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#EIB: European Investment Bank to support Brexit Loan Scheme for Irish businesses

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Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed T.D., Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe T.D. and EIB Vice President for Ireland, Andrew McDowell today opened the Brexit Loan Scheme for applications to allow for the roll out of €300 million in funding to eligible Irish businesses. The Scheme was launched at the Liffey Trust in Dublin’s inner city.

Eligible businesses can now apply for the Scheme through the participating finance providers: the Scheme is open through Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank, with AIB following in June. The first step for businesses will be to complete the eligibility criteria for the Scheme on the SBCI website.

EIB Vice President for Ireland Andrew McDowell said: “The Brexit Loan Scheme today demonstrates the European Investment Bank’s commitment to the Irish SME market and we are delighted to be partnering with SBCI in Ireland to target innovative Irish SMEs. This €300 million joint scheme with SBCI to address Irish companies’ working capital challenges, bears testament to the EIB Group’s strengthened support to enable new investment by thousands of companies across Ireland at a time of uncertainty relating to Brexit.”

Speaking at the launch, Minister Humphreys said: “Coming from a business background, I am acutely aware of the challenges that Brexit poses to firms. This €300m Brexit Loan Scheme is one of a number of supports that the Government has put in place to help companies prepare.”

“The Scheme will provide much-needed finance to eligible business impacted by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. I am confident that it will make a real difference to firms, enabling them to adapt, change and innovate. This, in turn, will help them to become more competitive, a fundamental trait in any resilient business,” Humphreys added.

In last October’s budget, €14m was secured by the then Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, together with €9m by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, for the Brexit Loan Scheme. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s share of funding ensures that at least 40% of the fund will be available to food businesses.

Minister Creed said: “The Food Wise 2025 strategy outlines the agri-food sector’s unique and special position within the Irish economy and its potential for future growth. Brexit is obviously a significant challenge given our unique exposure to the UK market. Food businesses will need to focus on competitiveness and innovation in order to continue the growth in Irish agri-food exports, which reached a record €13.6 billion in 2017. I am pleased to launch this important Scheme today, for which my Department’s funding ensures that at least 40% of the €300m will be available to food businesses.”

The scheme will be open to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees from today, and has the potential to benefit over 5,000 companies.

Minister Donohoe said: “I welcome the launch of the Brexit Loan Scheme, which I announced in Budget 2018.  The Government recognizes the importance of the SME sector to the Irish economy and the potential risks that Brexit will bring to this sector. This Scheme is designed to assist SMEs with their short term working capital needs, supporting them in preparing for the challenges that may lie ahead. It will give SMEs time and the financial support to make the necessary changes to help ensure that their businesses remain competitive so that they can continue to grow into the future.”

Earlier this year Ministers Humphreys, Creed and Donohoe signed a counter guarantee agreement backed by the European Commission through the European Investment Fund (EIF), which is part of the European Investment Bank Group (EIB), so that the €23m secured in Budget 2018 can be leveraged to provide €300 million to Irish businesses affected by Brexit.

The scheme will be delivered by the SBCI. It’s CEO Nick Ashmore said: “Today’s launch in conjunction with the European Investment Fund (EIF), Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will provide support to enable eligible businesses impacted by Brexit to have the working capital needed to innovate and diversify, to find new markets, and to grow into the future. This is an important next step for the SBCI as it deploys further risk sharing capacity by building on the success of last year’s Agri Cashflow Support Scheme and the Credit Guarantee Scheme to enhance access to finance for Irish businesses.”

The new EIF support for business investment in Ireland is backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments and the EU InnovFin Finance for Innovators programme. This Scheme is supported by the InnovFin SME Guarantee Facility, with the financial backing of the European Union under Horizon 2020 Financial Instruments and the support of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).

About the Brexit Loan Scheme

The Brexit Loan Scheme, which was announced in the 2018 budget will provide affordable financing to businesses that are either currently impacted by Brexit or will be in the future. The Scheme, which will be delivered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) through commercial lenders will make €300m available to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees at an interest rate of 4% or less.

Loan features:

  • Loan amount from €25,000 up to a maximum of €1,500,000;
  • loan term of up to three years;
  • loans less than €500,000 will be unsecured, and;
  • interest rate of 4% or less.

