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Commission approves €25 million Slovak scheme to support innovative companies with limited access to credit facilities in the context of #Coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €25 million Slovak scheme to support innovative companies with limited access to credit facilities in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support, which will take the form of convertible loans with maturities between 18 to 36 months, will be open to companies with a scalable innovative product or service with potential for significant growth in international markets.

The purpose of the scheme is to help innovative companies access external financing at a time when the normal functioning of credit markets has been severely disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. The Commission found that the Slovakian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

In particular, (i) the amount of aid will not exceed €800,000 per company as provided by the Temporary Framework, and (ii) the aid can be granted until the end of the year. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules.

More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.58054 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Success for 1 Million Genome Stakeholder Co-ordination Framework meeting, Health Union takes shape, second wave hits Italy and Germany

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Welcome, colleagues, to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update, as we assess the success of its recent meeting yesterday (21 October), and how it ties in to the new Commission’s efforts towards “a healthy planet and a new digital world”, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

1 Million Genome

The Beyond 1 Million Genome meeting yesterday (21 October) was very successful, with more than 220 participants, and one of the core aims of the 1 Million Genome Stakeholder Coordination Framework initiative is to support the connection, through stakeholder alignment and implementation, of national genomics and data infrastructures, co-ordinate the harmonization of the ethical and legal framework for sharing data of high privacy sensitivity, and give practical guidance for the pan-European co-ordination of implementing genomic technologies in national and European health-care systems. 

Now, at the close of 2020s, wide-ranging changes are under way in European society and governance, with a European Commission working on an European Health Data governance framework, an European Parliament active on funding allocation for healthcare issue, and a growing conviction among Europe’s policymakers that people must be at the centre of any successful and sustainable strategy to drive forward health care. 

The ambition of new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is a Europe that ‘must lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world’. Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides acknowledges: “European citizens expect the peace of mind that comes with access to health care… and protection against epidemics and diseases.”

This discussion yesterday of personalised healthcare depicts a Europe where many chances for improvement are not yet fully being taken up. But this is not merely a catalogue of deficiencies. The variations and inefficiencies it presents are an argument for triggering radical rethinking, and for making the most of personalised healthcare. It highlights the endorsement of incentives, innovation, and investment by a new breed of Europe’s leaders that stakeholders can support translation through implementation in health-care systems.

Some meeting recommendations

In yesterday’s meeting, it was felt that secure and authorized cross-border access to genomic and other health data in the European Union is necessary to:

  • Improve patient outcomes and ensure sustainability of health and care provision in the EU;

  • learn to identify and treat cancer at a much earlier stage;

  • advance the understanding of genetic associations that cause or predispose common complex diseases;

  • strengthen the effectiveness of prevention by improving the screening accuracy and reducing its costs.

A more detailed report will follow in November. 

European Health Union en route

To fill gaps exposed by COVID-19 and ensure that health systems can face future threats to public health, an ambitious EU health programme is needed, say MEPs, who want to raise the budget for the programme to €9.4 billion, as originally proposed by the Commission, to enhance health promotion and make health systems more resilient across the EU. COVID-19 has shown that the EU is in urgent need of an ambitious EU health programme to ensure that European health systems can face future health threats. 

Gateway’ arrives just in time for second wave

Italy, Germany and Ireland, all of whom are currently suffering from the second wave of coronavirus, became the first countries to join up their local national COVID-19 apps to a European Commission-backed gateway, which will allow national health services to share data between themselves. 

Is coronavirus undermining German democracy? 

A heated debate is under way over who should decide on COVID-19 regulations in Germany. Critics argue that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the state premiers are bypassing parliament in their bid to fight the pandemic. Repeatedly Chancellor Merkel met with all 16 premiers of Germany's powerful federal states to decide on measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic. After the latest one, last week, politicians across the spectrum began complaining that, for months now, such measures were all decided behind closed doors and without due parliamentary debate or consultation. 

Among the most vehement critics of this apparent marginalization of parliament is Florian Post, a member of the Bundestag and legal affairs expert with the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partners in Angela Merkel's coalition government. "For nearly nine months now, regulations have been put in place by local, regional and central authorities which are restricting people's freedoms in a manner unprecedented in post-war Germany," he told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper. "And not even once has an elected parliament been called on to vote on the measures," he complained.

