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Intercultural dialogue - A priority at EU level

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EU Reporter has spoken about intercultural dialogue and its challenges with Élisabeth Guigou (pictured), former French minister for European Affairs (1990-1993) in pre-EU Mitterrand era, minister of justice (1997-2000) and minister of social affairs (2000-2002) both during Chirac era. Guigou was a member of the National Assembly for Seine-Saint-Denis’ 9th Constituency from 2002-2017, and she has served as the president of Anna Lindh's Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures since 2014, writes Federico Grandesso with the contribution of Fajaryanto Suhardi.

How do you think the intercultural dialogue in the near-future would likely take place after the pandemic considering the so-far positive rate of global vaccination in the vicinity?

EG
Our foundation, the Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) which is now representing 42 country members, has continued its remarkable work. Despite the pandemic – even before it happened – we’ve had experiences in conducting webinars. So when the pandemic hit on a global scale followed by most countries closing borders, we succeeded in maintaining our debates, maintaining our programmes, and maintaining our exchanges that worked on a virtual basis which is sort of ideal, of course, in the pandemic situation. Inside the foundation – we are 4,500 NGOs, roughly and perhaps more – we managed to maintain our work, but of course, webinars and visual conferences cannot replace face-to-face exchanges, naturally.

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What kind of suggestion would you like to give to the European authorities in order to have a better understanding between different cultures, for example, the economy-political issues typical between Europe and Mediterranean countries?

EG
We’re actually working very closely with European institutions, the European Parliament, European Commission and the External Actions Service who are our main partners alongside UNESCO, the United Nations (UN), and the World Bank. And to all of our partners, we say we have to concentrate on youth, because they are the ones who have the access to the new technologies. They are also the first victims of all problems in our society, for example, the problems of unemployment and precarity because of countries closing borders. And they are the ones who will have to face climate change in the future. And they will have to face the challenges opened up by the new technologies. Therefore, we advise to focus on youth – which is also our choice inside the ALF – and to mobilize as much as we can through NGOs those young people who refuse to be the sick and down-trodden ones in their society. Obviously we will not be able to accommodate all of them but then it becomes a matter of providing them with access for education. This is why we propose to enlarge the communication with all the partnered universities. First I must say my personal proposal was to create an Erasmus of NGOs because I think that alongside with the giving recognition to the possibility to have exchanges to students or to board members of secondary schools, there is a space to recognize the great work done by the NGOs. Inside those NGOs largely run by these youthful people, they have been so especially proactive and imaginative and really viewing themselves as some sort of activists in charge and in control. For this bold objective, the ALF managed to keep its program in Libya – in even some of the worst spots with the chaos in this country – but let’s hope they would be able to get out of the terrible situation after years of gruesome political unrests and instability. But anyway, in the last two years we managed to do that and I must say that some of these young organizers come from Libya and they were among the best of them. So this is why I think that (idea of establishing) Erasmus of (some sort of) association for NGOs is really something that could enable us to improve our actions.

That’s really a great initiative and we can’t help but ask despite the unimaginable difficulties in the country, how did you manage to start the project in Libya?

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EG
Of course we have a great team who organized that and thankfully we have all the contacts, and of course we tried to help those young people to have the access to the programme. When it was possible I remember, just before the pandemic, we managed to make the list of selection of the young Libyan candidates to go to New York for the talk at the UN Headquarter, one of our longstanding partners. They asked the UN General Secretary how youth can be an actor of promoting peace. Therefore, we have proved that we have such an exceptional number of bright and accomplished young Libyans – in this case there were two presenting at the event with one particularly distinguished young lady. What we do basically is organize the meetings with high-ranked personalities to enhance their experience, and we take care of the visa arrangements. This process happens after the selection made by our national-level network, and of course they made the final cut because they met the standard based on our specific criteria.

Did you have any interesting experiences in handling your program in other problematic areas or perhaps the dangerous zones in a literal sense?

EG
We have our initiatives in places such as Lebanon and Jordan that are familiar to extreme political problems that they would normally face, especially right now with the problems of migration of people coming from Syria and Iraq. What we try to do is to have our programs which continue to give hope to these young people. We also work on the issue of media literacy because we believe they need to know how to handle and use the information, especially to enable them to distinguish between fake news and facts, and also to encourage them to learn to express themselves in the media as it is very critically important because when we talk about fighting hate speech or radicalization. It is always more efficient to give youngsters the platform where young people speaking to other young people than to have official messages passed through social networks or even any classic media.

