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European Commission stands by Italy on coping with migratory pressure on Lampedusa

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Frans TimmermansToday (19 February) the European Commission has announced that it is stepping up its assistance to Italy. Firstly, the Frontex Joint Operation Triton will be extended until at least the end of 2015. Secondly, the European Commission has awarded an amount of €13.7 million in emergency funding from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) to Italy. The European Commission also stands ready to react quickly to any Italian request to increase the resources of Joint Operation Triton. To help member states prepare for potentially continued high pressure given the ongoing instability in some countries in the Mediterranean neighbourhood, the Commission is also stepping up its surveillance of the implementation of the recommendations of the Mediterranean Task Force and will report back to the March Home Affairs Council on progress made. This comes on top of the support for Italy in dealing with migratory pressures of a total of more than €500m for 2014-2020.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans (pictured) said: "As long as there are wars and hardships in our neighbourhood, people will continue to risk their lives in search of European shores. There is no simple solution to this complex problem, but it is clear that there is no national solution. There is only a European solution. We are working hard to prepare a comprehensive approach in a new European Agenda on Migration to be presented this year. In the meantime, we have heard Italy's call and are responding in every way we can, and we are ready to respond constructively if Italy identifies the need to step up Operation Triton's resources."

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, said: "As we work to tackle the dramatic situation in Libya, we have decided to step-up our partnership with third countries along the main migratory routes as part of our cooperation on the Khartoum and Rabat processes. This should help to dismantle criminal networks of traffickers and smugglers and to give maximum protection to those in need, starting with areas neighbouring crises. Our resettlement efforts have improved and this should help to stabilize refugee communities in third countries, together with the work of the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration."

Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said: "Today we face a stark reality: Europe needs to manage migration better, in all aspects. And this is above all a humanitarian imperative. No, we cannot replace Italy in the management of the external borders but we can lend a helping hand. So we will extend Operation Triton and we will increase its resources if this is what Italy needs. At the same time, we are not building Fortress Europe. Our resettlement efforts have improved and now we are working to propose a credible number of resettlement places, on a voluntary basis, to offer alternative legal avenues to protection. The message we are sending today is very simple: Italy is not alone. Europe stands with Italy."

Managing the external borders: Boosting Joint-Operation Triton

The Commission has today announced that Frontex will extend Joint Operation Triton, originally foreseen to run for only a few months, until at least the end of 2015.

Triton is a Frontex coordinated Joint Operation, requested by the Italian authorities that started its activity on 1 November 2014 in the Central Mediterranean to support Italy. Since then, almost 19.500 people have been saved, out of which close to 6.000 directly due to the deployment of Frontex Joint Operation Triton. The operation's monthly budget is estimated at between €1.5 and 2.9m per month. 21 member states participate in Joint Operation Triton with human (65 guest officers in total) and technical resources (12 technical assets: two Fixed Wing Aircrafts, one Helicopter, two Open Shore patrol vessels, six coastal Patrol Vessel, one Coastal patrol boat; five debriefing/screening teams).

Frontex has only a supporting function and can only provide assistance to member states at their request. So far, all Italian requests for assistance have been met in full. The European Commission has today confirmed that it stands ready to look constructively at any Italian request for greater assistance.

The initial tentative operational budget allocation for the continuation of Joint Operation Triton until the end of the year 2015 is estimated at €18 250 000. For the management of its border, Italy already receives more than €150m under the Internal Security Fund for Borders.

€13.7m in Emergency Funding for asylum seekers and refugees

In a first step, the Commission has today put €13.7m in emergency funding from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) at Italy's disposal to support the country in managing the high influx of asylum seekers and improve the situation on the ground.

The Italian authorities made an additional request for emergency assistance in light of the dramatic increase of arrivals of unaccompanied minors (by 278% compared with 2013), focusing on their reception and assistance. An amount of approximately €11.95m will now be granted.

In addition, €1.715m will be granted to continue the project "Praesidium", which is implemented by the Italian authorities together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, Save the Children Italy and the Italian Red Cross. "Praesidium" focuses on the first arrival procedures, mainly in Sicily, including the first reception, medical screening, legal information and special support for vulnerable asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors, and monitoring of the reception conditions in the centres hosting asylum seekers, which are highly challenged by the large inflows.

The provision of emergency assistance under the AMIF is part of the Commission's overall efforts to implement the principle of solidarity through concrete and effective actions addressing urgent and specific needs of member states facing high asylum and migratory pressure. To this end, for 2014 and 2015, the Commission has put aside a total of €50m which will be delivered through the AMIF. The Commission's emergency funding comes on top of the regular AMIF funds Member States receive for the implementation of their national programmes for the period 2014-2020 – in the case of Italy a basic amount of €310.36m.

