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Commission President urges trans-Atlantic cooperation

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The President of the European Commission has urged greater trans-Atlantic cooperation to address global issues - but that Europe should take the leader. Ursula von der Leyen was addressing the Rīga Conference, a unique annual venue for dialogue on international security issues between leading global decision makers. She told delegates to this year's virtual conference that there is much that can be done if countries work together...

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Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Considering socio-economic interests in all segments of society is essential for sustainable peace

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The First Deputy Director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Akramjon Nematov commented on the initiatives of Uzbekistan in the Afghan direction put forward at the meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) held on September 16-17.

Nowadays, one of the key issues on the international agenda is the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power. And it is quite natural that it became the central topic of the SCO heads of state summit held on September 17, 2021 in Dushanbe. Most of SCO states share a common border with Afghanistan and directly feel the negative consequences of the unfolding crisis. Achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan is one of the main security goals in the SCO region, writes Akramjon Nematov, First Deputy Director of the ISRS.

The seriousness of this issue and the high degree of responsibility with which states treat its solution is evidenced by the discussion of Afghan issue in the SCO-CSTO format. At the same time, the main goal of the multilateral negotiations was to find agreed approaches to the situation in Afghanistan.

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President of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoyev presented his vision of the ongoing processes in Afghanistan, outlined the challenges and threats associated with them, and also proposed a number of basic approaches to building cooperation in the Afghan direction.

In particular, Sh. Mirziyoyev stated that today a completely new reality has developed in Afghanistan. New forces as the Taliban movement have come to power. At the same time, he emphasized that the new authorities still have to go through a difficult way from consolidating society to forming a capable government. Today, there are still risks of Afghanistan returning to the situation of the 90s, when the country was engulfed in a civil war and a humanitarian crisis, and its territory turned into a hub of international terrorism and drug production.

At the same time, the head of state stressed that Uzbekistan, as the closest neighbor, which directly faced threats and challenges in those years, is clearly aware of all the possible negative consequences of the situation development in Afghanistan under a worst case scenario.

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In this regard, Sh.Mirziyoyev called on the SCO countries to unite their efforts to prevent a protracted crisis in Afghanistan and related challenges and threats to the Organization's countries.

To this end, it was proposed to establish effective cooperation on Afghanistan, as well as to conduct a coordinated dialogue with the new authorities, carried out proportionately in compliance with their obligations.

First, the Uzbek leader stressed the importance of achieving broad political representation of all segments of Afghan society in state administration, as well as ensuring respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms, especially those of women and national minorities.

As the President of Uzbekistan noted, the prospects for stabilizing the situation, restoring the Afghan statehood and, in general, the development of cooperation between the international community and Afghanistan depend on this.

It should be noted that Tashkent has always adhered to a principled position on the need to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the neighboring country. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. It is important to conduct a political dialogue with an inclusive negotiation process that takes into account exclusively the will of all Afghan people and the diversity of Afghan society.

Today, the population of Afghanistan is 38 million people, while more than 50% of it constitute ethnic minorities – Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras. Shiite Muslims are 10 to 15% of the population and there are also representatives of other faiths. In addition, the role of women in the socio-political processes of Afghanistan has significantly increased in recent years. According to the World Bank, the number of women in the population of Afghanistan is 48% or about 18 million. Until recently, they occupied high government posts, served as ministers, worked in education and healthcare, actively participated in the socio-political life of the country as parliamentarians, human rights defenders, and journalists.

In this regard, only the formation of a representative government, the balance of the interests of ethno political groups, and the comprehensive consideration of socio-economic interests of all segments of society in public administration are the most important conditions for sustainable and lasting peace in Afghanistan. Moreover, the effective use of the potential of all social, political, ethnic and religious groups can make a significant contribution to the restoration of the Afghan statehood and economy, the return of the country to the path of peace and prosperity.

Second, the authorities should prevent the use of the country's territory for subversive actions against neighboring states, exclude patronage of international terrorist organizations. It was emphasized that countering the possible growth of extremism and the export of radical ideology, stopping the penetration of militants across borders and their transfer from hot spots should become one of the key tasks of the SCO.

Over the past 40 years, the war and instability in Afghanistan have turned this country into a haven for various terrorist groups. According to the UN Security Council, 22 out of 28 international terrorist groups, including IS and Al-Qaeda, are currently operating in the country. Their ranks also include immigrants from Central Asia, China and the CIS countries. Until now, joint efforts have been able to effectively stop terrorist and extremist threats emanating from the territory of Afghanistan, and prevent them from spilling over into the space of the Central Asian countries.

