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EU backs France in submarine dispute, asking: Is America back?

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European Union foreign ministers expressed support and solidarity with France on Monday (20 September) during a meeting in New York to discuss Australia's scrapping of a $40 billion submarine order with Paris in favor of a US and British deal, write Michelle Nichols, John Irish, Steve Holland, Sabine Siebold, Philip Blenkinsop and Marine Strauss.

Speaking after the closed-door meeting on the sidelines annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said "more cooperation, more coordination, less fragmentation" was needed to achieve a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific region where China is the major rising power.

Australia said last week it would cancel an order for conventional submarines from France and instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology after striking a security partnership with those countries under the name AUKUS. Read more.

"Certainly, we were caught by surprise by this announcement," Borrell said.

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The decision enraged France and earlier on Monday in New York French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused US President Joe Biden's administration of continuing his predecessor Donald Trump's trends of "unilateralism, unpredictability, brutality and not respecting your partner."

The United States has sought to assuage the anger in France, a NATO ally. French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Joe Biden are due to speak on the phone in the next few days.

"We are allies, we talk and don't hide elaborate different strategies. That's why there is a crisis in confidence," Le Drian said. "So all that needs clarifications and explanations. It may take time."

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White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that she expected Biden to "reaffirm our commitment to working with one of our oldest and closest partners on a range of challenges that the global community is facing" when he speaks with Macron.

It is not clear if the dispute will have implications for the next round of EU-Australia trade talks, scheduled for 12 October. Borrell met with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in New York on Monday.

European Council President Charles Michel said that he found it difficult to understand the move by Australia, Britain and the United States.

"Why? Because with the new Joe Biden administration, America is back. This was the historic message sent by this new administration and now we have questions. What does it mean - America is back? Is America back in America or somewhere else? We don't know," he told reporters in New York.

If China was a main focus for Washington then it was "very strange" for the United States to team up with Australia and Britain, he said, calling it a decision that weakened the transatlantic alliance.

Top officials from the United States and European Union are due to meet in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, later this month for the inaugural meeting of the newly established US-EU Trade and Technology Council, but Michel said some EU members were pushing for this to be postponed.

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Employment

European Globalization Adjustment Fund: €3.7 million to support almost 300 dismissed Airbus workers in France

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The European Commission has proposed that 297 dismissed Airbus workers in France, who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, will be supported with €3.7 million from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund for Displaced Workers (EGF). The funding will help them find new jobs through advice on how to start their own business and start-up grants.

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “Especially in times of crisis, EU solidarity is crucial. Through the European Globalization Adjustment Fund, we will empower 297 people in the aeronautic sector in France who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic to relaunch their careers with targeted advice on business creation and grants to help them set-up their own company.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions hit the aeronautic sector hard and the related economic crisis reduced the purchasing power of many air transport customers. Plans to buy new aircraft were put on hold or cancelled, and many aircraft were retired prematurely as part of airlines' restructuring plans.

In France, despite the wide use of short-time work schemes, Airbus had to implement a restructuring plan and many workers lost their jobs. Thanks to the EGF, 297 former Airbus workers will receive targeted active labour market support to help them start their own business and return to work.

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The €3.7m from the EGF will help finance training for business creation and start-up grants of up to €15,000 per participant. Participants will also receive a contribution towards their accommodation, food and transportation costs related to participating in the training. In addition, former workers taking up a new job may be eligible for a top-up of their salaries, if they are lower than in their previous job. 

The total estimated cost of the support measures is €4.4m, of which the EGF will cover 85% (€3.7m). Airbus will provide the remaining amount (€0.7m). The EGF support is part of the overall support package offered by Airbus to the dismissed employees. However, the EGF support goes beyond what Airbus as the dismissing company is legally obliged to provide.

The Commission's proposal requires approval by the European Parliament and the Council.

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Background

Airbus' commercial aircraft production generated 67% of the overall turnover of Airbus. As of April 2020, production levels were down by one third and the Airbus workforce was reduced accordingly.

The initial restructuring plan foresaw a cut of 4,248 jobs in France. Thanks to measures introduced by the French government to remedy the economic consequences of the pandemic (such as legislation allowing enterprises to temporarily hire out staff to other enterprises and short-term work schemes), the number of dismissals was significantly reduced to 2,246 jobs.

Nonetheless, the dismissals are expected to have a significant impact, particularly on the Occitan regional labour market and economy. The city of Toulouse and its surrounding region are a major aeronautical cluster in Europe with 110,000 people employed in the sector. The region is heavily dependent on aeronautics and Airbus is the largest private employer in the region. The 35% reduction of production plans at Airbus will likely have severe consequences on employment in the whole sector, also affecting the large number of suppliers. The dismissals are also likely to have an impact on the Pays de la Loire region, even if this regional economy is more diversified.

