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Pope, in Easter message, slams weapons spending in time of pandemic

Reuters

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Pope Francis urged countries in his Easter message on Sunday to quicken distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly to the world’s poor, and called armed conflict and military spending during a pandemic “scandalous”, writes Philip Pullella.

Pope's Easter message: Buy vaccines, not guns

Coronavirus has meant this has been the second year in a row that Easter papal services have been attended by small gatherings at a secondary altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, instead of by crowds in the church or in the square outside.

After saying Mass, Francis read his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message, in which he traditionally reviews world problems and appeals for peace.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor. Nonetheless – and this is scandalous – armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened,” he said.

Francis, who would normally have given the address to up to 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, spoke to fewer than 200 in the church while the message was broadcast to tens of millions around the world.

The square was empty except for a few police officers enforcing a strict three-day national lockdown.

The pope asked God to comfort the sick, those who have lost a loved one, and the unemployed, urging authorities to give families in greatest need a “decent sustenance”.

He praised medical workers, sympathised with young people unable to attend school, and said everyone was called to combat the pandemic.

“I urge the entire international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries,” he said.Slideshow ( 5 images )

Francis, who has often called for disarmament and a total ban on the possession of nuclear weapons, said: “There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world! May the Lord, who is our peace, help us to overcome the mindset of war.”

Noting that it was International Awareness Day against anti-personnel landmines, he called such weapons “insidious and horrible devices ... how much better our world would be without these instruments of death!”

In mentioning conflict areas, he singled out for praise “the young people of Myanmar committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully”. More than 550 protesters have been killed since a Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar, which the pope visited in 2017.

Francis called for peace in several conflict areas in Africa, including the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia and the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique. He said the crisis in Yemen has been “met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

He appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to “rediscover the power of dialogue” to reach a two-state solution where both can live side by side in peace and prosperity.

Francis said he realised many Christians were still persecuted and called for all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide to be lifted.

Aviation/airlines

Rome Fiumicino and Ciampino Airports the first in Europe to achieve Airport Carbon Accreditation Level 4+

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Aeroporti di Roma, the operator of Rome’s Fiumicino and Ciampino airports, has achieved the highest level of the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme: Level 4+ 'Transition', the first in Europe to do so.

To achieve this recognition, airports are required to reduce their CO2 emissions in line with global climate goals, to influence other parties active within the airport site to achieve effective reductions, and to compensate for their residual emissions with reliable carbon credits. Only two other airports in the world have achieved this level of carbon management performance so far: Dallas Fort Worth International in the US and Delhi Indira Gandhi International in India, while Christchurch International Airport has reached Level 4 Transformation. 

Since 2011, after obtaining the first Airport Carbon Accreditation certification, Aeroporti di Roma has continuously reduced carbon emissions under its control and driven broader reductions within the airport system through an engagement plan involving all stakeholders. Rome Fiumicino Airport has been a carbon neutral airport since 2013, and was joined shortly thereafter by Ciampino Airport. 

In order to accelerate their progress to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement and achieve Level 4+, Aeroporti di Roma has set out a plan to eliminate all of its own CO2emissions and thus achieve net zero COemissions by 2030. This ambitious target, when achieved, will set the airports 20 years ahead of the curve on the global climate neutrality objectives.

“This noteworthy recognition testifies to our strong commitment to environmental issues and to our willingness to continue tenaciously on this path, convinced of the need to increasingly integrate sustainability and innovation into our core business.” said the CEO of Aeroporti di Roma, Marco Troncone. “In view of the carbon-intensive nature of the aviation sector and to preserve the connectivity of the future, ADR's strategy is oriented towards the rapid decarbonisation of the airports it manages. In fact, we are aiming to reach zero CO2 emissions by 2030, long in advance of the European references for the sector, with a plan mainly aimed at renewable sources and electric mobility.”