Addressing the root causes of migration

After the tragic events which took place off the coast of Lampedusa on 3 October 2013 when 366 migrants lost their lives, the European Commission established the Task Force Mediterranean to identify concrete short- and medium-term operational actions to better mobilize the EU's efforts. In its Communication "On the Work of the Task Force Mediterranean", endorsed by the European Council in December 2013, the Commission outlined different strands of action: 1) increased engagement with third countries in order to avoid that migrants embark on hazardous journeys towards the EU; 2) regional protection, resettlement and legal ways to access Europe; 3) fight against trafficking, smuggling and organized crime; 4) increased border surveillance; 5) assistance and solidarity with EU member states facing migratory pressures.

Following the Council Conclusions on 'Taking Action to Better Manage Migratory Flows' adopted on 10 October 2014, the Commission reported on the Task force Mediterranean at the Home Affairs Council in December 2014 and will report on progress made at the upcoming Home Affairs Council on 12 March 2015.

Background – Solidarity in Action 

Funding

Many actions have been undertaken to support Italy in the framework of the migration and asylum policy. Following the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy additional emergency funding was mobilised to an unprecedented extent. The Commission granted a €30 million package of emergency assistance to Italy (€10m under European Refugee Fund emergency actions; €7.9m for the reinforcement of Frontex Joint-Operations in the Central Mediterranean and €12m made available under the External Borders Fund and Return Fund emergency actions) which aims on the one hand to increase the capacity of accommodation and of the authorities examining asylum cases, and on the other hand to support surveillance and rescue operations at sea.

So far, the Italian authorities have not made an additional request for emergency funding in light of recent events.

But the Commission does not merely react to emergencies. In 2007-2013 Italy received as a basic allocation €478.7m from the EU under the four former Funds in the area of Migration (European Refugee Fund, European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals, European Return Fund and External Borders Fund).

In addition, more funds were allocated for the 2014-2020 period: more than €310m from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and more than €212m from the Internal Security Fund. Italy is thus the largest beneficiary of EU funding for migration.

Technical Assistance 

Concrete assistance is also provided by the European Asylum Support Office. EASO is a key player in order to channel the solidarity of Member States to countries which are under significant pressure.

EASO is carrying out support programmes for Italy (as well as Greece and Bulgaria). Several member states have committed experts and other qualified personnel to be deployed in Asylum Support Teams.

Cooperation with Third Countries

This assistance complements the EU's action to address migration and asylum issues by working with third countries. The European Union is actively continuing its engagement with third countries of origin and transit as well as its close cooperation with the international community in view of addressing the issues of migration and asylum, and in particular combatting the root causes of irregular and forced migration. Regional dialogues - the Rabat Process on Migration and Development, the EU-Africa Migration, Mobility and Employment Partnership and the EU-ACP Migration Dialogue – seek to foster cooperation and exchange of best practices between countries of origin, transit and destination in all areas of migration management. Mobility Partnerships with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan as well as the Khartoum Process with Eastern African countries offer also improved opportunities for cooperation.

For more information 

Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs Website

Website of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans

Website of High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini

Frequently Asked Questions: Joint-Operation Triton

Questions and Answers: Smuggling of Migrants in Europe and the EU response

coronavirus

EU approves €1.74 billion compensation scheme for Danish mink farmers

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, an approximately €1.74 billion (DKK 13bn) Danish scheme to compensate mink farmers and mink-related businesses for measures taken in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. This follows the receipt of a complete notification from Denmark on 30 March 2021.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The Danish government took far reaching measures to prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants and new outbreaks among mink, which presented a serious threat to the health of citizens in Denmark and beyond. The DKK 13n scheme approved today (8 April) will enable Denmark to compensate mink farmers and related businesses for damages incurred in this context. We continue to work in close cooperation with member states to ensure that national support measures can be put in place as quickly and effectively as possible, in line with EU rules.”

The Danish support measures

Following the detection and rapid expansion of several mutated variants of the coronavirus among mink in Denmark, at the beginning of November 2020, the Danish authorities announced their intention of culling all mink in Denmark. In order to avoid a similar situation developing in 2021, the Government also issued a ban on the keeping of minks until beginning 2022.

On 30 March 2021, Denmark sent a complete notification to the Commission on a Danish scheme to compensate mink farmers and mink-related businesses in this context, given the significant economic impact and loss of employment caused by these extraordinary measures. The scheme consists of two measures:

  • The first measure, with a budget of approximately €1.2bn (DKK 9bn), will compensate mink farmers for the temporary ban on mink farming.
  • The second measure, with a budget of approximately €538 million (DKK 4bn), will support mink farmers and mink-related businesses who are willing to give up their production capacity to the state.

Support under both measures will take the form of direct grants.

Compensation to mink farmers for temporary ban

The direct grants to compensate for the ban on mink farming will cover all fixed costs for those mink farmers that will temporarily close production until the ban on mink farming is lifted on 1 January 2022. This period may be extended by one year.