Health passport’ set to fly in

A new digital health passport is to be piloted by a small number of passengers flying from the UK to the US for the first time under plans for a global framework for Covid-safe air travel. The CommonPass system, backed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), is designed to create a common international standard for passengers to demonstrate they do not have coronavirus. However, critics of similar schemes point to concerns over the sensitivity and specificity of the tests in various countries amid fears over greater monitoring over people’s movements.

French run out of flu jabs

The annual flu vaccination campaign in France was only launched last week, yet already pharmacies across the country have sold out of doses. Desperate to avoid hospitals facing the combined pressure of flu patients and Covid-19 patients this winter, the French government launched a greatly expanded flu vaccination programme this year, urging anyone in a risk group to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

But demand has far outstripped what the government anticipated, and just a week after the campaign was launched on 13 October, pharmacies across the country are declaring rupture de stock (sold out) of vaccines. Around 60% of pharmacies are reporting shortages of the flu vaccine. Gilles Bonnefond, president of the pharmacists union l' Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine (USPO) told France Info: "We have already vaccinated nearly five million people in less than five days. "This is almost half of what was done all last year during the entire vaccination campaign."

President Sassoli seeks prolongation of working methods

European Parliament President David Sassoli says the Parliament has “worked to ensure…that it can continue to perform its core functions”, suggesting a possible prolongation of pandemic working methods. “This is a clear example of how Parliament is adapting and fulfilling its role under even the most challenging circumstances,” Sassoli said.

Coronavirus second wave brings EU summit

European Union leaders will hold a video-conference next week to discuss how to better cooperate against the COVID-19 pandemic as infections rise, European Council President Charles Michel said on Wednesday (21 October). 

The video-summit, to be held on 29 October, will be the first of a series of regular discussions that EU leaders have committed to hold to tackle the pandemic at a time when most of the member countries report alarming figures confirming a second wave. “We need to strengthen our collective effort to fight COVID-19,” Michel said on Twitter. 

The discussion, due to start in the late afternoon, will take place a day after the Commission is expected to announce new plans to strengthen coordination among EU states on testing strategies, contact tracing and quarantine length, officials told Reuters. The EU’s 27 nations fought COVID-19 with different, sometimes contrasting measures, in the first months of the pandemic. The tighter co-ordination is expected to prevent a repeat of the divisions seen after the first wave. 

And that is everything from EAPM for now – do stay safe, enjoy the end of your week, and the weekend.

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Coronavirus likely to affect Belgium Poppy Remembrance appeal

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It is feared that the health pandemic could affect this year's Remembrance Sunday commemorations in Belgium. The coronavirus crisis is likely to have a financial impact on the local Poppy Appeal, given that it is feared the public may well be cautious about the risks of touching collection tins and the poppies themselves. 

Even so, the Legion's Brussels branch plans to go ahead with holding a social distanced/masked ceremony at Heverlee Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Leuven on 8 November (11am).

This will be in the presence of British Ambassador Martin Shearman, UK Ambassador to NATO Dame Sarah Macintosh, as well as top brass from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and Belgium.

Belgian rules currently allow for the event to proceed.

The Brussels branch, which celebrates its centenary in 2022, will be represented by Zoe White MBE (pictured), a former major in the British Army and the first female chair in its history.

White joined the international staff at NATO HQ in Brussels as an executive officer in 2017. She said she moved to NATO "to develop my political knowledge of defence and security matters and, most importantly, to continue to serve in an organization whose ethos and values I truly believe in."

She entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2000, after a short stint in her home unit, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. She was commissioned into the Royal Signals and served in the Army for 17 years.

White has considerable operational experience. She deployed to Kosovo on Op Agricola, Iraq on Op Telic (three times), Afghanistan on Op Herrick (three times) and Northern Ireland on Op Banner (for two years).

She specialized in providing lifesaving measures to counter radio controlled explosive devices and was awarded the MBE for her work in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

During her last nine-month operational tour of Afghanistan she was embedded with the US Marine Corps and among other tasks, was responsible for mentoring and training the communications directors across the local uniformed services (Army, Police, Border Patrol) in Helmand - a role, she says, that taught her much about the value of authentic dialogue (and left her with a love of cardamom tea and dates).