So, in that sense, you affirmed the notion that the youth are the agents of change for a better and positive future?

EG
We are, of course, very respectful of diversity, but the ALF believes that the whole balance of humanity is really invested in the interest of respecting the values of humanity – in many ways we share this mutual understanding that is proven a useful tool of communication. So, what we try to do is to empower young men and young women – because we need to begin the conversations on raising awareness of gender equality – to encourage them to express themselves, to know the problems in their surroundings as a part of local and global citizen. So, they are no longer silenced or afraid to say what is important for them. In a retrospective, this is of course a sort of form of respect to the values of humanity.

Speaking of female empowerment and emancipation, which roles and which areas do you think these young women are able to fill in – as we know in places like Syria and Jordan where the situations are generally unfavorable for women?

EG
For example, two years ago in Amman, Jordan, we organized a meeting of NGOs coming from southern Europe, and Southern and Eastern Mediterranean territories that have proven their excellent track records in terms of being creative and active in the field of empowering women in their society.That was very interesting because they were coming across from, let’s say, diverse and various experiences and I think, without the ALF imposing anything, the experiences they had not only gave them food for thoughts but also food for actions. The young participants of the NGOs present there have been selected through a series of careful manner. We were hosted by the Jordan Media Institute founded by Princess Rym Ali who incidentally is going to succeed me as the head of the ALF – and this is just an example of the work that we tried to accomplish without imposing any kind of preconceived ideas. On the contrary, we have fought about many issues besides gender stereotypes and prejudice. In all the countries where we are actively involved in, we want to have all women, especially young women, to be active in their surroundings to never give up their critical thinking and enduring spirit to keep them aware and stay alerted as an important part of the community and we, of course, facilitate them to be able to do that.

Years after working on this project, do you actually see any real change in these Mediterranean countries where they are largely known for lacking in practicing and giving the women freedom, let alone empowering them?

EG
Well, I actually don’t want to talk about the policies of the governments since it is not in my capacity but what I observe is that the young men and women who participated in our programmes, those exceptional individuals have changed their mental attitude, and this is absolutely obvious to see because they chose to have a talk between them about experiences they had never known before. For example, on the issue of gender equality, a young woman from southern area of the West Bank (Palestine) talked to a young man from the north of Europe and she said that the main concern in her country is that if a woman wants to separate or get divorced from her spouse/husband, she is not going to be barred an) deprived from her rights to have the share of custody of the children, while the young European man said that in his country the situation is the contrary. She’s practically learning something from that kind of exchange. It shows how we think about similar issues in different ways. Of course, there are always good and bad in our society. For these young women and men, obviously it is important to be more demanding especially in this conversation on gender equality. That’s all I can say. But in relation to your question, I have been looking and studying closely on the evolution of the political system in these countries and what I think is that we are really thinking how to help absolving these young men and women that some of these are universal human rights that need to be recognized, thus, it’s impossible to be ignored or denied. As the result, it really shows the quality and the interests coming out of those exchanges that enabled those young men and women to see that they can ask to their authorities, and they can be an activist of certain issues fighting for many different kinds of rights. The result of this youth movement is obvious in the fields of gender equality, climate change and media literacy. We just tried to educate them as a part of citizens of their respective country to be active and more demanding for the respect of common values that should be acknowledged everywhere no matter how different their political system is. We respectfully don’t interfere in the making of laws or anything in these sovereign countries because it’s not our job.

Final question: What is your number one priority as the President of Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) or perhaps any goal you haven’t succeeded but greatly want to achieve at the moment?

EG
Our first priority should be to develop the young Mediterranean voices program. I think this is a tool that is of a high value and efficient, and this is the kind of program that we have a great experience in and it is working very well. Hopefully we would have the possibility to well develop this program with these exceptional young individuals involved in our national network of 42 countries. I hope we can promote peace, for example, the recovery effort in Syria.

