Lebanon’s parliament has elected Michel Aoun as president, ending a political stand-off that has left the post empty for more than two years. The newly-appointed president, a Maronite Christian, vowed to protect Lebanon from “regional fires” – a reference to the conflict in Syria.
Mr Aoun, an 81-year-old former army general, secured 83 votes in the 128-seat chamber when MPs convened for their 46th attempt to choose a head of state.
Lebanon has been without a head of state since Michel Suleiman stepped down at the end of his term in May 2014.
MEP Ramona Mănescu (EPP), vicepresident of the Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries sees the end of political uncertainty by Monday election as an oportunity in bringing back the economic prosperity
”On his shoulders lays the responsibility of maintaining internal political equilibrium, helping in bring back the economic prosperity, dealing with the social problem of the refugees and, as he already put it, <to prevent any sparks (n.a. of the Syrian conflict) from reaching Lebanon>”, Ramona Mănescu wrote on her website.
Full statement below:
”I learned with high hopes about yesterday’s election of Mr. Michel Aoun as president of the Republic of Lebanon.
It is a major step towards stability, in this difficult times, for a country that is facing multiple and great challenges. Just considering the migration problem, if we look at the more than 1.2 million refugees hosted by a 5.8 million people country, we can see that the burden upon Lebanon is greater than any other similar situation in the world. To this acute situation one must add the 29 months of internal political uncertainty, the economic shortages, the 375 km of border with Syria – a country under civil war for more than five years now and the active presence, all over the region, of multiple terrorist groups.
In this complex picture stands today Lebanon, a country known for its ethnic and religious diversity. This is why, the end of political uncertainty by Monday election of Mr. Michel Aoun as President of Lebanon is an important breakthrough. His background, as a Maronite Christian keeps in balance the three major groups present in Lebanon: Christians, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims.
On his shoulders lays the responsibility of maintaining internal political equilibrium, helping in bring back the economic prosperity, dealing with the social problem of the refugees and, as he already put it, “to prevent any sparks (n.a. of the Syrian conflict) from reaching Lebanon”.
This is not at all an easy task! Especially when in Lebanon, the interests of regional powers are colliding and casting an influential shadow over the internal matters.
For the European Union, its partnership with Lebanon, within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, is of great importance. It matters for the regional stability and to set a positive, functional model in the Middle East. This partnership goes well beyond support declarations and involves direct and concrete support. It offers economic advantages, assistance in education and health and transfer of know how.
I believe that the election of Mr. Michel Aoun offers new perspectives, not only on the domestic matters of Lebanon, but also for the EU – Lebanon relations and, if the opportunities of today will became the realities of tomorrow, a better stand in support of our shared values and ideals.”
MEP Vasile Blaga: An EU-US trade war would come at the worst possible time, but “the EU must remain attractive to green energy investment”
MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) welcomed on Tuesday the European Commission’s plan to counter US anti-inflation policies, stressing that a trade war between the EU and the US would come at the worst possible time.
”It is probably hard enough for the European Union to give up strict single market policies, but the new economic logic into which Russia’s attack on Ukraine has thrown us all requires radical measures. And it is good that, albeit belatedly, the European Union is considering measures to keep innovation and production of renewable energy products in Europe. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in the US last year, with a $367 billion package of subsidies to boost manufacturing in the US, risks relocating much of the EU’s production or new investment in green energy. A trade war between the US and the EU would come at the worst possible time, given Russia’s aggression against Ukraine which should unite us all”, said Vasile Blaga.
The European Union is preparing a plan to relax state aid to support investment in green sectors. The aid also includes making it easier for companies to access tax credits.
The draft also includes an extension of the ”exemption” scheme, which allows differentiated state aid to certain sectors without prior approval from the Commission, making it easier for Member States to subsidise green hydrogen or biofuel production capacity.
“Everything is still in a planning stage, things are still under discussion. The European Union must also come up with a solution to prevent possible imbalances in the single market caused by the different financial possibilities of member states. The EU must also consider a financing component in the new plan”, said Vasile Blaga.
Vasile Blaga considers that the result of the Austrian elections is more likely to hinder than help Romania in its efforts to join Schengen: Diplomatic efforts must continue
MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP), member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, said in an assessment submitted to CaleaEuropeană.ro that the results of the Austrian elections regarding Schengen enlargement ”are not optimistic” and that they ”rather hinder us than help us”.