The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European (TFEU), which enables the Commission to approve State aid measures granted by Member States to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damage directly caused by exceptional occurrences.

The Commission considers that the coronavirus outbreak qualifies as such an exceptional occurrence, as it is an extraordinary, unforeseeable event having a significant economic impact. As a result, exceptional interventions by member states to avoid the emergence of new coronavirus variants and prevent new outbreaks, such as the temporary ban on mink farming, and the compensation for the damages linked to these interventions are justified.

The Commission found that the Danish measure will compensate the damages suffered by mink farmers that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak, since the ban on the keeping of mink until beginning 2022 can be considered as a damage directly linked to the exceptional occurrence.

The Commission also found that the measure is proportionate, as an independent valuation commission, appointed by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and directly reporting to them, will make an assessment of necessary fixed costs and maintenance costs on the specific farms during the shutdown period, including by carrying out on-site inspections. This will make sure that the amount of compensation only covers the actual damage suffered by the farmers.

Support to mink farmers and related businesses who will give up their production capacity to the state

This scheme will compensate mink farmers who will give up their production capacity to the Danish State for the long-term, with a view to restructuring an industry prone to the appearance of new coronavirus variants that could threaten to prolong the current crisis and the disturbance to the Danish economy. It will be calculated based on two overall loss items of mink farmers: i) their loss of income for a ten year budget period; and ii) the residual value of the mink farmer's capital stock (buildings, machinery, etc.).

Mink-related businesses that significantly rely on mink production will also be eligible for support under this measure (specialised feed centers and providers, skinning factories, the auctioneer Kopenhagen Fur, etc). A valuation commission will assess that they fulfill a number of conditions, namely that at least 50% of the businesses' turnover in the period 2017-2019 is related to the Danish mink industry and that the business cannot directly convert the production into other activities. The aid will equal the value of the part of the business that cannot directly convert its production into other activities.

A precondition for receiving support under this measure is that the State takes over the assets (all production equipment, stables, machinery, etc.), which will no longer be available to the farmers or to related businesses, respectively.

The Commission assessed the measure under EU State aid rules, and in particular Article 107(3)(b) TFEU, which enables the Commission to approve State aid measures implemented by Member States to remedy a serious disturbance in their economy. The Commission found that the Danish scheme is in line the principles set out in the EU Treaty and is well targeted to remedy to a serious disturbance to the Danish economy.

The Commission found that the Danish measure will offer support that is directly linked to the need to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of Denmark and safeguard the European and global efforts towards the end of the pandemic also thanks to an effective vaccine, by restructuring an industry that is prone to the appearance of new coronavirus variants. It also found that the measure is proportionate, based on a clear method of calculation and safeguards to ensure that the aid does not exceed what is necessary. In particular, the calculations of the aid are tailored to the mink farming sector and related businesses, based on representative reference data, individual appraisals and acceptable valuation and depreciation methods.

The Commission therefore concluded that the measure will contribute to managing the economic impact of the coronavirus in Denmark. It is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the general principles set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission concluded that the two Danish measures are in line with EU state aid rules.

Background

These measures are complementary to those already taken by the Danish authorities under Article 26 of the Agricultural Block Exemption Regulation (ABER), by which direct grants will be awarded for the culling of minks on public health grounds, as well as an “additional” bonus for their rapid culling. See SA.61782 for more information.

Financial support from EU or national funds granted to health services or other public services to tackle the coronavirus situation falls outside the scope of State aid control. The same applies to any public financial support given directly to citizens. Similarly, public support measures that are available to all companies such as for example wage subsidies and suspension of payments of corporate and value added taxes or social contributions do not fall under State aid control and do not require the Commission's approval under EU State aid rules. In all these cases, Member States can act immediately. When State aid rules are applicable, Member States can design ample aid measures to support specific companies or sectors suffering from the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak in line with the existing EU State aid framework.

On 13 March 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication on a Coordinated economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak setting out these possibilities.

In this respect, for example:

  • Member states can compensate specific companies or specific sectors (in the form of schemes) for the damage suffered due and directly caused by exceptional occurrences, such as those caused by the coronavirus outbreak. This is foreseen by Article 107(2)(b)TFEU.
  • State aid rules based on Article 107(3)(c) TFEU enable member states to help companies cope with liquidity shortages and needing urgent rescue aid.
  • This can be complemented by a variety of additional measures, such as under the de minimis Regulations and the Block Exemption Regulations, which can also be put in place by member states immediately, without involvement of the Commission.

