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#SilkRoad to be revived in four Eurasian countries

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The Turkic Council, a relatively new international organisation, comprised of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, is determined to revive the ancient Silk Road. The Council designed a tour package and expects 1 million tourists from around the world to visit the destinations in the package until 2023. This new route promises a unique experience for tourists interested in cultural tourism and alternative safe destinations, writes Eli Hadzhieva.

The Turkic Council created a tour package, which will be commercialized and online sales will start very soon. Already two Fam Tours were organised in April and May, with tour operators and journalists coming from across Europe, Asia and America. The tour goes through İstanbul, Konya, Nevşehir, Kayseri, Gandja, Sheki, Qobustan, Baku, Almaty, Turkistan, Shymkent, Taraz, Bishkek, Naryn, Issyk-Kul and Tash Rabat.

The tour package makes use of several public and private sponsors in 4 countries for 14 days. There are 11 tour operators in the organisation of the tour, which are coordinated by a Turkish operator. The Turkic Council is leading the negotiations with airlines and hotels to obtain competitive prices.

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The secret of the success of the tour will be its unique formula, which allows tourists to pick and choose and design their own tour online. People would be able to combine their destinations and are not obliged to join all the steps of the tour. The tour will be full board and will offer a lot of flexibility, with different options for hotels which appeal to the taste of the middle-income tourists as well as upper-class tourists.

One of the aims of the project is to boost the economy, employment and social development of in the region while allowing Member States to decrease their dependence on oil and to diversify their economy.  According to the Secretary-General of the Turkic Council Ramil Hasanov: "Akin to Italy and Spain sharing a common Latin heritage, the four Turkic Council member states have common roots, language, culture and traditions.” Hasanov adds that these common traits may be instrumental in resolving regional conflicts and shall be seen as an opportunity for the future stability and peace in the region.

The organization plans to strengthen its ties with other Turkic-speaking countries, such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Silk Road may be the first step for the rapprochement of these nations, which were isolated and alienated from their Turkic roots during the Soviet era.

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The Turkic Council currently collaborates with the UNDP, UN Office for South-South Cooperation, UN World Tourism Organization, UN Alliance of Civilisations on several projects, including projects dedicated to young people and prevention of radicalization.

According to the Deputy Secretary-General of the Turkic Council, Ömer Kocaman, the Silk Road connects China with Europe, with a daily trade volume of 1 billion dollars, expected to reach $3-4 billion in the near future. By promoting the Central Corridor of the Silk Road passing through the Caucasus and Central Asia, the organisation is aiming at connecting infrastructures and developing new routes to bring the East and West together.

Azerbaijan saw a huge transformation with new ports, railways, roads etc. since 2006. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will follow suit, increasing the connectivity in the region. The new railway project Baku-Tbilisi-Kars to be materialised soon is an important example to the fast modernisation of the region.

Ali Faik Demir, Professor at Galatasaray University and one of the participants of the Silk Road Fam Trip, says: “The Silk Road will be a road from heart to heart. There is everything: Culture, history, religion, nature, gastronomy.”

The Silk Road is inspiring and magical, stretching from Turkey’s Erciyes Mountains to Kazakhstan’s celestial Tian Shan Mountains, from the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to the Issyk Lake in Kyrgyzstan.The journey starts with a boat tour on the Bosphorus, goes on with a hot air balloon flight over the fairy chimneys in Turkey, a train journey through the Kazakh steppes and a camel ride in Azerbaijan’s Naftalan, and ends with a horseback riding adventure in mountainous Tash Rabat region of Kyrgyzstan.

It is a special destination for cultural and historical tourism, which is unspoiled and undiscovered. From Khodhja Ahmed Yasawi to Rumi, the Silk Road is home to numerous mystics. At the crossroads of Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrimage routes, traces of shamanism and Zarathustrianism can also be found along the Silk Road. Moreover, the visitors can travel through history by tracing the footsteps of their ancestors through the oldest cave paintings in the world in Qobustan in Azerbaijan and petroglyphs dating 2000 BC to 400 AD in Cholpon Ata in Kyrgyzstan.

The Silk Road is coroneted with writers and poets, such Nizami Ganjavi, Azerbaijani writer of the oriental version of Romeo and Juliet- Leyla and Mecnun. Chingiz Aitmatov, whose books, such as Jamila, The First Teacher and The White Ship were translated into 150 languages, is the pride of Kyrgzystan as is the Manas epic poem, which holds a Guinness record for the longest poem in the world. Great scientists, such as the Turkish Nobel prize-winner in chemistry Aziz Sancar and Al Farabi, are among the jewels of the region.  It goes without mentioning painters, such as Abilkhan Kasteev, the father of Kazakh art, who is painting realist scenes of nomads in yurts, milking horses and making cheese, and musicians such as Azerbaijan’s Vagif Mustafazadeh, who is credited with fusing jazz with mugham.

One can do nothing but admire the splendid nature and architecture along the Silk Road stretching from the Bosphorus Strait of Istanbul and mysterious geological formations of Cappadocia to Kyrgyzstan’s pristine alpine lake Issyk, 7000m snowy peak Kan Tengri, ancient Burana Tower, from Kazakhstan’s endless steppes decorated with ethno villages such as Alasha and Taj Mahal-esque love temples, such as Aysha Bibi, to the green hills of Azerbaijan’s Sheki famous for its khan’s palaces to the land of fire and wind, Baku and its ever-burning mountain Yanar Dag.

Travelling from one caravanserai to another, which are usually at a 40-km distance from one another, as this was seen as a maximum distance a camel could walk for 9 hours a day, makes visitors travel in time. Falcons and gold eagles of Almaty, camels of Naftalan, snow leopards of Naryn and horses of Cappadocia accompany the tourists through this ones-in-a-lifetime journey. While the trade of ancient Silk Road goods such as silk (Sheki) and horses (Kochkor) is still alive, one can also shop for ceramics in Cappadocia, felt carpets in Kochkor and traditional hats in Almaty’s Green Bazaar.

One of the most important and distinguished features of the Silk Road is its nomadic people, who still lead a semi-nomadic life in Kyrgyzstan’s Tash Rabat region, for instance.  It is a unique experience to spend a night in a yurt, decorated with colourful carpets, blankets and chests. Sitting on a floor table in a yurt camp, one can taste regional specialities, such as kumis (fermented mare milk), camel milk and horse meat.

Cappadocia’s Ürgüp region is also known for its authentic cave hotels and home restaurants.

Other gastronomical wonders one should absolutely not miss on the Silk Road include beshbarmak (Kazakh and Kyrgyz ravioli with meat called ‘five fingers”), beef or sturgeon with pomegranate sauce, walnut jam, meat and chick pea meal called ‘piti’ of Ganja (Azerbaijani specialities) and Turkish specialities such as sarma (stuffed wine leaves), dolma (stuffed pepper) and tas kebabı (a special sort of kebab).

By offering these out-of-the-box tourism destinations, the Turkic Council Modern Silk Road Joint Tour Package will bring tourists together with the unique cultural, spiritual, historical and gastronomic life of the traditional Silk Road, which was a source of inspiration for famous travellers, including Marco Polo.

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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European Commission

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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