”I see an unusual enthusiasm about the Austrian election result. The electoral decline of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP), Chancellor Nehammer’s party, is only relevant to Austria’s domestic politics. As for the consequences of the result on Schengen enlargement, they are not optimistic. It should be noted that the percentages lost by Nehammer’s party are taken up by the extreme right (FPO – Freedom Party) whose anti-migration discourse will probably become even more radical in the coming period”, said Blaga.
According to him, ”the election result shows us a trend in Austrian society, a response to a migration crisis situation which, of course, has no direct connection with Romania”.
Despite this, ”in the current context, the Austrian election result is more hindering than helpful”, mentioned the MEP.
”In my opinion, we need to focus less on the outcome of the Austrian elections and instead continue our diplomatic efforts. The Schengen issue must not die out, it must be kept alive, the diplomatic efforts must continue. Similarly, in the European Parliament, all delegations of Romanian MEPs must act and communicate in unison and permanently on the subject of Romania and Bulgaria’s integration into the Schengen area”, appealed Vasile Blaga.
The Austrian People’s Party (OVP), the ruling conservatives) lost its absolute majority in Sunday’s regional elections in Austria’s largest Land, falling by around 10 percentage points, while the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) achieved its best result ever.
The OVP, affected by corruption investigations as well as global crises, reached 39.8% – its worst result since 1945 – and lost its absolute majority in the Lower Austrian parliament and probably also in the regional government. By contrast, the FPO achieved 24.5%, its best result ever in the eastern province.
The Netherlands and Austria expressed last week, during a meeting between Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Chancellor Karl Nehammer, their desire to jointly seek solutions in the fight against illegal migration during the special EU summit in February, as the two countries are currently arguing against the expansion of the Schengen area.
If Austria shows no signs of reconsidering its position, the Netherlands seems to be sending a double message. During his visit to Romania, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra met several officials in Bucharest, including his counterpart Bogdan Aurescu, Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă and President Klaus Iohannis, assuring them of his country’s support for Schengen accession of Romania.
Exclusive | On the 60th celebration of the Élysée Treaty, the German and French Ambassadors in Romania affirm that Europe will help Ukraine “how long it takes and whatever it takes”
On the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Élysée which confirmed the reconciliation between France and Germany, two former enemies on the battlefields of the two world wars and two future allies in the creation of a united Europe, the French and German ambassadors in Romania, Laurence Auer and Peer Gebauer, say that “it’s never been as important to show that reconciliation and action following reconciliation is possible” and pledge that Paris and Berlin’s support for Romania’s Schengen accession will remain “firm and unwavering”.
In an exclusive joint interview with CaleaEuropeană.ro to celebrate six decades since the signing of the Élysée Treaty, the French and German heads of diplomatic missions assured that their countries and the European Union will support Ukraine “how long it takes and whatever it takes” because it is also in the interest of Europeans that Ukraine is victorious in regaining control of its territory.
“Our values and our freedom are at stake on the battlefield in Ukraine,” said Peer Gebauer.
On the eve of solemn and politically important moments in Paris, at the Sorbonne and the Élysée Palace, where President Macron and Chancellor Scholz will lead a new meeting of the Franco-German Council of Ministers, the two ambassadors expressed their countries’ support for the EU enlargement process, for further debate on reforming the EU voting system with a focus on qualified majority rather than unanimous voting, and welcomed EU-NATO cooperation.
On the Republic of Moldova, the ambassadors underlined the responsibility taken by France and Germany, together with Romania. Now, the work is under the responsibility of Moldova. (…) But it’s true that we are going to help the government. We are all ready to help”, said Laurence Auer.
The two ambassadors stressed that French and German support for Romania’s accession to the Schengen area will remain the same.
“It’s not only in the interest of Romania and of the Romanian people to become part of the Schengen family. It’s in our interest. It’s in the European interest. (…) Romania has proven itself to be always a very constructive partner of ours in the EU, in NATO, never blocking decisions, always being one of those countries that are part of the solution, not part of the problem. And I think we need more “Romanias” in that endeavor”, detailed Ambassador Gebauer.
