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Speeches: Remarks at the Atlantic Council's NATO Transformation Seminar 2015

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Fred, thank you very, very much for an overly generous introduction, and let me just say at the outset that it is particularly wonderful to be here with you and to just take note of everything that you’ve done with the Atlantic Council to create and recreate, really, one of the most vital institutions in Washington, and indeed beyond. And I think today’s events and yesterday’s events are testimony to that as well. So I’m gratefully – I’m especially grateful to be joined by Secretary General Stoltenberg. It’s an honor to share this table with you, as well as Jean-Paul Palomerosand particularly all of the ambassadors, generals, distinguished guests. Thank you for this opportunity to join you at a very important forum at a very important moment.

The focus of what you’ve been doing for the last couple of days – the readiness of NATO’s forces, the strength of our commitments, the unity of our efforts, is a great concern and a priority for every country that is represented at this table, and that’s true whether we’re in Washington, whether we’re in Brussels, whether in Berlin, whether in Warsaw, or points in between. I just got back from a week in Europe, a very productive trip. It went, if you follow the geography, from Paris to Chisinau, to London, to Berlin, to Kyiv. So there was obviously something wrong with our planning, but it was very important to be there at this particular time. We discussed a lot of common priorities from trade to energy, but a major topic was the importance of transatlantic unity as we collectively address Russian aggression in Ukraine.

I was in Berlin and a student asked me, “Why are you so focused on Ukraine? Why does it actually matter? Russia’s actions don’t pose a threat to you; they don’t really pose a threat to Germany. What’s so important about what’s happening in Ukraine?” And so I tried to explain that our concern in the first instance was helping a European state attain its democratic aspirations, that Ukraine is not whole if its people are not free. If the country is not at peace, then in some fundamental sense neither is Europe.

But I also explained that as each of you know, the crisis that we’re facing now goes beyond Ukraine and beyond even Europe. As Russia and the separatists that it backs descend on eastern Ukraine, they’re doing more even than violating the borders of one country. They are threatening the principles on which the transatlantic partnership was founded and upon which the international order we seek to build depends. Moscow’s actions, from manufacturing the phony Maidan-in-reverse in eastern Ukraine, deploying thousands of heavy weapons and troops across the border, to supporting a reign of violence through the separatists that it controls – they threaten to set a new precedent whereby basic principles are up for debate.

These principles, that the borders and territorial integrity of a democratic state cannot be changed by force; that is – it is the inherent right of citizens in a democracy to make their country’s decisions and determine its future; that linguistic nationalism, something we thought was confined to the dustbin of history, must not be allowed to be resurrected; and that all members of the international community are bound by common rules and should face costs if they don’t live up to the solemn commitments they make – and I want to pause on this last one for just a second because it resonates particularly and in interesting ways in the context of the Ukraine crisis.

As all of you know very well, when the Soviet Union dissolved, it left successor states, three of which had nuclear weapons – Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine – thousands of nuclear weapons. One of the great achievements of the Clinton administration and of our European partners at the time was to convince those successor states to give up the nuclear weapons they inherited. And of course in the case of Ukraine, that required a solemn vow and commitment from three countries to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty – the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia. That we would allow that commitment to be trampled upon not only does a grave injustice to Ukraine, but think about what it says at this very moment when, as we speak, our Secretary of State, the secretaries of state from our major partners are working to convince Iran to forego nuclear weapons. It would be understandable that Iran would want certain assurances in order to do that. What does it say to Iran today when a commitment like the one that was made in the Budapest memorandum is grossly violated?

So this crisis in Ukraine resonates in ways that go far beyond even Ukraine and even Europe. So with so much at stake, it is imperative in our judgment that we continue to stand together to affirm these principles, to end the conflict peacefully, to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the best way to do that is through full and comprehensive adherence to the September Minsk agreements and to the February Minsk implementation plan that President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel did such a good job in negotiating.

I want to emphasize one point here. The most critical step in that plan is the last step – the restoration of Ukraine’s international border. Until that is done, this crisis will not be resolved because Russia will have the ability until that is done, at will, to turn up the volume, to pour troops and arms back across the border and into Ukraine. And so until that last step is completed, it’s imperative that we sustain the pressure on Russia, that we continue to support Ukraine, and if Russia continues to violate its obligations, then we should increase the costs.

Let me emphasize – and I think I speak for everyone here – this is not something that any of us wanted. This is not something that any of us want to continue, unless we have to. It is our most fervent desire that everyone comply with the Minsk agreement and that we’re able to start to roll back the sanctions and the pressure and try to get back to a more normal and more cooperative relationship. But again, until there is compliance, we need to keep the pressure on.

We also know, of course, the threats to our transatlantic community do not just come from the east. Together, we are working to confront violent extremism, foreign fighters, and the specter of ISIL – or Daesh. And the challenge here is twofold: We have to counter extremism, but we also have to work to prevent it, and of course this is a mission that goes beyond the mandate of NATO, but is highly relevant. We have to defeat the hard core of extremists who are simply beyond the reach of reason, and in many ways, actually, together, that’s exactly what we’re doing, including, as we speak, in Iraq. And that of course has a very significant military component and counterterrorism component, interrupting foreign fighters, the financing, et cetera.

But we also have to reach a much larger pool of people who are susceptible to the siren call of extremism – people who may be alienated from their communities and their countries, who may face governance that is abusive or corrupt, who lack opportunity, who lack some positive perspective for the future. And this is a much larger and more complicated project.

We had a very interesting summit in Washington about a month ago on countering violent extremism, and it looked at both parts of the problem – that is, countering the actual extremists who are committing violent acts today, but also this larger prevention agenda which is so critical. And many of our countries are working together in the months ahead to flesh out that part of the agenda as well. And to look at the experiences that so many of us have had because in some country, in some place there’s probably an approach developed to one aspect of the problem that actually works, and part of the task is making sure that we’re sharing the information and best practices.

One very quick example: I think as all of you know, when it comes to foreign fighters, one of the main modes of radicalization is in prison. Two of the three Charlie Hebdo attackers were common criminals who went to jail and became radicalized in prison. And different countries have different experiences with this, and some countries have been more successful than others in dealing with the problem of radicalization in prison. So that’s just one example of the more we can share common perspectives and information, the better off we’ll be.

But when you think of all of this and put it together, whether it’s ISIL or whether it’s Ukraine, I think it’s a call to us to take important steps to strengthen our collective defense. It’s a reminder of the dangers of complacency, of neglecting our responsibilities in defense, of taking basic principles for granted. And it’s a reminder of why NATO was founded 66 years ago – out of the carnage of war, an alliance committed to peace through security. It enshrined every member with responsibility over our collective defense. It established every member, in effect, as a frontline state, and of course it’s worked. It’s allowed us to build a global system – not just a European system, but a global system of commerce, of democratic governance, and inclusive development that provides an entry point to literally every nation and its citizens. We set an example for others, and increasingly we’ve translated our collective security beyond our common borders – greater stability and security in Afghanistan thanks to NATO and our partners; a peaceful, developing southeastern Europe; and we’ve seen decline in piracy off the coast of Africa.

But we had a decade, of course, of NATO defining itself by how it led in other parts of the world. The standing of our alliance at home and in Europe I think now has to be foremost again in our minds. The strength of our alliance, its legacy is simply not inevitable; it requires significant upkeep. And just when we need it most, there are some signs of fraying that we have to be very serious about addressing.

I know these points get repeated over and over again, but I think they bear yet one more repetition, and it’s important. In the early 1990s, our European allies spent 2.5 percent of GDP on average on defense. Today, it’s about 1.6 percent. Over the past decade, the U.S. share of total NATO defense spending has risen from 64 percent to 70 percent. This is increasingly not only economically but not politically sustainable. Only four allies currently meet NATO defense investment requirements, and six members are potentially moving in the wrong direction, trimming their budgets.

