Today the European Commission launched the WiFi4EU web portal. As of now, municipalities all over Europe are invited to register their details ahead of the first call for projects in mid-May, for the chance to benefit from EU financing to build free public wireless internet hotspots.
The WiFi4EU programme offers vouchers worth €15,000 for municipalities to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces, including libraries, museums, public parks, squares. As stated by President Jean-Claude Juncker, the WiFi4EU initiative aims at connecting "every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020."
€25.5 million from the Cohesion Fund will contribute to finishing the works on a key motorway linking the port of Limassol, an important economic hub and the largest port in Cyprus, to the city of Paphos on the western coast of the island. "This EU-funded project will ensure smoother transport of passengers and goods from and to the Limassol port, one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean transit trade, directly contributing to the competitiveness of Cyprus' real economy," commented Commissioner for Regional policy Corina Crețu.
Erasmus+, one of the EU's iconic and most successful programmes, today adds an online version to its mobility actions, to link more students and young people from European countries and the Southern neighbourhood of the EU. The European Commission has today launched Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange, a project to promote intercultural dialogue and improve the skills of at least 25,000 young people through digital learning tools over the next two years. The project covers the 33 Erasmus+ programme countries and the Southern Mediterranean region covering Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine*, Syria and Tunisia.
Following through on its commitment to support Syrian refugees in Turkey, the European Commission is today mobilising additional funding for the Facility for Refugees which has so far given 500.000 children access to education and is supporting 1.2 million refugees with monthly cash transfers. Today's decision establishes the legal framework for the second tranche of €3 billion, as foreseen in the EU-Turkey Statement, mobilising €1 billion from the EU budget. The first tranche of the Facility set up in 2016 was made up of €1 billion from the EU budget and €2 billion from Member States' contributions. The Commission proposes to continue this arrangement, so that the successful and effective work of the Facility for projects benefiting refugees in Turkey can continue.
The Commission is today proposing an ambitious and comprehensive package of measures to tackle non-performing loans (NPLs) in Europe, capitalising on the significant progress already made in reducing risks in the banking sector. With today's far-reaching measures, the Commission is delivering on the Council's Action Plan to address the high stock of NPLs and prevent their possible future accumulation. It builds on ongoing efforts by Member States, supervisors, credit institutions and the EU: this has led to stocks of NPLs declining in recent years across banks and EU countries.
The Commission is today proposing to reform the EU's common visa policy to adapt the rules to evolving security concerns, challenges linked to migration and new opportunities offered by technological developments. The proposed changes to the Visa Code will make it easier for legitimate travellers to obtain a visa to come to Europe, facilitating tourism, trade and business, whilst strengthening security and mitigating irregular migration risks.
Ahead of the March European Council, the Commission is reporting today on progress made under the European Agenda on Migration and sets out further key actions to be taken, including as set out in the Commission's roadmap from December 2017 towards a comprehensive deal on migration by June 2018. The decrease in irregular arrivals has been confirmed throughout 2017 and the first months of 2018, while work is ongoing to save lives, tackle root causes, protect Europe's external borders, and further strengthen cooperation with international partners. However, with the overall situation remaining fragile, additional efforts, notably stepped up financial resources, will be needed jointly from the Member States and the EU to ensure a continued, effective response to the migration challenge.
Speaking to MEPs in Strasbourg this morning, President Juncker highlighted that further clarity is needed from the UK to reach an understanding on the future relationship, when he said: "As the clock counts down, with one year to go, it is now time to translate speeches into treaties; to turn commitments into agreements; broad suggestions and wishes on the future relationship to specific, workable solutions."
Today, the European Commission is taking more concrete new initiatives to further deliver on the European Pillar of Social Rights. More specifically, the Commission presents its proposal for a European Labour Authority, as announced by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address, as well as an initiative to ensure access to social protection for all workers and self-employed. These initiatives are accompanied by a Communication on the monitoring of the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which will be closely linked to the European Semester of policy coordination.
Today, the European Commission releases its 2017 report on the Rapid Alert System for dangerous products. The report shows that in 2017, the Rapid Alert System was increasingly used by national authorities with more than 2,000 alerts on dangerous products circulated through the system. Toys, for example several models of the popular fidget spinners, cars and motorcycles, topped the list of dangerous products detected and removed from the market.