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Economy

EU ramps up efforts in offshore renewable energy

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission presented its EU Strategy on Offshore Renewable Energy today (19 November). The Strategy proposes to increase Europe's offshore wind capacity from its current level of 12 GW to at least 60 GW by 2030 and to 300 GW by 2050. The new push on offshore energy is to help the EU to reach its goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans said: “Today's strategy shows the urgency and opportunity of ramping up our investment in offshore renewables. With our vast sea basins and industrial leadership, the European Union has all that it needs to rise up to the challenge. Already, offshore renewable energy is a true European success story. We aim to turn it into an even greater opportunity for clean energy, high-quality jobs, sustainable growth, and international competitiveness.”

Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, said: “Europe is a world leader in offshore renewable energy and can become a powerhouse for its global development. We must step up our game by harnessing all the potential of offshore wind and by advancing other technologies such as wave, tidal and floating solar. This Strategy sets a clear direction and establishes a stable framework, which are crucial for public authorities, investors and developers in this sector. We need to boost the EU's domestic production to achieve our climate targets, feed the growing electricity demand and support the economy in its post-Covid recovery.”

Economy

Relaxation of fiscal rules extended to start of 2023

Catherine Feore

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The European Commission has today (3 March) announced that it intends to extend its relaxation of the fiscal rules under the Growth and Stability Pact. The EU will extend the “general escape clause” until 2023. 

The relaxation of the rules will remain in place after 2023 if the level of economic activity in the EU or euro area has not returned to pre-crisis levels (end-2019), this will be the key quantitative criterion for the Commission in making its overall assessment of the deactivation or continued application of the general escape clause.

Today’s guidance also provides general indications on the overall fiscal policy for the period ahead, including the implications of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) for fiscal policy.

Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “There is hope on the horizon for the EU economy, but for now the pandemic continues to hurt people's livelihoods and the wider economy. To cushion this impact and to promote a resilient and sustainable recovery, our clear message is that fiscal support should continue as long as needed.” 

“Our decision last March to activate the general escape clause was a recognition of the gravity of the unfolding crisis,” said Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni. “It was also a statement of our determination to take all necessary steps to tackle the pandemic and support jobs and companies. One year on, the battle against COVID-19 is not yet won and we must ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of a decade ago by pulling back support too soon.” 

Gentiloni added that the EU’s approach was also that of the G20 finance ministers who met last Friday.

Agility

The word of the moment appears to be ‘agile’, meaning that economies should be able to respond to the evolving crisis which still holds many uncertainties. The hope is that fiscal measures can gradually move towards supporting more forward-looking measures that promote a sustainable recovery. The guidance will be further detailed in the Commission's European Semester spring package.

Making the best use of the Recovery and Resilience Facility

It is hoped that the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) will play a crucial role in helping Europe recover from the economic and social impact of the pandemic and will help to make the EU's economies and societies more resilient and secure the green and digital transitions.

The RRF will make €312.5 billion available in grants and up to €360bn available in loans to support the implementation of reforms and investments. As well as providing a sizeable fiscal impulse, it is hoped that it will help mitigate the risk of divergences in the eurozone and the EU. Importantly for the facility, expenditure financed by grants from the RRF will provide a substantial boost to the economy in the coming years, without increasing national deficits and debt. 

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coronavirus

EU, under pressure over vaccine rollouts, considers switch to emergency approvals

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The European Commission said on Tuesday (2 March) that it was considering emergency approvals for COVID-19 vaccines as a faster alternative to more rigorous conditional marketing authorizations which have been used so far, writes Francesco Guarascio, @fraguarascio.

The move would mark a big shift in approach to vaccine approvals, as it would entail using a procedure that the EU had considered dangerous and that before the COVID-19 pandemic had been reserved for exceptional authorization at national level of drugs for terminally ill patients, including cancer treatments.

The potential change comes as the EU executive and the bloc’s drug regulator come under increasing pressure for what some consider slow vaccine approvals, which have contributed to a slower rollout of COVID-19 shots in the 27-nation union, compared to the United States and former EU member Britain.

“We are ready to reflect with the member states on all possible avenues to indeed accelerate the approval of the vaccines,” an EU Commission spokesman told a news conference.