We know that the targets we’ve set stretch the capacity of many of us, but I think it’s important to focus on the fact that we’re not talking about an arbitrary percentage or dollars for dollars’ sake, or euros for euros’ sake. What we’re trying to do together is to make sure that we have the means and the interoperability to continue to act together effectively and to adjust and adapt to evolving threats. The bottom line is that if NATO is to remain the most powerful and effective alliance the world has ever known, then all 28 must maintain the Wales commitments. We have to meet the 2 percent GDP benchmark by 2024 with one-fifth dedicated to new equipment. We have to shift new spending toward investments for the future, not just legacy costs like pensions. We have to ensure persistent rotational land, sea, and air presence along NATO’s eastern edge. We have to adapt a defensive posture to counter emerging challenges in the east and in the south, and we believe we must maintain NATO’s open door to nations that meet our high standards.

We take these commitments very, very seriously. Today, American troops are forward-deployed from the Baltic to the borders of Turkey to defend the security of every NATO ally, just as we would our own. The European Reassurance Initiative that the President advanced, $1 billion in addition to strengthen the alliance, to bolster the defense capabilities and capacities of allies and partners, including Ukraine, including Georgia, including Moldova. In the near future, and indeed as we speak, many allies are reviewing strategic defense and security plans. It’s not just about targets and budgets. These reviews will have real consequences, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say that the future of the alliance hangs in the balance.

Beyond NATO, we have to continue to fortify the broader transatlantic space. We have to maintain and strengthen our defenses, even as we invest in the roots of our strength – in our economies, in our democracies, and indeed in our global leadership. We have to deepen our core partnerships even as we seek to expand relations with and build capacity of emerging partners who share our values.

So how do we accomplish this? Just a few thoughts in conclusion: First, promoting deeper transatlantic economic integration is vital to our common security in the broadest sense of the term, and there’s no better opportunity to do that than to work swiftly toward an ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement. This is about supporting Europe’s fight for inclusive growth as it continues to recover from the hangover of the Eurozone crisis. The U.S. and the EU already account for one-third of total goods and services and nearly half of global economic output. TTIP, as we call it, will energize this growth by increasing exports by tens of billions of dollars and adding to the already 13 million jobs that transatlantic trade and investment support. And these are not just economic gains. There are profound geopolitical efforts that extend from a common embrace of 21st century rules and 21st century values.

Another area where working together to strengthen the transatlantic space is so critical is in the area of energy security for Europe. Everyone remembers the gas crisis of 2009, and even more immediate in our collective consciousness is the concern about the most recent crisis with Russia and the impact that that could have on our common energy security. In 2009, we all remember Russian gas flows through Ukraine were halted for nearly two weeks, and the specter of a repeat has been hanging over us this past winter.

There is a stark, cold reminder of the old days when dependence on one source meant never knowing whether the gas would keep flowing. Energy security, diversified resources, diversified routes, diversified suppliers is critical to strengthening the transatlantic space. And the good news is we’ve made significant strides just in the past year. A year ago, the Baltics were virtually an energy island entirely dependent on a single supplier for all their electricity and natural gas needs in terms of imports. Now they are on track to be one of the most integrated energy regions by the end of this decade. We have completed the Estonia-Finnish undersea cable, we built new floating LNG facilities in Lithuania, we’ve made progress on the gas interconnector between Poland and Lithuania. And it’s critical, I think, that we take this approach with a number of other strategically located infrastructure improvements, including pipelines, electric grids, the integration of renewals.

Finally, in terms of strengthening our own space, continuing to lead together globally is vital, as we have when humanitarian crises like Ebola have overwhelmed developing nations and posed a widespread risk; as we have confronting global challenges like climate change that will require historic course corrections; and as we have to preserve the very values that our enemies want to undermine. Nearly two-thirds of the global coalition to counter ISIL (or Daesh) is European. These transatlantic contributions to the larger collective good are invaluable not simply as acts of generosity, but as acts that advance our own common security.

At the very end – toward the end of the trip that I took to Europe a couple of weeks ago, I was in Kyiv and visited the Maidan. And it was a good moment to reflect on the people who are actually behind and affected by the policies all of us have the responsibility to debate and determine: students, business owners, grandmothers who braved sniper bullets and truncheons to demand that their government at the time uphold its promise of a European future. It’s a call that we all recognize in this room, a call for government to honor the aspirations of its citizens in word and in deed. And it’s a story that sometimes gets lost in these policy debates, because this really does come back to people and basic principles, and I think it’s a story that needs to be told and retold – a story that goes to the heart of the transatlantic partnership that so many countries in this room fought to build. It goes to why we built it in the first place and why we need to stand together to defend it today and in all the days that follow.

So I don’t think anyone needs to be told the importance of this moment, because everyone in this room in particular recognizes it. From Ukraine’s eastern borders to Europe’s Mediterranean periphery, the threats we face are already at NATO’s doorstep. They demand unity of effort, they demand accountability for our pledges, and maybe most of all they demand an uncompromising commitment to the values that united us in the first place. In this mission, I can think of no community of leaders better equipped to navigate the way forward than the men and women in this room and the countries that you represent. We look to your expertise, to your experience, to your creativity in meeting the urgency of this moment. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Daily News 26 / 03 / 2015

President Juncker in Ukraine: first bilateral visit to a third country

On Monday 30 March, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini will travel to Kyiv on what will be the President’s first bilateral visit to a third country since taking up office in November. President Juncker and High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini will meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and hold a joint press conference at the Presidential Administration (Bankova 3) at 14:00 (GMT+2). They will furthermore meet with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr Groysman, and the heads of the political groups. President Juncker has also been invited to preside the National Reform Council alongside President Poroshenko. The visit takes place only a few days after the European Parliament approved the Commission’s proposal for an additional €1.8bn in macro-financial assistance (MFA) to Ukraine. This comes on top of what the EU is already contributing. In 2014, the Commission disbursed €1.36bn under previous MFA programmes; the disbursement of a final tranche is expected this spring. (for more information: Natasha Bertaud – Tel. +32 229 67456; Johannes Bahrke – Tel. +32 229 58615)

The end of milk quotas: unlocking the economic potential of the EU dairy sector

The EU milk quota regime will end on 31 March 2015. First introduced in 1984, at a time when EU production far outstripped demand, the quota regime was one of the tools introduced to overcome these structural surpluses. The final date to end quotas was first decided in 2003 and reconfirmed in 2008 with a range of measures aimed at achieving a “soft landing”. Ending milk quotas will provide EU producers with more flexibility to respond to growing demand, especially on the world market. Successive reforms of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy have in parallel provided a range of other, more targeted instruments to help support producers. Speaking today at a press conference on the subject, Commissioner Hogan stated: “The end of the milk quota regime is both a challenge and an opportunity for the Union. It is a challenge because an entire generation of dairy farmers will have to live under completely new circumstances and volatility will surely accompany them along the road. But it certainly is an opportunity in terms of growth and jobs. Through increased focus on valued added products as well as on ingredients for “functional” food, the dairy sector has the potential of being an economic driver for the EU. More vulnerable areas where the end of the quota system may be regarded as a threat can benefit from the pallet of rural development measures following the subsidiarity principle.” More details, including Frequently Asked Questions, explicative graphs, market reports, and audio-visual material (including archived photos and footage) are available online. Read the press release. (for more information: Daniel Rosario – Tel.: +32 229 56185; Clémence Robin – Tel.: +32 229 52509)

Commission reports: Trade is a powerful engine for growth and jobs in Europe – the case of South Korea

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström presented today two reports highlighting the importance of trade agreements for the European economy. In a press conference in Brussels, Commissioner Malmström made a discussion paper public, which was presented earlier to Member States at the Informal Meeting of Trade Ministers in Riga, as well as the Annual Report on the implementation of the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement. “The EU-South Korea FTA is a great example of why we need free trade: it’s given a boost to EU exports and created new business opportunities in the fast-growing East Asian market. This confirms that European companies and consumers are very well placed to benefit from increased international trade, since the EU is the world’s largest exporter and importer”, said Commissioner Malmström. In the European Union 31 million jobs – over 14% of total employment – depend on exports to third countries and each additional €1bn of exports supports 14,000 additional jobs across the EU. A press release is available online. (for more information: Daniel Rosario – Tel.: +32 229 56185; Joseph Waldstein – Tel.: +32 229 56184)

Competition: Commissioner Vestager announces proposal for e-commerce sector inquiry