On the other hand, Ambassador Auer mentioned the economic perspective, especially as Germany and France are major investors in Romania. I’m sure this position is backed by our companies. (…) They are losing money every day by the absence of accession to Schengen. So you have our both business communities backing your objective. So, the sooner the better. And our two countries back unconditionally Romania towards the accession”, she said.
CaleaEuropeană.ro: Good afternoon, everybody. We kick off this year with a special interview on Calea Europeană. There are many moments in the history of the European Union, but some have a special significance like the friendship between France and Germany. We have today together with us the French ambassador to Romania, Mrs. Laurence Auer. Thank you for this interview, Madam Ambassador. And we also have together with us, Mr. Ambassador Peer Gebauer, the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Romania. Thank you very much for this interview for Calea Europeană. It’s a pleasure to be hosted by you on such an important occasion. We are at one year of Russia’s war Ukraine, but there are also moments of celebration in Europe and one of them is the reconciliation between France and Germany. Today we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, but also the fourth anniversary of the Aachen Treaty that put Germany and France together in a partnership for Europe. Today, when we think of Germany and France we think to the powerhouse of the European Union. Not just in terms of influence in EU decision making process, but also in terms that the European unity we cherish and benefit from nowadays would have not been possible without the German – French reconciliation. Where does the 60th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, and the 4th of the Aachen Treaty, find the German – French partnership and the European Union as a whole?
Laurence Auer (French Ambassador): Thank you very much for inviting us. It’s a symbol that we can have a shared interview with Calea Europeană. It’s also a symbol that we can do it today with the 60th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty. Today we have in the Élysée again the President (Emmanuel Macron), the Chancellor (Olaf Scholz), ministers, and it’s never been as important to show that reconciliation and action following reconciliation is possible. In my view today, in Europe, it’s all the more important that we can show exactly what is built by France and Germany together concretely for the citizens. It’s a new treaty that we have since 2019 with plenty of actions. But today for France we wanted to focus on topics, somehow security, but also industry, action, climate change and the youth, because we thought that we needed to invest in new perspective altogether. And to build on those topics which are key to the continent in agreement between those two founding fathers of the EU.
CaleaEuropeană.ro: Yes, if we take a look to the photo chronicle of the European Union, we see President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer at the Élysée Treaty shaking hands for the for the future of Europe that we are living here today. But, of course, the main topic that drives the international agenda is Russia’s brutal and illegal war against Ukraine. One year after a lot has happened and major decisions were taken at EU and transatlantic level, despite one another arguing that Berlin and Paris were previously not convinced that Russia will invade. What can the EU, Germany and France further do to help Ukraine while also keeping in mind that 2023 is the year that precedes the 2024 elections, and the EU has its own internal challenges to address. Do you envisage a “how long as it takes” approach to help Ukraine or a more balanced one?
Dr. Peer Gebauer (German Ambassador): I do expect a clear continuation of the “how long it takes and whatever it takes” approach that we have taken as an EU, as France and Germany. And this is the case because it’s not only in the interest of Ukraine, it’s in our own interest to make sure that Ukraine will win, will be victorious in regaining control over its own territory. You’re right, the brutal Russian aggression against Ukraine that we witness every day came as a shock to all of us, but it also provoked a very strong and united answer. A united answer that we continue to have to work for. It’s not for granted. And that’s why you are fully correct in asking how do we position ourselves, what we can expect to see in the shaping of our reaction. But again, as we are all convinced, and as we have realized, that as well our values and our freedom are at stake on the battlefield in Ukraine, I am very confident that we will continue to do whatever it takes and as long as it takes.
2024 will indeed have many interesting developments and elections coming up on the European level. But let’s, first of all, have a look at 2023 where I feel a lot of decisions will be made. This will be a decisive time ahead of us and that’s why it’s so important to continue to forge a strong answer.
CaleaEuropeană.ro: Madam Ambassador, 2023 has begun with some important highlights. NATO and the EU have signed a new Joint Declaration for cooperation, stating that NATO is the cornerstone for Euro-Atlantic defense and security, while recognizing that the added value of the European defense, a concept promoted tirelessly by major EU countries, like France, a country that a year ago announced that it will also lead the NATO forward presence here in Romania. What does this Joint NATO-EU Statement mean for the European security architecture while also having in mind Russia’s war in Ukraine?