At the same time, a protracted power and political crisis caused by the complex process of forming a legitimate and capable government may cause a security vacuum in Afghanistan. It can lead to the activation of terrorist and extremist groups, increase the risks of transferring their actions to neighboring countries.

Moreover, the humanitarian crisis that Afghanistan is facing today is delaying the prospects for stabilizing the situation in the country. On September 13, 2021, the UN Secretary-General A. Guterres warned that in the near future Afghanistan may face a catastrophe, since almost half of the Afghan population or 18 million people live in a state of food crisis and emergency. According to the UN, more than half of Afghan children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, and a third of citizens from lack of nutrition.

In addition, Afghanistan is facing another severe drought – the second in four years, which continues to have a serious negative impact on agriculture and food production. This industry provides 23% of the country's GDP and 43% of the Afghan population with jobs and livelihoods. Currently, 22 out of 34 Afghan provinces have been seriously affected by the drought, 40% of all crops were lost this year.

Moreover, the situation is aggravated by the growing poverty of the population of Afghanistan. According to the UN Development Program, by now the share of poverty among the population is 72% (27.3 million people out of 38 million), by the middle of 2022 it may reach 97%.

It is obvious that Afghanistan itself will not be able to cope with such complex problems. Furthermore, 75% of the state budget ($11 billion) and 43% of the economy have so far been covered by international donations.

Already today, high dependence on imports (imports – $ 5.8 billion, exports – $ 777 million), as well as freezing and restricting access to gold and foreign exchange reserves, have significantly spurred inflation and price growth.

Experts predict that the difficult socio-economic situation, coupled with the deterioration of the military-political situation, may lead to flows of refugees from Afghanistan. According to UN estimates, by the end of 2021, their number may reach 515,000. At the same time, the main recipients of Afghan refugees will be neighboring SCO member countries.

In the light of this, the President of Uzbekistan highlighted the importance of preventing the isolation of Afghanistan and its transformation into the "rogue state". In this regard, it was proposed to unfreeze the assets of Afghanistan in foreign banks in order to prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis and influx of refugees, as well as to continue to assist Kabul in economic recovery and solving social problems. Otherwise, the country will not be able to get out of the clutches of the illegal economy. It will face the expansion of drug trafficking, weapons and other forms of transnational organized crime. It is obvious that all the negative consequences of this will be first felt by neighboring countries.

In this regard, the President of Uzbekistan called for the consolidation of the efforts of the international community to resolve the situation in Afghanistan as soon as possible and proposed to hold a high-level meeting in the SCO-Afghanistan format in Tashkent with the involvement of observer states and dialogue partners.

Undoubtedly, the SCO can make an important contribution to stabilizing the situation and ensuring sustainable economic growth in Afghanistan. Today, all of Afghanistan's neighbors are either members or observers of the SCO and they are interested in ensuring that the country does not become a source of threats to regional security again. The SCO member states are among the main trading partners of Afghanistan. The volume of trade with them is almost 80% of the trade turnover of Afghanistan ($11 billion). Moreover, the SCO member states cover more than 80% of Afghanistan’s electricity needs and more than 20% of wheat and flour needs.

The involvement of dialogue partners in the process of resolving the situation in Afghanistan, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Cambodia, Nepal, and now also Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, will allow us to develop common approaches and establish closer coordination of efforts in ensuring security, economic recovery and solving the most significant socio-economic problems of Afghanistan.

In general, the SCO states can play a key role in the post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan, promote its transformation into a responsible subject of international relations. In order to do this, the SCO countries need to coordinate efforts to establish long-term peace and integrate Afghanistan into regional and global economic ties. Ultimately, this will lead to the establishment of Afghanistan as a peaceful, stable and prosperous country, free from terrorism, war and drugs, and to ensuring security and economic well-being throughout the SCO space.

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European Commission

EU pulls plug on cable clutter

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IMCO, Statement by Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee Chair, Anna Cavazzini (Greens/EFA, DE), on the common charger proposal presented today by the Commission: “Over the past decade, the European Parliament has pushed for the Commission to table a proposal for a common charger with a view to tackle e-waste, make life easier for consumers and empower them to make sustainable choices.

"This initiative includes many elements that are important to our committee, such as the harmonisation of the charging point enabling the smooth functioning of the internal market, a high level of consumer protection and reducing electronic waste.

"We must finally get rid of the cable clutter in our drawers; we had enough of having the wrong charging cable in our backpack for the device we are carrying. Uniform charging cables will help consumers to save money and save the planet’s resources.

