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Investment Plan for Europe – Additional €800 million for SMEs as EIF and ProCredit double support for innovative companies | EU Commission Press

The European Investment Fund (EIF) and ProCredit Group are providing an additional €800 million to innovative small and medium-sized companies (SMEs), bringing a total of €1.62 billion to companies in eleven countries.

The EIF-backed financing is now available through ProCredit banks in South Eastern and Eastern Europe and targets companies using new technologies and producing new products in one of the eleven countries where the facility is available (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Moldova, the Republic of North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine). To date, agreements with ProCredit have already supported around 2,000 innovative SMEs, predominantly in the sectors Manufacturing and Wholesale and Retail Trade, and many more will be financed in the coming years.

These agreements were signed under the European Commission’s InnovFin initiative, backed by the EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The InnovFin initiative enables participating banks to provide loans to innovative companies with the support of a guarantee provided by the EIF. The agreements signed in EU Member State countries were made possible by the support of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). The EFSI is the central pillar of the European Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe, also known as the “Juncker Plan”.

European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, said: “Two years after we announced €820 million for SMEs in eleven countries, the European Investment Fund and ProCredit are doubling their financial support, meaning €1.62 billion is now available in financing for small and medium sized companies across these countries. This continued and increased level of support from the EU will make a tangible difference to thousands of people with innovative business ideas in need of a financing, adding to the 2,000 SMEs that have already benefited from this scheme.”

EIF Chief Executive Pier Luigi Gilibert said: “We are delighted that InnovFin SME guarantee agreements with the ProCredit banks are yielding such positive results. ProCredit’s well-established distribution network, combined with its SME lending expertise, ensures that EC-backed loans can be rapidly deployed across the eleven territories. These transactions will help companies to access this EU backed finance, in order to drive forward an innovation agenda across Europe.”

Dr. Claus-Peter Zeitinger, Chairperson of the Supervisory Board of ProCredit Holding added: “The extension of our agreement is an important signal for our group. It shows our clients that investments by innovative SMEs in South Eastern and Eastern Europe will continue to be supported by the EU and it also demonstrates that the developmental contribution made by ProCredit banks in their countries is being recognised by the EU”.

About EIF

The European Investment Fund (EIF) is part of the European Investment Bank Group. Its central mission is to support Europe’s micro, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) by helping them access finance. EIF designs and develops venture and growth capital, guarantees and microfinance instruments which specifically target this market segment. In this role, EIF fosters EU objectives in support of innovation, research and development, entrepreneurship, growth, and employment. More information on EIF’s work under EFSI is available here.

About the ProCredit group

ProCredit Holding AG & Co. KGaA, based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, is the parent company of the international ProCredit group, which consists of banks for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and whose operational focus is on South Eastern and Eastern Europe. In addition to this regional focus, the ProCredit group is also present in South America and Germany. The company’s shares are traded on the Prime Standard segment of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The anchor shareholders of ProCredit Holding AG & Co. KGaA include the strategic investors Zeitinger Invest and ProCredit Staff Invest (comprising the investment vehicles for ProCredit staff), the Dutch DOEN Participaties BV, KfW Development Bank and IFC (part of the World Bank Group). As the group’s superordinated company according to the German Banking Act, ProCredit Holding AG & Co. KGaA is supervised on a consolidated level by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht, BaFin) and the German Bundesbank. More information can be found on the company’s website at www.procredit-holding.com.

About the Juncker Plan

The Investment Plan for Europe, the so-called “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 to invest in more, often riskier, projects. The projects and agreements approved for financing under the EFSI so far are expected to mobilise almost €410 billion in investments and support around 952,000 SMEs across all 28 Member States.

