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#Coronavirus - Broad agreement that a common debt instrument is needed

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President of the Eurogroup, Mario Centeno

Yesterday (24 March) EU finance ministers met to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and the measures it can take to address its impact on Europe’s economy. The most contentious question of using the European Stability Mechanism to support states remained unresolved, though there was ‘broad support’. Centeno has kicked this upstairs by sending it to heads of government to resolve, writes Catherine Feore

ESM precautionary credit lines are designed to maintain access to market financing for ESM member countries whose economic conditions are still sound but have come under stress. The credit line prevents crises by acting as a safety net that strengthens the creditworthiness of the beneficiary country, allowing it to issue bonds at lower rates. 

Centeno reported that there was broad agreement that the significant resources of the ESM should contribute to the EU’s coordinated response. He said in his press conference that there was no ‘moral hazard’ and it was to respond to the external and symmetric shock of COVID-19. There is broad support, but not unanimous support, to make a Pandemic Crisis Support safeguard available, within the provisions of the ESM Treaty, building on the framework of the existing Enhanced Conditions Credit Line (ECCL), which is a precautionary credit line of up to 2% of GDP, but more work will be carried out on details.  

European Stability Mechanism Managing Director Klaus Regling said that the ESM has experience and expertise in dealing with crises, describing this as its ‘comparative advantage’. Regling said it had an available lending capacity of €410 billion, the equivalent of 3.4% of eurozone GDP that was available in times of need 

The last Eurogroup asked the ESM to look into how it could contribute to Europe's collective response to the corona crisis within its mandate. Among the existing tools Regling described the precautionary credit line as its most suitable instrument to respond to the corona challenge, particularly the precautionary credit line called ECCL (Enhanced Conditions Credit Line). 

Today (25 March) in a letter signed by the heads of government of Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain to European Council President Charles Michel, leaders called among other things on the need to work on a common debt instrument issued by a European institution to raise funds on international markets ensuring stable long term financing required to counter the damages caused by the pandemic. 

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'Integration and inclusion means listening to migrant communities' Johansson

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The European Commission launched (24 November) its latest action plan on integration and inclusion for the period 2021-2027. The action plan promotes inclusion for all, recognizing the barriers that can hinder integration. 

It is built on the principle that inclusive integration requires efforts from both the person and the host community and sets out new actions that build on the achievements of the previous action plan from 2016. The new approach also looks at how host communities can help migrants integrate.

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: "Migrants are ‘us', not ‘them'. Everyone has a role to play in making sure our societies are cohesive and prosperous. Integration and inclusion mean listening to migrant communities and ensuring that everyone can enjoy rights, regardless of background. Inclusive integration is giving the same tools and support needed to contribute to society, so that migrants can reach their full potential and our societies benefit from their strength and skills.”

In the  Pact on Migration and Asylum,  the EU underlines that successful integration and inclusion is an essential part of a well-managed and effective migration and asylum policy. 

The action plan proposes targeted and tailored support that takes into account specific challenges of different migrant groups, such as gender or religious background. 

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Commission president announces contract 160 million doses of Moderna vaccine

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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced today (24 November) that the Commission will approve its 6th contract for a COVID-19 vaccine with an order for up to 160 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, recently found to have 95% effective in recent trials. 

The Commission has also made orders with CureVacc, Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica. Once the vaccine is indeed proven as safe and effective, every member state will receive it at the same time on a pro-rata basis on the same conditions.

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Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected

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MEPs have welcomed attempts by Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected in its upcoming parliament elections. This comes  just ahead of the next elections, which have been set for January 10, 2021. This will elect members to the lower house of the country’s parliament, known as the Majlis. It will be the energy-rich Central Asian country’s first parliamentary elections since Kassym-Jomart Toqaev in 2019 succeeded Nursultan Nazarbaev, who resigned that year after nearly three decades in power, writes Colin Stevens.

In a departure from custom, the date falls at the end of the legislature’s five-year term,

President Tokayev says the electoral and political process has been liberalized to allow for more involvement from civil society.He refers specifically to what was dubbed the parliamentary opposition bill – a piece of legislation that he approved in June. Under this change to the law, non-ruling parties are supposed to acquire a greater say in setting the legislative agenda.

