News

Trade: EU and 16 WTO members agree to work together on an interim appeal arbitration arrangement | EU Commission Press

Today, in Davos Switzerland, the EU and Ministers from 16 Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have agreed to develop a multi-party interim appeal arrangement that will allow the participating WTO members to preserve a functioning and two-step dispute settlement system at the WTO in disputes among them. This initiative was launched in mid-December 2019 by the EU and a number of other WTO members following the effective paralysis of the WTO Appellate Body, due to the blockage of any new appointments since 2017.

Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan said: “This statement testifies to the high importance that the EU and the participating WTO members attach to retaining a two-step dispute settlement process in WTO trade matters. The multiparty appeal arbitration arrangement will guarantee that the participating WTO members continue to have access to a binding, impartial and high-quality dispute settlement system among them. Let me underline again that this remains a contingency measure needed because of the paralysis of the WTO Appellate Body. We will continue our efforts to seek a lasting solution to the Appellate Body impasse, including through necessary reforms and improvements.”

The multi-party interim arrangement will be based on Article 25 of the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). It will secure the participating WTO members (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Singapore, Switzerland, and Uruguay) an effective and binding dispute settlement process for potential trade disputes among them.

The arrangement is a contingency measure and it will only apply until the WTO Appellate Body becomes operational again. The EU believes that an independent and impartial appeal stage, giving the necessary guarantees of rulings of the highest quality, must continue to be one of the essential features of the WTO dispute settlement system.

For More Information

Joint Statement

Humanitarian aid: EU steps up support in Nigeria for conflict victims | EU Commission Press

As millions of people continue to be affected by the conflict in Nigeria’s Lake Chad region, European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič has announced a first emergency aid package of €26.5 million for 2020 whilst visiting north-east Nigeria today.

Speaking in north-east Nigeria, an area devastated by the violence of armed groups, Commissioner Lenarčič said: “I saw first-hand today the suffering that conflict has brought to people’s lives and how crucial humanitarian aid is to people’s survival. What matters most is that humanitarian organisations can reach all the people in need, without restrictions, including in areas under the influence of non-state armed groups. It is vital that all States and parties to armed conflicts respect their obligation to allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief. It is also key to implement in parallel a comprehensive strategy in the region, exploring political tracks while addressing the root causes of conflict.

The EU’s new aid package will provide food aid, access to clean water and sanitation facilities, shelter, basic primary healthcare and education for children caught up in this conflict. The EU is one of the leading donors of humanitarian and development aid in Nigeria with more than €830 million provided since 2014.

Commissioner Lenarčič is also meeting several high-level government authorities in Nigeria to present the strong commitment of the incoming European Commission toward Africa, to discuss joint Nigerian and EU priorities for the next years and the situation in the Northeast of the Country.

Background

The decade-long armed-group insurgency in the North-East of Nigeria continues to uproot civilians and deepen humanitarian needs. The conflict limits people’s access to food, basic services and livelihood opportunities. Close to 2 million people have fled their homes in search of safety. 7.7 million people need humanitarian assistance and close to 3 million people are suffering from food shortages. Furthermore, 1.2 million people in need remain cut off from humanitarian aid in hard-to-reach areas.

In Nigeria, the EU is bringing together humanitarian and development aid on some projects to build fragile communities’ long-term resilience and offer them social protection through a more long-term and holistic approach. The EU also aims at building long-term resilience through its development assistance addressing the underlying causes of violent conflict – and by supporting basic services and helping people to support themselves.

For more information

Factsheet: Nigeria

Photos and videos of Commissioner Lenarčič’s visit to Nigeria

Links: EU development cooperation with Nigeria

Photos: EU humanitarian aid in Nigeria

Investment Plan helps to finance eco-friendly buses in Hungary | EU Commission Press

  • €47m is the first tranche of €140m loan to Volán Buszpark Kft for safer and more eco-friendly buses on regional and city lines across Hungary;
  • Covered by the Investment Plan guarantee, the loan supports Hungary in its ongoing transition towards more energy-efficient and lower-emission public transport;
  • The loan will have a positive effect on the environment as EIB delivers on its role as the EU climate bank: Volán to modernize half of its bus fleet and reduce CO2 emissions by 38%.