Aeroporti di Roma specifically contributes to the reduction of the overall emissions of the various stakeholders operating at the airport by: Making Sustainable Aviation Fuel available to airlines by 2024 Promoting electric mobility at the airport, with the installation of 500 charging stations for electric vehicles and completely renewing its own fleet Building large photovoltaic plants at the airport for a total capacity of 60 MW Joining the EP-100 of The Climate Group's global initiative on the smarter use of energy, with the ambitious commitment to increase its energy productivity by 150% by 2016.

ACI EUROPE Director General Olivier Jankovec said: “We are absolutely thrilled with Aeroporti di Roma’s excellent achievement! When launching the new levels of Airport Carbon Accreditation last year, amid the direst of crises ever witnessed by the aviation sector, we were propelling an industry-wide ambition that was suddenly stripped of the vital resources to fulfill it. Decarbonisation is an especially costly endeavour for businesses in the so-called “hard-to-abate” sectors, of which aviation is a prime example. Moving past these challenges and reaching the highest level of Airport Carbon Accreditation at this time is an exceptional achievement on the part of Rome Airports. I would like to wholeheartedly congratulate and thank each person involved in this success.

He added: “The track record of our members, and our industry, illustrates that we lead the way in the airport decarbonisation worldwide. Through the ongoing ambition of our Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, further enhanced through the introduction of two new accreditation levels, our close involvement in the European aviation sector’s recent Destination 2050 roadmap, and our call for the EU to join us in a Pact for Sustainable Aviation this year, we continue to strive towards our climate goals in tangible and actionable ways. Our ambition remains undimmed.”

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China

The Belt and Road in Italy: Two years later

Belt & Road News Network

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On 23 March 2019, Italy officially became part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Two years since the first G-7 country became part of the controversial Chinese project, it is time to make an initial assessment of Italy’s highly contested membership in the BRI, writes Francesca Ghiretti.

Three important elements, two external and one internal, have been fundamental in shaping the development of the BRI in Italy. The two exogenous elements are the increasing tensions between the China and the United States, and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The former has translated into more U.S. engagement with Europe, including Italy, to secure alignment in policies toward China. A sample result of this effort was the cancellation of a potential collaboration between the Italian Space Agency (ISA) and China National Space Administration (CNSA) to build habitational modules for the Chinese space station Tiangong 3. Another result, which falls in line with steps taken in other EU countries, regards changes that curtail the possibility of Huawei participating in development of the Italian 5G network.

Admittedly, neither example cited above directly relates to the Memorandum of Understanding signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Italy in March 2019. However, both are examples of a change of Italy’s position toward collaboration with Chinese entities, whether public or private, following pressure from the United States. The collaboration regarding the Chinese space station, interestingly, was abandoned soon after March 2019.

The second external element is the outbreak of COVID-19. Last year was meant to be very important for the relationship between Italy and China. In 2020, Italy and China celebrated the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship and were meant to celebrate the Year of Tourism Italy-China, now postponed to 2022. A line-up of events and celebrations had been organized for both, which had to be cancelled amid the pandemic. Furthermore, as the first year after the signing of the MoU, 2020 should have seen the initial materialization of the agreements signed on the occasion of Xi’s state visit. It is difficult to say whether in the absence of the pandemic, most of the BRI-related agreements would have materialized, but it can be confidently stated that without the pandemic we would have witnessed further developments. In fact, even with the pandemic, a series of deals materialized, and a limited number of new ones were reached, although mostly among private actors, at least on the Italian side.

The internal element shaping the BRI’s development in Italy is the numerous changes to the Italian government in the past two years. When the MoU for the BRI was signed, Italy was governed by a populist coalition formed by the Five-Star Movement (5SM) and the far-right League. The latter would rediscover its transatlantic call shortly before Xi’s state visit. Within this coalition, a mixture of rejection of Italy’s traditional alliances, Euro-skepticism, naïveté, and interests that pointed in favor of China led to the decision to sign the MoU. In September 2019, however, that government was replaced by a new coalition, which saw the 5SM being joined by the mainstream center-left Democratic Party (PD). The prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, remained the same.