Loans can be used for:

  • Future working capital requirements to fund innovation, change or adaption the business to mitigate the impact of Brexit.

This Scheme is supported by an agreement with the EIF, and SBCI have signed to support lending toward innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as small Mid-caps under InnovFin – EU finance for innovators, an initiative supported by the European Commission. This agreement allows SBCI to provide guarantees to lenders financing innovative companies in Ireland for a total of €300m over the next two years with the support of a counter-guarantee provided by the EIF and backed under Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. This is the first InnovFin SME counter-guarantee agreement in Ireland, enabling SBCI to enhance innovative companies’ access to funding at favourable conditions.

About EIF

The European Investment Fund (EIF) is part of the European Investment Bank Group. Its central mission is to support Europe's micro, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) by helping them access finance. EIF designs and develops venture and growth capital, guarantees and microfinance instruments which specifically target this market segment. In this role, EIF fosters EU objectives in support of innovation, research and development, entrepreneurship, growth, and employment. More information on EIF's work under EFSI is available here.

About the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI)

As Ireland’s promotional financial institution, the SBCI’s goal is to ensure access to lower cost longer term funding for Irish SMEs by facilitating the provision of:

  • Lower cost funding to finance providers, the benefit of which is passed on to SMEs and which enhances competition in the SME lending market;
  • risk-sharing and guarantees that enhance access to finance for SMEs and farmers and that address specific market failures, and;
  • sourcing and delivering EU funding.

All of these elements create a more competitive and dynamic environment for SME finance. The SBCI is a vital part of the country’s financial architecture. By taking a fresh approach to providing access to lower cost finance for SMEs in Ireland, the SBCI is actively supporting the long-term potential of the sector to drive economic growth and create jobs.

About the Juncker Plan

The Investment Plan for Europe, the so-called Juncker Plan, is one of the European Commission's top priorities. It focuses on boosting investments to create jobs and growth by making smarter use of new and existing financial resources, removing obstacles to investment and providing visibility and technical assistance to investment projects.

The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is the central pillar of the Juncker Plan. It provides a first loss guarantee, allowing the EIB to invest in more, often riskier, projects. The EFSI is already showing concrete results. The projects and agreements approved for financing under the EFSI so far are expected to mobilize more than €194 billion in investments and support over 426,000 SMEs across all 28 member states.

About InnovFin

The InnovFin SME Guarantee Facility is established under the EU InnovFin Finance for Innovators initiative developed under Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for research and Innovation. It provides guarantees and counter-guarantees on debt financing of between €25,000 and €7.5m in order to improve access to loan finance for innovative small and medium-sized enterprises and small mid-caps (up to 499 employees). The facility is managed by EIF and is rolled out through financial intermediaries – banks and other financial institutions – in member states and Associated Countries. Under this facility, financial intermediaries are guaranteed by the EU and EIF against a proportion of their losses incurred on the debt financing covered under the facility.

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EAPM: Beating cancer inequalities, getting ready for summer hols and transparency

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Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – there is much to discuss, on beating inequalities in cancer treatment, clinical data transparency and, importantly, planning for summer holidays writes EAPM Executive Director Dr. Denis Horgan.

Commissioner says EU cancer plan must ‘break the silence’ on women’s cancers

There is a large inequality of access to women’s cancer services and treatments across the EU, according to the bloc’s health chief, who highlighted the role of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan in bridging these disparities. Speaking during a webinar, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said there is a need to “break the silence” and talk openly about gynaecological cancers. 

The EU, she added, has “to assure that all women in all corners of the EU, get the support, have access to the screening and the vaccination, the information and the multidisciplinary care that they should be having”. 

Her hopes are on Europe’s beating cancer plan, which must bring “real change”. “This is what European citizens expect from us. And I also believe that we don’t have a right to fail them. We have an opportunity and we need to seize it,” Kyriakides said. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was set in 2020 to tackle the entire disease pathway, from prevention to treatment, with the goal to equalise access to high-quality care, diagnosis and treatment across the bloc. 

About 40% of cancer cases are preventable through effective cancer prevention strategies. The commissioner added that the EU cancer plan “aims to offer breast cancer screening to 90% of people who qualify for it by 2025”.