Commuters in Hungary will enjoy new, faster, safer and more eco-friendly buses on regional and city lines across Hungary as a result of a €47m loan the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed today with Volán Buszpark Kft, the country’s biggest bus fleet management company. This is the first tranche of a €140m loan approved by the EIB to modernize nearly half of Volán’s bus fleet, together with commercial banks finance. The loan is provided under the Investment Plan’s European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) as it addresses the EFSI objective of smart and sustainable urban mobility in the European Union.

With the EIB’s support, Volán plans to add 3,200 new buses over the next four years and improve the energy efficiency, safety and quality of public transport in Hungary, where two-thirds of settlements are reachable only by bus. In 2018, Volán transported 700 million commuters across Hungary.

Financing from the EIB, the EU’s climate bank, will make a positive impact on climate and the environment. More than 450 buses, purchased under the loan for inner city routes, should run on alternative fuels, reducing pollution in Hungarian cities. The rest of the bus fleet will run on the latest EURO VI technology engines. With its new buses, Volán will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 38% over the next four years.

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, said: ”This financing under the Investment Plan is a great example of how the EU is helping Member States in their transition to low-emission mobility. Our support will not only reduce CO2 emissions in Hungary’s transport sector, but also make travelling safer and more comfortable for commuters on new eco-friendly buses.”

Vice-President of the EIB, Lilyana Pavlova, said: “The loan we signed today will make traveling around Hungary more enjoyable, safer and faster. I am particularly happy to see the positive impact this project will have on the environment and pollution in Hungary and Europe alike. I would like to thank Volán for the opportunity to make everyday life better for Hungarians and, as the EU’s climate bank, for the opportunity to do something tangible for our environment.”

CEO of Volánbusz Zrt. and Volán Buszpark Kft., Ilona Dávid said: “The main objective of Volán Buszpark Kft. is to support VOLÁNBUSZ Zrt., the company providing interurban public passenger transport services, with a fleet of vehicles meeting the requirements of the modern age, and thus to continuously improve the quality of community road transport. In addition to increasing the comfort of passengers, the main consideration is to improve the working conditions, so when selecting buses, we also make certain that the buses support bus drivers as efficiently as possible in order for them to drive safely and comfortably. We also consider it our duty for our fleet of vehicles to be as low-emission as possible which can only be achieved by purchasing new vehicles.”

Towards a more eco-friendly Hungary!

The EIB loan supports the Government of Hungary in the ongoing transition towards a more energy-efficient and lower-emission public transport in the country and complements current efforts to create an efficient public transport network through an integrated bus and railroad networks. The loan also contributes to national strategies on transport and environment and helps Hungary meet the requirements set in the Paris Climate Agreement. Hungary was the first EU member state to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016.

About EIB

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union owned by its Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals.

EIB in Hungary

EIB lending commitments in Hungary since the start of the Bank’s activity in the country are currently close to EUR 21.6 bn. Between 2008-2018 alone the EIB signed for support worth €13.2 bn. EIB operations cover important sectors of Hungarian economy, including transport, the environment, energy infrastructure, manufacturing and services. Another key component of the Bank’s activity in Hungary is the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by increasing SME access to long-term financing through local financial institutions. Since 2001, the EU bank supported 5172 Hungarian SMEs sustaining 263,767 jobs in the process.

About Volan

Volánbusz Zrt. is a passenger bus company with a history of more than 90 years, which now provides its services with nearly 6,500 vehicles. In terms of the number of employees, it has grown into the third largest state-owned company in Hungary. The core business activity of the company is to provide regular public bus transport services on a national basis. VOLÁN Buszpark Kft. is a state-owned for-profit company operating as the main fleet management company of VOLÁNBUSZ Zrt. The company aims to renew its fleet of vehicles in the framework of a coordinated bus purchasing strategy and to manage the financing of vehicle purchases, thereby contributing to the improvement of service levels.

About Hungarian National Strategies Supported by:

The need for bus replacement enabled by the law is set out in Hungary’s National Transport Strategy (NTS) towards sustainable public transport growth and it is one of the main policy measures of the Transport Energy Efficiency Improvement Action Plan (TEEIAP) as well as of the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) for 2020. Hungary was the first EU member state to approve Paris Agreement, early in 2016 and following that, the State has already adopted (in May 2017) the new National Climate Change Strategy (NCCS-2)

About the Investment Plan for Europe

The Investment Plan for Europe, or Juncker Plan, is one of the European Commission’s top priorities. It focuses on boosting investments to create jobs and growth by making smarter use of new and existing financial resources, removing obstacles to investment and providing visibility and technical assistance to investment projects. The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is the central pillar of the Juncker Plan. It provides a first loss guarantee, allowing the EIB Group to invest in more, often riskier, projects. The projects and agreements approved for financing under the EFSI so far are expected to mobilise €450.6 billion in investments, including €4.4 billion in Hungary, and support more than one million start-ups and SMEs across all 28 Member States.

