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European politicians condemn upcoming business forum with Iran which ignores Iranian terrorism on European soil

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A group of senior European politicians took part in an online conference to express outrage over the European Union’s silence vis-à-vis the recent conviction and imprisonment of an Iranian diplomat and three of his accomplices for terrorism and attempted murder in Belgium. The conference took particular aim at Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, who is scheduled to take part in the Europe-Iran Business Forum on March 1 alongside Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, writes Shahin Gobadi.

Borrell and Zarif are both being promoted as keynote speakers at that three-day virtual event, organized by the International Trade Centre and funded by the EU. Critics of the Business Forum described it as an endorsement of “business as usual” approach by the EU toward the Iran regime, which they insist is neither a practical nor a desirable objective as long as Tehran continues to use terrorism as a form of statecraft. The speakers urged Borrell and other European officials to cancel their participation in this conference.

Giulio Terzi, minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy (2011-2013), Hermann Tertsch, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament from Spain, Dr. Alejo Vidal Quadras, a former EP Vice-President, Struan Stevenson, former MEP from Scotland, and Paulo Casaca, former MEP from Portugal, took part in Thursday’s (25 February) conference.

The International Committee of “In Search of Justice” (ISJ), a Brussels-registered NGO that seeks to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, peace and stability in Iran, organized the virtual conference.

Speakers focused on the case of Assadollah Assadi, the Third Counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, who he hatched a plot to bomb the “Free Iran” gathering held north of Paris on June 30, 2018. Tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from across the world took part in that event, along with hundreds of political dignitaries. The prime target of Assadi’s foiled plot was the keynote speaker, Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). On February 4, Assadi received a 20-year prison term and three co-conspirators were sentenced to 15-18 years in jail.

The trial established that Assadi was supervising a terrorist network that spanned the EU and that he had collected and tested a bomb in Tehran for use against the Free Iran rally, and then transported it to Vienna on a commercial airliner, using a diplomatic pouch. From there, Assadi passed the device to two of his co-conspirators, along with directions for its use.

Participants in Thursday’s conference pointed out that Assadi had been exposed as a senior officer of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), an officially designated terrorist organization. The European politicians warned that if the EU’s failure to take retaliatory and punitive measures against Iran over this terror plot will embolden the regime to engage in even larger terrorist conspiracies on European soil.

Hermann Tertsch strongly condemned Borrells’ approach toward Tehran, saying that he was compromising the integrity of Europe, adding that Europe cannot keep it as business as usual posture in dealing with Tehran after the court ruling. He said he expects that the European Parliament strongly and vocally oppose the scheduled business summit forum and added that he and other MEPs are very much committed to be the loud voice to the international community to stop the Business Forum.

According to ambassador Terzi: “Borrell is in charge of the security policy of the European people, all people who are residing in Europe. He does not do this at all.”, adding, “his approach to Tehran goes far beyond appeasement: it is total surrender.”

He added that Borrell’s participation in the business forum makes it appear as though nothing has happened and that he is under the illusion that not addressing the case and the court ruling by a Belgian court convicting Assadi and the three terrorists would serve Europe’s business interests. This is not diplomacy. Diplomacy should be an element of deterrence when it comes to security of our countries.

The speakers also noted that Europe should address the Iranian regime’s appalling human right record and the dramatic surge in the number of executions in recent weeks.

Dr. Vidal Quadras denounced the Europe-Iran Business Forum as an example of Western appeasement of the Iranian regime, calling it a shameful act of cowardice. The speakers said that it was absolutely essential for the safety and security of EU citizens that Mr. Borrell and the EU External Service close Iran’s embassies and make all future diplomatic relations contingent on the regime ending its terrorism on European soil. They also specifically demanded action against Foreign Minister Zarif for his role in the murderous bomb plot in Paris.

According to Mr. Stevenson: “If you allow this business forum to go ahead Mr Borrell, you will be sending the clearest possible signal to the fascist regime in Tehran that as far as Europe is concerned, trade matters more than human rights. Terrorism and brutality can be ignored, so long as EU businesses can make money. EU jobs mean more than Iranian lives.”

Paulo Casaca, who was spokesman for the Socialist Group and a member of the budget control committee in the European parliament, said: “Every European expenditure, as in any state following the rule of law, has to be legal and regular. The European Union Treaty sets, in the most unequivocal way, in article 21, the guidelines for the EU’s action on the international scene and therefore, to pay for propaganda of a regime that embodies the reverse of these principles in the wake of masterminding a terrorist attack on European soil is illegal and should be stopped by the European Parliament.” 

Climate change

Big business seeks unified, market-based approaches ahead of climate summit

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Corporate executives and investors say they want world leaders at next week’s climate summit to embrace a unified and market-based approach to slashing their carbon emissions, write Ross Kerber and Simon Jessop.

