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EU investment negotiations with China and ASEAN

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euflag-353x265The Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) ministers today (18 October) adopted mandates that will allow the European Commission to negotiate investment agreements with China and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries (Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam).

EU investment negotiations with China

An EU-China investment agreement would be the EU's first ever stand-alone investment agreement since foreign direct investment became the exclusive competence of the EU under the Lisbon Treaty. It would streamline the existing bilateral investment protection agreements between China and 26 member states into a single, coherent text.

The Council today gave its green light to start negotiations for an EU-China investment agreement on the basis of the negotiating directives proposed by the European Commission in May 2013 (IP/13/458). Europe hopes that the negotiations for an investment agreement with China can be launched at the EU-China Summit next month.

The main objectives of an agreement at EU level are to:

  • Reduce barriers to investing in China and, as a result, increasing bilateral investment flows;
  • improve the protection of EU investments in China as well as Chinese investments in Europe;
  • improve legal certainty regarding treatment of EU investors in China;
  • improve access for European investments to the Chinese market – addressing important issues like mandatory joint ventures which European companies are currently facing when wanting to invest in China, and;
  • to eventually increase EU-China investment flows.

Trade flows between China and the EU are impressive, with goods and services worth well over €1 billion traded between both partners every day. However, the current level of bilateral investment is way below what could be expected from two of the most important economic blocks on the planet. Just 2.1% of overall EU Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is in China. Although these figures are on the rise, this still represents less than 3% of both sides' total FDI outflows. By comparison, 30% of the EU's stocks are in the United States. Hence, there is huge potential to further develop bilateral investment ties.

Background

Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the Commission Communication on the future European investment policy published in July 2010 identified the People’s Republic of China as a potential partner with whom the EU could pursue negotiations for a stand-alone investment agreement. At the 14th EU-China Summit held in February 2012, the EU and China agreed to move towards negotiations for an investment agreement covering “all issues of interest to both sides” and this willingness was confirmed at the 15th EU-China Summit in September 2012.

EU-ASEAN negotiations on investment

The Ministers of the Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) today also decided to modify the already existing negotiating directives for the EU-ASEAN negotiations towards a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to include investment provisions after investment has become part of the EU’s common commercial policy following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The decision will allow the European Commission to complete the negotiating agendas of the already on-going negotiations for Free Trade Agreements with Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand by including investment protection in those FTAs.

A similar modification had been made in September 2011 to the negotiating mandate to allow free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with Singapore to cover investment protection on top of liberalisation of investments. In the meantime, FTA negotiations with Singapore were concluded in December 2012 and the Agreement was initialled on 20 September 2013 (IP/13/849). Investment negotiations with Singapore are on-going and will hopefully be concluded by the end of 2013.

The Council of Ministers is now authorising negotiations on investment protection with the remaining ASEAN countries, as and when the Council agrees to launch individual negotiations with ASEAN member countries.

Background

In April 2007 Council of Ministers authorised the Commission to start negotiations for a free trade agreement with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries (Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and adopted negotiating directives. In December 2009, the Council authorised the Commission to pursue negotiations towards Free Trade Agreements with individual ASEAN countries. Subsequently, negotiations with Singapore started in March 2010 (concluded in December 2012), with Malaysia in October 2010, with Vietnam in June 2012 and in Thailand in March 2013.

EU is major investor world-wide

The EU is the world's leading host of foreign direct investment, attracting investments worth €225 billion from the rest of the world in 2011 alone. By 2010 outward stocks of FDI amounted to €4.2 trillion (26.4% of the global FDI stock in FDI) while EU inward stocks accounted for €3 trillion (19.7% of the global total).

Those investments are secured via Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), concluded between individual EU Member States and non-EU countries. They establish the terms and conditions for investment by nationals and companies of one country in another and set up a legally binding level of protection in order to encourage investment flows between two countries. Amongst other things BITs grant investors fair, equitable and non-discriminatory treatment, protection from unlawful expropriation and direct recourse to international arbitration. EU countries are the main users of BITs globally, with a total number of about 1,200 bilateral treaties already concluded.

Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, investment is now part of the EU’s common commercial policy, an exclusive competence of the Union (Article 207 TFEU). As a consequence, the European Commission may legislate on investment. According to the Regulation on Bilateral Investment Agreements, adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on 12 December 2012 (IP/12/1362), bilateral Investment Agreements that currently offer investment protection to many European investors will be preserved until they are replaced by EU agreements.

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EU

'Time to open up to citizens': Conference on the Future of Europe launched

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The Conference on the Future of Europe was officially launched on 9 May with a ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Conference aims to allow Europeans to share their ideas of Europe and formulate proposals for future EU policies.

The inaugural event was the focal point of Europe Day celebrations and followed the launch of the multilingual digital platform of the Conference in April that will collect all contributions and facilitate debate.

French President Emmanuel Macron, European Parliament President David Sassoli, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke at the ceremony in the presence of Erasmus+ students and members of the Conference's executive board.

More than 500 citizens attended remotely appearing on large screens in the chamber. Ministers, MEPs, members of national parliaments and other guests also joined the event remotely.

All Europeans invited to contribute

Speakers at the ceremony said that the start of the Conference presented an opportunity for people to get involved and shape the EU’s future.

