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UK and EU-27 citizens in the UK to remain part of European Parliament communication programmes 

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The European Parliament reaffirms its will to continue to engage with young generations of UK citizens and EU27 citizens resident in the UK. Following its decision in February 2019 to maintain the European Parliament’s presence in the UK, notably through its London Office, the Bureau of the Parliament (President Sassoli and Vice-Presidents) agreed last night to adapt its communication programmes to ensure that UK citizens, in particular the younger generation and the millions of EU27 citizens residing in the country, are still able to participate.

Opinion multiplier groups, youth groups and organisations will be able to participate in debates and events offered by the European Parliament like the European Youth Event, which brings together thousands of young Europeans every two years in Strasbourg and online (8,000 young people took part in the 2018 event). UK schools will also be able to participate in Euroscola, an immersive experience that takes place in the Chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, allowing secondary school students to learn about European integration by experiencing it first-hand. British schools can also take part in the European Parliament Ambassador Schools Programme.

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EU, under pressure over vaccine rollouts, considers switch to emergency approvals

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The European Commission said on Tuesday (2 March) that it was considering emergency approvals for COVID-19 vaccines as a faster alternative to more rigorous conditional marketing authorizations which have been used so far, writes Francesco Guarascio, @fraguarascio.

The move would mark a big shift in approach to vaccine approvals, as it would entail using a procedure that the EU had considered dangerous and that before the COVID-19 pandemic had been reserved for exceptional authorization at national level of drugs for terminally ill patients, including cancer treatments.

The potential change comes as the EU executive and the bloc’s drug regulator come under increasing pressure for what some consider slow vaccine approvals, which have contributed to a slower rollout of COVID-19 shots in the 27-nation union, compared to the United States and former EU member Britain.

“We are ready to reflect with the member states on all possible avenues to indeed accelerate the approval of the vaccines,” an EU Commission spokesman told a news conference.

One option could be “an emergency authorisation of vaccines at EU level with shared liability among member states”, the spokesman said, adding that work on this could start very quickly if EU governments supported the idea.

It was not clear whether an EU-wide emergency authorisation procedure, if agreed upon, would entail the same conditions as emergency approvals granted at national level, the commission spokesman told Reuters.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) cannot currently issue emergency approvals but in exceptional circumstances has recommended the compassionate use of drugs before marketing authorisation.

This procedure was used in April to initially authorise doctors to use Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment against COVID-19. The drug was later given conditional approval by EMA.

National emergency approvals are allowed under EU laws, but they force countries to take full responsibility if something goes wrong with a vaccine, whereas under the more rigorous marketing authorisation, pharmaceutical companies remain liable for their vaccines.

The EU Commission had said that national emergency authorisations should not be used for COVID-19 vaccines, because faster approvals could reduce regulators’ ability to check efficacy and safety data.

This could also boost vaccine hesitancy, which is already high in some countries, EU officials had said.

One senior EU official said the emergency procedure had so far usually been used at national level for terminally ill patients and the EU had instead chosen the lengthier conditional marketing authorisation because with vaccines “we inject healthy people” and the risk was disproportionate.

The change of tack would come after Eastern European countries, including Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, approved Russian and Chinese vaccines with national emergency procedures.

Britain has also used the emergency procedure to approve COVID-19 vaccines.

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Trillion euro GDP opportunity if Europe embraces digitalization, report reveals

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A new report, Digitalization: An opportunity for Europe, shows how increased digitalization of Europe’s services and value chains over the next six years could boost the European Union’s GDP per capita by 7.2% – equivalent to a €1 trillion increase in overall GDP. The report, commissioned by Vodafone and conducted by Deloitte, looks at the five key measures – connectivity, human capital, use of internet services, integration of digital technology and digital public services – that are measured by the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), and reveals that even modest improvements can have a big impact.

Using data1 from all 27 EU countries and the United Kingdom across 2014-2019, the report reveals that a 10% increase in the overall DESI score for a member state is associated with a 0.65% higher GDP per capita,assuming other key factors remain constant, such as labour, capital, government consumption and investment in the economy. However, if the digital allocation from the EU recovery package, particularly the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), was concentrated in areas that could see all member states reach a DESI score of 90 by 2027 (the end of the EU’s budget cycle), GDP across the EU could increase by as much 7.2%.

Countries with lower GDP per capita in 2019 stand to be the biggest beneficiaries: if Greece were to raise its score from 31 in 2019 to 90 by 2027, this would increase GDP per capita by 18.7% GDP and productivity in the long term by 17.9%. In fact, a number of significant member states, including Italy, Romania, Hungary, Portugal and the Czech Republic would all see GDP rises of over 10%.

Vodafone Group External Affairs Group Director Joakim Reiter said: “Digital technology has been a lifeline for many over the last year, and this report provides concrete demonstration of how further digitalisation really is essential to repair our economies and societies following the pandemic. But it puts a clear onus on policy-makers to now make sure that the funds allocated by the Next Generation EU recovery instrument are used wisely, so that we can unlock these significant benefits for all citizens.

