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Frankly Speaking - Six lessons from Europe’s bounce-back

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Europe’s bouncing back, say Shada Islam and Giles Merritt. If populism can best be described as the triumph of dangerously simplistic and short-sighted solutions to complex long-term problems, then the populists are being routed on both sides of the English Channel.

Remember when soap-opera politics used to be the preserve of what was contemptuously described as the ‘third world’? No longer. The topsy-turvy world of Western politics is providing an even more interesting spectacle to a watching world.

For proof, look no further than recent unpredictable developments in Washington, London and Paris.

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US President Donald Trump remains mired in a bitter battle with the ousted head of the FBI, James Comey, over alleged ties between Russia and the Trump administration.

In London, a discredited and weakened Prime Minister Theresa May is clinging on to power despite having failed miserably to win the massive parliamentary majority she expected to help her engineer a hard Brexit.

And in France, the ‘revolution’ sparked by Emmanuel Macron continues as the French President’s La République En Marche party looks set to dominate the National Assembly.

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These and other changes in three key Western democracies have obvious and important repercussions for their own citizens – but they also impact strongly on Europe and the world.

“The topsy-turvy world of Western politics is providing an even more interesting spectacle”

Here are some quick and easy lessons to keep in mind as we navigate new and sometimes choppy waters.

First, after almost a year of talking down Europe it’s time to be upbeat about the future. The energy generated by the French elections should be quickly channelled into serious discussions about giving shape to the European bounce-back through change and reform.

Second, even as we mourn America and Britain’s slow slide into irrelevance let’s seize the moment to make Europe matter even more on the global stage on key issues like global governance, security and climate change. In a quick-moving world, nobody is stopping for America. And as Global Britain behaves more like ‘little England’, it inspires little respect.

Third, let’s celebrate the power and political nous of young Europeans and ‘citizens of the world’, including ethnic minorities, who turned out in huge numbers to vote in the British elections, giving a bloody nose to the ruling Conservative Party in the process. Macron’s success is also proof that building a new and more vibrant Europe is about reaching out to all citizens, regardless for age, colour or faith.

Fourth, it is possible to defeat populists and populism – but only if the politicians who take them on are authentic, passionate, social media-savvy and strong enough to fight fire with fire. Europe needs a new narrative based on openness, inclusion and compassion. Both France and Britain have shown that there is limited appetite among voters for racists and hate-mongers. Let’s keep that in mind, especially ahead of the 2019 elections to the European Parliament.

Fifth, the EU’s political muscle-building is being paralleled by significant shifts in Britain. There’s an undeniable shift in the UK government’s approach to Brexit, with its previous stance on a ‘hard Brexit’ due to be significantly softened. The upshot of the election is that the House of Commons is back in control.

“The politicians taking the populists on need to be authentic, passionate, social media-savvy and strong enough to fight fire with fire”

Robbed of a majority, the Tories’ hard Brexiteer ministers will have to submit all the necessary enabling legislation to parliamentary scrutiny and approval. Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the MPs are reckoned to be anti-Brexit, but were cowed into silence by the referendum result.

Sixth, the pro-EU membership Tory and Labour MPs will no doubt gain in confidence and assertiveness once the Brexit negotiations get under way next week. Mrs May’s battle cry of “no deal is better than a bad deal” has already been abandoned, and the growing likelihood is that David Davis, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, will be forced by circumstances to acknowledge that Britain should stay in the single market.

That would mean accepting the EU’s four freedoms of movement – for capital, goods, services, and crucially labour – leaving voters in a possible second referendum to ponder the question of what Brexit is really all about.

Although it’s probably a stretch to ascribe the British electorate’s negative verdict on May’s appeal for a stronger Brexit mandate to shifts elsewhere in Europe, French voters’ massive rejection of populism by electing Macron to the presidency and giving him a landslide parliamentary majority has certainly been echoed in Britain.

If populism can best be described as the triumph of dangerously simplistic and short-sighted solutions to complex long-term problems, then the populists are being routed on both sides of the English Channel.

 

Cyprus

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €157 million in pre-financing to Cyprus

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The European Commission has disbursed €157 million to Cyprus in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's financial allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €1.2 billion in total over the lifetime of its plan, with €1 billion provided in grants and €200m in loans. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80bn in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU. Part of NextGenerationEU, the RRF will provide €723.8bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states.

The Cypriot plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Belgium

EU Cohesion policy: Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy receive €373 million to support health and social services, SMEs and social inclusion

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The Commission has granted €373 million to five European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) operational programmes (OPs) in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy to help the countries with coronavirus emergency response and repair in the framework of REACT-EU. In Belgium, the modification of the Wallonia OP will make available an additional €64.8m for the acquisition of medical equipment for health services and innovation.

The funds will support small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in developing e-commerce, cybersecurity, websites and online stores, as well as the regional green economy through energy efficiency, protection of the environment, development of smart cities and low-carbon public infrastructures. In Germany, in the Federal State of Hessen, €55.4m will support health-related research infrastructure, diagnostic capacity and innovation in universities and other research institutions as well as research, development and innovation investments in the fields of climate and sustainable development. This amendment will also provide support to SMEs and funds for start-ups through an investment fund.

In Sachsen-Anhalt, €75.7m will facilitate cooperation of SMEs and institutions in research, development and innovation, and provide investments and working capital for micro-enterprises affected by the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, the funds will allow investments in the energy efficiency of enterprises, support digital innovation in SMEs and acquiring digital equipment for schools and cultural institutions. In Italy, the national OP ‘Social Inclusion' will receive €90m to promote the social integration of people experiencing severe material deprivation, homelessness or extreme marginalisation, through ‘Housing First' services that combine the provision of immediate housing with enabling social and employment services.

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In Spain, €87m will be added to the ESF OP for Castilla y León to support the self-employed and workers who had their contracts suspended or reduced due to the crisis. The money will also help hard-hit companies avoid layoffs, especially in the tourism sector. Finally, the funds are needed to allow essential social services to continue in a safe way and to ensure educational continuity throughout the pandemic by hiring additional staff.

REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) to Cohesion policy programmes over the course of 2021 and 2022. Measures focus on supporting labour market resilience, jobs, SMEs and low-income families, as well as setting future-proof foundations for the green and digital transitions and a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €2.25 billion in pre-financing to Germany

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The European Commission has disbursed €2.25 billion to Germany in pre-financing, equivalent to 9% of the country's financial allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This corresponds to the pre-financing amount requested by Germany in its recovery and resilience plan. The pre-financing payment will help kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Germany's recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Germany's recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €25.6bn in total, fully consisting of grants, over the lifetime of its plan. The disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80bn in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU. Part of NextGenerationEU, the RRF will provide €723.8bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states. The German plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A full press release is available here.

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