But not only bound in this area, maybe we might help the conflicted or politically unstable areas in a certain neighborhood to draw a formal experience and to have the power to talk to the authorities because nothing replaces these kinds of exchanges, either virtual or real ones, between young people in the concern of protecting common values of humanity and the will to find innovative ways to fight challenges. They will face issues like the climate change or digital economy issues and its consequences in the context of social and economy fixes. We also hope to find ways to diminish the economic and social consequences (i.e. collapses) due to the pandemic. In that respect, we are aiming in creating more useful works by involving as many young people as possible as part of global citizen – we’re not the only one but we are the biggest one.

coronavirus

Commission authorizes French aid scheme of €3 billion to support, through loans and equity investments, companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic

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The European Commission has cleared, under EU state aid rules, France's plans to set up a € 3 billion fund that will invest through debt instruments and equity and hybrid instruments in companies affected by the pandemic. The measure was authorized under the Temporary State Aid Framework. The scheme will be implemented through a fund, titled 'Transition Fund for Businesses Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic', with a budget of € 3bn.

Under this scheme, support will take the form of (i) subordinated or participating loans; and (ii) recapitalization measures, in particular hybrid capital instruments and non-voting preferred shares. The measure is open to companies established in France and present in all sectors (except the financial sector), which were viable before the coronavirus pandemic and which have demonstrated the long-term viability of their economic model. Between 50 and 100 companies are expected to benefit from this scheme. The Commission considered that the measures complied with the conditions set out in the temporary framework.

The Commission concluded that the measure was necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of France, in accordance with Article 107 (3) (b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the temporary supervision. On this basis, the Commission authorized these schemes under EU state aid rules.

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Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager (pictured), competition policy, said: “This €3bn recapitalization scheme will allow France to support companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic by facilitating their access funding in these difficult times. We continue to work closely with member states to find practical solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic while respecting EU regulations.”

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One person still missing after floods in southern France

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Wind, hail and rain blow in Rodilhan, Gard, France September 14, 2021, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. @YLONA91/via REUTERS

One person was still reported missing on Tuesday (14 September) after torrential rain hit the Gard region in southern France, said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who visited the area, write Dominique Vidalon and Benoit Van Overstraeten, Reuters.

Other people who had been reported missing have been found, local authorities said.

"About 60 villages have been partially hit", Darmanin said on BFM TV.

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"The weather situation has improved since mid-afternoon but it will worsen again overnight," the region's prefect said in a statement, adding that schools in the area would be closed on Wednesday (15 September).

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France

Commission approves €3 billion French scheme to provide debt and capital support to companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, French plans to set up a €3 billion fund that will invest through debt, hybrid and equity instruments in companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager (pictured), in charge of competition policy, said: “This €3 billion recapitalization scheme will enable France to support companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak by facilitating their access to finance in these difficult times. We continue working in close cooperation with member states to find workable solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU rules.”

The French support measure

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France notified to the Commission under the Temporary Framework a €3bn scheme to provide debt and capital support to companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The scheme will be implemented through a fund, which goes under the name 'Transition Fund for enterprises affected by the COVID-19 outbreak', with a budget of €3bn. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of (i) subordinated and participating loans; and (ii) recapitalization measures, in particular hybrid capital instruments and preferred shares without voting rights.

The measure is open to companies established in France and active in all sectors (except the financial one), which were viable prior to the coronavirus outbreak and have demonstrated the long-term sustainability of their business model. Between 50 and 100 companies are expected to benefit from this scheme.

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The Commission found that the measures are in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular:

  • With respect to aid in the form of recapitalisation measures (i) support is available to companies only if it is needed to maintain operations, no other appropriate solution is available and it is in the common interest to intervene; (ii) support is limited to the amount necessary to ensure the viability of beneficiaries and to restore their capital position to before the coronavirus outbreak; (iii) the scheme provides an adequate remuneration for the state and it incentivises beneficiaries and/or their owners to repay the support as early as possible (including a dividend ban, and a ban on bonus payments to management); (iv) safeguards are in place to ensure that beneficiaries do not unduly benefit from the recapitalisation aid by the State to the detriment of fair competition in the Single Market, such as an acquisition ban to avoid aggressive commercial expansion; and (v) aid to a company above the threshold of €250 million has to be notified separately for individual assessment.
  • With respect to aid in the form of subordinated loans, and given that under the scheme only subordinated loans with a volume exceeding the relevant limits set out in the Temporary Framework will be provided, the aid will have to fully comply with above conditions established for recapitalisation measures, in line with the Temporary Framework.

Support will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. Finally, only companies that were not considered to be in financial difficulty already on 31 December 2019 are eligible for aid under this scheme.

The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of France, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the scheme under EU state aid rules.

