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#FriendsofEurope: EU leaders must fight fire with fire

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108698492_epa05542236_heads_of_states_and_governments_of_the_27_eu_member_countries_gather_for_a-large_transdfh7f16xk0va0enc8heghkekwcjw5eb0ntsspiws2vyIt’s easy to be sucked into the prevailing pessimistic EU narrative, says Shada Islam, director of Europe & Geopolitics at Friends of Europe. You know the one: the Union is falling apart; Brexit will prompt an exodus of others seeking to leave the bloc; and pure, white Christian Europe is being invaded by nasty foreigners, most of them Muslim.

So let’s close down the EU shop. Will the last one out please turn off the lights?

Of course, it is not really that bad. As a visiting Chinese scholar speculated last week, Europeans are suffering from a particularly bad case of the blues – and instead of doing everything to make them feel better, dysfunctional European leaders may be making things worse.

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As she put it: “Why can’t European leaders get their act together and stop whining and whinging about their ‘first world problems”?

That’s harsh. Europe faces a multitude of crises: the Brexit vote and the uncertainty it has triggered; the rise of dangerous populism; the continuing, unresolved financial crisis.

It’s bleak. And nobody seems to like anyone any more.

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But the recent epic bouts of whining by Europe’s great and good are becoming increasingly tedious.

First on the scene to highlight Europe’s grim reality was Jean-Claude Juncker. In his annual State of the European Union speech, the European Commission president told MEPs that the EU is in an existential crisis. It was stark stuff.

Not to be outdone, European Council President Donald Tusk gave his own equally downbeat assessment. Then 27 EU leaders (minus British Prime Minister Theresa May) turned their Bratislava gathering – intended to be a show of solidarity – into yet another much-publicized bout of chest-beating over the fate of sad, old Europe.

There were some ‘road maps’ put forward, but they bore an unfortunate ‘Fortress Europe’ watermark. The undercurrent was to put Europe back together by pulling up the drawbridge and talking tough on security, but to soften the impact with new initiatives designed to distract, deflect and dazzle. Free Wi-Fi in every European town by 2020, anyone?

This approach is wrong-headed. The more EU leaders talk down Europe – and bewilder already puzzled Europeans with more incomprehensible and makeshift initiatives – the more they perpetuate the myth of a lost continent.

The truth is more complex. Yes, Europe faces many problems. Unemployment remains high. The European economy has been weakened by years of economic stagnation and budgetary austerity. The ‘Gang of Four’ leaders of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic want a closed-off, white and Christian Europe that has little truck with diversity and inclusiveness.

But despite policymakers’ moans and groans, the European story remains strong.

Europe has room for – and a need for – the refugees and migrants who have arrived on its shores. Europe also needs foreign tourists who will pump money into Europe’s service industry.

Europe’s intelligence agencies are getting better at working together, foiling plots and catching would-be terrorists who threaten Europe’s “way of life”.

The EU still has peace. It has reconciled enemies. It has created a hugely successful frontier-free single market and the free movement of people.

The young people in Britain who voted Remain know the value of being part of the EU. Thousands of Europeans – individuals and companies – are working to welcome and integrate refugees and migrants.

But these truths are going unsaid.

By endlessly repeating, as Tusk did in Bratislava, that Europeans feel insecure in the face of migration and terrorism, EU leaders are amplifying the voice of populists and bolstering their power.

If they are really serious about winning Europeans’ trust and support, EU leaders must fight fire with fire. This means putting as much passion, energy and hard work into crafting a European narrative of peace and openness as the populists are investing in their nightmare version.

The populists already have their captive audience. With the battle over Brexit lost, EU leaders need to arm themselves with a vision of Europe that resonates with the aspirations of millions of Europeans who will not be voting for Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders or the Alternative für Deutschland.

The 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome next March provides the ideal opportunity for such a reboot. Europe is far from being a lost continent. But EU leaders have certainly lost their way.

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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