The European Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager announced today at a conference in Berlin a forthcoming proposal to launch a competition inquiry in the e-commerce sector. This announcement comes one day after the College discussed the Digital Single Market Strategy to be unveiled in May 2015. European citizens are enthusiastic users of online services. In 2014, around half of all EU consumers shopped online. Yet, only around 15% of them bought online from a seller based in another EU Member State. This indicates that significant cross-border barriers to e-commerce still exist within the EU. Knowledge gained through the sector inquiry will not only contribute to enforcing competition law in the e-commerce sector but also to various legislative initiatives which the Commission plans to launch to boost the Digital Single Market. A full press release and the speech of Commissioner Vestager are available online.(for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

Infringements decisions: Commission acts for full and proper implementation of European legislation

The Commission has decided today to refer 6 Members States to the EU Court of Justice: Belgium, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. The Commission will send 11 reasoned opinions to 8 countries: Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain. The European Commission will also send a letter of formal notice to Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia. With a total of 98 decisions, the Commission aims at ensuring proper application of EU law for the benefit of citizens and businesses. A summary of the main decisions can be found in the Fact Sheet. On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12. (contact details of relevant Spokespersons included in MEMO/15/4666)

OTHER NEWS

More than € 1 billion pledged in support of Guinea-Bissau

Pledges amounting to over €1 billion were announced yesterday, Wednesday 25 March, at the International Conference in support of Guinea-Bissau in Brussels, which the European Union hosted together with the Government of Guinea-Bissau and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The pledges, finalised last night, came from more than 70 delegations from all over the world. They include €160 million that will be provided by the EU. “This significant pledge shows that the international community is committed to help Guinea-Bissau make a fresh start. I hope that the massive support will encourage the government to pursue its ambitions for reform and deliver on its strategic vision Horizon 2025 – for the sake of the people of the country and the stability of the whole region,” said Neven Mimica, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development. A press release is available online. (for more information:Catherine Ray – Tel.: +32 229 69921; Sharon Zarb – Tel.: +32 229 92256; Irina Novakova – Tel.: +32 2 295 75 17)

Mergers: Commission clears joint venture between Wärtsilä and China State Shipbuilding Corporation

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the creation of a joint venture between Wärtsilä Corporation of Finland and China Shipbuilding Power Engineering Institute (CSPI), a subsidiary of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) ultimately controlled by the Chinese State. The joint venture would be based in Shanghai and operate under the name CSSC Wärtsilä Engine. It will produce 4-stroke medium speed diesel engines based on Wärtsilä’s technology in China. CSSC is the parent company of one of the largest shipbuilding conglomerates in China that, among other activities, manufactures marine-related equipment. Wärtsilä is a provider of power solutions for the marine and energy markets. The Commission concluded that the proposed transaction would not raise competition concerns, because the joint venture has no actual or foreseen activities within the European Economic area (EEA). The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7501. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of Lion Adventure by PAI Partners

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of Lion Adventure Coöperatief U.A (“Lion Adventure”) of the Netherlands by PAI Partners SAS (“PAI”) of France.  Lion Adventure is active in the retailing of outdoor sporting equipment, clothing, footwear and fashion. PAI is a private equity firm which manages and advises funds and it is active in a variety of business sectors. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would not raise competition concerns, because the activities of PAI’s controlled portfolio companies and the activities of Lion Adventure do not overlap. The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7553. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of South African retailer Pepkor by rival Steinhoff

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of Pepkor International by Steinhoff International Holdings, both of South Africa. Both Steinhoff and Pepkor operate retail stores in Europe which – among other products – sell household goods, products for home decoration and small electrical appliances. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would not raise competition concerns because there are only limited overlaps between the activities of Steinhoff and Pepkor. The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7521. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386) 

EUROSTAT: Environment in the EU: Each person in the EU generated 481 kg of municipal waste in 2013; 43% was recycled or composted

In the European Union (EU), the amount of municipal waste generated per person in 2013 amounted to 481 kg, down by 8.7% compared with its peak of 527 kg per person in 2002. Since 2007, the generation of municipal waste per person has constantly decreased in the EU to below its mid-1990s level. Of the 481 kg of municipal waste generated per person in the EU in 2013, 470 kg per person were treated. This treatment followed different methods: 31% was landfilled, 28% recycled, 26% incinerated and 15% composted. The share of municipal waste recycled or composted in the EU has steadily increased over the time period, from 18% in 1995 to 43% in 2013. A EUROSTAT press release is available online. (for more information: Enrico Brivio – Tel.: +32 229 56182; Iris Petsa – Tel.: +32 229 93321)

STATEMENTS

Speech by President Juncker at the BusinessEurope Day event

Speaking at the BusinessEurope Day event, President Juncker said: “My true ambition is to create a Europe that is not distant and directive. Not a Europe that tells citizens how to be, or business how to operate. But a Europe engaged in dialogue and debate, working with and for Europeans for a better future.” The full speech is available online. (for more information: Natasha Bertaud – Tel. +32 229 67456)

Maritime stakeholders confirm joint efforts for Blue Growth in Baltic Sea Region

A stakeholder-driven, cross-Baltic joined effort for Blue Growth that could bring more jobs and innovation in the region. This is the main goal of the conference of Maritime Stakeholders Platform in the Baltic Sea Region in Kiel today, which brings together all key maritime stakeholders from business, academia and the public sector across the Baltic Sea region to discuss smart specialisation, maritime technologies and skills and employment. The conference represents the first step of the European Commission’s “Sustainable Blue Growth Agenda for the Baltic Sea Region” adopted in May 2014. Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said at the opening of the Conference: “The Baltic Sea area is a hotbed of technological development and progressive thinking. In sectors such as offshore wind, cruise tourism and aquaculture the region has seen annual growth rates of over 10% in recent years. I am proud to be part of an event that aims to promote stronger cross-regional cooperation between maritime technology innovators and operators“. The speech will be available on Commissioner Vella‘s website. (for more information: Enrico Brivio – Tel. +32 229 56172; Iris Petsa – Tel. +32 229 93321)

Commissioner Bieńkowska speech on parcel delivery, sharing economy and other priorities for the EU Single Market

Speaking this morning at the Single Market Forum in Riga, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, highlighted parcel delivery and the sharing economy as two priority areas for her in the coming months. Parcel delivery has been identified as one of the areas where improvement is needed to create a true Digital Single Market. The Commissioner said: “Retailers want seamless, affordable and convenient cross-border parcel delivery. So do consumers. As part of this, last year CEOs of postal companies promised to sort this out. I have invited them back next month to see where we are. We need to make progress. And we need to focus on affordability. We are looking at options for how to deliver this.” On the trend towards peer-to-peer platforms, she announced: “We are looking at how we can encourage innovative businesses without favouring one business model over another. A key aspect of this is the sharing economy. Properly managed, the sharing economy could create additional growth and jobs. It is already benefitting consumers by offering them social interaction and cheaper alternatives to services and goods. But there are concerns over consumer protection, taxes and other obligations. We need to consider these carefully. I want to have an open debate with industry, consumers and national authorities on how best to do this.” The full speech is available online.  (for more information: Lucia Caudet – Tel.: +32 229 56182)

ANNOUNCEMENTS

High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini to visit Belgrade and Pristina

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, will visit Pristina and Belgrade on 26 and 27 March 2015. This will be her first visit to Serbia and Kosovo since she has taken over her post. “I am looking forward to visiting Pristina and Belgrade to discuss the next steps in Serbia’s and Kosovo’s European path and the implementation of the agreements reached in the EU-facilitated dialogue for normalisation of relations between them,” said the HRVP ahead of her visit. Federica Mogherini will be in Kosovo on 26 March. She will meet President Atifete Jahjaga, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, Foreign Minister Hashim Thaçi as well as the representatives of Serb Community in Kosovo. She will deliver a speech at the National Library. On 27 March HRVP Mogherini will visit Serbia. She will meet President Tomislav Nikolić, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić. She will also deliver a speech at the Belgrade University. A press release is available online. (for more information: Maja Kocijančič– Tel.: +32 2 298 65 70; Anca Paduraru, +32 2 296 64 30)

Commissioner Avramopoulos in Malta: visits national authorities and European Asylum Support Office (EASO)

Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is in Malta today to meet with the national authorities and to visit the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). In Valetta, Commissioner Avramopoulos met with Interior Minister Carmelo Abela, Minister of Foreign Affairs George Vella, and EASO Director Robert Visser, and later today he will meet with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. In a joint press point following the visit of EASO’s offices, Commissioner Avramopoulos and Mr Visser presented the findings of two EASO actions: the pilot project on information gathering on migrant smuggling in Malta and Italy and the EASO pilot project on joint processing activities in the field of asylum. The Commissioner’s speech is available here and a video of the visit and press point will be online on EbS shortly. (for more information: Natasha Bertaud – Tel.: +32 2 296 74 56; Milica Petrovic – Tel.: +32 2 296 30 20)

Commissioner Hill visits Berlin to promote Capital Markets Union (26-27 March)

Jonathan Hill, Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union is in Berlin on 26 and 27 March. On 26 March, he will meet German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and will give a speech at Deutsche Bank’s “Momentum” Conference on the Capital Markets Union. The following day, Commissioner Hill will speak at the Bundestag’s Financial Affairs Committee. He is meeting Georg Fahrenschon, President of the German Savings Banks Association, and Peter Altmaier, the Head of the Chancellor’s office. He is also meeting German Justice Minister, Heiko Maas, on the same day. Commissioner Hill’s speeches will be available online. (for more information: Vanessa Mock – Tel.: +32 2 295 61 94; Maud Scelo – Tel.: +32 2 298 15 21)

Commissioner Creţu in Slovakia to promote a better implementation of EU Cohesion Policy

On 26 and 27 March, Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Creţu is in Slovakia; she will meet Prime Minister Robert Fico, Deputy Prime Minister Ľubomír Vážny and representatives of the Managing Authorities dealing with EU funds. Slovakia is part of the eight Member States involved in the Task Force on Better Implementation, as the country is lagging behind in terms of absorption of EU funds from the 2007-2013 period. The purpose of the Task Force is to lend a helping hand to make sure the available investments are being directed on the right projects and priorities and to reduce the risk of decommitments by the end of 2015. “I would like to congratulate the Slovak authorities on their active involvement in the work of the Task Force; the success of this initiative depends largely on the commitment of the Slovak authorities to deliver the actions outlined. And for that the Commission is here to help”, the Commissioner said ahead of her visit. Slovakia benefits from 14 billion euro from Cohesion Policy funds for 2014-2020. Structural funds and national co-financing represented 86% of public investment in 2011-13, the highest of all Member States. More information on Cohesion Policy and Slovakia is available online. (for more information: Jakub Adamowicz – Tel.: +32 229 50595; Sophie Dupin de Saint-Cyr – Tel.: +32 229 56169)

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Environment: Commission refers the United Kingdom to Court over poor waste water collection and treatment

The European Commission is referring the United Kingdom to Court over its failure to ensure that urban waste water is adequately treated in 17 agglomerations. In the EU, Member States need adequate collection and treatment systems for urban waste water, as untreated water poses risks to human health, inland waters and the marine environment.

In four of the agglomerations in question (Banchory, Stranraer, Ballycastle, and Clacton), treatment is inadequate, and one agglomeration, Gibraltar, has no treatment plant at all. In ten other agglomerations, where the waste water discharges into sensitive areas such as freshwaters and estuaries, the existing treatment fails to meet the more stringent standards required for such areas. The areas concerned are Lidsey, Tiverton, Durham (Barkers Haugh), Chester-le-Street, Winchester Central and South (Morestead), Islip, Broughton Astley, Chilton (also known as Windlestone), Witham and Chelmsford.

EU legislation on urban waste water treatment dates back to 1991, with long lead times for the implementation deadlines. Member States had until the end of 1998 to ensure stringent treatment for wastewater from agglomerations discharging into sensitive areas. They had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate treatment from large agglomerations discharging into undesignated waters and until the end of 2005 for discharges from medium-sized agglomerations and discharges to freshwater and estuaries from small agglomerations.

The case also concerns excessive spills from storm water overflows in collecting systems serving the agglomerations of Llanelli and Gowerton. Innovative and environmentally positive sustainable urban drainage solutions are now being implemented to improve the situation. However the current spill rates are still too high and compliance is not foreseen before 2020. The deadline for having in place compliant collecting systems for these agglomerations was end 2000.

The Commission is referring the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.

Background

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires Member States to ensure that agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses, presenting a risk to human health. It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment, promoting excessive algae growth that chokes other living organisms, a process known as eutrophication.

For more information

On the March infringement package decisions, see MEMO/15/4666

On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12

For more information on infringement procedures:         
http://ec.europa.eu/eu_law/infringements/infringements_en.htm

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Reports: Trade as a powerful engine for growth and jobs in Europe

In the European Union 31 million jobs – over 14% of total employment – depend on exports to third countries and each additional €1bn of exports supports 14,000 additional jobs across the EU.

The importance of trade agreements in supporting and strengthening the economic performance of the EU was highlighted in a report by the European Commission that served as the basis of Member States’ discussions at the Informal Meeting of Trade Ministers in Riga this week.

The Annual Report on the implementation of the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), presented today, provides further evidence on the contribution of trade to the economy. EU exports of goods to Korea increased by 35% since 2011, during the first three years of the agreement, the report shows. Exports of fully liberalised goods – such as machinery, electrical appliances, clothing, and most chemicals –have increased by 46% overall, and exports for partially liberalised goods by 37%, making a total of €4.7bn additional exports from the EU each year. EU exports have increased in all sectors – in particular cars, where they have nearly doubled (up by 90%) as well as in transport equipment (up by 56%).

‘The EU-South Korea agreement is a great example of why we need free trade: it’s given a boost to trade and created new business opportunities in the fast-growing East Asian market,‘ said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, ‘This confirms that European companies and consumers are very well placed to benefit from increased international trade, since the EU is the world’s largest exporter and importer’.

Third annual report on the implementation of the EU-South Korea FTA

The EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, in force since July 2011, is the most ambitious FTA implemented by the EU so far. It is the first of a new generation of free trade agreements, more far-reaching than previous deals, and the first FTA that the EU has concluded with an Asian country.

Data shows that in the first three years of the agreement, EU exports of goods to Korea increased by 35%, from €30.6 billion in the year before the entry into force of the FTA to €41.5 billion. Had the FTA not been in force, the current level of EU exports to Korea would have led to duty payments for European companies of €1.6 billion only in the past year.

EU exports to Korea of fully liberalised goods increased by 46%, i.e. more than the 35% increase in the overall exports. Also imports from Korea of goods fully liberalised by the FTA showed a double-digit increase of 21%.

Among the sectors that benefited the most are machinery and appliances, accounting for almost 34% of total EU exports to Korea and increasing by more than 23%. Exports of transport equipment increased by over 56% after the FTA entered into force. Exports of motor vehicles to Korea increased by 90%, from €2 billion in the year before the FTA entered into force to €3.8 billion during the third year of the FTA.

In 2013 EU Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stocks in Korea amounted to €32.6 billion, whereas Korean FDI stocks in the EU totalled €18.9 billion.

EU imports from Korea remained broadly stable over the same period, although they saw an increase of 6% in the third year of the FTA compared to the previous year.

While trade is prospering, continued attention will need to be paid to full implementation of the FTA to make sure that exporters can reap the benefits they expect from it. The EU has proposed further improvements to the FTA to allow our exporters to use their traditional hubs in third countries, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, when exporting to Korea under the FTA, rather than be forced to ship directly to the Korean market in order to benefit from the agreement. Another example for further improving the FTA aims at ensuring that goods re-entering Korea after repair in the EU are exempted from customs duties.

Read the report here.

How trade policy and regional trade agreements support and strengthen EU economic performance

This discussion paper, presented at this week’s ministerial Council, reviews the contribution that trade agreements between the EU and its trading partners can make to boost jobs and growth in Europe. The EU has an ambitious bilateral agenda which can complement the multilateral trading system centred on the WTO. The paper calculates that, if concluded successfully, ongoing bilateral negotiations could boost EU’s GDP by more than 2%, or 250 billion euros.

In the EU, 31 million jobs – over 14% of total employment – depend on our exports to third countries. Each additional €1bn of exports supports roughly 14.000 additional jobs across the EU, the paper adds. These are in general more qualified and better paid than in the rest of the economy. The millions of trade-related jobs include retail, wholesale, port handling, logistics and transportation.

