastern European and South Caucasus partner countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine. The Partnership has developed according to each partner’s interests, ambitions, and progress, allowing for differentiation in a flexible and inclusive way, to tackle common and global challenges and foster regional integration jointly.
Through its ambitious ’20 deliverables for 2020′ agreed at the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit in 2017, the EaP has delivered tangible results and improved people’s lives. Work on a successor agenda began in 2019 with a broad and inclusive consultation. The resulting Joint Communication: Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020: Reinforcing Resilience – an Eastern Partnership that delivers for all and Council Conclusions on the Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020 set out a new vision for the partnership, with resilience as overarching policy framework and five long-term policy objectives (economy and connectivity, good governance and the rule of law, environmental and climate resilience, support to digital transformation, and fair and inclusive societies), acknowledged at the EaP Leaders’ videoconference held in June 2020.
The proposals will be discussed with partner countries, EU Member states, civil society and other key stakeholders in view of the 6th Eastern Partnership Summit in December 2021.
Conditions worsen for stranded migrants along Belarus-EU border
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, UNHCR, appealed 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.
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.
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.
Focus on the recovery from the pandemic at the 19th EU Regions Week
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
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.
EU and Qatar sign landmark aviation agreement
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.
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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