Laurence Auer: It is a very important statement because in this context of war, where we seek unity, solidarity, it is important to express this cooperation between NATO and the EU in concrete statements. We’ve been working during 2022 on what we call the Strategic Compass, a document which we worked on at the EU level and approved by European Council in March. In this view of the military and security challenges we identified the challenges such as civil and military cybersecurity. If you look at the question of satellites, drones, etc., we all know that the threats we face may be dealt by NATO, but also that we have to have global answers. And at the same time, the NATO Summit approved its Strategic Concept, with the recognition of the role of Eastern Europe, the role of the Black Sea in this new context, and I think it is very important that we liaise. There is no fights, there is only the necessity to be able to very quickly answer with a single answer towards the threats and also to the new neighborhood. I mean, the EU as launched in Prague, on the 7th of October 2022, the European Political Community which aims at being a political discussion with the members that are inside the EU but also outside. It’s quite also important in this geopolitical context that has so much changed in one year, that we have a quick answer, no questioning of who does what.
CaleaEuropeană.ro: Mr. Ambassador, 2023 marks also important milestones such as the 30th anniversaries of the Maastricht Treaty and the Single Market or the 20th anniversary of the Nice Treaty, treaties and moments that prepared Europe for its further integration reconciling East and West. And last year, Chancellor Scholz said that the centre of gravity in Europe moves towards Eastern Europe, while speaking about the reform of the unanimity rule. Recently, the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock deplored once again that EU countries are often not even able to draft a press release “because they cannot agree on the same wording”. She was referring, of course, to the veto power and the unanimity rule. Is there room for debate on this sensitive topic or given the opposition from other countries we can consider it as a safeguard for national interests in the EU?
Dr. Peer Gebauer: I strongly believe there’s room for debate and this debate is already going on because the vast majority of EU member states realizes that there is a reform need. Now, of course, for a smaller country being a member of the European Union should not go along with the fear of being overruled all the time, of being left out of the decision making process. There’s value that every voice is heard and every single member state has a very strong vote to give. It is important that this will remain an important pillar of our European decision making scheme. On the other hand, as you have pointed out in your question, there are more and more situations where we realize that the unanimity rule comes to its limits and we are just not able to act anymore. If we picture ourselves in a situation with even more member states, and we do want to push the enlargement agenda in that sense, the need for finding better ways of decision making is clearly there. There are various ways and instruments to address this. We can broaden the scope of majority voting in some areas without changing the treaties and I think this is something where the discussion is now mainly focused on. Then, of course, you can broaden the scheme even further by changing the treaties. This is always an uphill battle and certainly not something coming around in the next month. But there is a clear understanding that one country being able to block the rest is not an ideal situation. I think this understanding has broadened and that’s why I remain confident that we will see progress in the field of voting in the EU, in the months and years to come.
CaleaEuropeană.ro: The EU took a special major decision in 2023, and Germany and France, together with Romania, played important roles. One day before the European Commission announced its Opinion that Moldova and Ukraine should be granted candidate status for the EU, President Macron, Chancellor Scholz, President Iohannis and Prime Minister Draghi were in Kyiv, and one week later the European Council granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status. For Moldova, France and Germany, together with Romania, did actually more by creating the Support Platform. What can France, Germany and Romania do even more for the Republic of Moldova? Is there a possibility to have a decision on opening chapters of negotiations?
Laurence Auer: We are very proud for France and Germany to be really the head of this movement with Romania. We are co-chairing the Support Platform. It was a third edition of the Moldova platform that took place in France, after it took place in Bucharest and in Berlin. The next one will be in Moldova, in Chișinău. And we are preparing the summit of the European Political Community there. We are proud as well of the political decision. It was not only granting this candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, it was also a starting point and we have a lot of work. Now, the work is under the responsibility of Moldova. They should prepare a list of state of reforms that are doing. It’s not small work as you know, it takes time. But it’s true that we are going to help the government. We are all ready to help. I’m also proud because at the same time we pushed the opening of the negotiation with Albania and North Macedonia. It was also important because if you take the enlargement topic as a whole, it was also a geopolitical response to what happens to Ukraine and to the recognition of what we want to be, what we want to do together. I must add as well that in December, we have also decided to grant the same status to Bosnia. So as a whole, Western Balkans and Moldova and Ukraine are not let aside. And I feel the responsibility of France and Germany on all cases were evident. And we of course are going to do the same for until Romania joins Schengen.