“This crisis has pushed the boundaries of what all of us thought was possible. Now is the time to have the courage and set a clear, high bar for how we rebuild our societies and fully leverage digital to that effect. DESI - and the call for “90 by 27” - provides such a robust and ambitious framework to drive concrete benefits of digitisation and should form an integral part of measuring the success of the EU reconstruction facility, and Europe’s Digital Decade ambitions more broadly.”

Digitalisation can enable economic and societal resilience not only when it comes to connectivity and new technologies, but also by driving the digital skills of citizens and the performance of public services. Previous studies have already established broadly positive links between digitalisation and economic indicators.

This new report goes one step further, and builds on an earlier Vodafone report, also produced by Deloitte, that also looks at the wider benefits of digitalization, which include:

  • Economic: An increase in GDP per capita between 0.6% and 18.7%, depending on the country; with the EU seeing an overall increase in GDP per capita of 7.2% by 2027;
  • Environmental: the more we use digital technologies, the greater the environmental benefits, from the reduction in paper use to more efficient cities and less use of fossil fuels – for example, using Vodafone’s Internet of Things (IoT) technology in vehicles can cut fuel consumption by 30%, saving an estimated 4.8million tonnes of CO2e last year;
  • Quality of life: innovations in eHealth can improve our personal wellbeing and smart city technologies support our health with lower emissions and mortality – rolling out eHealth solutions across the EU could prevent as many as 165,000 deaths a year, and;
  • Inclusivity: the digital ecosystem opens up opportunities to more members of society. As we invest in digital skills and tools, we can share the benefits of digitalization more equitably – for example, for every 1,000 new broadband users in rural areas, 80 new jobs are created.

Sam Blackie, partner and head of EMEA Economic Advisory, Deloitte, said: “The adoption of new technologies and digital platforms across the EU will create a strong foundation for economic growth, creating new opportunities for products and services and boosting productivity and efficiencies. Economies with low-levels of digital adoption stand to benefit considerably from digitisation, which will encourage further collaboration and innovation across Europe.”

In addition to commissioning this report, Vodafone has a number of initiatives, at both EU and member state levels, that will support the drive towards digitalization and the push for 90 for 27. Visit www.vodafone.com/EuropeConnected for more details.

Select Member States GDP and productivity increase if they reached 90 on the DESI by 2027:


NLIEESDECZPTHUITROGR
2019 DESI score63.65853.651.247.34742.341.636.535.1
% increase in GDP if country gets to 90 on DESI0.590.984.387.8110.0610.1611.4311.6516.4818.70
% increase in productivity if country gets to 90 on DESI4.706.307.708.6010.3010.5012.9013.3016.7017.90

The report utilises data from 27 EU countries and the United Kingdom across 2014-2019 to develop econometric analyses of the economic impacts of digitalisation, as measured by the DESI, on GDP per capita and on long-term productivity. This builds on approaches used in previous literature to study the impact of technology and digital infrastructure on economic indicators. For more information on the methodology, please see the technical annex of the report here.

About the DESI

The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) was created by the EU to monitor Europe's overall digital performance and track the progress of EU countries with respect to their digital competitiveness. It measures five important aspects of digitalization: connectivity, human capital (digital skills), use of internet services, integration of digital technology (focusing on businesses) and digital public services. EU and country scores are out of 100. DESI reports on digitalisation progress across the EU are published annually.

About Vodafone

Vodafone is a leading telecommunications company in Europe and Africa. Our purpose is to “connect for a better future” and our expertise and scale gives us a unique opportunity to drive positive change for society. Our networks keep family, friends, businesses and governments connected and – as COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated – we play a vital role in keeping economies running and the functioning of critical sectors like education and healthcare.  

Vodafone is the largest mobile and fixed network operator in Europe and a leading global IoT connectivity provider. Our M-Pesa technology platform in Africa enables over 45m people to benefit from access to mobile payments and financial services. We operate mobile and fixed networks in 21 countries and partner with mobile networks in 48 more. As of 31 December 2020, we had over 300m mobile customers, more than 27m fixed broadband customers, over 22m TV customers and we connected more than 118m IoT devices. 

We support diversity and inclusion through our maternity and parental leave policies, empowering women through connectivity and improving access to education and digital skills for women, girls, and society at large. We are respectful of all individuals, irrespective of race, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, belief, culture or religion.

Vodafone is also taking significant steps to reduce our impact on our planet by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025 and becoming net zero by 2040, purchasing 100% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and reusing, reselling or recycling 100% of our redundant network equipment.

For more information, please click here, follow us on Twitter or connect with us on LinkedIn.

About Deloitte

In this press release references to “Deloitte” are references to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”) a UK private company limited by guarantee, and its network of member firms, each of which is a legally separate and independent entity.

Please click here for a detailed description of the legal structure of DTTL and its member firms.

1 Data sources include the World Bank, Eurostat, and the European Commission.

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Has Europe finally lost patience with its imported oligarchs?