“We are at a time when citizens want to take responsibility, they want to have a say in the policies that affect their daily life, their future, the future of the planet,” said European Parliament president David Sassoli. “It is time to open up to involve citizens more in public life, and that is the purpose of this Conference.”

“Our Union needs a breath of new democratic life and that’s the aim of the Conference on the Future of Europe that we are launching together today,” said French president Emmanuel Macron, opening the ceremony. “I hope that this Conference will see the return of great projects, great ambitions, great dreams.”

Speaking on behalf of the Council presidency, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said: “This official launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe is a message of confidence in the future that we want to convey to all citizens of Europe.” He addressed all Europeans following the event saying: “This conference is open. It's open, so that all of you can participate.”

“We must listen to all voices - whether critical or complimentary - and ensure that we properly follow up on whatever is agreed. But I do believe that this Conference is a real opportunity to bring Europeans together and to rally around a common ambition for our future, just as previous generations did,” said Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The co-chairs of the executive board of the Conference, Guy Verhofstadt (Parliament), Ana Paula Zacarias (Council) and Dubravka Šuica (Commission) answered recorded questions.

There were live performances by French violinist Renaud Capuçon and the Karski Quartet - a string quartet of Polish and French musicians based in Brussels.

Do you have proposals for what the EU should do? Share them on the Conference’s digital platform and get involved.

Launch of the Conference 

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Disabilities

A new ambitious EU Disability Strategy for 2021-2030

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Following Parliament’s recommendations, the European Commission adopted an ambitious post-2020 disability strategy. Discover its priorities. Society 

The European Parliament called for an inclusive society in which the rights of people living with disabilities are protected and where there is no discrimination.

In June 2020, Parliament set out its priorities for a new post-2020 EU Disability Strategy, building upon the European Disability Strategy for 2010-2020.

In March 2021, the Commission adopted the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 encompassing Parliament’s main recommendations:

  • The mainstreaming of the rights of all people living with disabilities into all policies and areas.
  • Recovery and mitigation measures to avoid people with disabilities getting disproportionally affected by health crises such as COVID-19.
  • Equal access for people with disabilities to health care, employment, public transport, housing.
  • The implementation and further development of the EU disability card pilot project, which allows for the mutual recognition of disabilities in some EU countries.
  • People with disabilities, their families and organisations were part of the dialogue and will be part of the process of implementation.

People living with disabilities in Europe: facts and figures  

  • There are an estimated 87 million people with disabilities in the EU.
  • The employment rate of people with disabilities (aged 20-64) stands at 50.8%, compared to 75% for people without disabilities. 
  • 28.4% of people with disabilities in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 17.8% of the general population.  
A differently-abled man working in an amputee shop for production of prosthetic extremity parts.©Hedgehog94/AdobeStock
A man working in an amputee shop on the production of a prosthetic extremity parts.©Hedgehog94/AdobeStock  

EU disability measures so far

The European Disability Strategy was put in place to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 

  • An international legally binding human rights treaty setting minimum standards to protect the rights of people with disabilities 
  • The EU and all member states have ratified it 
  • Both EU and member states are obliged to implement the obligations, according to their competences 

Among the concrete initiatives launched thanks to the European Disability Strategy is the European Accessibility Act, which ensures that more products and services like smartphones, tablets, ATMs or e-books are accessible to people with disabilities.

The directive on web accessibility means people with disabilities have easier access to online data and services online because websites and apps operated by public sector institutions, such as hospitals, courts or universities, are required to be accessible.

The Erasmus+ student exchange programme promotes the mobility of participants with disabilities.

EU rules also ensure improved access to transport and better passenger rights for people living with disabilities.

Find out more on EU policies for a more social Europe.

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Bulgaria

EU Cohesion policy: €133.4 million for Bulgaria and Sweden to tackle the social and economic impact of the coronavirus crisis

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The Commission has approved the modification of three operational programmes (OPs) under REACT-EU to provide €75.9 million to Bulgaria and €57.5m to Sweden to help tackle the effects of the pandemic. Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, said: “The coronavirus has put our social fabric to the test and has hit the most vulnerable people the hardest. The EU is showing solidarity by supporting the provision of aid in these difficult times and promoting social inclusion.” Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “The decisions approved today are the result of good policy measures. They will provide much needed investment resources for the post-coronavirus crisis move to a green and digital recovery.” The Bulgarian programme for the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) will receive an extra €19.9m in 2021 to provide daily warm meals to 50,000 people from vulnerable groups living in poverty. This is the first amendment of a FEAD OP under REACT-EU. In addition, the Bulgarian programme ‘Science and Education for Smart Growth', co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), will be topped up with €56m to support distance learning. At least 10% of students and teachers will receive laptops or tablets and 30% of teachers will receive training in online teaching. In Sweden, the Commission has approved the modification of an OP that will increase the funding available for investments by nearly €57.5m. The amendment of the national OP co-financed by the ERDF will support the sustainable green and digital transition of the Swedish SMEs that were most negatively impacted by the crisis, such as from the tourism and hospitality sectors. REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.5 billion additional funding over the course of 2021 and 2022 to programmes under the ERDF, the ESF and the FEAD.

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