EMA chief sceptical about waiving patents as answer to vaccine inequity

The head of the European Medicines Agency expressed scepticism that waiving patents on coronavirus vaccines will bring about equitable access, saying that instead the answer was increasing distribution and availability.

In an interview with several national European newspapers, EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said that she firmly believes in “equitable access to vaccines and that nobody is safe until we are all safe,” when asked about the U.S. proposal for a vaccine patent waiver. 

“For me, however, the way to solve this problem at the moment is to increase the distribution and availability of vaccines,” she said, pointing to a significant number of doses set to be available over the next several months. 

Cooke said that the focus should be on “enabling innovation.” “None of our existing vaccines would have come about if there hadn’t been an environment that made innovation attractive,” she said. 

Despite this, Cooke conceded that in the “long term” the debate on patent protection should be carried out. 

More action on rare diseases

Any disease affecting fewer than five people in 10,000 in the EU is considered rare. Although this might appear small, it translates into approximately 246,000 people. Most patients suffer from even rarer diseases affecting 1 person in 100,000 or more. Approximately 5,000-8,000 distinct rare diseases affect 6-8% of the EU population i.e. between 27 and 36 million people.

Public Health Policy Director Anna Kole has said that the successful launch of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan had provided inspiration for the idea of creating a dedicated action plan for rare diseases. 

Meanwhile, the Commission is moving on several different fronts to improve rare disease treatment in the EU. An impact assessment evaluating proposals to change EU regulations for medicines for rare diseases and for children is expected to run until the first quarter of next year. That will open the door to new legislative changes. And creation of a European health data space will allow pooling data from rare disease patients across different member countries. 

Kole said that an action plan would allow better coordination across the disparate fields that the Commission is acting on, as well as the introduction of new flagship initiatives. 

“If there’s one disease area where EU added value can’t be more clearly demonstrated, it’s rare diseases,” said Kole, who pointed to the benefits of allowing patients to move across borders for specialist treatment, or for facilitating data sharing throughout the bloc, as examples.

The EU supports research into rare diseases through Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever, with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020). Close to €900 million, is available to more than 160 collaborative projects related to rare diseases.

Rich-poor vaccine inequity

The disparity in access to COVID-19 vaccines between rich and low-income countries has become impossible to ignore; according to UNICEF data, 86% of all doses given worldwide up to 30 March were administered to those in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while just 1% of jabs have been given to those in the world’s poorest. 

Low-risk groups in the UK, US and Israel are becoming eligible for jabs, while vulnerable populations elsewhere remain at risk of contracting the virus. The hoarding of vaccines by wealthy countries, as the pandemic ravages economically disadvantaged nations, has brought the issue of vaccine patents to the fore. 

Biotechnology Innovation Organization  wrote in the Economist that the proposal “undermines the very system that produced the life-saving science in the first place”, and “destroys the incentive for companies to take risks to find solutions for the next health emergency”. 

Regulators and WHO call for clinical data transparency

World regulatory authorities are calling for increased transparency from the pharmaceutical industry in how they report and give access to clinical trial data. In a joint statement, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) cited need for “wide access to clinical data for all new medicines and vaccines”. 

Data related to a therapy or vaccine “must be published at the time of finalization of the regulatory review,” they said, regardless of whether the decision is positive or negative. “It cannot be justified to keep confidential efficacy and safety data of a medicine available on the market, or which has been refused access to the market.” 

The two bodies cited “overriding public health interest” in their statement, which called for pharmaceutical companies to report clinical trial results without redacting information that would otherwise be confidential because of commercial reasons. Only personally identifying information and individual patient data should be redacted from publicly available clinical trial data, wrote WHO and ICMRA. 

People can ‘start thinking about Europe summer travel’ 

People can start thinking about summer holidays in Europe on condition of being vaccinated, the EU has said, as its planned digital travel 'health pass' is on track for use from mid-June. The plan is that a European-wide health pass will be launched at the same time across the EU, and countries that do not have the resources to put it in place will be supported by the Commission, to avoid delays. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “I seriously believe that we can start thinking about [summer travel], probably like last year in Europe. “It will be important to open the continent gradually, and to be able to go on holiday. Everyone must go to get vaccinated. As soon as you are called, go to get vaccinated.”

