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#EuropeanRetailSector - Commissioner Bieńkowska speaks at high-level conference

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Today (19 June), the European Commission is hosting a high-level conference on the EU retail sector. Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska (pictured) will deliver a keynote speech, taking stock of the developments since the Commission presented its Communication 'A European retail sector fit for the 21st century'.

The retail sector is one of the biggest sectors in the EU economy, with almost one in ten people working in over 3.6 million retail companies.The sector is changing rapidly with the development of e-commerce and multi-channel retailing, and has the potential to perform even better and more sustainably. In 2018, the Commission published a set of best practices to support member states' efforts to create a more open, integrated and competitive retail sector.

Within the last year, the Commission has been discussing with member states how to address restrictions and ensure that rules are proportionate. The Commission's Retail Restrictiveness Indicator set the scene for the debate.

The Commission has also launched a dedicated study on territorial supply constraints and organized a series of workshops across the EU to promote local initiatives to revitalize city centres and support small retailers. The conference will give all stakeholders, namely EU and national policy makers, international organisations, representatives of retail and other economic sectors, civil society and academia, the opportunity to take stock of the progress achieved and discuss the challenges ahead.

The conference is web-streamed and journalists can register by email. More information about the EU retail sector is available here.

Economy

Soros calls for EU to issue ‘perpetual bonds’ through enhanced cooperation

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In an opinion piece in Project Syndicate, George Soros outlined his idea of how the current impasse with Poland and Hungary over rule of law conditionality can be surmounted. 

Soros attributes Hungary’s veto of the EU budget and COVID-19 recovery fund to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s concerns that the EU’s new rule of law conditionality linked to the budget would “impose practical limits on his personal and political corruption [...] He [Orbán] is so worried that he has concluded a binding cooperation agreement with Poland, dragging that country down with him”.

Soros says the “enhanced cooperation” procedure introduced in the Lisbon Treaty to “provide a legal basis for further eurozone integration” could be used. 

Enhanced cooperation allows a group of at least nine nations to implement measures if all member states fail to reach agreement, other countries can join later if they want. The procedure is designed to overcome paralysis. Soros argues that a “sub-group of member states” could set a budget and agree on a way to fund it – such as through a “joint bond”.

Soros has previously argued that the EU should issue perpetual bonds, but now regards this as impossible, “because of a lack of faith among investors that the EU will survive.” He says these bonds would be “readily accepted by long-term investors such as life-insurance companies”. 

Soros also places some of the blame at the door of the so-called Frugal Five (Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden) who are “more interested in saving money than in contributing to the common good”. 

Italy, according to Soros, needs the benefits from perpetual bonds more than other countries, but “is not fortunate enough” to be able to issue them in its own name. It would be a “wonderful gesture of solidarity”, adding that Italy is also the EU’s third largest economy: “Where would the EU be without Italy?” 

Providing health care and resuscitating the economy, says Soros, will require much more than the €1.8 trillion ($2.2 trillion) earmarked in the new Next Generation EU budget and recovery fund.

George Soros is Chairman of Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Foundations. A pioneer of the hedge-fund industry, he is the author of The Alchemy of Finance, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means, and, most recently, In Defense of Open Society.

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EU

EU/US agreement will reassert the co-operation of open societies

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Today (30 November) ambassadors will gather in Brussels to prepare for next week’s Foreign Affairs Council and European Council of heads of government. Top of the list will be the future of EU/US relations.

The discussions will focus on five building blocks: Fighting the COVID-19; enhancing economic recovery; combatting climate change; upholding multilateralism; and, promoting peace and security. 

A strategy paper places the emphasis on the cooperation of open democratic societies and market economies, as a way of addressing the strategic challenge presented by China's growing international assertiveness.

The European Council president Charles Michel will be consulting with leaders over the next week and will also coordinate with NATO to plan a summit in the first half of 2021.

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coronavirus

Italy reports 26,323 new coronavirus cases, 686 deaths

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Italy reported 686 COVID-19-related deaths on Saturday (28 November), against 827 the day before, and 26,323 new infections, down from 28,352 on Friday (27 November), the health ministry said, writes .

There were 225,940 swabs carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 222,803.

Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the virus and has seen 54,363 COVID-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain. It has also registered 1.564 million cases.

While Italy’s daily death tolls have been amongst the highest in Europe over recent days, the rise in hospital admissions and intensive care occupancy has slowed, suggesting the latest wave of infections was receding.

The health ministry said on Friday it would ease anti-COVID-19 restrictions in five regions as of 29 November, including in the country’s richest and most populous region, Lombardy.

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