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#EAPM - Cypriot commissioner-designate awarded health brief

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Greetings, colleagues! Hot-off-the-press comes news from Brussels today (10 September), as the proposed Ursula von der Leyen College of Commissioners is revealed in full, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

With it comes the news that the nominee from Cyprus, Stella Kyriakides, has been given the health portfolio.

Stella has previously worked with EAPM executive director Denis Horgan in respect of a written declaration on the need for increased co-ordination of cancer research in the European Union, which gained European Parliament backing with almost 500 MEPs in support.

The October 2010 Declaration called on the Commission and/or member states to: 

  • Ensure that there is adequate mapping and funding of, and increased co-operation in, cancer research;
  • develop a holistic cancer research strategy based on a matrix, with horizontals such as transnational research and diagnosis and verticals such as research on prevention, research on screening and research on quality of life and care;
  • utilize the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer to organize different research working groups, and;
  • promote partnerships with patient groups, harnessing their specific expertise and knowledge to support accelerated progress in research.

Much has been achieved since then, of course, with aspects becoming part of the personalised medicine sector as well as applying to cancer. For example on last year’s Declaration on the EU-wide one-million genomes project.

Now that the Cypriot commissioner-designate has been given the health brief, it’s all to the good. As a trained clinical psychologist, campaigner on breast cancer and health policymaker in Nicosia, she certainly has the background for the job.

Von der Leyen said today: “"This will be a Commission that walks the talk. We have a structure that focuses on tasks not hierarchies. We need to be able to deliver on the issues that matter the most rapidly and with determination."

We wait to see how much the re-structuring means in respect of making health a higher or lower priority.

Of course, the list below is of nominees, with each having to face oral and written questions from the European Parliament, before MEPs approve their passage into their new posts. Timelines suggest these hearings will take place at the end of this month and into early October.

The nominees need to be properly prepared, as history has taught us that these Parliamentary hearings can turn into a bit of a grilling…although no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Meanwhile, some 40 health NGOs have published a job advertisement for a European Commissioner for Health, stating that whoever lands the post has to set the vision and strategy for reducing inequalities in health across the EU”.

The organizations want the health commissioner to “prioritize the public interest over those of economic and financial actors by, among other things, limiting meetings with corporate lobbyists and ensuring that meetings that do take place are transparent”.

The next European Commission nominees

Austria’s Johannes Hahn is a former science minister who set up a national ‘Award of Excellencefor the best doctoral thesis in Austria(despite much-reported challenges over his own PhD). He is the ex-CEO of betting company Novomatic. Hopefully not a gamble for vdL.

Belgium has nominated Didier Reynders, who has acted as minister for finance (during the launch of the euro), and for foreign affairs. Belgium is punching above its weight this time around, being also represented elsewhere with Charles Michel set to become Council chief.

Bulgaria has Mariya Gabriel, who has already served in the Commission by heading up the digital economy and society team. Mariya was an MEP from 2009 to 2017, becoming MEP of the Year twice. Now put in charge of the Innovation and Youth brief, she’s an ex-teacher and researcher, as well as a fan of bees and Twitter. Stinging remarks shouldn’t be a problem, then.

Croatia’s nominee Dubravka Šuicahas ‘mayor of Dubrovnik’ written on her CV. She’s also a former teacher of German (handy given her new boss), and has worked with EAPM during her more-recent time as an MEP. She’s been handed a vice-president role and the Democracy and Demography portfolio.

As mentioned, Cyprus has nominated Stella Kyriakides, who is described back home as a Mother Theresa figure - in the sense that she aims to help people but is not overly opinionated. In 2018, Stella pushed for a law decriminalizing abortion. 

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, has Věra Jourováset to simply move offices in the Berlaymont in her new role as vice-president. She is currently responsible for justice, consumers and gender equality in the soon-to-depart Commission. Amusingly (or not), her life story has been compared to a “dark version of Borgen”. Yikes!

