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Commission approves €160 million Dutch scheme to compensate companies that offer special transport services which suffered due to #Coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved under EU state aid rules a €160 million Dutch scheme to compensate companies offering special transport services for specific groups such as children and elderly persons who are not able to take regular public transport to go to school or to certain social activities. In the Netherlands these special transport services have been severely affected by the government's coronavirus related measures such as the closure of schools, social distancing rules and restrictions on larger gatherings.

Because of the government measures, companies offering special transport services faced and continue to face a huge decline in revenue, whilst continuing to incur costs such as wages, lease commitments for vehicles, commitments to banks and overhead costs. Under the scheme, the transport companies will be entitled to compensation in the form of direct grants for a maximum of 80% of the revenues lost due to cancellations.

The compensation can be granted until 31 December 2020 for damages suffered between 15 March and 30 June 2020. The Netherlands will ensure that no individual transport operator receives more in compensation than it suffered in damages, and no operator will be allowed to earn a profit due to the compensation granted under the scheme.

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The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with the conditions under Article 107(2)(b)  of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damages directly caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak. The Commission found that the Dutch aid scheme will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU state aid rules. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.57554 in the state aid case register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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EU response lessens COVID-19 economic blow

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Had the EU institutions not intervened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bloc’s economy would have seen much worse, says the World Bank report, writes Cristian Gherasim.

The report titled Inclusive growth at crossroads pointed to the governments of member states as much as to the EU institutions stepping in to dampen the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the very poor. The economic response meant that the most serious effects of the pandemic on employment and income were avoided.

According to the World Bank document, the pandemic exposed and increased deep inequalities, halting progress in multiple areas, including gender equality and revenue convergence in all EU member states. Today, it is estimated that between three and five million people in the EU are "at risk of poverty" on the basis of national value thresholds compared to pre-crisis levels.

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“A green, digital and inclusive transition is possible if economic policy is increasingly geared towards reforms and investment in education, health and sustainable infrastructure,” said Gallina A. Vincelette, director for the European Union Countries at the World Bank.

The report shows that some of the economic support systems in place can help with ongoing reforms happening across the European Union. There is also need for a continued approach with government support schemes and vaccination key to the strengthening of companies, employees and households.

As we seen across Europe, given the fact that the pandemic isn’t over, governments respond to the prolonged crisis by continuing to offer state aid even throughout 2021.

Yet, regardless of the response, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered EU's strongest peace recession since World War II, with an economic contraction of 6,1% in 2020.

The World Bank report calls for governments to make sure that sound and well-thought policies are in place as well as active labor market policies to support an inclusive recovery. The report stresses that special attention should be given to vulnerable pre-pandemic workers, such as young people, and the self-employed. These groups are more vulnerable to adjustments in employment in times of crisis and may face longer periods of unemployment or periods when they are out of work and lacking a source of income.

A particular attention in the report is given to women who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The report found that at least one in five women will have difficulty returning to work, compared to one in ten men.

The hardest hit areas of the EU by the pandemic’s economic fallout have been the emerging economies. In the case of Romania, the World Bank report shows that the number of people at risk of poverty increased significantly at the beginning of the pandemic, as a result of the substantial decrease in incomes in the first wave of the pandemic.

In emerging economies, despite rapid introduction of government support measures combined with job adjustment policies contributing to moderating poverty levels, the poverty rates are still expected to remain above pre-crisis levels.

The World Bank's Global Economic Outlook report suggests that we will have strong but uneven growth in 2021. The global economy will grow by 5.6% - the strongest post-recession rate in 80 years. The outcome largely reflects a strong recovery in some large economies, yet sluggish in others.

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EU health body warns against visiting popular Greek islands over COVID-19

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People stand on Elli Beach, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi/File Photo

Greece's south Aegean islands were marked 'dark red' on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's COVID-19 map on Thursday (29 July) after a rise in infections, meaning all but essential travel to and from the region is discouraged, writes Karolina Tagaris, Reuters.

The cluster of 13 islands includes Greece's most popular destinations for foreign tourists - Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes - which, combined, draw millions of people every summer.

Greece had relied on promoting "COVID-free" islands to draw visitors back this summer, hoping a rebound in international travel would resuscitate its vital tourism industry after its worst year in decades in 2020. Despite a strong June in terms of arrivals, uncertainty remains over how the season will unfold. Read more.

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"We're waiting to see how the (tourist) markets will react," said Manolis Markopoulos, president of the hoteliers association of Rhodes, where more than 90% of tourists are from abroad, referring to the ECDC decision. The ECDC is an agency of the European Union

Germany and Britain are the biggest sources of visitors to Greece.

The dark red zones on the ECDC map help distinguish very high-risk areas and also helps EU member states uphold rules requiring testing on departure and quarantine upon return.

Last week it downgraded Crete, Greece's biggest island and another popular destination, to the dark red zone.

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France calls UK quarantine rules discriminatory and excessive

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A passenger looks at a departures board with cancelled flights from Paris to London and Bristol at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy near Paris, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

England's decision to keep quarantine measures for travellers coming from France and not for those coming from other European Union countries is discriminatory and not based on science, a French minister said on Thursday (29 July), writes Michel Rose, Reuters.

England said on Thursday it would allow fully vaccinated visitors from the EU and United States to arrive without needing to quarantine from next week, but that it would review rules for travellers from France only at the end of next week. Read more.

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"It's excessive, and it's frankly incomprehensible on health grounds ... It's not based on science and discriminatory towards the French," French Europe Minister Clement Beaune said on LCI TV. "I hope it will be reviewed as soon as possible, it's just common sense."

Beaune said France was not planning tit-for-tat measures "for now".

The British government has said it is keeping quarantine rules for travellers from France because of the presence of the Beta variant there, but French officials say the bulk of cases comes from the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean.

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