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Berlin Summit: Western Balkans strengthen regional co-operation and foster closer ties with the EU

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, met heads of state and government from the Western Balkans for the eighth time in the context of the so-called ‘Berlin Process’ to advance on their regional co-operation and European integration agenda.

During the virtual meeting hosted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Commission reconfirmed its commitment to cooperation with and support for the region in its post-pandemic recovery through the Economic and Investment Plan, focusing on green and digital transition investments, smart mobility links, sustainable energy, digital infrastructure, and business sector development and human capital, including youth.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in her opening address, said: “Our first priority is to accelerate the enlargement agenda across the region and support our Western Balkan partners in their work to deliver on the necessary reforms to advance on their European path. But our engagement with the Western Balkans goes beyond that, and the Berlin Process has served as an incubator for many initiatives that have now become an integral part of the EU’s policy vis-à-vis the region. Together we have set the course for a more sustainable, more digital and more resilient Europe.” 

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Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi emphasized: “Closing the socio-economic gap between the Western Balkans and the EU is crucial for the Enlargement process. We are bringing significant investment opportunities to the region through the Economic and Investment Plan. Now it is for the region to use them well by harnessing its full economic potential and establishing a Common Regional Market based on EU rules. Creating ‘Green Lanes’ on the border crossings within the entire region first and now piloting this with an EU Member State is a perfect illustration of how this can work.”

Find the press release as well as the WBIF Annual Report summary online together with factsheets on:

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coronavirus

Commission authorizes French aid scheme of €3 billion to support, through loans and equity investments, companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic

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The European Commission has cleared, under EU state aid rules, France's plans to set up a € 3 billion fund that will invest through debt instruments and equity and hybrid instruments in companies affected by the pandemic. The measure was authorized under the Temporary State Aid Framework. The scheme will be implemented through a fund, titled 'Transition Fund for Businesses Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic', with a budget of € 3bn.

Under this scheme, support will take the form of (i) subordinated or participating loans; and (ii) recapitalization measures, in particular hybrid capital instruments and non-voting preferred shares. The measure is open to companies established in France and present in all sectors (except the financial sector), which were viable before the coronavirus pandemic and which have demonstrated the long-term viability of their economic model. Between 50 and 100 companies are expected to benefit from this scheme. The Commission considered that the measures complied with the conditions set out in the temporary framework.

The Commission concluded that the measure was necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of France, in accordance with Article 107 (3) (b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the temporary supervision. On this basis, the Commission authorized these schemes under EU state aid rules.

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Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager (pictured), competition policy, said: “This €3bn recapitalization scheme will allow France to support companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic by facilitating their access funding in these difficult times. We continue to work closely with member states to find practical solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic while respecting EU regulations.”

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Afghanistan

EU says it has no option but to talk to Taliban

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The European Union has no option but to talk to Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers and Brussels will try to coordinate with member governments to organize a diplomatic presence in Kabul, the top EU diplomat said on Tuesday (14 September), writes Robin Emmott, Reuters.

"The Afghan crisis is not over," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (pictured) told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. "To have any chance of influencing events, we have no other option but to engage with the Taliban."

EU foreign ministers have set conditions for re-establishing humanitarian aid and diplomatic ties with the Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan on 15 August, including respect for human rights, particularly women's rights.

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"Maybe it's a pure oxymoron to talk about human rights but this is what we have to ask them," he said.

Borrell told EU lawmakers that the bloc should be prepared to see Afghans trying to reach Europe if the Taliban allow people to leave, although he said he did not expect migration flows to be as high as in 2015 caused by Syria's civil war.

The European Commission plans to secure funding from EU governments and the common budget of €300 million($355m) both this year and next to pave the way for resettlement of around 30,000 Afghans.

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($1 = €0.85)

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European Commission

President von der Leyen's State of the Union Address: Strengthening Europe’s soul

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President Ursula von der Leyen delivered today (15 September) her second State of the Union address in the European Parliament.

The president put the focus of her speech on Europe’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis and on what the European Union needs to do for a lasting recovery delivering benefits to all - from health preparedness, to the social dimension, to technological leadership and a defence Union.

President von der Leyen described how Europe can secure a lasting recovery by preparing itself to deal with future health crises, thanks to the HERA authority, by helping the world get vaccinated and by making sure that the economic recovery is sustained and benefits everyone.

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The president also underlined the importance of staying true to our values and made a point of Europe’s duty to care for the most vulnerable, standing up for media freedom, reinforcing the Rule of Law in our Union and empowering our youth. That is why she proposed making 2022 the Year of European Youth.

Europe will continue acting in the world with the common good in mind. That is why President von der Leyen committed to continue working to encourage global partners to act on climate change. Furthermore, in the face of the recent developments in Afghanistan, the president announced increased humanitarian aid to Afghans and laid out the importance for Europe to build its own defence capabilities.

The speech is available in all languages here.

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A publication on the main achievements of the von der Leyen Commission in the past year is available here

Find more information on this dedicated website.

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