The new coalition did not necessarily have a less favorable view of China. Historically, Italy’s left has cultivated very positive relations with China. However, it adopted a less sensationalistic approach and placed Italy back into its traditional alliance systems. Notably, after September 2019, Italy adopted a very European approach in its dealings with China. Italy quietly maintained a rather positive relationship with China, while joining with the other EU countries in occasional critiques of China, and, as already mentioned, adopting a response to 5G similar to its fellow Europeans: excluding Huawei without imposing a blanket ban.

At the beginning of 2021, Italy underwent another change of government. It is now led by Mario Draghi and is even more embedded in Italy’s traditional alliances than the previous government. Given that this government has not been in power long, the assessments that will be made here mostly relate to the government of Conte II, when the 5SM governed with PD.

Keeping in mind what has so far been said, the examples that follow will show that the great majority of MoUs signed between Italy and China were either an expression of intentions that were rarely materialized or the consolidation of an already established relationship.

A notable lack of materialization can be found in the MoUs signed between the port of Genoa and the port of Trieste with China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). In brief, so far, there has been a lack of developments in the collaborations in this sector and it seems there will not be any in the future. The new BRI terminal of Vado Ligure, near Genoa, is the result of an agreement that long predates the MoU of March 2019. It dates back to the creation of the joint venture APM Terminals Vado Ligure Spa back in 2016. Furthermore, the joint venture does not involve of CCCC, the signatory of the MoU, but of COSCO and Qingdao Port. In other words, so far, the only development in the maritime sector linked to the BRI involves a project that is not part of the MoUs of March 2019.

Another example is the collaboration between the Italian Space Agency and the China National Space Administration for the mission “China Seismo-Electromegnatic Satellite 02” (CSES-02). This project is also predated the signing of the MoUs. It represents phase two of an already ongoing collaboration between ISA and CNSA on CSES-01. The collaboration in the energy sector between Ansaldo Energia and both China United Gas Turbine Technology Co. and Shanghai Electric Power Corp. was also established before 2019. Other examples of already existing relationships that were formalized by signing MoUs in March 2019 are those of Cassa Depositi and Prestiti, Eni and Intesa San Paolo with Chinese counterparts such as Bank of China and the city of Qingdao.

Some successful developments of the MoUs have been the restitution of 796 archaeological artifacts from Italy to China, which occurred in March 2019. There was also collaboration between the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) and the Alibaba Group for the creation in 2020 of an online Made in Italy Pavilion for Business to Business (B2B) commerce. Finally, one notable successful MoU has been that between the Italian news agency Ansa and its Chinese counterpart Xinhua. Despite the relationship again predating March 2019, it was only after March 2019 that news from Xinhua translated in Italian began to appear on the website of Ansa, labelled as Xinhua News.

All in all, Italy has undeniably witnessed the developments of many of the MoUs signed in March 2019. However, as anticipated, most of the MoUs were the result of collaboration that already existed before 2019 and thus, arguably, Italy would have witnessed the same type of developments even without joining the BRI, with some exceptions. Furthermore, if the BRI is analyzed uniquely as a connectivity and infrastructure project, then only a handful of the examples presented above can be considered as being part of the BRI.

However, the mere fact that alongside the signing of the BRI MoU, other MoUs belonging to diverse sectors were also signed means that not only for China, but also for Italy, the BRI is about a lot more than just connectivity. The BRI is a way to frame the relationship between a country and China. In both cases, one can easily say that yes, the BRI has not been as successful as one would have thought, in Italy and elsewhere. But it is not dead. Authors

Francesca Ghiretti is a research fellow at Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), where she specializes in the Italy-China relationship, Europe-China relationship and Chinese foreign policy. She is a Leverhulme doctoral fellow at King’s College London, looking at Chinese FDI in the EU.

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coronavirus

Commission approves €24.7 million of Italian support to compensate Alitalia for further damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission has found €24.7 million of Italian support in favour of Alitalia to be in line with EU state aid rules. This measure aims at compensating the airline for the damages suffered on certain routes due to the coronavirus outbreak between 1 November and 31 December 2020.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The coronavirus crisis and restrictions to limit the spread of the virus are continuing for longer than we all hoped for. The measure approved today enables Italy to provide further compensation for direct damages suffered by Alitalia between November and December 2020 as a result of such restrictions. We continue working closely with member states to ensure that national support measures can be put in place in a co-ordinated and effective way, in line with EU rules. At the same time, our investigations into past support measures to Alitalia are ongoing and we are in contact with Italy on their plans and compliance with EU rules.”