State aid: Estonia to recover incompatible aid from agricultural company AS Tartu Agro | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has found that agricultural company AS Tartu Agro received incompatible aid from Estonia through the rent of agricultural land at a rate below market price. Estonia must now recover this illegal aid from AS Tartu Agro.

AS Tartu Agro is an Estonian private company, which produces milk, meat and cereals.

In 2017, following a complaint by a competitor, the Commission opened an in-depth investigation to establish whether a land lease contract between the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs and AS Tartu Agro was in line with EU State aid rules. The lease contract had been signed in 2000 between the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs and AS Tartu Agro for a duration of 25 years and is therefore still valid.

The Commission’s investigation revealed that the lease of land involved State aid, as the lease fee paid by AS Tartu Agro was, and still is, below the market price. On this basis, the Commission found that the lease contract gives an undue and selective advantage to AS Tartu Agro over its competitors.

The Commission therefore concluded that the contract amounts to incompatible aid under EU State aid rules, and that AS Tartu Agro now has to return the illegal advantage received. The amount is estimated to be around EUR 1.2 million.

Estonia will now determine the amount to be recovered, in line with the methodology set out under the Commission decision.

Background

Under EU State aid rules, public interventions in favour of companies can be considered free of State aid when they are made on terms that a private operator would accept under market conditions (the market economy operator principle – MEOP). If this principle is not respected, public interventions involve State aid within the meaning of Article 107 of theTreaty on the Functioning of the European Union, as they confer an economic advantage to beneficiaries with respect to their competitors.

As a matter of principle, EU State aid rules require that incompatible State aid be recovered without delay in order to remove the distortion of competition created by the aid. There are no fines under EU State aid rules and recovery does not penalise the company in question. It simply restores equal treatment with other companies.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.39182 in the State Aid Register on the Commission’s competition website and will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union, once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.

High Representative/Vice-President Borrell in Berlin | EU Commission Press

On Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 January, High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell will be in Berlin, Germany. He will meet with the German Foreign Affairs Minister, Heiko Maas, followed by a joint press conference at 10:30 CET, which will be available live on EbS. Josep Borrell will then proceed to meet with President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, followed by meetings with the Parliament’s Committees on European Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Defence. In the evening, he will conclude the day by meeting the Minister of Defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. On Tuesday, 28 January, the High Representative/Vice-President will deliver an opening statement at the ‘Green Central Asia’ conference, organised by the Federal Foreign Office.

Commissioner Ferreira in Poland to discuss the transition towards a climate-neutral economy | EU Commission Press

On 27 and 28 January, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, will be in Poland. On Monday, the Commissioner will have a bilateral meeting with Polish Minister of Funds and Regional Policy, Malgorzata Jarosínska-Jedynak, to discuss the preparation of the 2021-2027 programming period, the ongoing negotiations on the next EU long-term budget, and the Just Transition Fund. Commissioner Ferreira will then give keynote speeches at the kick-off conference on the Just Transition Fund as well as in a session discussing the green economy. Both speeches will be made available on her website. In the afternoon, the Commissioner will participate in a panel discussion on coal regions in transition and the need for fairness in the green transition. In the margins of the Conference, Commissioner Ferreira will meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Mr Piotr Gliński. Finally, the Commissioner will also visit several projects during her stay in Poland: on Monday, she will visit the city of Bytom, which has been suffering from the consequences of coal mining activities, and on Tuesday a former coal mine which has been converted into the Silesian Museum of Katowice. During the latter project visit, the Commissioner will hold a bilateral meeting with Mr Jakub Chelstowski, Marshal of the Silesian region.

Summit with Western Balkans speakers on Tuesday | EU Parliament Press

Speakers from the Western Balkans parliaments will gather at the European Parliament, under President Sassoli’s patronage, to discuss European prospects for their region.

