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#Myanmar - EU mission assesses human rights and labour rights situation

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A monitoring mission of experts from the European Commission and the European External Action Service visited Myanmar from 28 to 31 October. This follows deeply worrying developments highlighted in various United Nations reports, in particular as regards human rights violations in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States and concerns around labour rights.

This week's high-level mission was part of the broader engagement that the European Commission has launched to monitor Myanmar's respect of fifteen fundamental UN and International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. In order to continue to benefit from duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market through the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme, Myanmar must uphold and respect the principles enshrined in these conventions.

The findings of this mission will feed into the analysis on whether to remove these trade preferences through a temporary EBA withdrawal procedure. The European Union will now analyze as a matter of priority the information gathered during the mission, as well as further information from the Myanmar government, before considering the next steps. The EU stands ready to provide necessary support to Myanmar to address the concerns of the international community. Nevertheless, withdrawal of trade preferences is a clear possibility if other channels of cooperation have failed to reach results.

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said: "Trade, done right, is a powerful force for good. Since several years, we have worked to ensure that trade preferences and access to the EU market are an incentive to promote fundamental human and labour rights. We now expect Myanmar to address the severe shortcomings that have been highlighted during this monitoring mission. If they do not act, Myanmar authorities are putting their country's tariff-free access to the EU market in danger– a scheme which has proved to be vital for the economic and social development of the country, providing thousands of jobs to workers in sectors such as textiles, agriculture and fisheries. We are committed to helping Myanmar improve the situation and ensure that the principles enshrined in the international conventions to which Myanmar has committed are not undermined."

The EU has reiterated at several occasions its serious concerns about the disproportionate use of force and widespread and systematic grave human rights violations committed by the Myanmar military and security forces, in particular in Rakhine State but also in Kachin and Shan States. These violations were also evidenced most recently in the detailed report of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in September of this year.

The EU mission this week met with several ministers, as well as with trade unions, businesses, civil society, and United Nations and International Labour Organization representatives in the country. It provided the opportunity for an open dialogue with Myanmar on key issues such as: ensuring constructive cooperation with relevant UN bodies; supporting international efforts to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of having committed crimes against humanity; ensuring full humanitarian access notably in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States; ensuring implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, creating conditions for a voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to their places of origin.

The EU mission also discussed its concerns regarding the continued use of forced labour in parts of the country, in particular by Myanmar's armed forces, including child recruitment, as well as the need for further reforms as regards freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Background

Under the EBA arrangement of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP), the EU unilaterally grants exporters from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) tariff-free and quota-free access to its market for all products (except arms and ammunition) with the aim to contribute to the economic development of these countries and their integration into the global trading system.

A beneficiary country can have its trade preferences withdrawn temporarily if there is evidence of serious and systematic violations of the core principles laid down in the 15 fundamental international human rights and labour rights conventions of the United Nations and the International Labour Organization.

The EBA arrangement has brought important benefits to the economy of Myanmar. Preferential exports to the EU have risen sharply in recent years from €535 million in 2015 to €1.3 billion in 2017. Out of all of Myanmar's EBA-eligible exports, 95% were made under EBA preferences. In 2017, 72.2% of Myanmar's exports to the EU could be attributed to textiles, leading to particularly strong job creation and growth in this sector. The EU is the 3rd largest export market of Myanmar, absorbing around 8.8% of Myanmar's total exports in 2017.

The EU has stepped up its engagement with Myanmar (see also the EU GSP report of January 2018) in response to serious concerns about the continuing deterioration of respect for human rights and the rule of law, as flagged further by the European Parliament (Resolution of 13 September 2018) and the Council (Foreign Affairs Council's Conclusions of 26 February 2018).

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Blog post by Commissioner Malmström

What is Everything But Arms (EBA)?

coronavirus

EAPM: There’s no ‘pandemic fatigue’ with the Alliance, and the newsletter is available!

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Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the last European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of October. We hope you are all looking forward to the best Hallowe’en you can enjoy under present circumstances, so on with the news, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Newsletter, and no EAPM pandemic fatigue

As you will see from the update below, frustration and anxiety about coronavirus restrictions is being referred to as ‘pandemic fatigue’ - there is no such fatigue on the part of EAPM, as you will see from our ongoing work which is outlined in our newsletter, available here, as well as our upcoming work on the EU Beating Cancer Plan and the EU Health Data Space, as well as our engagement with the institutions.

EU to fund transfer of COVID-19 patients between countries

The European Union will finance the transfer of patients across borders within the bloc to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed as COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations spike in the continent. 

After a video conference of EU leaders to discuss the health crisis on Thursday (29 October), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU executive had made available €220 million ($260m) to move COVID-19 patients across borders. “The spread of the virus will overwhelm our healthcare systems if we do not act urgently,” she said. 

At the meeting, leaders agreed to better co-ordinate efforts to battle the virus as infections in Europe exceeded 10 million, making the continent again the epicentre of the pandemic. EU countries want to avoid divisions which dogged the 27-nation bloc at the beginning of the pandemic, when nations vied with each other to buy scarce medical equipment.

EPSCO unites

Following Thursday’s meeting, health ministers are meeting today (30 October) under increasingly dramatic and pressurized circumstances, as the spread of the coronavirus encounters growing resistance to government measures in Italy and Germany. 

EAPM will be closely following the work and outcomes of the EPSCO council, as well issues relating to key policy areas, as health ministers discuss how better to co-ordinate as countries return to one form or another of lockdown. 

On Thursday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a package of measures to help, which ranged from co-ordination on testing and a Europe-wide passenger locator form as well as the expansion of green lanes.

