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Mairead McGuinness nominated next Irish Commissioner-designate

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Today (8 September) European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that having interviewed the two candidates put forward by the Irish government for the post of Commissioner, she has decided to propose Mairead McGuinness to the European Parliament. In a surprise move, the new Irish commissioner has been offered the portfolio of financial services, financial stability, and capital markets union.

Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis will assume responsibility for the trade portfolio, and will remain the Commission's representative on the Eurogroup, in cooperation with Commissioner Gentiloni.

Mairead McGuinness has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 and currently holds the post of First Vice-President. She is widely respected, but has little known expertise in the portfolio she has been offered having served on unrelated committees in the parliament, including: agriculture and rural development; environment, public health and food safety; and the petitions committee.

The other Irish candidate, Andrew McDowell, was a former chief economic advisor to then Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He had just completed a mandate as Vice-President of the European Investment Banking. This may not just have been a question of gender balance trumping expertise, but the recognition that McGuinness is a shrewd political actor, who has also demonstrated during the Brexit discussions that she is a skilled media operator, this is not surprising given her background as a journalist.

While rumours swirled that there would be a wider shake-up of portfolios, the President appears to have settled on a more modest redistribution. Dombrovskis is a trusted and respected heavyweight in the current Commission, it is unlikely that there will be strong objections to him being given the important trade dossier. As a current MEP, McGuinness is one of their own, it is unlikely that the European Parliament will try to block her nomination.

It was widely anticipated that Ireland would lose the trade portfolio, but financial services and the Capital Markets Union are important sectors to Ireland, which hopes to become an even bigger player in this sector. Many London-based companies are already turning to Dublin as Brexit looms on the horizon. McGuinness will be in charge of directorate general what has yet to decide if the UK’s financial services in different areas will maintain “equivalence”; this is one of the unilateral powers that the European Commission will continue to exercise, whether there is, or isn’t a deal with the UK, by 1 January 2020.

Commentators have pointed to the fact that Ireland now holds three important economic posts. Paschal Donohoe, Ireland’s Finance Minister became President of the Eurogroup in July. Ireland’s former Governor of Ireland’s central bank is now Chief Economist for the European Central Bank in 2019.

Ireland was the eighth largest exporter of financial services (excluding insurance and pension services) in the world in 2017, according to UNCTAD. It has been successful in reducing its non-performing loans from 21% to 6% in 2018 over a four-year period. The sector is an important one for Ireland.

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EU Launches new Anti-racism Action Plan

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As promised by European Commission President Von der Leyen, in the recent State of the European Union speech, the EU has launched a new anti-racism action plan.

The Commission has made a renewed commitment to ensure that EU countries fully implement relevant EU law and says it will further strengthen the legal framework, if needed. This could happen in particular in the areas not yet covered by the non-discrimination legislation, such as law enforcement.

Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said: “We won't shy away from strengthening the legislation, if needed. The Commission itself will adapt its recruiting policy to better reflect European society.”

Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, said: “There is no place for racial discrimination and racism of any kind in democratic societies. We must all strive for our societies to be anti-racist. With this action plan, we acknowledge that racism is not only perpetrated by individuals but is also structural. This is why, amongst others we address law enforcement, social attitudes, stereotypes and economic concerns; and encourage Member States to adopt their respective anti-racism action plans.”

The EU Action Plan against racism 2020-2025 sets out a number of actions to tackle racism through EU law, but also other means – working with EU states, including national law enforcement, media and civil society; harnessing available and future EU tools; and looking into the Commission's own human resources.

The Commission will appoint a coordinator for anti-racism and start regular dialogue with stakeholders, meeting twice a year.

Member States are encouraged to step up efforts to prevent discriminatory attitudes by law enforcement authorities and to boost the credibility of law enforcement work against hate crime. EU countries are encouraged to to adopt national action plans against racism and racial discrimination by the end of 2022. By the end of 2021, the Commission, working with national experts, will put together the main principles to produce effective national action plans and will deliver a first progress report by the end of 2023.

The European Commission also intends to put its own house in order to significantly improve the representativeness of Commission staff through measures targeting recruitment and selection. Other EU institutions are invited to take similar steps.

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The #EUChina 'relationship is strategically important as well as one of the most challenging' #SOTEU

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In today’s (16 September) ‘State of the European Union’ address to the European Parliament, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said the relationship between the European Union and China is simultaneously one of the most strategically important for the EU as well as being one of the most challenging.

Von der Leyen gave the example of climate change, where there is a strong dialogue between the EU and China. In the economic field, there are still many challenges in market access for European companies, reciprocity, and overcapacity.

Von der Leyen also pointed to the differences in values, where the EU believes in the universal value of democracy and the rights of the individual. She said that while Europe certainly wasn’t perfect, it dealt with criticism and was open to debate. The EU will continue to criticize human rights abuses whenever and wherever they occur, be it on Hong Kong, or the treatment of the Uyghurs.

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#SOTEU - European Union to lead reforms of the WHO and WTO so that they are fit for today's world

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In today’s (16 September) ‘State of the European Union’ address to the European Parliament, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged that multi-lateral organizations were in need of reform, but argued that this could be done by design rather than destruction.

Von der Leyen said that the EU is a firm believer in the strength and value of cooperation and international bodies, saying that only with a strong United Nations would long term solutions be found for countries like Libya and Syria. Likewise, she pointed to the importance of the World Health Organization in preparing and responding to global pandemics or local outbreaks.

At the same time, she acknowledged that there were problems with these organizations, that have led to a creeping paralysis and to major powers either pulling out or making the institutions hostage to their own interests. She argued for change by design, rather than destruction of the international system.

Von der Leyen said she wanted the European Union to lead reforms of the WHO and WTO so that they are fit for today's world.

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