About InnovFin

The InnovFin SME Guarantee Facility is established under the “EU InnovFin Finance for Innovators” initiative developed under Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for research and Innovation. It provides guarantees and counter-guarantees on debt financing of between EUR 25,000 and EUR 7.5 million in order to improve access to loan finance for innovative small and medium-sized enterprises and small mid-caps (fewer than 500 employees). The facility is managed by EIF and is rolled out through financial intermediaries – banks and other financial institutions – in EU Member States and Associated Countries. Under this facility, financial intermediaries are guaranteed by the EU and EIF against a proportion of their losses incurred on the debt financing covered under the facility.

Competition: European Commission publishes 2018 Report on Competition Policy | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has today published the Report on Competition Policy for 2018, presenting its most important policy and legislative initiatives, as well as key decisions adopted last year. The 2018 report stresses how fostering a competitive internal market benefits both EU consumers and companies, with a focus on the effectiveness of competition enforcement, challenges in the digital economy, a more resilient financial sector and a fair and non-discriminatory taxation of firms active in the EU, as well as on promoting a global competition culture. The full text (available in EN, FR, and DE and other languages) and the accompanying staff working document (available in EN) are available here.

European Union presents EU progress on Sustainable Development Goals at UN High Level Political Forum in New York | EU Commission Press

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica and Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella are attending the United Nations High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development this week, to present the EU’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals – both within the European Union and internationally. A detailed review of progress will be presented at the main EU side-event co-hosted with Finland on Thursday 18 July. During the week, Commissioner Mimica will also participate in an event organised jointly with France addressing the links between inequalities and climate change; an event on clean energy transition co-hosted with Ethiopia, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the International Renewable Energy Agency; an event of the International Labour Organisation to accelerate efforts to end forced labour; and an event hosted by Iceland and Malawi on bridging the gap between education and youth employment.

Council adopts negotiation directives for modernisation of Energy Charter Treaty | EU Council Press

The Council has today given a mandate to the European Commission to begin negotiations on the modernisation of the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). It also adopted corresponding negotiating directives.

The aim of the negotiations is to modernise the provisions of the ECT so that it takes account of sustainable development and climate goals, as well as modern standards of investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement. The objective of the modernised ECT should be to facilitate investment in the energy sector in a sustainable way, provide for legal certainty and ensure a high level of investment protection.

Among the main elements of the EU’s negotiating directives is a focus on ensuring that climate change and clean energy transition goals are reflected in the modernised ECT. This includes a clarification that the EU can require market participants from third countries to comply with applicable EU and member states’ laws, including those concerning environmental and safety policy.

The EU will aim to bring the provisions on investment protection in line with the modern standards of agreements recently concluded by the EU and its member states. It will also look to ensure that the modernised ECT continues to aim at a high level of investment protection. The modernised ECT should explicitly reaffirm the so-called “right to regulate”, i.e. the right of the contracting parties to take measures for the protection of health, safety, the environment and other public policy objectives. The EU also aims to clarify that investment protection provisions cannot be interpreted as a commitment by the contracting parties not to change their laws. Investor-to-state dispute settlement provisions should reflect the EU approach in its investment protection agreements and the position taken by the EU in ongoing multilateral reforms.

Procedure

On 14 May 2019, the Commission submitted to the Council a recommendation for a Council decision authorising it to enter into negotiations on the modernisation of the Energy Charter Treaty. As this matter touches on both EU and member states’ competences, two separate decisions were necessary. At its meeting on 15 July 2019, the Council therefore adopted a decision authorising the Commission to enter into negotiations for the matters that fall under EU competence. At the same time, representatives of the governments of the member states that are parties to the Energy Charter Treaty meeting within the Council adopted a decision for the elements falling under member states’ competence.

Background

The Energy Charter Treaty is a multilateral agreement that provides a framework for trade and investment in the energy area. It was signed in December 1994 and entered into force in April 1998. Currently there are 53 signatories and contracting parties to the ECT, including most EU member states, the EU and Euratom.

The key provisions of the ECT concern the protection of investment, trade in energy materials and products, transit and dispute settlement. Most of its provisions have not been revised since the 1990s. This created problems especially in the area of investment protection, which no longer correspond to modern standards.