Parliamentary Speakers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia will gather on Tuesday to discuss European prospects for the Western Balkans. They will be joined by the president of Croatia’s Parliament, the country currently holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU.

The speakers will meet European Parliament President David Sassoli, the chairs of EP political groups as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Working Group on the Western Balkans.

President David Sassoli said: “I am looking forward to welcoming the speakers from the Western Balkans to the European Parliament. This house has always been firmly committed to the European perspective of the Western Balkans. It is well known that we were very disappointed by the failure of the European Council to start negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia last October. It is now time to move on together and keep pushing for progress. Parliaments are essential in this regard. I convened this Summit for us to develop a strategy for the role that Parliaments can play in driving the EU reform agenda and in delivering concrete measures to meet the European aspirations of the people of the Western Balkans. I am convinced that there is no better time and place to do so.”

Parliamentary cooperation, the future of Europe and the enlargement process, which has stalled following disagreement in Council on opening accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, are on the summit’s agenda. In its resolution adopted last October, Parliament expressed disappointment that Albania and North Macedonia were not able to start accession talks, stressing that the enlargement process has played a decisive role in stabilising the Western Balkans.

The meeting with the members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Working Group on the Western Balkans will be open to the public: you can watch it live.

The summit is organised under the patronage of President Sassoli, in cooperation with the Foreign Affairs Committee and the delegations for relations with the Western Balkans.

When: Tuesday, 28 January 18.00

Where: Brussels, SPAAK Building, room 3C50

Full programme

Brexit: the Withdrawal Agreement passes the first European Parliament test | EU Parliament Press

The Constitutional Affairs Committee agreed on Thursday to recommend that the EP plenary should approve the UK withdrawal terms.

After parliamentary ratification in the UK was concluded earlier today, with Royal Assent granted for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Constitutional Affairs Committee MEPs voted in favour of a positive recommendation regarding the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, with 23 votes for, three against and no abstentions.

The vote took place after a statement by Committee Chair Antonio Tajani (EPP, IT) and a discussion between the Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt (Renew Europe, BE) and political group coordinators.

The debate in the Committee focussed on Parliament’s contribution to protecting citizens’ rights in the context of Brexit (with the majority of speakers during the first round commending the EU’s negotiating team), as well as the steps that should be taken by the UK and EU27 governments to continue protecting these rights during the transition period and beyond. The discussion also addressed the overall impact of Brexit and the future relationship between the EU and the UK, which is going to be the objective of the future negotiations.

You can watch the debate on EP Live. Click on the links below for specific parts of the meeting.

Opening statement by Chair Antonio Tajani

Statement by the rapporteur Guy Verhofstadt

Statements by the shadow rapporteurs

Interventions by MEPs on behalf of political groups

Recording of the vote

Statements by MEPs after the vote: part one and part two

Next steps

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is set for midnight CET on 31 January 2020, with Parliament scheduled to vote on the Agreement next Wednesday, 29 January. To enter into force, any withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK needs to be approved by the European Parliament by a simple majority of votes cast (Article 50 (2) of the Treaty on European Union). The Council will then conclude the process on the EU side by a qualified majority vote, foreseen for 30 January.

Croatian Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees | EU Parliament Press

Ministers are outlining the priorities of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU to parliamentary committees, in a series of meetings.

Croatia holds the Presidency of the Council until July 2020. The first series of hearings took place on 20, 21 and 22 January. A second set of hearings is taking place in the following week. This press release will be updated regularly.

Hearings held on 20, 21 and 22 January

Environment and Public Health

On Monday, Health Minister Milan Kujundžić told the Environment and Public Health Committee that organ donation and transplantation, ageing and cancer are among the priorities. MEPs quizzed the Minister on a variety of issues, including food labelled according to nutrients, obesity, endocrine disruptors, euthanasia and medicine shortages. On Tuesday, Environment and Energy Minister Tomislav Ćorić said that priorities include the transition to climate neutrality by 2050 and protecting biodiversity. Emission reduction goals for 2030 and the climate law, funding, air and water quality and aviation emission reductions were some of the issues raised by MEPs.

Finally, still on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković stressed agriculture’s role in preserving the environment as well as issues such as food safety, plant health, pesticide reductions and animal welfare. MEPs questioned the Minister on subjects such as the CAP reform, forestry practices, animal feed and sustainable food systems.