Looking back at her military career, she says: "I was privileged to command soldiers who were technical experts and absolute forces of nature. It was a joy to serve with them."

A self-confessed "defence geek", Zoe studied Battlespace Technology at Cranfield University where she expanded her knowledge of heavy armour and "exquisite" weaponry.  She is currently studying for an MBA in her spare time.

Zoe, whose husband David is also a retired Royal Signals officer ,was elected Chair of the Brussels branch of the Royal British Legion in September 2020, succeeding Commodore Darren Bone RN. She is the first female chair of the branch since its launch in 1922.

The Prince of Wales and future King Edward VIII met founding members of the branch in June 1922.

White adds, “I am delighted to take custody of the Branch chair role. It is both a way to meaningfully continue my service to veterans and those still serving, and to continue the tradition of Remembrance in a country where so many made the ultimate sacrifice for the lives we live today.”

Branch website & contact details. 

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Lockdown part two: Resilience is key

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As lockdowns and travel restrictions are reintroduced around the world, it is essential that businesses, governments and charities work in close co-operation to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable. COVID-19 and its consequences will clearly be with us for some time to come, so building our long-term resilience is fundamental. These measures must be formed in a calm, reasoned manner and with the long-term implications in mind, writes Yerkin Tatishev, founding chairman of Kusto Group.

My generation in the former Soviet countries went through a similar experience of massive economic and social shock in the 1990s when the USSR collapsed. Having grown through those difficult years, we perhaps have a better sense of perspective now. We know that in order to survive a crisis and flourish afterwards, patience and a plan for the future is required.

Quick wins are always in demand, often without any real consideration for their long-term impact. One can see this in business and politics across all societies, only exacerbated in times of crisis. Amid the general panic, the idea that “something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it” often takes hold.

At Kusto Group, we already had established a charitable foundation #KustoHelp, which enabled us to deliver $2,4 million of aid to at-risk populations during the pandemic. That we had this structure in place was due to long-term thinking and the recognition that our company has a social responsibility to help those less fortunate.

In business you learn that when you have steady processes already ingrained - you have all systems in place, the right leaders, the right specialists, local competencies - you can adapt far better to a disaster or disruption. If anything, a crisis is a perfect moment to remove all unnecessary procedures, meetings, layers and bottlenecks. In other words, companies that have effective structures in good times, are in a much better position to handle the bad times. In many markets I see divisions of Kusto Group, such as agriculture and construction materials, continue to perform well for this very reason.

The same can be applied to governments and public administration. While no country or company has handled the pandemic perfectly, it has been easy to see that those with good governance have come out much stronger than those without. This learning is a perfect illustration of the need to reform structures if we are to be resilient in the long term.

The World Bank’s chief economist warned two weeks ago that countries would have to take on additional debt to help fight the economic impact of the coronavirus. As undesirable as this normally is for public finances, supporting our industries is an essential investment in the long term. Businesses take years to build up, involving massive investments of time, money and effort. The cost of letting them collapse is far greater than supporting them through the crisis. They also of course have a responsibility to support their workforce, local communities and partners through these difficult times.

Helping businesses survive the crisis is one element, but for the longer term we also have to look at areas that provide future resilience. Education and digitalisation are key to this. Young people and their education are key to a society’s fortunes, but it’s always one of the first places that cutbacks are made when the going gets tough.

With schooling and university now largely being held online, poverty has become a greater predictor than ever of success, as good access to the Internet becomes a necessity. The rapid digitalisation of our economies likewise means that those countries, businesses, and workers with poor connectivity will struggle to keep up. Investment in both these areas will be absolutely essential to a durable recovery. With the Yerzhan Tatishev Foundation, focusing on tech and innovation, and the High Tech Academy I have tried to make my own modest contribution to this effort.

This pandemic is a crisis of a scale not seen in recent memory. Mitigating its impact will require an equally unprecedented level of cooperation between stakeholders across our society. Beyond providing vital support to businesses, we have to look to our long-term resilience and growth, through education and digitalization. This pandemic will be with us for some time now. There will be other crises ahead. Are we ready for them?

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