Background

The Commission has adopted a Temporary Framework to enable member states to use the full flexibility foreseen under state aid rules to support the economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The Temporary Framework, as amended on 3 April, 8 May, 29 June, 13 October 2020 and 28 January 2021, provides for the following types of aid, which can be granted by member states:

(i) Direct grants, equity injections, selective tax advantages and advance payments of up to €225,000 to a company active in the primary agricultural sector, €270,000 to a company active in the fishery and aquaculture sector and €1.8 million to a company active in all other sectors to address its urgent liquidity needs. Member States can also give, up to the nominal value of €1.8 million per company zero-interest loans or guarantees on loans covering 100% of the risk, except in the primary agriculture sector and in the fishery and aquaculture sector, where the limits of €225,000 and €270,000 per company respectively, apply.

(ii) State guarantees for loans taken by companies to ensure banks keep providing loans to the customers who need them. These state guarantees can cover up to 90% of risk on loans to help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs.

(iii) Subsidised public loans to companies (senior and subordinated debt) with favourable interest rates to companies. These loans can help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs.

(iv) Safeguards for banks that channel State aid to the real economy that such aid is considered as direct aid to the banks' customers, not to the banks themselves, and gives guidance on how to ensure minimal distortion of competition between banks.

(v) Public short-term export credit insurance for all countries, without the need for the Member State in question to demonstrate that the respective country is temporarily “non-marketable”.

(vi) Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D) to address the current health crisis in the form of direct grants, repayable advances or tax advantages. A bonus may be granted for cross-border cooperation projects between Member States.

(vii) Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities to develop and test products (including vaccines, ventilators and protective clothing) useful to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, up to first industrial deployment. This can take the form of direct grants, tax advantages, repayable advances and no-loss guarantees. Companies may benefit from a bonus when their investment is supported by more than one Member State and when the investment is concluded within two months after the granting of the aid.

(viii) Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the form of direct grants, tax advantages, repayable advances and no-loss guarantees. Companies may benefit from a bonus when their investment is supported by more than one Member State and when the investment is concluded within two months after the granting of the aid.

(ix) Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions for those sectors, regions or for types of companies that are hit the hardest by the outbreak.

(x) Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees for those companies in sectors or regions that have suffered most from the coronavirus outbreak, and would otherwise have had to lay off personnel.

(xi) Targeted recapitalisation aid to non-financial companies, if no other appropriate solution is available. Safeguards are in place to avoid undue distortions of competition in the Single Market: conditions on the necessity, appropriateness and size of intervention; conditions on the State's entry in the capital of companies and remuneration; conditions regarding the exit of the State from the capital of the companies concerned; conditions regarding governance including dividend ban and remuneration caps for senior management; prohibition of cross-subsidisation and acquisition ban and additional measures to limit competition distortions; transparency and reporting requirements.

(xii) Support for uncovered fixed costs for companies facing a decline in turnover during the eligible period of at least 30% compared to the same period of 2019 in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The support will contribute to a part of the beneficiaries' fixed costs that are not covered by their revenues, up to a maximum amount of €10 million per undertaking.

The Commission will also enable Member States to convert until 31 December 2022 repayable instruments (e.g. guarantees, loans, repayable advances) granted under the Temporary Framework into other forms of aid, such as direct grants, provided the conditions of the Temporary Framework are met.

The Temporary Framework enables Member States to combine all support measures with each other, except for loans and guarantees for the same loan and exceeding the thresholds foreseen by the Temporary Framework. It also enables Member States to combine all support measures granted under the Temporary Framework with existing possibilities to grant de minimis to a company of up to €25,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in the primary agricultural sector, €30,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in the fishery and aquaculture sector and €200,000 over three fiscal years for companies active in all other sectors. At the same time, Member States have to commit to avoid undue cumulation of support measures for the same companies to limit support to meet their actual needs.

Furthermore, the Temporary Framework complements the many other possibilities already available to Member States to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU State aid rules. On 13 March 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication on a Coordinated economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak setting out these possibilities. For example, Member States can make generally applicable changes in favour of businesses (e.g. deferring taxes, or subsidising short-time work across all sectors), which fall outside State Aid rules. They can also grant compensation to companies for damage suffered due to and directly caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Temporary Framework will be in place until the end of December 2021. With a view to ensuring legal certainty, the Commission will assess before this date if it needs to be extended.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.63656 in the State aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.

More information on the Temporary Framework and other action the Commission has taken to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.

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