The request reflects the business world’s growing acceptance that the world needs to sharply reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its fear that doing so too quickly could lead governments to set heavy-handed or fragmented rules that choke international trade and hurt profits.

The United States is hoping to reclaim its leadership in combating climate change when it hosts the 22-23 April Leaders Summit on Climate.

Key to that effort will be pledging to cut US emissions by at least half by 2030, as well as securing agreements from allies to do the same.

“Climate change is a global problem, and what companies are looking to avoid is a fragmented approach where the US, China and the EU each does its own thing, and you wind up with a myriad of different methodologies,” said Tim Adams, chief executive of the Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based trade association.

He said he hopes U.S. President Joe Biden and the 40 other world leaders invited to the virtual summit will move toward adopting common, private-sector solutions to reaching their climate goals, such as setting up new carbon markets, or funding technologies like carbon-capture systems.

Private investors have increasingly been supportive of ambitious climate action, pouring record amounts of cash into funds that pick investments using environmental and social criteria.

That in turn has helped shift the rhetoric of industries that once minimized the risks of climate change.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil companies, for example, said last month it supported steps to reduce emissions such as putting a price on carbon and accelerating the development of carbon capture and other technologies.

API Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola said that in developing a new U.S. carbon cutting target, the United States should balance environmental goals with maintaining U.S. competitiveness.

“Over the long-term, the world is going to demand more energy, not less, and any target should reflect that reality and account for the significant technological advancements that will be required to accelerate the pace of emissions reductions,” Macchiarola said.

Labor groups like the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of U.S. labor unions, meanwhile, back steps to protect U.S. jobs like taxing goods made in countries that have less onerous emissions regulations.

AFL-CIO spokesman Tim Schlittner said the group hopes the summit will produce “a clear signal that carbon border adjustments are on the table to protect energy-intensive sectors”.

Industry wish lists

Automakers, whose vehicles make up a big chunk of global emissions, are under pressure to phase out petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines. Industry leaders General Motors Co and Volkswagen have already declared ambitious plans to move toward selling only electric vehicles.

But to ease the transition to electric vehicles, US and European automakers say they want subsidies to expand charging infrastructure and encourage sales.

The National Mining Association, the US industry trade group for miners, said it supports carbon capture technology to reduce the industry’s climate footprint. It also wants leaders to understand that lithium, copper and other metals are needed to manufacture electric vehicles.

“We hope that the summit brings new attention to the mineral supply chains that underpin the deployment of advanced energy technologies, such as electric vehicles,” said Ashley Burke, the NMA’s spokeswoman.

The agriculture industry, meanwhile, is looking for market-based programs to help it cut its emissions, which stack up to around 25% of the global total.

Industry giants such as Bayer AG and Cargill Inc have launched programs encouraging farming techniques that keep carbon in the soil.

Biden’s Department of Agriculture is looking to expand such programs, and has suggested creating a “carbon bank” that could pay farmers for carbon capture on their farms.

For their part, money managers and banks want policymakers to help standardize accounting rules for how companies report environmental and other sustainability-related risks, something that could help them avoid laggards on climate change.

“Our industry has an important role to play in supporting companies’ transition to a more sustainable future, but to do so it is vital we have clear and consistent data on the climate-related risks faced by companies,” said Chris Cummings, CEO of the Investment Association in London.

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Brexit

UK asks for more time to respond to EU Brexit legal action: RTE TV

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Britain has asked for more time to respond to legal action taken by the European Union over its unilateral decision to ease requirements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Ireland’s RTE television reported on Wednesday (14 April), writes Conor Humphries.

“The request came in two letters from the UK’s chief Brexit minister David Frost,” RTE correspondent Tony Connelly said in a Twitter post.

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EU

Team Europe increased Official Development Assistance to €66.8 billion as the world's leading donor in 2020

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The EU and its 27 member states have significantly increased their Official Development Assistance (ODA) for partner countries to €66.8 billion in 2020. This is a 15% increase in nominal terms and equivalent to 0.50% of collective Gross National Income (GNI), up from 0.41% in 2019, according to preliminary figures published today by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC). The EU and its member states thereby confirm their position as the world's leading donor, providing 46% of global assistance from the EU and other DAC donors, and have taken a major leap forward towards meeting the commitment to provide at least 0.7% of collective GNI as ODA by 2030.

International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said: “Team Europe has significantly increased its contribution of Official Development Assistance compared to last year. This is crucial at a time when so many people in our partner countries face significant health, economic and social challenges linked to the COVID-19 crisis. The latest figures show that 10 years ahead of the due date to deliver on our commitment to provide 0.7% of our collective GNI as ODA, we are more determined than ever to achieve this target.”