Denmark is sticking with current Commissioner Margrethe Vestager who failed in her bid for the top job, but should do OK under vdL as an executive vice president and, crucially for us, in charge of co-ordinating the agenda on a Europe fit for the digital age. She’s an ex-cabinet minister and the main inspiration for the above-mentioned TV series Borgen, which we highly recommend (if you don’t mind subtitles).

Estonia’s Kadri Simson is known for being “always prepared” as well as “smiley”. She was brought up in the university town of TartuIn and, once in Tallinn, she led the Centre Party. 

Finland’s nominee Jutta Urpilainen is a former finance minister (named Europe’s ‘fourth best’ in 2012) and onetime-leader of the Social Democrats. She will be Finlands first female commissioner, and probably the first commissioner to have recorded a Christmas album. It was called Christmassy Thoughts and included Jutta’s versions of Winter Wonderland and Jingle Bells.

France, after a little delay, named Marseille’s Sylvie Goulard as its nominee. Briefly a defence minister, the former MEP was in the past part of the French team that negotiated on the reunification of Germany. Good work, Sylvie.

Greece’s nominee Margaritis Schinas was until recently the European Commission’schief spokesperson and has been parachuted straight in as a vice-president. He was an MEP between 2007 and 2009 and is known to dislike being called “a bureaucrat”. Hmm.

Hungary has put MEP László Trócsány iin the Berlaymont mix. He was Hungarys justice minister from 2014-19 and has served as ambassador to Belgium and France. Said to beloyal to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Might be in for a rough ride at the hearings over a role as justice minister back home.

Ireland is sticking with current Commissioner Phil Hogan, who is thought of by the Fine Gael government as a shrewd deal-maker. By no means a fan of Brexit in general, and of Boris Johnson in particular. We’ll ask him his views on Guinness when we get the chance.

Italy has nominated its former prime minister Paolo Gentiloni. He’s also a former journalist, and  ex-minister for foreign affairs and communications. Very elegant, well-mannered and diplomatic. Nicknamed er moviolawhich translates as ‘slow-mover’ in the local Roman dialect.

Latviahas again offered up Valdis Dombrovskis, a former prime minister at home and an ex-lab assistant in Germany in a previous life. He’s a former MEP, too, who currently holds the Commission’s Euro and Social Dialogue brief, as well as being in charge of Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. This time around he’s a Commission executive vice-president.

Lithuania has nominated Virginijus Sinkevičius, who is the youngest at just 28-years-old and has only been in politics since 2016. He is known for keeping a Donald Trump 'Make America Great Again' hat in his office. This should be fun, especially if he meets Mariya Gabriel on Twitter…

Luxembourg has chosen Nicolas Schmit for the Berlaymont. He’s served as labour minister under governments led by both Jean-Claude Juncker and Xavier Bettel. He’s also worked opposite his new boss when von der Leyen held the same job in Germany.

Malta has nominated its first female Commissioner in Helena Dalli. She is, of course, a movie star (Final Justice), ex-Miss Malta winner and former Miss World contestant - all when her surname was Abela. Ms Dalli is also a onetime minister for social dialogue and EU affairs, and introduced the marriage equality bill in Valletta. 

The Netherlands stays loyal to Frans Timmermans, who also missed out on the job of president, but will be an Executive Vice-President in Ushi’s team. He’s an ex-foreign minister who speaks several languages, and is also - like Juncker - the grandson of a coal miner. We hereby not-very-exclusively reveal that is wasn’t the same grandfather.

Poland brings us Janusz Wojciechowski as a late replacement for Krzysztof Szczerski (who withdrew as he didn’t want the agriculture portfolio). He’s a member of the European Court of Auditors, but ironically is currently being accused of irregularities over travel expenses.

Portugal’s (first-ever female) nominee is Elisa Ferreira, who is an economist and deputy governor of the Bank of Portugal. She’s served three terms as an MEP and was chosen as nominee ahead of former Infrastructure Minister Pedro Marques. She’s got the job of leading on Cohesion and Reforms.

Romania has put forward just-elected MEP Rovana Plumb, who apparently is not exactly best friends with current Romanian Commissioner Corina Crețu. Ms Plumb is also Bucharest’s former EU funds minister. 