Commission publishes open public consultation on the European Health Data Space 

The Commission has published an open public consultation on the European Health Data Space (EHDS) - an important building block of the European Health Union. The EHDS aims to make full use of digital health to provide high-quality healthcare and reduce inequalities. It will promote access to health data for prevention, diagnosis and treatment, research and innovation, as well as for policy-making and legislation. The EHDS will place individuals' rights to control their own personal health data at its core.

The consultation will remain open for responses until 26 July 2021. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: ″The European Health Data Space will be a crucial component of a strong European Health Union. It will enable EU-wide collaboration for better healthcare, better research and better health policy-making. I invite all interested citizens and stakeholders to take part in the consultation and help us leverage the power of data for our health. This will have to rest on a strong foundation of non-negotiable citizens' rights, including privacy and data protection.″ 

And that is everything from EAPM for now – stay safe, stay well, have a terrific weekend, see you next week.

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European Jewish chief asks heads of state to step up security of Jewish institutions due to rising threat

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Rabbi Menachem Margolin (pictured), the chairman of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, has written to heads of state across Europe asking them to step up security around Jewish Institutions and increase their vigilance and monitoring of known extremist networks in light of the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.

Europe wide surveys by agencies such as the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) show that whenever there is a conflict between Israel and Palestinians, there is a marked uptick in incidents of an anti-semitic nature.

Rabbi Margolin relayed to the Heads of State that Jewish communities across the continent were concerned that if was not a matter of “if” but “when” reprisals against Jews and Jewish Institutions would take place.

In his letter the EJA head wrote:

I write with a heavy heart for having to do so, but with an urgent request for your consideration.

Figures prove that whenever Israel is engaged in skirmishes with Palestinian terror groups or others that seek to undermine Israel’s sovereignty, there is a sharp and marked uptick in antisemitic attacks across Europe.

In short, Jews are held responsible. Of course, this runs counter to the spirit and letter of the IHRA definition of antisemitism - namely that Jews should not be held responsible for events in Israel, but also that antisemitism and anti-zionism are two sides of the same coin.

Our association are hearing from our communities that they are concerned that it isn’t a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ there will be reprisals and acts carried out against them because of the ongoing conflict. These concerns are not without foundation as we have already seen a number of angry demonstrations outside synagogues in parts of Europe.

I ask you humbly and respectfully to increase vigilance and security in and around Jewish Institutions by your forces of law and order during this tense and difficult time and to increase your monitoring of social media channels and extremist networks.”

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Airbus and Air France ordered to stand trial over 2009 crash

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Air France (AIRF.PA) and Airbus (AIR.PA) should stand trial for involuntary manslaughter over their role in a 2009 crash in the Atlantic that killed 228 people, the Paris court of appeal ruled on Wednesday. (12 May)

The ruling reverses a 2019 decision not to prosecute either company over the accident, in which the pilots lost control of the Airbus A330 jet after ice blocked its airspeed sensors.

Victims' families welcomed the ruling, but Airbus and Air France said they would seek to overturn it at the Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeal court.

"The court decision that has just been announced does not reflect in any way the conclusions of the investigation," Airbus said in an emailed statement.

Air France logo is pictured at the Air France check-in at Bordeaux-Merignac airport, as Air France pilots, cabin and ground crews unions call for a strike over salaries in Merignac near Bordeaux, France April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
The Airbus logo pictured at the company's headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, March 20, 2019.  REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Air France "maintains that it committed no criminal fault at the root of this tragic accident", said a spokesman for the carrier, which is part of Air France-KLM.

Air France flight AF447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed on 1 June, 2009, killing everyone on board.

French investigators found that the crew had mishandled the situation arising from the loss of speed data from sensors blocked with ice and caused an aerodynamic stall by holding the aircraft's nose too high.

The earlier decision not to go to trial drew legal challenges from the families as well as pilot unions and prosecutors who had pursued charges against Air France alone.

Wednesday's ruling upheld new demands for a trial of both companies from senior prosecutors who have accused Air France of pilot training failures and Airbus for underestimating dangers posed by known problems with the speed sensors.

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