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European Commission London Office weekly news round-up
Main news from Brussels this week
New European system to tackle natural disasters
On 23 November, the European Commission revealed new plans to strengthen Europe's ability to deal with natural disasters. A key part of the proposal is the creation of rescEU, a reserve of European civil protection capabilities such as forest fire-fighting planes, special water pumps, urban search and rescue and field hospitals and emergency medical teams. These will complement national assets and will be managed by the European Commission in order to support countries hit by disasters such as floods, forest fires, earthquakes and epidemics. In 2017 alone, over 200 people were killed by natural disasters in Europe and over one million hectares of forest have been destroyed.
Eastern partnership summit
The fifth Eastern partnership summit took place today (24 November) in Brussels. EU Heads of state or government and the six Eastern partner countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine discussed future cooperation. European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hosted the summit which focussed on four key areas: economic development and better market opportunities; strengthening of institutions and good governance; enhancing interconnections, notably in the areas of transport and energy and increasing mobility and contacts between people.
Better broadband in rural areas
On 20 and 21 November, the European Commission hosted the broadband days, an annual event aiming at promoting broadband development in the EU. At the conference, the Commission launched the Broadband Competence Offices and a toolkit for rural broadband. The latter consists of a five-point action plan to bring more broadband to rural areas. Currently only 40% of rural households have next generation access, compared to 76% of total EU households.
On 20 November Commissioners Hogan (agriculture and rural development) and Creţu (regional policy) praised five European broadband projects for their best practice in planning broadband rollout. Colchester Business Broadband was one of them, offering an open access passive fibre network which now delivers connectivity of up to 1 gigabyte to more than 850 SMEs and 1.100 households in newly constructed buildings that previously had low or no connectivity.
A Europe of equals: women's rights in turbulent times
On 20 November, the Commission held its annual Fundamental Rights Colloquium, with the theme "Women's rights in turbulent times". It presented there a strengthened Action Plan to tackle the gender pay gap. Linked to the Colloquium, the Commission released a special survey on gender equality, showing for example that a majority of Europeans (54%) agree that it is acceptable for men to cry while a minority (44%) think that women's most important role in life is to take care of the home. The findings show a wide variation of gender stereotypes across member states. On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November), the Commission issued a declaration calling for stronger global efforts to tackle issues such as human trafficking, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. This was accompanied by a round-up of what the EU is doing to protect women from these threats.
EU funds for Caribbean countries devastated by recent hurricanes
Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis and Cuba are among the recipients of an EU funding package to remedy the destruction in the aftermath of recent hurricanes Irma and Maria. EU member states' overseas countries and territories, including British overseas territories such as Anguilla and Turks and Caicos are eligible for EU funding. At a High-Level Donor Conference for the Caribbean in New York this week, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica pledged a €300 million development support package to the Caribbean region. It will help reconstruction in the medium term and rehabilitation efforts at national level.
All this week's key European Commission announcements can be found here
EU and the UK
Relocation of UK-based EU agencies
The European Commission welcomed the agreement at the General Affairs Council on 20 November to move the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) to Amsterdam and Paris, respectively. Both agencies are currently located in London.
The future of the EU
EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier spoke at a conference on the Future of Europe, organised in Brussels by the Centre for European Reform. Mr Barnier outlined ideas for a stronger Europe, such as a more complete banking union. He then went on to discuss Brexit. The EU's Chief Negotiator stressed that the EU will be ready in the event of the UK and EU reaching "no deal". But Mr Barnier also expressed his regret that this scenario comes up so often in the UK public debate. On Northern Ireland, he challenged "those who want Brexit" to offer solutions to avoid a hard border. Mr Barnier reminded the audience that the four freedoms which underpin the single market: free movement of goods, capital, services and labour – are indivisible. He added that as a consequence of the UK's decision to end free movement of people, the country will lose all single market benefits when it leaves the EU.
Michel Barnier's speech
UK projects to receive EU funding for energy infrastructure
Major energy infrastructure projects in which the UK is cooperating with North Sea and other European neighbours will receive EU funding. The announcement came as the Commission published on 24 November its third report on the State of the Energy Union showing that Europe's transition to a low-carbon society is becoming the new reality in the EU. The report also confirmed that energy transition is not possible without adapting infrastructure to the needs of the future energy system. To address this, the Commission adopted a policy document on strengthening Europe's energy networks.
UK students play the role of EU leaders at mock EU summit
On 22 November, students from 32 schools across the UK gathered at the Law Society in Chancery Lane, London, to step into the shoes of EU leaders in a "mock Council", mimicking the format in which EU leaders discuss policy and take decisions.
The 64 pretend politicians discussed two key issues: the future of the United Kingdom in the Erasmus+ programme and the rights of EU citizens in the UK once it has left the European Union (see also picture of the week).
For upcoming events, please have a look at our newsletter
EU in the media this week
High-profile in the media this week were the European Capitals of Culture after the Commission confirmed that UK cities would not be eligible to participate in 2023. Many media attributed this to a sudden Commission decision to exclude the UK but in fact it is the clear and longstanding legal position, established in collective decisions by the member states and European Parliament. Those decisions state that Capitals of Culture have to be in EU or EEA countries, or a candidate to join. The UK’s letter declaring Article 50 in turn makes clear the UK will be a member of neither the EU nor the EEA from 30 March 2019, which leads to the conclusion that the UK cannot host a Capital of Culture in 2023.
And every week, we pick out one of the week's most interesting stories or comment pieces….which does not mean we agree with everything it says:
Households are more than £400 worse off after Brexit, study says by Caroline Mortimer in the Independent
EU fact of the week
The UK has few doctors but equitable healthcare system, EU-wide study finds
With just 2.8 doctors per 1000 people the United Kingdom has the third lowest number of doctors in the EU (ahead only of Romania and Poland) but its health system is one of the most equitable in terms of access, low levels of unmet need, low out-of-pocket spending, good financial protection and waiting times affecting all income groups equally. These are some of the findings published on 23 November by the European Commission, in an EU-wide study.
Tweet of the week
Today more than 50 million children have migrated or are forcibly displaced. On
#UniversalChildrensDay we remember that a child is a child first and foremost. EU is and remains committed to leave no child behind - whether inside or outside EU. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-17-4741_en.htm …
- Dimitris Avramopoulos @Avramopoulos
Quote of the week
"Women are still under-represented in decision-making positions in politics and the business world. They still earn 16% less than men on average across the EU. And violence against women is still widespread. This is unfair and unacceptable in today's society. The gender pay gap must be closed, because the economic independence of women is their best protection against violence,"
Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová
Picture of the week