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European Commission London Office weekly news round-up
EU and the UK
Joint statement on behalf of President Juncker and Prime Minister May
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and UK Prime Minister Theresa May met for talks in Brussels on 7 February and issued the following joint statement:
President Juncker and Prime Minister May have met today to review the next steps in the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
The talks were held in a spirit of working together to achieve the UK's orderly withdrawal from the EU, especially in the context of a shared determination to achieve a strong partnership for the future given the global challenges the EU and the UK face together in upholding open and fair trade, cooperation in the fight against climate change and terrorism and defending the rules-based international system.
The Prime Minister described the context in the UK Parliament, and the motivation behind last week's vote in the House of Commons seeking a legally binding change to the terms of the backstop. She raised various options for dealing with these concerns in the context of the Withdrawal Agreement in line with her commitments to the Parliament.
President Juncker underlined that the EU27 will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, which represents a carefully balanced compromise between the European Union and the UK, in which both sides have made significant concessions to arrive at a deal. President Juncker however expressed his openness to add wording to the Political Declaration agreed by the EU27 and the UK in order to be more ambitious in terms of content and speed when it comes to the future relationship between the European Union and the UK. President Juncker drew attention to the fact that any solution would have to be agreed by the European Parliament and the EU27.
The discussion was robust but constructive. Despite the challenges, the two leaders agreed that their teams should hold talks as to whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council. The Prime Minister and the President will meet again before the end of February to take stock of these discussions.
Joint statement by President Jean-Claude Juncker and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Irish UK Prime Minister Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met for talks in Brussels on 6 February and issued the following joint statement:
The Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration have been negotiated in good faith and have been agreed by all 27 Leaders of the European Union member states as well as by the United Kingdom Government.
As we have said on many occasions, the Withdrawal Agreement is the best and only deal possible. It is not open for renegotiation.
The backstop is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement. While we hope the backstop will not need to be used, it is a necessary legal guarantee to protect peace and to ensure there will be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, while protecting the integrity of our Single Market and the Customs Union.
The Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, is a balanced compromise, representing a good outcome for citizens and businesses on all sides, including in Northern Ireland.
The backstop is not a bilateral issue, but a European one. Ireland's border is also the border of the European Union and its market is part of the Single Market. We will stay united on this matter.
We will continue to seek agreement on the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom but we will also step up our preparation for a no-deal scenario. In this context, programmes that provide support for cross-border peace and reconciliation in the border counties of Ireland and Northern Ireland will be continued and strengthened. The Commission stands ready to support Ireland in finding solutions answering the specific challenges that Ireland and Irish citizens, farmers and businesses will face. We will work closely together to this end over the coming weeks.
We will continue to remind the Government of the United Kingdom of its responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement, with or without a deal.
Brexit preparedness: provisional agreement on realigning the North Sea–Mediterranean corridor and investing in the adaptation of transport infrastructure for security and border checks
On 7 February the European Parliament and the Council reached a provisional agreement on the European Commission's proposal to adjust alignment of the North Sea – Mediterranean Corridor – one of the nine core corridors of the Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) Network. On the one hand, the Regulation adds to the core network new maritime links between the Irish ports of Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes and ports in France (Le Havre, Calais, Dunkirk), Belgium (Zeebrugge, Antwerp, Gent) and the Netherlands (Terneuzen, Rotterdam, Amsterdam), taking into account the withdrawal of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the Regulation adds a new funding priority to the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF): adapting transport infrastructure for security and external border check purposes. This priority will be taken into account by the Commission when proposing the next CEF work programme. The Commission will carry out an assessment of the consequences of Brexit on transport connections and traffic flows. These measures will only apply in case the United Kingdom withdraws from the EU without an agreement.
Surrey schoolgirl wins EU translation competition
A Surrey teenager has won the British leg of a competition to find the best young translators across the European Union. Natalia Glazman of Woldingham School won the Juvenes Translatores prize for her translation from Spanish into English of a text about Europe's cultural heritage.
Latest news on the Article 50 negotiations can be found here
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Main news from Brussels this week
European Commission makes it easier for citizens to access health data securely across borders
The European Commission presented on 6 February a set of recommendations for the creation of a secure system that will enable citizens to access their electronic health files across member states. Although some citizens can access part of their electronic health records at national level or across borders, many others have limited digital access or no access at all. Some EU countries have already started to make some parts of electronic health records accessible and exchangeable across borders. Since 21 January 2019, Finnish citizens can buy medicines using their ePrescriptions in Estonia and Luxembourgish doctors will be soon able to access the patient summaries of Czech patients. The new recommendations will facilitate access across borders that is secure and in full compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation.
