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EU Cohesion policy: Commission announces the winners of the REGIOSTARS Awards 2021

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Today, the European Commission has announced the winners of the 2021 edition of the REGIOSTARS Awards that reward the best Cohesion policy projects in the whole EU. This year’s REGIOSTARS competition received a record 214 applications and 14,156 people voted in the public choice’s category.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, commented: “My warm congratulations to the 10 winners of the EU Cohesion policy projects of 2021. They are role models for everyone who wishes to better the life of people with the use of EU funds. I hope they will inspire many others across the continent. For sure, with REGIOSTARS we have learnt that excellence and innovation are everywhere in Europe. You just need to look for them and highlight them as they deserve. We will keep looking for them and we will keep supporting them.”

The awards cover five categories and a public choice prize:

For ‘SMART Europe: Increasing the competitiveness of local businesses in a digital world’ (1st category) the award went to Integration 3D metal printing from Belgium. The project supports the implementation of the 3D metal printing technology in small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) through a very innovative integrated approach to knowledge and technology. The idea is easily transferable to other contexts with industrial tradition.

For ‘GREEN Europe: Green and resilient communities in urban and rural setting’ (2nd category) the award was given to ICCARUS (Gent knapt op) for providing a unique housing renovation financial scheme for 100 vulnerable homeowners in Ghent, Belgium. This project has a strong social component and is easily transferable, both to other places, including to less developed regions, and other sectors.

The award for ‘FAIR Europe: Fostering inclusion and anti-discrimination’ (3rd category) went to TREE – Training for integrating Refugees in the Euregion, which facilitates the integration of refugees through the  development of a needs-based training programme for practitioners working with refugees and migrants, and a qualification programme for social interpreters. The winners are from the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium.

Travelling Solidary Cannery received the award in the 4th category, ‘URBAN Europe: Promoting green, sustainable and circular food systems in functional urban areas’. The project provides the disadvantaged access to healthy and fair food at affordable prices all year round. At the same time, it develops a new range of professions centred on the production, valorisation, logistics and marketing of local products, but also of unsold products from supermarkets or surplus harvests. The winner is from Belgium.

Under the topic of the year: ‘Enhancing green mobility in the regions – European Year of Rail 2021’ (5th category) the winner is North-West Multimodal Transport Hub from the United Kingdom and Ireland. This project provides an increased rail capacity, a strong balance of services for cycling, public transport and active travel users in Londonderry and an encouraging modal shift from car to public transport.

Finally, the ‘Public Choice Award’ goes to BEGIN, a project that unites cities, citizens, and stakeholders through the co-creation of blue and green infrastructure projects in 10 EU cities in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Norway and Germany. The project aims at reducing flood risk by up to 30% and improving livability. Other public favorites were Balkan Road (under the 1st category), Baltazar (3rd category), Digital Farming Specialist (4th category) and Transporte A Pedido (5th category).

Background

The REGIOSTARS Awards are the yearly competition organised by the Commission since 2008: it has become Europe’s label of excellence for EU-funded projects under Cohesion policy that demonstrate innovative and inclusive approaches to regional development.

Each year, hundreds of projects compete in five categories: ‘Smart Europe’, ‘Green Europe’, ‘Fair Europe’, ‘Urban Europe’, and the topic of the year. The public can participate by voting for their favourite project among all finalists for the public choice award.

By bringing about solutions to common challenges and tapping into the biggest opportunities, the REGIOSTARS have inspired regions to deliver evermore-impactful EU Cohesion policy.

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FOCUS magazine: This is how war becomes U.S. business

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Photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert (Courtesy Image)

Former President Calvin Coolidge’s sentence has been applicable for centuries: “After all, the main business of the American people is business.”

The United States supports Ukraine like no other country in the world. But this help is not entirely disinterested. Because even Joe Biden has nothing to give away, notes Gabor Steingart, one of the most famous German journalists in his article at FOCUS magazine.

The President of the United States is betting on “armament on credit.” Germany, on the other hand, can only hope that the war will soon end not far from its front door. Since the beginning of the war, the United States has provided more than $50 billion in military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Much more than in any other country.

In May 2022, the Senate passed a law allowing the US government to quickly and without bureaucratic delays provide military equipment to Ukraine – the Lend-Lease Act for the Defense of Democracy in Ukraine of 2022. Approximately US$23 billion in military support has not been wasted. It states that “any defense loan or lease to the Government of Ukraine is subject to return, reimbursement and repayment.”

