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#Brexit - Donohoe thanks fellow EU ministers for their solidarity and support

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On his way into today’s Eurogroup meeting, Irish Finance Minister and Eurogroup President Paschal Donohoe thanked fellow finance ministers for their solidarity and support following the UK’s proposal to override commitments made in the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.

Donohoe said that as an Irish citizen and as a European the two major events that had shaped his public life were Ireland’s membership of the European Union and the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). He went on to say:

“The withdrawal agreement was an agreement negotiated by the European Union that brought (the EU membership and the GFA commitments) together. An agreement that was reached after years of intense effort on behalf of the European Union, dealing with the government of the United Kingdom. The European Union is a project that is based on the rule of law. It's based on respect. It's based on honoring agreements of the past and building on them in the future. As the United Kingdom looks, to what kind of future trading relationship it wants with the European Union, a prerequisite is honoring agreements that are already in place.”

Following an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee yesterday (10 September) on the draft of the United Kingdom’s Internal Market Bill, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič restated that the UK must fully implement the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland – which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government agreed to, and which the UK Houses of Parliament ratified, less than a year ago – is a legal obligation.

The European Union reminded the UK that violating the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law, undermine trust and put at risk the ongoing future relationship negotiations.

The Withdrawal Agreement entered into force on 1 February 2020, neither the EU nor the UK can unilaterally change, clarify, amend, interpret, disregard, or disapply the agreement.

Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič stated: “The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft Bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite.”

The UK has been given to the end of the month to withdraw the draft legislation. The British government has already tabled the bill for debate and adoption before the end of the month. Šefčovič stated that the EU would not be shy of using all mechanisms and legal remedies should the UK violate its legal obligations.

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US: ‘It is no secret that in the past four years, things have been complicated’ Borrell

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In a debate (11 November) in the European Parliament on the recent US elections, The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, congratulated President-elect, Joe Biden, and Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris, for their historic victory.

Borrell applauded the largest participation in the United States electoral history, saying that it clearly showed that American citizens were very much aware of the importance of this election.

Reboot of EU/US relations

Borrell said that the EU will now look at opportunities to advance its strategic partnership with the United States, a commitment that the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen had already made in her ‘State of the EU’ address to the European Parliament in September.

The High Representative did not hide that the EU/US relations had become more strained under the Trump administration, “It is no secret either that in the past four years, things have become complicated in our relations. I am looking forward to getting back to a frank dialogue.”

Borrell welcomed the clear commitment of President-elect Biden to restoring unity and respect for democratic norms and institutions and to working with allies based on partnership. While recognising that the EU needs to work together with the United States in many frameworks – defense frameworks and others - he said that the EU still needed to reinforce its strategic autonomy to become a stronger partner.

“I do not have to explain that we have had a very significant bilateral relationship globally [with the United States],” said Borrell, adding “We have a common history, shared values and we adhere to democratic principles. This partnership reflects how we go across all economic fields, underpinned by wide cooperation.”

The High Representative outlined a long list of common strategic goals: to reenergize the cooperation in the multilateral fora, in particular in the United Nations; to continue working in promoting the full respect of human rights; to address the difficulties in the World Trade Organization, especially the dispute settlement mechanism; to cooperate in fighting the COVID-19, including strengthening the working of the World Health Organization and the capacity of the global health system, starting with preparedness and response to emergencies; to accelerate ambitious global climate action and to invest in harnessing the technological transformation; to look at China, Iran and our Neighbourhood.

He added a note of caution that he was ready to engage with the new actors, but added that there was quite a long transition ahead, “let us hope it is not going to be a bumping transition.”

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European Commission

‘We have not done enough to support the Roma population in the EU’ Jourová

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The European Commission has launched a new 10-year plan to support Roma people in the EU. The plan outlines seven key areas of focus: equality, inclusion, participation, education, employment, health, and housing. For each area, the Commission has put forward targets and recommendations on how to achieve them, the Commission will use these to monitor progress.
Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová said: “Simply put, over the last ten years we have not done enough to support the Roma population in the EU. This is inexcusable. Many continue to face discrimination and racism. We cannot accept it. Today we are relaunching our efforts to correct this situation.”
Although some improvements have been made in the EU – predominantly in the area of education – Europe still has a long way to go to achieve real equality for Roma. Marginalisation persists, and many Roma continue to face discrimination.
Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli (pictured) said: “For the European Union to become a true union of equality we need to ensure that millions of Roma are treated equally, socially included and able to participle in social and political life without exception. With the targets that we have laid out in the Strategic Framework today, we expect to make real progress by 2030 towards a Europe in which Roma are celebrated as part of our Union's diversity, take part in our societies and have all the opportunities to fully contribute to and benefit from political, social and economic life in the EU.”

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Bulgaria

Commission complains about lack of results in the fight against corruption in #Bulgaria

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Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová led discussions in the European Parliament’s debate on the rule of law in Bulgaria (5 October). Jourová said that she was aware of the protests that have been taking place over the last three months and is following the situation closely. Jourová said the demonstrations show that citizens attach great importance to an independent judiciary and good governance.
She said that the Commission will not lift the ‘Control and Verification Mechanism’ (CVM) that checks Bulgaria’s progress in making reforms to its judiciary and fighting organized crime, she added that she would take the views of the European Council and Parliament into account in any further reports. Fighting corruption European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said that while Bulgaria’s structures were in place they needed to deliver efficiently.
Reynders said surveys show a very low level of public trust in Bulgaria’s anti-corruption institutions and a belief that government lacked the political will to do this in practice. Manfred Weber MEP, Chair of the European Peoples’ Party defended Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s record, adding that he was supportive of the rule of law mechanism in European Council discussions. Weber acknowledges that the rule of law in Bulgaria “is not perfect” and that, there is still much to be done, but said that the government’s fate should be decided next year in elections.
Ramona Strugariu MEP (Renew Europe Group) made one of the more powerful interventions in the debate, saying that when she was demonstrating in the cold winter of 2017 in Bucharest - against government corruption in Romania - the support of President Juncker and First Vice-President Timmermans support made her feel that someone was listening to the Romanians who wanted reform. Strugariu said: “I am here today to ask for this voice from the Commission and of the Council and of this house because the Bulgarian people need it. Because it matters to them. It is really important to them.”
To fellow MEPs who were endorsing Prime Minister Borissov, she asked: “Do you know who you are endorsing? Because you are endorsing people facing serious allegations of corruption, money laundering and fraud with European money? I have seen women dragged outside by the police and pictures of children sprayed with tear gas, is this protection? Are you sure that this is the person to endorse?”

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