This is important in the context of the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, where the governing Nur Otan party won 84 out of the 107 seats up for grabs in the 2016 election.

Tokayev said another positive change was the mandatory 30 percent quota on party lists for women and youths. For the purposes of this requirement, a youth means anybody under 29-years-old.

Elections for local government bodies, the Maslikhats, are taking place on the same date.

There are currently six registered political parties in Kazakhstan. Nur Otan, which has as its figurehead the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, The other two forces in parliament are the pro-business Ak-Zhol, which bills itself as the “constructive opposition,” and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan, or KNPK.

A recent poll (in which 7,000 people were questioned) showed 77 percent of respondents plan to cast their ballot.

The last parliamentary elections were held in March 2016.

Ahead of the elections, this website canvassed the opinions of MEPs and others.

Andris Ameriks, vice chairman of the Central Asian delegation in the European Parliament, told EU Reporter: “During these elections, people of Kazakhstan will make their choice in electing deputies for the following 5 years. I believe that the nation of Kazakhstan will make the right choice, while Kazakh leadership will follow the democratic processes in the name of prosperity and wellbeing of the country and its people.”

He added: “I greatly welcome continuation of ex-President Nazarbayev’s established direction in the legal reforms and actions taken by the current Kazakh leadership in developing the country’s democracy, transparency and good governance.

“Introduction of a mandatory quota of 30% of women and young people on the party lists, signed by President Tokayev, is of  great importance for the further development of balanced political life in  Kazakhstan and for keeping the politics in line with the world’s practice.

“The results of the elections are highly important for Kazakhstan, Central Asian region and for the EU as for a close partner of Kazakhstan, therefore I hope that people of Kazakhstan will be active and responsible in deciding who will represent them in the Majilis during the next five years.

“At a time when the whole world is struggling with a pandemic that has caused great social turmoil and provoked national governments, it is vital that these elections provide a real example of mutual trust between the people and the authorities.”

Slovenian RE member Klemen Groselj, who is parliament’s standing rapporteur on Kazakhstan, said: “Kazakhstan is already an important partner of the EU in Central Asia, especially in the energy field, but there are also other possibilities of cooperation that have not been fully exploited yet.

“Looking at recent events in the South Caucasus, I believe there is now more than ever a mutual interest in a further development and strengthening of existing relations. I see a wide range of concrete opportunities for cooperation in the near future, for instance in the framework of the Green Deal and Digitalization.”

On the election, he added: “I expect the Kazakh authorities to guarantee the necessary conditions for a free and fair election process while providing adequate precautionary measures in light of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Open, safe, transparent and fair elections can be a solid foundation for the future growth of our economic and political cooperation with Kazakhstan.”

Greens MEP Viola von Cramon noted: “With decreasing Russian influence and progressively aggressive China, central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan are signalling some openness to the EU. It is a positive sign.

"There had been positive steps were made in guaranteeing the basic right of assembly and investigating tortures by law enforcement officials. The question is now how far will the controlled democratization will go.

“In regard to the upcoming elections, having a mandatory 30% quota for women and young people as well as an increased role of opposition in the legislative process is a welcome change. How will the rankings in the list be distributed and whether we will see truly critical opposition gaining ground in the lower house of the Parliament? We will be very closely following these changes.”

Peter Stano, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. told this website: "The EU welcomes the invitation extended to OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and members of the European Parliament to observe the 10 January 2021 Kazakhstan parliamentary elections. In light of the ongoing  reform and modernization processes in Kazakhstan, in particular the  adoption of laws on elections and  political parties (May 2019), the EU expects the elections to be conducted in a free, open and transparent manner, fully respecting the freedoms of expression and assembly."

He said: "The EU welcomes that for  the  first  time  a  30  percent  quota  will  be  introduced  in  party  lists  for  women  and youth jointly. The EU encourages Kazakhstan to avail of the advice and expertise of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and to fully implement the recommendations made previously and any that may be forthcoming."

Fraser Cameron, director of the Brussels-based EU/Asia Centre, said that the elections “should mark another step forward in Kazakhstan’s  steady progress towards a more open and democratic society”.

The former European commission official added: “It would be important to allow more parties to compete than was the case during the last parliamentary elections.”

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