Arms on credit, which is what it is, was invented during World War II when Winston Churchill found he could not defend Britain alone. The government has now remembered the procedure for selling weapons against bills. The fact is that the United States is strict in these matters. Britain delayed its Lend-Lease contributions until 2006, when the World War was already 61 years old.

An analysis by Foreign Policy magazine found that the United States nearly doubled the number of approved arms sales to NATO allies in 2022 compared to 2021, from $15.5 billion to $28 billion. This is how war becomes business.

Economic sanctions—trade restrictions, asset freezes, payment system bans, or oil export bans—have isolated Russia. This will irrevocably disrupt the old German-Russian trade for a very long time. American energy companies offer themselves as helpers in an emergency.

LNG imports from America doubled in 2022. U.S. oil is also suddenly in demand, with about 500 U.S. oil tankers heading to Europe since February 2022, according to data provider ‘OilX’, and helped push U.S. crude oil exports to a record high last year. Between December 2021 and December 2022, US exports increased by 52 percent.

In the medium term, the concentration of uncertainty in Europe will also benefit the US capital market, which is perceived by investors as a safe haven. The outflow of capital from Europe in the first months of the war was significant.

BASF reported a loss of billions of dollars, which was mainly caused by the write-down of the Russian business, which has since ceased.

The Europeans, and Germany in particular, have a primary strategic interest in ending the conflict as soon as possible, or at least freezing it, and in no case in the direction of the Western European metropolises.

The stronger and more intense the war rages in Europe, the more pessimistic are investment conditions both in the real economy and in the capital markets in London, Paris and Frankfurt.

Conclusion: Trading partner Russia is de facto exchanged for trading partner America. Thus, the Americans are also strengthening their negotiating position for negotiations on future free trade agreements and a strategy for China.

If there were a planning headquarters in the Ministry of Defense, then it would write down the following paradox for the minister in the summary: Russia is at war with Ukraine – and America is winning.

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Zelensky regime’ war against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

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Armed SBU officers seize an Orthodox church in Kyiv. Image source: International Affairs

The American Conservative’ published a very detailed story about what kind of war the president Zelensky unleashed to destroy the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. It’s very important to mention that the information was signed by a person from Kyiv, who is aware of all the events, but he can’t reveal his name and chose a pseudonym Yevhen Herman – Yevhen Herman is the pseudonym of a journalist in Kyiv, – notes ‘The American Conservative’. The  story is very accurate and detailed:

“The religious situation in modern Ukraine is complicated.

The country has been considered Orthodox since 988, when the bishops of Constantinople baptized this land, which was then ruled by the Kievan Rus. The Russian Orthodox Church originates from Kyiv. The first metropolitans of this church had their sees there, and only centuries later were they transferred to Moscow.

The emergence of independent Ukraine in 1991 and the activation of Ukrainian nationalism plunged the Orthodox environment into turmoil. Filaret, the ruling bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), broke away from the church, with the help of the new Ukrainian authorities, and founded a new church structure, which he called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP). Several other priests founded another structure, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC).

So the split of Orthodoxy in Ukraine was provoked and took place…

The rest of world Orthodoxy never recognized these structures. The fact is that there are very strict rules called canons in the Orthodox Church. For ecclesiastical crimes, Filaret was in 1992 deprived of his episcopal dignity and of divine power in the performance of church sacraments.

However, bishops, like all people, live in the modern world and are affected by outside influences. This is what happened with the head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Bartholomew. In 2018, the multimillionaire and then president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko went to Istanbul to Patriarch Bartholomew and requested a legalization document (tomos) for the unrecognized Ukrainian churches, the UOC-KP and the UAOC. At the same time, pressure was put on the UOC so that it would join these breakaway structures.

Thus, at the end of 2018, Bartholomew revoked the act of 1686 transferring the Kyiv Metropolis to the Russian Church. He reinstated Filaret in his priesthood and retroactively recognized all rites performed by the anathematized metropolitan. The two churches were united under the name the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU).

At that time, the UOC was twice as big as the OCU. Millions of Ukrainians call themselves parishioners of the UOC throughout the country. However, this did not bother either Bartholomew or Poroshenko. The latter began to implement a campaign throughout the media where the UOC was called the “Moscow Church” and the OCU the “Ukrainian,” although there are only Ukrainians in both denominations.

