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

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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."

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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.

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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

Belgium

Commission approves €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €45 million Belgian scheme to support companies active in the Brussels-Capital region affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Belgian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The public support was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, which goes under the name 'la prime Relance', the aid will take the form of direct grants. Eligible beneficiaries are companies of all sizes active in the following sectors: nightclubs, restaurants and cafés (‘ReCa') and some of their suppliers, events, culture, tourism, sport and passenger transport. In order to be eligible, companies must have been registered in the Central Bank for Enterprises (‘la Banque-Carrefour des Enterprises' ) by 31 December 2020. The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the support (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021.

The Commission concluded that the measure 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 conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64775 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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European Commission

Macro-financial assistance: EU disburses €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova

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The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, has carried out another round of disbursements under the €3 billion macro-financial assistance package for ten enlargement and neighbourhood partners. The programme is a concrete demonstration of the EU's solidarity with its partners to help respond to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission has disbursed €125 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina and €50 million to the Republic of Moldova. This support is provided through loans at very favourable rates. With these disbursements, the EU has successfully completed five out of the 10 MFA programmes in the €3 billion COVID-19 MFA package, and disbursed the first tranches to all partners. The Commission continues to work closely with the rest of its MFA partners on the timely implementation of the agreed policy programmes. 

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NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1 billion recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Finland's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €2.1 billion in grants to Finland under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The financing provided by the RRF will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Finland's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a significant role in enabling Finland to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide up to €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Finnish plan forms part of an unprecedented coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Finland's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms contained in Finland's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

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Securing Finland's green and digital transitions  

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 50% of the plan's total allocation on measures that support climate objectives. Finland has announced an ambitious target for achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. The reforms and investments included in the plan will make an important contribution to Finland achieving this objective. The plan addresses each of the highest emitting sectors in turn, namely energy, housing, industry and transport. It includes reforms to phase out the use of coal in energy production, changes to taxation to favour cleaner technologies, and a reform of the Waste Act with increased targets for recycling and reuse. On the investment side, the plan will finance clean energy technologies and related infrastructure, industry decarbonisation, the replacement of oil boilers with low- or zero-carbon heating systems and private and public charging points for electric cars.

The Commission's assessment finds that Finland's plan devotes 27% of its total allocation on measures that support the digital transition. The plan includes measures to improve high-speed internet connectivity, particularly in rural areas, support the digitalisation of businesses and the public sector, enhance digital skills of the workforce and support the development of key technologies such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics.

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Reinforcing Finland's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Finland's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Finland in recent years.

It contains a broad set of reform measures to raise the employment rate and strengthen the functioning of the labour market, ranging from the transformation of Public Employment Services to improving and facilitating access to social and healthcare services. The plan includes specific measures to provide integration support for young people and people with partial work-capacity. The plan also includes measures to strengthen the effective supervision and enforcement of Finland's anti-money laundering framework.

The plan represents a comprehensive and balanced response to the economic and social situation of Finland, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

Finland's plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects, which address issues that are common to all Member States in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the green and digital transition. For instance, Finland has proposed to provide €161 million to investments in new energy technologies and €60m toward the decarbonisation of industrial processes to support the green transition. To support the digital transition, the plan will invest €50m in the rollout of rapid broadband services and €93m to support the development of digital skills as part of continuous learning and labour market reforms.

The Commission's assessment finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harms the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The Commission considers that the controls systems put in place by Finland are adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “I am delighted to present the European Commission's endorsement of Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan. I am proud that NextGenerationEU will make a significant contribution to support Finland's goal to become carbon neutral by 2035. The plan will also help bolster Finland's reputation for excellence in innovation with support for the development of new technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence, 6G and microelectronics. We will stand with Finland throughout the plan's implementation to ensure that the reforms and investments it contains are fully delivered.”

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The Commission has today given its green light for Finland's recovery and resilience plan, which will set the country on a greener and more digital path as it recovers from the crisis. This plan will help Finland to meet its ambitious carbon-neutrality target by 2035, with reforms and investments that will reduce carbon emissions from energy production, housing, industry and transport. We welcome its focus on high-speed connectivity, particularly for sparsely populated areas to help maintain their economic activity, and on digitalising smaller businesses and the public sector. With reforms to boost employment and strengthen the labour market, Finland's plan will promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth once it is put into effect.”

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan is strongly focused on the green transition. No less than 50% of its total allocation is set to support climate objectives, helping to speed the country towards its ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2035. The plan also contains an array of measures to boost Finland's already strong digital competitiveness. I particularly welcome the Finnish plan's strong social elements, with measures to raise the employment rate, tackle youth unemployment and facilitate access to social and healthcare services.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a decision to provide €2.1bn in grants to Finland under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €271m to Finland in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Finland.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the recovery and resilience plan, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Finland's €2.1bn recovery and resilience plan

Factsheet on Finland's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Finland

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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