Read the paper here.

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Development partners renew funding for Guinea-Bissau

25 Mar 2015

Brussels, 25 March 2015 – International development partners pledged today over 1 billion Euros to support Guinea-Bissau’s social and economic development. The funding will support the Government’s Development Strategy Plan, Terra Ranka (meaning a fresh start), which aims to ensure long-term sustainable development, consolidate peace and stability, and increase economic growth.

In a round-table co-organized by the Government of Guinea-Bissau, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union (EU), support and financial resources were mobilized for the implementation of the Strategic and Operational Development Plan of the Government of Guinea-Bissau for the next five years.

International partners such as the World Bank, the Africa development Bank, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) also contributed to organize the conference. The meeting was attended by key bilateral partners of Guinea Bissau such as the USA, Brazil, the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Canada or China, multilateral organizations such as Global partnership for Education, global funds such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) took part in the conference.

“This strategy draws first and foremost on a shared vision of the society we wish to build over the next ten years” said Jose Mario Vaz, President of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.  “By 2025, our country will be on its way to becoming a prosperous and inclusive society that fosters rising living standards based on the sustainable development of our country’s exceptional land and marine biodiversity”, he added.

“The United Nations will continue to support the Government and people of Guinea-Bissau through the UN Development Action Framework, elaborated jointly with the Government and estimated at USD 300 million, and through the United Nations Integrated Peace-Building Office in Guinea-Bissau,” Special Representative of Secretary General of United Nations in Guinea-Bissau, Miguel dos Anjos Trovoada said.

The European Union (EU) announced it will resume cooperation and provide new funding to Guinea-Bissau of € 160 million.

UNDP and EU have been partners during Guinea-Bissau’s transition to a constitutional order. During the 2014 general elections, both institutions provided electoral support to the country.

“UNDP will continue strengthening state institutions, including defense, security and justice to consolidate stability and rule of law, democratic participation and access to equal opportunities for all,” said Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, Deputy Regional Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa.

According to 2014 UNDP’s Human Development Index, Guinea-Bissau is ranked 177 out of 187 countries. Nearly half of its 1.7 million people live in extreme poverty.

Since 2014, the democratically elected government has committed to consolidating democracy, justice reform and the provision of basic services such as electricity and water.  The new Government’s Strategic and Operational Plan for 2015-2020 defines a vision aimed at a politically and stable country through inclusive development, good governance and preservation of biodiversity by developing infrastructures, tourism and agro-industry, amongst others.

The opening ceremony was chaired by the President of the Republic of Guinea Bissau, Jose Maria Vaz, President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall and Under-Secretary-General and Head of the UN Department of Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who delivered a statement on behalf of the UN Secretary General, and Neven Mimiça, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.

Contact Information

Brussels: Ludmila Tiganu, Communications Specialist, UN/UNDP Representation Office, ludmila.tiganu@undp.org

Guinea-Bissau: Yanira Santana, RC Communication Officer, yanira.santana@undp.org

 

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Daily News 25 / 03 / 2015

Digital Single Market Strategy: European Commission agrees areas for action

Digital technology is part of everyday life. From watching films, buying or selling online to connecting with friends – the internet is a goldmine of opportunities. But EU people and companies run into many barriers, such as geo-blocking or cross-border parcel delivery inefficiencies. This Commission has made it a priority to remove these obstacles and create a Digital Single Market. The College of Commissioners today had a first discussion on the Digital Single Market Strategy due in May. Based on the work of Vice-President Ansip and his team, the College set out three main areas on which Commission action will focus during this mandate: 1. Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services; 2. Shaping the environment for digital networks and services to flourish; 3. Creating a European Digital Economy and Society with long-term growth potential.See the press conference by Vice-President Ansip at 12.00 CET, the press release and the factsheet.Speaking points will be published after the press conference. (for more information: Mina Andreeva – Tel.: +32 229 91382; Marie Frenay – Tel.: +32 229 64532)

Adoption of the 2014 European Neighbourhood Reports

In a set of annual reports adopted today, the European Commission and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy assessed the implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) with the 16 partner countries in the East and the South and made recommendations for the year ahead. 2014 saw the signing of association agreements with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, democratic transition in Tunisia and strengthened relations with Morocco. Nevertheless, conflicts and crises, involving security and humanitarian problems, persisted in both the East and South, especially in the form of terrorist threats and attacks. Significant support was mobilised by the EU to help Lebanon and Jordan cope with the increasing effects of the Syria crisis. A technical briefing off-the-record (for accredited journalists only) is taking place at 13:00 CET in the press room of the Commission’s Berlaymont building. A press release is available online. (for more information: Maja Kocijančič– Tel.: +32 2 298 65 70; Anca Paduraru, +32 2 296 64 30)

OTHER NEWS

 

Investing in an open and secure Europe: €1.8 billion to fund Asylum, Migration, Integration and Security

Today the European Commission has approved 22 new multiannual national programmes under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) for the period 2014-2020, worth together approximately €1.8 billion. An additional 36 national programmes will be approved later this year. These two strands of EU funding support Member States’ efforts in the fields of asylum, migration and integration, and internal security. Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Migration is one of the ten priorities of this Commission. Making migration policy work in all its aspects is essential to the overall success of our societies. We want people to thrive and we want people to be safe. But Member States cannot do this alone. That is why the European Commission has consistently given tangible support to the Member States and will continue to do so.” A press release is available online. (for more information: Natasha Bertaud – Tel.: +32 2 296 74 56; Milica Petrovic – Tel.: +32 2 296 30 20)

EU pledges €160 million for Guinea-Bissau

Today, the European Union pledged €160 million for Guinea-Bissau to consolidate democracy, strengthen the rule of law, accelerate economic recovery and improve people’s lives. The announcement was made at an international conference in Brussels, a day after the lifting of Article 96 measures. The event comes at a decisive moment when Guinea-Bissau is on the path of political, institutional and economic reform after years of extreme fragility and political instability. The conference is co-chaired by Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, Deputy Regional Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa of the United Nations Development Programme and H.E. Mr. Domingos Simões Pereira, Prime Minister of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. José Mário Vaz, President of Guinea-Bissau, Macky Sall, President of Senegal and Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General and Head of the UN Department of Political Affairs are also taking part in the opening session. The opening session will be available on EbS. (for more information: Catherine Ray – Tel.: +32 229 69921; Sharon Zarb – Tel.: +32 229 92256; Irina Novakova, +32 2 295 75 17)

Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of Indaqua by Mota Engil and Talanx

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of joint control over Indaqua Industry and water management, S.A. by Mota Engil Ambiente e Serviços, SGPS S.A., both of Portugal and Talanx AG of Germany. Talanx belongs to the HDI Group, a global insurance company. Mota Engil is active in various sectors, including engineering, construction, mining, and waste management. Indaqua provides retail water supply services in Portugal. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would raise no competition concerns as the joint venture has limited activities in the European Economic Area (EEA). The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website in the public case register under the case number M.7503. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)


ANNOUNCEMENTS

Vice-President Šefčovič and Commissioner Bulc meet with five Transport Ministers to further develop transport infrastructure in Central Europe

On 26 March, in Slovakia, Vice-President Šefčovič and Commissioner Bulc will meet with Transport Ministers from the Visegrád Group countries (the so-called V4: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and Austria, to discuss interconnections in Central Europe, in line with the Trans-European Transport Network. They will focus on current interconnection projects relevant to Central Europe, particularly on the progress of Rhine-Danube, Baltic-Adriatic, and Orient-East Med transport corridors. They will also discuss the possibilities of using the European Fund for Strategic Investment for regional transport initiatives. Other topics on the agenda also include regional transportation projects built with EU funding and a more effective use of funds from the Connecting Europe Facility. At the end of the meeting, the V4 Transport Ministers will sign a Memorandum of Cooperation on the development of transportation infrastructure. In addition, Austrian and Slovak representatives will sign a declaration on improving transport links between Vienna and Bratislava. (for more information: Jakub Adamowicz – Tel.: +32 229 50595; Joshua Salsby – Tel.: +32 229 72459)

Climate action: Commissioner Arias Cañete meets mayors of EU capital and large cities ahead of Paris climate conference

Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete will attend a high-level meeting on the role of cities in fighting climate change in Paris on 26 March. Together with Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Minister and future President of the UN climate conference in Paris in December as well as the French Energy Minister Ségolène Royal and Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, the Commissioner will join a meeting bringing together mayors of EU capital and large cities ahead of the UN climate conference in December. Commissioner Arias Cañete will give a keynote speech and attend the signing ceremony of a declaration for more sustainable urban development and greener cities, renewing mayors’ commitment to concrete and measurable actions to address climate change at city level. Cities and urban areas are home to 75% of the EU population and play an important role in limiting climate change and adapting to its impacts. The European Commission has created a framework to support cities and leverage urban climate action through initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors and Mayors Adapt. During his visit, the Commissioner will also meet with the industry network Cercle de l’Industrie. You will find more information on the website of the Covenant of Mayors. (for more information: Anna-Kaisa Itkonen – Tel.: +32 229 56186, Nicole Bockstaller – Tel.: +32 229 52589)

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Daily News 23 / 03 / 2015

Commissioner Vĕra Jourová presents the 2014 results of the European Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Products

Commenting on today’s presentation of the 2014 results of the European Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Products, Commissioner Jourová said: “Every product in Europe needs to be safe for our citizens. Products that can cause harm have to be removed from the market as quickly as possible. This is the reason why we have created the Rapid Alert System, which has proven to be a very practical example of EU cooperation to the benefit of our citizens”. The 2014 figures show that nearly 2500 dangerous products, ranging from toys to motor vehicles, were either stopped before they entered the EU or removed from the market. The website of the Rapid Alert System attracted nearly 2 million visits in 2014, and new search tools allow consumers and businesses to better inform themselves about the detection of dangerous products and product recalls. You’ll find more information in the press release and the Q&A. The press conference with Commissioner Jourová can be watched live on EBS. (for more information: Christian Wigand – Tel: +32 229 62253; Melanie Voin – Tel: +32 229 58659)

 

OTHER NEWS

 

The Commission and the European Investment Bank facilitate access to credit for farmers

The European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have today presented a model financial instrument aimed at easing access to finance for agricultural producers, including young farmers. This is the first new product developed in the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding on co-operation in agriculture and rural development within the EU, signed in July 2014. Speaking at the event, Commissioner Hogan said: “Financial instruments can help us to get even more value out of rural development policy, the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy. By getting credit flowing more freely, they can turn one euro of public money into two euros, three euros or even more of secured loans to help our farmers, particularly young farmers, and other rural entrepreneurs create growth and jobs. The joint work by the Commission and the EIB, set out in detail today, marks a huge step forward towards making that happen.” Commissioner Hogan invited Member States to set up financial instruments in their rural development programmes in order to benefit from the opportunities provided. A press release is available online. A technical briefing on the topic will take place today at 15h00 CET. (for more information: Daniel Rosario – Tel: +32 229 56 185; Clémence Robin – Tel: +32 229 52 509)

Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Bulgarian Energy Holding and subsidiaries for suspected abuse of dominance on Bulgarian natural gas markets

The European Commission has sent a statement of objections to Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), informing it of the Commission’s preliminary view that BEH may have breached EU antitrust rules by hindering competitors access to key gas infrastructures in Bulgaria. The statement of objections is also addressed to BEH’s gas supply subsidiary Bulgargaz and its gas infrastructure subsidiary Bulgartransgaz. The sending of a statement of objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said: “EU antitrust rules are an important tool to contribute to the Energy Union. We need to break down barriers so that EU citizens and businesses can enjoy more competitive energy prices and security of supply. To compete on the Bulgarian gas supply markets, companies need access to BEH’s gas infrastructure. The Commission must make sure that fair access is granted.” A full press release is available here. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

Mergers: Commission clears joint venture between ArcelorMittal and CLN for steel service centres in Italy

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the creation of a joint venture between ArcelorMittal’s subsidiary AMDS Italia and CLN, both of Italy. ArcelorMittal and CLN plan to combine their steel service centres activities in Italy. Steel service centres are one of the channels for the distribution of steel products as they purchase finished steel products from mills which are then cut to meet customer requirements. Furthermore, ArcelorMittal is the world’s largest steel producer whereas CLN produces automotive components. The Commission concluded that the proposed transaction would not significantly reduce competition, notably because of the joint venture’s limited market share and the already existing supply links between ArcelorMittal and CLN. The transaction was examined under the normal merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7461. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

Mergers: Commission clears joint venture between Styrolution and Braskem in industrial resins sector

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the creation of a joint venture by Styrolution Group GmbH (“Styrolution”) of Germany and Braskem S.A. (“Braskem”) of Brazil. Styrolution is a worldwide producer of thermoplastic resins for use across a range of industries. Braskem operates several industrial sites in the chemical and petrochemical sector in Brazil, the US and Germany. The joint venture will produce certain thermoplastic resins in Brazil and sell them in Brazil and other South American countries. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would not raise competition concerns in particular because the joint venture will have no activity in the European Economic Area (EEA). The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7302. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

State aid: Commission orders Greece to recover incompatible aid from Piraeus Container Terminal

The European Commission has concluded that certain fiscal benefits granted by Greece in favour of port operator Piraeus Container Terminal S.A. (PCT) and its parent company Cosco Pacific Limited (Cosco) provided the beneficiaries with an undue advantage over their competitors in breach of EU state aid rules. These benefits include tax exemptions and preferential accounting treatment. The companies now need to pay back the advantage received to the Greek state. To avoid further distortions of competition, the Greek authorities are also expected to cease granting these advantages to PCT from now on. The non-confidential version of the decision will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and made available under the case number SA.28876 in the State Aid Register on the competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into Spanish high-speed railway test centre (CEATF)

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether the public financing of a test centre for high-speed trains and related equipment (the Centro de Ensayos de Alta Tecnología Ferroviaria, CEATF) near Malaga in Spain is compatible with EU state aid rules. Under Spain’s current plans, the project costs of €358.6 million would be fully financed by the EU Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Spain. At this stage, the Commission has doubts that the project pursues a genuine objective of common interest. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested parties an opportunity to submit comments and does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. A full press release is available here. More information will be available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number SA.37185 once potential confidentiality issues have been cleared. (for more information: Ricardo Cardoso – Tel. +32 229 80100; Carolina Luna Gordo – Tel.: +32 229 68386)

STATEMENTS

Speech by Commissioner Moedas on “British science thrives in the EU and we thrive because of you

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, gives a lecture on “Science Without Borders” at the Royal Society of London today. He will present his views on science and innovation being the true drivers of growth and prosperity. Commenting on the fact that the EU is falling short of the 3% of GDP research and development target, in particular when it comes to private investment, he will add: “We have to try something new. In this new mandate, the European Commission wants to make more high-risk, high-value investments in research and innovation, not less”. He will also explain that, contrarily to some concerns expressed, fundamental science can attract private investment and loans. Commissioner Moedas will further comment on the contribution of EU membership to the global standing of British universities and to their value to the British economy: “The majority of the UK’s top 20 research partners are other EU countries. You ranked first for number of applicants to our previous EU research funding programme. In the last two years of that programme, you received more funding than any other country, including Germany. That’s almost € 7 bn of EU funds flowing to the UK in the form of over 17,000 grants. Earned by your willingness, and ability, to compete for funding based on merit. So, my ambitions for your place in Europe are immense.” (for more information: Lucia Caudet – Tel.: +32 229 56182)

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Investment Plan for Europe: Vice-President Katainen takes roadshow to Cyprus

Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, visits Nicosia today as part of his roadshow to promote the Investment Plan for Europe. Vice-President Katainen will meet President of the Republic of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades and Minister of Finance Harris Georgiades as well as the President of the House of Representatives Yiannakis Omirou and Members of the Cypriot Parliament. He will hold a citizens’ dialogue with students at the University of Cyprus on the future of Europe. He will also visit The Cyprus Institute, a research and post-graduate education institution with a focus on science and technology, whose vision is to help transform Cyprus into a knowledge-based economy with the support of EU funds. Vice-President Katainen said: “I am very pleased to be visiting Cyprus to discuss the Investment Plan for Europe with government, students and local businesses. The Investment Plan is a great opportunity to help Cyprus on its road to recovery, and to provide jobs for people in Cyprus, and across Europe.” (for more information: Annika Breidthardt – Tel.: +32 229 56153; Siobhan Bright – Tel.: +32 229 57361)