One option could be “an emergency authorisation of vaccines at EU level with shared liability among member states”, the spokesman said, adding that work on this could start very quickly if EU governments supported the idea.

It was not clear whether an EU-wide emergency authorisation procedure, if agreed upon, would entail the same conditions as emergency approvals granted at national level, the commission spokesman told Reuters.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) cannot currently issue emergency approvals but in exceptional circumstances has recommended the compassionate use of drugs before marketing authorisation.

This procedure was used in April to initially authorise doctors to use Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment against COVID-19. The drug was later given conditional approval by EMA.

National emergency approvals are allowed under EU laws, but they force countries to take full responsibility if something goes wrong with a vaccine, whereas under the more rigorous marketing authorisation, pharmaceutical companies remain liable for their vaccines.

The EU Commission had said that national emergency authorisations should not be used for COVID-19 vaccines, because faster approvals could reduce regulators’ ability to check efficacy and safety data.

This could also boost vaccine hesitancy, which is already high in some countries, EU officials had said.

One senior EU official said the emergency procedure had so far usually been used at national level for terminally ill patients and the EU had instead chosen the lengthier conditional marketing authorisation because with vaccines “we inject healthy people” and the risk was disproportionate.

The change of tack would come after Eastern European countries, including Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, approved Russian and Chinese vaccines with national emergency procedures.

Britain has also used the emergency procedure to approve COVID-19 vaccines.

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Agriculture

CAP: New report on fraud, corruption and misuse of EU agricultural funds must be wake up call

EU Reporter Correspondent

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MEPs working on protection of the EU's budget from the Greens/EFA group have just released a new report: "Where does the EU money go?", which looks at the misuse of European agricultural funds in Central and Eastern Europe. The report looks at systemic weakness in EU agricultural funds and maps out in clear terms, how EU funds contribute to fraud and corruption and undermining the rule of law in five EU countries: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
 
The report outlines up to date cases, including: Fraudulent claims and payments of EU agricultural subsidies Slovakia; the conflicts of interest around Czech Prime Minister's Agrofert company in Czechia; and state interference by the Fidesz government in Hungary. This report comes out as the EU institutions are in the process of negotiating the Common Agricultural Policy for the years 2021-27.
Viola von Cramon MEP, Greens/EFA member of the Budgetary Control Committee, comments:   "The evidence shows that EU agricultural funds are fuelling fraud, corruption and the rise of rich businessmen. Despite numerous investigations, scandals and protests, the Commission seems to be turning a blind eye to the rampant abuse of taxpayer's money and member states are doing little to address systematic issues. The Common Agricultural Policy simply isn't working. It provides the wrong incentives for how land is used, which damages the environment and harms local communities. The massive accumulation of land at the expense of the common good is not a sustainable model and it certainly shouldn't be financed from the EU's budget.
 
"We cannot continue to allow a situation where EU funds are causing such harm in so many countries. The Commission needs to act, it cannot bury its head in the sand. We need transparency on how and where EU money ends up, the disclosure of the ultimate owners of large agricultural companies and an end to conflicts of interest. The CAP must be reformed just so it works for people and the planet and is ultimately accountable to EU citizens. In the negotiations around the new CAP, the Parliament team must stand firm behind mandatory capping and transparency."

Mikuláš Peksa, Pirate Party MEP and Greens/EFA Member of the Budgetary Control Committee said:   “We have seen in my own country how EU agricultural funds are enriching an entire class of people all the way up to the Prime Minister. There is a systemic lack of transparency in the CAP, both during and after the distribution process. National paying agencies in CEE fail to use clear and objective criteria when selecting beneficiaries and are not publishing all the relevant information on where the money goes. When some data is disclosed, it is often deleted after the mandatory period of two years, making it almost impossible to control.
 
“Transparency, accountability and proper scrutiny are essential to building an agricultural system that works for all, instead of enriching a select few. Unfortunately, data on subsidy recipients are scattered over hundreds of registers, which are mostly not interoperable with the Commission’s fraud detection tools. Not only is it almost impossible for the Commission to identify corruption cases, but it is often unaware of who the final beneficiaries are and how much money they receive. In the ongoing negotiations for the new CAP period, we cannot allow the Member States to continue operating with this lack of transparency and EU oversight."

The report is available online here.

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