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Kazakhstan turns to EU countries for economic boost

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Officials in Nur-Sultan see an active dialogue between Kazakhstan and the EU as key to boost trade, economic and investment co-operation.

On Friday, Prime Minister Askar Mamin held an online meeting that brought together government officials from Kazakhstan and heads of diplomatic missions of the EU countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, France and others.

The meeting focused on how to navigate new challenges created by pandemic and prospects for expanding cooperation between Kazakhstan and the EU.

Officials in Nur-Sultan see an active dialogue between Kazakhstan and the EU as key to boost trade, economic and investment cooperation. Agri-business, manufacturing, transport, energy, infrastructure and construction were identified as priority sectors of mutual interest where new partnerships can be built. In addition, the sides agreed to further cooperate in such realms as healthcare, green economy and climate change.

Relations between Kazakhstan and the European Union run deep and are represented in the document known as the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, which went into effect this March. The document covers 29 areas of activity, including trade, investment, innovation and infrastructure development.

The EU sees Central Asia’s largest economy as a potential market for its exports of heavy machinery and transportation equipment, as well as manufacturing and chemical products. For its part, Kazakhstan has supplied the EU with non-renewable energy resources, as its economy is still dominated by oil and natural gas.

The EU currently accounts for more than half of foreign direct investments in Kazakhstan, with more than $150 billion invested since 2005. In addition, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has allocated nearly $9.5bn to 277 projects implemented just in Kazakhstan. Trade between Kazakhstan and the EU was worth over $15.5bn over the past eight months.

Meanwhile, the ongoing pandemic has severely affected what is considered Central Asia’s wealthiest economy.

The country of almost 19 million people, Kazakhstan has reported more than 110,684 cases of infections with 1,796 deaths since March. The country’s lockdown began on March 16 and was subsequently extended several times. Harsh restrictions imposed by the government to curb coronavirus outbreak halted most economic activities in Kazakhstan, causing many people to lose their jobs.

Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product decreased by 3% over the past eight months, according to the country’s national economy ministry. Output in the services sector fell 6.1%, after the government ordered to shut down most public places, including beauty shops, hairdressers, gyms and fitness clubs, food and non-food covered markets, cinemas and beaches. According to a survey conducted by the country’s National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, restrictions imposed by the authorities affected 800,000 or more than 60% of small and medium businesses in Kazakhstan. Some 30% of respondents said they were ready to reduce and optimize their staff which means half of the employees will be laid off, while the other half will be forced to take unpaid leave.

Meanwhile, other industries — such as construction, agriculture, manufacturing and industrial production showed insignificant growth.

The government of Kazakhstan has been working to mitigate the economic fallout. The Strategic Development Plan of Kazakhstan approved back in 2018 is now seen as a tool to ensure the further development of the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and global financial crisis. The initiative provides for measures to build up export-oriented industries with high added value in the manufacturing industry and agriculture. In addition, the document focuses on how to accelerate digitalization, strengthen the healthcare system, improve the quality and availability of infrastructure through 2025.

“If we talk about the role of the government, then, of course, Kazakhstan has done a lot,” Eric Livny regional economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), told Interfax Kazakhstan.

“The volume of fiscal measures, estimated in monetary terms, exceeds 8% of GDP. If you examine all the countries where the EBRD operates, Kazakhstan is in one of the leading positions [according to this indicator] and only the EU countries are ahead of it. In addition, the country’s debt to GDP is insignificant,” he added.

According to a report issued by EBRD in early September, Kazakhstan’s real GDP is expected to contract by 4 percent in 2020 before growing by 3 percent in 2021, “supported by recovery of private consumption and higher oil prices.”

EU

Proposed France security bill leads to protests over press freedom

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Thousands of French people took to the streets on Saturday (21 November) to protest pending legislation that aims at protecting police officers and increasing public surveillance, writes .

The legislation, dubbed the 'Global Security Act', is a comprehensive security law that is supported by MPs from the governing party. The draft contains numerous stringent provisions, amongst which Article 24 has become the chief cause of protests. It would apply to civilians and journalists alike and would make it a crime to show images of an officer’s face unless it has been blurred. Publication on social media or elsewhere with the intent of undermining an officer’s “physical or psychological integrity” could be punished by a year in prison or fines of up to €45,000 (USD $53,000). Other concerning provisions of the draft bill include Article 21 and Article 22, which aim to increase surveillance by utilizing drones and pedestrian cameras.

According to the government, the law is intended to protect police officers from online calls for violence. However, the critics of the law fear that it would lead to endangering journalists and other observers who record police at their work. This becomes critically important during violent protests. It also remains to be seen how courts would determine whether images or videos were actually posted with intent to harm the police. The protest was encouraged by organizations like Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International France, the Human Rights League, journalists’ unions and other civil society groups.