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"Electrical and electronic equipment continues to be one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU. It is particularly important that the proposed rules apply not only to smartphones but also to tablets and other mobile devices, as requested by Parliament. Rapid technological developments must be taken into account, especially since the Commission has already wasted so much time.

"Parliament will now be working on this legislative proposal. We will do our utmost to ensure smooth cooperation with the Commission and the Council to reach an agreement that will benefit European consumers as well as the industry, with the objectives of the European Green Deal at its core.”

“We have all been in situations in our life when, for example on a train, my smartphone’s battery is empty so my neighbour would like to lend me a charger from their device. But it doesn’t work as it has a different connector,” said the EPP Group’s Róża Thun MEP, who proposed the European Parliament’s Resolution on the matter last year.

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“We need a solution to the drawers full of useless chargers. An average EU citizen produces approximately 16kg of e-waste per year. By introducing one charger for all small and medium-sized electronic devices, we can try to solve this dramatic situation”, stressed Thun. “There is a big benefit for European consumers with this new law, who would not then be obliged to buy a new charger every time they buy a new device.”

Background

The European Parliament and its Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) have been insisting on a common charger solution for years, continuously asking the Commission to act upon it through own-initiative reports, resolutions, and questions addressed to the Commissioners.

In 2014, Parliament strongly advocated for a common charger for all mobile phones during the negotiations of the Radio Equipment Directive (RED).

Since then, several other Parliament initiatives have directly or indirectly asked for mobile phone chargers to be standardised, such as a resolution adopted on 30 January 2020 calling on the Commission to introduce a standard for a common charger “as a matter of urgency”.

Moreover, in a recent resolution from 10 February 2021 on the new circular economy action plan, MEPs called on the Commission to introduce urgently a common charger for smartphones and similar devices to best ensure standardised, compatible and interoperable charging options and asked the Commission to prepare a decoupling strategy for chargers and harmonized labelling.

Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the internal market, said: “Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices. With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary. We are putting an end to that. With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics – an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste.”

Today (23 September), the Commission is proposing:

  • A harmonised charging port for electronic devices: USB-C will be the common port. This will allow consumers to charge their devices with the same USB-C charger, regardless of the device brand.
  • Harmonised fast charging technology will help prevent that different producers unjustifiably limit the charging speed and will help to ensure that charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device.
  • Unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device: consumers will be able to purchase a new electronic device without a new charger. This will limit the number of unwanted chargers purchased or left unused. Reducing production and disposal of new chargers is estimated to reduce the amount of electronic waste by almost a thousand tonnes' yearly.
  • Improved information for consumers: producers will need to provide relevant information about charging performance, including information on the power required by the device and if it supports fast charging. This will make it easier for consumers to see if their existing chargers meet the requirements of their new device or help them to select a compatible charger. Combined with the other measures, this would help consumers limit the number of new chargers purchased and help them save €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases.

The EU's common charger will be applicable to the following devices: Mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, headsets, portable speakers, and handheld videogame consoles.

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European Alliance for Personalised Medicine

HERA and Digital Markets Act point way forward for EU health

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Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – EAPM held a very succesful conference concerning cancer on 18 September last week, ‘The need for change: Defining the health-care ecosystem to determine value’, with more than 167 delegates in attendance, and a report will be issued next week, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

HERA or HERO!

The EU has created a crisis health authority to deal with future pandemics across the continent. The new Health Emergency preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) is designed to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to health emergencies. According to the Commission: “HERA will anticipate threats and potential health crises, through intelligence gathering and building the necessary response capacities. 

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When an emergency hits, HERA will ensure the development, production and distribution of medicines, vaccines and other medical countermeasures – such as gloves and masks – that were often lacking during the first phase of the coronavirus response.”

 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “HERA is another building block of a stronger Health Union and a major step forward for our crisis preparedness. With HERA, we will make sure we have the medical equipment we need to protect our citizens from future health threats. 

HERA will be able to make swift decisions to safeguard supplies. This is what I promised back in 2020, and this is what we deliver.” HERA activities will rely on a budget of €6 billion from the current Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2022-2027, part of which will come from the NextGenerationEU top-up.

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EU innovation fragmentation

EU security research is one of the building blocks of the Security Union. It enables innovation in technologies and knowledge that is crucial for developing capabilities to address today's security challenges, to anticipating tomorrow's threats and contributing to a more competitive European security industry. 

The Commission has decided to initiate a series of actions which will enhance the competitiveness of the European security industry and contribute to meeting the aims of the European security policy. In terms of overcoming the fragmentation of the EU security markets for security technologies, without the involvement, commitment and investment of the EU’s security technology and industrial base, innovative solutions would remain trapped in endless cycles of research and would never be deployed on the field.