Slovakia has nominated career diplomat Maroš Šefčovič as its commissioner. Maroš is apparently a big Star Trek fan who once told Politico to “Live long and prosper”. Let’s hope he shows, ahem, enterprise. He’ll have plenty of chance, as he retains a role as vice-president.

Slovenia’s nominee Janez Lenarčič is another career diplomat, who has served as Ljubljana’s ambassador to the OSCE, director of the OSCEs Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and as secretary of Slovenia’s permanent UN mission. He was a right-hand man to ex-Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek.

Spain has put forward Josep Borrell, who some may remember as Spain’s representative in Valery Giscard d’Estang’s ultimately failed Convention on the future of Europe back in 2002, as well as in his job as a former European Parliament president. 

Sweden, meanwhile, gives us Ylva Johansson, who has been minister of employment back at home since 2014. A former maths, physics and chemistry teacher, she has worked as a minister in five different governments under three prime ministers.

And finally…

There is no UK nominee for the Commission, of course, given Brexit. Prime Minister Johnson has been spared the job of finding one, although nobody is quite sure how successful any nominee would have been anyway, given BoJo’s ability to lose MPs, brothers and, now, a Speaker of the House of Commons.

Current incumbent John Bercow is to depart his role either at the next election or on ‘Brexit Day’, 31 October, whichever is soonest. Last week, of course, the PM’s conflicted remain-favouring younger brother Jo Johnson announced he’s to resign as an MP and minister in a bid to, as the joke goes, spend less time with his family.

Order! Orderrrrrr!!!

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Fishing firms could go bust over Brexit, MPs told

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British fishing businesses could go bust or move to Europe because of post-Brexit trading disruption, industry figures have warned, writes the BBC.

MPs were told paperwork due to new border controls had proved a "massive problem" and should be moved online.

They also heard extra costs had made it "impossible" for some firms to trade profitably.

Ministers have promised action on disruption, and £23 million for affected firms.

The UK government has also set up a taskforce aiming to resolve problems faced by the industry in Scotland.

The Commons environment committee heard funding could have to continue, and be widened further, to help the sector weather Brexit-related problems.

Outside the EU's single market, British fish exports to Europe are now subject to new customs and veterinary checks which have caused problems at the border.

Martyn Youell, a manager at south-west England fishing company Waterdance, told MPs the industry was facing more than just "teething problems".

"Whilst some things have settled down, some obvious issues, we feel that we remain with at least 80% of the trading difficulties that have been encountered," he said.

"There are some extreme forces operating on the supply chain, and we probably will see some forced consolidation or business failure."

"The exporters we deal with are seriously considering relocating part of their processing business to the EU because of the difficulties we face".

He said the "largely paper-based" forms they now have to fill in had pushed up costs, and called for the UK to work with the EU in moving them online.

'Lot of anger'

Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said the problems could lead to smaller firms in particular stopping trading with Europe in the medium term.

She said the annual costs of the new paperwork, between £250,000 and £500,000 per year, were too much for them to sustain.

But she said many "can't see where they could turn" at the moment because travel bans and the Covid pandemic have closed off other markets.

She added there was "a lot of anger" about the design of the government's £23m compensation scheme, which links funds to provable losses due to Brexit.

She said it meant many firms which had "worked through the night" to get shipments ready had not been compensated for extra costs.

Shellfish ban

Sarah Horsfall, co-chief executive at the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, also criticised the scheme, noting firms that "made massive efforts" didn't qualify.

She also called for ministers to adopt a different approach to persuade the EU to overturn a ban on British exports of some types of live shellfish.

After leaving the EU single market, these exports from all but the highest-grade fishing grounds have to be purified before they can enter the EU market.

The UK government has accused the EU of reneging on a previous commitment such exports could continue with a special certificate.

Ms Horsfall said there had been the "propensity for a bit of a misunderstanding" among either UK or EU officials about the post-Brexit rules.