Amnesty International France has said: "We believe that this proposed law would lead France to be out of line with its international human rights commitments. We alert parliamentarians to the serious risks of such a proposal for the right to freedom of expression and call on them to mobilise in the context of the parliamentary review to delete Article 24 of the proposal."

Lawmakers in the National Assembly are scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday, after which it will go to the Senate.

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EAPM: Keeping tabs on lung cancer and Commission pharma strategy

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Good day, and welcome, health colleagues, to the first European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of the week. We have more news on the upcoming EAPM round table on lung cancer, as well as all the usual health-care updates, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Lung-cancer screening and European Beating Cancer Plan

Yes, we are all aware that by far the best way to reduce numbers of lung cancer patients is to persuade smokers to stop. Although not all sufferers are, or have ever been, smokers. High-risk groups exist, of course, and early diagnosis is vital. Currently, five-year survival rates stand at a mere 13% in Europe and 16% over in America. This will be discussed in our upcoming event on 10 December. 

It is the most commonly found cancer in men and lung cancer in women is being represented by a “worrying rise” according to the World Health Organization.  Some one billion people on the planet are regular smokers. And figures show that lung cancer causes almost 1.6 million deaths each year worldwide, representing almost one-fifth of all cancer deaths. 

The European Respiratory Society and the European Society of Radiology (also a supporter of the event, as is the European Cancer Patient Coalition - ECPC), the societies have recommended screening for lung cancer under the following circumstances: “In comprehensive, quality-assured, longitudinal programmes within a clinical trial or in routine clinical practice at certified multidisciplinary medical centres.”

NELSON and victory?

The NELSON study into computed tomography (CT) screening of lung cancer showed that such screening reduces lung cancer deaths by 26% in high-risk asymptomatic men.  The findings also indicated that, with screening, the results could be even better in women.

For screening to be cost effective, it has to be applied to the population at risk. For lung cancer, this is not simply based on age and sex, as it is in the majority of breast or colon cancer screening. Europe needs to involve all key groups in developing recommendations and guidelines for implementation, adapted according to the healthcare landscape of individual countries. 

Various member states have already shown a willingness to move forward in lung-cancer screening, and several countries representatives will take part in the event.

The Alliance and its stakeholders realize that, among other elements, what is required in Europe is: continuous screening monitoring, with regular reports; assured consistency and enhanced quality of commented data for the screening reports; reference standards for quality and process indicators should be developed and adopted. 

All of the above will be discussed at the lung-cancer screening event, and it is envisaged that a coordinated plan will emerge, which will make its way to Commission and Parliament policymakers and member state health system chiefs.

You can check out the agenda of the 10 December conference here, and register here.

EU Pharma strategy on the horizon 

Affordability, availability and sustainability are the main focus points of the EU’s new pharmaceutical strategy, due to be published tomorrow (25 November). Coming in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU’s pharmaceutical strategy aims to “future-proof” the European health-care sector. The new strategy, set to be unveiled on Wednesday, is designed to improve and accelerate patients’ access to safe and affordable medicines while also supporting innovation in the EU pharmaceutical industry. 

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has previously described the strategy as a “cornerstone” of health policy over the next five years. It is considered a key pillar of the Commission’s vision to build a stronger health union, as President von der Leyen set out in her 2020 State of the Union speech. It will also inform the newly proposed EU4Health Programme and align with the Horizon Europe programme for research and innovation, as well as contribute to Europe’s Beating Cancer plan. 

And the European Commission has unveiled the first building blocks of a broader health package aimed at increasing the range of preparedness tools to respond to future cross-border health threats. Patient-oriented approach A first part of the strategy underlines that “research priorities should be aligned to the needs of patients and health systems.” 

Therefore, the whole EU system of pharmaceutical incentives should be reoriented to stimulate innovation in areas of unmet medical needs, such as neurodegenerative and rare diseases as well as pediatric cancer. An example of unmet medical needs mentioned in the document is antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which decreases a doctor's ability to treat infectious diseases and perform routine surgery. By 2022, the Commission will explore new types of incentives for innovative antimicrobials, as well as measures to restrict and optimise the use of antimicrobial medicines.

COVID 'mabs'

The US drug regulatory agency, FDA (Food and Drug Administration), has just issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the treatment of mild to moderate intensity COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients who they have not been hospitalized. The therapy, still under investigation, is based on monoclonal antibodies and goes by the name of bamlanivimab. This therapeutic agent, developed by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, is a monoclonal antibody (mab) similar to those that were part of the cocktail of drugs for COVID-19 that was administered to Donald Trump. 

Beginning EU Health Union

The European Commission is beginning the building of the new European Health Union to help strengthen the EU’s health security framework, and to reinforce the crisis preparedness and response role of key EU agencies. The creation of the European Health Union was announced by the European Commission‘s President, Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the Union address. The Commission is putting forward a set of proposals to reinforce Europe’s health framework as more co-ordination is needed at an EU level in order to step up the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies. 