The list of topics for modernisation that will be negotiated was approved on 27 November 2018 by the Energy Charter Ministerial Conference. It covers provisions on investment protection, sustainable development and corporate social responsibility, regional economic integration organisation (“REIO”), pre-investment and transit, as well as certain definitions and the deletion of obsolete provisions.

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Imports of hormone-free beef: EU-US agreement confirmed | EU Council Press

The European Union and the United States of America will soon sign an agreement reviewing the functioning of an existing trade arrangement ensuring an autonomous tariff quota (TRQ) for imports of high-quality beef into the EU. This will provide a solution to a longstanding dispute in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the issue.

The Council today adopted a decision on the signing of an agreement between the EU and the United States on the allocation to the US of a share in the TRQ for high quality beef referred to in the so-called Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the importation of beef from animals not treated with certain growth-promoting hormones and increased duties applied by the US to certain products from the EU, concluded in 2009 and revised in 2014.

The agreement will be signed in Brussels at the earliest possible date.

Back in 2009, the MoU provided for an interim solution to a longstanding WTO dispute regarding the imports of US beef treated with certain growth-promoting hormones. Under the agreement, a 45,000 tonnes quota of non-hormone treated beef was open by the EU to qualifying suppliers. Under WTO rules the quota also had to be made available to non-US suppliers.

Thanks to the new agreement the existing quota will remain  unchanged but 35,000 out of the total 45,000-tonne TRQ will be ring-fenced for the United States and phased in over a period of 7 years. The TRQ will continue to cover only products complying with EU’s high food safety and health standards. This step is key to resolving a long-standing dispute between the EU and the United States on measures imposed by the EU in 1989 on US exports of meat that contained artificial beef growth hormones. It also underlines the EU’s commitment to a positive transatlantic trade agenda.

On 19 October 2018, the Council authorised the Commission to open negotiations between the EU and the US on the operation of the TRQ, including on the country-allocation of the quota.

Negotiations with the US were concluded on 27 February 2019 and, in light of that agreement, the Commission then sought and obtained the accord of the other substantial supplying countries, in line with the applicable WTO rules.

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Commissioner Oettinger travels to Finland to discuss the roadmap towards an agreement on EU’s next long-term budget | EU Commission Press

On 15 July, European Commissioner in charge of Budget and Human Resources, Günther H. Oettinger, will travel to Finland to discuss the way forward towards an autumn agreement on the EU budget for 2021-2027, during the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In the capital Helsinki, Commissioner Oettinger will meet with Prime Minister Antti Rinne, Ms Tytti Tuppurainen, Minister for European Affairs, and Mr Kimmo Tiilikainen, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Finance. The meeting with senior government representatives from Finland – which currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union – are part of the ongoing efforts of the Commission to support the negotiations on the EU’s next long-term budget. Ahead of his visit, Commissioner Oettinger said: “I am very glad that the Finnish Presidency has declared concluding the negotiations on EU’s next long-term budget as one of its strategic priorities. Less than two weeks into their Presidency, they have already demonstrated their strong commitment to deliver on this objective. The Commission will do everything that is necessary to support them in this very important task.” On 2 May 2018, the Commission put forward a proposal for a modern, balanced and fair long-term budget to deliver on Europe’s priorities as set out by Leaders in Bratislava in 2016 and in Rome in 2017. Since then, the Commission has worked hand in hand with the rotating Presidencies of the Council, and in close collaboration with the European Parliament, to take the negotiations forward. In line with the conclusions from the European Council meeting of 20 and 21 June 2019, an agreement is due before the end of the year. The Commission shares the firm believe that sticking to this timeline is essential, for the hundreds of thousands of students, farmers and researchers across Europe, as well as everybody else who benefits from the EU budget. 