She urged a "more nuanced approach" from UK ministers in resolving the matter, noting their "bullish" response "perhaps hasn't helped either".

And she said a more "flexible" regime for determining the quality of British fishing waters could provide help to the industry in the long-term.

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EU auditors highlight risks of Brexit Adjustment Reserve

EU Reporter Correspondent

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In an opinion published today (1 March), the European Court of Auditors (ECA) raises some concerns over the recent proposal for a Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR). This €5 billion fund is a solidarity tool which is intended to support those member states, regions and sectors worst affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. According to the auditors, while the proposal provides flexibility for member states, the design of the reserve creates a number of uncertainties and risks.

The European Commission proposes that 80% of the fund (€4bn) should be granted to member states in the form of pre-financing following the BAR’s adoption. Member states would be allocated their share of pre-financing on the basis of the estimated impact on their economies, taking into account two factors: trade with the UK and fish caught in the UK exclusive economic zone. Applying this allocation method, Ireland would become the main beneficiary of prefinancing, with nearly a quarter (€991 million) of the envelope, followed by the Netherlands (€714m), Germany (€429m), France (€396m) and Belgium (€305m).

“The BAR is an important funding initiative which aims to help mitigate the negative impact of Brexit on the EU member states’ economies,” said Tony Murphy, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the opinion. “We consider that the flexibility provided by the BAR should not create uncertainty for member states.”

Opinion No 1/2021 concerning the proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Brexit Adjustment Reserve

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UK will resist 'dubious' EU pressure on banks, says BoE's Bailey

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Britain will resist “very firmly” any European Union attempts to arm-twist banks into shifting trillions of euros in derivatives clearing from Britain to the bloc after Brexit, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said on Wednesday, write Huw Jones and David Milliken.

Europe’s top banks have been asked by the European Commission to justify why they should not have to shift clearing of euro-denominated derivatives from London to the EU, a document seen by Reuters on Tuesday showed.

Britain’s financial services industry, which contributes over 10% of the country’s taxes, has been largely cut off from the EU since a Brexit transition period ended on Dec. 31 as the sector is not covered by the UK-EU trade deal.

Trading in EU shares and derivatives has already left Britain for the continent.

The EU is now targeting clearing which is dominated by the London Stock Exchange’s LCH arm to reduce the bloc’s reliance on the City of London financial hub, over which EU rules and supervision no longer apply.

“It would be very controversial in my view, because legislating extra-territorially is controversial anyway and obviously of dubious legality, frankly, ...” Bailey told lawmakers in Britain’s parliament on Wednesday.

The European Commission said it had no comment at this stage.

Some 75% of the 83.5 trillion euros ($101 trillion) in clearing positions at LCH are not held by EU counterparties and the EU should not be targeting them, Bailey said.

Clearing is a core part of financial plumbing, ensuring that a stock or bond trade is completed, even if one side of the transaction goes bust.

“I have to say to you quite bluntly that that would be highly controversial and I have to say that that would be something that we would, I think, have to and want to resist very firmly,” he said.

Asked by a lawmaker if he understood concerns among EU policymakers about companies having to go outside the bloc for financial services, Bailey said: “The answer to that is competition not protectionism.”

Brussels has given LCH permission, known as equivalence, to continue clearing euro trades for EU firms until mid-2022, providing time for banks to shift positions from London to the bloc.

The question of equivalence is not about mandating what non-EU market participants must do outside the bloc and the latest efforts by Brussels were about forced relocation of financial activity, Bailey said.

Deutsche Boerse has been offering sweeteners to banks that shift positions from London to its Eurex clearing arm in Frankfurt, but has barely eroded LCH’s market share.

The volume of clearing represented by EU clients at LCH in London would not be very viable on its own inside the bloc as it would mean fragmenting a big pool of derivatives, Bailey said.

“By splitting that pool up the whole process becomes less efficient. To break that down it would increase costs, no question about that,” he said.

Banks have said that by clearing all denominations of derivatives at LCH means they can net across different positions to save on margin, or cash they must post against potential default of trades.

($1 = €0.8253 )

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