Protecting the health of European citizens

The proposals focus on revamping the existing legal framework for serious cross-border threats to health, as well as reinforcing the crisis preparedness and response role of key EU agencies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen stated: “Our aim is to protect the health of all European citizens. 

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for more coordination in the EU, more resilient health systems, and better preparation for future crises. We are changing the way we address cross-border health threats. Today, we start building a European Health Union, to protect citizens with high quality care in a crisis and equip the Union and its member states to prevent and manage health emergencies that affect the whole of Europe.” 

Von der Leyen urges gradual lifting of coronavirus lockdowns

European governments should lift coronavirus lockdowns and other social restrictions gradually to prevent a third wave of infections, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Europe has been grappling with a second surge in Covid-19 infections since September which has led to the re-introduction of lockdowns in certain countries and an overall stepping up of restrictions across the region. 

Despite a slowdown in cases in some countries in recent days, the numbers are still high and are not yet showing clear signs of a cresting. In the meantime, Europeans are pondering whether they’ll be able to gather with their families over the holiday period.

Vaccine hope

News that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is effective and could have up to 90% efficacy was met with widespread joy on Monday (23 November). “We expect COVID-19 vaccines to develop into a significant market as new products gain approval and begin to meet the high demand for protection from the disease,” according to a brief analysis by Fitch Solutions. It notes that with more products looking likely to pass regulatory hurdles, “these products will help to develop COVID-19 vaccines into a multi-billion-dollar commercial opportunity”. 

Prices are expected to rise in the short-term as countries look to secure access in light of positive Phase 3 trial results, but over the long-term are expected to fall back as new products enter the market,” the briefing added. “Companies will soon be in a position to capitalize on success in Phase III trials through commanding high prices for vaccines,” the analysis states.

Extra plenary session between Christmas and New Year’s Eve

The European Parliament is preparing for an extra plenary session between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to give its consent to a possible post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, according to several EU officials and diplomats. It is likely to be held on 28 December, to give EU governments the opportunity to have the very last say, as foreseen by the bloc’s procedures, before the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period on 31 December.

Private Greek hospitals compelled to take COVID-19 patients

The Greek government took over two private hospitals in Thessaloniki on 19 November in which transmission of the coronavirus has been particularly widespread. The decision was reached after the private clinics failed to voluntarily provide 200 beds for COVID-19 patients despite appeals by the Health Ministry. Public hospitals in Thessaloniki and other parts of northern Greece have been struggling to cope with the influx of coronavirus patients, adding beds from other wards and setting up isolation tents after reaching their official capacities. .

And that is everything from EAPM for now, do stay tuned during the week for further updates on all health-related issues, stay safe, and remember to check out the agenda of EAPM’s 10 December lung cancer round table here, and register here.

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Trial of ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy begins

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Nicolas Sarkozy has been under investigation for years He was nicknamed the "bling-bling" president for what many in France saw as his lavish tastes - but now Nicolas Sarkozy (pictured) faces the stark reality of a soulless courtroom. He has gone on trial accused of corruption and influence-peddling, for allegedly trying to bribe a magistrate in return for information about an investigation into his party finances.

Sarkozy is the first ex-president in modern France to appear in the dock. He led France from 2007 to 2012. His first court appearance was brief, however. The session was suspended after 30 minutes - until Thursday - because a key figure in the case, former senior judge Gilbert Azibert, is required to have a medical examination. He is 73 and did not appear in the dock with his co-accused - Sarkozy, 65, and the ex-president's former lawyer Thierry Herzog. There is a question mark over the court proceedings because of the general coronavirus disruption. The trial is set to run until 10 December.

If found guilty, Sarkozy could face a 10-year prison sentence and €1m (£889,000) fine. Another former right-wing president, Jacques Chirac, was given a two-year suspended prison sentence in 2011 for diverting public funds and abusing public trust. The offences dated back to his time as mayor of Paris. But he did not appear in court, owing to ill health. He denied wrongdoing. French magistrates have spent years investigating allegations of corruption dating back to Sarkozy's election campaigns and period in office.

This case is linked to a long-running investigation into the right-wing politician's suspected use of secret donations to fund his 2007 presidential campaign. The prosecution alleges that Sarkozy and lawyer Thierry Herzog sought to bribe Gilbert Azibert with a prestigious job in Monaco in return for information about that investigation.

It is known as the "wiretapping case" in France, because phone calls between Sarkozy and Herzog were tapped in 2013-2014, in which Sarkozy used the alias "Paul Bismuth" and they discussed Judge Azibert. French media report that Sarkozy was heard telling Herzog "I'll get him promoted, I'll help him."

Sarkozy denies any wrongdoing - and he points out that Judge Azibert did not get the Monaco position. "Gilbert Azibert got nothing, I made no approach [on his behalf] and I've been rejected by the Court of Cassation," Sarkozy said in 2014, referring to his battle to clear his name. In October 2013 magistrates dropped him from their investigation into claims that he had accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

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