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EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell’s disastrous trip to Russia in early February has cast a long shadow over the continent. It’s not the first time that a top European diplomat has failed to stand up to the Kremlin, but the humiliating scenes from Moscow—from Borrell’s conspicuous silence while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the EU an “unreliable partner” to Borrell finding out via Twitter that Russia had expelled three European diplomats for attending demonstrations supporting opposition leader Alexei Navalny—seem to have struck a particular nerve among European policymakers.

Not only are calls multiplying for Borrell’s resignation, but the diplomatic dustup seems to have whetted European politicians’ appetite for new sanctions on Putin’s inner circle. Navalny himself laid out the blueprint for fresh sanctions before he was jailed, composing a target list of oligarchs. A number of the names under consideration, such as Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, have long skirted Western scrutiny despite serious allegations against them and tight ties to Putin. Indeed, European policymakers have shown a remarkable tolerance for the business dons who’ve flocked to their shores—even as they have utterly failed to integrate into European societies, scorning Western court rulings and remaining in lockstep with the cronyist networks that prop up Putin’s regime. In the wake of the Navalny saga and Borrell’s catastrophic journey to Moscow, have Western lawmakers finally run out of patience?

New targets after Navalny affair

Russia’s relations with both the EU and the UK have come under increasing strain since Alexei Navalny was poisoned last August with the Soviet nerve agent Novichok, and have plunged to new lows in the wake of his arrest in January. Even before Borrell’s ill-fated trip, there was growing momentum for imposing fresh restrictions on Russia. The European Parliament voted 581-50 in late January to “significantly strengthen the EU’s restrictive measures vis-à-vis Russia”, while opposition MPs have challenged the UK government to draw up fresh sanctions. The pressure to take a tough line has reached a fever pitch after Borrell’s humiliation in Moscow, with even the Russian ambassador in London admitting that the Kremlin is expecting new sanctions from the EU and the UK.

Britain and the European Union already rolled out some sanctions last October, targeting six Russian officials and a state-run scientific research centre believed to have been involved in deploying the banned chemical weapon against Navalny. Now, however, Navalny and his allies are not only calling for a second wave of consequences but are advocating for a strategic shift regarding which pressure points the sanctions are aimed at.

Navalny believes that the oligarchs and ‘stoligarchs’ (state sponsored oligarchs like Arkady Rotenberg, who recently claimed that the opulent “Putin Palace” Navalny profiled in an exposé was actually his) whose funds freely move throughout Europe should be the target of fresh sanctions, rather than the mid-ranking intelligence officials who have historically shouldered the consequences. “The main question we should ask ourselves is why these people are poisoning, killing and fabricating elections,” Navalny told an EU hearing in November, “And the answer is very very simple: money. So the European Union should target the money and Russian oligarchs.”

A swipe at Putin’s regime, but also long-awaited retribution

The opposition leader’s allies, who have picked up the fight for fresh sanctions after Navalny was handed a two year and eight month jail sentence, have argued that personal sanctions against high-profile oligarchs with assets in the West could lead to “intra-elite conflicts” which would destabilise the network of wealthy allies that enables and legitimates Putin’s criminal behaviour.

Taking a tougher line on oligarchs with a chequered past, however, would have benefits above and beyond putting direct pressure on Putin’s administration. Just as Borrell stood by silently as Sergei Lavrov lambasted the European bloc he was supposed to represent, the West has sent a troubling message by rolling out the red carpet for oligarchs who have repeatedly tried to sidestep the European rule of law.

Just take the case of tycoon Farkhad Akhmedov. A close friend of Abramovich’s, Akhmedov was ordered by the British High Court to hand over 41.5% of his fortune—adding up to £453 million—to his ex-wife Tatiana, who has lived in the UK since 1994. The gas billionaire has not only refused to cough up the divorce payment, but has embarked on a no-holds-barred attack against the British legal system and has concocted what British judges described as elaborate schemes in order to evade the UK court decision.  

Akhmedov promptly declared that the London High Court decision was “worth as much as toilet paper” and suggested that the divorce judgment was part of a British conspiracy against Putin and Russia writ large—but he didn’t limit himself to inflammatory rhetoric questioning the integrity of the British judicial system. The controversial billionaire apparently enlisted his son, 27-year-old London trader Temur, to help him move and hide assets out of reach. Ahead of a court date to answer questions about the “gifts” his father showered him with, including a £29 million Hyde Park flat and £35 million to play the stock market, Temur fled the UK for Russia. His father, meanwhile, turned to a Dubai sharia law court—which did not recognise the Western legal principle of shared assets between spouses—in order to keep his £330 million superyacht safe from the UK High Court’s worldwide freezing order on his assets.

The extraordinary lengths to which Akhmedov apparently went to thwart the British justice system are sadly par for the course for the oligarchs who installed themselves in European capitals without adopting European values or leaving behind the complex cronyism on which they, and Putin’s regime, depend.

European policymakers have been slow to address this new breed of robber barons. Properly targeted, the next round of sanctions could kill two birds with one stone, ratcheting up pressure on Putin’s inner circle while also sending a message to tycoons who have long enjoyed their assets in the West with impunity.

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