Overall, 17 Member States increased their ODA in nominal terms in 2020 compared to 2019, with the strongest nominal increases coming from Germany (+€3.310bn), France (+€1.499bn) and Sweden (+€921 million), and further increases coming from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The EU institutions' ODA (meaning the European Commission and the EIB) increased by €3.7bn (27%) overall in 2020 in nominal terms. 15 member states improved their ODA relative to their GNI by at least 0.01 percentage points: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. In Cyprus and Greece, ODA as a share of GNI decreased by at least 0.01 percentage points.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the EU, its member states, and the European financial institutions, together with the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, have combined their financial resources as Team Europe, mobilising over €40bn in support to partner countries in 2020. 65% of this amount was already disbursed in 2020 in support of the immediate humanitarian needs; health, water, sanitation and nutrition systems, as well as tackling the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis has put a huge stress on public finances and debt sustainability of many developing countries, affecting their ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This is why, in May 2020, President von der Leyen called for a Global Recovery Initiative, linking debt relief and investment to the SDGs to promote a green, digital, just and resilient recovery. The Global Recovery Initiative is about shifting to policy choices supporting green and digital transitions, social inclusiveness and human development while enhancing debt sustainability in partner countries.

ODA is one of the sources of financing to deliver on the SDGs, although more transparency is needed on all sources of finance for sustainable development. As an important step in that direction, data on Total Official Support for Sustainable Development (TOSSD) has been collected and published for the first time, increasing transparency on all officially-supported resources for the SDGs, including South-South co-operation, support to global public goods such as vaccine research and climate mitigation as well as private finance mobilized by official interventions.

Background

The data published today is based on preliminary information reported by the EU Member States to the OECD pending detailed final data to be published by OECD by early 2022. EU collective ODA consists of the total ODA spending of EU member states and the ODA of the EU institutions not attributed to individual member states or the UK (notably own resources of the European Investment Bank and, for the first time in 2020, special macro-financial assistance loans on a grant equivalent basis).

Despite its withdrawal from the European Union taking effect on 1 February 2020, the United Kingdom still contributed funding in the form of ODA to the EU budget and the European Development Fund in 2020. This is included in the EU institutions' ODA. However, in order to avoid double-counting between the ODA reported as EU collective ODA and the ODA reported by the United Kingdom itself, the United Kingdom's contribution to EU institutions is not included in what is reported as EU collective ODA.

Four EU member states already exceeded the 0.7% target of ODA as a share of GNI in 2020: Sweden (1.14%), Luxembourg (1.02%), Denmark (0.73%) and Germany (0.73%).

When highlighting the member states which increased or decreased their ODA as a share of GNI, only cases where the change amounts to at least 0.01 percentage points (based on exact rather than rounded values) are taken into account, while member states for which the change is smaller than 0.01 percentage points in either direction are considered to have kept their ODA as a share of GNI stable.

The EU and its member states thereby perform significantly above the average of non-EU DAC donors in terms of their ODA as a share of GNI, standing at 0.50% compared to 0.26% by the aggregate of all non-EU DAC donors.

In May 2015, the European Council reaffirmed its commitment to increase collective ODA to 0.7% of EU collective GNI by 2030. Since 2015, on a flow basis, ODA by the EU and its current 27 member states has grown by 37% (€18.7bn) in nominal terms while the ODA/GNI ratio has increased by 0.1 percentage points. The year 2020 marks a turn in the previous trend of declining ODA since the 2016 climax when the EU and its then 28 member states' ODA reached 0.52% of GNI. This turn is due partly to an absolute increase in collective ODA in nominal terms, and partly to an absolute decrease in collective GNI in nominal terms. The EU is also committed to give collectively between 0.15% and 0.20% of the EU GNI in the short term to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and 0.20% by 2030. Since 2015, on a flow basis, ODA by the EU and its current 27 member states to LDCs has grown by 34% (€3.5bn) in nominal terms to reach €13.8bn (0.10% of GNI) in 2019, and the ODA to LDCs/GNI ratio has increased by 0.01 percentage points. Moreover, compared to 2018, the EU and its then 28 member states increased their aggregate ODA to Africa by 3.6% in nominal terms to €25.9bn in 2019. Data on ODA to LDCs, Africa and other specific recipients for 2020 are expected by early 2022.

Scaling up sustainable finance and private sector engagement in partner countries is essential, coupled with reforms to enhance business climates, as meeting the challenges of the Global Recovery Initiative cannot be achieved by ODA alone. The EU has been instrumental in bringing together aid, investment, trade, domestic resource mobilisation and policies designed to unlock the full potential of all financial flows. The European Fund for Sustainable Development guarantee in particular has played a key role in unlocking additional finance for partner countries. Over the last year alone, the EU signed €1.55bn worth of financial guarantees with our partner financial institutions, leveraging over €17bn of investments – also helping to ensure that recovery from the pandemic is green, digital, just and resilient.

More information

Q&A on preliminary figures on 2020 Official Development Assistance for the EU and its member states 

Annex Preliminary Figures on 2020 Official Development Assistance, Tables and Graphs for the EU and its member states

Commission's publication of figures on the global COVID-19 response

OECD press release

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