The restrictions in place both in Italy and in foreign countries in order to limit the spread of a second wave of the pandemic have heavily affected Alitalia's operations. Italy notified to the Commission an additional aid measure to compensate Alitalia for further damages suffered on certain routes from 1 November 2020 to 31 December 2020 due to the emergency measures necessary to limit the spread of the virus. This follows the Commission decisions of 4 September 2020 and 29 December 2020 to approve Italian measures compensating Alitalia for the damage suffered from governmental restrictions between 1 March 2020 to 15 June 2020 and 16 June to 31 October 2020, respectively.

The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or sectors for damage directly caused by exceptional occurrences. The Commission considers that the coronavirus outbreak qualifies as such an exceptional occurrence, as it is an extraordinary, unforeseeable event having significant economic impact. As a result, exceptional interventions by the Member State to compensate for the damages linked to the outbreak are justified.

The Commission found that the Italian measure will compensate for damages suffered by Alitalia which are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak, as the loss of profitability on the eligible routes as a result of the containment measures during the relevant period can be considered as damage directly linked to the exceptional occurrence. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the route-by-route quantitative analysis submitted by Italy appropriately identifies the damage attributable to the containment measures, and therefore the compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damage on those routes.

On this basis, the Commission concluded that the additional Italian damage compensation measure is in line with EU State aid rules.

Background

Based on complaints received, on 23 April 2018 the Commission opened a formal investigation procedure on €900 million loans granted to Alitalia by Italy in 2017.  On 28 February 2020, the Commission opened a separate formal investigation procedure on an additional €400 million loan granted by Italy in October 2019. Both investigations are ongoing.

Financial support from EU or national funds granted to health services or other public services to tackle the coronavirus situation falls outside the scope of State aid control. The same applies to any public financial support given directly to citizens. Similarly, public support measures that are available to all companies such as for example wage subsidies and suspension of payments of corporate and value added taxes or social contributions do not fall under state aid control and do not require the Commission's approval under EU state aid rules. In all these cases, member states can act immediately.

When State aid rules are applicable, member states can design ample aid measures to support specific companies or sectors suffering from the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak in line with the existing EU State aid framework. On 13 March 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication on a co-ordinated economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak setting out these possibilities.

In this respect, for example:

  • Member states can compensate specific companies or specific sectors (in the form of schemes) for the damage suffered due and directly caused by exceptional occurrences, such as those caused by the coronavirus outbreak. This is foreseen by Article 107(2)(b)TFEU.
  • State aid rules based on Article 107(3)(c) TFEU enable member states to help companies cope with liquidity shortages and needing urgent rescue aid.
  • This can be complemented by a variety of additional measures, such as under the de minimis Regulation and the General Block Exemption Regulation, which can also be put in place by member states immediately, without involvement of the Commission.

In case of particularly severe economic situations, such as the one currently faced by all Member States due the coronavirus outbreak, EU State aid rules allow member states to grant support to remedy a serious disturbance to their economy. This is foreseen by Article 107(3)(b) TFEU of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

On 19 March 2020, the Commission adopted a state aid Temporary Framework based on Article 107(3)(b) TFEU 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; (ii) State guarantees for loans taken by companies; (iii) Subsidised public loans to companies, including subordinated loans; (iv) Safeguards for banks that channel state aid to the real economy; (v) Public short-term export credit insurance;(vi) Support for coronavirus related research and development (R&D); (vii) Support for the construction and upscaling of testing facilities; (viii) Support for the production of products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak; (ix) Targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of social security contributions; (x) Targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees; (xi) Targeted support in the form of equity and/or hybrid capital instruments; (xii) Support for uncovered fixed costs for companies facing a decline in turnover in the context of 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.61676 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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