On 29 and 30 March, the European Union will co-chair with the UN a fifth Brussels conference on 'Supporting the Future of Syria and of the Region' involving the participation of governments and international organizations as well as of Syrian civil society.
The European Union is ready to enhance dialogue among all international actors with influence in the Syrian crisis, and calls on them to join forces at the conference to reaffirm and consolidate strong support for a political solution in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
As in previous years, the conference will also generate international financial support to help meet the dramatically increasing humanitarian needs inside Syria, for Syrian refugees, and for refugee-hosting communities and countries in the region including countries like Turkey and Lebanon. There will be a strong call at the conference for the renewal of UN Security Council Resolution 2533 enabling safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access and the cross-border delivery of assistance, essential under current circumstances to meeting the vital needs of millions inside Syria.
On the eve of the fifth Brussels conference for Syria, the United Nations humanitarian, refugee and development chiefs have urged international donors to step up and stand with the millions of people in Syria and the region who depend on life-saving humanitarian aid and livelihood support after a decade of war.
With the added impact of COVID-19, there is no respite for civilians in Syria. They face increasing hunger and poverty, continued displacement and ongoing attacks. The neighbouring countries host four out of five Syrian refugees worldwide, in what remains the world’s largest refugee crisis, while also trying to address increasing socio-economic challenges for their own nationals.
Today 24 million people need humanitarian or other forms of assistance in Syria and the region. That is four million more than in 2020, and more than at any other time since the conflict began.
Sustained donor financing for the UN’s response plans will fund food, water and sanitation, health services, education, child vaccinations and shelter for millions of people living on the brink in Syria. It will also provide cash assistance, job or training opportunities, and other services such as access to primary and secondary education, in conjunction with national systems, to millions in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.
In 2021, over US$10 billion is needed to fully support Syrians and refugee-hosting communities in need. This includes at least $4.2 billion for the humanitarian response inside Syria and $5.8 billion to support refugees and host communities in the region.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said: “It has been ten years of despair and disaster for Syrians. Now plummeting living conditions, economic decline and COVID-19 result in more hunger, malnutrition and disease. There is less fighting, but no peace dividend. More people need more help than at any point during the war, and children must return to learning. An investment in kindness and humanity is always good but sustaining the basic living standards for people in Syria is also an essential ingredient of sustainable peace. That is in everybody's interest.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: “After a decade of exile, refugees’ hardship has been compounded by the crushing impact of the pandemic, lost livelihoods and education, deepening hunger and desperation. The hard-earned gains we’ve collectively achieved over years are already at risk. The international community cannot turn their backs on the refugees or their hosts. Refugees and their hosts must get nothing less than our unfaltering commitment, solidarity and support. A failure to do so will be catastrophic for the people and the region.”
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said: “It has been 12 months like no other for people across the world. Yet, for refugees from Syria and their host communities in the region, the COVID-19 pandemic hit during a decade-long crisis - stretching them to breaking point. At present, poverty and inequality are skyrocketing as hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs and livelihoods. And countries that host refugees are struggling to provide basic services like healthcare and water. Now, more than ever, the support of the international community is needed to meet life-saving humanitarian needs – and to tackle the acute development emergency that the region now faces.”
At last year's conference in Brussels, the international community pledged $5.5 billion in funding to support humanitarian, resilience and development activities in 2020.
Supporting the future of Syria and the region, Brussels V Conference programme and livestreaming from the conference
Statement by the USG/ERC Mark Lowcock with voices from Syria
Syrian voices and picture gallery from Syrian photographers
Download data and graphics on the Syria crisis and funding over 10 years
NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Czechia's €7 billion recovery and resilience plan
The European Commission has today (19 July) adopted a positive assessment of Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €7 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a key role in helping Czechia emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Czech plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.
The Commission assessed Czechia's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Czechia's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.
Securing Czechia's green and digital transition
The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 42% of its total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, the modernisation of district heating distribution networks, the replacement of coal-fired boilers and improving the energy efficiency of residential and public buildings. The plan also includes measures for nature protection and water management as well as investment in sustainable mobility.
