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Michel Barnier appointed as Special Adviser to President von der Leyen

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The conclusion of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement on 24 December 2020 means that the very successful mandate of the Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom (UKTF) will come to an end. The UKTF will cease to exist on 1 March 2021.

To support the efficient and rigorous implementation and monitoring of the Agreements with the UK, the European Commission has decided to establish a new Service for the EU-UK Agreements (UKS). The UKS will be part of the presidential services' Secretariat-General and will be operational as of 1 March 2021. The mandate and duration of the newly created service will be reviewed on a continuous basis. The UKS will closely co-operate with the HRVP.

Michel Barnier will become Special Adviser to Commission President von der Leyen as of 1 February 2021. He will advise the president on the implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and provide expertise in view of the finalization of the EU's ratification process of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

Vice- President Maroš Šefčovič, in charge of interinstitutional relations and foresight, has been appointed as the member of the Commission to co-chair and represent the European Union in the Partnership Council, established by the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

More information

UKTF Website

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WHO says working with Commission to manage regional COVID vaccine donations

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WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the European Commission to co-ordinate COVID-19 vaccine donations for other countries on the continent, the head of its European office said on Thursday (25 February), write Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Kate Kelland in London.

Hans Kluge, asked about doses for countries in the Balkans, told a news conference: “We are also working closely with the European Commission at all levels on the issue of donations.”

Austria would be co-ordinating those donations, he said.

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coronavirus

Coronavirus disinformation: Online platforms took more actions fighting vaccine disinformation

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The Commission has published the new reports by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, TikTok and Mozilla, signatories of the Code of Practice on Disinformation. They provide an overview of the evolution of the measures taken in January 2021. Google expanded its search feature providing information and a list of authorised vaccines in user's location in response to related searches in 23 EU countries, and TikTok applied the COVID-19 vaccine tag to over five thousand videos in the European Union. Microsoft co-sponsored the #VaxFacts campaign launched by NewsGuard providing a free browser extension protecting from coronavirus vaccines misinformation. Additionally, Mozilla reported that curated authoritative content from its Pocket (read-it-later) application gathered more than 5.8 billion impressions across the EU.

Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová said: “Online platforms need to take responsibility to prevent harmful and dangerous disinformation, both domestic and foreign, from undermining our common fight against the virus and the efforts towards vaccination. But platforms' efforts alone will not suffice. It is also crucial to strengthen co-operation with public authorities, media and civil society to provide reliable information.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “Disinformation poses a threat that needs to be taken seriously, and platforms' response must be diligent, robust and efficient. This is particularly crucial now, when we are acting to win the industrial battle for all Europeans to have a fast access to safe vaccines.”

The monthly reporting programme has been recently extended and will continue until June as the crisis still unfolds. It is a deliverable under the 10 June 2020 Joint Communication to ensure accountability towards the public and discussions are ongoing on how to further improve the process. You will find more information and the reports here.

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Agriculture

CAP: New report on fraud, corruption and misuse of EU agricultural funds must be wake up call

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MEPs working on protection of the EU's budget from the Greens/EFA group have just released a new report: "Where does the EU money go?", which looks at the misuse of European agricultural funds in Central and Eastern Europe. The report looks at systemic weakness in EU agricultural funds and maps out in clear terms, how EU funds contribute to fraud and corruption and undermining the rule of law in five EU countries: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
 
The report outlines up to date cases, including: Fraudulent claims and payments of EU agricultural subsidies Slovakia; the conflicts of interest around Czech Prime Minister's Agrofert company in Czechia; and state interference by the Fidesz government in Hungary. This report comes out as the EU institutions are in the process of negotiating the Common Agricultural Policy for the years 2021-27.
Viola von Cramon MEP, Greens/EFA member of the Budgetary Control Committee, comments:   "The evidence shows that EU agricultural funds are fuelling fraud, corruption and the rise of rich businessmen. Despite numerous investigations, scandals and protests, the Commission seems to be turning a blind eye to the rampant abuse of taxpayer's money and member states are doing little to address systematic issues. The Common Agricultural Policy simply isn't working. It provides the wrong incentives for how land is used, which damages the environment and harms local communities. The massive accumulation of land at the expense of the common good is not a sustainable model and it certainly shouldn't be financed from the EU's budget.
 
"We cannot continue to allow a situation where EU funds are causing such harm in so many countries. The Commission needs to act, it cannot bury its head in the sand. We need transparency on how and where EU money ends up, the disclosure of the ultimate owners of large agricultural companies and an end to conflicts of interest. The CAP must be reformed just so it works for people and the planet and is ultimately accountable to EU citizens. In the negotiations around the new CAP, the Parliament team must stand firm behind mandatory capping and transparency."

Mikuláš Peksa, Pirate Party MEP and Greens/EFA Member of the Budgetary Control Committee said:   “We have seen in my own country how EU agricultural funds are enriching an entire class of people all the way up to the Prime Minister. There is a systemic lack of transparency in the CAP, both during and after the distribution process. National paying agencies in CEE fail to use clear and objective criteria when selecting beneficiaries and are not publishing all the relevant information on where the money goes. When some data is disclosed, it is often deleted after the mandatory period of two years, making it almost impossible to control.
 
“Transparency, accountability and proper scrutiny are essential to building an agricultural system that works for all, instead of enriching a select few. Unfortunately, data on subsidy recipients are scattered over hundreds of registers, which are mostly not interoperable with the Commission’s fraud detection tools. Not only is it almost impossible for the Commission to identify corruption cases, but it is often unaware of who the final beneficiaries are and how much money they receive. In the ongoing negotiations for the new CAP period, we cannot allow the Member States to continue operating with this lack of transparency and EU oversight."

The report is available online here.

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