CaleaEuropeană.ro: The final question has a special sensitivity for Romania. We all hoped that from January 1st, 2023, Romania would have been part of the Schengen area. Our national efforts towards this goal were somehow fueled by the support that France and Germany publicly stated, because we recall the speech that former French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had in the Romanian Parliament and the speech of Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Prague. But Austria had a different opinion, and we received a veto instead. How can we overcome this deadlock this year? Will the support of Germany and France for Romania’s accession to Schengen remain undiminished and ironclad as it was last year?
Dr. Peer Gebauer: I can assure you that our support, and I’m sure I’m speaking here also on behalf of Laurence and on behalf of the French government, that our joint support for Schengen accession of Romania will remain steadfast and unwavering. We have been actively supporting enlargement of the Schengen area and we were also as disappointed as you were by the fact that we were not able to achieve this result at the last Justice and Home Affairs Council in December. I tell you why our support will remain as it is. It’s not only in the interest of Romania and of the Romanian people to become part of the Schengen family. It’s in our interest. It’s in the European interest. There is this geopolitical angle, Laurence has just touched upon it, with regard to EU enlargement. The same is true for Schengen enlargement. In times of crisis, it’s even more important to move closer together and to open up to one another. And this has a very practical relevance, for example, when it comes to our help flowing through Romania towards Ukraine or the other way around with regard to exports from Ukraine, which are facilitated through Romania. At some point in time we can hopefully put more emphasis on reconstruction in Ukraine. Again, it’s of utmost importance then to have open borders, to have a free flow of goods of support and of help. And that’s why it’s in our interest. And I will give you a second reason why it’s in our interest. Romania has proven itself to be always a very constructive partner of ours in the EU, in NATO, never blocking decisions, always being one of those countries that are part of the solution, not part of the problem. And I think we need more “Romanias” in that endeavor in the EU. It’s just not fair not to grant Romania what it deserves and what it has right to get. Romania has fulfilled all the conditions for being a member and that’s why we have now to deliver. You’re asking if there is room for achieving this goal. I believe there is. The discussions are going on and, of course, there are several layers that are relevant to this aspect. Of course, for Austria, the issue of migration is an important one. We will have a special European Council meeting in February also focusing on migration issues. Let’s see how we can move things ahead there so that there will be a bridge to cross and a way to open the Schengen area also for Romania and Bulgaria.
Laurence Auer: I could not say differently. What I can only add is that with a lot of soldiers here, with materials and humanitarian aid transiting from Romania, we have this initiative which is called Solidarity Corridors where the grains of Ukraine is transiting Romania. It is very important that the fluidity of the borders and the circulation of goods can be eased through the Schengen accession. I’m sure this position is backed by our companies. France is the second investor in Romania. They are losing money every day by the absence of accession to Schengen. So you have our both business communities backing your objective. So, the sooner the better. And our two countries back unconditionally Romania towards the accession.
CaleaEuropeană.ro: I think these are very powerful statements coming at the 60th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty as a sign of friendship to Romania. Thank you very much. Madame l’Ambassadrice, merci beaucoup pour cet entretien! Herr Botschafter, vielen Dank für dieses Gespräch! And Happy Anniversary for the French and German partnership!
Dr. Peer Gebauer: Thank you very much! Mulțumim!
Laurence Auer: Thanks a lot. And thanks for all that you do!
This Sunday’s Franco-German summit begins with a ceremony at Sorbonne University to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Élysée Treaty between French leader Charles de Gaulle and German leader Konrad Adenauer on 22 January 1963, at which President Macron and Chancellor Scholz are due to give speeches.
The 23rd Franco-German Council of Ministers, which brings together the cabinets of both countries, takes place on Sunday afternoon and concludes with a joint declaration on the future of Europe. Later, the leaders of the two countries will dine together.
On 22 January 1963, President Charles de Gaulle and Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the “Treaty of Franco-German Cooperation”, better known as the Treaty of Élysée. It is the foundation of the close Franco-German friendship, which is also an important basis for the development of the European Union. With the Treaty of Aachen, which was signed by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron on 22 January 2019, the Élysée Treaty has been updated and set the course for the future to advance important topics such as digitalisation, education, climate and sustainable technologies.
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