President Juncker consults the European Parliament on Kadri Simson and Ioan Mircea Paşcu as European Commissioners | EU Commission Press

Today, President Jean-Claude Juncker communicated to the European Parliament that he had the opportunity to assess the ability of Kadri Simson and Ioan Mircea Paşcu to serve as Members of the European Commission, in light of Article 17(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). The European Parliament is now being consulted on their appointment as Commissioners with Estonian and Romanian nationality, until the end of President Juncker‘s term on 31 October 2019. This comes after the Council of the European Union failed to reach unanimity on his proposal not to replace – for the remaining months – those outgoing Commissioners who were elected and have now become Members of the European Parliament. Оn 11 July, President Juncker interviewed the two candidates for Commissioners proposed by the Romanian and Estonian Governments. Following the interviews, President Juncker confirmed the candidates’ competences as required under Article 17(3) TEU. He also decided not to allocate specific portfolios to the two Commissioners-designate in view of the short remainder of the mandate. They will, however, take part in collegiate activities and be able to participate in the project teams. In letters sent to the two Commissioners-designate today, President Juncker also reminded them of their responsibilities as Members of the Commission, including the obligation to abide by the highest possible professional and ethical standards. Procedurally, the new Members of the Commission are appointed by the Council of the EU by common accord with the President of the Commission after consultation of the European Parliament (Article 246, subparagraph 2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). In addition, the Interinstitutional Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission specifies that the President of the Commission ‘will seriously consider’ the results of the consultation of the European Parliament before giving his agreement to the Council’s decision to appoint the new Commissioner (paragraph 6 of the Framework Agreement). President Juncker sent today a letter to David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, informing him of his decision. He also informed Antti Rinne, Prime Minister of Finland, currently holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union as well as Jüri Ratas and Viorica Dăncilă, the Prime Ministers of Estonia and Romania respectively. As the Council has already formally consulted the European Parliament, Kadri Simson and Ioan Mircea Paşcu are now Commissioners-designate. They have the right to draw on Commission support to prepare for their exchange of views with the European Parliament.

EU-U.S. trade talks: milestone reached in mutual recognition on pharmaceuticals | EU Commission Press

The European Union and the United States delivered on a significant element of the Joint Statement agreed by Presidents Juncker and Trump in July 2018. The positive transatlantic trade agenda established in the Joint Statement includes a commitment from both sides to reduce barriers and increase trade in a range of sectors, including pharmaceuticals. This Mutual Recognition Agreement is underpinned by robust evidence that the EU and the U.S. have comparable procedures to carry out good manufacturing practice inspections for human medicines. Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, in charge of Health and Food Safety said: “The completion of the Mutual Recognition Agreement is not only a step forward in the trade relations between the EU and the U.S., but it will also ensure high quality medicines for the benefit of patients. It means that, on both sides of the Atlantic, the authorities in charge of medicines can now rely on inspections results to replace their own inspections. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has completed the capability assessments of the 28 EU competent authorities, the result of five years of close transatlantic cooperation.” Together, Europe and the United States account for more than 80% of global sales of new medicines. As a result of the full implementation of this agreement, both the industry and public authorities on both sides will be able to free resources that could be used to inspect facilities in other large producing countries. This can make it faster and less costly for both sides to bring medicines to the market and benefit patients. 

The 2019 European elections: A pro-European – and young – electorate with clear expectations | EU Parliament Press

European Parliament publishes first results of its post-electoral Eurobarometer survey.

A significant increase in young people with a pro-European mind-set cast a vote in the 2019 European elections, according to an in-depth Eurobarometer survey across all 28 member states. Conducted in the weeks after the elections, nearly 28.000 citizens throughout the EU answered questions about their participation in the European elections and the issues that motivated them to vote.

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The first results of the Eurobarometer survey released by the European Parliament today show that citizens’ support for the European Union remains at its highest level since 1983: Confirming pre-electoral surveys, 68% of respondents (+1 pp compared to Feb/March 2019) say that their country has benefitted from being a member of the EU.

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My voice counts

Even more significant for the democratic legitimacy of the EU is the steep increase in European citizens believing that ‘their voice counts in the EU’: 56% of respondents share this view, an increase of 7 points since March 2019 and the highest result since this question was first asked in 2002.