High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini to visit Cuba on 23-24 March

High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini will visit Havana on 23 and 24 March. This is the first visit of a European Union High Representative to Cuba and comes at a crucial time for the negotiations between the EU and Cuba. “Cuba is facing a very interesting period and the European Union is keen to see how we can take the relationship forward with strong momentum. The EU has been closely following the developments in Cuba and its relations with key international players, which create new dynamics in the region and in Cuba itself, and provide new opportunities for all” said HRVP Mogherini upon announcement of her visit. During her visit the HRVP Mogherini will have institutional meetings, including with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, and other Cuban government interlocutors. The HRVP will also meet the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Ortega, and representatives of civil society. A press release is available online. (for more information: Catherine Ray – Tel.: +32 229 69921; Sharon Zarb – Tel.: +32 229 92256)

Commissioner Hahn to visit Tirana on 23/24 March and Kosovo on 25 March

During his visit to Albania, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn will participate in the fifth round of the High Level Dialogue between the EU and Albania. The High Level Dialogue on the five Key Priorities, which Commissioner Hahn will co-chair with Prime Minister Edi Rama, aims to intensify Albania’s work on the key reforms necessary for the next stage of country’s EU integration process. During his stay in Tirana, Commissioner Hahn will meet with President Nishani, Speaker Meta, Prime Minister Rama, opposition leader Basha as well as civil society and business representatives. He will also visit cultural sites in Tirana, an EU-funded project, and will have a discussion on connectivity with the Government. During the visit to Kosovo on 25 March, Commissioner Hahn will participate in the ceremony of inauguration of the Palace of Justice together with Prime Minister Mustafa and Minister for European Integration Çollaku and he will also participate in the “Western Balkans’ ministerial conference dedicated to regional projects, with special emphasis on infrastructure investment. (for more information: Maja Kocijancic – Tel.: +32 229 86570; Anca Paduraru – Tel.: +32 229 66430)

Commissioner Mimica to attend Women in Parliaments Summit in Ethiopia

The annual Women in Parliaments event will take place between 23-25 March in Addis Ababa, bringing together more than 400 women Parliamentarians and public figures from around the world to look at the issue of ‘new leadership for global challenges’, especially how leaders – both male and female – can work together to address the issue of women’s empowerment in politics. Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica will give the opening speech at the event, which is organised by the Women in Parliaments Foundation, co-funded by the European Commission and co-hosted by the African Union. This year’s event, the largest ever, is particularly timely ahead of the UN Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the new Sustainable Development Goals in September, where the international community, including the EU, will be looking for strong commitments on gender equality and empowerment of women. Today, only one out of five Members of Parliaments in the world are women. (for more information: Catherine Ray – Tel.: +32 229 69921; Sharon Zarb – Tel.: +32 229 92256)

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Speeches: 5th Annual Turkic American Convention

As Prepared

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. First, I want to say thank you to Dr. Faruk Taban and the Turkic-American Alliance for hosting this event and inviting me to say a few words – it’s a great honor. Your laudable goal of building connections and restoring ties among Turkic peoples is not a simple one: while languages might be similar along the route from Urumqi to Istanbul, histories and cultures are radically different.

Borders concocted by Soviet ethnographers in the 1920s made for an uncomfortable fit: the complex geographic diversity could not possibly be reflected by simple lines on a map. Your goal of restoring cultural links disrupted by the turbulence of the 20th century is a noble one.

We have made a lot of progress since I spoke with you last. Just a few weeks ago I attended a diplomatic seminar that the Embassy of Azerbaijan hosted for ambassadors from Turkey, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Each had an inspirational vision of expanded trade between Asia and Europe.

They spoke of a new overland route they sometimes call the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, which would stretch across Asia, over the Caspian Sea, through the South Caucasus, and into Turkey and beyond. The United States shares this vision. The strengthening of east-west trade is a key component of our New Silk Road initiative, which is also expanding complementary north-south trade between Central and South Asia.

For those of you not familiar with the New Silk Road initiative, it is our long-term strategy to make Central Asia, including Afghanistan, once again a crossroads of global commerce. Unfortunately, Central Asia remains one of the least economically integrated regions in the world with only six percent of total trade occurring within the region.

But thanks in part to our New Silk Road initiative, progress is happening. Since 2009, intraregional trade in Central Asia has increased by 49 percent, and since 2011 the cost of moving goods across regional borders has decreased by 15 percent.

That’s good, but still much remains to be done. And, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to explain briefly how the New Silk Road initiative works, in both theory and practice.

The initiative is built on four pillars, the first of which is building a regional energy network. This region is awash in energy resources, yet some countries regularly have power shortages. Moving surpluses from one country to plug deficits in another will increase economic activity, and create new opportunities for people on both sides of the equation. In addition to the several gas and oil pipelines in the works, we are supporting efforts through the World Bank on the CASA-1000 project, which during the summer months will sell excess hydroelectricity from Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The initiative’s second pillar is improving trade and transport links. With more roads and rails and ports, transport costs will decrease while volumes increase. Through the Asian Development Bank, we are supporting the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation program, which aims to build or improve nearly 7,800 kilometers of road and 3,800 kilometers of rail lines by 2020, including a route connecting Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

The third pillar is streamlining customs and border procedures. When goods can get to markets faster and cheaper, producers make more, retailers sell more, and consumers pay less. This past January, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan made progress toward removing barriers that slow the movement of goods across their borders. We’re also encouraging Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to move forward on the Silk Wind Intergovernmental Agreement, which will help standardize transport costs and decrease delays.

The initiative’s fourth pillar is creating new business-to-business and people-to-people ties to leverage the work done under the first three pillars. We have organized trade delegations and conferences in Almaty, Islamabad, Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Termez that have resulted in over $15 million in trade deals. This is just the beginning – a drop in the bucket, if you will. As the barriers to commerce come down, the incentives to trade go up. And groups like yours are key to making the connections among businesses and people that will drive economic growth across the region.

Others see the same potential in the region that we do: by using overland routes, China’s ambitious Silk Road Economic Belt will reportedly cut transit times from Western China to Germany from 44 days to 14. Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan recently met in Ashgabat to move forward on the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, which would run through Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, across the Caspian to Georgia, and on to Turkey and Europe. Already, Kazakhstan’s and Turkmenistan’s expansion of port facilities is mirrored across the Caspian in Azerbaijan. In the not-too-distant future, a train-car ferry system can move Central Asian goods from Aktau and Turkmenbashi to Azerbaijan, then link to a rail line in Georgia before connecting to the Turkish network and moving on to Europe.

And Europe is also spearheading efforts to better connect it to Central Asia. As the chair of the EU presidency, Latvia has made ties between the EU and Central Asia a top priority – and they are bearing fruit, literally. When I traveled to Riga last month for consultations on this topic, I learned that Uzbekistan has built a cold-storage warehouse there to sell fruit and vegetables to Europe. I couldn’t help but recall an occasion when I was a young Foreign Service Officer in Tashkent and learned, to my astonishment, that the Thompson Seedless Grapes we all buy in supermarkets here actually originated in the heartland of Uzbekistan when a botanist took back cultivars to the Central Valley of California at the beginning of the 20th century.

Allow me to turn for a moment to Russia’s role in Central Asia. Obviously, what Russia is doing in Ukraine is cause for concern for the countries of Central Asia. And Russian propaganda blanketing the region is presenting a skewed and anti-American/anti-European interpretation of events. We recognize that the countries of Central Asia have close political, economic, security, and people-to-people ties with Russia. But we also maintain that no country has the right to unilaterally determine the political and economic orientation of another country. So we support the countries of the region in upholding their independence and territorial sovereignty, and we believe these core interests will be strengthened through the expansion of commerce in the ways that I outlined above.

These are exciting times – I have not seen such potential for change in Central Asia since my days there as a young diplomat immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But positive change will require political will at the top in each country. Without political will for cooperation, there will be little progress. Now as then, the United States will remain committed to opening the doors to greater economic opportunity and democratic progress in the region. We are grateful to have the support of organizations like the Turkic-American Alliance.