New rules to prevent the use of falsified medicines and enhance patients' safety
Falsification of medicines has remained a serious threat to public health in the EU for too long. As of 9 February new rules apply on safety features for prescription medicines sold in the EU aiming to further curb the circulation of unsafe medicines. The industry has to affix a 2-D barcode and an anti-tampering device on the box of prescription medicines. The pharmacies – including on-line pharmacies – and hospitals have to check the authenticity of medicines before dispensing to patients. This is the final step in the implementation of the Falsified Medicines Directive, adopted in 2011, aiming at guaranteeing the safety and quality of medicines sold in the EU.
EU mobilises additional humanitarian assistance for Venezuela
On 5 February the European Commission allocated additional humanitarian assistance of €5 million to help those most in need from the severe socio-economic crisis in Venezuela. This is in addition to the humanitarian assistance totalling €34 million for the crisis in 2018 alone. The EU support includes the provision of emergency healthcare, access to safe water and sanitation as well as to education. It will further address the population's protection, shelter, food and nutritional needs. To help partners on the ground, the EU intends to open a humanitarian office in Caracas.
European Commission recommends negotiating international rules for obtaining electronic evidence
The European Commission recommended on 5 February engagement in two international negotiations on cross-border rules to obtain electronic evidence. With the majority of criminal investigations requiring access to evidence based online and often outside the EU, there is an urgent need to equip police and judicial authorities with quick and efficient tools fit for modern reality. The Commission presented two negotiating mandates, one for negotiations with the United States and one on the second additional protocol to the Council of Europe “Budapest” Convention on Cybercrime. Both mandates, which need to be approved by the Council, include specific safeguards on data protection, privacy and procedural rights of individuals.
European Commission prohibits Siemens' proposed acquisition of Alstom
On 6 February the European Commission announced it would prohibit Siemens' proposed acquisition of Alstom under the EU Merger Regulation due to serious concerns it would have harmed competition in markets for railway signalling systems and very high-speed trains. Neither party offered sufficient remedies to address these concerns.
European Commission forecasts moderate growth amid global uncertainties for the EU economy
The European Commission published on 7 February its Winter 2019 interim economic forecast. The expectation is that the European economy will continue to grow for the seventh year in a row in 2019, with expansion forecast in every member state. The pace of growth overall is projected to moderate compared to the high rates of recent years and the outlook is subject to large uncertainty. Euro area GDP is forecast to grow by 1.3% in 2019 and 1.6% in 2020 (Autumn forecast: 1.9% in 2019; 1.7% in 2020). The EU GDP growth forecast has also been revised down to 1.5% in 2019 and 1.7% in 2020 (Autumn forecast: 1.9% in 2019; 1.8% in 2020). UK GDP growth is expected to remain subdued at 1.3% in both 2019 and 2020.
All this week's key European Commission announcements can be found here
EU in the media this week
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:
No-deal Brexit could revive mobile roaming fees, minister confirms, by Peter Walker in the Guardian
EU fact of the week
Online giants remove flagged illegal hate speech more quickly than two years ago
IT companies are now assessing 89% content flagged to them as hate speech within 24 hours while 72% of the content deemed to be illegal hate speech is removed. This is respectively two and three times better, compared to 2016 when a code of conduct against hate speech was first signed between the European Commission and Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube. At the same time, the evaluation also shows that the companies need to improve their feedback to users.
Tweet of the week
The EU is at the forefront of global efforts to end FGM by 2030. We have supported partner countries in criminalising this harmful practice and we believe that access to education and health awareness is key to changing perceptions and attitudes. #SpotlightEndViolence #EndFGM pic.twitter.com/d35jF0g2nC
— Neven Mimica (@MimicaEU) February 6, 2019
Quote of the week
“Today we have reached an agreement that will provide 200 million workers in Europe with more transparent and predictable working conditions. We are modernising European labour law and adjusting it to the new world of work. Up to three million workers active in new forms of work, like workers on zero-hour contracts and domestic workers, will be covered which was not the case until now. Workers will benefit from more transparency by receiving key information on their working conditions from the start, and they will benefit from new rights leading to more predictable working conditions", Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility. On 7 February a provisional agreement was reached between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to create more transparent and predictable working conditions in the EU.