If you think that the United States stood aside while this was unfolding, you are mistaken. The State Department and politicians of both parties carried out work to promote the new church. Two months before the creation of the OCU in 2018, Filaret and Epifaniy met in the United States with Joe Biden, who declared his gratitude for their work. State Department Ambassador for Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and special representative for Ukraine Ambassador Kurt Volker declared their support for this project.

For a time, it seemed that the seizure of UOC churches was at an end. However, the Russian Special military operation in Ukraine, alongside the support for that invasion by the leadership of the Russian Church in Moscow, changed everything. Seizures of UOC churches resumed, carried out by the forces of radicals without the participation of the central government. And this was only the calm before the storm.

Zelenskyy and Ukrainian officials brought down repressions on the UOC; in comparison, Poroshenko’s methods seemed like child’s play.

Cathedrals and monasteries were searched by Ukrainian SBU officers (photo), who reported that they allegedly found evidence of collaboration between bishops and priests of the UOC and ‘the enemy’.

These findings were often ridiculous. Security officials exhibited photos of children’s bibles, prayer books, old liturgical books, archival collections of newspapers and magazines featuring the words “Russian,” and Christmas or Easter sermons of the Russian Church patriarch. In cases where there was nothing to find, the special services planted compromising evidence themselves.

Fox News journalist Tucker Carlson assessed the situation accurately: “Zelenskyy’s secret police have raided monasteries across Ukraine, and even a convent full of nuns, and arrested dozens of priests for no justifiable reasons whatsoever and in clear violation of the Ukrainian Constitution, which no longer matters. And in the face of this, the Biden’s administration has said nothing. Not one word. Instead, they continue to push to send Zelenskyy more tax dollars.”

Carlson is absolutely right. The president, in violation of Ukrainian laws, imposed sanctions against Ukrainian bishops and then revoked the Ukrainian citizenship of some other bishops, despite the fact that this clearly contradicts the Constitution.

However, it seems that Zelenskyy is set to completely outlaw and destroy the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. On January 20, a bill on the de facto ban of the UOC was submitted to parliament.

It marks a return to a shameful era when a state in the center of Europe intends to crack down on the religion of its own people.

International Affairs

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Burkina Faso: Former colony orders French troops to leave

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A soldier from Burkina Faso stands guard along the border with Mali and Niger during a military operation against terrorist suspects.(file photo) © Michele Cattani

Burkina Faso has demanded the withdrawal of French troops stationed on the territory of the West African nation, local media reported, citing a government decision. Relations between Paris and its former colony have been on a downward spiral for months now, with the local population blaming France for their security problems.

Agence d’Information du Burkina (AIB) reported that the government of Burkina Faso had suspended a 2018 agreement with France, which regulated the deployment of its service members in the country. Paris now has one month to remove its soldiers, the agency said.

France currently has 400 troops in the African country, who are stationed there as part of efforts to combat Islamist terrorist groups in the region.

In November 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron officially announced the end of anti-insurgent ‘Operation Barkhane’ in the Sahel region, which has been largely viewed as a failure. In doing so, France also vowed to “reduce the exposure and visibility of [its] military forces in Africa.”

The Sahel is a region in northern Africa that includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and a number of other neighboring countries.

Paris ended another military mission in neighboring Mali last August after relations went sour, with the government calling France’s military involvement “not satisfactory.”

Hundreds of people protested in the Burkina Faso’ capital Ouagadougou against the French military presence, chanting anti-French slogans.

Mohamed Sinon, one of the main leaders of the collective that called the demonstration, said it was to show support for junta leader Traore and the security forces fighting jihadists. “We are a pan-African movement and we want cooperation between Burkina Faso and Russia, but also the strengthening of friendship and of cooperation with Guinea and Mali,” he added.

Protesters carried huge posters showing the presidents of Mali and Guinea — both of whom also came to power in coups — as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A source close to the government clarified it was “not the severance of relations with France. The notification only concerns military cooperation agreements”.

Sources familiar with the matter told AFP that France’s preferred option would be to redeploy its forces in the south of neighbouring Niger, where nearly 2,000 French soldiers are already stationed.

French troops withdrew from Mali last year after a 2020 coup in the former French colony saw its rulers also inch closer to Russia.

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