“Citizens voted in these European elections based on a very strong support for the EU and with a much stronger belief that their voice counts in the EU”, said European Parliament President David Sassoli.

The overall turnout in the 2019 European elections increased by 8 points to 50,6%, resulting in the highest participation since 1994 and the first time that there has been a reversal of turnout in European elections since 1979. The most significant increases in turnout were registered in Poland (+22pp), Romania (+19pp), Spain (+17pp), Austria (+15pp) and Hungary (+14pp).

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Youth participation rose by 50%

Survey results suggest that it was Europe’s young and first time voters who drove turnout figures up: 42% of the 16/18-24 year old respondents say they had voted in the European elections, youth participation therefore rising by 50%, compared to the youth turnout of only 28% in 2014. Equally strong was the turnout increase in the age group of 25-39 years, rising by 12 points from 35% to 47%. The turnout of young and first time voters exceeds any turnout increases registered for other age groups.

Voting as civic duty, as pro-European support – and because things could change

Looking at why people voted in 2019, civic duty is most often invoked as the main reason by 52% of voters, an increase of 11 points compared to 2014. Compared to the last European elections in 2014, significantly more citizens have also voted because they are in favour of the EU (25%, +11percentage points), or because they felt they could change things by voting (18%, +6percentage points).

“The European Parliament and its elections have become part of citizens’ normal democratic life. Yet these elections were more than just an expression of civic duty. Citizens voted because they were in favour of the EU, because they believe they can make things change by voting. The European Parliament now must live up to these expectations”, underlined European Parliament President David Sassoli.

In 27 member states, citizens primarily voted because they saw it as their duty as citizens. In all 28 member states, more respondents than in 2014 voted because they were in favour of the EU and declared this support to be their main voting motivator. Germany (39%, +14pp), Ireland (27%, +15pp), Italy (23%, +14pp) and Spain (23%, +15pp) showed the biggest increases for this reason.

The Eurobarometer post-electoral survey also looked at the issues that propelled citizens to vote in the recent European Parliament elections. The top issues which influenced citizens’ voting decision were economy and growth (44%), climate change (37%) as well as human rights and democracy (37%). With 36% of mentions, ‘the way the EU should be working in the future’ emerged also as top voting motivator for citizens. In 16 countries, respondents cited the economy and growth as the most important voting issue, whilst citizens in eight countries named climate change as the top topic for them.

“Economic reform, climate change, the future of the EU and the defence of human rights: These are all key issues for the European Parliament. This is where we have left our mark in the past years and this is where we will continue to be strong defenders of our citizens’ expectations”, said European Parliament President David Sassoli.

EU invests €50 million to create network of Artificial Intelligence excellence centres | EU Commission Press

The European Commission launcheda new call for proposals to develop a vibrant European network of artificial intelligence excellence centres to enhance cooperation within the European Artificial Intelligence (AI) research community and boost technological advancements in the field of AI. Through this call, which is part of the Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2018-2020, the most rigorous research teams in Europe are encouraged to join forces to tackle major scientific and technological challenges, hampering the deployment of AI-based solutions. It has two parts: the first part aims to bring leading researchers together in European networks of excellence centres that will work on key AI topics. Each network of researchers will choose an important scientific or technological challenge with industrial relevance to work on. The second part aims to foster coordination and exchange among the selected projects, and other relevant initiatives. Priority is given to the development of PhD programmes, the integration of AI in curricula (including in non-digital courses) and the organisation of internships. Moreover, enhanced cooperation with the industry is expected to foster an ecosystem of research and development resources as well as expertise and infrastructure in areas such as supercomputing, robotics equipment and Internet of Things. Candidates can submit their proposals until 13 November 2019. Today’s call follows the recent announcement of the €20 million investment for the creation of the AI4EU, an online platform that allows the exchange of AI tools and resources across Europe, in line with the European AI Strategy