A provisional agreement to open up the EU market for domestic passenger rail transport and to ensure equal conditions for railway companies was reached by European Parliament and Council negotiators on Tuesday evening. It aims to boost the quality of services offered to passengers and to improve the performance of the rail sector.
The new rules would boost competition in two ways. First, railway companies should have access to the EU domestic passenger rail market from 1 January 2019 in time for the railway timetables starting on 14 December 2020.
Second, in cases where authorities decide to award public service contracts to provide passenger rail services, which currently make up the majority of passenger rail services in the EU, competitive bidding for public service contracts would be brought in gradually as the main tool for selecting service providers.
Competitive bidding for public service contracts for passenger rail services will be the norm. However, for six years, it will remain possible to award public service contracts directly. After this transition period, any direct award will only be possible on the basis of objective efficiency and performance criteria.
To prevent conflicts of interest and improve financial transparency between rail operators and infrastructure managers, certain safeguards will be put in place. Member states will be required to ensure that infrastructure managers grant non-discriminatory access to rail operators and that their impartiality is not affected by any conflict of interest.
Global Europe: €79.5 billion to support development
The EU is set to invest €79.5 billion on development and international cooperation in neighbouring countries and further afield by 2027, Society.
As part of its 2021-2027 budget, the European Union is overhauling how it invests outside the bloc. Following a landmark deal with EU countries in December 2020, MEPs will vote during June's plenary session in Strasbourg on establishing the €79.5bn Global Europe fund, which merges several existing EU instruments, including the European Development Fund. This streamlining will allow the EU to more effectively uphold and promote its values and interests worldwide and respond more swiftly to emerging global challenges.
The instrument will finance the EU's foreign policy priorities in the coming seven years and support sustainable development in EU neighbourhood countries, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific and the Caribbean. Global Europe will support projects that contribute to addressing issues such as poverty eradication and migration and promote EU values such as human rights and democracy.
The programme will also support global multilateral efforts and ensure the EU is able to live up to its commitments in the world, including the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate accord. Thirty percent of the programme’s overall funding will contribute to achieving climate objectives.
At least €19.3bn is earmarked for EU neighbourhood countries with €29.2bn set to be invested in sub-Saharan Africa. Global Europe funding will also be set aside for rapid response action including crisis management and conflict prevention. The EU will boost its support to sustainable investment worldwide under the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, which will leverage private capital to complement direct development assistance.
In negotiations with the Council, Parliament ensured MEPs’ increased involvement in strategic decisions regarding the programme. Once approved, the regulation on Global Europe will retroactively apply from 1 January 2021.
Global Europe is one of 15 EU flagship programmes supported by the Parliament in the negotiations on the EU's budget for 2021-2027 and the EU recovery instrument, which collectively will allow the Union to provide more than €1.8 trillion in funding over the coming years.
#FreeRomanProtasevich: EU calls for release of Belarus journalist
Join the call for the release of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega, who are being held by Belarus authorities. Find out how you can help. Belarus journalist Protasevich and his girlfriend Sapega were on a flight from Athens to Vilnius on 23 May when the Belarusian government forced the plane to redirect to Minsk where they were detained. Society
The move was immediately met with widespread condemnation from all around the world and led to calls for sanctions against the country.
Parliament President David Sassoli said: “The events in Belarus, with the hijacking of a civil plane to arrest opponents of the regime, require a leap forward in our response in both strength and speed.”
Parliament and other EU institutions are calling for the immediate release of Protasevich and urge everyone to speak up about this blatant breach of fundamental rights.
What you could do to help get Roman Protasevich released
The abuse of human rights can only thrive in silence. Help create a noise by speaking up for Protasevic and Sapega who are currently being silenced and detained.
What you could do online:
- Use the hashtag #FreeRomanProtasevich and #FreeSofiaSapega on Twitter and other platforms
- Help us to spread the message by sharing this article and our posts on social media, such as our tweet
You could come up with your own ways to protest. For example, President Sassoli suggested using airports to highlight the cause: “I think it would be a very positive gesture if a photo of Roman Protasevich were to be displayed in the main airports of European Union member states, as a mark of solidarity and to show that we will not fail him.”
What the EU is doing in response to the actions by Belarus
EU leaders met a day after the forced redirection of the Ryanair flight to decide on a common response. President Sassoli opened the summit with a call for action: “Our response must be strong, immediate and unified. The European Union must act without hesitation and punish those responsible. Tonight you have a great responsibility to show that the Union is not a paper tiger.”
EU leaders agreed to ban Belarusian planes from flying in EU airspaces or using EU airports. They also called for the release of Protasevich and Sapega as well as an investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization. They also agreed targeted economic sanctions and to add to the list of people subject to sanctions.
What the European Parliament has called for regarding Belarus
Parliament’s foreign affairs committee discussed the events in Belarus on 26 May with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She told MEPs: "I call on the European Parliament to ensure that the reaction of the international community is not limited to the Ryanair flight incident. The response must address the situation in Belarus in its entirety."
Parliament has regularly called for fair elections in Belarus as well as for respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Last year alone, MEPs called for:
- New and fair presidential election in Belarus
- Stronger sanctions against regime officials involved in human rights abuses
- Support for the people of Belarus
- A comprehensive review of EU relations with the country
Read more about the EU’s links with other countries
- EU-Russia relations under strain: what are the causes?
- New US president: how EU-US relations could improve
- EU-Turkey relations: between cooperation and tensions
Find out more
- Joint statement by David McAllister, chair of the foreign affairs committee; Robert Biedroń, chair of the delegation for relations with Belarus, and Petras Auštrevičius, the Parliament’s standing rapporteur on Belarus
- Briefing: support to opposition in Belarus (October 2020)
- Briefing; Belarus on the blink (August 2020)
- Briefing: democratic opposition in Belarus (December 2020
- Human rights in Belarus: the EU’s role since 2016 (June 2018)
Companies should be held accountable for their actions, say MEPs
MEPs want a new EU law to ensure companies are held accountable when their actions harm people and the planet. On 8 March MEPs debated a report by the legal affairs committee on corporate accountability. The report calls on the European Commission to come up with a law obliging EU companies to address aspects of their value chains that could affect human rights (including social, trade union and labour rights), the environment (for example contribution to climate change) and good governance.
Doing the right thing does not give businesses a competitive advantage at the moment. The lack of a joint EU-wide approach on this matter could lead to a disadvantage for those companies that are proactive regarding social and environmental matters, the report said. The rules would apply to all large undertakings in the EU, as well as to publicly listed small and medium-sized enterprises and those that for example share "risky" supply chains with larger companies.
However, MEPs say the binding rules should also go beyond the EU’s borders, meaning that all companies that want to access the EU's internal market, including those established outside the EU, would have to prove that they comply with due diligence obligations related to human rights and the environment.
In addition, the MEPs want the rights of stakeholders or victims in non-EU countries, who are particularly vulnerable, to be better protected. They likewise want a ban on importing products linked to severe human rights violations such as forced or child labour.
“The European Parliament has the chance this week to become a leader in responsible business conduct,” said report author Lara Wolters (S&D, the Netherlands) during the debate.
“For businesses, we’re creating a level playing field and legal clarity. For consumers, we’re ensuring fair products. For workers, we’re enhancing protection. For victims, we’re improving access to justice. And for the environment, we’re taking a step that is very long overdue.”
In February 2020, the Commission published a study which found that only one in three companies in the EU is currently taking some form of due diligence measures while 70% of European businesses support EU-wide due diligence rules.
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