Therefore, the consolidation of a single EU security market that increases the competitiveness of the industrial base is a primary objective. This consolidation would not only guarantee the security of supply for strategic technologies, but also safeguard, when required, the strategic autonomy of the EU for technologies, services and systems that are critical to ensuring the protection of EU citizens.

Cancer patients ‘protected by coronavirus vaccines’

Vaccinations against COVID are as effective and safe for people with cancer as for those without cancer, new studies suggest. Cancer patients have an “appropriate, protective immune response” to the jabs without “any more side-effects than the general population,” according to the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO). 

The researchers said that the studies show there is a need to promote vaccination in patients with cancer. The studies were carried out because people with cancer were excluded from vaccine clinical trials, due to their weaker immune systems as a result of undergoing anti-cancer treatments. Scientists said that a “multitude of studies” with similar conclusions will be presented today (21 September) at the annual ESMO Congress. 

An analysis of 3,813 participants with a history of past or active cancer in a randomised controlled trial of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine shows that the most common side-effects of vaccination were as mild – and occurred at a similar frequency – as within the overall trial population of more than 44,000 people.

Making the Digital Markets Act Fit for the Digital Age 

EU lawmakers are drafting a raft of important new regulations which will impact Europe’s digitising economy for decades to come. One of these proposals is the Digital Markets Act (DMA), expected to be adopted in the next term. 

Thousands of amendments were proposed to this regulation before the summer, many of which have been the result of MEPs trying to outdo each other on how tough they can be on ‘Big Tech’. But after the initial posturing, the hard work now starts on drafting legislation that actually works in practise: a DMA that supports the EU’s ambitions to be fit for the digital age. For Brussels to set the pace for tech regulation around the world will require a cool head, and a thoughtful approach. To be fit for the digital age, the DMA needs to be as dynamic and flexible as the sector it will regulate.

Parliament backs plan to phase out animal testing

On Wednesday (22 September), the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution that calls on the European Commission to draw-up an action plan to phase out animal experiments. This is a momentous political victory in a region where recent setbacks have occurred for animals in laboratories. 

Top on the list of setbacks is the revelation that the European Chemical Agency has disregarded the longstanding ban on animal testing for cosmetics by demanding additional animal data for dozens of cosmetic ingredients, which has already killed an estimated 25,000 animals. Humane Society International’s stop-motion short film Save Ralph has helped raise awareness on the fact that the public has been misled about the EU’s cosmetics ban. 

Many more animals may die in painful toxicity tests if the European Commission implements its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment, which as proposed would further cement the EU’s “tick-box” approach to chemical hazard assessment based predominantly on animal testing. 

The Parliament’s resolution correctly points out that non-animal approaches based on human biology are the key to better assess chemical safety. That is one of the reasons why, in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has committed to phase-out its animal tests requirements by 2035, and the Humane Cosmetics Act is gathering steam in Congress. 

The resolution in favor of an action plan to phase out animal testing was championed by HSI/Europe and other animal protection groups, leading European scientists and companies. The overwhelming cross-party support shown by Members of the European Parliament reflects the growing dismay felt toward recent actions and proposals by the European Chemical Agency and the European Commission.

Happy news to finish: US opens up to fully vaccinated travellers 

The US is easing its coronavirus travel restrictions, reopening to passengers from the UK, EU and other nations. From November, foreign travellers will be allowed to fly into the US if they are fully vaccinated, and undergo testing and contact tracing. The US has had tough restrictions on travel in place since early last year. 

The move answers a major demand from European allies, and means that families and friends separated by the restrictions can be reunited. "It's a happy day - Big Apple, here I come!" French entrepreneur Stephane Le Breton told the Associated Press news agency, as he looked forward to a trip to New York City that had been put on hold because of the restrictions. 

White House COVID-19 co-ordinator Jeff Zients announced the new rules on Monday (20 September), saying: "This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach, so it's a stronger system." "Most importantly, foreign nationals flying to the US will be required to be fully vaccinated," he said. US restrictions were initially imposed on travellers from China in early 2020, and then extended to other countries.

 The current rules bar entry to most non-US citizens who have been in the UK and a number of other European countries, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil within the last 14 days. Under the new rules, foreign travellers will need to demonstrate proof of vaccination before flying, obtain a negative Covid-19 test result within three days of travelling, and provide their contact information. They will not be required to quarantine. 

That is all from EAPM for now – make sure you stay safe and well and have an excellent weekend, see you next week.

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