The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 22% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. The plan provides for investments in digital infrastructure, the digitalization of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. It promotes the digitalisation of businesses and digital projects in the cultural and creative sectors. The plan also includes measures to improve digital skills at all levels, as part of the education system and through dedicated upskilling and reskilling programmes.
Reinforcing Czechia's economic and social resilience
The Commission considers that Czechia's plan effectively addresses all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Czechia by the Council in the European Semester in 2019 and in 2020.
The plan provides for measures to tackle the need for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable transport and digital infrastructure. Several measures aim at addressing the need to foster digital skills, improve the quality and inclusiveness of education, and to increase the availability of childcare facilities. The plan also provides for improving the business environment, mainly through extensive e-government measures, a reform of the procedures of granting construction permits and anti-corruption measures. Challenges in the area of R&D shall be improved by investment geared at strengthening public-private cooperation and financial and non-financial support to innovative firms.
The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Czechia's economic and social situation, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.
Supporting flagship investments and reform projects
The Czech plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Czechia has proposed €1.4bn to support the energy efficiency renovation of buildings and €500 million to boost digital skills through education and investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes for the entire labour force.
The Commission's assessment finds that no measure included in the plan does any significant harm to the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.
The arrangements proposed in the recovery and resilience plan in relation to control systems are adequate to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflicts of interests relating to the use of funds. The arrangements are also expected to effectively avoid double funding under that Regulation and other Union programmes. These control systems are complemented by additional audit and control measures contained in the Commission's proposal for a Council Implementing Decision as milestones. These milestones must be fulfilled before Czechia presents its first payment request to the Commission.
President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This plan will play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards a greener and more digital future for Czechia. Measures that improve energy efficiency, digitalize public administration and deter the misuse of public funds are exactly in line with the objectives of NextGenerationEU. I also welcome the strong emphasis the plan places on strengthening the resilience of Czechia's health-care system to prepare it for future challenges. We will stand with you every step of the way to ensure that the plan is fully implemented.
Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Czechia's recovery and resilience plan will provide a strong boost to the country's efforts to get back its feet after the economic shock caused the pandemic. The €7bn in NextGenerationEU funds that will flow to Czechia over the next five years will support a wide-ranging programme of reforms and investments to build a more sustainable and competitive economy. They include very sizeable investments in building renovation, clean energy and sustainable mobility, as well as measures to boost digital infrastructure and skills and the digitalisation of public services. The business environment will benefit from the promotion of e-government and anti-corruption measures. The plan will also support improvements in healthcare, including reinforced cancer prevention and rehabilitation care.”
The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €7bn in grants to Czechia under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.
The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €910m to Czechia in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total amount allocated to Czechia.
An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “This plan will put Czechia on the path to recovery and boost its economic growth as Europe gears up for the green and digital transitions. Czechia intends to invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, while improving the energy efficiency of buildings. It aims to roll out greater digital connectivity across the country, promote digital education and skills, and digitalize many of its public services. And it places a welcome focus on improving the business environment and justice system, backed by measures to fight corruption and promote e-government – all in a balanced response to the Czech economic and social situation. Once put properly into practice, this plan will help to put Czechia on a sound footing for the future.”
The Commission will authorize further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms.
Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods
The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.
Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.
Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.
Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.
"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.
"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."
Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.
But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.
The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.
Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.
Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.
In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.
It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.
Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.
RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.
In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.
Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.
Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.
Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.
Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.
The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.
Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.
NextGenerationEU: President von der Leyen in Czechia to present the Commission's assessment of the national recovery plan
Today (19 July), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) will be in Czechia to present the Commission's assessment on the national recovery and resilience plan under NextGenerationEU. On Monday morning, President von der Leyen will travel to Prague to meet Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, together with Vice-President Věra Jourová. She will also visit the Prague State Opera and the State Opera and National Museum, and discuss investments in energy efficiency.
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