Fisheries

On Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković told the Fisheries Committee that the link between stable fish stocks and sustainable fisheries would guide the Presidency’s approach. She confirmed they would focus on advancing the negotiations on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). The Presidency will also aim to reach a general approach on fisheries control. Other issues on the agenda include aquaculture and scientific research, as well as post-Brexit preparations to ensure fair access to waters for both the EU and the UK.

International Trade

In the Trade Committee on Tuesday, MEPs asked Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić-Radman how the presidency plans to tackle the growing discord over the future conclusion of a free trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur countries. They also wanted to know about the timely issue of WTO reform and how to include enforceable Green Deal principles in trade policy. Finally, they called for bilateral trade relations with Taiwan to be established, a trade strand to be added to the Africa policy, and for labour dignity to be ensured with trade partners.

Transport and tourism

The Presidency will start a debate on boosting the competitiveness and sustainability of the shipping sector and work on the Trans-European Transport Network and Connecting Europe Facility, State Secretary of the Ministry of Sea, Transport and Infrastructure Josep Bilaver told the Transport and Tourism Committee on Tuesday. On land transport, rail passenger rights will be one of the priorities as well as the Eurovignette proposal. On tourism, the Presidency will advocate for sustainable tourism and encourage the development of less developed regions and use of ICT, said State Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism Frano Matušić.

MEPs urged the Presidency to restart the discussions on air passenger rights and the Single European Sky. Some also wondered how to ensure that boosting the air transport sector will not lead to an increase in emissions. MEPs repeated calls to increase support for the tourism sector in the next EU long-term budget.

Foreign Affairs

Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Tuesday that they will do their best to advance enlargement as a way to invest in the stability and prosperity of Europe. Pointing to the Western Balkans, he told MEPs that the EU should not allow any European region to drift away. Croatia also intends to work on bringing the Eastern European partners closer and finding a comprehensive solution to the crisis in Ukraine, he said.

Regarding instability in southern neighbourhood and Middle East, he stressed it is important to combine efforts with international partners and engage on de-escalating tensions, adding that emphasis should be placed on addressing migration and countering terrorism.

Regional Development

On Tuesday, Regional Development and EU Funds Minister Marko Pavić said that the three main files currently under inter-institutional negotiations (Common Provisions Regulation, European Regional Development Fund/Cohesion Fund, and Interreg) will be their priority, and that he was confident in their timely adoption. The presidency also started to examine the proposal for the Just Transition Fund and progress is expected shortly.

Regional Development Committee members urged the Presidency to ensure that their updated budgetary proposals do not sacrifice cohesion funding and that swift progress is made on all matters.

Culture, education, youth and sport

In the field of education, Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak on Tuesday told the Culture and Education Committee that the Presidency will focus on: more investments to enhance the role of education in the European semester; a balanced mobility and brain circulation; better professional training for teachers, and a new post-2020 strategic framework for education and training. Youth in rural and remote areas will also be a priority, Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy Minister Vesna Bedeković added.

Deputy State Secretary for Sport Krešimir Šamija said that developing human potential in the field of sports, through new professional skills and competences for trainers and coaches, will be the priority. Supporting mobility in the cultural and creative sectors is also among their main objectives, Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek said, on Tuesday.

Internal market and consumer protection

Measures to support digitalisation, eliminate unjustified barriers in the single market and ensure consumer protection were among the issues discussed with Economy, Entrepreneurship and Crafts Minister Darko Horvat, in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee on Wednesday.

MEPs asked the Presidency to be “ambitious” in tackling dual quality of products, advance its work on the free movement of services and ensure a better implementation of single market rules. Plans on artificial intelligence (AI) and on the circular economy, e.g. to prolong the shelf life of products, were also addressed. “The EU has all it takes to become a leader on artificial intelligence, on its own way and based on its own values”, said the Minister.

Agriculture and Rural Development

The Presidency will move towards an “ambitious budget” in which the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) “remains a priority” Farm Minister Marija Vučković told Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. The Presidency will push for the CAP to be simplified even further and reformed in a more sustainable way. It will also focus on the ‘Farm to fork’ strategy and new EU forest strategy for after 2020.

Ensuring that enough funds are available for EU farmers is imperative, MEPs said, many of them stressing that farmers should also be reimbursed for new climate-related measures. Some speakers stressed that EU food security should remain the prime focus of the CAP, whilst others spoke against its re-nationalisation or demanded more ambitious climate actions.