Under the new EGF regulation 2021-2027, the Fund continues to support displaced workers and the self-employed whose activity has been lost. With the new rules, EGF support becomes more easily available for people affected by restructuring events: all types of unexpected major restructuring events can be eligible for support, including the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as larger economic trends like decarbonization and automation. Member States can apply for EU funding when at least 200 workers lose their jobs within a specific reference period.

Since 2007, the EGF has made available some €652m in 166 cases, offering help to nearly 164,000 people in 20 member states. EGF supported measures add to national active labour market measures.

More information

Commission proposal for EGF support to dismissed Airbus workers
Factsheet on the EGF
Press release: Commission welcomes political agreement on European Globalisation Adjustment Fund for displaced workers
Website of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund
EGF regulation 2021-2027
Follow Nicolas Schmit on Facebook and Twitter
Subscribe to the European Commission's free e-mail newsletter on employment, social affairs and inclusion

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France hits one-month high for patients hospitalized for COVID-19

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A COVID-19 patient connected to a ventilator tube in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Centre Cardiologique du Nord private hospital in Saint-Denis, near Paris, amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in France. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

French health authorities said on Monday (8 November) the number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19 went up by 156 over the past 24 hours, the highest daily rise since 23 August, to reach a one-month peak of 6,865, writes Benoit Van Overstraeten.

The number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) for the disease increased by 40 to 1,141, a ninth rise in 10 days.

President Emmanuel Macron will speak to the nation on Tuesday about the resurgence of COVID-19 infections as well as his economic reform programme. Read more.

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An additional 2,197 new infections were reported over 24 hours, bringing the total to 7.22 million since the start of the outbreak.

That brings the seven day moving average of new cases - which smoothes out daily reporting irregularities - rose to 7,277, a level unseen since 18 September, from a three-month low of 4,172 on 10 October.

It had set a 2021 record of 42,225 in mid-April before falling to a 2021 low of 1,816 at the end of June.

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France also registered 57 new deaths from the epidemic, taking the COVID death toll to close to 117,950. The seven-day moving average of new fatalities is at 41, a high since Oct 6 versus 25 at the start of the month.

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Bulgaria

Binding the Guardian – study commissioned by MEP Clare Daly

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Binding the Guardian, a study commissioned by MEP Clare Daly and written by an award-winning academic Albena Azmanova, investigates the European Commission’s annual rule of law reports (2020 & 2021). The study questions the Commission’s willingness to protect the rule of law, with reference to its reports on France, Spain and Bulgaria. It investigates the Commission’s failure to properly address France’s increasing use of fast-tracked security laws and discriminatory legislation against Muslim civil society organisations, the assault on political freedoms in Spain, and how it turned a blind eye to the close links between the Bulgarian state and the oligarchic mafia.

Ultimately it finds that the Commission does not fulfil its duties as ‘Guardian of the Treaties’ with these reports as it “fails to give justification for the selectivity of information it has included, is prone to the use of obscure language that condones inherent threats to the rule of law and systemic institutional deficiencies, and is swayed by political bias.”

Though these yearly country Rule of Law reports are not binding, the study finds that “when mishandled, this seemingly innocuous policy tool can do serious damage.” The European Commission would be on stronger grounds with regards to the rule of law in Poland and Hungary had it pushed for governments to safeguarded it in all member-states.

The authors argue that the country reports must be brought in line with the rule of law and sets down a series of recommendations to this end. As well as changes to the methodology and presentation of the country-specific reports, they make the case for the creation of a citizen-centered rule of law platform on which citizens share experiences of rule of law breaches and call the Commission to account for the way it monitors the rule of law.

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Clare Daly, Irish Member of the European Parliament in The Left group, said of the findings: “The Rule of Law has become a catchphrase in EU institutions, but instead of being a basis for ensuring that all citizens live in a just society that protects their fundamental rights, it is underutilised, or used selectively as an occasional stick to beat those outside the European mainstream. This partisan and inconsistent application of what should be a universal system robs citizens of a valuable tool for a better life. This study is a call to action, for citizens to claim it as their own”.

The study involved collaboration with national journalists, NGOs, thinktanks and eminent rule of law scholars, including Professors Laurent Pech and Kalypso Nicolaïdis – who provided personal accounts of rule of law deficiencies and their views on the Commission’s response.

Background

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A November 2017 Open Letter to European Commission President Juncker and European Council President Tusk initiated by Barbara Spinelli, Albena Azmanova, Etienne Balibar, Kalypso Nicolaïdis and others cautioned again the growing tendency of using the rule of law as a tool of political oppression, noting that the European Commission itself has fallen short of its responsibilities for safeguarding the rule of law in the EU. In a co-authored article Nicolaïdis and Azmanova (2020) argued that ‘The EU itself has complied with these principles erratically and selectively, thus violating the spirit of the rule of law. This has been evident in several instances—from lack of concern with the Silvio Berlusconi media monopoly in Italy to France’s semi-permanent state of emergency… Often, the EU is content with narrowly reducing the remit of the rule of law to a simple matter of legality—ignoring routine violations of core values, such as the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech or even the right to liberty and life itself.’

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