Once again, thank you for all that you do, and keep up the good work.

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Terror in Tunisia

The cradle of the Arab Spring–and its best exemplar–was beset by a vicious terror attack on tourists at a museum. 19 people were killed, including 17 tourists. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. “While Tunisia has been spared the catastrophic levels of violence that have plagued other Arab Spring countries like Syria, Yemen and Libya, the country has still suffered from occasional but deadly attacks carried out by Islamist extremists. In 2013, 22 people were killed. This included a suicide bomber who attacked a beach resort in Sousse. Last year 45 people were killed and already this year the death toll has reached 23, with Wednesday’s museum raid following an attack on a mountain checkpoint in February that killed 4 police officers.” (BBC http://bbc.in/1Cx27Bv)

What the Israeli Elections Mean for the Prospects of Peace and the Two State Solution…If you have 15 minutes and want to understand what happened in Israel, how damaging it is to Palestinian aspirations, and what’s next for supporters of the Two State Solution listen to this Global Dispatches Podcast episode—> http://bit.ly/1Cx0W53

The USA may send marines to assist in cyclone ravaged Vanuatu (Stars and Stripes http://1.usa.gov/1Cx0ljU)

Dodge this allegation…The EU watchdog has accused the union’s bank of flouting its own transparency rules and hiding what it knows about allegations of tax avoidance by a Zambian mining firm largely owned by the Swiss commodity trader Glencore. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1MKhfgc)

(Not So Humanity Affirming) Stat of the Day: The death toll in the world’s most brutal conflicts climbed by more than 28 percent last year from 2013 with bloodshed in Syria worse than all others for the second year running, according to a study released on Wednesday. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1923CK8)

Africa

Hopes of an end to South Sudan’s 15-month old civil war were dealt another blow on Wednesday as President Salva Kiir ruled out a proposed power-sharing deal with rebels. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1923RVu) 

Nigeria has begun the “final onslaught” against Boko Haram, the country’s national security spokesman said on Tuesday, after the militants were ousted from the strategic town of Bama. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1ErdHch)

The Nigerian military, battling insurgency in the northeast, has had no news of more than 200 girls abducted 11 months ago by Boko Haram Islamists, the army chief said. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1FAXq99)

Pro-democracy activists from Senegal and Burkina Faso arrested in Democratic Republic of Congo on suspicion of planning to destabilise the country will be expelled and banned from returning, the government announced Wednesday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1923V7L)

A withdrawal of peacekeepers from Sudan’s Darfur region should not be conditional on an end to tribal violence, Sudan said as Khartoum began work with the United Nations and the African Union on an exit strategy for the $1.1 billion mission. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1ErdGoN)

Lesotho’s new Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was sworn in on Tuesday, admitting the tiny country faces major challenges after an alleged coup bid last year. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1FAXjKz)

A lack of accountability in South Sudan for “atrocities, sexual and gender based violence, child soldier recruitment and mass graves” hinders a bid for peace in the world’s youngest state, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations said. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1FAXwgU)

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer whose economy was battered by a low-level civil war and ensuing political unrest, should see double-digit growth this year, Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan said. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1ErdPbG)

Sierra Leone’s president on Wednesday fired his vice president, who was kicked out of their political party earlier this month on accusations of fomenting violence and trying to form a new party. (AP http://yhoo.it/1923I4o)

Four people died in a gun and grenade attack on Wajir town in northeast Kenya, the latest in a series of cross-border raids by Somalia’s Shebab militants, officials said Wednesday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1BV3aZK)

Tanzania will receive a total of $380 million in loans from India to finance two major water projects in the east African nation, the president’s office said. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1FAXiq9)

Liberia has managed to get its outbreak under control. But many residents, especially those in northern Lofa County, which was devastated by Ebola, are concerned the deadly virus might make a comeback through visitors from neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea, which are not yet Ebola free. (VOA http://bit.ly/1H2fwCy)

Gabon’s striking public sector workers have rejected a temporary pay rise proposed by the government, trade unions said Wednesday, in a dispute that has already seen schools closed for over a month. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1MKhgAH)

MENA

Palestinian leaders on Wednesday called for international pressure on Israel and support for their unilateral moves towards statehood after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election win. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1923R7V)

Syria’s military took control of a village north of partly insurgent-held Aleppo on Wednesday, state media and a monitoring group said, giving it increased control of an area which armed groups have used as a supply route into the city. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1923Qkj)

The United States still wants a negotiated political settlement in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad, and its position on the Syrian leader has not changed, top U.S. envoy John Allen told Turkish officials. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1923LNx)

Iraqi troops and militias who pushed Islamic State fighters from the northern town of Amerli last September proceeded to loot and burn down homes and businesses, Human Rights Watch said in a new report Wednesday. (VOA http://bit.ly/1H2fv1o

Asia/Pacific

International aid agencies ramped up appeals for cyclone-hit Vanuatu on Wednesday, warning that the powerful storm which affected more than two-thirds of the South Pacific island nation had wiped out crops and destroyed fishing fleets, raising the risk of hunger and disease. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1FAXu8P)

Bloody conflict in a remote corner of northern Myanmar has spilled violently across the border with China, risking a rift with the mighty neighbour and threatening peace efforts with an array of rebels. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1ErdOon)

The head of India’s Catholic bishops, speaking out after a nun was raped in the east of the country last week, has said the country should be as concerned about the welfare of its people as it is about its cows. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1BV3mIy)

The United Nations’ human rights chief is voicing concern over the “rushed” trial that led to a terrorism conviction and 13-year jail term for the Maldives’ former president. (AP http://yhoo.it/1BV3bNn)

General Motors will slash production in Russia and pull its mass-market Opel brand completely in the face of plummeting sales in the economically troubled country. (AP http://yhoo.it/1BV3gk4)

A group of Thai lawyers called on Wednesday for an investigation into allegations that four suspects held over a Bangkok bomb attack were tortured while in police custody. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1923L01)

A court in Bangladesh’s capital on Wednesday indicted a leader of a hard-line Islamist group and seven students in the hacking death of an atheist blogger two years ago. (AP http://yhoo.it/1923OJg)

The Americas

Brazilian civil defense officials say more than 20,000 people have been affected by flooding in the city of Boca do Acre in Brazil’s northern state of Amazonas. (AP http://yhoo.it/1ErdHJu)

Puerto Rico’s government said Tuesday that it has sold $246 million in bond anticipation notes to refinance part of its short-term debt and help generate more money for the financially strapped island. (AP http://yhoo.it/1ErdJ3X)

Leaders from leftist Latin American regional bloc ALBA gathered Tuesday for a summit in Caracas, a show of support for Venezuela in its mounting standoff with the United States. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1FAXtBK)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity fell to a new low in a poll released on Wednesday, weakening her even further at a time when she is facing public calls for her impeachment and trying to push austerity measures through Congress. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1923N8c)

…and the rest

Violent clashes between anti-capitalist activists and German police left dozens injured and a trail of destruction in Germany’s financial capital as the European Central Bank opened its new headquarters on Wednesday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1FAXFB6)

A long-term study has pointed to a link between breastfeeding and intelligence. (BBC http://bbc.in/1H2frik)

Opinion/Blogs

Seven women peacemakers who should be on your radar (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/1xeZD8W)

Why is Britain such an outlier on aid? (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1MKl6tN)

Does the Development Industry really need new clothes? (Africa is a Country http://bit.ly/1MKkx36)

Why Investors Should Think Twice before Investing in Coal in India – Part 1 (Inter Press Service http://bit.ly/1CtsOVZ)

Ghana’s democracy is driving great progress in health and education (Guardian http://bit.ly/1H2fsmb) 

After Israel’s elections, what prospects for Middle East peace process? (IRIN http://bit.ly/1MKgKTl)

How can we empower women in agriculture to end hunger? (Guardian http://bit.ly/1MKhhon)

Rape in Conflict: Speaking Out for What’s Right (Inter Press Service http://bit.ly/1CtsOW7)

New DfID Report: Few Donor-Supported Anticorruption Policies Effective (Global Anticorruption Blog http://bit.ly/1MKkwMt)

Water, security, and the state (Reinventing Peace http://bit.ly/1MKkPH8)

Discussion

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