Economic and Monetary Affairs

ECOFIN Chair Zdravko Marić at the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on Wednesday flagged the review of the economic governance rules, completing the banking union, making progress on setting up a capital markets union and finalising the Council’s position on the reform and investment support programme as the Presidency’s main objectives. He also mentioned taxation, non-performing loans, and mitigating negative fiscal consequences from current demographic trends as other areas of work.

Various MEPs asked questions on the economic governance framework, the budgetary instrument envisaged to help member states carry out structural reforms, financial supervision architecture and bank resolution. They also sought for more detail on taxation and anti-money laundering.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality


On Wednesday, Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy Minister Vesna Bedeković, told Women’s Rights and Gender Equality MEPs that the main priority in terms of gender equality is to identify the obstacles women face on the labour market and increase their rate of activity. ‘‘Stronger economic independence for women is key for economic growth’’, she said. The Minister also declared she would work to reduce the gender pay and pension gaps.

MEPs quizzed the Minister on a number of additional issues such as the attacks on sexual and reproductive rights in some EU countries, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (only 21 EU countries have ratified it) and the Women on boards Directive, which is blocked in the Council.

Employment and Social Affairs

Labour and Pension System Minister Josip Aladrović and Social Policy Minister Vesna Bedeković outlined on Wednesday to the Employment and Social Affairs Committee their priorities for the next six months. These include delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights as well as promoting work-life balance, gender equality and increased participation of women in the labour market. The implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will be also high on the agenda.

MEPs quizzed the ministers on youth unemployment and the future of the youth guarantee, and the role of social partners in setting up an EU minimum wage. They expressed concerns about the funding of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the future Child Guarantee, announced for 2021. Several MEPs finally quizzed the ministers on the negotiations on the future EU long-term budget, opposing possible transfers from cohesion funds to the Just Transition Fund.

Budgets

Budgets Committee MEPs made clear to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Zdravko Marić that their most pressing issue is getting an agreement on the next EU long-term budget (multiannual financial framework, or MFF), still under discussion in the Council, while Parliament has been ready to negotiate since 2018. They reminded the Minister of the EP’s position and reiterated that they insist on a reform of the EU’s Own Resources (revenue).

Mr Marić replied that the Croatian Presidency’s role regarding the MFF is limited, since EUCO President Charles Michel is now in the lead. Other issues discussed were the annual EU budget for 2021 – Council will present its guidelines in spring –, and the InvestEU and Reform Support Programmes.

EU – League of Arab States relations: joint communiqué of the EU Political and Security Committee and the League of Arab States Permanent Representatives | EU Council Press

The Chair and the Members of the EU Political and Security Committee and the Permanent Representatives to the League of Arab States held their eight meeting on the 23 January 2020 in Brussels.

The Ambassadors held constructive discussions on topics of mutual interest with a particular focus on the Question of Palestine and building a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, on developments of the situations in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, and Iran, as well as on counter-terrorism issues and its funding, migration issues, refugees and displaced persons. Acknowledging the importance of joining efforts to address common and current political, economic, social, and security challenges which threaten the stability, prosperity and well-being of their common region and the world at large. They reaffirmed the strengthening of the European-Arab partnership as an appropriate regional response and their commitment to effective multilateralism and to an international system based on respect for international law. In this light, they commended the holding of the fifth Joint Ministerial Meeting on 4 February 2019 in Brussels, and the results of the first Arab-European Summit that took place on 24 and 25 February 2019 in Sharm El-Sheikh.

The Ambassadors affirmed the continuation of strengthening cooperation in the framework of the Strategic Dialogue between the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States and the European External Action Service since it’s launching in November 2015, particularly in the fields of conflict prevention, early warning and crisis management, migration, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and arms control.

Preceding the EU-LAS Political Dialogue, on 22 January, the Ambassadors also held the first Joint Retreat which provided an excellent opportunity for an informal exchange of views on the timely issue of climate change and security. The working group sessions on enhancing cooperation between the League of Arab States and the European Union were also convened on the margins of the meeting.

Conscious of the opportunities and the challenges facing Euro-Arab relations, the Chair and the Members of the Political and Security Committee and the Permanent Representatives to the League of Arab States expressed their determination to keep strengthening their cooperation and coordination, and to work together for a safer and better future for all.