In case of particularly severe economic situations, such as the one currently faced by all Member States due the coronavirus outbreak, EU state aid rules allow member states to grant support to remedy a serious disturbance to their economy. This is foreseen by Article 107(3)(b) TFEU of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

On 19 March 2020, the Commission adopted a state aid Temporary Framework based on Article 107(3)(b) TFEU to enable member states to use the full flexibility foreseen under State aid rules to support the economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The Temporary Framework, as amended on 3 April, 8 May, 29 June13 October 2020 and 28 January 2021, provides for the following types of aid, which can be granted by member states: (i) Direct grants, equity injections, selective tax advantages and advance payments; (ii) State guarantees for loans taken by companies; (iii) Subsidized public loans to companies, including subordinated loans; (iv) Safeguards for banks that channel State aid to the real economy; (v) Public short-term export credit insurance;(vi) Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D); (vii) Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities; (viii) Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak; (ix) Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions; (x) Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees; (xi) Targeted support in the form of equity and/or hybrid capital instruments; (xii) Support for uncovered fixed costs for companies facing a decline in turnover in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Temporary Framework will be in place until the end of December 2021. With a view to ensuring legal certainty, the Commission will assess before this date if it needs to be extended.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.61945 in the state aid register on the Commission's 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 Competition Weekly e-News.

More information on the Temporary Framework and other action the Commission has taken to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.

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World Health Day: Statement by Commissioner Stella Kyriakides

EU Reporter Correspondent

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On the occasion of World Health Day (7 April), Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides (pictured) made the following statement: “Since day one of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been clear that collaboration and solidarity offer the surest path out of this crisis and towards healthier and more equal societies. Yet tomorrow, as we celebrate World Health Day, health inequalities remain a daily reality for so many of our citizens in the European Union. Even before COVID-19 put our health systems and hospitals to the test, access to quality healthcare services was not a given for everyone in the EU. Whilst the pandemic has affected each and every one of us, vulnerable groups in our society have been more exposed to the disease. The measures taken to keep the pandemic under control have had a more detrimental effect on those in already vulnerable positions, including those from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds and ethnic minorities. On our side, by joining forces through the EU Vaccines Strategy, we are ensuring that all Member States have access to safe and effective vaccines, under the same conditions and at the same time, with a clear priority given to the most vulnerable and exposed persons. Over the past year, we have also been working with member states to improve access to health services and to mitigate the negative consequences of the pandemic on our health systems. As we are learning from our experience with this crisis, we are laying the foundations for a stronger European Health Union. We will enhance the protection of citizens by supporting member states to ensure high quality health care and making health systems more resilient to face future crises. And beyond our own borders, we will continue to support global cooperation on health challenges by supporting COVAX and by helping other countries to make their health systems more responsive and resilient. By doing so, we are clearly committed to improving health, reducing inequalities, increasing protection against global health threats and building a fairer, healthier world for everyone.”

The full statement is available here.

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World powers and Iran hold 'constructive' talks on reviving nuclear deal

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Iran and world powers held what they described as “constructive” talks on Tuesday (6 April) and agreed to form working groups to discuss the sanctions Washington might lift and the nuclear curbs Tehran might observe as they try to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, write Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi, John Irish and Arshad Mohammed.

European intermediaries have started shuttling between Iranian and US officials in Vienna as they seek to bring both countries back into compliance with the accord, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear programme.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear program designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb - an ambition Tehran denies.

Tuesday’s talks included a meeting of the remaining parties to the original deal: Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia in a group called the Joint Commission that is chaired by the European Union. The United States did not attend.

While neither Washington nor Tehran say they expect any quick breakthroughs from the talks, both they and the EU described the early exchanges in positive terms.

“Constructive Joint Commission meeting. There’s unity and ambition for a joint diplomatic process with two expert groups on nuclear implementation and sanctions lifting,” said EU chief coordinator Enrique Mora said on Twitter.

“I will intensify separate contacts here in Vienna with all relevant parties, including US,” he added.

Factbox: Indirect US-Iran talks aim to chart way back to 2015 nuclear deal
US calls Iran indirect nuclear talks constructive, potentially useful step

The two expert-level groups have been given the task of marrying lists of sanctions that the United States could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet, and reporting back on Friday, when the Joint Commission will meet again.

“The talks in Vienna were constructive ... our next meeting will be on Friday,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state television.

“It is a welcome step, it is a constructive step, it is a potentially useful step,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington even as he repeated the U.S. expectation that the indirect talks would be “difficult.”

A resolution of the nuclear issue could help ease tensions in the Middle East, notably between Iran and Israel as well as with U.S. Sunni Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia who fear the possibility of Shi’ite Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

In a possible sign of such strains, an Iranian cargo ship came under attack in the Red Sea, Al Arabiya TV reported, citing unnamed sources, and semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim said the vessel was targeted by a limpet mine.

Al Arabiya cited its sources as saying the ship was attacked off Eritrea and was affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, but gave no evidence to support the assertion.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, US officials told Reuters the United States did not carry out such an attack.

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