Pandemic fatigue

It is perhaps inevitable that after nearly eight months of restrictions and lockdowns, with people’s lives globally being forced to change in order to fight the pandemic, that frustrations and fatigue with the status quo will come to the fore. In recent weeks, many countries have been reporting an increase in ‘pandemic fatigue’ – people are feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviours to protect themselves and others from the virus. 

Finding effective ways to tackle this fatigue and reinvigorate public vigilance is a growing challenge as the crisis continues. Pandemic fatigue evolves gradually over time and is affected by the cultural, social, structural and legislative environment. 

High-level public health experts from more than 30 countries and many partner organizations from the World Health Organization (WHO) European region connected remotely to search together the root causes of this phenomenon and share national experiences and plans.

At the request of European member states, WHO/Europe developed a framework of policy recommendations to guide governments in the planning and implementation of national and subnational strategies to bolster public support for COVID-19 prevention measures.

It includes 4 key strategies:

  • Understand people: Collect and use evidence for targeted, tailored and effective policies, interventions and communication. 

  • Engage people as part of the solution. 

  • Help people to reduce risk while doing the things that make them happy.Acknowledge and address the hardship people experience, and the profound impact the pandemic has had on their lives. 

At their summit on Thursday, EU leaders pledged to promote co-operation in every aspect of their fight against the coronavirus — by keeping borders open, improving testing and contact tracing, monitoring critical care capacity and developing plans for the swift manufacture and distribution of vaccines. 

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “We have different situations in EU countries so it’s good that the handling of measures is in the hands of member states, but of course we need to co-ordinate.” 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “A co-ordinated European approach is of great importance, especially for Germany as a country in the middle of Europe, it is important that the borders remain open.” 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said: “Close co-ordination between governments and the European Commission is essential to respond quickly and effectively to the new wave of COVID-19. The health response must go hand in hand with the economic one. Only a united Europe will overcome the crisis.” 

And that is all for this week and all for October, isn’t the year just flying by, despite all the stresses and strains of COVID-19? In November, EAPM will have two academic articles arriving, addressing two topics from multi-stakeholder authorship, including an article on gene therapy as well as one on Alzheimer’s and related dementia. 

Here is a link to our newsletter again – do try to have an enjoyable Hallowe’en weekend, stay safe and well, see you next week.

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Britain pressed to follow French and German lockdowns as COVID rates surge

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Britain resisted pressure on Thursday (29 October) to impose a second nationwide lockdown after France and Germany ordered sweeping restrictions on social life to contain a surge in coronavirus infections that has pushed health services to their limits, write and .

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has so far tried to avoid a nationwide lockdown, opting instead for a tiered system of local controls intended to tighten measures in affected regions while leaving others less restricted.

A new study by Imperial College in London underlined the dire situation facing Britain, the country with the largest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe, showing cases in England doubling every nine days.

Steven Riley, the author of the study, said the government should decide quickly if it wanted to follow France and Germany.

“And sooner is better than later for these,” Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics, told the BBC.

However Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said he did not think it was inevitable that the UK would follow France and Germany in imposing nationwide restrictions.

“The judgement of the government today is that a blanket national lockdown is not appropriate, would do more harm than good,” he told Times Radio.

Europe’s economies were plunged into their deepest recession on record by the blanket lockdowns imposed at the start of the crisis in March and April and the latest restrictions have snuffed out the faint signs of recovery seen over the summer.

Financial markets steadied somewhat on Thursday after a brutal selloff a day before as the prospect of a double dip recession came ever more clearly into view.

Governments have been desperate to avoid a repeat of the spring lockdowns but have been forced to move by the speed of new infections and a steadily increasing mortality rate across the continent.

While the French and German lockdowns will leave schools and most businesses open, they severely restrict social life by closing bars, restaurants, cinemas and the like and impose strict limits on people’s movements.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed parliament on Thursday, said her government had moved quickly to prevent intensive care facilities being overwhelmed.

“We are in a dramatic situation at the start of the cold season. It affects us all, without exception,” Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament, adding new restrictions to reduce social contact were “necessary and proportionate”.

However she warned of difficult months ahead and said: “The winter will be hard.”

After heavy criticism of a lack of coordination and planning in the initial phase of the crisis, European Union leaders aim to make progress on common testing and vaccination strategies at a video conference on Thursday.

The latest surge in new cases has put Europe back at the centre of the global pandemic, which has so far seen more than 44 million infections and 1.1 million deaths worldwide.

According to figures from the World Health Organization this week, the region accounted for almost half of new global infections in the previous seven days.

The United States has also seen a surge in new coronavirus cases in the run up to next week’s presidential election, with more than 80,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths reported on Wednesday.

By contrast, many Asian countries have begun to relax controls as the disease has been brought under control, with Singapore announcing it would ease restrictions for visitors from mainland China and the Australian state of Victoria.

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Commission approves prolongation of the Polish resolution scheme for cooperative and small commercial banks

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, the prolongation of the Polish resolution scheme for twelve months until 29 October 2021. The scheme was initially approved in December 2016. It has been prolonged four times, last time in April 2020. This fifth prolongation does not introduce any changes to the previous scheme. The measure will continue to be available for cooperative banks and small commercial banks with total assets below €3 billion, only if they are placed in resolution by the competent national authorities.

The objective of the scheme is to facilitate the work of the Polish resolution authorities, should a concrete case and need arise for it. The Commission found the prolongation of the scheme to be in line with EU state aid rules, in particular the 2013 Banking Communication and EU banking rules. More information will be available on the Commission's competition website in the case register under the case SA.58389 once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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